Maintaining Strength In-Season, Relief Pitcher Edition

by: Jonathan de Marte – November 16th, 2018

Relief pitchers do not see as much time between the lines as starting pitchers and position players in baseball. Although the game is changing, and relievers are taking on a larger role at the Major League level, they still face the obstacle of never really knowing when or if they will pitch on a given day. Knowing what it takes for your body to be ready to pitch every day you show up to the field is of the utmost importance. Self-awareness is a quality relief pitchers must possess, especially as you climb up the ranks of the baseball world. Not only must one know what it takes to be prepared and ready to go almost every day, but one must maintain their strength as much as possible during the season.

Why maintaining strength is important?

In the last two years, my training regimen has taken a drastic change to a new style, where I put just as much of a focus in-season as in the off-season, even with a heavier workload on the mound than I have ever had in my life. Maintaining strength throughout a long season can serve as an advantageous asset that yields greater success over a year as it can supply numerous benefits that I will touch upon. The in-season routines focused on maintaining proper movement patterning through strength and mobility training with intensive recovery days mixed in. Maintaining certain levels of strength can help support the blows to your “big” muscles when pitching (shoulder, elbow, hips, back, and legs).

What I believe happens when you lose strength and awareness of your movement technique during the season is quicker fatigue, compromise mechanics, release point differs, and a slower recovery. Mechanics unconsciously tend to compromise because as the body weakens, it has difficulty holding and maintaining positions through powerful, stressful motions that it was once able to. I noticed that the adjustments I made in the off-season began to slowly revert back to poor habits as my body began to feel fatigued midway through the season when I slightly dialed back my training. Rather than landing heel to toe and straightening my front side, I was landing with a more than normal, drastic, external rotation in my lead foot and hip, making it difficult to brace my front side without falling hard to the first base side (Top image below). The image below on the right is after I got back to my routine, where you can see a strong front base with the landing foot in a better direction towards home plate. The adjustment I made throughout the rest of the season was not necessarily drilling mechanical dry work everyday, but focusing on increasing my numbers in the weight room and honing in on my movement techniques. Once I shifted this focus, I began to notice a more repeatable feel in my delivery again and this drastic open foot and hip landing shifted back to the way I wanted my positioning to look (Bottom image below).
When core and shoulder control is lost, you will tend to see pitchers crunch at their rib cage. This tends to cause uneven shoulders and a release point where your shoulders are tilted and your hand does not travel in a straight direction towards home plate. Ideally, I believe all pitchers should strive to look similar to Nathan Eovaldi in the image below, where you see a strong base and his arm decelerating right next to his left hip. If you lose strength in your legs and your base, reaching and holding this position after release can be very difficult, leading to inconsistencies and less of a power output in the pitch delivery.

Of all the positive impacts proper weight lifting and maintaining strength in-season can have on the pitcher’s body, I believe the most important aspect is the promotion of recovery. If lifting is done optimally with proper movements that encourage increasing range of motion while strengthening muscles, blood flow will increase and the body should start to regain ROM. If exercises that work on end range of motion or proper movement patterning are neglected, the muscles needed for the throwing motion will slowly deteriorate and a pitcher will notice recovery times increasing with potentially more soreness.

How to know if you are losing strength?

  • Slower recovery time between each outing compared to your bodies optimal recovery period
  • Increased level of soreness after pitching
  • Soreness from lifting increases
  • Quicker fatigue when pitching
  • Having to decrease repetitions to maintain weight in the weight room
  • Mechanics change
    • Check out throwing arm position at front foot strike
    • Check when your front hip opens up towards home plate
    • Check landing foot
    • Check to see if shoulders are tilted more drastically than they were in the start of the season (Ultimate goal is parallel like Kluber pictured below)
    • Check how long you delay your back knee driving towards home plate
    • Check to see if you get to a stable, hyper-extended base (Eovaldi pictured above)

How can you avoid losing too much strength in season?

  • Reduce the time of your workouts – adding an additional day or two to decrease the time of each session to ensure the quality of the work is not compromised.
    • 4 full body sessions could be helpful as opposed to separating lowers and uppers
    • Spreading out the workload throughout the body will help enhance quality of work and decrease soreness levels
  • Avoid exercises that cause you excessive levels of soreness
    • Avoid or minimize exercises with high levels of eccentric stress
  • Maintain mobility levels
    • Incorporate a short, 5-10 minute mobility routine that can be done before and after on-field work and used as a warm-up and recovery in the weight room
    • Mobility levels and range of motion should not decrease as drastically throughout the season if a consistent routine is done on a daily basis
    • By maintaining mobility levels it will allow you to focus more of your time and effort in the weight room to strengthening rather than warm-up and recovery
    • Have a program written month to month either by a strength coach or yourself
      • Stick to the program
    • Plan your schedule week to week
      • At the start of each week, decide the days you will lift with one or two back-up days included in case of conflict
    • Stick to your plan and tell yourself it will work
  • Positive thinking yields positive results!
  • Consult teammates or coaches who have faced similar roadblocks to what you are facing

Here is an example of in-season training day, courtesy of Strength Coach Andrew Lysy of Cressey Sports Performance:

Therefore, maintaining strength is one of the most important components of a pitchers in-season responsibilities due to the negative implications loss of strength can have on health and performance. An in-season advantage for a pitcher is maintaining consistent, repeatable mechanics and losing strength can negatively impact your delivery. By monitoring and planning out workouts ahead of time, making sure they are completed each week without skipping days, maintaining mobility levels, and sticking to your plan or program, a pitcher will likely have a better chance at maintaining strength levels throughout a long season. I hope the focal points of this article can help you better understand what it means to maintain strength and and why it is beneficial to pitchers.

If in-season training is a topic that interests you and you would like to discuss further, contact us at studentsofbaseball@gmail.com. Please contact us if you would like any guidance or assistance in designing an in-season strength program for you or your team.

For an extensive database of movements and exercises SOTG prescribes to its players, click on the following link: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvPKV1IYnW9OY1OzBwRrDwg/videos?view_as=subscriber.

Syndergaard Photo Courtesy of Slack

Kluber Photo Courtesy of the Medina Gazette 

Eovaldi Photo Courtesy of Fansided

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