kopitzke baseball blog

How to Get 'Baseball Strong'

Aug 08, 2023

Ever since the bash brothers and the steroid era, there’s been a much larger emphasis on strength training in baseball. When I was in college in the mid to late 80s, lifting weights was still novel. The common thought back then was that baseball players didn’t want to get bulky, especially pitchers. Big strong legs were desirable, so lower body lifting was encouraged, but upper body lifts were taboo.

The consensus of opinion today, regarding strength training for baseball players, is very different. It is in fact a major component of training programs in every MLB organization and nearly every professional player engages in some form of strength training during the off-season. Additionally, significant advancements in technology has opened doors to a multitude of performance measures in the weight room creating a plethora of training modalities. All this begs the question, what exactly should baseball players be doing in the training room to get strong?

To answer this question, we need to know what strength is.

According to Merriam-Webster strength is "the quality or state of being strong. Strong is having or marked by great physical power. Power is the ability to act or produce an effect; physical might. Might is bodily strength."

Seems pretty circular to me.

One could even argue that strength involves the application of force. Force, by virtue of its application, is directional. This adds another dimension to consider, which direction of strength are we even talking about?

In materials science, a sample of a specific size and configuration is created and tested to failure to determine its strength. Failure is required to determine the absolute strength of the material. This is even done with joints - areas where materials are joined together via welds, bolts and so on. We can’t use this method, so any measure of strength we obtain will be an approximation and it will be a system test since we can’t isolate the materials - muscles, tendons, bones, joints, etc. 

Measuring human strength is normally determined by how much weight one can lift.
Seems simple enough. Which lifts or movements best determine strength? In powerlifting competitions, they typically use deadlift, back squat and bench press. In strong man competitions they use many different feats of strength from atlas stones to truck pulls. Then there are the Olympic lifts: the snatch and clean and jerk. There are proponents of each leaving us with no clear cut, accepted strength measure to use for baseball players.

The problem we are running into is that the strength measurements are full body movements and therefore they can only effectively measure the strength of that movement or in that movement. So, which movement or movements best measure the strength a baseball player needs? How strong does a baseball player need to be?  Good questions.

Both of these questions will elicit different answers depending upon who you ask. If someone tells you they know the answer to these questions, know that they are wrong. They can’t know. That answer is 'not knowable'.

When a player hits a home run for example, we can’t know how much of it was due to his strength, or when a pitcher throws the baseball 100 mph. There are too many variables to consider especially as we're only looking at the ones that we know or think we know. It's not possible to consider the ones we don’t know and therefore their contribution.

Here’s an article about Mookie Betts and what he did this off-season to increase his HR production. He’s on pace to hit a career high in homeruns. Is it because he’s stronger? Sure seems that way, but how can we know for sure. There are many new variables this season that are mentioned in the article (and likely many more that aren’t). What role did those play? He’s improved in other areas as well. Why did that happen? Are they connected?

The common takeaway from this article and others written on the subject is that Mookie is hitting more home runs because he’s stronger. In spite of the “evidence” provided, they can’t know it to be true. If it was absolute, every player at every level that gets stronger would hit more home runs. With all the variables in Mookie’s situation, we can’t even be certain it’s true for him. There is no causative relationship between him getting stronger and him hitting more home runs.

So how do you get baseball strong? Become Human Strong. There is no such thing as baseball specific strength, there is only human strong / Strength train to be a strong human.

Here’s one approach to getting human strong. Choose a movement with which you can lift a lot of weight. The deadlift using a trap bar or barbell for example. A lot of weight, because the goal is to get strong. More weight equals more strength. Put a weight on the bar that is challenging for you to lift and lift it. That’s it. You decide how many times you want to lift it. It should be more than once, but there is no specific set and rep scheme that is best. You can do 6 sets of 3 or 3 sets of 20 or 2 reps every hour throughout the day. All of these will build strength.

The most important part of the process is that you do it. If you don’t lift the weight you won’t get stronger. You can adjust the sets and reps and frequency to fit your schedule and your desire to get stronger. Monitor your progress. Is it getting easier to lift the weight? Do you need to add more weight to keep it challenging? Are you getting bored with your current scheme? 

You can do this with essentially any movement that involves your whole body and allows you to lift a lot of weight. You don’t need to do multiple exercises. One will do. As a matter of fact doing any loaded movements that don’t use your whole body have the potential to create imbalances. Unless you are recovering from an injury or a period of localized atrophy, isolating your strength training is potentially more harmful than helpful. Is there anything you do on a baseball field that doesn’t involve your whole body? Not that I can think of.

If your goal is to build strength, don’t worry yourself with upper body and lower body lifts, push or pull days, balancing front side and back side.

Do one whole body lift for strength and spend the rest of your time getting better at baseball.



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