The 12-Month Baseball Strength Training Program

An effective baseball strength training program – one designed to significantly improve your performance – is NOT about bulking up. In fact…

Too much size can reduce your range of motion, restrict your quickness and agility and hamper your execution of skills. But strength training for baseball is very different from bodybuilding…

The main priority for baseball players is to develop maximal strength and then convert those gains into explosive power — in particular hitting and throwing power (as well as acceleration). It’s important to remember that bigger muscles are not necessarily more powerful muscles.

Of the relatively few players and coaches (outside the professional arena) who incorporate strength conditioning, most take a less than efficient approach…

They follow the same routine week after week, month after month always trying to lift heavier and heavier weights. And if their routine DOES change, it usually comes straight from a glossy fitness magazine. Not the best approach for developing outstanding baseball-specific strength.

Here’s a far more effective way…

The Four Phases of a Baseball Strength Training Program

Nearly all strength training programs for sport are split into several distinct phases…

Each phase has it’s own objective and builds on the phase previously. So, for example, the first phase might build a solid foundation of strength, preparing the body for more strenuous training down the line. Another phase might focus on developing maximal strength or muscle bulk. The phase following that might aim to convert strength into sport-specific power of muscular endurance.

In baseball we can split the year into these 4 phases:

  • Off-Season – Also called the “closed season” or transition phase, when little or no competitive baseball is played
  • Early Pre-Season – This is the period when players first return after the break. Training is typically more general and gradual eases into more intense sessions
  • Late Pre-Season – Training should be at its most intense during the late pre-season. The aim is to peak as the competitive season begins
  • In-Season – Training in the competitive season is about maintaining the gain developed during the pre-season. The amount of training tends to be lower to accommodate games

Splitting an annual program up like this is an example of perdioization.

The 12-month program is the big picture, which can be broken down into smaller periods or phases (as in the list above). But periodization doesn’t end there…

Each phase can be split into smaller phases again (often called cycles) and the smallest cycle – the microcycle – is usually one week of training. Within each phase, each cycle and each week, the intensity and volume of training varies. Compare that to the typical bodybuilder who aims to lift heavier and heavier weights for more and more repetitions indefinitely.

Don’t worry if it sounds a bit overly complicated. After you’ve read about each phase below it becomes much clearer. Then the chart at the bottom ties everything together.

Phase 1 – Develop Foundational Strength

What exactly is “foundational strength“? For the purposes of this article it refers to a balanced base of strength in all major muscle groups and in particular the core region.

Foundational strength training prepares the joints, ligaments, tendons and connective tissue for more demanding training later on in the program. But not only does it prepare the body, it helps to balance it…

Any sport (and baseball is no different) places uneven stresses on the body. Pitchers throw forcefully with the same arm thousands of times a year. Swinging the bat in the same direction over and over, develops muscles on one side of the body more than the other side.

Over time, small imbalances can compound into chronic over-use injuries. The most effective way to prevent this is with exercises that re-develop the natural balance between the left and right side, as well as opposing muscle groups.

In this phase, a good deal of time should be dedicated to strengthening your center of power…

The muscles of the trunk and lower back connect the upper and lower body. They support every twisting, turning, jumping and lateral movement. They are literally the link through which all movement passes.

Finally, a foundational period like this is important for ANY level of athlete – even for seasoned weight lifters. If a player is new to weight lifting, this phase becomes doubly important and can last 8-12 weeks or more.

Here are the parameters for this phase of the baseball strength training program:

Time year: Early pre-season
Duration: 4-8 weeks
Days per week: 2-3
Load: 50-60% 1 rep max
Reps: 15-20
Sets: 2-3

One of the best ways to develop foundational strength is through circuit training.

Phase 2 – Developing Maximal Strength

Once you’ve built a solid and well-balanced foundation, the next phase of the baseball strength training program is develop maximal strength.

Maximal strength is simply defined as the most amount of weight you can lift once… or 1 repetition maximum.

It’s important that you devote a portion of your baseball strength program to developing maximal strength. Why? Because it serves as a foundation for muscular power and speed.

But there is one condition…

A weight lifter may take several seconds to lift a weight, especially towards the end of a set. That may sound like a short time but in most sporting movements it’s an eternity. Imagine how much force a pitcher would generate if their throwing action lasted 10 seconds! The goal is to spend some time in the pre-season increasing your strength to a peak and then to convert that strength into explosive power just as the competitive season approaches.

The more maximal strength you have, the greater your potential for speed and power.

There are some key differences between maximal strength and what’s called hypertrophy training. Hypertrophy is simply the increase in muscle size that bodybuilders look for. But their type of training doesn’t cause the same neurological adaptations that maximal strength training does.

Here are the parameters for this phase of the baseball strength training program

Time year: Mid pre-season
Duration: 6 weeks
Days per week:3
Load: 80-90% 1 rep max
Reps: 4-6
Sets: 3-5

Phase 3 – Conversion to Power

The stronger you are the harder you can hit, or throw right?

Well not necessarily.

Very few sports and events require maximal strength. Remember, strength makes no allowances for time. To accelerate quickly, pitch forcefully and hit powerfully you have to be able to apply as much of your strength as quickly as possible.

Power is a combination of strength AND speed.

Increase either one (without reducing the other) and you increase your explosive power.

There are several training methods to increase power but they all have one element in common…

The speed of the lift or movement is sharp and explosive.

To allow for these quick contractions you have to reduce the amount of weight or resistance.

One very effective method for developing power is plyometric training.

Very often this uses only bodyweight. For the upper body, medicine ball are used

Here are the parameters for this phase of the baseball strength training program:

Time year: Late pre-season
Duration: 4 weeks
Days per week:2-3
Load: 50-60% 1 rep max
Reps: 8-12
Sets: 2-3

Phase 4 – Maintain Your Gains

During the competitive season, baseball strength training can be reduced to two or even one session per week. It’s good to perform a combination of maximal strength training exercises and explosive power exercises.

During the in-season, varying the training load and intensity becomes critical. Training over a week should taper off towards a game. Training as a whole should taper off towards the end of the season or leading up to a particularly important game.

In the months of the closed season it can be a good idea to have a break from strength training altogether. But keep this break no longer than 3-4 weeks. After 5 weeks most of the gains made over the previous year are lost. If you do continue to train over this period, keep it informal and unstructured. Don’t pay too much attention to the number of sets and reps or the order of exercises. This is a good time to choose exercises that work neglected parts of the body.

Here’s a sample off-season strength training routine.

The 12-Month Baseball Strength Training Plan

The chart below should help to tie all the phases together over the course of a season. Of course the actual months will change depending on your season, but the basic philosophy remains the same.

baseball strength training program

With this bigger picture in mind, let’s have a look at some sample baseball strength training sessions with actual exercises, reps and sets…

Click here for the baseball weight training sessions