Training for major league ballplayers no longer just means amphetamines before the game, whiskey after. The physiques, statistics and congressional testimonies of today’s hitters make it obvious that baseball players no longer swear off the weight room in fear of becoming too muscle-bound and thus injury-prone. (In the 1980’s, Sparky Anderson famously chastised Detroit Tigers catcher Lance Parrish for gaining ten pounds of muscle in the off-season.)
But there is much more to training for baseball than just maxing out in the weight room and putting on pounds of muscle. Players must train for speed, quickness, and a bevy of unique movements, not to mention day-to-day maintenance. Major league players undergo a grueling, 162-game, six-month season, during which every player can expect to suffer a minor injury that they have to play with. St. Louis Cardinals trainer Greg Hauck says that he has even seen players play with minor fractures. It takes both mental toughness and a good training regimen for players to make it from April to October in one piece.
The thinking of today’s baseball trainers offers some tips that are great for baseball and softball players, and some that have universal application.
Always be ready to play. Bench players can be thrown into the starting lineup at any time, and nothing can be more detrimental to a young player’s career than being unprepared to play nine innings, six days a week. Portland Beavers’ (San Diego’s AAA affiliate) trainer Wade Yamasaki likes to remind young bench players that Lou Gehrig started his streak of consecutive games played as a pinch hitter. So get your mind and body in shape.
Yoga is good. The dugout may still be a bastion of spitting, off-color jokes and pranks involving fire or whipped cream, but ballplayers have learned that it’s not wimpy to walk around with a rolled-up purple mat. Flexibility is important for baseball players, and the ability to concentrate and have a clear mind is paramount. So it only makes sense that baseball players have taken to yoga. Trainers also like yoga because it can be used to make regular pre-practice or pre-game stretching more interesting. Yoga is now an almost universally accepted training technique in baseball. “The relaxation and flexibility gains [from yoga] are vital for professional athletes,” says Hauck.
– Bandages and antibiotic ointment. Sometimes you have to stick with the classics.
– Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation. This is a fancy term for an extremely helpful method of stretching that involves conventional stretching exercises alternated with isometric resistance. It’s a great help to many athletes, and particularly to pitchers who are trying to maintain shoulder strength and flexibility.
– Training for pitchers is not the same as it was 20 or 30 years ago. Rotator cuff injuries are no longer a scientific mystery. In addition to performing isometric or low-weight shoulder exercises, pitchers also need to maintain forearm strength to avoid injury. And although ice can help pitchers recover from throwing a lot of pitches, trainers point out that it does constrict tissue and reduce flexibility.
– Explosive power. Hitters train for this when they lift weights. Although workouts become less intensive during the season—the goal being to maintain strength, rather than gain it—hitters often lift only four to eight repetitions per set in-season, in order to maintain a quick, powerful swing.