In-Season Lifting For Baseball Players: 4 Random Thoughts

1. Consolidate Stress

I’m a big fan of having pitchers lift within a 24 hour window after their start.  This combines the stress from their outing with the stress from their lift.  Hans Selye, referred to as the father of stress, developed the theory of General Adaptation Syndrome (pictured below).  It’s important to note that the body cannot differentiate one stressor from another.  It seems obvious that a training session and a game would impact the system and disrupt homeostasis.  However, a fight with your girlfriend, or stress from an upcoming test, both would contribute to the overall stress load in the same fashion, and create an alarm stage just the same.general-adaptation-syndrome

By lifting within 24 hours of a start, the body is still in the alarm stage and thus will work to recover from both.  It also sets up a seven day routine really nicely.  Here’s a sample of how I set up a starter’s weekly routine.

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A couple of notes on this:

  • Long Toss and Catch are incredibly vague terms in the context of this outline, they could constitute a whole separate post. It’s really up to the individual (and coach) to determine the intensity and volume for each throwing session.
  • The same goes for the timing of the bullpen. Over time each individual can figure out the routine that’s optimal for them. The key is striking a balance between throwing enough to build bullets and do what they need to do to be sharp for their next start, while also ensuring they aren’t taxing themselves too much and are fresh – not just for the next season but deep into the season.
  • The throwing volume and intensity may be highly variable week to week. This applies to the lifts as well.


2. Listen to coaching legend, John Wooden: “Don’t let what you can’t do interfere with what you can do.”

It’s inevitable. Most high schoolers I’ve dealt with the past six years completely stop lifting in-season. It’s frustrating for me because I see so many of them work incredibly hard all winter only to stop training completely.  This results in graduating high school players heading down for their first semester of their collegiate career not in the best shape of their lives, which is not an ideal strategy.  For younger athletes they end up having to spend the first 4-6 weeks of the following off-season working just to get back to where they were in March or April.

While it’s true that building maximal strength takes a lot of work and time, it really isn’t that difficult to maintain it.  On the deadlift, for example, you probably only need to go heavy (80-85% of your 1RM) once every 2-3 weeks to keep your strength levels where they’re at.  This allows you the flexibility to back off and focus on bar speed with lighter loads on the days you’re just not quite feeling like going heavy – without worrying your strength is going to disappear.

What’s equally frustrating to me (and just as worrisome from an athletic standpoint) is that when a baseball player stops training in-season he’ll lose the range of motion, rotator cuff strength, and good arthrokinematic habits of the shoulder complex that we’ve worked hard to establish over the course of the off-season.

Your in-season lifts can be as short as 20-30 minutes in some instances. If you’re gassed from the previous weekend of games and are just flat out lacking motivation after Tuesday’s practice when you planned to get a lift in, don’t cancel the whole session. If you do you’re also missing out on doing vital arm care, mobility, and core work.  Go in and get something done – something is better than nothing.

Option A:

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Option B:

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Option A is how the lift is originally laid out, with option B being the regressed version.  None of the mobility or arm care stuff have been taken out.  An athlete’s total time in the gym doing option B would probably be 30 minutes (including their warm-up and cool-down).  

If you’re banged up you can still always get a training effect by altering exercise selection.  Barring serious injury or being sick, there’s no reason to ever miss a session.

3. Pick Exercises that Don’t Induce Major Amounts of DOMS.

Bulgarian Split Squats are a fantastic exercise, but they do create a decent amount of soreness and so a step up variation may be a better choice in-season.

With that said, the best way to avoid getting sore is to have already built up a solid training base over the course of the off-season, and then don’t stop training come the season.  If you take a couple weeks off and get back after it, pretty much everything will make you quite sore for the first bit.


4. Don’t Waste Valuable Development Time

If you aren’t playing a ton, look at the positives and take advantage of the opportunity to train more.  From a developmental perspective, this could be a solid 3-4 month window to get stronger.  It sucks not getting to play as much as you want to, but take the attitude that you’re going to work while you wait.

On the flip side, even if you are playing consistently this is still a great opportunity to develop.  If you’re a high school sophomore and you opt not to train in-season, by the time you go off to college you’ll have missed out on a full year (or more) of training.

The late teenage years are a great biological window to make serious physical adaptations.  You don’t get these years back so if you take advantage of them you’ll be giving yourself a leg up on the competition, due to the fact that training hard in-season seems to be the exception, rather than the rule. It’s a great opportunity to set yourself up to be in a position to pass others by in the long run.