What Does “Sport-Specific” Actually Mean in Baseball?

No matter where you go – from baseball facilities, to gyms, weight rooms, and of course, the ball field itself – when baseball training is spoken of, the term “Sport Specific” or “Baseball Specific” is nearly always pitched aggressively. Coaches vigorously offer sport-specific training, and parents eat up that buzz-phrase by putting their money where their mouth is. But, do we really know what baseball-specific training entails?

What Baseball-Specific Training Is Not:

For starters, sport-specific training does not mean performing all of your training exercises from a position that mirrors a position in the sport itself. For example, it does not mean all rowing, curling, cuff, etc. exercises should be performed from the bottom of a single-leg RDL position  (which mirrors the follow-through of the pitching motion), or in a single-leg balance position.

Sport-specific training also does not mean solely performing exercises that mimic or imitate the sport movements themselves, and adding resistance to those movements, especially at the exclusion of other more general movements and exercises. For example, it does not mean that a pitcher must go through his pitching motion with a weighted vest to get better at pitching, or to get stronger.

Finally, sport-specific training is not performing “baseball-specific” training all year long at the expense of general physical preparation, basic strength-training, and other modes of training.

So what is sport-specific or baseball-specific training?

Sport-Specific Training is a Part of the Periodized Training Program

Think of training as a continuum; on one end you have general training and movement, such as basic strength-training exercises, and on the other end you have “sport-specific” training.

The planned and periodized training program will usually start on the general training side at the beginning of the off-season, and work its way toward the more specific end of the continuum as the off-season goes along. The rationale behind this is quite simple: build a base of strength and motor control with general training, and then progress and transfer those adaptations to more specific training that matches the demands of the sport. To that end, sport-specific training should be used to create adaptations that match the demands of the sport, not necessarily the movements of the sport.

The Demands of Baseball

To reiterate a crucial point above, we should think less of sport-specific training as matching the movements of baseball, and more about matching the demands of the game. Before I get to the demands of baseball, let me elaborate on the movement aspect.

We should think less of sport-specific training as matching the movements of baseball, and more about matching the demands of the game.

It’s not that there aren’t frequently recurring movements in baseball that can and should be utilized and loaded in the weight room, because there are; multi-planar lunges (e.g. an infielder fielding baseballs in multiple directions or a pitcher driving toward home plate). The rationale, though, is that all athletes, regardless of sport, should move efficiently and effectively in multi-planes. The movements that we see on the field are not exclusive to baseball:

So, do we really want our strength-training to be so incredibly different from any other sport, in every single way? No. But, what we do want is training that addresses the demands of the sport at the appropriate times.

One such demand specific to baseball is the over-head nature of the sport, and the chronic adaptations that occur in response to the imposed demands of throwing. Their has been research showing that a loss of internal rotation of the glenohumeral (GH) joint – i.e. the shoulder – and that a deficit of total arc range of motion of the GH joint (Internal Rotation + External Rotation) are risk factors for elbow injuries. Since we also know that pitchers tend to lose internal rotation and gain external rotation in their throwing shoulder as the season goes on, we now have a reason to tailor our training with those imposed demands in mind. Likewise, there are other adaptations that occur, such as those in the hips and scapula, that require more “sport-specific” work throughout a training program.

Baseball also has an energy system demand that is distinct from many other sports. Baseball utilizes all three energy systems throughout the course of a game, but with the predominant systems being the ATP-CP pathways (utilized during high-intensity movements such as sprinting to first base, followed by a lot of rest), and the aerobic system (used during times of low-intensity – like pre-pitch defensive moves and jogging on and off the field, as well as rest and recovery between innings and outings).

These energy system demands should absolutely be trained for in a “sport-specific” manner. But, like any other mode of training, conditioning should begin with general fitness early on in the off-season, then progress and transition toward more sport-specific work. While those of the “sport-specific” mind may believe that sprinting should be used at the exclusion of any aerobic work in baseball, again it is about implementing a well-rounded training program throughout the annual plan.

Hopefully this post helps clarify the true nature and meaning of the term sport-specific and baseball-specific. If anything, it should make the training process seem a little less intimidating, considering most athletes share a need for proper and efficient movement, regardless of sport, and that all sport-specific work should be preceded by general and basic training that prepares the athlete for each subsequent phase of training, culminating with the competition season.

Respectfully,

 RJF

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