During the first week in March, I was in Port St. Lucie for spring training, working as a physical therapist. As part of the medical staff for a professional team, I evaluate any injuries that may occur and oversee rehabilitation. The players perform exercises for daily maintenance, as well as baseball activities. What many people don’t realize is that spring training is a time for fine tuning the strength and flexibility that has been built throughout the off season, not for getting into shape. This is true for professional and non-professional players alike, from high school on-it’s important to give your body a rest and not play one sport year-round so that you can come back strong. Once a baseball season ends, a multi-step process begins to help a player’s body recover and prepare them for the next season. Activities such as biking or other sports are performed to help the player maintain conditioning and recover. As the off season progresses, a strength base is established; a baseball-specific training program, such as the Thrower’s Performance Program at the HSS Tisch Performance Center, can be particularly helpful in learning proper technique and progression.
Once a strength base has been established, speed, agility and baseball activities are introduced. The baseball player that performs a year round strength and conditioning program will have a significant advantage when beginning spring training. Well trained players are less likely to be injured and may recover from injury more rapidly. Secondly, improving full body strength, flexibility and power may enhance performance.
Here in the Northeast, players also have to take the weather into account. It often stays cold well into the baseball season, and a proper warm-up is necessary prior to playing or performing baseball activities. An active warm-up may consist of cycling, light jogging or calisthenics and serves to increase body core temperature, heart rate, and blood flow to the muscles, tendons and ligaments. This will increase the elastic properties of muscles and tendons and prepare the body for high speed activities, starting and stopping, and changes of direction. This may reduce the chance of injury and play a role in performance enhancement.
Wherever the team is located, strengthening and flexibility exercises need to be maintained throughout the season to reduce muscular soreness increase rate of recovery, and prevent any muscular imbalances that often occur with baseball activities.
Michael Levinson, Physical Therapist and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, is a Clinical Supervisor at the James M. Benson Sports Rehabilitation Center at Hospital for Special Surgery. Michael is on the faculty of Columbia University School of Physical Therapy. He has published numerous chapters and articles on Sports Medicine Rehabilitation, and has lectured extensively on various subjects regarding the shoulder, elbow, knee and ankle. Michael serves as physical therapist for the New York Mets Baseball Club. He has been a consultant to numerous youth, high school, collegiate and professional athletes.