With pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training, it’s important to note the benefit of a year-round strength and conditioning program. Such continued exercise may enhance a player’s performance and reduce the chance of injury or re-injury.
Players who have finished the season relatively healthy may demonstrate normal wear and tear, especially in their throwing arms. Pitchers are particularly susceptible. Players at all levels should have approximately three months of active rest from baseball activities, such as throwing, when the season ends. During active rest, a player should perform cardiovascular exercise or other sports at a low to moderate intensity level to help maintain general conditioning.
Following this phase, the intensity of training increases, and a player begins to develop a total body strength base. He completes agility training and progresses to more explosive, power training activities. Baseball-specific activities are introduced to prepare for spring training. Spring training is not the time to get into shape, but rather a time for fine tuning. Players who have not adhered to a year-round strength and conditioning program will be ill-prepared and may be more susceptible to injury.
Whether you are in Florida or Arizona or here in the Northeast, a proper warm-up is critical. Prior to performing baseball activities, an active warm-up, such as a light jog, calisthenics or stationary cycling, will increase your core temperature, heart rate and blood flow to your muscles. This better prepares the body for high-speed, explosive activities that are a major component of the game of baseball.
Also warm up before stretching. Flexibility increases muscle elasticity and range of motion, which may enable a player to generate more power on a consistent basis. In addition, baseball players often develop selective flexibility deficits that may predispose the player to certain injuries. For example, throwers often lose flexibility in the structures in the back of the shoulder. This can lead to injuries of both the shoulder and elbow. Seek guidance from your physical therapist or trainer on how to stretch these structures. These deficits should be addressed both in the off-season and in season.
A final consideration is the player who is rehabbing from an injury or surgery. Despite the baseball season schedule, adhere to the rehabilitation guidelines and interval throwing, hitting and position-specific programs set by your physician, physical therapist and trainer. Deviation from these plans may result in jeopardizing your return to play.
Mickey Levinson is a physical therapist, certified strength and conditioning specialist, and clinical supervisor of the “Thrower’s Program” and Overhead Athlete at the James M. Benson Sports Rehabilitation Center at Hospital for Special Surgery. He has served as a physical therapist for the New York Mets Baseball Club and developed The Thrower’s Manual, a manual designed to offer throwing athletes of all ages and skill levels the tools to build good technique and effective injury prevention.