Staying Fit in the Off-Season
A good off-season workout routine is crucial to hone your skills and prepare you for in-season play and performance. Proper form, consistency and attention to detail will keep you in optimum shape to help you endure long inning appearances when the season finally rolls back around.
Baseball-specific drills are repetitive in nature, so it is imperative that you first learn the skill correctly to know what "normal" feels like. You want to know what the movement or motion is supposed to feel like to keep you from developing bad habits. Schedule frequent sessions with your coaches during your off-season to make sure that you are performing the movements correctly. Your coaches will be able to suggest any necessary modifications in your technique.
Be sure that your workout program incorporates the following activities: cardiovascular training, strength and flexibility training, and position-specific exercises for batters, fielders or pitchers. Remember that playing baseball to keep your body fit is simply not enough. Off-season and in-season body training will help you to maintain running speed, the strength to throw/pitch, and the physical and mental readiness for each upcoming season.
Cardiovascular Exercise Baseball and softball are physically and psychologically demanding. Cardiovascular fitness helps players cope with these demands and can help speed recover from an injury. Establishing a good cardiovascular "base" is very important before focusing on more specific exercises. Start with a 4-day workout program, concentrating on the lower body for two days; upper body for a day. Begin every session by focusing on strong aerobic exercises by cycling on an exercise bike or treadmill for 20 minutes. Include sprints, starting with 400-meter exercises and then working up to shorter and faster exercises. Running for distance is probably your best option to get your heart rate up and help with endurance.
Strength and Flexibility Training Strength and flexibility training in the off-season promote a balanced body, improves muscular endurance and power and helps stabilize joints. Flexibility exercises stretch tight muscles and improve joints' range of motion. Incorporating strength and flexibility training into your off-season workout routine also helps prevent injury. Start by lifting weights three to four times per week, taking a day off between workouts to allow your body to rest and recover. Be sure that you are stretching after each workout to keep your body flexible and strong. Children should use strength training (not weight training), using his/her body weight to provide the resistance. This will ensure that you are not piling on more than your child can lift. Weight lifting injuries are common among children, but they should be able to lift their own body weight with little trouble after time.
Some other good exercises to build into your routine include squat exercises, jumping rope, sprinting and stair climbing. These are all great for upper body strengthening. Also try fast push-ups and power abdominal crunches.
Position-Specific Exercises Position-specific exercises are crucial to the overall success of your off-season conditioning routine. These exercises will help develop and refine the motor skills required for optimal pitching, batting and fielding.
FOR PITCHERS: Since rotator cuff injury is the most common injury for baseball pitchers, be sure to add rotator cuff strengthening to your off-season workout by handling lightweights. One simple exercise can be performed by lying face down on a bench with your shoulder straight out and elbow bent at a 90 degree angle toward the floor. Holding light dumbbells, raise your hand forward (while keeping your elbow bent) until the hand is level with the shoulder. Complete the motion by slowly lowering your hand to the starting position.
Don't wait until the season starts to begin pitching. Do some light pitching exercises in the off-season to keep your arm strength up. Just don't overdo it! Injuring yourself in the off-season is not exactly what you want to do. Your pitching exercises should include your regular pitching form... just turned down a few notches. This will keep your arm ready and strong without the rigors of in-season pitching speed and force.
FOR CATCHERS: Since squatting is such an integral part of this position, try squat exercises. 1/4 (90 degree) turn every hop (squat and jump in air) (10 turns (1 turn = 360 degrees)/3 sets each way)
FOR FIELDERS: Ladder agility drills are an excellent way to improve foot speed, agility, coordination and overall quickness in the off-season.
To perform these drills, push off from the balls of your feet (not the toes). Keep your elbows at 90 degrees at all times. Pump your hands from shoulder height to hips (men) and from chest height to hips (women). Keep your arms, shoulders and hands relaxed. Try to keep your head still as much as possible.