Since baseball players endure such a gruelingly long and frequent competitive season schedule, a discussion about overtraining and undertraining is in order.
There’s a delicate balance between the two, and managing that balance is going to determine in very large part how well you will be performing on game day.
The more training experience the baseball athlete has, the greater the importance of understanding the stimulus-recovery-adaptation (SRA) model.
You also need to thoroughly understand the balance between these two realities:
1. The workload you perform in the gym must be sufficient enough to disrupt homeostasis enough to drive an adaptation (gains/progress from the stress), yet not excessive to the point of constituting an unmanageable level of stress.
2. Recovery must be sufficient to enable the adaptation not only to occur, but to continue and not be blunted by the next workout and the next one after that. This is why not all training should be “load-focused” – movement pattern and movement pattern efficiency become more important considerations for you after those first few years of training.
Digging Deeper into Recovery
It is always possible to exceed your recovery needs through practices, games, and training – just as it is always possible to under-stimulate from practices, games, and training by “coasting” through everything.
The more advanced the baseball athlete, the finer the line between not enough recovery and too much.
And yes, I have crossed that line several times in my lifetime of being a crazy strength and conditioning coach.
For baseball players, I really like to recommend two back-to-back days of recovery once a week if the training schedule makes it possible.
These two days back-to-back have been demonstrated in the research to be more effective for recovery then two days off per week but if different places. Meaning, taking Saturday/Sunday off is better for recovery than taking Wednesday/Sunday off.
It seems to offer the body a natural “reset” before the next week of training begins.
Those two days off in a row make a lot of sense for the intensely active baseball player, every week will feel like a fresh start rather than an endless continuation of mind-numbing activity.
Even though we love this sport, a state of overtraining will lower your motivation to “get after it” each and every week.
These two days off are perfect to hit the “reset button” on both body and mind.
And to make things clear, I have in many cases for advanced baseball athletes had them do two-a-day training sessions throughout the week just so they wouldn’t put one of their sessions in these two days completely off.
I’d rather double-up on an active day then tap into their recovery days.
I don’t always do this because context of the situation means everything, but, it’s something I commonly do – and the results show for it, and so do the baseball athletes motivation and attitude towards their training each and every week.
Baseball is Tough Business
Remember, baseball is tough business.
You are extremely active every single week in various practices, skill sessions, speed workouts, conditioning, mobility, weight lifting, etc.
This means other things have to compensate, even if your sleep and dietary intake are on point.
This compensation should come in the form of not pushing yourself to exhaustion each and every set, and you should rarely ever train to failure.
In these ways you keep training intensity contained to a level where recovery is assured. Keep in mind you are already an advanced baseball player – your performance isn’t going to disappear from backing off intensity a little bit in order to do more volume.
In fact, the opposite will occur.
You will get bigger, stronger, and faster for it.
All because you are prioritizing recovery and intensity-regulation now instead of “throwing everything but the kitchen sink” at yourself in terms of overall program design.
On Baseball Training Volume…
Although the weekly training volume for baseball athletes is incredibly high, especially in terms of total hours put in per week, with the correct elements in place within your program design to balance things out (and everything I have written about in the past regarding true intelligent training program design), it might actually be fair to say that you should be deliberately undertraining during these times as far as your strength and conditioning work goes.
In my coaching experience, I can tell you that it is indeed possible to do more volume of training by actually taking an undertraining approach to doing so.
That’s the real art and science of baseball training program design, getting you to undertrain in a way that is so strategic you continue to make progress.
Defining the Battleground
Let’s think about the actual definition of the word undertraining for a moment.
Forget any stupid associations around the word that you’ve heard from bodybuilders or powerlifters at your gym – and let’s just think about its pure definition right now.
With that in mind, I want to take a page out of the late Charlie Francis’s book (for those of you who don’t know, he’s one of the most famous track coaches of all time) – because he was seriously on to something.
“It is always better to undertrain than to overtrain. You will still supercompensate, but not to the same degree. Once you overtrain, your body will plummet and fight to retain a balance. Smaller CNS demands over a longer period of time result in more acceptance and greater improvement, while the rush to get more done ‘right now’ because of excitement and enthusiasm leads to uncertainty down the road.”
This is especially excellent advice given the nature of a baseball players training schedule and its countless attempts to work you into the ground.
Embrace this fact that you can still make gains when you undertrain, but when you reach true overtraining, you will lose everything.
Getting Real About the Training Goal
If the total amount of stress you are placing upon your body is too great (either in intensity, duration, or frequency), then the body will be unable to adequately adapt and exhaustion will quickly follow.
Training to this level may “sound cool” cause you’re doing “whatever it takes” to be a great baseball player, but it has absolutely nothing to do with tried and proven adaptive responses in sports science.
Extended periods of excessively relentless maximum work should be avoided – you’re going to lose the cost/benefit analysis ten times out of ten.
Sometimes all you need is a “variation” in what you already know works for you.
For baseball athletes, these variations are volume, intensity, frequency, and a controlled training pace. Pick one or two and change it so you keep the purpose of your training in tact, which should always be to become a better baseball player and not to train to exhaustion.
Training with the goal of being exhausted is friggin’ easy.
Want a SWEET workout?
Ok, do 300 burpees. I promise, it’ll destroy you!
*Round of bro high fives*
…Ok, cool – but will that make you a better baseball player?
No, it won’t.
The training goal should never be to see how much you can take, the training goal is always to make sure you are the best athlete you can possibly be come game day.
Baseball athletes during the in-season should always be training with good intensity, but not maximum intensity.
By controlling intensity (through never training to failure, as discussed above) you should be able to avoid the level of exhaustion that leads to overtraining, even though you are doing more volume of total sets.
One makes up for the other, but in a way that’s congruent with the training goal of being the best baseball player you can possibly be.
In addition to the above, I need to also mention that how much gas you have in the tank for training can vary from day to day as well.
You need to adjust pace and intensity accordingly so that you are working with your body always, and not working on your body.
During the in-season, this typically means that you should always train with two reps left in the tank on every set of every exercise in the gym, but on the days you feel rough, train with four reps left in the tank on every set of every exercise.
Meaning, if you feel great and you’re prescribed a set of 12, you should pick a weight that you can do 14 of, but then still only do 12.
And if you feel rough and you’re prescribed a set of 12, you should pick a weight that you can do for 16, but then still only do 12.
These 2 and 4 “reps in the tank” intensity regulators will allow you to make progress, adapt, stay motivated, and ensure you’re always working towards becoming the best baseball player you can be.
If that’s not balancing undertraining and overtraining optimally to support maximum performance levels on game day, then I don’t know what is.