August 15, 2017
Erick Mojica – B.S Kinesiology
Training for baseball is something that I picked up at an early age, but over the years I realized that I didn’t start early enough as well as working on the right things. I want to say that I was about 14 years old when I first started a weight training program as a freshman in High School. Twice a week we would meet up in the weight room and get an hour of weight training and conditioning in place of practice in the fall. Like most kids, I had no idea what I was doing, but I fell in love with it right away. Lower body exercises came natural to me (really just squatting), but I loved the grind of implementing medicine balls and plyometrics at the end of it. As time went on I convinced my parents to get me a gym membership and started working out as much as I could on a weekly basis. There’s no doubt that I was getting stronger, but as I look back I realize that I wasn’t always working on the right things. In this article I will reflect on all of the good and bad that I went through in the process of using weight training for my baseball performance.
For starters, any young athlete who begins a resistance training program is going to experience some quick improvements in their overall strength. While this might provide some immediate improvements on the field, they probably won’t have a full long term benefit in the long run. Speaking from my personal experiences, I didn’t really start to see my improvement as an athlete until I got to college baseball. The reason for that? Well my workouts were generally based off of standard weight training and using machines at my local gym. While my focus was getting stronger, I realize now that I wasn’t developing my explosiveness and power as an athlete. Was it a waste of time through my High School years? Not exactly because I did set a foundation of basic strength, but I do wish I would’ve known more about Olympic lifting and how greatly it translates to not just baseball, but any competitive sport.
There are a few key differences between Strength and Power. The essence of Strength revolves around resistance against an external load, building muscle mass and improving neuromuscular recruitment. When it comes to Power, it’s about using that Strength to move the weight and /or body in a fast explosive manner. Olympic lifts such as Power Cleans, Jerks, and Snatches along with Plyometric training focus on using your Strength to move as quickly and as efficiently as possible. Sounds familiar? I don’t know, like throwing a baseball? Well I didn’t know any better until I started to learn more about training and how to stimulate the entire body to perform at a higher level.
As I mentioned before, I was never a hard thrower. I did pick up a few MPH through college, but I wish I would’ve trained for explosiveness a few years earlier than I did. My freshman year of college we didn’t have a Strength and Conditioning coach, but our head coach always encouraged us to get in the weight room to get stronger. I was fortunate to surround myself around a great group of upperclassmen that would train with me in the weight room almost every single day. I did get a little more into Olympic lifts and Plyometrics, but I didn’t have a full understanding on how to approach such a training program to have it translate to my performance on the baseball field. A year later, Coach C. was brought on to our athletic program and implemented an outstanding training program that involved all aspects of Strength and Power. Despite my years of training experience, this first year was an absolute struggle in the weight room. My deadlifts were atrocious and I had no physical understanding on how to perform these skilled multi-joint lifts. I thought I was fairly strong, but having a Strength and Conditioning coach made me realize that I didn’t always have the greatest techniques and far less had the athleticism to perform at the elite level that I was working towards. Well once again I was surrounded by a lot of great teammates that were always there for me and helped me with my training. Fast forward through the summer entering my junior year, I went from an ugly 135 lb. deadlift to a 225 lb. with far better technique and form. A few months into the fall I reached up to a not so pretty 315 lb. deadlift, but man was I super proud! Along with my studies in my kinesiology classes, it took me this long into my baseball life to finally start understanding how to implement a more effective training program that directly impacted my performance on the field. I was still far from hitting 90 MPH, but my understanding of how to use my body on the mound increased significantly leading me into the best season that I had in my career.
Based off of research from some of my favorite professional trainers (such as Eric Cressey and Brent Pourciau), the reason why Olympic lifts translate to sports so well is because they require a correct sequence of movements to produce a maximum force at a maximum speed.
Below is a great video by Brent that I came across this past summer interviewing Rachel Balkovec, MLB’s first female Strength and Conditioning Coach! Baseball players, I promise you it’s worth the 55 minutes!
Well if you correlate that to pitching, it makes some sense right? You don’t throw 90+ MPH because you can squat more than twice your bodyweight, but you do so because you can use that strength and apply it to your delivery to throw a baseball downhill in an explosive and timely manner. Try getting a body builder to throw 90 MPH off of a mound. Will the dude be able to muscle the ball to the plate? Maybe, but tell me how many MLB players are built with that type of frame? My point is that Strength training alone can only take your performance so far. Some guys might have a lot of natural athletic ability and can survive through that type of training, but there’s a reason why the elite can do what they do at the highest level of the game.
Olympic lifting won’t entirely make you perform better on the field, but in my opinion it is one of the most important aspects of training for any athletic sport. What I have learned over the years as an athlete is that to reach your maximum potential you have to be willing to try a variety of training programs. For some individuals weight training can be the difference maker while for some they might need a greater emphasis on mobility work. Growing up as a young baseball player I thought that I was always working on the right things, and in the end I didn’t develop into the player that I wanted to be. I have ZERO regrets simply because for the 18 years that I played baseball I was always working towards that ultimate goal. Do I wish I could go back a couple years? Sure! As the old saying goes, “If I knew then what I know now,” maybe I would’ve been able to at least one time hit that 90 MPH benchmark. Despite all of this, I encourage you whether you’re a kid in High School or a guy looking to reach the next level to seek professional help. There is a world full of great trainers and coaches that can point you in the right direction to someone who can transform you into everything that you want to be as an athlete. Do your research and surround yourself with people who want you to succeed just as much as you do. Ask questions to find the perfect program for your specific needs!
On the next blog post, I’ll discuss my thoughts on more baseball specific training with of course Olympic lifting (sense a slight bias?), weighted balls, bands, long tossing, and more!