Baseball Strength Training

Is Today a Leg Day? Back and Bi’s? Chest and Tri’s?

When it comes to training like a body builder, the formula above would work. If you plan on being an athlete, hopefully a successful one, then you need to stop thinking in terms of muscles, and start thinking in terms of movements.

The whole objective behind weight training is to enhance performance on the field and the only way to do that is to train the body in synergy. Train you body in patterns that will be used on the field, not in individual segments, and not in a “sport-specific” fashion either.

This term “sport-specific” has been one of the greatest marketing tools of this decade for sports performance entrepreneurs. What does this term mean? Do a baseball player and a football player not replicate the same movements? What about a lacrosse player and a baseball player? Both sports are rotational, involve linear and lateral movement but when the term sport-specific kicks in, things suddenly change. Don’t be taken to the cleaners on some “sport-specific” product that somebody is trying to sell because the body is the body, and no matter what the sport, the demands are high in all planes of motion and the body must be trained holistically to provide an optimal training effect/ outcome.

Sport-Specific if you care to use it can be used in association with conditioning intervals because in regards to length of a play, that is where sports differ and our body should be conditioned based in these intervals. Via high intensity conditioning on bikes, spin bikes and schwinn airdynes we are able to build leg endurance and strength, we don’t have to build endurance in our legs strictly by lifting weights. For those of you that have ever done a spin class, you might feel that intense burn while riding, the whole idea behind our leg strengthening on the bike is to prolong the amount of time it takes before we feel that burn, and decrease the duration we feel it, while at the same time taking the stress associated with running off our joints. So if you hear coaches say, we need to lift a lot of legs because that is what we use for 7-9 innings, weight lifting for an hour of legs is not the solution, it’s a combination of anaerobic/ spring work while conditioning, and multi-joint strength.

As a baseball player, we don’t want to go into a weight room and replicate our swing on a cable column, or start heaving medicine balls rotationally to again replicate our throwing motion or swing, we want to create overall stability, strength, and power. We achieve this goal by focusing on complex movements that always keep us in proper alignment and mandate good posture via core strength/ firing.

A few good exercises for this:

  1. Front Squats
  2. Overhead Split Squats with Dumbbells or a Bar
  3. Pull-Ups
  4. Tempo Pushups
  5. Kneeling Med Ball Work

These exercises force the body to stay in a strong upright posture which will in turn help with the promotion of better movement skills when combined with a mechanics based speed and movement program.

This approach definitely goes against the grain, but who cares because you will get better. In my previous article, Machine Training vs. Free Weight Training, you saw that anytime we could do an exercise while our feet are on the ground it is more beneficial, this holds true here as well. Forget the machines, the lat pulldowns, the seated cable rows, etc. and get up and MOVE!

If you want to become more efficient at a particular movement, you are not going to get better at it sitting down. Lets think of it like this; I know many people that could lat pull down there body weight plus, but can’t do one pullup. Does this makes sense? Absolutely! If you want to become stronger at a pullup, you must do pull-ups because this is a multi joint exercise, rather than single joint, that taxes a lot of upper body musculature as well as the key stabilizers, aka labrum and rotator cuff, that are used when throwing and decelerating a throw. There is also great core involvement as well to prevent swinging while hanging on the bar.

So as a plan, and a general rule of thumb when lifting:

  1. Train while standing as much as possible
  2. Put an emphasis on lateral movement when training, ex. Lateral Lunges
  3. Focus on exercises that keep the core upright and in great alignment
  4. Use multi-joint exercises that require the core musculature to fire rapidly, ex. Squats, overhead lunges, pull-ups, pushups, half kneeling med ball throws
  5. Make sure you are not going in the weight room trying to replicate your swing, train rotationally but don’t use the same pattern as your swing to prevent to much carryover and negative swing habits

The above is a simple plan that should be used as a guide when listening to the exercise prescription that others give you sometimes. In today’s day in age, everybody is a guru, but its important to understand the facts, and the why behind the training. Once you understand these two elements, you will become your own strength coach with a greater understanding on how the body works and responds. Be smart, and don’t believe everything somebody says since many people have bills to pay at their local facilities and often times, not all time will just tell you what you want to hear.

Dana Cavalea

Dana Cavalea is the Director of Strength and Conditioning for the New York Yankees. He is a national speaker on Baseball Performance Training, as well as the owner of Major League Strength,, a sports performance training company designed to educate coaches, ballplayers, and parents on the advancements in the field of Strength and Conditioning for baseball. Join our newsletter and post your questions at

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