Professional Baseball Strength & Conditioning

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The baseball season is a marathon. Major League teams play 162 games in approximately 180 days and minor league teams play 142 games in approximately 160 days. The length of the season, frequency of games, rigors of travel, interruptions of sleep, inconsistencies in quality of nourishment, etc. make it almost impossible for players to train adequately, play hard and recover fully without experiencing fatigue, injury and/or boredom at some point in the season. While there is no universal solution to each of these potential problems, members of the Reds strength and conditioning staff have found that working out in a swimming pool can be an effective tool for eliminating or minimizing some of the physical and mental stresses associated with playing a game that requires repetitive movements performed over an extended period of time.

Improvements in aerobic and anaerobic fitness, reductions in joint stress, improvements in athleticism, faster recovery, avoidance of plateaus and reductions in the risk of injury are just a few of the benefits that have been observed following pool work. The purpose of this article is to provide a brief explanation of the benefits of pool work and outline a series of effective pool workouts. Pool work does not have to be limited to swimming and they don’t have to be limited to lower body exercises. You can run, shuffle, carioca, jump, push, pull, etc. The variety of options available in the pool allow you to design specific programs for specific effects and reduce the risk of boredom associated with doing the same workout and/or same movements day-after-day.

Aerobic fitness / Anaerobic fitness. Whether you swim, run or perform other exercises in the water, you can improve aerobic capacity using long swims or anaerobic capacity by performing high-intensity interval training. You can also perform underwater resistance training using swim bells or tubing one to two times a week to help athletes actively recover between training days

Low-impact exercise: Swimming and running in the water are great substitutes for running on land and other “high impact” movements and activities that pound on the joints. In accordance with Archimedes’ principle, the deeper the water, the less the you weight under water. Standing in knee deep water reduces body weight and impact by 25%. At waist height, your weight is reduced by 50% and by 75% at chest height. Both healthy athletes and those recovering from an injury can utilize swimming and other forms of water exercises to unload the body and create aggressive, high intensity workloads to help athletes stay in shape, improve fitness and enhance recovery.

Low risk of injury: The risk of injury is low because the body is buoyant. Water workouts gives the commonly used muscles in running and game-related movements some relief from the stresses exerted each day by reducing the amount of stress placed on the weight bearing joints, muscles and tendons. The muscles can still be worked, even at a high intensity, but with less impact and/or from a different angle of resistance to enhance muscle balance and coordination. Reducing the impact and changing the angle of force application can help the muscles and joints to recover from the wear and tear built up over the season. Swimming and other forms of water training can be used as a cross training tool to reduce the stresses placed on the body, while continuing to work the same muscles used in running. When looking for a safe daily workout routine, swimming pool exercise programs are ideal because the athlete can workout rigorously with a reduced chance of injury. This is a major reason why the Reds use pool work as one of our conditioning tools.

Relief of boredom. The season is long and the stresses are cumulative. Pool training gives the body and mind a break from continuous and repetitive movements of the game, while simultaneously enhancing performance skills. Another great thing about working in water is that movements are resisted in all direction. The harder your work, the more the water pushes you back. Performing exercises that you don’t normally do against the resistance of water engages different muscles and can ultimately improve athleticism or some aspect of performance, like strength, speed and quickness. You could, for example, do alternate workouts of sprinting, swimming and jumps in the pool. All three are anaerobic activities that use similar muscles, but in different ways.

Avoiding Plateaus: A fitness plateaus occurs when there are no improvements in performance despite the fact that you have been doing the same workout at the same intensity month-after-month. When you do the same thing every day, the body becomes extremely efficient at performing those movements, which limits the amount of improvement you make and level of conditioning developed. Performing different types of pool workouts can challenge the body before and after hitting a fitness plateau.

Sample pool programs are presented below. They can be used as in-season workouts for healthy players, injured players and those with chronic problems; They can also be used to maintain or improve fitness, recover from an injury or provide a change of activity. Under ideal conditions these programs would be performed at a depth of 3 to 5 feet in a pool that is 25 meters in length. Each drill is performed over a distance of 50 meters. Down and back in a 25 meter pool would be one repetition.

Program 1: This program can be used as a warm-up for healthy athletes or as a conditioning workout for those needing to rehab a lower body injury. Players will perform two sets of each exercise covering a distance of 50 m in each set. When working with healthy beginners or those needing rehab, allow a one minute rest period between sets and exercises. Healthy, advanced athletes can usually complete the program without resting between sets or exercises.

• High knees 2×50 m
• Butt kicks 2×50 m
• High knee carioca 2x 50 m
• Lateral hops 2x 50 m
• Back pedal 2×50 m
Program 2: This is an advanced, total body workout for healthy athletes who can successfully complete Program 1 without resting between sets and exercises. Coaches can also select exercises from the program for use as rehab activities for those with lower extremity, upper body or core injuries. All exercises are to be performed in chest-deep water with a one-minute rest period between sets and exercises. Healthy advanced athletes can double the workout once the routine becomes too easy.

• Run in place – 3×30 seconds all-out runs.
• Supported lateral leg swings – 3×10 lateral swings (abduction/adduction) with each leg while holding on to the side of the pool with both hands.
• Supported forward / backward leg swings – 3×10 (flexion/extension) with each leg while holding on to the side of the pool with one hand.
• Tuck jumps – 3×15 bending knees upon landing after each jump.
• Trunk rotations – 5×30 seconds trunk twists (left/right) with both arms extended in front of the chest and palms together. Start slow and gradually increase speed.
• Wood choppers – 3×15 with hands together.
• Kick board – 2x 50 m.
• Free style swim – 1x 50 m
• Breast stroke swim – 1x 50 m
• Run in place – 5×30 seconds all-out runs.

Conditioning workouts in a pool can be designed to work the total body or specific segments. They can also be designed to improve aerobic and/or anaerobic fitness, increase strength, improve local muscle endurance, enhance posture, improve power and enhance flexibility. Pool workouts are a low-impact, total body conditioning tool that has a relatively low risk of injury. Give them a try. Be creative. See how many of the movements used in game situations you can simulate in the water.

Sean Marohn, M.S, CSCS, RSCC*D
Cincinnati Reds Minor League Strength and Conditioning Coordinator

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