Apr 7, 2017Play Ball
There are a number of challenges to in-season training for baseball players. Constant stress to specific muscles, such as the rotator cuff, makes it difficult to find a safe approach to in-season strength work. Fortunately, Eric Cressey, president and co-founder of Cressey Sports Performance, has created a comprehensive guide to in-season strength and conditioning for high school baseball players.
Cressey is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) who has worked with athletes at all levels, from youth sports to professional. He is best known for his work with professional baseball players, many of whom train with Cressey each offseason. He also served as the strength and conditioning coach to the USA Baseball Under-18 National Team that won the gold medal at the 2015 World Cup in Osaka, Japan.
His first piece of advice is that every athlete and every team’s schedule are different. So coaches should adjust their in-season training accordingly and be careful not to overwork their players. His next piece of advice involves the rotator cuff, perhaps the most heavily worked muscle of any baseball player, especially pitchers.
“In a nutshell, I tend to stick with 2x/week “conventional” rotator cuff exercises (mostly external rotations) and 2x/week rhythmic stabilization drills,” he writes. “The cuff is already getting abused – so there is no need to crush it any more with daily tubing circuits unless they are incredibly light and just aimed at improving blood flow.”
A theme to Cressey’s advice for in-season training is to focus on the muscles opposite of those constantly being used. For example, he suggests doing a small amount of medicine ball work in the opposite direction of a player’s swing or throw. So a right-handed hitter would perform left-handed medicine ball throws.
Another common theme is quality over quantity. He says that strength-training sessions should not last more than 35-40 minutes and should include roughly 10-14 sets of work. One exception might be for players who are doing foam rolling and targeted mobility drills, because these may take a little more time.
In order to keep players fresh, Cressey firmly believes that coaches should never have their players do long distance running during the season. He also suggests that the first week of in-season strength training should have lower intensity and volume in order to avoid initial soreness. Starting week two, it’s more appropriate to start incrementally raising the intensity and volume.
In terms of exercise selection, Cressey recommends sticking with a lot of the typical compound, multi-joint exercises, but with a few modifications. “In-season, I tend to utilize more horizontal pulling (rows) than vertical pulling (pull-ups/chin-ups),” he says. “We use a lot of vertical pulling throughout the year, but never really go above once a week during the season, as some guys can get a bit cranky in the elbow with the amount of weight it takes to make them challenging. If you want some of the benefits without the elbow issues, you can always plug in the crossover reverse fly.”
Cressey also breaks down his approach to in-season training between position players and pitchers, will a constant focus on increasing mobility. “Guys don’t just get hurt in-season because they lose strength; they get hurt because they lose mobility,” he says. “All the eccentric stress leads to significant losses in mobility, as does all the standing around leads athletes to miss out on basic functional movement patterns like squatting and lunging.”
He suggests that position players and catchers participate in two full-body strength-training sessions per week. Since these players already get ample movement training from taking ground balls and sprinting, their strength programs can focus more on other areas. Similarly, the volume of medicine ball work should remain low because these players already do a lot of high volume rotation their throwing and hitting. For daily exercises, foam rolling and mobility work are still essential.
Training high school pitchers provides some unique challenges because most are two-way players that also spend time in the field. “As a general rule of thumb, I encourage kids to avoid catching and playing SS/3B if they are going to pitch regularly, as the throwing volume really adds up,” Cressey writes. “If a young athlete pitches fewer than three innings per week, though, we just train him like we would a position player, but try to make sure that at least one of these training sessions comes the day after throwing.”
Be schedule strength training around a starting pitchers schedule. It’s best to allow them 1-2 days off from weight training prior to a start. Yet, like the position players, it’s still important for pitchers to do foam rolling and mobility work daily.