Most baseball coaches know the impact that a good S&C program can have on the health, safety, and performance of their players. With players performing such high volumes of asymmetrical movements—throwing and hitting—an S&C plan designed specifically for the unique mechanical and metabolic components of baseball can help keep your starters off the bench (which can make or break your season). But despite a well-recognized need for strength and power development (and injury prevention) via proper training, some baseball coaches are hesitant when it comes to the weight room—never allowing players to bench press, for example, or only utilizing bands as resistance, or stopping training altogether during the season. That’s what makes properly designed baseball-specific S&C so important.
If you’re not currently training your baseball players on a periodized strength and conditioning program designed by a certified strength coach for the demands of the game, you might not be doing enough to improve their performance while reducing their risk of injury. Here are our top 3 reasons baseball athletes need a strength training component to stay healthy and perform.
1. Increased Bat Speed and Throwing Velocity
In other words, proper strength and conditioning leads to more powerful swings and throws. Improving an athlete’s rotational force production—the amount of power they are able to generate through the hips and torso, expressed through the upper-body—translates to more power being transferred into the bat or ball. But you can’t just walk into the weight room and start flinging barbells and medicine balls around at random hoping to improve your rotational power. It takes a strategic approach to develop this movement pattern in a way that doesn’t injure the athlete or aggravate muscles that are already working hard during practice.
First, a foundation of general strength must be built, in order to improve the overall strength and function of muscles and connective tissues (tendons, ligaments, fascia, etc.) throughout basic movement patterns. Second, rotational exercises in the weight room must be carefully balanced with anti-rotation exercises, since the deceleration phase of a pitch or swing must be equally trained as the acceleration phase. So there is both a force production AND force absorption component to developing rotational power, and each is equally important for ensuring performance, safely, and longevity.
2. Improved First-Step Acceleration and Change-of-Direction (COD)
When you’re running the bases, every step matters—especially the first. While maximum sprint speed is important in base running, if you can’t accelerate out of the batter’s box fast enough, you’ll be giving up outs (and opportunities to eventually score) at first base. In other words, training athletes to reach their top speed more quickly is just as important as training top speed overall. Likewise, the ability to change directions quickly—whether fielding ground balls, making quick reads on fly balls, or advancing to the next base—can equate to games won or lost, so developing powerful first-step acceleration in all directions is key for overall baseball performance.
A properly designed baseball-specific strength and conditioning program will prioritize acceleration (and deceleration) training both in the weight room and through conditioning drills. Plyometrics, single-leg strength exercises, and landing mechanics drills all play a role in developing better acceleration and sprint mechanics, and training on a well-rounded program ensures athletes attain the ability to move well in all planes of motion.
3. Increased Durability and Fewer Injuries
Arguably the biggest benefit to baseball players in adopting a strength and conditioning program is injury mitigation—for injuries that occur both from overuse and during play. In a comprehensive study of shoulder and elbow injuries among high school baseball players, most upper-extremity injuries were found to be chronic and caused by overuse. Other studies have found that up to 84% of rotational athletes (across many sports involving a rotational component, like golf and tennis) experience injuries to the low back as a result of or during participation in their sport. So considering how research shows that strength training can reduce overuse injuries by almost 50%—and injuries that occur during gameplay by over 66%—implementing a strength and conditioning program is a no-brainer when it comes to reducing overuse injuries for baseball players.
But while baseball athletes across positions perform high-volume asymmetrical movements (throwing, batting, etc.), given the differences in the actions performed by a pitcher and a position player/hitter during a baseball game, it’s also important to consider player positions when designing an S&C program for baseball athletes. The same comprehensive study of high school baseball athletes looked at the epidemiology of injuries by player position—and it may come as no surprise that pitchers suffer the majority of both shoulder and elbow injuries (typically from overuse during both practice and competition), while field players are more likely to sustain injuries caused by contact (during competition) than pitchers.
The different demands of each position in baseball illustrate the need for a strength and conditioning program designed specifically for not only baseball, but player position as well. At Volt, our field player-specific programs focus on developing the overall strength and durability needed to withstand contact on the field, while our pitcher-specific programs prioritize rotator cuff and elbow strength and stability, in an effort to mitigate irritation caused by overuse. All Volt baseball programs also focus on preventing injuries to the low back caused by high-volume rotations during practice and games, and aim to develop the proper trunk mechanics needed to keep athletes off the bench all season.
Batting practice is important, but it's not the only thing that can impact your players' performance on game day. Likewise, a good strength and conditioning plan will never make up for a lack of tactical skills and game strategy. But prioritizing S&C—ideally a baseball-specific program designed and implemented by a certified strength coach—can help your team execute those skills efficiently and effectively on the field, while mitigating injuries. And this doesn't just count for the off-season. Even a couple 30-minute lifts per week during the long season can do wonders for your athletes when it comes to staving off injuries while maintaining strength and power. While each workout may look different during the season, the overarching goal of any good S&C program is to improve performance, and prevent injuries—which you can only do if you put in the reps.
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Learn more about Christye and read her other posts | @CoachChristye