Players: How to Structure Your Off-Season Workouts When You’re Training Alone

It’s that time of year again. With the high school baseball season coming to an end here in Florida and the off-season getting under way, many young athletes will begin heading to the weight room or gym for strength training to go along with their summer travel ball schedule.

This is usually the time I get the most questions from players about what they should be doing in the gym. Since many kids and families can’t afford a trainer or strength coach, they go to the internet to seek out the best/most convenient resources to help guide them through the infinitely confusing process of developing a training program – or they side-step all of this and opt to just wing it.

Finally, after a few years of this, I decided to take a few minutes to compile tips that I usually give out for everyone to get in one place. Although not exhaustive or advanced by any means, these tips on laying out a training plan for the summer should be enough to help you get started and feel comfortable with the strength training process you are about to embark upon…

1. Laying Out the Training Plan

There are 2 points to consider when laying out your training program in advance – the monthly layout (let’s call this a cycle), and the weekly layout (let’s call this the frequency):

Cycles:

I’d suggest separating your program into 3-6 week cycles, with each phase focusing on a certain aspect of training. Here’s one common and simple way to lay out your training cycles…

  • Cycle 1 – Volume:
    • Training with relatively high volume allows for a couple of positive adaptations to occur, including motor learning (more reps – done PROPERLY – means more experience learning the movement), work capacity, and hypertrophy. Hypertrophy is a fancy name for gaining lean muscle mass (increasing muscle size). It involves high volume (sets x reps = volume) with limited rest time and/or long muscular time-under-tension (the amount of time the muscle is being loaded), both of which induce great muscle damage.

An example of high volume work would be 4 x 10 on a Back Squat.

An example of time-under-tension work would be 4 x 5 on a Back Squat with the eccentric portion of the lift (lowering the weight) performed on a 5-second count.

I, personally, tend to prefer more time-under-tension work for beginners, as the slow rep tempos require lower loads (you will be less likely to overload the bar beyond your means) and methodically slow movement, which can allow for better motor learning. High volume work (i.e. a ton of reps) can turn sloppy very quickly, especially with beginners who haven’t established a strong foundation for proper movement.

  • Cycle 2 – Strength
    • Strength work is designed to increase the maximum amount of force that the muscles can produce, thanks in part to the increased lean muscle mass from the previous cycle, as well as neurological adaptations that will come by training with a high intensity. High intensity (heavy load) lower volumes, and longer rest times are the major components of strength training, as well the utilization of multi-joint complex movements (squats, pulls, pushes, hip hinges, etc.).

An example of strength work is 5 x 4 on a Back Squat, with intensities/loads nearing your 4 rep max. We don’t necessarily want to hit failure on any of these sets like you would be doing when performing Hypertrophy work. The goal isn’t “shocking” the body with muscular fatigue and damage, it is steady overload of the nervous system and muscles in order to create a neurological adaptation. Leaving 1 rep “in the tank” for most sets is a good way to go about this.

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  • Cycle 3 – Power
    • Power is the ability of the neuromuscular system to exert as much force as possible (the greatest load) as quickly as possible (velocity). Because this involves two major variables (force and velocity) – and because these variables are inverse in nature* (see below) – it is a very intricate process in which to train. But, a common way to go about training for power/speed is using more dynamic movements, such as explosively performing a barbell exercise (Such as a Back Squat) or by performing jumps and throws. Power/speed work generally involves lower volumes, more rapid repetitions with limited time-under-tension, and longer rest periods.

*Force and velocity are inverse in nature. To simply illustrate this concept, imagine a person performing a Back Squat with two different loads. In this example, the person has a 1-Rep Max of 225 lbs. If this person were to use a heavy load of, say, 200 lbs. (which requires a great amount of force) they would not be able to move the bar with as much speed (velocity) as if they were lifting 135 lbs., since 135 lbs. requires less muscular force.

Essentially, the more force that is required, the less velocity is attainable because maximum force generation takes longer to produce than sub-maximal force.

***

An example of Power/Speed work is is 7 x 2  on a Back Squat with 75% of your 1-Rep Max, performed rapidly. Another example would be Medicine Ball throws/slams/tosses.

At the end of all three cycles (hypertrophy, strength, power) you can start back again at the beginning, and ideally you should be able to use more progressive exercises or greater loads.

Frequency:

I’d suggest using three total-body sessions each week for your training split, with only one exception – although it is a personal preference for you to make, not me – and that is utilizing four sessions each week for the initial hypertrophy phase…

  • 3 Lifts Per Week 
    • Used for Hypertrophy, Strength, and Power Cycles
    • Using a total body 3x/week allows you to get a lot of work done with good recovery as well.
    • Here’s one way to go about structuring your 3 Total Body Lift week:
      • Each day pick 1 upper body and 1 lower body exercise that you want to emphasize. For example:
        • Day 1 – Squat and Upper Body Horizontal Pull (e.g. Front Squat and Single-Arm DB Row)
        • Day 2 – Glute/Hamstring  and Upper Body Push (e.g. Deadlift and DB Bench Press)
        • Day 3 – Lunge and Upper Body Vertical Pull (e.g. Reverse Lunge and Neutral Grip Chin-Up)
      • These exercises, as the emphasis, will require the most effort and this need the most rest time necessary to ensure you get the most out of every set.
      • Then, finish your workout with some additional work on all the other areas that aren’t the emphasis that day. For example:
        • Day 1 – Squat and Row Emphasis – additional work on Glute/Hamstring, single-leg lunge variation, and a upper body push.
        • These exercises aren’t the focus that day, so they shouldn’t have too much volume, just 2-3 sets. They’ll get their own day later that week.
  • 4 Lifts Per Week (Optional) – Upper/Lower/Upper/Lower
    • If you’d like to do 4 lifts per week instead of 3, I’d only suggest this during the initial Hypertrophy cycles, and split it up upper/lower/upper/lower. This gives each muscles group a greater opportunity to be exposed to muscular damage. But, as with anything else, more is not always better. I’d still recommend three training sessions per week during the first cycle.

2. Additional Considerations

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Form, Technique, and Injury Reduction:

  • Be sure to focus on moving with the best form possible. Load is relative, meaning the amount of weight you have on the bar only matters if it is used/moved properly.
  • To that end, it is important to remember that the goal of performance training is two-fold; to improve performance, but more importantly, to reduce the likeliness of injury.
    • Thus, cardinal rule number one is to prevent any injuries in the gym/weight room; this is the worst case scenario. Period.

“Baseball-Specific” Considerations:

  • I suggest doing 2-3 pulling (rowing/pull-down/chin-up) exercises for every push/press that you do for shoulder safety/health.
    • Also, I’d take Dumbbell Presses over Barbell Presses, but would take more Push-Up Variations than Dumbbell Presses.
  • I’d avoid overhead presses, but would still utilize overhead work. For example, you can do a Half-Kneeling Landmine Press, Bottoms-Up Kettlebell Walk, or Scapular Wall-Slides.

While the programming here is rudimentary, and the considerations are not exhaustive or extensive by any means, the hope is that this takes you from knowing nothing about how to train yourself to a knowledge-base to build off of so that you can safely begin your off-season training.

If you have any specific questions about training, feel free to reach out via Twitter @Ryan_Faer or via email at ryanfaercscs@gmail.com

Respectfully,

RJF

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