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Offseason Training Guide for Baseball Pitchers

Physical conditioning during the offseason can be as vital to a baseball pitcher as working on throwing mechanics. An individualized training program is the best way to improve your performance. But any conditioning is better than none, says Sam Faulkner, head strength and conditioning coach at Enhance U, an Ohio-based training center focusing on fitness and proper dieting. The facility is owned by former collegiate and NFL player Tramain Hall.

The following training themes should help pitchers keep in shape and strengthen important muscles in their pitching delivery.

Weightlifting and Exercises

Faulkner prefers pitchers stay away from Olympic lifts such as overhead snatches, recommending different squat variations and medicine ball tosses instead.

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“It’s not because they don’t have the capacity to do them,” he explained. “(But) they’re very complex. That’s why you see a lot of people have a lot of shoulder injuries. It’s just a very precise practice; you have to be sound with your form.”

An effective squatting exercise for pitchers is what Faulkner calls a “goblet squat.” Hold a kettlebell or dumbbell with a front squat variation, keeping your hands straight up. This puts less pressure on the shoulders as a back squat. 

Many pitchers don’t realize how important hip flexibility is to their delivery, Faulkner said.

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“If your hips are tight,” he said, “you have a shorter range of mobility.”

To increase hip mobility, place your knees wide apart with your ankles on the ground. Point your toes out, take a deep breath and push back, which should increase range of motion in your hips. You may experience some soreness the first day or two, since those muscles aren’t used to that kind of stretching.

Building Arm Strength

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Dr. David Szymanski, professor of kinesiology at Louisiana Tech and a member of the National Strength and Conditioning Association, recommends the Throwers Ten program for strengthening shoulder joints. Developed by noted surgeon Dr. James Andrews, these 10 exercises help strengthen and support throwing mechanics, which can be the difference between a healthy arm and a damaged one.

Injuries to the elbow are a serious concern for pitchers at all levels. They don’t have the same muscle mass as the shoulder, so exercises that strengthen the wrist, forearm and elbow are important in reducing injury risk. Szymanski, a former strength and conditioning coach for the university’s baseball team, recommends the “rice bucket” drill. Fill a baseball bucket with about 30 pounds of rice, and practice grabbing it with your fingers and hands.

Try Running

How much a pitcher runs depends on whether he participates in other sports. If you play basketball or soccer, for instance, you’re probably getting all of the running you need, Szymanski says. If baseball is your only sport, sprints are better than long-distance running. Depending on the size of your youth field, you can practice running poles, or sprinting from left field to right field, using a stopwatch.

“If you want to be explosive, don’t run long distances, because it’s not recruiting the right muscle fibers,” Szymanski said.

Throwing Mechanics

Szymanski believes pitchers should resist playing the game year-round to keep their arms healthy. He puts the age of a pitcher’s arm in two categories: chronological and biological.

“If we’re talking about a 15-year-old young man, their arm is 15 years old,” he said. “But if they pitch year-round, and don’t give themselves two to three months rest, biologically, their arm might actually be ‘older’ than someone who isn’t throwing as much.”

Proper mechanics go a long way in protecting the arm from wear and tear. Like any other part of the body, the risk of injury and long-term damage is higher for pitchers who don’t develop correct movement. When you practice throwing, it’s ok to throw hard from any distance, as long as your mechanics are sound.

“If you lose your mechanics, and you can’t throw the ball hard, that distance is too far,” Szymanski said.

From GameChanger and Stephen Kerr. 

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