Conditioning for baseball is one of the most complex topics that can be discussed among strength and conditioning coaches.
From a player’s perspective, they are really only concerned with having more wind in their lungs, being able to repeatedly sprint at their highest velocities, being able to repeatedly throw the ball and swing the bat at their highest power output without losing steam, and perform at a level they know they can perform at for all 9 innings.
From a coach’s perspective, this means understanding the true underlying physiological mechanisms and energy systems of the body, how we can train them, how we can make them translate into the game of baseball, and how we can ensure our athletes are able to play their best even in a fatigued state.
That’s a tall task, that can be an intimidating area of study for a coach because there is so much to learn in this area to make sure you know what you are doing and that you are prescribing your athletes with something that is going to truly translate into better baseball performance.
Always remember guys, we don’t workout so we can get better at lifting weights, we are working out so that we can become better at baseball.
Big difference there. It’s easy to get caught up in the numbers of your off-field work, but this is a losing battle in the long term.
Due to the complexity of the topic, or perhaps do to the unawareness of the coach, prescriptions for conditioning can often include a little too much simplicity, such as:
“Jog 10 laps around the field”
“On your off-days from baseball, go for a run”
“Ok guys, it’s time to run hills. We’re going to do 10 hills today, and then call it a day”
Although none of these strategies are inherently bad, it doesn’t make them correct either. Very vague training prescription, a low amount of data collection, and an incomplete view towards the physiological energy system specific demand of baseball.
“Go do cardio”
Is not baseball conditioning. In any sport you train for, you first have to ask yourself the question:
“Conditioned for what?”
Conditioned is a very relative and subjective term.
It would be very easy to ask 100 people on the street:
“Who is more conditioned – a marathon runner, or a power lifter?”
You can pretty much guarantee nearly everybody is going to just automatically say marathon runner because for some reason it has been burned into society that conditioning = your ability to do low-intensity steady state work for extended periods of time.
A powerlifter is by no means conditioned to run marathons in his spare time, but a marathon runner is also in no way conditioned to do what a powerlifter does either. The have completely different muscle fiber/energy system use, biomechanics, tissue importance, and sport demands.
Apples and oranges here, conditioned for one doesn’t mean conditioned for all.
Which is why a true sport-specific analysis is a key factor in determining how you’re going to design your conditioning program to get the best results that will translate out on to the field.
If you train randomly you will get random results.
If you condition yourself for the sport of baseball, you will become better at the sport of baseball.
In many cases, this means:
- Working your pre-hab to prevent injury
- Fixing the common structural imbalances that are present in baseball athletes
- Increasing your muscle mass
- Increasing your strength
- Increasing your power
- Improving your starting speed, acceleration, and top speed
Among many other qualities that become very specific to baseball. But for today, let’s stick to conditioning. Baseball athletes are alactic-aerobic athletes. What this means is that the game of baseball is performed in very short high intensity explosive physical activity, interspersed with very low-intensity physical activity.
An example of this could be the explosive swing of a bat and an all-out sprint to first base—but then you’re safe and you get to walk around, bounce on your feet a little bit, and turn off the high-intensity engine.
Another example could be brought from a fly ball that was just hit, you sprint over to it’s direction as fast as you can—but then you wait under the ball, successfully catch it and throw it to your team mate because the play is over.
Short duration, high-intensity activity followed up by longer duration, low-intensity activity.
Does a jog at a medium pace for a long duration of time sound like wise strategy now to base your conditioning plan from? When do you ever do this in a game?
Not so much, because the most important parts of the game are played during those high-intensity moments. They determine how hard you hit the ball, how fast you get to first base, or if you’re going to make that catch or not. We need to condition that maximum effort, so you are able to repeat that effort at a high intensity even within a fatigued state (as you get into the later innings).
So, how can we maximally replicate the demands of the sport through conditioning so that it has the greatest carryover to the game?
With logical programming that incorporates the energy system specific demand of real baseball (alactic-aerobic) into a periodization schedule that over time gets systemically harder and makes you a better athlete; not a better jogger.
The alactic component of your conditioning workout should come from high power movements. Such as various forms of jumps, medicine ball throws, kettlebell work, sled work, prowler work, sprint variations, bodyweight complexes, etc. The goal for the long term is to increase your alactic capacity, which is the length of time you are able to maintain and perform under this high of a physical output.
To improve your alactic capacity over time you need to either increase the amount of work performed in your conditioning session while still getting it done at the same time, or, keep the amount of work the same in your workout but get it done in less time.
For example, moving your rest periods from 30 seconds to 25 seconds but still performing the same amount of high-intensity work. This would be an improvement in alactic capacity because you performed more work in a shorter time frame, thus improving your baseball-specific conditioning.
The workout variations for you here are endless, but the biggest take home you need is that a baseball athlete should ideally be either performing a super high intensity, or a very low intensity. “In-between” work such as a fast jog, several laps of the field, or long duration hill running is stepping outside the scope of baseball conditioning and is instead training you to become more conditioned in something else (whatever it is you’re doing).
Now that we understand some of the background science and energy system demand behind baseball, you have a good idea on what you need to do. But, just as important as knowing what to do is knowing what not to do. Here are the top 3 “Don’t do’s” of baseball conditioning:
- If you are not a powerful person, your baseball conditioning work suffers dramatically. You need to first be powerful in order to properly train baseball conditioning. Sometimes I’ll say to my athletes “You’re mowing the lawn while your house is on fire”. This is a funny way to say that they’re focusing on the wrong thing in their life, their priorities are out of wack. There is no sense in working on your alactic capacity (ability to maintain a high power output) is you don’t have power to begin with. It doesn’t matter how many times you can run a 6-second 40yd sprint in a row, because you’ll be watching your team play from the bench anyways. Get your power up, get your speed up, and then work on being able to repeat that speed.
- Nutrition is massively underrated within baseball. If you aren’t properly fueled for the game it really doesn’t matter how awesome your training plan is or how much potential you have. A car without fuel is just a car, even if it’s a Ferrari it won’t go anywhere. You need to properly fuel yourself. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve increased an athlete’s energy and “conditioning” just by using proper meal plan design and nutrient timing strategies. Supply and demand.
- Performing long, steady state jogs for extreme extended periods of time to build “mental toughness” is completely stupid and counterproductive to your baseball performance. You’re either tough enough to endure the long season of baseball or you’re not. This is a dumb thing for a coach to do to their athletes because it won’t make them tougher, and it’s not a workout that is specific to their sport.
Now that we know what to do, and what not to do; here’s an example of a baseball-specific conditioning workout that you can do to improve your game:
A: Double broad jumps: 10 x 3* with 30secs rest between sets
B: Mountain climber sprints: 10 x 30yds with 45secs between sets
C: Rotational medicine ball scoop toss: 10 x 2/side with 20secs between sets
D: Push up sprints: 4 x 20yds with 45secs between sets
*You should never lose your *pop* with these jumps, and 1 rep = 2 full jumps
That is a basic example of a proper baseball conditioning workout, although those exercises aren’t set in stone. The variations here are endless depending on your specific needs and abilities. But, this workout is a good bet for most all baseball players to get out there and start kicking some ass the proper way and truly start bridging the gap between their workouts and their performance.