Baseball Conditioning: Why You Need an Aerobic Base

Baseball players: to make it through the season without burning out, you need to train aerobically to recover between games.

Conditioning is always a trade-off between having more capacity or more power. What does that mean for baseball players?

Think about the difference between a marathon runner (capacity) and an Olympic lifter (power). The marathoner, who never has to develop large amounts of force but has to go at a low level for a very long time, represents the extreme of capacity. The Olympic lifter wants to be able to generate as much force as possible as quickly as possible in one concentrated effort.

Between those two extremes lie team sports like soccer, football, basketball and baseball. A single baseball game falls on the power end of the divide. Rarely is a baseball player required to perform eight seconds of truly high intensity work (like all-out sprinting), and then not have adequate rest time before doing it again.

Where things get interesting, however, is when you think of a baseball season. At the college level, you're playing one or two midweek games, followed by a three-game series every weekend. That's four or five games a week for at least four months. And it obviously gets even more demanding at the professional level, where you have to play 162 games in roughly 180 days.

If you're a position player and hope to make it through the season without burning out, you'd better worry about how well you recover between games.

Enter the aerobic energy system. It plays a huge role in recovery. The better or more powerful you are aerobically, the quicker you can replenish the necessary building blocks for your anaerobic systems. (To read more on this, go here.)

Furthermore, improved aerobic fitness increases heart rate variability, which in turn builds the capacity to be parasympathetic and recover. Parasympathetic refers to the wing of your autonomic nervous system responsible for resting and digesting (the sympathetic wing is your fight-or-flight response).

The ability to switch back and forth between the two divisions is important, and developing a solid aerobic base of conditioning can do that.

Thus, I may not care much about aerobic conditioning during one baseball game, but I definitely care about it over the course of a season, because it drives recovery.

When it comes to training, there are many ways to tackle the aerobic energy system. Here are a few of my favorite:

1. Cardiac Output

This is probably the easiest and most user-friendly option. All you have to do is strap on a heart rate monitor and work for 30 to 90 minutes while maintaining a heart rate between 120 and 150. The idea is to generate eccentric cardiac hypertrophy (make your left ventricle "bigger"), so it can pump more blood with fewer beats and drop your resting heart rate.

2. Tempo Training

Pick a major compound movement (Push-Up, Squat, RDL, etc.) and go slow with no pauses. Think about taking 2 or 3 seconds to go down and 2 or 3 seconds to come up. Rest for a minute and repeat 3 to 5 times. This approach works well because it stimulates hypertrophy of the slow-twitch fibers and helps fight fatigue.

3. HICT Step-Ups

Put on a weight vest (your book bag works, too), and do a Step-Up as explosively as you can. Rest 3 to 5 seconds and do another rep on the other leg. Rest 3 to 5 seconds and go again. Repeat this cycle for 10-20 minutes and 1-2 sets. The goal is to increase the endurance of your fast-twitch fibers.

4. Explosive Repeat

Pick an explosive movement (Sled Sprints, Squat Jumps, etc.) and work hard for 10-14 seconds. Rest 30 to 60 seconds and then repeat 6-10 times. This type of exercise is great because it improves the recovery ability of your fast-twitch fibers between bouts of high-intensity activity.

Remember, though: Baseball is still an anaerobic monster and players need to be trained that way. Aerobic conditioning has its place, but it must be managed as a part of the greater whole and adjusted to the individual.

Learn how to put it all together with six excellent baseball conditioning routines.

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