Baseball players are evaluated using the “measuring stick” known as the Five Tools: hitting for average, hitting for power, running speed, arm strength, defensive skills. Utilizing a series of 5 training principles, collectively known as ‘Training to the 5th Power’ (T5), baseball’s Five Tools can be enhanced. These five training principles have been shown to provide a seamless transfer from “in-gym” training to “on-field” performance.
(1) Train in ground-based, standing positions: Baseball players rarely rely on, or need, strength from sitting or lying down positions. However, although these training positions should not be ignored, they should represent a small percentage of the overall training program. Instead, majority of your training program should comprise of (or built upon) ground-based, standing positions. These positions require a rigid, stable core from which to accelerate, decelerate and stabilize the forces necessary to enhance baseball’s power related movements and their respective muscle groups. Furthermore, the same muscles trained from sitting or lying positions can also be trained from standing positions; engaging other stabilization muscles necessary for enhancing baseball functional strength. As an example, the chest, shoulders and triceps are activated when performing the bench press. However, while the same muscles are activated during the standing cable press (SCP), it also places a training emphasis on core stability thus enhancing the training value of the SCP.
(2) Train with free weights: Because baseball is a multi-directional sport, the utilization of free weights allows for multiple ranges of motion and multiple planes of motion (movement) to be effectively trained which may not be possible with machines that often move in only a single plane of motion. Training with free weights, such as dumbbells, provides freedom of movement, unilateral training (which can identify muscular imbalances between limbs) and builds neuromuscular efficiency (coordination of muscle groups working together). In addition, other free weight objects, such as medicine balls, provides for power development. As an example, the ability to throw a medicine ball, in a manner similar to the rotational demands for hitting can increase the power potential of the muscles involved in that activity. When it comes to replicating movements to enhance power development, free weight objects become superior to machines.
(3) Train multi-joints – a.k.a compound movements; Movements involving more than one joint are referred to as compound movements. Multiple joint training allows for greater loads to be trained, therefore greater muscle recruitment, leading to greater strength development. I can’t think of any movement in baseball that doesn’t involve the total body. Thus compound movements provide a greater transfer for on-field performance - more so than single joint movements. A simple example is performing a squat variation vs. a seated leg extension. In addition, should your baseball player need to drop a few pounds then multi-joint, baseball specific movements can assist with increasing caloric expenditure.
(4) Train explosively - or what I like to call Speed-Strength
Baseball is a game consisting of powerful, explosive movements requiring strength & speed. Therefore, POWER development becomes vital to the on-field baseball performance demands. And based upon the following formula, power depends upon two necessary training components: strength and speed.
POWER = FORCE x SPEED
- OR -
Powers = Strength x Speed.
Because power is extremely reliable on the amount of strength your ball player possesses it’s extremely important that the strength phase of your training program does not get skipped. Worth noting, is how equally important it is to create and maintain core stability (core stiffness) from which this power is generated as well as transferred.
(5) Functional Training (FT); Functional Training can be viewed as training in manner that is consistent with an intended activity regarding specific ranges of motion, planes of motion and baseball speeds. In other words, think less about isolating muscles and more about integrating movements.
All this being said, like other training concepts, there are exceptions in exchange for other effective results. For example, slow, isolated work in stable positions (i.e. lying down,) just might be necessary for the athlete needing a bit more muscle (hypertrophy). Take special note that although bodybuilders look great, I don’t recommend an all exclusive use of bodybuilding methodologies for improving on field, baseball performance; so ask yourself a simple question: would you rather train for "all go" or "all show"?
All in all, the T5 training guidelines ought to be considered for building overall functional baseball performance. In other words, “train like you play”.