Baseball players need to be explosive and powerful to throw, hit, jump, run, and change directions. This is so important it has to consistently be addressed in a baseball player's training. While it is essential, though, baseball players have many ways to develop their power in a strength and conditioning setting. This article will describe some of the major ways to build power for baseball players and describe some of the pros and cons of those different ways.
Power Requires Strength
First, to be powerful means to be able to express strength quickly. This means that baseball players need a strong base to apply that strength to moving quickly. Baseball players should squat, hip hinge, pull from the floor, row, and press to build their strength base. Baseball players should train strength using their entire body at least once a week to develop this physical ability.
For younger athletes, developing a strong base is enough to improve an athlete's power. This means that there isn't a need to do a great deal of specialized power training with younger athletes. But, once an athlete has been training for a few years, there is a need to begin integrating power training exercises to supplement the athlete's strength base.
This is one of the first types of power exercises that everyone thinks of. The Olympic lifts are very useful at increasing power, but they have drawbacks. First, they require special equipment. The athlete has to be able to drop the bar if they get into trouble. This means that these lifts require rubber weight plates and a special floor that they can be dropped on. Second, they require a great deal of coaching and technique. This takes a great deal of time to perfect, and it's unclear if this is a good return on an athlete's time. Third, some individuals are concerned with the overhead lifts (especially the snatch and the jerk) and throwing athletes' shoulders. While I'm unaware of any research linking the Olympic lifts and shoulder injuries, I respect that some coaches and athletes have concerns about this.
Now, rather than doing the clean, snatch, or jerk, athletes can perform pulls. These are partial versions of the Olympic lifts and are done without moving under the bar. STACK has several good articles about these exercises. There has been concerned that the use of the trapezius in these exercises could lead to shoulder issues. Still, it has to be kept in perspective that we're often talking about three sets a week on these – not the volume an Olympic lifter would use on them.
Jump squats also have great articles on STACK. This exercise involves jumping off the ground with a weight on the back of the athlete's shoulders. This a much less technical exercise than Olympic lifts are. It doesn't require as much instruction as those lifts do.
The challenge with this exercise is that the athlete has to land when performing it. There are two concerns here. First, if there is too much weight, then it could injure an athlete's back. Second, if the athlete's landing mechanics are flawed, this could lead to a knee injury.
Complex Contrast Lifts
Complex training alternates between heavy and explosive movements, such as a back squat and a vertical jump. Contrast training alternates between heavy and light movement, like a set at 90% and 60%. The idea in both is that heavy exercise maximally recruits the nervous system. The lighter movement trains the athlete to use that enhanced recruitment explosively.
While all of that sounds really good, there is no research evidence that either work. There also isn't any research evidence that it doesn't work! While this approach to training may not be a magic bullet for power development, it is a great use of time during the in-season when time is short.
Plyometrics doesn't necessarily require specialized equipment. They can be done outside or in the weight room. There is just a need for enough space for athletes to safely perform plyometrics. Generally, they do not require a great deal of technique. Two things make plyometrics both safer and more effective. First, the athlete needs to safely land to prevent injuries related to landing (ankle, knee, back). Second, the athlete needs a strong base. Research tells us that plyometrics are more effective for stronger athletes. The best approach is to incorporate a variety of training tools to help make athletes better.
Example of a week of workouts with a power emphasis that incorporates many of the training tools:
- Complex: Back squats and box jumps: 3x1-4@90% and 10 jumps
- Complex: Trap bar deadlifts and counter-movement jumps: 3x1-4@90% and 10 jumps
- Complex: Reverse grip bench press and medicine ball chest pass: 3x1-4@90% and 10 throws
- Complex: Bent-over barbell rows and medicine ball behind back toss: 3x1-4 and 5 throws
- Push jerk: 3x3-6@60%
- Power clean: 3x3@70%
- Clean pulls: 3x3@70%
- Front squats: 3x4-8@80%
- Good mornings: 3x4-8
- Jump squats: 3x3-6@30%
- Pause squats: 3x3-6@60%
- Pause close grip bench press: 3x3-6@60%
- Weighted chin-ups: 3x3-6
- 3-in-1 shoulders: 3x10 each exercise
Power is a physical ability, but it should be viewed as a skill. Viewing it as a skill means that it needs to be consistently practiced so that athletes can improve on it. A baseball player should not wait until four weeks before the season to start power training. It needs to be done year-round.
Power training exercises are most effective if they are brief, done explosively, and are done with good technique. This means limiting the volume of the exercises. General guidelines are no more than six repetitions a set on weight-room exercises, all-out explosive effort, and complete recovery between sets.