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It takes absolutely freakish levels of natural talent to make a career in Major League Baseball—that’s no secret. But what a lot of fans don’t realize is just how much time, effort, and focus is incorporated into a major-league baseball training session. At that level of the game, talent alone isn’t enough—top players are constantly in the gym, improving their overall strength, explosive ability, and defending against injuries.
To help you improve your play all over the diamond, we talked to Joey Wolfe, the owner of Paradigm Sport in Santa Cruz, CA. Wolfe works with athletes from a variety of sports—from baseball to mixed martial arts—and here he offers five key elements of training for maximum baseball ability.
Every swing, pitch, and throw requires some degree of torso rotation, so it’s imperative to have a strong core to rotate fast—and then slow down the rotation.
“It’s like you’re driving a car: If you don’t have very good brakes, then you’re not going to accelerate very fast,” Wolfe says. “Same thing with baseball. If you’re able to accelerate fast but not able to properly stop, that’s a good way to tear an oblique.”
Exercises for core strength:
1. Swiss ball rollout
2. Dumbbell suitcase carry
3. Landmine rotation
4. Reverse crunch
5. Medicine ball scoop toss
Baseball requires the ability to react to different situations: Catchers have to react to botched throws and pop up from a squat to throw out a stealing base runner, and outfielders use drop steps and crossover steps to make on-the-fly adjustments to determine a ball’s trajectory.
“Baseball players are not moving in a straight line, and they have to move without thinking,” Wolfe says. “That’s why we work on things like footwork and visualizing how far you have to catch or throw, all of which will have huge carryover on game day.”
Exercises for agility:
1. Six-inch hurdle hop
2. Lateral bound
3. Ladder drill
Pro baseball training sessions consists of performing specific stretches and dynamic drills to target areas like the hips, ankles, and shoulders. Tight hips prevent acceleration; sore ankles can lead to knee pain; poor shoulder mobility can screw with batting and throwing.
Then again, baseball players don’t want to be as flexible as Cirque du Soleil performers, either. “If a player has extremely good external and internal range of motion, they can develop ‘laxity,’ meaning the joint becomes too loose,” Wolfe says. “Sometimes a little stiffness actually allows them to throw harder. But it depends on the athlete. So we’ll start with corrective soft tissue work, and then move into isolated stretching. Then they’ll perform a series of correctives at the beginning of their program and sprinkle it into their training.”
Exercises for mobility:
1. Prone-arm trap raise
2. Ball-to-wall stabilization
3. Half-kneeling external rotation
4. Brettzel stretch glute bridge
For baseball, the first 30 feet is going to make all the difference, especially when it comes to stealing bases.
Wolfe says: “I’ll have the athletes do wall drills and sprints with bungees attached to a partner, and high-intensity cardio with equipment like the VersaClimber, Concept2 Rower, a sledgehammer, and a tire.”
Exercises for footspeed
1. Harness run and march
2. Fall to sprint
3. Pushup to sprint
4. Straight-leg march
5. Straight-leg skip
Strength transfers to all movements. In baseball, a stronger athlete will be able to hit the ball farther, jump higher, and sprint faster.
“Strength training is prevalent at the beginning of the season, and we definitely like to put weight on the bar in the offseason,” Wolfe says. “Squats and deadlifts are the main focus, and we taper down the weight as we get closer to spring training. Medicine ball work is also huge, and has tremendous carryover for pitchers who start in the frontal plane and then go into the transverse plane.”
Exercises for strength:
2. Safety-bar squat
3. Half-kneeling landmine Press
4. TRX row
5. Band-resisted lateral bound