Baseball Strength and Training Exercises

As with any other sport, baseball training and strength exercises must be tailored to a specific physical purpose related to competitive success. Baseball training programs are unusual in that there are significantly different physical requirements for the various positions.

Improved hitting technique is a constant for all players, with variations in the training approaches of "power hitters" and "singles," or "contact," hitters. A starting pitcher in major league baseball is expected to play one game in every four or five; each performance will impose terrific and often debilitating stresses on the pitching arm. The training program for this pitcher will bear little relationship to the work out regime determined for a fielder, whose success will involve a combination of agility, speed, explosive power, and concentration skills.

The training program for any baseball player will have the following components:

  • Speed training: Players must be able to run with speed from the batter's box, on the bases, and tracking down balls hit into the outfield.
  • Agility training: This trains a player to react with total control of the body, from a variety of body positions, such as a crouch and a batting stance, while moving.
  • Strength training: While baseball does not require extreme muscular strength, it does require strong, supple musculature. Proper strength training will protect the baseball player's arm and shoulder, which is vulnerable to injury through overuse or poor mechanics and will focus on the player's core strength and the lower back, which is vulnerable to repetitive strain injury through the twisting and extension of the hitting motion in batting practice.
  • Mental training: Baseball places unique mental demands on its athletes by virtue of the long periods when a player is inactive, either by being on the bench or when the play is not directed in his direction (such as the outfielder who does not have the ball hit in his direction for a number of innings).

Given the nature of the sport, with the premiums placed on speed and agility, an effective baseball strength training program will not primarily center on the development of bulk and large muscle mass. Free weights that are used on a low weight/high repetition basis are often very effective in developing muscles that perform well, both contracted and extended. Squat-type exercises, using light weights, lunges, and leg presses will also enhance the core strength required in the hips, buttocks, and low back. The use of exercise tubing also permits the athlete to extend arm or leg muscles through a range of motion against resistance, without significant risk of overloading the muscle structure in question.

Medicine ball training is another very safe and highly effective way to combine strength training in combination with the full range of the athlete's motion. Lifts and squats with a medicine ball, performed in sets of 20-30 repetitions, are ideal.

Baseball players must be wary of any exercise that requires significant amounts of weight to be lifted over the head; overhead lifts common to the methods of strength training in other sports place stresses on the shoulder and on the rotator cuff in particular, which is a muscle structure essential to baseball performance. The rotator cuff is an assembly of four small muscles in the shoulder that permit the arm to be raised over the head; the rotator cuff also holds the upper arm bone (humerus) in place as the shoulder is taken through its desired range of motion. To keep the rotator cuff structure strong, exercises that employ the athlete's own body weight are a safe but progressive method of building strength; chin-ups, push-ups, and lightweight dumbbell presses are good examples.

Interval running is a speed training technique that mimics the short bursts of acceleration and running required in many aspects of baseball. Base running and fielding all require quick speed and reaction time. Training in intervals builds the ability of the muscle fibers present in the legs, known as "fast twitch fibers," to react quickly, as well as builds muscular endurance. In a similar fashion, plyometrics will enhance the ability of a player to generate both speed and explosive power in the leg muscles. Plyometric programs, which include repetitive jumping and bounding exercises, can be made a component of a baseball training program, as long as attention is paid to the significant demands placed on the leg muscles through this form of training.

The intermittent nature of baseball player's movement during a game requires that all competitors maintain a thorough stretching program. All players are inactive for the half of the game when their team is at bat, save for the batter or players on base. In the field, the pitcher and the catcher are moving on a regular basis, with 10- to 20-second intervals common between pitches; the other fielders are stationary until required to react to a thrown or batted ball. Effective stretching for these athletes will place particular emphasis on flexibility throughout the body.

As befits a sport in which mental concentration is required both as a hitter and to assist a player to move instantly from the inactive phases of the game to brief, vigorous activity, mental training is important. Exercises that enhance an athlete'focus and ability to block out both crowd noise and opposing player comments will complement the physical training of the baseball player.

SEE ALSO Baseball injuries; Mental stress; Muscle fibers: Fast and slow twitch; Plyometrics; Quadriceps pulls and tears.