An In-Season Training Guide for Baseball Pitchers

TAGS: pitcher, in-season, baseball, Elitefts Info Pages, Mark Watts

Baseball season is in full swing and every team’s success no matter the level depends upon consistent, quality pitching. The ability of a pitcher to throw consistently without losing velocity is imperative. Subsequently, pitchers staying healthy may be the single most important factor for a team’s success.

The College World Series kicks off this weekend in Omaha, Nebraska. The word Omaha is synonymous with the pinnacle of college baseball. But even at this level, there are factors that have often kept baseball players out of the gym until they arrive at their institutions in the fall.

Sport Elements That May Inhibit Proper Training of Pitchers

External Factors

Early specialization is a hot topic among youth sports and baseball has been one of the main culprits in the disappearance of the multi-sport athlete. Playing year round in addition to pitching lessons, hitting lessons, and personal training sessions creates a multitude of issues for a young athlete.

John O’Sullivan, author of Changing the Game, has listed many of the problems surrounding early specialization. This includes overuse injuries, mental burn-out, and reduced performance compared to that of athletes who play multiple sports.

Attitude

Baseball Players, particularly pitchers, tend to be in a category of athletes that do not see the connection of increased strength and power with increased performance during gameplay. This may be due to the bequeathed attitudes from pitching coaches, private instructors, baseball coaches, and parents. Lifting weights has never really been associated with playing baseball.

The overall attitude young baseball players have toward training may be swinging to the good side, though. Carlo Alvarez admits, “Players are more prepared now. They train harder and come back with different training methods."  Alvarez, who is the coordinator of sports performance for the Pittsburgh Pirates has seen a change in the overall disposition of training with the variety of players he sees. "They're smarter and will see right through your bullshit," he continues. Baseball players are starting to understand the connection between physical development and performance on the field.

In-season training for a pitcher can be the determining factor for whether or not a team earns a post-season appearance. There are a lot of factors to consider but the benefits of putting together a training protocol year-round is worth the effort.

The In-Season Training Session

One way to construct the off-season training program with pitchers is to segment the training session into distinct time blocks. Strength and conditioning coaches should determine the key components that need addressed with each pitcher. Creating a template that allows flexibility for the coach to input a different exercise within each movement category is optimal. A time block template can allow coaches to individualize programs in a team setting.

elitefts Baseball blocks

Block 1: Movement Prep

This four-component initial segment of training can be done consecutively as a team or in a circuit fashion. Depending on the number of pitchers in each group, each component can be done in a circuit within each category. The order of each segment can be adjusted to meet individual or team needs.

elitefts bb block 1

Dynamic Warm-Up

Two warm-up sequences that can be utilized in a team setting are a modified Parisi Warm-Up or a circuit like the one below. This particular warm-up below would be initiated with a foot speed drill to increase neurological efficiency. This was followed by a circuit to improve mobility, which would typically involve all reps done of one component or all three components done in a larger circuit. This depends on team size.

elitefts BB DMU

Soft Tissue Work

Due to the unilateral nature of the act of pitching a baseball, muscular imbalances are common for pitchers. Myofacial release techniques, if used properly, can address tissue quality in the athlete. Pitchers can use a variety of tools to improve range of motion and accelerate recovery. Here are several important areas to address.

elitefts BB soft tissue

Pre-Hab and Mobility

Pre-hab is a term that is probably overused in sports performance. The thought of actually preventing injuries before they happen is ludicrous. Strength and conditioning coaches still need to identify muscle groups more susceptible to injury and formulate corrective strategies to reduce the probability of those injuries happening, though. Identify the needs of the sport (the act of pitching) first and then the individual athlete needs.

Block 1 Skill Spotlight

Thoracic Spine Mobility

The majority of mobility work will be addressed in the dynamic warm-up. The three main components of any athletes' mobility is ankle, hip, and thoracic spine (T-spine) mobility. Of those three, T-spine mobility is the most important for pitchers.

T-spine mobility, then, is an essential quality for pitchers. Improving the range of motion of the upper back between the shoulder blades will benefit the pitcher in two distinct ways:

  1. Increasing the range of motion of the T-spine, especially in extension, can eliminate compensation patterns. This happens by reducing the amount of stress on the glenohumeral joint, the elbow and the lumbar spine.  Basically, a reduced range of motion in the T-spine will place unwanted torque in the other joints when throwing.
  2. By increasing the pitcher’s thoracic extension, he/she will be able to increase the overall range of motion when throwing, serving or shooting. This can mean increased power and velocity while better utilization of all recruited muscle groups.  This can also equate to better synchronization of motor units and maximize the timing and positions of a better stretch reflex.

 

Posterior Shoulder Girdle Strength

These two circuits address critical components of shoulder stability and deceleration properties of the throwing motion.  The combination of transverse/ sagittal plane abduction, external rotation, scapular retraction, and scapular depression all aid in preventative measures for the shoulder, specifically for high velocity movements such as throwing a baseball.

The mini-band™  circuit can be adapted to meet any athletes needs by the following measures:

Band Tension:
1. Micro Mini-Bands
2. Mini-Bands
3. Monster Mini-Bands

Body Position
1. Kneeling to standing
2. Distance from Rack.

Other movements that can be done with this set up include:
1. Lying internal rotation (lying facing away from the rack)
2. Lying upright row.
3. Kneeling upright row
4. Standing Scarecrow

The Blast Strap™ circuit can be adapted to meet any athlete’s needs by adjusting the distance from the rack.

  1. External Rotation
  2. Scarecrow
  3. Reverse Fly
  4. Serrano Press

Block 2: Reactive Method

The act of pitching is performed primarily in the frontal, transverse, and then sagittal planes of movement (in that order). Reactive methods such as jumps, throws, and swings are outstanding methods for pitchers to develop explosive power with similar sequencing patterns as throwing. It is important that strength and conditioning coaches not try to simulate the actual throwing pattern by mimicking sports specific movements. Trying to replicate exact pitching movements with medicine balls or jump training can inhibit throwing mechanics. The object is to develop power throw increased strength and more efficient movement patterns.

elitefts reactive methodselitefts med ball throw

Block 2 Skill Spotlight

Rotational Med Ball Throw

Variations of this exercise are outstanding to develop power in the transverse plane. The most important aspect is to initiate the movement with the back hip. A good coaching cue is to pretend there is a camera attached to your back hip and take a picture of your target. The key coaching points for this variation include:

  1. Start in an athletic stance
  2. Keep the elbows high
  3. Initiate movement with back hip
  4. Push the med ball toward target
  5. Pivot off back foot

The 3 Variations of the Rotational Med ball Throw:

  1. Rotational Push Throw with No Counter-Movement.  This requires the athlete to start with the med ball centered high on the chest and initiate the movement with a violent rotation while keeping proper posture.
  2. Shuffle-To.  Sometime referred to as a crow-hop throw. This allows the athlete to generate more power through the hips by using forward momentum before regaining a proper athletic stance (much like a javelin throw.)
  3. Shuffle Away. This is a great drill I learned from Lee Taft to reinforce proper mechanics in change of direction (COD) drills by teaching the athlete to redistribute force toward the target.

Block 3: Strength Training

Coaches must realize maximal strength gains do not necessarily mean more proficient technical skill. Adding 30 pounds to a pitcher’s bench-press may not directly lead to a better curve ball. The potential to throw with more velocity happens when a pitcher is able to acquire more strength development and still be able to throw a baseball with efficient mechanics. Strength is the one fitness quality that all other qualities are based on; it is the glass ceiling in terms of physical development.

It is especially important to continue to train with high intensity throughout the season for pitchers. A ten-percent reduction guideline is often used in terms of strength development and maintenance in season. In this example, a 400-pound squatter should still have a working max of 360 pounds. This seems reasonable and acceptable; unless, of course, you would use that same “10% rule” with athletic performance. A 90 mile-an-hour fastball becomes an 81 mile-an-hour fastball. This is not a direct correlation, but it is hard to imagine a reduction in strength not affecting performance on the mound.

If strength and power aren’t important to a baseball player, why does Major League baseball test for performance enhancing drugs?

Key components in strength training for pitchers:

  1. All power from the mound is generated through the hips. It is imperative that muti-joint, compound movements involving the hips are included in the program. The more force that is applied to the rubber, the more force that will generated at the release of the baseball.
  2. Baseball is a pull-dominant sport in terms of upper body strength development. Most programs include the bench-press as the focal upper body max-effort movement. This is not to say that pressing movements are not important for pitchers, but must be secondary to pulling movements. The musculature in the upper back is responsible for the deceleration of the throwing motion. These muscles protect the shoulder and elbow joints by contracting to decelerate the motion. Typically, the human body will not be permitted to produce more force than can be reduced.
  3. Adjustments in exercise selection should be made, specifically with Olympic lifts and pressing movements.

Here are a few basic in-season guidelines I feel are advantageous to follow:

  1. Avoid Olympic lifts, particularly clean variations, in-season. The amount of strain pace on the wrist, elbow and shoulder joints outweigh the benefits of these exercises.
  2. Utilize box squats for all squat variations. The interruption of the concentric and eccentric chain requires more explosive power development while reducing soreness.
  3. Incorporate presses that either reduce the range of motion or reduce the load during the most disadvantageous position of the movement. In other words, pin presses, floor presses, board presses, presses with bands or chains are all excellent substitutes for traditional bench presses.
  4. Insert as many neutral grip presses and pulls focusing predominately in a horizontal plane. Avoid weighted dips regulate any overhead pressing within the program.

elitefts BB ex pool

elitefts BB relieverselitefts BB weekend startersCME = Circa-Max Effort
SME = Submax Effort
RE = Repeated Effort (Repetition Method)

Pitchers Lifting Schedule

There are several factors that will affect the specific scheduling of what days a pitcher will strength train. Starters will usually have a more consistent schedule and relievers or “bull-pen guys” may be reduced to one training day per week depending on pitch frequency. As a general rule, pitcher should strength train within 24-48 hours after they pitch to not inhibit readiness for their next appearance.

elitefts BB Pitcher Schedule

Block 4: Commitments

Commitment is a term I first started using after interning at the University of Tulsa under Shawn Griswold. Some coaches refer to these additional circuits by various names but the intention is the same. Commitments are a great way to incorporate additional work to address muscular imbalances, designate additional technique work, or simply allot additional time for athletes to take ownership in the workout.

In-season commitment categories and the specific exercises within those categories can be determined by the following factors in order to individualize the commitment circuits:

  • How late in the season is it?
  • Training session time: different time-slot, immediately before, or immediately after practice
  • Pitch count of last outing
  • Time between appearances

Commitments can be simple circuit choices to empower your players to construct their own agendas while training within the parameters of the program. Commitments should be equipment-based to alleviate logistical concerns and non-quantifiable load parameters to reduce the extra-tracking workloads for coaches.

elitefts block 4 commitmentss

Block 4 Skill Spotlight 1

Sleeper Stretch

Typically, overhead athletes will have discrepancies in range of motion between internal and external rotation of the shoulder. For the most part, pitchers will have better range-of-motion in external rotation and are generally stronger performing internal rotation.  There are two main reasons for this.

  1. Anatomical factors. Generally speaking, the muscle groups responsible for internal rotation are much larger and utilize more motor units. This includes the subscapularis, anterior deltoid, latisimus dorsi, and pectoralis major). The external rotators consists of smaller muscles like the infraspinatus, teres minor, and the posterior deltoid.
  2. Repetitive motor patterns. The simple act of throwing both develop and subsequently requires more range of motion externally and more power internally.

Another imbalance that can be identified and rectified with the sleeper stretch is a unilateral imbalance between the dominant and non-dominant arms. Range of motion is typically less with he dominant arm.

One of the primary functions of the abdominal muscles is to stabilize the lumbo-pelvic hip complex.  This could mean eccentrically “bracing” against extension or rotation.  These two variations of the Pallof press are excellent for developing static and dynamic stability for the “core”.

Pallof Press with Bands
Using the elitefts™ light band, the athlete will stand in an athletic stance with soft knees.  Start the exercises by holding the fists centered in the chest and keeping balance on the mid-line.  Slowly press the fists away, then return to the chest.

Progressions and Regressions:

  1. Increase the band tension by...
    1. Standing farther away from the rack
    2. Using an Average band or doubled monster minis
  2. Change the COG by...
    1. Holding the band higher
    2.  Narrow the stance

Pallof Press with Blast Straps
Using a staggered stance, the athlete will hold the blast straps at their chest while leading away from the rack.  Emphasis a straight line through the mind-line of the body.  Press the hands away from the body and return to the starting position.

Progressions and Regressions:

  1. Move the feet closer to the rack
  2. Move the feet closer together (front to back)
  3. Hold the hands higher


Physical preparation for a pitcher should happen year-round. The ability to throw harder for more innings while staying physically and mentally recovered is a skill that should not diminish over the course of the season. Train hard throughout the season and punch your ticket to Omaha.

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