Though snow covers the ground and temperatures dip below freezing, make no mistake—spring and baseball are just around the corner! It behooves any committed ballplayer, young and old alike, to begin the appropriate preseason conditioning.
This requires much more than just picking up a ball and letting it fly. Even though every one of us has at one time or another thrown a ball, it actually is an extremely complex activity that requires that the entire body be in tip-top shape. Studies have suggested that a well-focused, balanced whole body preseason program can enhance performance and help avoid injuries. This program includes several basic principles:
- Flexibility– minimum of 3 times/week.
- Strengthening– 3 times/week in coordination with flexibility training.
- Aerobic Training– can be done on the same or on alternate days with flexibility and strengthening.
- Sport-specific Activities– throwing, Hitting, Base Running, and Situational Training are performed on non-strengthening days.
So what’s the template? How do you appropriately and safely apply those principles? Here are some tips:
1) Balanced Flexibility– gentle stretching of the upper and lower extremities, with particular focus on the throwing arm, as well as the trunk is essential. These stretches should be slow, sustained, and non-ballistic. Special attention should be placed on shoulder internal rotation.
2) Balanced Strengthening– muscle strengthening with low weights and higher repetitions will aid strength without creating the decreased flexibility seen with too much muscle mass.
3) Core Strengthening– strengthening of the abdominal and back muscles (crunches/sit-ups/ball exercises) is essential in the throwing athlete.
4) Leg Strengthening– strong legs (leg press/quad extensions/hamstrings/lunges/squats) create the base needed to throw effectively and safely.
5) Aerobic Training– cycling, running, elliptical are all excellent. This aerobic activity should be gradually increased over several weeks aiming for ~30-45 minutes of aerobic workout.
6) Sports-specific Training–every ballplayer should prepare by reviewing all the proper techniques of baseball playing:
- Tossing Program (Short Toss/Long Toss)– all ballplayers will benefit by a progressive tossing program, aka playing catch with a team mate and progressively increasing the distance to ~180-220 feet.
- Pitching Program— pitchers then proceed to a pitching program where they throw fastballs first with increasing effort, then followed by off-speed pitches. This can be done on flat ground followed by the mound.
- Base-Running– all players benefit by re-acclimating to running the base paths. This is truly different than sprint or interval training.
- Situational Training– finally all players will profit by reviewing some of the split-second decision making that occurs with various baseball situations (i.e. bunting, base-stealing, tagging up, double-plays, etc.).
So there it is! It may sound straightforward, but such a program requires focused effort on the part of the ballplayer. Youth ballplayers are especially benefitted by this type of structured program. Often great help can be attained by working with a coach or trainer.
If you happen to be recovering from an injury or surgery, you should consult with a Sports Medicine Specialist before safely progressing in this type of program. So pull out the glove, ball, and bat…and get to it! But most importantly, be sure to have fun too!
-Dr. Michael Ciccotti, M.D.