It’s that sad, sad time of year again. The season has wound down and we’re looking for anything baseball-related to keep us occupied. There’s still some big league ball to finish out, but soon we’ll be left to our own devices. But don’t put your bat back in the bag just yet! Wintertime is training time, of course. While baseball junkies in warmer climates can attend all kinds of offseason camps and practices, those of us stuck in the cold aren’t so lucky. But you don’t need those fancy camps. They’re expensive anyway. There’s plenty of training you can do yourself or with friends to hone your skills and improve your game for next season. Check out these 6 drills to add to your winter workout regimen.
1. PRACTICE IN FRONT OF A MIRROR
It may sound silly, but practicing your swing in front of a mirror can yield great results. As mentioned above, muscle memory is an important part of developing a sound and effective swing. By practicing your swing in front of a mirror, you can quickly find flaws and work to correct them. Once you correct your swing, you can move on to tee work and eventually to work in the batting cages.
2. STEP UP TO A BATTING TEE
The key to good hitting mechanics is muscle memory, and the key to muscle memory is precise repetition. When working to improve your batting technique, it’s important to follow the same exact stance, setup and follow through with each swing, over and over and over again. Working with a batting tee, any hitter can concentrate on repeating the same swing to develop a consistent motion with each swing. Good mechanics leads to a solid plate approach, and committing to the same swing with muscle memory will improve mechanics and help a hitter in the long run. Set up a batting tee in your garage or basement and start with a slow, controlled swing until you get the same feel every time. From there, incrementally increase your swing speed while maintaining the same form until your full swing feels natural and repetitive.
3. LEARN TO TAKE A LEAD
Base running is just as important an offensive weapon as hitting. What good is getting on base if you can’t make it home? Oftentimes, taking an extra base can be the difference between a win and a loss in a close game. Taking an extra base all starts with a good lead. To work on your lead during the winter, all you need is one bag, but it’s even better to have a pitcher and base player to simulate a game situation. Start by testing yourself. How far can you get from the base and still get back to beat the pickoff? Work on your technique getting back to base as quickly as possible, then bring your friends in to simulate the pitcher and base player. A good base runner eventually knows exactly how large of a lead to take without being picked off. Learning how to take a lead will eventually net you extra bases—and hopefully some extra wins, too.
4. KEEP YOUR EYES UP WHEN RUNNING
The key to good base running is never looking down. You need to be aware of what’s going on when the ball’s in play, and you can’t do that if you’re staring down the basepath. It’s unnatural at first—you kind of need to see where your feet are going—but you can fix this habit with practice. To practice, we suggest setting up a narrow running path with cones or something similar. Place another cone past the finish line, and practice running down the path while keeping your eyes locked on the cone at the end. As with all these drills, start small and work your way up. Begin with a jog and end with a full-on sprint. Eventually you’ll learn to keep their eyes up, and you can see what’s going on around you.
5. LEARN TO KEEP YOUR HANDS “INSIDE THE BALL”
Keeping your hands close to your body is essential for a good, powerful swing. All you need for this drill is a bat and a wall. Position yourself close enough to the wall so an extended swing causes the bat to hit the wall. Practice slow, deliberate swings while keeping your hands close to your body throughout the swing. Again, speed up your swing until you’re comfortable swinging fully without hitting the wall.
6. HIT THE GYM & DO SOME EXERCISE
No training regimen is complete without good old-fashioned exercise and gym work. But you’re not there to get swole. You need to build speed and control. Check out this article from Men’s Journal detailing the 10 best exercises for baseball players. Here are the cliff notes:
Backward lunge with a twist:
Step backward into a lunge with your left leg, lean back, and reach your left arm up while twisting your body over your right leg. Then step back into the next lunge with your right foot and repeat 10 times.
Turn your hips left and cross your left foot behind your right foot. Your left foot should be about 2 feet from your right, and your left toes should be pointed at your right heel. Turn your hips forward, lower yourself into a squat, then drive off your right foot and stand up. Repeat 10 times, then switch to the other leg for 10 more reps.
Lift your right foot and squat down on your left leg. With your right hand under your right knee and left hand under your right ankle, pull your right knee as close to your chest as possible and flex your left glute. Step forward with your right foot and switch feet. Do 10 reps on each side.
Mini-band lateral walks:
Put a mini band around your legs, just above your knees. Step laterally to the right and push off with your left leg. Bring your right foot back to the starting position and repeat for 10 reps, then switch sides and do the same with the left.
Start in a fully extended pushup position, then explode into a 10-yard sprint. Be sure to drive your feet hard and use your arms for momentum. Rest 30 seconds and repeat for 5 reps.
Reach, roll and lift:
You’ll need a foam roller or physio ball for this. Kneel on the floor and sit back on your ankles, and place the backs of your hands on the roller/ball in front of you. While still kneeling, roll forward so your chest is parallel to the ground and your head and neck are aligned with your spine. Lift your body up, hold and exhale, and return to starting position. Repeat for 10 reps.
Step into a standard lunge, then lean back and squat down so your back knee is almost touching the ground. Drive your weight back up with your front leg. Repeat for 10 reps with one leg, then switch legs for another 10 reps. Up the ante with light dumbbells if you’re so inclined.
You’ll need a kettle bell or dumbbell for this. Hold the weight with two hands to your chest—like you’re about to drink from a big goblet. Squat with your hips back and down, and keep your weight on your heels without lifting your toes. Keep the weight to your chest throughout, and your elbows should touch your knees on the squat. Explode up through the hips, and repeat for 10 reps.
Medicine ball rotational throw:
Stand in front of a sturdy wall, about 3 feet away and hold the medicine ball at waist level. Rotate your torso away from the wall, then powerfully rotate back, starting with your hips, followed by your torso and arms with the ball. Throw the ball at the wall and catch it with one hand under the ball and one behind it. Repeat for 10 reps, then switch sides.
Balance on your right leg with your left foot off the ground. Squat slightly, then jump laterally to the left, making sure to extend your ankle, knee and hip. Land on your left leg only and hold for 3 seconds, and repeat the motion back to the other side. Do 10 reps for each side.
All of these tips will help you stay sharp and in top form during the winter months. Without needing a lot of space, these drills can help improve offensive performance over the offseason. A more prepared hitter will have an edge once the season starts if they’ve worked on honing their skills during the winter months.
Check out our blog for more tips and information from the experts at Phoenix Bats. If you’re looking for fungo and training bats to help improve your game, we have those as well! We’ll help you figure out exactly what you need and give you exactly what you asked for.