As a college baseball player, I have been through many different pre-season training programs. Through the years, I have picked up a lot of information – some good, some bad. In the interest of time, I will only include the information that I found benefitted me most for preparation. These tools can be used for all age groups, from little league to college athletics, and can be done at home.
1) Band Work: This is probably the most important. The arm undergoes a lot of stress with starting a throwing program. Understanding this and being proactive in preparing for this will set you up for success. Band work is the best way to ensure that injury risk is kept to a minimum allowing you to perform at your full potential throughout the season.
Internal and External Rotation: open the door and close the door
During this movement, you will use an object that is around 2-5 Lbs (this could be any household object like a can of veggies or a full water bottle). For the first movement, you will lie on your side with your throwing arm down. Make sure your elbow is by your side and bent at 90 degrees. Holding your weight in your throwing arm, rotate your arm so that you lift the weight up and arm crossing your body. Then release back down. Repeat this movement 10 times as far as your range of motion will allow comfortably. Then, switch sides and repeat the same movement 10 times. Ideally, you will work up to 3 sets of 10 on each side.
2) Flexibility: Making sure that your body is flexible will help you perform at your best and also limit injury risk. All baseball athletes should be doing some sort of full-body stretch routine nightly. A very important stretch that cannot be skipped is the sleeper stretch. This is for the rotator cuff, a group of muscles that make up the shoulder joint. To perform this stretch, you will lie on your side with your throwing arm down and extend your arm perpendicular to the body. Then, you will raise your hand straight up, keeping your elbow on the ground. Use your non-throwing arm to push your hand toward the ground in the direction of your feet. Do not use a lot of force here, only push until you feel a good stretch in your shoulder. Try to work up to 3 sets of 10 seconds every night. This can be done on both shoulders but the throwing side is most important.
3) Leg Strength: Your legs and core are the driving force for power and velocity. For baseball players, these groups of muscles are the most important for throwing harder and hitting the ball further. A favorite of mine for leg strength is the Bulgarian split squat. To perform this movement, grab a chair and face away from it. Place the top of one of your feet on the seat of the chair so that you are in a lunge position on the front side. Then, drop your back knee to the ground until your front knee reaches 90 degrees. When the angle of the front knee hits 90 degrees, push through your front heel to drive yourself back to the starting position. Try to do this movement 2-3 times per week for 3 sets of 10 on each leg. If that is too easy, try adding some hops in that position at the end of the 10 reps.
4) Core Strength: Having a strong core will complement the strength of your legs. Almost every movement done on the diamond is done with some type of twisting motion, so my go-to for core strengthening is the Russian Twist. This movement is pretty simple but not easy. Sit on the ground and lean back until you feel your abs start to engage – your weight should be between your sit bones and your low back. Then, twist only your upper body from side to side. Balance can be aided by keeping your heels on the ground – for more of a challenge, lift your heels off the ground. Try to work up to 3 sets of 15 on each side.
5) Connecting Upper and Lower Half: It is great to have good leg and core strength, but we do not hit or throw a baseball with our feet. Therefore, the ability to take the energy created in the legs and translate it to the upper half is very important. If you are at a gym, power cleans are ideal, but a well-performed squat jump will do the trick and this can be done without equipment. For this movement, you will stand with your feet directly under your shoulders and pointed forward. Next, squat down until your hips are closer to the ground than your knees. Your bodyweight should be balanced between the balls of your feet and your heels at the bottom of this movement. Reach your arms down and back past the hips then throw them forward and up as you push through your feet and jump into the air. Land squarely on both feet and repeat the movement. Work up to 3 sets of 10-15 and try to do that 2-3 times per week.
Nutrition Tip: You will be on the road a lot this season, so you need to load your travel bag with nutrients that will benefit your game. I recommend a fat source and a carbohydrate source before games. My favorite pre-game snack is mixed nuts and crackers. This will give you some quick energy and also long-sustaining energy to make it through the game without spiking insulin which can cause a ‘sugar crash”. After the game, you will need protein to aid recovery, and sometimes that $10 spending limit just doesn’t cut it at your local fast food joint. I always packed some beef jerky to get the necessary protein for post-game recovery.