Every baseball player wants to throw harder and hit further, with significant effort in the baseball world devoted to increasing throwing velocity and hitting power. As there should be—these are two game-changing attributes that affect the outcome of seasons and careers.
Where are these efforts missing the mark? In this article, I will address some of the issues with training for rotational power in baseball athletes, while also providing solutions on how to maximize every athlete’s efforts on their way to explosiveness.
Primary Mistake: Not Analyzing Throwing/Hitting Sequencing
Don’t get me wrong, training for power is important—but if we do not properly analyze the sequence errors in the athlete’s throwing or hitting pattern, then the output training will not be as productive. Currently, I see many baseball programs using thera-band protocols, long tossing, and weighted ball programs to increase velocity.If we do not properly analyze the sequence errors in the athlete’s throwing or hitting pattern, then the output training will not be as productive, says @clh_strength. Click To Tweet
On the hitting side, using different weighted bats and drills to increase bat speed are popular. By no means are any of these strategies wrong or ineffective, but at some point we must address the root issue of not being able to display power, which is sequencing.
In order to display power, we must first break down the biomechanical sequence of both hitting and pitching, which are similar. To save time and keep things simple, I am going to discuss three common lower body abilities in both the hitting and pitching sequence that can make or break power expression/display.
- Hip Hinge
- Relative Hip Internal Rotation
- Lead Leg Block
The first ability is being able to hinge the hips while keeping the ribcage stacked over the pelvis. This is key in hitting and pitching and allows for both greater activation of the posterior chain and efficient energy transference. If executed incorrectly, the kinetic energy needing to be transferred through the trunk will have leaks and lead to a loss of power expression. This can be addressed both in the weight room and in drills at practice. It is a skill that must be acquired and applied directly to the sport skill.
The hip hinge can first be taught in the weight room via exercises such as a Romanian deadlift, single leg Romanian deadlift, and Bulgarian split squat variations. Even though the RDL is executed with a bilateral stance, it is the primary means of teaching the hinge due to its higher base of stability. Single leg variations can be progressed and taught by first adding external means of stability by simply using the off-hand to balance on a stable object. Keep in mind that the principle of progressive overload is key to gaining strength in these positions.Keep in mind that the principle of progressive overload is key to gaining strength in these positions, says clh_strength. Click To Tweet
The next ability is relative hip internal rotation. I am referencing the way that the acetabulum moves along a stable femur. This occurs at front-foot strike of the hitting and pitching sequence.
If a player does not have the capacity to access this position, much less create stability in it, it will be difficult to express power. This requires the ability to create dynamic stability in high force environments such as the swing or the throw (more on this later).
The third ability is to be able to block the lead leg (pictured in figure 3). This is an essential part of the throw/swing that allows for energy transfer from the ground, up the kinetic chain, and into the hands and bat/ball. A common issue for young and weak baseball players is the inability to handle the eccentric and isometric force being placed upon that front leg. Some of the issues come from timing the lead leg block, but a large majority of the problems come from weakness.A common issue for young and weak baseball players is the inability to handle the eccentric and isometric force being placed upon that front leg, says @clh_strength. Click To Tweet
To assess why some of your athletes are lacking power, the first step is to video them performing their sport and discuss with the sport coaching staff how to break that down. If we do not care to explore this important step, we will likely be spraying blind bullets in training.
Now, let’s explore solutions and strategies to address the common mishaps in throwing and hitting.
Strategy #1: Offset Training with Unilateral Work
This strategy includes training with load on only one side of the body. This is a simple strategy to create lateral stability, which is often lacking in young baseball players. When we place the load on one side of the body—often with a dumbbell, kettlebell, or landmine—the dynamic stability stimulus is increased. There are two ways to place the load unilaterally, either contralateral (load placed opposite of front foot) or ipsilateral (load placed on same side of front foot).When we place the load on one side of the body—often with a dumbbell, kettlebell, or landmine—the dynamic stability stimulus is increased, says @clh_strength. Click To Tweet
Contralateral loading will suggest internal rotation of the hip in exercises such as split squats, lunges, and single leg hip hinge exercises. Due to the load being on the opposite side and more in line with gait mechanics, the load is going to lend itself to relative internal rotation of the opposite hip. Just like when we walk, after our foot strikes the ground, the hip will internally rotate during the next swing due to the direction of forces. We want to purposefully load into that hip. Ipsilateral loading will suggest resisting rotation.
This placement goes against the forces similar in gait mechanics and will train the body to remain in specific positions while resisting the lateral forces from the load. Varying the loads, tempos, and ranges of motion will lead to increased stability and force capabilities in the similar positions that are needed on the mound or in the batter’s box. The application of these are dependent on the stimulus you are looking to apply that makes the most sense for your athletes. Generally, it is wise to include some of all variations at some point of the training plan.
Strategy #2: Heavy Single Leg Strength Training
Some of the problems young baseball players face derive from a general weakness or force deficit. Kids need to get strong! The proper application of strength is what needs the most direction to get the greatest return on investment. I believe that a large portion of strength training needs to take place outside of a bilateral, side-by-side stance. This is due to the more specific application of force in the environment that baseball is played in. This does not dismiss bilateral force production strategies of training such as deadlifting or squatting—these are staples in general strength training—but force production training should not be limited to deadlifting and squatting.Force production training should not be limited to deadlifting and squatting, says @clh@strength. Click To Tweet
There should be a unilateral presence of training that includes split squat variations, lunge variations, and step up variations. Varying the loads and tempos in a progressive overload fashion will yield the best results for single leg training. One of the best tools for training heavy in a split stance is a safety squat bar. This specialty bar allows for heavy loading without placing the shoulders in unwanted ranges of motion. It is worth the investment for your program.
Strategy #3: Medicine Ball Work, Plyometrics, and Sprint Training
Lastly, the missing ingredient for power development for baseball players is training to produce force quickly outside of throwing a baseball. This is done through medicine ball throws, plyometrics, and sprint training. Think of these strategies as the speed end of the spectrum that strength training does not give us. We must use these methods to our advantage to speed up the ability to produce force quickly.
Medicine ball training is great for rotational power. There are two major mistakes that coaches make when implementing medicine ball training: picking too heavy of loads and focusing on the speed of the ball. First, loads that are too heavy move too slow to train the rate of force being produced. For high school baseball players, I often see this happen around 10-12 pounds—the sweet spot is 4-8 pounds for most HS athletes. This also helps the athlete maintain technique that will transfer to the skill of sport. Yes, intent is necessary for power, but technique must also be stressed when training. For example, when executing a shotput throw, if completely focused on how hard the ball is thrown with the arms, rather than the hips, then the adaptation is placed in the wrong place. This can be misleading due to the sound of the “pop” on the wall from what seems to be a harder throw.There are two major mistakes that coaches make when implementing medicine ball training: picking too heavy of loads and focusing on the speed of the ball, says @clh_strength. Click To Tweet
Plyometrics are a great way to learn to produce force quickly. Even though they are not “plyometric” in nature, I also include jumps that require high efforts to overcome inertia in this category. Some of these exercises include both vertical and horizontal displacement by using two legs and one. By training in plyometric environments, the body will learn how to handle and redirect large amounts of force quickly, similar to what is experienced in a throw or swing.
The stimulus that comes from sprinting is the one stimulus that cannot be reproduced anywhere else in training. No other exercise can reproduce the speeds and magnitude of force that sprinting creates. Some may believe it to be silly for pitchers to sprint, but it is not for them to get “faster” per se, but to be used as a force production stimulus. A good rule for sprinting is to make sure it is at maximum speed/intent and for every 10 yards run, there needs to be 45 seconds to 1 minute of rest between bouts. If pitchers lack proper mechanics to run, keep runs under 30 yards to minimize hamstring strain risk.
This article is simply a guide to understanding how to train baseball athletes for power. Remember to always implement training that you can coach and execute at a high level.
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