In your strength training regimen – be it off-season or in-season – you should be prioritizing compound movements. This means full-body exercises that utilize a lot of muscle mass in your prime movers. Good examples include the squat, deadlift, clean, snatch, bench press, press, pull-ups, chin-ups, rows, and many others.
I would like to make it clear that these compound movements should absolutely not be done with machines. By using machines instead of free weights (barbells, dumbbells, plates, kettlebells, etc), you are giving your stabilizer muscles nothing to do; the machine controls the plane of movement rather than your bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles. Additionally, you get less central nervous system (CNS) response from this type of work. Even worse: These machine-based “exercises” barely transfer over to athletic competition.
Staying away from machines is a good first step. However, there are plenty of “bros” in the gym who are doing equally silly things with dumbbells or barbells in order to pump up their “beach” muscles. Exercises like curls, leg extensions, lateral raises, and tricep kickbacks have no place in an athlete’s training program (with few exceptions for intermediate-to-advanced lifters). They simply do not stimulate enough muscle to gain appreciable strength, and the muscles they do work are worked in isolation, rather than an integrated movement.
Baseball does not use isolated movements in competition. In fact, very few sports do. Effective athletes learn to use their entire body efficiently to produce the most force possible to throw the ball harder, to hit a ball farther, to hit an opposing lineman harder, to jump higher for a rebound, and so forth. Isolating muscle groups has very little carryover to athletic competition – as such, these exercises should be used sparingly or omitted entirely.
Though I said I wouldn’t give out programs or workouts for free, I’ll show you what the offseason training for one of my clients (a HS Varsity infielder) has been over the past few weeks to show you that I practice what I preach:
- Monday: Back squat (3×5), DB Neutral-Grip Bench Press (3×5), Deadlift (1×5), Chin-Ups (3 sets to failure)
- Tuesday: Batting cage session
- Wednesday: DE Box squat (8×3), DB Push Press (3×5), Power Clean (5×3), Push-Ups (3 sets to failure), Light medball work
- Thursday: Volume medball work, Batting cage session
- Friday: Back squat (3×5), DB Neutral-Grip Bench Press (3×5), DB One-Arm Rows (2×10), One-Arm Suitcase Deadlift (2×5), Pull-Ups (3 sets to failure)
- Saturday: Skills day – grounders, flyballs, drills, etc. Agility/sprint training.
- Sunday: Light medball work and light long toss
On Wednesdays we’ll occasionally substitute the snatch for the clean depending on his progression, and we occasionally do full cleans with a jerk or substitute thrusters for more power output. The above program should be seen as a template that is flexible, but the overall message should not be lost – train for strength and power. It’s also worth noting that we do a comprehensive dynamic warmup with foam rolling (self-myofascial release) and mobility exercises before every workout, and some static stretching after it.
As we get closer to tryouts and the season, he’ll cut out Wednesday’s lifting session in favor of more sprint-based training, skills training, and a long run (2+ miles). I’m not a big fan of distance running for baseball players, but long-range cardio fitness has carryover to athletic competition, and his coach does like to make his players run long distances at practice, so he should be prepared for it – however dumb it may be.