When you work with baseball athletes, you want to make 100% sure that your programs are going to improve their performance in a game setting, and not just improve their performance in the gym.
And if you want your athletes to win those baseball games, you need to know that your programs are better than any other programs your competitors are making.
Naturally, you probably already think that your way is the “best way” of doing things, we all have our biases.
But in reality, there is no way in really knowing whether a different approach could be superior to what we are currently doing for this particular athlete at this particular time.
There’s always so much going on at once, with sports science and with the athletes you’re working with.
So, how can you guarantee yourself a competitive advantage over everyone else?
Well, if this is what you’re after then a really good way in which you can start spending your time is by thinking about this question…
How EXACTLY are strength gains from training transferred into real baseball performance?
The best place to start is to look at the data behind how a movement like a barbell squat transfers to more functional movements like jumping, sprinting or changing direction quickly.
The Science of Strength Transfer
Strength is a physical quality that is very specific, meaning, the gains in strength seen in an exercise that you’re doing are always greatest in that specific exercise.
So, even though strength does transfer to other movements (like a squat to a jump), the movement you did in the first place will always receive the most strength gain (you will gain more in the squat than you will in the jump).
The degree to which you see an athletic movement improve after making strength gains with a “gym exercise” is what we would call transfer.
Transfer depends a lot on the similarity of exercises and movements across all of the ways strength can transfer, and not just the movement pattern.
However, since the movement pattern is the easiest to see, this tends to get talked about the most, and therefore, replicated the most through embarrassingly “specific” baseball functioning training.
For example, tying a stick to a cable tower and doing resisted “bat swings”, this couldn’t be more ridiculous and useless for baseball players, yet the movement pattern appears similar so it is easy to sell on its supposed transferability.
Bridging The Gap To Baseball Performance
When the term “functional training” started gaining massive popularity strength coaches stopped talking about how to figure out which exercises transferred best to baseball because it was assumed that the movement pattern was the only thing that mattered.
Don’t get me wrong, movement pattern plays a role in transferability, but it doesn’t play the only role.
Within the framework of utilizing sport specific exercises for baseball, there are eight different ways in which you can choose an exercise that is going to be beneficial for baseball performance:
- Contraction emphasis (eccentric vs. concentric)
- Joint angle
- Time under tension
- Stability of working structures during movement
- External load stimulus (weight, band, medicine ball, etc.)
- Targeted muscle groups and energy systems
When you break that list down you can begin to take the “movement pattern” blinders off and instead analyze the exercise that you’re using and to what degree it’s going to transfer to a game setting.
Baseball Agility Training
When you put your ability to change direction at a high running speed under the microscope, you’re going to find that it is largely governed by:
- Your knee extensors (mostly quadriceps here) and hip extensors (a little bit of glute/hamstring activity here) ability to quickly decelerate
- While simultaneously being able to very quickly produce high force production at moderate muscle lengths to accelerate in a lateral direction
This is where you can start to see why the barbell back squat is an excellent exercise for baseball athletes and how it can transfer into the world of agility by improving your ability to change direction at top speeds.
The barbell back squat is primarily a quadriceps exercise, and secondarily a hip extensor exercise.
Beyond this, the squat works these muscles at both moderate and long muscle lengths — similar to what they would be subjected to during stealing a base or running from first to second.
So, there is a transfer here for sure.
However, it, of course, isn’t the only exercise for baseball agility as it lacks the deceleration, speed mechanics, acceleration, and directional loading (it is only vertical, whereas running is multi-directional) required for a complete approach to baseball agility.
Increasing The Specificity of Exercise Selection
In order to make the barbell back squat more specific for the individual demands of different baseball athletes, you can make simple adjustments to improve the degree at which your application of the exercise is deemed specific for baseball performance.
For example, if an athlete needed to improve their deceleration ability — we could implement a longer eccentric phase count, or, utilize weight releasers so that the eccentric loading aspect of the movement is greater challenged (and therefore the muscle involved in deceleration get a better training effect).
Another way to attack this is by simply adding in more movements.
Barbell jump squats can be a great high-velocity alternative for acceleration transfer, and good mornings or hip thrusts can provide the horizontal force production needed for explosive power and stability.
From there, lateral and diagonal reaching lunges can be utilized to produce force in multiple directions while still loading the muscle tissues through full ranges of motion.
Baseball Agility Workout
A1: Barbell back squat – 5 x 5 with 10 seconds rest
A2: Bodyweight vertical jumps – 5 x 5 with 120 seconds rest
B1: Barbell good mornings – 5 x 5 with 10 seconds rest
B2: Broad jumps – 5 x 5 with 120 seconds rest
C1: Anterior reaching lunges – 3 x 8 per side with 10 seconds rest
C2: Lateral reaching lunges – 3 x 8 per side with 10 seconds rest
C3: Posterior reaching lunges – 3 x 8 per side with 120 seconds rest
The above workout example utilizes a Contrast Training method to where the body is loaded (in this case with a barbell) and then immediately unloaded to a bodyweight only movement to create maximal explosive power.
This method is incredibly well documented within the research to create excellent gains in strength, power, speed, explosiveness, and muscle mass — yet to the untrained eye it may not appear as though it’s an agility workout because there is no sprinting involved.
Sprinting can be involved elsewhere in the program in order to have a more complete approach, but understand good and well that this workout right here is highly specific for baseball performance, even though the movement patterns aren’t replicating exactly that of which you would see in a game.
The Big Lesson
Identifying which exercises provide the most transfer to a real baseball game setting is an equation, but it’s far from unsolvable.
If you are prepared to put in the work to look at the biomechanics, muscles, and energy systems involved — you can begin to create much more effective training programs for yourself or for the athletes that you’re training.
Using the above 8 bridges of transfer that I provided will give you a great start to stop falling for all of the “functional training” gurus out there who claim their way is the best, when in reality their way is normally chalked full of flaws.
Movement patterns matter, but, a combination of movement pattern plus understanding baseball exercise transfer at a fundamental level is where you will find your real competitive advantage.
Interested in seeing what a real baseball specific training program looks like now? One that has real transfer over to the game and will improve your performance fast and efficiently?
Check out the programs we have here at Baseball Training and choose the one that’s best for you.