Designing training programs for baseball players can be very simple. There are, however, a few basic concepts that must be considered before you get started.
- Successful programs can be completed with minimal risk of injury.
- Successful programs help athletes achieve specific goals.
- Successful programs take into consideration that all baseball players are throwing athletes.
If you understand and apply these concepts, there is a good chance that you will be able to design a safe and effective training program for most baseball players.
There is a line in a country song that says – “be sure you don’t outsmart your common sense.” This is also a general weight room guideline. Sometimes it’s better not to go in any direction than to go in the wrong direction. Injuries resulting from faulty training program design and implementation are unacceptable. The following are examples of exercises that I avoid when working with baseball players.
- Behind the neck pull downs, behind the neck press and overhead shoulder presses. This group of exercises requires less than optimal shoulder positioning and can increase shoulder stress and the risk of impingement.
- Barbell bench presses. Barbell chest exercises can augment faulty posture and prevent ideal shoulder arthro-kinematics. Supine bench presses can also help de-train the serratus anterior because of the scapula is immobilized by the bench.
- Crunches. This group of exercises can help create faulty posture patterns that can augment shoulder and low back pain.
- Leg Presses. The movement in this exercise is very slow and not specific to many of the movements performed in game situations. Leg strength is important but when the ball is in play the players are usually standing, not sitting down, and must be able to move very fast.
- Leg Extensions. This exercise can cause the patella to track incorrectly and can lead to a shortening/tightening of the rectus femoris. Effective programs don’t cause muscles to become short or tight.
The aforementioned exercises are not the best available options. An experienced strength coach should be able to prescribe exercises that offer more benefits and less risk than those mentioned above.
Goals and goal setting are also important parts of all training programs. Goals can be personal, but they should also be based on a needs evaluation of both the sport and athlete. Examples of player needs include factors such as training status, physical and physiological strengths and weaknesses, body composition and specific sport-related factors such as thoracic mobility, hip internal and external rotation, flexibility, etc. Sport needs include sport-specific movement patterns, muscle groups, physical and physiological demands, energy requirements and injury risks. Goals should be based on the requirements of the sport and the athlete’s needs relative to his age, training background, experience, position, body composition, strength, speed, power, etc.
Program direction is crucial for program success. Strength coaches must be able and willing to supervise every workout, exercise, rep and set. Failure to provide proper supervision and require perfect technique on every rep can limit progress and lead to an increased risk of injury.
A final concept to consider is that all baseball players are throwers. The most important joint in the kinetic chain is the shoulder. Coaches should proactive and design programs that protect the shoulder joint. In the absence of X-ray vision, there is no way to identify what type of bony configurations and growth an individual might have. In some cases, bony alignments cause a decrease in the space available for overhead movements. Faulty alignments coupled with poor thoracic rotation mixed with improper exercise selection can limit performance and increase the risk of injury. To ensure that the shoulder is prepared for repetitive overhead movements, it is essential that athletes strengthen the muscles that stabilize the scapula. There are a number of excellent exercises that can be used to improve scapula stabilization. Manual, Isotonic, isometric, tubing, and cable weights are examples of resistance techniques that can be used to provide variations of the different exercises.
Coaches should also understand the importance of external shoulder rotation in the throwing athlete and know how to vary the position and type of resistance needed to enhance this movement and reduce the risk of repetitive overuse injury. Since players can’t make the team sitting in the tub, they should save their shoulder bullets for throwing activities. Injuries in the weight room are unacceptable. Effective strength coaches understand the principles and concepts of training and have a reason for everything they choose to do or not do.
Nathan Shaw ATC, CSCS, Major League Strength and Conditioning Coordinator,
Arizona Diamondbacks Baseball Club