Designing Training Programs for Baseball
By Nate Shaw, ATC, RSCC
Designing training programs for baseball players can be very simple. There are a few concepts to focus on before you get started. A successful program is one that a player can complete without a large risk of injury. A successful program also helps the athlete achieve specific goals. The program should take into consideration that all baseball players are throwing athletes. If you adopt these concepts there is a good chance that you will be on the right track to getting the best program together for your athletes.
There is a line in a country song and it says to “Be sure you don’t outsmart your common sense.” That thought process is also a general weight room guideline. It’s better to not go in any direction rather than go in the wrong direction. Injuries from a training program are unacceptable. The following are five examples of exercises that I avoid with my players at all costs:
- Behind the neck pull downs, behind the neck presses and overhead shoulder presses. This group of exercises requires less than optimal shoulder positioning.
- Single bar (barbell) bench presses. Chest exercises can augment faulty posture and therefore throw off ideal shoulder arthro-kinematics. Supine bench presses de-train the serratus anterior because the scapula is immobilized on the bench.
- Crunches. This exercise group can help create faulty posture patterns that augment shoulder and low back pain.
- Leg Presses. The exercise movement is very slow and not very specific to many baseball movements. Leg strength is very important but when the ball is in play the play makers are typically on one foot and have to be able to be moving very fast.
- Leg Extensions. This exercise can often cause the patella to track incorrectly. It also leads to a shortening/tightening of the rectus femoris. Ideally your program doesn’t cause any muscles to become short or tight.
The above-mentioned exercises are not the best selections available. Given a deeper look, the astute strength coach can prescribe exercises that offer more positive with less risk than those mentioned above.
Defining and setting goals are very important parts of a program. Goals can be personal, but they should also include direction. Direction is crucial to the success of your athlete’s program. Examples of evaluation goals include increased thoracic rotation, increased hip internal or external rotation, improved strength and increased flexibility. These goals should be based on the athlete’s needs in regard to his position, age, playing experience, history of injury, body weight, strength, body composition, personal exercise likes and dislikes, etc.
The final concept to consider is that all baseball players are throwers. The most important joint in the kinetic chain is the throwing shoulder. So, protecting the shoulder joint is extremely important. In the absence of X-ray vision, there is no way to identify what type of bony configurations and growth an individual may have. In some cases, bony alignments cause a decrease in the space available for overhead movements. Improper alignments coupled with poor thoracic rotation mixed with a poor exercise selection can increase the risk of injuries that may very well have been avoided otherwise. To ensure that the shoulder is as well prepared as possible, it is crucial to strengthen muscles that stabilize the scapula. There are a number of exercises available for the scapula. Manual, isotonic, isometric, tubing, and cable weights all offer different variations of the same exercises. For max results, emphasize shoulder external rotation and vary the exercise position and the type of resistance utilized. Since a player can’t make the team sitting in the tub, he should be encouraged to save his shoulder bullets for throwing activities. Remember that injuries in the weight room are unacceptable and the astute strength coach has a reason for everything he/she does or doesn’t do.
Nathan Shaw ATC, CSCS, is the Major League Strength and Conditioning Coordinator for the Arizona Diamondbacks Baseball Club.