by James Alvarado
With the off-season coming to an end, it’s important to shift your focus in your training approach to optimize athletic performance and health. Far too many times, I have seen athletes bust their ass in the weight room during the off season and completely disregard any type of in season training, and actually lose some of the strength they worked so hard for. With loss of strength comes loss of power, which is a big factor in maximizing your athletic performance. You can do as much power training as you want, but if you do not have the strength to produce high levels of force, power training becomes less effective. Guys aren’t getting hurt in-season just because of a decrease in strength, but also because of a decrease in mobility. On top of all the eccentric stress from throwing a baseball, there is a great deal of standing around in baseball which keeps guys away from basic movement patterns such as squatting and lunging. Because every athlete’s schedule is different, this article will help cover some basic guidelines on how to tackle your in-season training approach as a whole, which our training program focuses on.
When it comes to in-season training, every program should have a well thought out plan and goal. Now the goal isn’t to break any PR’s here, but to maintain the strength and size you worked so hard for in the off-season. When it comes to our high school athletes, we typically will perform two full body workouts a week as this gives us the appropriate stimulus to preserve muscle mass and strength. Some athletes, however, may be able to sneak in a third workout if they are not seeing frequent playing time. Two full body workouts a week, however, should suffice for the majority of athletes. For our pro guys, the frequency and intensity will change considering their travel schedule and increased number of games being played as well as individual preference (Follow up on part 2 of this article for a more in-depth schedule for a big-league player).
Volume and Intensity
Just like every other workout you do, quality over quantity is the goal here. Our workouts will last anywhere from 30-45 min after the warm up and total sets in a workout are typically kept within the 12-18 sets. Generally speaking, I like to keep volume AND intensity lower in the first week of the program to minimize any initial soreness that may occur. As the body starts to become familiar with the exercises, we will then begin to load it back up for the next 2-4 weeks before switching programs.
Monitoring volume and intensity throughout the week is crucial for keeping our high school players healthy and strong all season long. Ideally, the first workout should occur within 24 hours of the game as this will help consolidate stress into a 24-hour block to allow for better recovery. From a pitching perspective, this also works well as it helps our kids get in their mobility and soft tissue work immediately to help “normalize” their range of motion after throwing. This workout will also be slightly higher in volume and in the 6-10 rep range to ensure the appropriate stimulus to preserve muscle mass. For the sample workout that I will provide below, we will assume this player is a positional player and not a pitcher as exercise selection may vary slightly.
Below is a 2 days/week program: Position Player
Post-game workout goal: Functional Hypertrophy
A1. FF Elevated Split Squat 3 x 6-8
A2. Seated Row – Elbows Out 3 x 6-8
B1. Lying Leg Curl (Toes In) 3 x 4-6
B2. Landmine Press 3 x 8-10
C1. 45’ Back Extension 2 x 8-10
C2. External Rotation on Knee 2 x 8-10
C3. Bent over T3 Raise 2 x 8-10
Mid-week workout goal: Strength
A1. Trap Bar Dead Lift 4 x 4-6
B1. 1 – Arm Bent over Db Row 3 x 4-6
B2. Reverse Hyperextension 3 x 6-8
B3. Flat – Db Press 3 x 6-8
A well developed in-season program will have the appropriate exercises for optimal results. Far too many coaches will get crazy trying to drill sport specific exercises in-season, but the truth is this can cause more harm than good. During the season, players are getting their “sport specific exercises” from ground balls, batting, throwing and sprinting everyday during practice or games. Training more rotational movements on top of all the rotational movements they are doing currently in season will exacerbate any risk of overuse injury. Instead, focus on the basic compound movements that will improve overall strength levels, which will help keep power output higher throughout the season. At first, you might have glanced at the program above and maybe think what’s so special about this program, it’s just a basic structural type of workout. But the key to in-season training is to STICK to the basics. By doing so, you will also decrease the levels of soreness you might achieve from continuous variety in your programs. Yes, exercise progression is very beneficial for increasing strength but introducing new exercises that the body is unfamiliar with will lead to excess soreness, which will then limit our power output. I like to keep the basic movement patterns in our workouts and slightly change the variation of that exact movement every 4 weeks or so. I also like to focus on more of a “structural” type of workout 1x/week to help offset any muscular imbalances that can occur from the vast amounts of repetitive movement patterns. Perform exercises with low levels of eccentric stress and include some unilateral structural work to help minimize repetitive movement patterns and imbalances that may occur.
I am also not a fan of on field band work and “arm care” programs. What coaches fail to realize is the amount of eccentric stress and abuse the rotator cuff gets from throwing a baseball. This is where quality over quantity will help save your arm in the long run. Now I’m not saying that I am not a fan of in-season rotator cuff work because we definitely have rotator cuff work in our programs, but the key is to monitor volume and quality is to ensure proper recovery. Any type of residual fatigue or soreness will decrease potential for power output and athletic performance.
Within each workout there is a goal for that day and what we are trying to achieve. Although this aspect may vary slightly from person to person, the overall goal of achieving the proper stimulus will not change. A common theme you may seem is that our workouts are designed to be efficient but also limit any type of soreness we might create from these workouts. I want my players fresh and ready to go before a game, not exhausted from the workouts done earlier in the week. As much as we want to improve our numbers in the weight room, the goal of in-season training is to maintain and maybe slightly increase strength/size without limiting our capability of producing maximal levels of force. Fatigue masks fitness and recovery is key.