What can young baseball and softball players learn from the pro’s training routines?
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Sunday was the first game of Major League baseball’s spring training. The excitement of the 2015 season is now in full swing. Pitchers and catchers reported to training over the past 2 weeks and the full squads generally reported about 5 days later. The drills, cardio work, flexibility/strengthening routines, and technical fine tuning over the next month will be essential to get players conditioned in time for the MLB season opener on April 5th.
Practices in the early weeks usually involve morning training routines on the fields adjacent to the spring game stadiums. Pitchers, catchers, and some position players returning from injury are usually the first to report. This enables them to work on throwing arm flexibility, strength training, core rehabilitation, throwing mechanics, or recovery from injury before the chaos of full team practices and preseason games sets in.
So, what aspects of spring training can be adopted for all baseball and softball players, from youth leagues up through elite college level ball?
General Fitness Considerations
First and foremost, players would ideally report to training already engaged in a preseason fitness program. Opening day for the Majors is only 4-6 weeks away from reporting day, so attempts to ramp up fitness from scratch in such a short period of time can be a set-up for early season injury.
Another general consideration is that an adequate nutritional program is essential to promote fitness, recovery, and improvement through the season. Most important is to balance caloric intake and include sufficient protein for recovery and healing of tissues stressed during activity. Maintaining hydration during and after practice is also essential. In particular, as athletes participate in progressively intense training or play, the metabolic and fluid needs of the body increase. Similarly, a progressive program with ample rest is important to allow the body to adapt to higher intensity activity.
All Major League players participate in some type of flexibility program. Shoulder, back, hip, and lower limb flexibility is important no matter the position. A general daily flexibility program should be built into the training routine. One study showed that a dynamic stretching program could reduce hamstring injury risk, for instance. (1) For throwers, though, tightness of the back part of the shoulder joint (posterior capsule tightness) can alter throwing mechanics, increase impingement, and increase rotator cuff injury risk. (2) For the thrower, stretching the posterior shoulder joint capsule with ‘sleeper’ and ‘cross body’ stretches can reduce risk of injury to the dominant shoulder as well as other structures like the elbow ulnar collateral ligament. (3) What thrower wouldn’t want to avoid an injury that could lead to Tommy John surgery?
Strength, Speed, and Agility Training
Core as well as throwing shoulder strengthening is the cornerstone of performance. Performance is improved with full-body resistance training and rotational plyometric work for bat speed. Upper body plyometric exercises are important for throwers. (4) A 2010 study showed that preseason weakness of the rotator cuff predicted higher risk for injury requiring surgery in professional pitchers. (5) So focusing on strength of the throwing shoulder can also help reduce injury rates.
Agility, speed, and lower-body power have been shown to be predictive of better performance in baseball players. (6) Thus, focusing on these areas during training and through the season can enhance performance. To develop speed, strength and conditioning coaches use form running drills. Squats, lunges and plyometrics are common core/hip programs. (7) While these specific exercises may not be appropriate for youth players, certainly box jumps, sit-ups, and plyometric hip exercises can be beneficial to players of all ages.
Baseball and softball are fundamentally sports that demand explosive power and speed more than aerobic endurance. Thus, cardiovascular and metabolic training in the preseason should focus on repeated sprints, jumps, plyometric, and agility work at near maximal exertion levels to enhance anaerobic performance. (8,9)
The key is to have an organized program in place and to engage the athletes in their own progress as well as injury risk reduction. To stay healthy all season, the athlete must prepare properly and early. If an unfortunate injury does develop, seek out the expertise of a sports medicine specialist, such as the team of professionals at MUSC Health Sports Medicine.
1 O’Sullivan et al: BMC Musculoskelet Disord (2009)
2 Myers et al: Am J Sports Med (2006)
3 Dines et al: Am J Sports Med (2009)
4 McEvoy and Newton: J Strength Cond Res (1998)
5 Byram et el: Am J Sports Med (2010)
6 Hoffman et al: J Strength Cond Res (2009)
7 Ebben et al: J Strength Cond Res (2005)
8 Rhea et al: J Strength Cond Res (2008)
9 Wallace et al: J Sports Med Phys Fitness (2007)