In-Season Training for Baseball Pitchers

In Season Training: You’re Probably Doing it Wrong

  • September 25, 2015 /
By Andrew Sacks

One of the biggest gripes I had while playing baseball in college was that our in-season training program was trash. By the time May rolled around everybody was skinny, weak, and threw a good 4-5 mph slower than at the beginning of the season. I noticed this during high school ball too, but I didn’t understand why it was happening. I figured that if you trained all offseason, that strength would just stay with you during the season. But unfortunately, that’s not how it works.

Once I got to college and started learning about the body and training, I realized that improper training methods during the season were what was causing this steady decline in performance over the course of the year. That, combined with a hefty dose of long-distance “conditioning” runs.

Here’s 3 big mistakes that people often make when training in season. I’ve omitted “Doing Nothing” because frankly, that should be common knowledge by now.

DON’T DO:
1) Plyometric Training

When you hear someone talking about “jump training” or “speed training”, they’re probably talking about plyometrics. Plyos are designed to improve power and speed, and TONS of people use them incorrectly. But that’s a topic for another day. One of the key ingredients to successful plyometric training is rest. It takes around 72 hours for your body to recover from these types of workouts, and if your body isn’t able to recover properly between sessions, they can actually have a negative effect on power.

So if an in-season athlete does plyometric work on Monday, and doesn’t have another training session until Thursday, they should be OK to do plyos, right? Wrong.

Why is that wrong, you ask? Because these athletes aren’t resting in between training sessions. They’re playing their sport. Which involves running and jumping. Without proper rest, those plyo jumps you’re doing are nothing more than wasted energy. The time to do plyometrics is in the offseason, when rest can be properly programmed and controlled. Also, some studies have shown it takes between 2 to 7 weeks before power and speed gains from plyometric training are seen. And that’s 2 to 7 weeks after CESSATION of plyometric training. Not the actual training. For this reason, not only should plyometric training be confined to offseason training, it should actually end about 2 weeks before the season kicks into gear.

2) Agility Drills

Nothing drives me crazy more than watching people do agility drills while they’re in season. You’re pressed for time, trying to keep overall volume low, and you’ve decided to spend your gym time doing ladder drills?

triple facepalm

Just like with plyometric training, agility training is best suited for the offseason. If you’re in season, your sport is your agility training. I have this discussion with parents from time to time, and I explain that their kids are doing plenty of running and cutting during practice and games already, so their time in the gym would be better spent doing something that they aren’t already getting on the field. The only time I’ll have an in season athlete do any “agility” work is if they need to work on deceleration, because they can get injured easily if they are unable to decelerate properly. Otherwise, there are more important things to focus on.

3) Conditioning Runs

This one is more geared toward baseball players, but the reasoning holds for athletes in all sports. This one drives me nuts because the reasoning behind why coaches make their players do it is based on theories that were debunked years ago. I’ve heard them all.

Usually it’s either:

“You need to jog long distances so you can pitch longer into the game. Remember, baseball games take 3 hours.”

Or,

“You need to get the lactic acid out of your shoulder. Go run 2 miles”

Both of these arguments for long distance running are based on misinformation. Yes, baseball games are long, but pitchers don’t spend the whole game performing steady state, low intensity cardio. Pitching is all about performing max-effort movements for very short periods of time, followed by a short rest, and repeated until the inning ends. Pitching and jogging utilize different energy systems, so it doesn’t make sense that jogging would improve pitching ability. If anything, long distance running makes you a worse athlete, because it causes a decrease in leg muscle size, which lessens the power potential of the lower half. As for the other common argument, lactic acid is not what causes delayed onset muscle soreness. And even if it did, there are ways to increase blood flow to the shoulder that don’t cause leg muscle atrophy.

We spent all winter building leg size and strength. Is this really what you want to look like?

If you’re an athlete and you’re in season, here’s what you should be doing:

DO:
1) Strength Training

The best way to negate all the strength and power you’ve gained in the offseason is to stop strength training. It takes only about 2 weeks of non-lifting for strength to begin to decrease, so this should not even be an option for in season athletes. Compound, multi-joint lifts are the best for in season athletes, since you hit multiple muscle groups with each exercise. Overall volume should be kept low, and eccentric stress ( the “down” part of the lift) should be de-emphasized. Eccentric stresses increase delayed onset muscle soreness, which can severely hinder athletic performance, so it’s best to try to minimize their effect during the season. Not all athletes are the same, and they don’t all respond similarly to the same set and rep scheme, but I’ve found that 2-4 sets of 3-6 reps is usually a good neighborhood to be in.

2) Corrective Exercise

Playing sports causes strength imbalances. If these imbalances aren’t addressed, they can lead to injuries. Identifying the imbalances caused by your sport, and then performing exercises to fix them will go a long way towards keeping you healthy. For example, overhead (baseball, volleyball, tennis, etc) athletes get rounded shoulders and lose scapular stability, so they need to do exercises that will fix those problems.

Hopefully it's not this bad.

Beyond those 2 staples, there really isn’t much else you need to do during the season. You get your “speed and agility training”, movement training, and conditioning just by being on the field during practices and games. The only things you don’t get by playing your sport are strength and muscular balance, so we work on those things in the weight room. For a few athletes we’ll add in some other things, but everybody’s in season program is based around strength training and corrective exercise. There’s usually no reason to add anything else in. If you’re doing offseason training, make sure that you don’t waste all the work you put in. Train properly and stay strong during the entire season and you’ll be a force to be reckoned with come playoff time. I guarantee you’ll be facing a lot of players who are weaker and slower than you are.

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