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Sport-Specific Strength and Conditioning Program for Baseball and Softball Players

Not every athlete should train the same! There are very different on field or court demands that need to be addressed and prepared for as much as possible within a strength and conditioning program.

My goal for this blog post and the upcoming ones are to help the softball/baseball player who is training on their own or the coach who wants a more organized and sport specific strength and conditioning program for their team. A good sport specific program won’t help you field a ground ball better or hit more consistently, but it can help you move better, improve your throwing and exit velocity, react faster, get prepared for a college strength and conditioning program, and reduce your risk of injury.

Let’s talk a little bit about the physical on-field demands of the sports of baseball and softball and how it applies to a strength and conditioning program.

  • We know that there is a need for quick and explosive first steps and short-distance speed and agility, but very little to no need for long distance sprints or endurance training.

    • Key take-away: It’s important to train short-distance speed, agilities with a focus on acceleration/deceleration and reaction. You may not ever want to train sprints farther than 20-40 yards or perform long-distance jogging unless you are out of season or specifically trying to provide variety to your training at a high level like collegiately or professionally. Starting pitchers are an exception and may need more endurance training for the lower body.

  • We know that we frequently take-off two legs to cover ground in any direction but that we less frequently jump vertically.

    • Key take-away: It’s important to train acceleration in all directions from double leg and occasional single leg positions and focus on covering ground quickly in the chosen direction. It could be useful to incorporate some double and single leg vertical jump training in the off-season for general power and athleticism and it could be more important for in-field positions who may occasionally jump maximally straight up to catch a line drive. Otherwise, jumping vertically isn’t something to train frequently in baseball and softball players.

  • We know that we place a lot of stress and strain on the shoulder and elbow with repetitive throwing and that we don’t want to over-train this region and increase risk of injuries (especially in pre-season or in-season when we are throwing a lot).

    • Key take-away: It’s important to strengthen the muscles surrounding the shoulder and elbow with an arm care program (here is a video of the exercises I like to use in an arm care program). But baseball and softball players don’t require a lot of overhead pressing strength. So at least in the pre-season and in-season phases, you may want to avoid overhead pressing and exercises that demand a lot of overhead strength/stability like the snatch or the jerk.

  • We know that most of the movements (like throwing, pitching, hitting) are in the transverse and frontal/coronal planes. Think rotationally and laterally (see image below). There are few movements in the sagittal plane.

    • Key take-away: We should spend most of our time training in the transverse and frontal planes, especially in pre-season and in-season phases. Lateral and rotational movements are key! Here is a video of some of my favorite lateral and rotational power exercises using a medicine ball. However, it is useful to build foundational strength in the off-season with sagittal plane lifts like squats, deadlifts, bench press, pull-ups, rows, etc.

  • We know that as athletes we must prepare to potentially move quickly to defend our position for 3-10 seconds after the pitch. Rarely do we have to work for more than 10-15 seconds (an inside the park homerun which is rare would be 12-20 seconds typically). We then have a rest between pitches anywhere from 10-25 seconds. This means that we are primarily using our ATP-PC system for energy. This system provides short bursts of energy for high-intensity and explosive movements typically from 1-10 seconds (see pic below).

    • Key take-away: We should train the ATP-PC system! Interval training is a good way to do this. Baseball and softball players should work at or near maximal effort for 5-10 seconds, and rest for 15-30 seconds or more. A typical work to rest ratio should be 1:3-1:10 or even more depending on the exercise and purpose.

If you are knowledgeable about the basics of these principles, then it will help you understand what a good strength and conditioning program looks like for baseball and softball players. Obviously, there are a lot of variables that should change what the strength and conditioning program looks like such as age, training experience, position the athlete plays, the time of year, etc. As mentioned briefly above, off-season should provide more general and foundational strengthening that is not sport specific. Pre-season training should gradually work from general strength to more sport-specific strength and power. Lastly, training should continue in-season but with less intensity and frequency needed to maintain strength/power and prevent injuries and overuse. Follow along with the next few blog posts to get some specific examples of what a workout might look like.

There is A LOT of information here, and still A LOT of information left out intentionally (we can’t cover it all in one blog post!). This gives you some information on how to get more sport-specific with you or your teams training this pre-season. You don’t have to do everything at once or make things too complicated. The basics still work! If you aren’t sure how to correctly perform or coach a movement, then leave it out of the program!

As you can see, there is a lot that goes into a good strength and conditioning program for a baseball or softball player. Ideally it is a year-round program developed specifically for you or your athlete. If you are serious about improving your game and have goals to play at the next level, then reach out to me at Outshine so I can help you achieve those goals.

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