The Importance of Strength Training for Baseball Players
By Gene Coleman and Jose Vazquez
Once a taboo in baseball, strength training is now is recognized as an essential part of the year-round training program for the sport. Research and practical experience at all levels from high school to MLB has shown that properly designed and supervised resistance training programs can increase strength, speed, and power, improve balance, enhance joint strength, stability, and mobility, and help reduce the risk of non-contact injuries.
These improvements will make you more athletic, move more efficiently, start, stop, and change directions quicker, run faster, jump higher, and look better in a uniform. Baseball is a skill sport and getting bigger, faster, stronger, etc., will enhance on-field performance in skilled athletes. Improvements in the weight room, however, will not make up for a lack of skills. There are a lot of big, strong, fast, very athletic individuals that lack the skills required to play the game effectively.
While lifting weights is essential for a variety of reasons, your ability to hit home runs, hit for average, increase velocity, throw strikes, or steal bases cannot be improved by spending more time in the weight room. Spending time in the weight room will build up your body so that, if you have the skills, you can perform better, resist injury, and extend your career.
Hitting, throwing, fielding, and running are skills and all skills, regardless of the sport, are improved by practicing and improving the mechanics associated with those skills. You become a better hitter, pitcher, and base runner, by learning how to swing, throw and run better, not by lifting weights. Lifting weights will make you stronger, but adding strength to bad mechanics (dysfunction) will not improve bad mechanics. The limiting factor in how well you perform a skill is determined by how well you can execute the mechanics of that skill. Regardless of how strong you are, you will hit, throw, field, and run only as a good as your mechanics permit. When your mechanics breakdown, improvement stops.
To become a better hitter, improve your swing mechanics. To become a better pitcher, improve your pitching mechanics, to become a fielder improve your fielding mechanics, and to steal more bases improve your ability to read pitchers and your running mechanics. Adding strength to good skill mechanics increases your potential for higher performance; adding strength to bad skill mechanics does not.
Skills (mechanics) are improved by working with your position coaches in the cage, on the field, and in the bull pen, not in the weight room. The improvements in strength, speed, power, stamina, flexibility, etc., made in the weight room will not make you an All-Star, but if you have skills, they will help you achieve your genetic potential.
The goal of strength and conditioning programs is to enable players to improve performance, achieve their genetic potential, avoid injury, and extend their careers. The job of strength and conditioning coaches is to get you in playing shape and keep you in shape to perform at a high level throughout the season, play-offs, and championship series.
Your goal should be to run, swing, jump, field, and throw as well in the late innings as you did in the early innings. You want to be able to recover between pitches, plays, innings and games, play extra innings, play day games after night games, play back-to-back games, and give your best effort every game, practice session, and workout.
Your need to be available every day. As Bill Belichick, Head Coach of the New England Patriots said, “the most important ability in sports in availability.” If you aren’t available, you can’t help the team. Your goal is not to be available sometimes. You need to be available and ready to play every day. Two important take-aways from decades in MLB are: 1) “a team can’t win if its best players are sidelined with an injury” and 2) “a player can improve if he can’t practice and train.”
Coaches can’t eliminate all injuries, but they can help minimize those that are attributable to a lack of strength, poor mechanics, insufficient rest and recovery, inadequate diet, and improper preparation. Think of your strength training program as body armor. Like the body armor used to protect our service men and women, a proper, year-around strength and conditioning program can help you minimize the risk of injury, maintain fitness, improve performance, and be available when needed.
An excellent resource for year-round strength training is Strength Training for Baseball, Human Kinetics, 2022. Go to https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=697334425762380&set=pb.100064574864397.-2207520000&type=3 to see the 5 exercise movements every player should do and https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=699673175528505&set=pb.100064574864397.-2207520000&type=3 to see the 5 exercises pitchers should avoid.
Gene Coleman, Ed. D., RSCC*E, FACSM, has over four decades of experience in MLB as a Head Strength and Conditioning Coach (Houston Astros) and consultant (Texas Rangers). He is a Professor Emeritus in the Exercise and Health Sciences Program at the University of Houston – Clear Lake and a Website Education Manager at baseballstrength.org. Jose Vazquez, PT, RSCC, is the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach, at Texas Rangers.