Coaches and athletic trainers recommend that baseball and softball players should gradually increase their physical training in the off-season. For the reasons why, look no further than the 2020 professional baseball season. The COVID-19 pandemic limited off-season training, leading to increased injury.
Coaches, athletic trainers, and researchers all blamed a lack of training. In particular, they blamed irregular or insufficient training before the season began. For example, a greater proportion of pitchers had injuries in the first 30 days of the season compared to the same period in the five previous seasons.
The best training plan responds to the specific sport’s physical needs. For baseball or softball, that means progressive, dynamic workouts.
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Off-Season Workouts for a Player’s Specific Needs
Off-season baseball workouts have two goals. The first is to optimize performance, but the second, crucial goal is to reduce injury.
That’s why training programs build an athlete’s workload bit by bit. This prepares athletes for the season’s physical demands.
So how can you build a successful training program?
Start with sport-specific demands
Baseball (like golf and tennis) is a rotational sport, so successful baseball training programs should enhance the body’s rotational abilities. This includes moves such as throwing and batting.
Emphasize improved mobility, increased strength, and appropriate workload progressions.
Other qualities associated with baseball performance include:
- Body mass.
- Running speed.
- Throwing velocity.
- Bat velocity.
- Linear and rotational power.
Consider common injuries
Inadequate off-season training increases the rate of injuries. April and May account for 40% of all pro baseball hamstring injuries. These two months also have the highest overall injury rates compared to other months.
The most common injuries occur in:
- Throwing arm.
- Paralumbar muscle.
- Hip adductors.
Injuries are also position-specific. Pitchers often have shoulder and elbow injuries, while position players have hamstring injuries.
Five Off-Season Training Phases
Off-season training consists of five phases. This strategy begins with recovery and builds intensity. The goal is to increase intensity as you build toward the regular season.
Phase I: Recovery
Athletes must recover from the previous season before ramping up again. During this time, it’s best to avoid completely stopping activity. Instead, incorporate mobility and flexibility exercises.
Since range of motion (ROM) decreases in the off-season, focus on restoring ROM and muscle and tissue repair. This phase lasts two to four weeks.
Example lower-body recovery exercises:
- Pigeon pose.
- Banded ankle squats.
- Physio-ball hip circles.
- Quad hip flexor stretch.
Example upper-body recovery exercises:
- Foam roll wall slides.
- Banded tornadoes.
- Elevated band pull apart.
- Side-lying foam roll reach.
Example cardiovascular recovery exercises:
- Brisk walking.
Phase II: Reconditioning
Next, focus on increasing work capacity, and pay attention to technique. During this phase, training volume increases (more rounds and reps of exercises), but loads are lighter. This phase lasts about four weeks.
Example lower-body reconditioning exercises:
- Goblet squats.
- Lunges with weighted vest.
- Squat jumps.
- Band pull-through.
Example upper-body reconditioning exercises:
- Physio-ball push-ups.
- Standing cable rows.
- Dumbbell press.
Example cardiovascular reconditioning exercises:
- Distance running.
- Low-impact training (i.e. elliptical/stationary bike).
- Interval runs (1:3 work to rest ratio).
Phase III: Accumulative strength
The third phase is when lighter, on-field, sport-specific training begins. This happens together with strength training exercises that focus on different parts of the body. The off-season allows for greater volumes and more recovery time between workouts.
During this time, use moderate loads and perform moderate rounds and reps. Phase three lasts four to six weeks.
Example lower-body accumulative strength exercises:
- Bulgarian split squat.
- Reverse lunge.
- Safety squat.
- Hex deadlift.
Example upper-body accumulative strength exercises:
- Three-point dumbbell row.
- Plate swimmers.
- Single-arm standing cable press.
Example cardiovascular accumulative strength exercises:
- Long sprints (100-400 m sprints).
- Base-running drills.
- Sprints with change of direction.
Phase IV: Strength-speed
This training phase focuses on building the strength in motion. This strength-speed comb is important in sprinting, jumping, and reactive sports. This more complex phase builds the force and movement speed needed for loaded positions.
Complex training combines high-loaded functional movements with light-load power exercises. One example is a deadlift followed by countermovement jumps.
Use moderate to heavy loads and perform a moderate number of rounds and reps. This phase lasts two to three weeks.
Example lower-body strength-speed exercises:
- Goblet squat with pause.
- Vested repeat step-ups.
- Dumbbell squat jumps.
- Weight-rebound lateral lunges.
Example upper-body strength-speed exercises:
- Band/cable pull isometric.
- Banded speed row.
- Plate drops.
- Seated sled pulls.
Example cardiovascular strength-speed exercises:
- Shuttle runs.
- Cone drills.
- Ladder drills.
Phase V: Precompetitive phase
Precompetitive training is 90% sport-specific activities and skill-based exercises. Training volume decreases and intensity increases.
Focus on heavy loads, plyometrics, and reactive movements. Rounds and reps are moderate or low. This phase lasts four to six weeks.
Example lower-body precompetitive exercises:
- Depth drop to jump.
- Dumbbell step-ups.
- Band explosive step-ups.
- Partner-assisted lateral lunge.
Example upper-body precompetitive exercises:
- Explosive chest pass.
- Single-arm cable punch.
- Dumbbell press.
- Explosive push-up.
Example cardiovascular precompetitive exercises:
- Box jumps.
- Short sprints (40-60 m with 1:1 work to rest ratio).
Remember that the goal is not to jump back into your peak training routine. Take time to recuperate and then build back up. A steady, progressive off-season routine can improve your performance and reduce the chance of injury.
To learn more about sport-specific training or treatment for a baseball-related injury, please visit our website. To make an appointment with UPMC Sports Medicine, call 1-855-937-7678.
Current Reviews in Musculoskeletal Medicine. Offseason Workout Recommendations for Baseball Players. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7990992
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