What to Expect in the Preseason
Most pitchers will show up to tryouts and realize very quickly that they are tremendously physically demanding, as a coach want to find out quickly who has worked hard in the off-season (hopefully, you!) and who deserves a spot on his roster (hopefully, also you!). If you’ve already taken care of the performance aspect of this challenge with your hard work during the past fall/winter, then now it’s time to continue that work while integrating more sprint work over these final few weeks to prepare you for what’s ahead. You need to be aware that research has shown that preseason practice injury rates are more than three times higher than those of the in-season and post-season period. To that end, you need to make sure that you always warm up sufficiently – or else you’re at a bigger risk of hamstrings, groins, or hip flexor strains. My athletes include a wide variety of dynamic flexibility drills prior to moving on to some light jogs, high-knees, butt-kicks, side shuffles, cariocas, and skips prior to “opening it up” with sprinting. These warm-ups should be continued all season.
On your sprint mechanics, remember to focus on landing with your foot under your body. Don’t “paw” the ground and try to “pull” yourself along; this is where many hamstrings issues arise. Trust in the strength that you’ve built and focus on putting force into the ground to propel you along on the balls of the feet, avoiding heel-striking. Guys who overstride tend to pull hamstrings more often. Simply moving the point of ground contact forward a few inches increases ground reaction forces from four-times body weight to six-times body weight. Intentionally overstriding will make you slower and more likely to get injured; warming-up sufficiently and trusting in your athletic ability will keep you moving quickly and safely. On your acceleration work, remember “head down to the mound.” Keep the chin tucked as you accelerate; you shouldn’t be looking up. That big forward lean gets shin angles in the right place, and helps generate momentum to get you moving faster. Remember that the faster your arms move, the faster your legs will move. Hip pocket to eye socket with that arm action!
Typical Preseason Workout
My athletes do a lot of sprint work on the turf with a combination of starts (10-15 yd) and upright sprinting at 70-90% of maximum speed (along with some sprint mechanics drills in warm-ups). Ideally, the athelte should be sprinting 2-3 times per week – but don’t get in the habit of thinking that you need to do a ton of aerobic work or treat these sessions as interval training. The goal should be complete recovery between sets, as you want to optimize sprint mechanics. Again, this is not the time to go crazy and run all out!!! Save that for when you’re stealing bases with healthy hamstrings and hip flexors in April!
Pre-season nutrition can be summed up in one word - calories. Most pitchers really undereat during the preseason period and wind up dropping a lot of weight – both muscle and fat. You can lose the fat with all this added sprinting without losing the muscle by keeping quality food intake up. If you find that your weight is dropping quickly, make sure you get the food intake up. Treat your baseball training sessions just like you do your training sessions in the off-season. Recognize that you need quality protein and carbohydrates during/after each session, with plenty of water. My favorite is chocolate milk and you can never go wrong with fruit/yogurt or fruit/cottage cheese combinations.
In the professional ranks, position players often lift four times per week. In college, it’s 2-3 sessions/week. There’s a reason for this trend; in-season training is important. Maximal strength is the foundation upon which power improvements occur. Keeping strength up is important for maintaining the peak power you need for throwing, sprinting, hitting, diving, you name it. Resistance training enhances strength, obviously – and it also has endocrine, immunity, injury prevention, and bone density benefits as well.
If you are a middle school, freshman, or junior varsity player, your #1 goal should be long-term development. To that end, physically, you should treat the in-season as if it’s the off-season. In other words, keep training as much as your schedule will allow. Obviously, things get busy between practices, games, and schoolwork (and school always comes first), but just realize that this isn’t a time when you should be concerned with modifying workouts because you don’t want to sore for games or practices. I know it sounds hard to appreciate now, but you’ll thank me years from now!
Varsity guys can get away with slightly fewer sessions if they’re more experienced athletes – but you still need to shoot for about two sessions a week. Position players can jump in whenever schedule allows. Pitchers should aim to lift the day after starts, whenever possible, as well as another session (generally around the same time that they throw bullpens). I am NOT a fan of distance running between starts – or even running foul poles – but that is a rant for another day. Suffice it to say that I think these efforts would be much better devoted to other training avenues.
In-season, frequency, not duration, is the name of the game. You don’t have to be in the gym for hours and hour; just stick to the “meat and potatoes” exercises and you’ll easily maintain – and possibly even build on – the gains you made this off-season. And, you’ll stay healthy. You would be amazed at what 20 minutes 2-3 times per week after practice or a game will do.
Going in to the off-season, I’m sure a lot of you had goals of throwing 90mph, hitting 15 homeruns, or stealing 25 bases. However, while you’ll certainly achieve a lot of success on these statistical measures, the statistic with which you should be most concerned is the games-missed statistic. As a Human performance Coach, my goal is to have every one of my athlete healthy enough to play every game this season. Many of you have put all the hard work in this off-season to make this a reality initially, but it is going to take a continued dedicated effort in-season with your warm-ups, flexibility drills, strength training, and nutrition to sustain what you’ve built for the long haul.
TRAIN HARD, PLAY HARD, REST HARD