The baseball season is a grind. You have a packed schedule of games and practices, and the constant repetition of the same movements gradually takes a toll.
For many, the sheer volume of work can cause a nagging injury that impairs their play on the field—or worse, prevents them from playing altogether. Not even the best baseball players in the world are immune if they're not careful.
The solution? A fine-tuned approach to training, recovery and overall workload during the long baseball season. We spoke to four elite baseball strength coaches to learn how you can stay strong throughout the season and minimize your chance of injury.
Continue Working Out During Your Season
One of the most common mistakes made by baseball players—or any athlete, really—is that they stop working out once the season starts. It's understandable. You're busting your butt in practices and games, and you probably have homework and/or a job to contend with.
Where do you find the time?
Well, you need to make time, because training during the season is essential for preventing injuries and staying strong over the course of the long season.
"My best tip for in-season baseball players: Keep training!" says Tony Bonvechio, strength coach at Cressey Sports Performance, one of the premier baseball training facilities in the country. "You don't have to go as hard, as heavy or as often as you go in the off-season, but lifting weights in-season does more than just maintain the strength you've built. Every time you work out, it means you're foam rolling, warming up and exposing yourself to movements and ranges of motion you don't get while playing baseball. That's the stuff that often gets forgotten during the season, but it might be the most important thing to stave off overuse injuries."
Establish a Consistent Routine
For Cleveland Indians strength coach Joe Kessler, establishing a consistent routine is essential. He says, "One of the most important things is definitely consistency with your routine from a preparation standpoint—getting your body ready for what you're about to partake in, whether that's batting practice, a bullpen session, playing catch, a full practice or a game."
Kessler often sees injuries result from inconsistent preparation. Maybe the athlete isn't fully preparing. Or they wing their warm-up and forget to activate a critical muscle group. Regardless, consistency is key.
Kessler advises creating a routine that includes the following points:
- Step 1: Do some foam rolling and soft tissue work.
- Step 2: Stretch tight muscles, paying special attention to your hamstrings, glutes, hips, lower back and t-spine.
- Step 3: Activate your muscles with a dynamic warm-up. Focus on your glutes, hips, obliques and core prior to hitting and throwing.
Correct Imbalances That Occur Over the Season
According to Tony Gentilcore, Boston-based strength coach and owner of TonyGentilcore.com, the throwing shoulder is put under a lot of stress by the volume of throws and the duration of the season.
"There's going to be some predictive imbalances that transpire as the season progresses—lack of internal rotation in the throwing shoulder, lack of elbow extension on the same side, as well as tendencies for the shoulder blade to downwardly rotate and limit shoulder flexion," Gentilcore explains.
Sounds complicated, but in short, your normal shoulder function gets out of whack as the season progresses, and this can cause an injury if you're not careful.
To correct these issues, Gentilcore recommends regularly performing the following:
- Foam rolling the lats
- Forearm Wall Slides and Single-Arm Prone Trap Raises
- Rhythmic Stabilizations to strengthen the rotator cuff
Keep Your Workouts Short and Sweet
Tampa Bay Rays strength coach Kevin Barr has his position players do two full-body workouts every week. The workouts consist of a 10- to 15-minute warm-up and 15 minutes of strength work. For guys who are playing 162 games in a season, that's all they can and should handle.
High school athletes are bit different. They don't play as many games, nor is their season as long as a pro schedule. It's still advisable for them to perform two workouts per week, but they can go a bit longer, given that the demands aren't quite as high, and they can schedule workouts on off days.
"In-season players should try to make it to the weight room two times per week, with the heaviest, most intense day being either right after a game or the day after a game," adds Gentilcore. Specifically, emphasize the lower body as close to a game as possible to condense training stress.
Find a Balance With Your Workouts and Practice
Sometimes you might go hard in the weight room. Other times, you go hard on the field. And that's OK. Maybe you feel you need to work on your lower-body strength or you need to take some extra BP.
But when it all comes down to it, be careful of doing too much.
"There definitely needs to be a balance. Fatigue leads to breakdown and breakdown leads to injury," says Kessler. "Training should complement the work being done on the field."
So if you do a little extra field work, maybe go a little easier in the weight room. On the flip side, if you hit the weights extra hard, take it a bit easier on the field.
This also requires that you adjust your training. You can't be crushing weights like you did in the off-season and expect to continue to perform on the field at a high level on a consistent basis.
"The guys come into spring training and try to keep their off-season programs going, and they can't," says Barr. "They all try for 2 or 3 weeks. [But] it doesn't work. By the middle of our spring training schedule, we are back to the basics of our in-season program and all the off-season work stops. You physically can't do it. You're either going to be a deadlifter and squatter or a hitter and thrower. Something has to give."
Do Single-Leg Exercises
We all love hitting PRs on our Deadlifts and Squats. But for Barr's athletes, this stops during the season. No doubt, these exercises are great. But the time for them is in the off-season. As Barr puts it, "The season is your final exam, so it's too late to study for it."
Instead, he advises focusing on single-leg exercises, such as Step-Ups, Lunges and Jumps. They help to maintain your strength and build the stability and symmetry needed to stay strong, powerful and durable.
Work Out With Whatever You Have Available to You
Unless you're playing in college or at a high school that has a weight room, getting to the gym can be a challenge—especially if you're on the road.
However, don't place too many expectations on your workouts. Just do what you can.
"You can work out wherever you are and with whatever you have available to you," says Barr. "Good old fashioned weight vest, med balls, body weight, dumbbells—whatever you have."
You can do your workouts at home, at the ballpark, at a gym—it doesn't matter. Just get your workouts in.
Know the Difference Between Being Sore and Being Injured
Baseball is a rough game, no doubt. There are inevitable bumps and bruises that arise during the season from repeated hitting and throwing, stealing bases, getting hit by pitches. It's not as violent as football, but players do get banged up.
You can play through most bumps and bruises. Being slightly uncomfortable is not necessarily a cause for concern. However, an injury is a completely different story.
Due to the volume of practices and games, even something small can spiral out of control if it's not addressed. For example, sometimes an MLB player shows up on the disabled list for something that appears extremely minor. Yes, they could probably play through it, but they are making the decision to take some time off so it doesn't cause further problems down the line.
You can and will play sore sometimes. But don't play injured.
"You have to use some common sense to take a step back," says Barr. "Understand the difference between soreness and injury. You need to take one step back to take two steps forward."
The Stuff Off the Field Counts Too
Your habits off the field help your body recover from your time on the field and in the weight room. Here are a few strategies Kessler implements with the Indians.
- Stay hydrated. Drink fluids throughout the day, and make sure to replenish your electrolytes with a sports drink.
- Eat whole foods. Eliminate fatty meats, fried foods and cream sauces from your diet. The more whole foods, the better. You can take vitamins, omega-3 supplements and glucosamine to fight excessive inflammation, but your calories should come from food, not meal replacements.
- Try a contrast shower. Turn the shower from cold to hot every few minutes to accelerate recovery.
- Get a massage. Or regularly foam roll your body.
- Get quality sleep. Try to stick to a regular schedule and take naps if needed—the Indians have their own dedicated nap room and a sleep doctor.
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