ACC Sports Sciences Main Page
James L. Goins, MS, CSCS, CSCC
Baseball Strength Coach
University of Miami
Everyone wants it all. Turn on the news and you will find stories about stars such as Giambi, Canseco, and Bonds. There is such a debate going on in this country that even Congress is investigating, and all for what? Hoopla over baseball's dirty little secret, everyone is trying to obtain a competitive edge. Today's baseball scandal boils down to the basics. To be the best baseball player possible you must have strength, speed, power, and agility. Unfortunately, it is very hard to play everyday and maximize one's training for these four attributes without risking serious injury.
Simply put, the human body can not repair itself fast enough to do everything. That has led a few athletes to chemical help. While steroids allow an athlete to sufficiently recover from training and play, the health risks far outway the benefits. Besides being illegal, steroids can kill you. Fortunately, none of these drugs are necessary for the high school and college baseball player to be successful. The purpose of this article is to give a few general guidelines to help maximize training and prevent injury.
The first thing that needs to be done is testing for strength and flexibility deficiencies. The tests used are: squat, push up, pull up, sit up, vertical jump, sit and reach, and scapular flexibility. The results are shared with the Athletic Training Staff to identify individuals who are more susceptible to injury. If the deficiency is deemed severe the athlete will be required to do pre-hab with the Athletic Trainer to try and prevent any injuries. These tests also enable each player's workout to be tailored to their specific needs.
Basic strength or functional strength is the foundation on which every baseball player should be built. You can not hit, throw, or run if you are unable to move and control your own body weight. Here at the University of Miami strength is broken down into three main areas; lower body, core, and upper body. All three are dependent upon one another, so if you have a deficiency in one, there is no way to maximize your potential as a ballplayer.
The lower body exercises we use to develop strength are: squat, front squat, single leg squat, step up, and lunge. Each exercise will be modified to best suit the level of strength for each individual.
The core exercises we use are: floor abdominal work, medicine ball twist and throws, physio ball work, floor lower back work, hyperextensions, and reverse hyperextensions. The majority of these exercises are done with body weight, with exception of the medicine balls which weigh between 6-14 pounds.
The upper body exercises we use to develop strength are: bench press, push ups, pull ups, row, lat pull, shoulder raises, curls, extensions, grippers and wrist rolls. The joints that comprise the upper body have the highest rate of injury amongst baseball players. It is imperative to train every muscle, not just the large ones, to give each joint the maximum amount of support.
There is an old saying that speed kills. This is especially true on the baseball field. A player who is able steal bases has an immeasurable worth to his team. Many people believe you are either born fast or slow. This is true to a degree, but anyone can be made faster by teaching technique. Our speed progression is broken down into acceleration, top end speed, and deceleration. The most import aspect for a baseball player is the acceleration phase. This is termed the "jump", as in he got a good jump. This aspect is trained through weighted exercises such as; sled pulls, band runs, hill runs, and sand runs. We also spend a lot of time on proper steps.
The body has to learn exactly where to step to optimize forward propulsion. It's like learning a dance...the more you practice the steps the better you are. The second aspect we train is top end speed. As a baseball player you never get to spend a whole lot of time in this phase, unless you're an out fielder. We train this phase more to get good times in the 60 for scout day. Exercises we use for this are; over speed bands, running down hill, form sticks, and cone drills. The last phase is deceleration and we work on this phase to prevent injury. There are two types of deceleration in baseball, sudden and gradual. Sudden stops are all various forms of slides. These are primarily used on the base path but are also used on occasion when fielding a ball. Gradual stops are the easiest thing to learn and we spend the least amount of time on teaching this aspect.
In my opinion this is the most under trained aspect in all of baseball. There is a false notion out there that this type of training is "football" specific. This could not be any farther from the truth. All baseball players, hitters and pitchers, must have explosive power. It does not matter whether we are talking about throwing, hitting, or running; all involve triple extension at a high rate of speed. This triple extension, simultaneous movement of the hip, knee, and ankle, is best trained by Olympic lifts.
The lifts we utilize are: push jerk, split jerk, clean, clean pull, clean high pull, and power shrug. We also do plyometric exercises, which is explosive movement of just a player's body weight. These exercises include all jumps, hops, and bounds.
Simply put, agility is the ability to change the direction the body is traveling quickly and efficiently. It is utilized both in fielding and running basses. For example, a player on first has to be able to get back when a pitcher throws to first, even though his body movement is directed towards second; or when fielding a ground ball and the ball takes an unexpected bounce the player must change direction in order to field the ball. We work on this aspect of training through the use of a series of cone drills
Injury prevention is the number one goal here at Miami. If a player is hurt he is of no use to us. The athletic training staff and myself sit down and review the deficiencies of each player. It is determined what each athlete needs to work on in his own personal extra work. Some of the work is done in the training room and some done in the weight room. There are a million different exercises we use for each specific deficiency, so I can not even come close to listing them all, but here are a few of the basics; band work, Jobes, flexibility work, and stabilization work.
A few last tidbits
The last few things I want to touch on are diet and long toss. There are a whole lot of companies out there trying to make a buck in the supplement market. Some of these products are good, and some aren't. All of them are unnecessary though. A player can get everything he needs from a balanced diet. The problem is most kids don't eat right. Fast food is king and fruits and vegetables are out. Encourage kids to eat right and they will be better off. (Editor's note: See Lisa Dorfman's article on Baseball Nutrition) The last thing is long toss. I believe the best way to improve arm strength is to get on a throwing program. This consists of progressively throwing as hard as you can for further and further distances. Over time the arm will get stronger.
I hope you have found this article informative. I have tried to show the basic model I use here at Miami when setting up a training regime. It must be noted that this is what I do and what I think works best. I purposely left out sets and reps, because in the grand scheme of things there are many ways to skin a cat. Every strength coach is different, but the goals are the same. If proper technique is followed every baseball player will benefit from training. The main purpose of this article was to show that even though there is a lot of hype over performance enhancing drugs, they are not necessary for today's young high school and college player. Through proper diet and dedicated training, all strength goals can be obtained.