Home Blog Baseball Strength and Conditioning: Early Off-Season Priorities 6-10

Baseball Strength and Conditioning: Early Off-Season Priorities 6-10

Written on September 21, 2011 at 8:15 am, by Eric Cressey

In Part 1 of this off-season baseball strength and conditioning series, I outlined the first five of my top 10 priorities when dealing with baseball players at the start of their off-season.  Today, I round out the top 10 “general” things always seem to be addressing with players coming in after a season.

1. Regaining lost mobility – This is an incredibly loaded topic that goes far beyond the scope of any blog or article, as it’s an entire two-day seminar or book! You see, losses in mobility – the ability to reach a desired position or posture – can be caused by a number of issues – and usually a combination of several of them.  Tissues can actually lose sarcomeres and become short after immobilization or significant eccentric stress (as with the deceleration component of throwing).  They can become stiff because of inadequate stability at adjacent joints (learn more HERE), protective tension (e.g., “tight” hamstrings in someone with crazy anterior pelvic tilt), or neural tension from an injury (e.g., disc herniation causing “tight” hamstrings).

The “Short vs. Stiff” issue is why you need to have a variety of tools in your “mobility toolbox.”  You need focal modalities like Active Release, Graston, and ASTYM techniques to assist with dealing with short tissues, whereas you need more diffuse modalities like traditional massage and foam rolling for dealing with stiffness (although both modalities can certainly help in the other regards, this is how I prefer to use them).

You need to understand retraining breathing appropriately and how posture affects respiratory function.  If you live in extension, you’ll have a poor zone of apposition in which the diaphragm can function.  The average human takes over 20,000 breaths per day.  If you don’t use your diaphragm properly, more of the stress is placed on the supplemental respiratory muscles: sternocleidomastoid, scalenes, pec major and minor, upper trapezius, and latissimus dorsi (to only name a few).  What are some insanely common sites of trigger points in just about everyone – especially thrower? Sternocleidomastoid, scalenes, pec major and minor, upper trapezius, and latissimus dorsi.  Improving respiratory function can be a complete game changer when it comes to enhancing mobility.  If you see a baseball player with a low right shoulder, prominent anterior left ribs, adducted right hip, huge anterior pelvic tilt, and limited right shoulder internal rotation, it’s almost always a slam dunk.

(Check out www.PosturalRestoration.com for more details on this front)

You may need low-load, long-duration static stretches to improve length in tissues that have lost sarcomeres.  This research has been around in the post-surgery community for decades (1984 research example here), but it’s actually not used all that much in strength and conditioning programs – presumably because of time constraints or the fact that most coaches simply don’t know how well it can work in the right people.

Finally, as we noted in our Assess and Correct DVD set, you also need dynamic flexibility drills in your warm-ups to reduce tissue and joint stiffness, and subsequent strength exercises in your strength and conditioning program to create adequate stability at adjacent joints to “hold” that new range of motion in place.

Many physical therapist employ heat early in a session to decrease stiffness prior to strengthening exercises, too.  The point is that there may be many different ways to skin a cat – but there are also a lot different types and sizes of cat.  And, for the record, I don’t condone skinning cats; it’s just a really gruesome analogy that has somehow “stuck” in our normally very politically correct society. Weird…but let’s move on.

2.Improving dynamic stabilization of the scapula – I say “dynamic stabilization” because you don’t just want scapular stability; you want a scapula with appropriate tissue length, stiffness, and density to allow for the desired movement.  A scapula that doesn’t move might be “stable,” but that’s not actually a good thing!

Truth be told, the scapular stabilizers generally fatigue before the rotator cuff does.  And, when the scapula isn’t positioned appropriately, the rotator cuff is at a mechanical disadvantage, anyway.  Additionally, poor scapular control can present as an internal rotation deficit at the shoulder, as you’ll just protract the shoulder excessively in place of internally rotating.  In other words, you can do all the rotator cuff exercises you want, but you don’t increase strength of the periscapular muscles, you’ll be spinning your wheels.  There are loads of drills that we use, but forearm wall slide variations are among our favorites:

3. Enhancing global strength while minimizing reactive training – As I’ve already noted in this series, we’re certainly spending a lot of time addressing specific areas of weakness like the rotator cuff, scapular stabilizers, and anterior core. However, I should be very clear that we’re still using “money” strength exercises like variations of the deadlift, single-leg exercises, squatting (in some of our guys), pull-ups, rows, push-ups, and dumbbell bench presses to get strong.  That said, the volume and intensity come down a ton on the reactive training side of things.  We’ll give our guys a few weeks off altogether from sprinting, as they’ve usually done a lot of that all season.  Plus, nixing all the sprinting and jumping for a few weeks ensures that they won’t tweak anything, given the soreness they’ll be working with from the strength training program – and it allows us to increase strength faster.

4. Putting guys in the right footwear – One thing that many folks don’t appreciate about playing baseball every day from February to October is the sheer amount of time one spends standing around in cleats, which will never be as comfortable as sneakers or going barefoot.  As such, one of the first things we do with most of our guys is get them into a good pair of minimalist shoes for training, as it gets them away from the rigidity, separation from the ground, and ankle mobility deficits that come with wearing cleats.  As I wrote previously, I’m a big fan of the New Balance Minimus.

Keep in mind that we ease guys into these minimalist shoe options, rather than throwing them in the footwear 24/7 right away.  They’ll start out just wearing them during training, and increase from there, assuming all goes well.

5. Normalizing sleep schedules – Professional baseball players (and really all professional athletes) have terrible sleep schedules.  Because most games are night games, they generally go to bed around 1-2AM and wake up anywhere from 7AM to 11AM.  The early risers I know will usually take a nap before going to the park, whereas the guys who sleep in roll out of bed and go straight to the park.  Additionally, much of this sleeping comes on planes and buses, which aren’t exactly comfortable places to get quality sleep.  I’m a firm believer that one hour of sleep before midnight is worth two hours after midnight – but this simply isn’t an option for professional baseball players.

That said, we try to normalize things as much as possible in the off-season.  All our athletes are encouraged to try to go to bed and wake up at the same time – and to hit the hay before 11pm every night.  Any naps they can get during the day are a bonus, too!


While I’ve outlined ten things we address in the early off-season, these are really just the tip of the iceberg, as every player is unique and needs an individual approach.  That said, the one general theme that applies to all of them is that we’re shifting paradigms – meaning that some things about our philosophy may differ from what they’ve experienced.  Some guys may be accustomed to just “football workouts.”  Others may have been coddled with foo-foo training programs where they didn’t work hard.  Some guys ran distances. Some guys crushed the rotator cuffs every day while ignoring the rest of the body.

The point is that it’s not just our job to find what we feel is the best fit for these athletes, but also to educate them on why the unique program we’ve designed for them is a better approach than they can get anywhere else.

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17 Responses to “Baseball Strength and Conditioning: Early Off-Season Priorities 6-10”

  1. Dave Says:

    Do you have any thoughts on this statement?

    Postural Restoration Institute: We prefer shoes that provide good calcaneal support. Most shoes that simulate “no shoes” do not have the support and structure we are looking for in the heel.

  2. Lisa Says:

    I really enjoy the amount of facts and info you put into each article. Although you are basing most of your writing around baseball training, a fair amount is very usefull for the average person wanting to get in shape. And I have to say the minimus is probably the most comfortable shoe I have ever worn!

  3. zach even - esh Says:

    EC, this was awesome my brutha, BIG thnx!!!

  4. Dade Says:

    Great breadth of information! I appreciate all that you bring together here to integrate performance and wellness.


  5. Eric Dixon Says:

    Great article!! That lack of mobility is a killer and some athletes don’t even realize they have lost it because of the body’s ability to compensate.

  6. John Says:

    Hi Dave,
    Is that a full quote from PRI or paraphrase on your part? When I search their site I find something related but not the same.

    We prefer shoes that provide good calcaneal support. Most shoes that simulate “no shoes” do not have the support and structure we are looking for in the heel.

    The list of shoes on the PRI recommended list are those that provide good calcaneal support. Many running shoes, at this time, are placing gel or decreasing the heel height on the lateral heel causing people to roll on the outside of their heel… (From: http://posturalrestoration.com/resources/recent-emails/view/on-the-shoe-recommendations…/)

    Am I missing something? Or, are you perhaps referencing some printed materials?


  7. Jini Cicero Says:

    Great post as always Eric.

    Thank you for commenting on LLPS. I’m always happy to see the use of static stretching as part of a complete “toolbox” as you say and, you’re right, it’s infrequently underutilized and in my opinion undervalued, in the strength and conditioning community.

    Love my Minimus shoes (thanks for the tip.)

  8. Luka Hocevar Says:

    another great post with awesome takeaways.



  9. Dr Tim L Says:

    Great post Eric,

    I’m a recent DC grad and also a former college baseball player. Even though the post was geared towards baseball players, I find myself discussing most of these on a daily basis with all types of patient populations (posture, flexibility, dynamic core stability, joint mobility, movement patterns, respiration, nutrient intake, rest, etc.) Thanks again for the info, I learn something new everytime…

  10. Dave Says:


    It’s a direct quote from their facebook page.

  11. Karen Says:

    Great hints! As an older Crossfitter, and Mom to a young baseball player, any and all hints for flexibility are welcome!!

  12. Giuseppe Says:

    Great Stuff, thank you. I was wondering if you can highlight any useful resources for one to learn and reinforce diaphragmatic breathing?

  13. Alex Says:

    Which minimus model do you recommend? The most positive reviews I’ve seen seem to be for the trail version.

  14. Eric Cressey Says:


    I like the Trainer version – although I haven’t tried on the Trail one yet.

  15. Eric Cressey Says:


    Check out http://www.posturalrestoration.com. Lots of good stuff there. Also, read the link I posted about zone of apposition in this article.

  16. Eric Cressey Says:


    I can certainly see their perspective, working with a very clinical population. Dealing with athletes, though, it’s just not a good move (in my eyes, at least) to put them into very restrictive footwear. This is what we did in the 1980s-2000s with high top shoes, ankle taping, and heel lifts – and we wound up with an epidemic of athletes with poor ankle mobility, sloppy lower extremity biomechanics, anterior knee pain, and high ankle sprains. In my eyes, the lighter, the better.

  17. Erika Says:

    Great video at the end there. It’s amazing to be able to do something you love and even more respectable to be able to do it right.

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