Professional Baseball Strength & Conditioning

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Identify Individual Needs

By James Clifford, RSCC

In baseball, as in the general population, there are a variety of body types performing different roles and this is a significant factor to keep in mind when designing personalized training programs. For that reason, the Seattle Mariners have created a needs analysis that is administered to each player when they arrive at spring training.

In order to create effective, personalize training programs, the strength and conditioning staff has to be able to identify what’s required of each player in order for him to be durable enough to perform his specific role or roles on the team over the course of a 162-game schedule. If, for example, we have a shortstop who needs to lose weight, asking him to run long distance doesn’t translate very well to the sport of baseball or the position of shortstop. Asking him to perform higher intensity interval training workouts is a more sport- and position-specific option than running long distance.

Baseball is an anaerobic sport and shortstop is a position that requires the ability to accelerate, decelerate, stop and change directions quickly and under control. Asking a baseball player to run long distance is wrong for a variety of reasons. First, it trains the wrong energy system – aerobic vs. anaerobic. Second, it trains the wrong muscle fiber type – slow twitch vs. fast twitch, and third, it elicits the wrong hormonal response – catabolic vs. anabolic.

Research indicates that high intensity interval training is more effective for burning calories and improving both aerobic and anaerobic fitness than jogging. And, it stimulates the production of testosterone, an anabolic hormone that helps increase and maintain muscle mass, strength and power. Jogging, on the other hand, increases the production of cortisol, a catabolic hormone that can lead to a decrease in muscle mass, strength and power, have a negative impact on performance and increase the risk of injury.

It’s important to understand the sport and performance needs of each player at each position. While every player needs a basic level of strength, speed, power and work capacity, each player and each position requires different levels of each. The speed requirements of a catcher, for example, are significantly different than those of a middle infielder or centerfielder. Corner infielders and outfielders need more strength / power than those in the middle of the field and pitchers need a higher work capacity than most other positions.

Most baseball players don’t need to be able to run a 5-minute mile, possess six-pack abs or bench press 300 pounds to perform at the highest level. The ball weighs approximately 5 ounces, most players swing a bat that weighs no more than 36 ounces and most plays in game situations are over in 5 seconds or less. So, while strength, speed, power and the endurance to withstand the stresses of a 162-game season are important, relative strength is more important that absolute strength, the ability to accelerate is more important than sprint speed and physical work capacity – the ability to exert bouts of max or near max effort repeatedly with minimal rest between each – is more important than a high aerobic capacity.

Coaches must understand the requirements of the sport and those of each position on the field in order to determine if a player’s strength, speed, power, endurance, etc. profile is one that will enhance or hinder performance both short- and long-term. A comprehensive needs analysis will help the coach determine a player’s strengths and weaknesses and design a personalize training program that will help enhance performance by maintaining his strengths, improving his weaknesses and reducing the risk of injury.

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James Clifford, RSCC is Seattle Mariners Major League Strength and Conditioning Coach.

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