Baseball has one of the longest seasons of any major sport in America at 162 games. That puts a lot of mileage on players and staying healthy and strong are key components to career longevity. Players at all levels from high school to the pros should focus on strength and conditioning to increase their power and speed, and their ability to stay healthy both in and out of season.
Baseball is a game of reaction, going from a dead stop to 100 percent effort in a split second. Therefore, building power and speed is a necessity. Power movements, such as conventional and sumo deadlifts, power cleans, and various presses, all aid in increasing your strength.
The deadlift, both conventional and sumo, are great additions to a baseball player’s regimen. Both styles of the deadlift will develop the glutes and hamstrings. Strong glutes and hamstrings equal explosive power.
Power cleans help develop the majority of the body’s major muscles, from glutes and hamstrings to the upper back and traps. This movement will also help develop speed and power. Practicing movements inside the gym that simulate what players do on the field is a must, and power cleans will do just that.
Presses (bench press, strict press, and push press) all develop upper back, chest, and shoulder strength. For hitting, the development of the chest, upper back and shoulders all increase a player’s ability to drive the ball off the bat harder and faster.
Some trainers and players tend to believe they should avoid press exercises because of potential injury, but if done with proper form and technique, injury can be avoided. Avoiding press exercises could do more harm than good in the long run.
All of these exercises not only aid in the offensive side of play, but also defensive. The power cleans and deadlifts develop speed to run down a ball or to plant and throw. The presses develop strength in the shoulders, back, and arms to aid in a player’s ability to throw a ball further and faster.
Hand/eye coordination requires natural ability, but it can also be developed just like strength and speed. There are some simple yet effective ways a player can strengthen hand/eye coordination, and a benefit of this is the lessening of reaction time. For example, taking a tennis ball and throwing it off the wall with one hand and catching with the same hand will develop hand/eye coordination. As you get better, increasing the speed of the ball off the wall will continue to develop your abilities.
A player’s ability to keep his eyes focused or switch focus quickly depending on the ball’s distance from them is extremely important, especially when a hitter in the higher levels of baseball has an average of .4 seconds to determine the type of pitch, speed, and position in order to react from the time the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand until it reaches the plate.
A fun and easy way to exercise your eyes’ ability to focus quickly is to take two different objects, like two different pictures or book covers, and set them at two different distances away from you. Set one at 2 feet and the other at 8-10 feet. Focus on the object closest to you and notice all the details you can for 5 seconds. Then switch to the object further away and do the same. Switch your focus back and forth, noticing new details each time for about one minute at a time.
Baseball players, especially pitchers, have the highest risk for injury. Doing the exercises mentioned previously will help reduce injury risk. But there are some other easy and effective things that can be added to a player’s strength and conditioning program to help reduce the risk of injury in all players, especially pitchers.
For example, using bands to help increase strength and reduce injury for pitchers has become a staple of pitching coaches’ plans for their players. If they work backwards through an injury with the point of recovery being the starting point, they can simply take the movements used by physical therapists in strengthening an injured shoulder or arm and implement those movements into a program to help avoid injury altogether. Some of those movements include banded pull aparts to increase strength in the back and chest, banded tricep extensions to help with tennis elbow, or banded single-arm reverse fly’s to help strengthen the chest and shoulders. There are endless options and benefits to band work.
Bands offer an increase or decrease in tension at different points of a movement, but tension is constant, which causes the muscles to stay constantly engaged during the movement, thus strengthening them. Bands are great for increasing strength in smaller muscles, too, which support the major muscles.
Jeff Clement, a retired nine-year veteran of Major League Baseball and the Johnny Bench Award recipient for being the best college catcher in 2005 at the University of Southern California, shared his experiences with strength and conditioning in baseball training and keeping players healthy. He said, “I believe baseball is catching up with other major pro athletics in that it’s becoming more scientific in how its athletes are training and refueling. I’m seeing more weighted-ball training for pitchers, and video and biomechanics are being studied in ways that I never saw 10 years ago. The players keep getting bigger, stronger, faster.”
To general viewers, it may at times seem there isn’t much going on in baseball, but if you pay close attention, you can see the athleticism, speed, strength, and coordination needed to play at the highest level. Players and coaches who continually strive to improve on those physical aspects of the game will only continue to see success and growth in the sport of baseball.
Oakland Athletics’ Pitcher Daulton Jeffries’ Training Tips
4. Rolling Out Soft Tissue
5. Listen To Your Body
“These are the most important tips I’ve been taught that have helped exponentially with how my body feels every day, which directly relates to my performance on the field,” he said.
By J. D. Alex