Baseball strength conditioning is a sport-specific training program that is used to increase bat speed, hitting power, throwing velocity, and to avoid injury. It is different from bodybuilding, as it is a complete program with specific goals of improving performance on the baseball field, and the use of weights is only one part of it. Strength conditioning does not always add bulk or create bulging muscles, but rather strengthens and hones muscle groups. A strength conditioning program for baseball typically consists of four different phases of training: off-season, early pre-season, late pre-season, and in-season.
The off-season phase, as the name suggests, takes place after the baseball season has ended. Although this training gives the impression that specific conditioning exercises will take place, the off-season portion of the program is actually downtime. During it, the baseball player tends to dietary needs, by eating well-balanced meals, and usually incorporates light exercise, like jogging, into his routine. It is not really a regular training regime.
Early pre-season training marks the actual beginning of a baseball strength conditioning program, and often takes place about six weeks before the season opener. This phase will be general training, such as cardiovascular exercise, stretching, throwing, and hitting. The idea is to provide the player with a foundation of balanced conditioning that gets his body back into the rhythm of baseball-specific motions — and ready to undertake more intensive training. Conditioning at this phase will also be very gradual, using exercises and drills that are not exhausting, but rather designed to work on flexibility, motion of muscle groups, and the general baseball skills of throwing, hitting, and fielding.
Late pre-season baseball strength conditioning is the most intense period of training before the start of the season. In the American major leagues, this is the part most fans identify with exhibition games in Arizona and Florida. The player usually reaches his peak performance at this phase, and weight training is an important component, as the athlete will develop maximal strength through the use of weights. This strength will generally be focused in the core region of the upper body, and gives the player a better potential for fast reaction and speed of movement. This is because conditioned muscles respond quickly. The combination of strength and speed will then convert to power — used for throwing, hitting, and running.
In-season baseball strength conditioning generally focuses on maintaining the ballplayer’s peak performance level attained during late pre-season training. The weight training component of conditioning continues throughout the season, and is combined with drills designed to keep the ballplayer fit for fast response time and explosive movements. While the weight training component is rarely seen by fans, the response drills can be watched at baseball games, if fans show up early enough. Although players may act casually at pre-game batting practice sessions, they are actually working on maintaining response time and explosive power by taking batting practice off live pitching, simulating base running, and working on in-field plays and defense.