Professional Baseball Strength & Conditioning


Developing A Year-Round Strength & Conditioning Program for the Pro Baseball Player

By Matt Krause, RSCC*E, ATC

The primary purposes of the New York Yankees strength and conditioning program are to 1) reduce the risk of injury and 2) increase potential performance. Strong and flexible muscles are able to produce more force, absorb stress and enable athletes to play longer and stronger.

When designing strength and conditioning programs, coaches must consider three key components – “The 3 Ps” – productive, practical and purposeful, and train athletes in the safest, most sensible and specific manner.

Productive – The training program must address each essential component of training – strength, conditioning and throwing – and utilize training protocols that have a systematic plan for progressively altering resistance and volume (sets and reps).

Practical – Time is always an essential factor when working with professional athletes. Just because they are getting paid, doesn’t mean that pro athletes don’t have other family, personal, professional or business obligations that need attending. When presented with the option of longer duration, higher-volume or shorter duration, higher-intensity work, opt for shorter duration, higher-intensity work. Strive to achieve max results in less time. Also consider the training background of the players and expertise of the staff. If a player does not possess adequate background and/or if the staff does not have sufficient proficiency in teaching a given lift, exercise or movement, opt for a different choice. Keep it simple. Do the things that “need doing”, minimize the things that would be “nice to do” if time permitted. It’s better to do the basics right than a lot of extraneous exercises with less than perfect technique.

Purposeful – The goals are to prepare the players to meet the physical demands and stress of the game and season, to minimize the risk of injury and maximize performance. If a lift, exercise or movement does not address at least one of these goals, don’t include it in your program. Baseball players are not body builders, they don’t stand in one place and move one muscle or muscle group at a time. They are not Olympic lifters. Olympic lifting is a sport in and of itself. Don’t waste time trying to teach a baseball player to become an Olympic lifter. Use time wisely. Use it to help him to become a better baseball player.

Baseball players are also not Navy Seals. While it is honorable to recognize the hard work, dedication and expertise of the Navy Seals, baseball players are not going to have to swim to a beach, jump from an aircraft, infiltrate a hostile facility or engage in hand-to-hand combat. Respect the Seals, but understand that going through Seal training will not make a baseball player a better baseball player, nor will having a Seal go through spring training make him a better Seal.

Baseball is a skill-oriented sport in which players have to start, stop, run, throw, catch, field, hit, pitch, jump and slide in response to the action or actions of an opposing player or players. Baseball players need to learn how to improve their ability to apply and utilize these skills during game and practice situations.

While baseball players need to be strong, hitting, pitching, throwing and running are power activities. Strength is important, but power is essential for maximum athletic performance. For max athletic development and performance, players need a total development program that produces an optimal level of strength, speed, agility, power, conditioning and individual and team skill training.

What constitutes an “optimal” level of each attribute is related to the training background and playing experience of each player. Many pro players from Latin American countries, for example, are younger and often lack the training opportunities, background and experience of some American players. As a result, the emphasis in many of our Latin American Academy, Gulf Coast League teams, Extended-Spring Training and Short-Season Teams is to help players understand the foundations of the program. Given their limited training opportunities and experiences, players are taught the importance of proper exercise technique. Emphasis is focused on “how to do” basic exercises instead of “how much to do”. Players are taught that performing a perfect rep in every set is more important in than how much they can lift.

When teaching proper technique, emphasis is placed on minimizing biomechanical loading errors, such as, bouncing, recoiling, etc. and maximizing muscular tension. Players are taught the fundamental principles of the program – how to train, recover, eat, sleep and live right. Players are also taught the importance of work ethic, hard work and consistency in achieving their personal and professional goals.

As players progress through the system into AA, AAA and MLB levels of performance, the emphasis shifts to maintaining and improving the strength, speed, power, etc. gains made at the lower levels. There is also an increased emphasis on nutrition and its role on recovery and performance and a shift from team- and position-orientated training programs to personalized programs to address individual strengths and weaknesses.

Because of differences in training background, equipment and facilities, the training programs for players at the lower levels, Latin American Academies, Gulf Coast League, Extended-Spring, Short-Season, Low A and High A teams, are different from those at higher levels. There are also differences between the programs and goals developed for position players and pitchers.

Position players for example are expected to progress to the point that they can:

o Single Leg press body weight x 15 reps
o Hammer chest press 1.5x body weight
o Back row 1x body weight
o Increase vertical jump by 1-3 inches
o Run 300-yard shuttle in 57.0 – 61.9 seconds
o Perform ARC run in under 10 seconds
o Decrease 60-yard dash by 1/10th of a second
o Decrease pro-agility shuttle run by 2/10th of a second
o Demonstrate proper running mechanics

Pitchers are expected to progress to the point that they can:

o Single Leg press body weight x 15 reps
o Hammer chest press 0.7x body weight
o Back row 1x body weight
o Do 3 pull-ups
o Increase vertical jump by 1-3 inches
o Run 300-yard shuttle in 57.0 – 61.9 seconds
o Run 1 mile in under 7:30
o Run 8-10 poles in less than 32 seconds each
o Run T-test in under 10 seconds
Both pitchers and position are also expected to:
o Perform CORE program in 1 minute
o Increase sit and reach test by 1-2 inches
o Achieve an overhead squat score of at least 3
o Achieve a body fat of 8-12% (position players)
o Achieve a body fat of 10-15% (pitchers)

Players are tested on a number of variables and standards are developed for each. Players are assigned by position to one of three categories – Competitors, Champions or Iron Yanks based on their scores. The following is an example of the classifications for middle infielders and outfielders.

The training year should follow a periodization model in which every day of the training year is accounted for. The model consists of three training phases: in-season, off-season and spring training. Specific information on each phase is presented below.

The comprehensive year-around training program involves four interrelated programs: strength, flexibility, conditioning and nutrition. The specifics of each are presented below.

As previously mentioned, the off-season is 20 weeks in duration and consists of 4 phases. The off-season starts with 4-5 weeks of rest and recovery in which the players recovery for the stress and injuries sustained during the season. This is a time of active rest, not couch potato rest. Players mentally get away from the game by engaging in leisure activities, resting and rehabbing old injuries.

This is followed by a 5-week general fitness phase, 6-week strength phase and 4-6 weeks of sports specific training. The general fitness phase usually runs from the first week in November through the first week in December. During this time, players lay the foundation for the more intense work to follow in subsequent phases. The training program utilizes a 4-day split of light to moderate intensity exercise in the 10-12 rep range and longer bouts of conditioning.

The strength phase usually runs from the first week in December through the second week in January. Players train five times per week using a 4-day split of moderate to high intensity work in the 6-8 rep range. All players perform agility work two times per week. Pitchers start throwing and run for time while position players run intervals.

Strength Camp in Tampa starts in the third week in January and is designed to provide professional, personal and conditioning information for the top prospects in the organization. The camp also provides opportunities for players to build relationships, create personal expectations and understand organizational goals. The camp outlines what the organization expects from the players in terms of baseball activities and intensity of effort in the coming months and years.

The sports specific phase starts the third week in January and continues through the second week in February. Players train 6 days per week using 3-day splits. Position players do 2 upper and 1 lower body workout. Pitchers do 2 lower and 1 upper body workout. Strength workouts are moderate in intensity using 8-10 reps. Agility and form running are performed three times per week. Position players start swinging, throwing and other sport specific skill work. Pitcher engage in interval running.

Spring training is approximately 6 weeks in duration, from the third week in February until the end of March. Players train 6 times per week. Players follow a 2-day split of total body resistance training exercises using low to moderate intensity in the 8-12 rep range. They also perform agility/balance training once per week. Position players run the bases and perform position-specific running drills along with hill training. Pitchers begin to develop their personalized in-season training routines.

In-season is 26 weeks in duration. Players utilize a 6 week on and 1 week off routine performing 2 total body workouts per week for a minimal total of 44 in-season workouts. Intensity is low to high-moderate. Reps are in the 6-10 rep range. Players also perform agility and balance workouts one time per week. Position players engage in conditioning workouts 1-2 times per week, relief pitchers condition 5-6 times per week and starting pitchers engage in personalized 5-day training routines.

Matt Krause, MA, RSCC*E, ATC is the former Director of Strength and Conditioning for the New York Yankees and President of the Professional Baseball Strength and Conditioning Society.

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