By Kyle Nellesen, youth baseball coach
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The primary concern of most young pitchers is normally centered on velocity. “How can I throw harder?” is a question that seems to pop up daily. The most obvious answer would be to practice pitching, improve mechanics, and so on. While these activities are important and contribute to the success of a pitcher, strength training and conditioning has remained a relatively forgotten part of a pitcher's overall program. The purpose of this article is to show some basic workouts, using bodyweight or weighted resistance methods, which will allow you to condition the pitcher, gain strength and increase your performance.
Part 1: Bodyweight Circuits
One of the simplest, yet most effective ways to train is by using your own bodyweight. Instead of outside resistance from free weights, cables, or bands, bodyweight training harnesses your own weight to provide resistance. Because of this it is extremely effective for those just starting out with strength programs. For those who are more advanced, bodyweight exercises can be altered to provide more of a challenge. An example of this can be seen with the basic pushup. A more difficult option would be pushups with the feet elevated, or for an even greater challenge handstand pushups or one arm pushups. The possibilities are endless for program design and progression. Here are a few examples of simple programs that utilize bodyweight training.
Bodyweight Circuit #1
25 bodyweight squats
30 seconds plank
Repeat 4-5 times
This workout is performed as a circuit, with minimal rest periods between each exercise. This promotes anaerobic fitness, as well as muscular endurance. The entire session could be finished in less than 20 minutes.
Bodyweight Circuit #2
Pushups - 20 reps
Bodyweight Squats - 25 reps
Pike Press - 10 reps
Body Rows - 10 reps
Lunges - 10 reps per leg
There is no rest between exercises and only a short rest period after completing the entire circuit.
**Aim to complete at least 3 trips through the circuit, building up as you get stronger. You can substitute in different movements based on the equipment you have (i.e. shoulder press with db's instead of pike presses) and you can graduate to more difficult movements (body rows to pull-ups).
Bodyweight Circuit #3 w/ Core Workout
25 Hindu Squats
15 High Pulls with resistance band
12 Pike Press or Dips
Go through the circuit 3-4 times. Follow it up with a core workout. An easy sample core workout could be...
3x25 Russian twists with weight in your hands
3X30 second plank holds
3x25 Leg Lifts
Obviously, these are simply templates to give you an idea of what to do with a bodyweight session. If you find the workouts too easy or too hard, make adjustments to the exercises to raise or lower the intensity.
Part 2: Weight Room Workouts
The other option available to those looking to increase strength is found in the use of free weights. Many within the baseball community have sought to demonize weight training as the cause of injury, or turning players into bodybuilders, but this notion is simple not true. The design of your program will be the determining factor of how effective your strength training will be. Bodybuilders use protocols designed for bodybuilding. Baseball players should follow lifting programs designed for baseball.
With that in mind, athletes should always remember to balance their strength training routines between maximal, explosive, and speed strength. Maximal and explosive strength will be covered through this article. Speed strength is best trained through sports specific activities and plyometrics, both of which are extremely important.
Note: all of the following workouts are based on a full body split, as opposed to doing lower body one day and upper body the next. This is a personal preference.
The following is one of the most basic, yet extremely effective lifting programs:
Workout #1: Generic Push/Pull Balanced Workout
3x8 Body Row
3x8 DB Benchpress
3x12 DB Lunges
3x8 High Pulls
3x8 Push Press
You always want to balance the push and pull movements throughout the workout. This prevents injuries and improves performance. Squats and deadlifts are often neglected in favor of “beach muscle” workouts that target the biceps and chest muscles, but true strength and power is generated from the core, hamstrings, glutes, and quads. These muscles should be a target for every strength training session.
Another option, this time with more explosive movements:
Jump Rope - 5 minutes
Barbaccios - 4x5
Russian Twists - 3x15
Front Squat - 4x6
Bent Over Rows - 3x8
One Arm DB Snatch (very first exercise on the video) - 4x6
Clap Pushups - 5x5
Jump Rope or Shadow Boxing - 5 minutes
Full Body Stretching
One thing to be careful with is the one armed snatch exercise. Start with a low weight and work up. If you lose control of the weight, this can be dangerous and potentially painful. Same goes with the Barbaccios, start low and work up.
The entire workout should take about 45 minutes from start to finish.
Another variation on this theme:
Jumping Jacks - 25 reps
Arm Circles - 25 clockwise, 25 counter
Squat Thrusts - 20
Pull Ups - 3 sets (each set til failure)
Weighted Lateral Rotations (can be done with the convert-a-ball, using a cable station, or even with strength tubing/ therabands) - 3x15
Full Cleans - 3x8
One Arm Pushoffs (cant find video, so I'll explain. You put a med ball under one hand, other hand on the ground. Go down like a normal pushup, but you finish the move by "pushing off" with the hand on the med ball and the ground hand should be about 6 inches off the ground) - 3x10 (10reps per side equals one set)
Romanian Deadlifts - 3x12
Jump Squats (bodyweight) - 3x15
Push Press - 4x6
This would probably work really well on a short rest day, around 30-45 seconds, so you can flow from each exercise to the next.
Again, some exercises might not agree with your body (like the Barbaccios in the other program) so try it out light and work from there. I really like the Olympic variations shown here, especially the Full Cleans and the Push Press. Both will absolutely blitz the core while also targeting the major muscle groups. Really effective lifts for people with time constraints.
Part 3: Challenges
Every athlete needs to challenge themselves once in a while. These challenge workouts are something that will show you where you are in terms of overall strength, and where there is room for improvement. There is also a tremendous amount of mental toughness to be gained from pushing yourself to the limit and stepping outside of your comfort zone.
The Inferno Circuit
When you first attempt this, I would suggest that you rest when needed. Go as fast or as slow as it takes for you to complete each exercise. Do each movement as quickly as possible. You will get lots of lactic acid built up, and your muscles will feel like they are on fire. That’s when you know you are "in the zone."
Equipment needed: medicine ball (5-10% of your bodyweight), a swiss ball, and 5-10 lb dumbbells.
Bodyweight Squats - 24 reps
Bodyweight Lunges- 24 reps (12 per leg)
Split jumps aka jumping lunges- 24 reps (12 per leg)
Jump Squats- 12 reps
Squat Thrust and Jump aka Burpees- 20 reps
Hands on Swiss ball pushups- 12 reps
Dumbbell Exercises, one after the other
Shoulder Press- 10 reps
Y Press- 10 reps
Rotational Shoulder Press- 10 reps
Curls- 10 reps
Lateral Raises- 10 reps
Reaching lunges (lunge + reach in front of lead foot with DB's in each hand) - 5 reps per side
Side Lunges (again, bring DB's to lead foot and back to starting position) - 5 reps per side
Rotational Lunges (Open Hip and step back, bring DB's to back foot) - 5 reps per side
Reaching Lunges+Shoulder Press- 6 reps total
Side Lunges + Shoulder Press- 6 reps total
Rotational Lunges + Shoulder Press- 6 reps total
Knee Tucks on Swiss Ball- 20 reps
"Skiers" on the Swiss ball- 20 reps
Russian Twists with Medicine Ball- 20 reps
Crossover Pushups on Medicine Ball- 10 reps (5 per side)
One arm pushoffs (One hand on the med ball, other on the ground. Perform the pushup and explode through the movement, lifting the grounded hand about 6 inches off the ground) - 10 reps
Close grip Pushups (both hands on the medicine ball) - 15 reps
Depth Jump Pushups (both hands on the ground, explode up and land with both on the med ball) - 5 reps
This is a program written by Ross Enamait which he has made available to the public through his site (www.rosstraining.com). It is a short but extremely intense test of your anaerobic endurance, a quality extremely important for pitchers who want to maintain their peak velocity deep into the game.
- Burpees x 60 seconds
- Pull-ups x 60 seconds
- Squats x 60 seconds
- Pushups x 60 seconds
- Burpees x 45 seconds
- Pull-ups x 45 seconds
- Squats x 45 seconds
- Pushups x 45 seconds
- Burpees x 30 seconds
- Pull-ups x 30 seconds
- Squats x 30 seconds
- Pushups x 30 seconds
- Burpees x 15 seconds
- Pull-ups x 15 seconds
- Squats x 15 seconds
- Pushups x 15 seconds
When performing this workout, you will move from one exercise to the next without stopping. There is no rest in between rounds.
If you become stuck with an exercise, rest briefly and do your best to continue. If you run out of gas on the pull-up bar, try to hang from the bar for the remaining time, rather than simply sitting down to rest. (Thanks to Ross for letting me use his workout for this article).
Part 5: Program Design
The final section will deal with how to take all of the various aspects of strength training and design an effective program.
Now, assuming that you are completing one of the full body style workouts mentioned above, there is no need to strength train more than 4 days a week. A recovery period of 48 hours between strength workouts is optimal. With this in mind, an easy template for a week of strength training would look like this:
Monday – Strength Workout #1
Tuesday – Cardio/Sport Specific Work
Wednesday – Strength Workout #2
Thursday – Cardio/Sport Specific Work
Friday – Strength Workout #3
Saturday – Plyometrics or Challenge Workout
Sunday – Rest
Notice that the workouts alternate throughout the week. Maintaining the same workout each day is counterproductive. Muscles adapt to stimulus, and therefore your results will slow. By constantly throwing new exercises and changing the weights you use, the body is always guessing. It also helps to prevent boredom or staleness in your routine.
Different people will have different needs when it comes to program design. Obviously, it would be difficult to investigate each and every variation in this article. However, it is not difficult to make your adjustments if you use the program above as a model. Let’s say, for example, that you would like to gain 10 pounds before the start of the season. In this case the athlete would be looking to avoid the breakdown of muscle that comes with strenuous cardio sessions. Substitute the cardio days for light plyometrics exercises, or bump your rest to 2 or 3 days a week. Obviously, the opposite would be true for an athlete trying to lose weight: crank up the cardio and do 2 challenge workouts a week.
The most important thing is to learn the basics and start to add your own unique spin on them. Each person is different and so their workout styles will vary as well. Then you need to be consistent, and in order to do that you need to enjoy what you are doing. Mental toughness is important, but you don’t want to be dragging through each workout. If you enjoy cycling, then implement that as part of your cardio. If you enjoy boxing, add shadow boxing or heavy bag training. The same goes with nearly any other sport or activity you can think of. Training is not limited to a gym or a weight room.
Kyle Nellesen has 13 years of competitive baseball experience, including five years coaching baseball, football, and basketball in which he's won two county championships and four league titles.
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