This is the fourth installment of a series on in-season strength and conditioning for baseball. In case you missed them, here are links to check out the first three parts of this series:
Part 1: General Assumptions about In-Season Strength and Conditioning for Baseball
Today, I’ll be talking about what I believe to be the optimal set-up for professional baseball players. This might be a minority in the big picture of all the baseball players on the planet, but pro guys’ responses to in-season strength and conditioning programs can really tell us a lot.
Professional baseball players are the ones with the most accumulated wear and tear on their bodies, so effective programming is essential. Likewise, they play daily games – often upwards of 200 per year when you combine spring training, the regular season, and post-season play – so you really need to be able to manage competing demands and fatigue if you want to keep pro guys healthy and performing at a high level.
We’ll break things down by position.
Position players tend to represent the widest range of preferences. On one hand, you have guys who are completely dragging from having to stand on their feet for hours upon end day-after-day.
On the other hand, I’ve known guys who literally want to do something every single day – whether it’s lifting, med ball, sprinting, or a combination of one or more. Don’t believe me? Here’s an awesome email I got from a big league middle infielder who trained 5x/week (3-4 lifting sessions and 1-2 movement training sessions):
I want to thank you for all that you’ve done for me, EC. In this my 18th professional season, I can say, without a doubt, this is the best I’ve felt during any season. By following your program, I was able to stay strong and explosive the whole season. This is the best I’ve felt after the season too. I don’t have any nagging injuries or soreness and I know this is because I followed your programs. I can’t express in words how much you contributed to my success this season.
We’re talking about a guy in his late 30s with a lot of years of service time under his belt – and he felt better by doing more. Don’t be afraid to make guys work in-season; if you don’t, they’ll eventually break down.
This, of course, is the rarity; most guys will be best off finding the balance between doing nothing and doing what we did in the above example. I tend to give position players the most wiggle room in terms of time and day of their lifts. They can either do it earlier in the day, or after games. We usually shoot for three full-body lifts per week on non-consecutive days – and never with more than 15 sets in a given day. One of those three lifts is almost exclusively upper body and core work. They get in, do their work, and get out.
Some guys, however, prefer to split things up into two upper-body and two lower-body sessions per week. They are shorter sessions, but are good for ensuring that athletes are going through their foam rolling and mobility drills more frequently.
In my high school and college examples, I included catchers with position players’ programming needs. However, when you catch 4-5 games a week, things change – and we take that into account with our programming.
First off, we don’t squat our catchers in-season. Trust me, they squat enough. We use more deadlift variations and single-leg exercises during the season.
Second, I encourage catchers to lift post-game, if they have the opportunity and energy to do so. Training before a game might be okay for a pitcher or position player, but crushing a lower body lift right before getting in the bottom of a squat for three hours isn’t particularly appealing. If you can get in the work the night before, you’ve got a better chance of being fresh.
Third, I think that 2-3 strength training sessions per week is sufficient – and only two of those days have lower body work in them. It takes far less volume than you can possibly imagine to maintain strength, so a couple sets each of a bilateral and unilateral exercise usually does the trick for catchers in-season.
Also of note, I don’t like the idea of guys lifting much on their off-days from catching. If you’re only getting 1-2 days off from catching per week, you might as well use them for full recovery. In other words, try to consolidate training stress and earn 24-hour “recovery windows” where you can.
Professional baseball starting pitchers might have the coolest job and schedule in professional sports. It’s very predictable – and they should be able to get in a good 12 lifts per month on the following schedule:
Day 0: pitch
If they wind up with five days between starts, they can split the day 3 training session up into upper body (Day 3) and lower body (Day 4), then take a day off on Day 5.
Life is tough, huh?
Describing what I do with my relief pitchers is a mouthful, but I’ll give it a shot.
Every reliever has three strength training “options” and one movement training day in each program that I send them:
Long Option (Full-Body Strength Training: 15-17 sets)
Here’s exactly how I describe it to them:
“If you go over 20 pitches in an outing, perform the regular Day 1 and then Day 2 in the subsequent two days, as you can assume you won’t throw for 48 hours. Then, progress to Short Option 1, day off, Short Option 2.
“If you make less than 20 pitches, go right to Short Option 1, then Day 2, then Short Option 2, then day off. This is good for when you think you may be going on back to back days. You can do the Short option lifts earlier in the day even if you think you may be throwing a bit that night; the volume will be so low that you’ll still be fresh.
“If you are going to be a long/middle reliever, most of your work will be the Day 1, Day 2, Short Option 1, Day off, Short Option 2, etc. option. Listen to your body and take days off when you need to, but at the very least, make sure you’re getting in the gym 2-3 times a week.
“If you’re going to be a ‘face-one-guy’ reliever or a closer, you’ll be doing more of the short option work.”
Hopefully, that makes sense – because our guys have loved it and I know of a few smart pitching coaches “in the know” who have implemented it in their programs with excellent success.
That wraps up this series on in-season strength and conditioning. It’s taken a long time to test-drive these programs and tinker with them to make sure that they work. At the same time, though, no two athletes are the same, so be sure to individualize your recommendations whenever possible.
Please help me spread these articles around via Facebook, Twitter, and emailed links, as we need to get the word out that in-season training is a must for baseball players at all levels!
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