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:
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.