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Plyometrics and Unstable Surface Training

Two weeks ago, I made it clear that a lot of folks were missing the boat with respect to baseball strength and conditioning by insisting that "plyos are all you need." And, last week, I discussed how strength and reactive ability have interacted in some successful players in professional baseball, and how those qualities should dictate how an athlete trains. This week, though, I'm going to throw you for a little loop and tell you that the static-spring continuum means absolutely NOTHING for a lot of athletes.  Why? You must first understand that each stretch-shortening cycle (SSC) activity involves three distinct phases: 1. eccentric (deceleration, preloading) 2. amortization (isometric, pause) 3. concentric (propulsion) phases. As I discussed in great detail in The Truth About Unstable Surface Training, Komi (2003) outlined three fundamental conditions required for an effective SSC action (1): 1. "a well-timed preactivation of the muscles before the eccentric phase" [we need our muscles to be ready to go to decelerate] 2. "a short and fast eccentric phase" [deceleration has to occur quickly, as the faster the rate of stretch, the more energy the musculotendon complex stores] 3. "immediate transition (short delay) between stretch and shortening (concentric) phases." [if we spend too much time paused at the bottom, the stored energy is lost as heat instead of being used for subsequent force production] So, what I'm really saying is that if you don't have a decent foundation of strength, training reactive ability - or even considering where you stand on the static-spring continuum - is a waste of time.  Weak athletes need to have the strength (and rate of force development, for that matter) to decelerate with control in order to allow for fast eccentric and amoritization phases to occur. I'd estimate that 60% of the young athletes who walk through my door on their first day to train are nowhere near strong enough to derive considerable benefit from "classic" plyos.  Sure, they need to learn deceleration and landing mechanics and pick up some sprinting techniques, but the true progress comes from the resistance training they do. Now, let's apply this to baseball, a sport where good strength and conditioning is still yet to be appreciated - and many athletes go directly from high school to the professional ranks without ever having touched a weight in their lives.  As a result, many baseball athletes don't have the underlying strength to effectively make use of the reactive training that typifies the training presented to them. And, in many cases, it will take a long time to get it during the season in the minor leagues, where they'll have competing demands (games, practice, travel) and limited equipment access.  It's why I've seen several professional baseball players come my way with vertical jumps of less than 20".  As a frame of reference, you need to be over 28.5" to be in the top 13 on my HIGH SCHOOL record board. Pro athletes?  Really? These guys can be conundrums from a training standpoint, as you have to realize that sprinting is possibly the single-most reactive/plyometric training drill there is; we are talking roughly four times body weight in ground reaction forces with each stride - and that's in single-leg stance.  So, we have somewhat of an injury predisposition, but more important, it comes down to training economy.  They aren't strong enough (relative to their body weight) to get much out of the sprinting, and would benefit more from strength training, bilateral jumping variations, and single-leg low hops.  However, they need to jump and sprint as part of their profession, so we've got to prepare them for that as well.

ellsbury-jump

All that in mind, the problem isn't traditional strength and conditioning, in my eyes.  It builds a solid base of strength for many athletes and helps to increase body weight, which in itself is a predictive factor for velocity.  However, the shortcomings of this S&C occur when coaches don't understand how to modify traditional strength and conditioning to suit the needs of the baseball athlete.  And, problems kick in when folks don't appreciate that even just a little bit of strength goes a long way. New Blog Content Random Friday Thoughts Inverted Row Ignorance Maximum Strength Feedback: 1/20/09 Stuff You Should Read: 1/22/09 All the Best, EC References 1. Komi, PV. Stretch-shortening cycle. In: Strength and Power in Sport (2nd Ed.) P.V. Komi, ed. Oxford: Blackwell, 2003: 184-202. Sign-up Today for our FREE Baseball Newsletter and Receive a Copy of the Exact Stretches used by Cressey Performance Pitchers after they Throw!
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Random Friday Thoughts: 1/30/09

1. I'm speaking at the Massachusetts High School Baseball Coaches Association's Annual Clinic this morning, so this week's random thoughts will be somewhat abbreviated.  I didn't even have time to pick out this week's music selection, so you have to settle for this dude getting owned!

2. Speaking of baseball, one thing I'll be discussing in some detail is hip flexion range-of-motion asymmetries in pitchers.  You'll almost always see far more hamstrings flexibility on the front leg for obvious reasons, but it's also important to consider how throwing styles contribute to this issue.  Guys who throw on stiff front legs are ones who will most commonly present with big asymmetries.  Justin Verlander would be a great example:

verlander

Guys like Verlander need to pay close attention to maintaining adequate length of the right hamstrings (the opposite would be true of a left-handed pitcher).  Conversely, a guy like Greg Maddux who - at the same point in his throwing motion - is more flexed on the front knee, generally won't have big issues in this regard (although they should still be assessed and addressed).

Rockies Padres Baseball

Leaving these issues unaddressed can lead to a host of problems, most notably hamstrings strains on the back leg. 3. Manuel Buitrago has put some excellent Olympic lifting demonstrations online to help those of you at home who are trying to pick up these complex lifts on your own.  Here's a little sample:

For more videos just like this, check out Manuel's YouTube page and the facility where he trains.

4. While I think it's awesome that a lot of folks are finally catching on that glute activation is important for both injury prevention and rehabilitation, a lot of folks have lost sight of the fact that you have to be careful about just training the glutes in hip extension.  It's also very important to pay attention to theirs roles as external rotators and abductors.  Once you've mastered bilateral movements in the sagittal plane (e.g., supine bridges), you need to get into single-leg and emphasis movements like bowler squats and lunges with reaches to various positions.  These are great inclusions in the warm-up, and we highlight several options in our Magnificent Mobility DVD.

mm

And, to take it a step further, you've got to load up those single-leg movements and challenge frontal plane stability to lay some strength down on top of those newly discovered movement strategies.

5. In light of the flexibility/mobility tone of this series of random thoughts, I thought it might be a good time to remind you that "creep" typically sets in at about 20 minutes.  So, if you've been sitting at your desk reading for longer than that, it'd probably be a good idea to stand up for a few minutes, Quasimodo.

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Injury Prevention for Pitchers

In last week's newsletter, I observed that there are a lot of folks out there who think that weight training is unnecessary and plyometrics are sufficient for injury prevention and performance enhancement in pitchers. While a system like this might hold some merit in a population such as football where many athletes already have a large strength foundation, it doesn't work as well in a baseball population, which doesn't have that same foundation. To illustrate my point, I'm going to touch on a concept - static-spring proficiency - that I covered at length in my Ultimate Off-Season Training Manual.  Essentially, you have "static" athletes, "spring" athletes, and everything in between the two.  You can use a series of performance tests and evaluate an athlete's training history to get an appreciation for where each athlete falls on this continuum.

uotm

"Static" athletes tend to have a good strength foundation - so much, in fact, that they tend to "muscle" everything.  In other words, there is less efficient use of the stretch-shortening cycle to produce force.  An example might be a powerlifter attempting to go out and play basketball.  In order to improve, a "static" athlete needs to focus on improving reactive ability. "Spring" athletes are great at using stored elastic energy in tendons to produce power.  An example would be a basketball or volleyball player who has been jumping for years and years to develop spring, but without much attention to building the underlying strength needed to best use it.  So, obviously, to improve, these athletes need to enhance muscular strength while maintaining their great elastic qualities. Here's an excerpt from my Off-Season Manual that personifies this in the world of baseball: "The modern era of baseball is a great example, as we've had several homerun hitters who have all been successful - albeit by very different means. "At the 'spring' end of the continuum, we have hitters like Gary Sheffield and Vladimir Guerrero demonstrating incredible bat speed. The ball absolutely rockets off their bats; they aren't 'muscling' their homeruns at all. Doing a lot of extra training for bat speed would be overkill for these guys; they'll improve their power numbers by increasing maximal strength alone.

vladimirguerrero

"At the other end of the spectrum, we have 'static' homerun hitters like Mark McGwire and Jeff Bagwell, both of whom were well known for taking weight training very seriously. These guys are the ones 'muscling' baseballs out of the ballpark; the ball almost seems to sit on the barrel of the bat for a split-second before they "flip it" 500 feet. Getting stronger might help these guys a bit, but getting more spring by focusing on bat speed with reactive training (e.g., plyometrics, sprinting, medicine ball throws, ballistic push-ups, etc.) would be a more sure-fire means to improvement. "Then, we have the 'middle-of-the-road' guys like Barry Bonds and Manny Ramirez. They possess an excellent blend of static and spring, so they need to train some of both to continue improving physically. "Bonds is actually a good example of how an athlete's position on the static-spring continuum can change over the course of a career. When he started out, he was definitely a 'spring' guy, hitting most of his homeruns with pure bat speed. As Bonds' career progressed, his maximal strength improved due to neural adaptations and increased cross sectional area (more muscle mass).

barry-bonds

"In light of the media attention surrounding the use of performance-enhancing substances in baseball, I should mention how he increased his muscle mass isn't the issue in question in the discussion at hand. The point is that he did increase muscle mass, which increased maximal strength, which favorably affected performance. The performance enhancing substances question really isn't of concern to this discussion." Now, here's where it gets interesting - and where you get a bit more time to think about this. Obviously, even to the most casual observer, not all baseball players are like Manny Ramirez, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Jeff Bagwell, Gary Sheffield, and Vladimir Guerrero.  This isn't rocket science; they are/were a heck of a lot more skilled and experienced than the overwhelming majority of the professional baseball world, and certainly all of the amateur ranks. How are they different?  And, why can't we just assume what might work for some of them will work for those aiming to reach the levels they've attained? Well, you'll just have to think about that until Newsletter 141... New Blog Content Random Friday Thoughts Sunday Thoughts Push-ups for Baseball Players Stuff You Should Read All the Best, EC Sign-up Today for our FREE Baseball Newsletter and Receive a Copy of the Exact Stretches used by Cressey Performance Pitchers after they Throw!
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Baseball and Strength

Free Teleseminar Series at SportsRehabExpert.com I just wanted to give you all a heads-up on a great audio series - Sports Rehab to Sports Performance - that Joe Heiler has pulled together.  I'll was interviewed on Friday, and Joe's also chatted will Mike Boyle, Gray Cook, Kyle Kiesel, Stuart McGill, Phil Plisky, Brett Jones, and Charlie Weingroff.   The entire interview series is COMPLETELY FREE and begins airing later tomorrow night.  You can get more information HERE. Also, don't forget that the third annual Mike Boyle Strength & Conditioning Winter Seminar is fast approaching.  For more information, click here. Snowy Sunday Sentiments Yesterday, in an email exchange I was having with some guys who are really "in the know" in the world of baseball pitching, one of them commented that pitchers need to start thinking more along the lines of training like Troy Polamalu of the Pittsburgh Steelers.  In other words, less external loading, more pure-body weight drills, and a big focus on reactive ability (plyometrics drills, for the lay population). I'll be the first to recognize Polamalu's accomplishments on the field - including an interception return for a touchdown yesterday.  And, I admit that I don't know much about his training philosophy aside from what I have seen in 3-4 minute YouTube and NFL clips.  So, I guess you could say that my point of contention is with what some folks take from viewing these clips, as was the case with this email exchange.  So, I'll be very clear that I'm not criticizing the Sportslab philosophy; I'd love to buy these guys lunch and pick their brains, in fact. However, I've got two cents to add - or maybe even three our four cents, depending on how poorly the American dollar is doing nowadays.  I'm writing this on a snowy day in Massachusetts and I've got a little bit of extra time on my hands (a rarity during the baseball off-season for me). I think that it is wrong to assume that weight training is unnecessary and plyometrics are sufficient for injury prevention and performance enhancement in pitchers.  This is a common belief held among a large body of pitching coaches that I feel really needs to be addressed. The fundamental problem I see is that a system that relies extensively on training elastic qualities.  Or, in the terminology I like to use, it teaches an athlete to be more "spring," making better use of elastic energy from the tendons.  This works best in an athlete who is largely static, or has a solid base of muscular strength. Who would be a static athlete?  Well, one example would be an athlete who gained a lot of strength in the previous four years...say, Troy Polamalu.  He was a first-round draft pick out of USC, known for a good program under strength and conditioning coach Chris Carlisle.  They've packed lots of muscle and strength on loads of high school guys over the years, no doubt.  Polamalu may not realize it, but those four years of USC training probably set him up for the positive results he's seeing in this program - especially when you compare him to a good chunk of the NFL that now uses machine-based HIT training because they're afraid of weight-room injuries. Basically, for the most part, only the freaky athletes make it to the "big dance" in football, so the S&C coach is responsibly for not hurting them.   It's not much different in the world of baseball - but we're dealing with a MORE TRAINED population in the first place. I'm sure that many of you have read Moneyball (and if you haven't, you should).  One thing that they touch on over and over again is that high school draft picks don't pan out as well as college draft picks.

moneyball

Sure, it has to do with facing better hitters and maturing another four years psychologically.  However, one factor that nobody ever touches on is that these college draft picks have another four years of strength and conditioning under their belt in most cases.  It may not be baseball-specific in many cases, but I would definitely argue that it's better than nothing.  Strength goes a long way, but physiologically and psychologically. And, that's what I want you to think about until my next newsletter comes out - when I'll get a bit more to the science of all this, and how it's been demonstrated in professional baseball. New Blog Content Random Friday Thoughts How to Make an Exercise Tougher Another CP Intern on the Road to Diesel Frozen Ankles, Ugly Squatting Until next time, train hard and have fun. EC Sign-up Today for our FREE Baseball Newsletter and Receive a Copy of the Exact Stretches used by Cressey Performance Pitchers after they Throw!
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Push-ups for Baseball Players

Q: I attended the baseball strength training clinic you gave in Long Island.  I have a question for you about push-ups for pitchers.  I am using push-ups with all player, and one of the parents has been concerned that push-ups are not good for pitchers.  I was wondering if you could help me explain why push-ups are good for pitchers. A: No problem.  The two big "players" in scapular dysfunction are lower trapezius and serratus anterior.  These muscles work in conjunction with the upper trapezius to upwardly rotate the scapula, which allows for safe overhead movements.  Research has shown that baseball pitchers have less scapular upward rotation compared with position players and non-athletes - so it's definitely an adaptive change that we need to work to address. Push-ups (when done correctly) can be useful for activating the serratus anterior, and as a closed-chain exercise, it has proprioceptive benefits at the shoulder girdle.  Plus, you get a considerable effect in terms of core stability training, as you're resisting the effects of gravity in the "plank" position where the lumbar spine wants to slip into extension. That said, if you're dealing with high school athletes, I'll warn you that over 90% of them (in my experience) need to be coached on how to do a push-up correctly.  It isn't as simple as "just do this," as most of them will resort to incorrect technique.  With a good pushup, the upper arms should be tucked to a 45-degree angle to the torso, and the athlete should actively "pull" himself down to the bottom position with the scapular retractors.  The hips shouldn't sag, and there shouldn't be a forward head posture.  Essentially, the chest - not the chin or hips - should get to the ground first.

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Strength Training for Pitchers

Strength Training for Pitchers

by: Eric Cressey

Recently, I received an email inquiry about the value of strength training for pitchers. The individual emailing me had come across the following quote from a pitching "authority:"

"Training will not teach you how to apply more force...only mechanics can do that. And pitching is not about applying more effort into a pitch but is about producing more skilled movements from better timing of all the parts. That will help produce more force.

"No matter how hard you try, you will not get that from your strength training program...no matter who designed it, how much they have promised you it would or your hope that it will be the secret for you."

To say that this surprised me would be an understatement. I'll start with the positive: I agree with him that pitching is all about producing skilled movements secondary to appropriate timing of all the involved "parts." I've very lucky to work hand-in-hand with some skilled pitching coaches who really know their stuff - and trust in me to do my job to complement the coaching they provide.

With that said, however, I disagree that you can't gain (or lose) velocity based exclusively on your strength and conditioning program. On countless occasions, I've seen guys gain velocity without making any changes to their throwing programs or mechanics. I know what many of the devil's advocates in the crowd are thinking: "you're just making that up!" So, if my word isn't enough, how about we just go to the research?

From: Derenne C, Ho KW, Murphy JC. Effects of general, special, and specific resistance training on throwing velocity in baseball: a brief review. J Strength Cond Res. 2001 Feb;15(1):148-56.

[Note from EC: Yes, it's pathetic that this REVIEW has been out almost seven years and people who are supposedly "in the know" still haven't come across ANY of the studies to which it alludes.]

Practical Applications

Throwing velocity can be increased by resistance training. A rationale for general, special, and specific resistance training to increase throwing velocity has been presented. The following findings and recommendations relevant to strength and conditioning specialists and pitching coaches can be useful from the review of literature.

In the "further reading" section at the end of this article, I have listed ten different studies that each demonstrated a positive effect of weight training on throwing velocity. The authors in the review above also have a table that summarizes 26 studies that examined the effect of different strength protocols on throwing velocity, and 22 of the 26 showed increases over controls who just threw. In other words, throwing and strength training is better than throwing alone for improving velocity -

independent of optimization of mechanics from outside coaching.

The saddest part is that the training programs referenced in this review were nothing short of foo-foo garbage. We're talking 3x10-12 light dumbbell drills and mind-numbing, rubber tubing blasphemy. If archaic stuff works, just imagine what happens when pitchers actually train the right way - and have pitching coaches to help them out?

Oh yeah, 10 mph gains in six months happen - and D1 college coaches and pro scouts start salivating over kids who are barely old enough to drive.

With that rant aside, I'd like to embark on another one: what about the indirect gains associated with strength training? Namely, what about the fact that it keeps guys healthy?

We know that:

a) Pitchers (compared to position players) have less scapular upward rotation at 60 and 90 degrees of abduction -and upward rotation is extremely important for safe overhead activity.

b) 86% of major league pitchers have supraspinatus partial thickness tears.

c) All pitchers have some degree of labral fraying - and the labrum provides approximately 50% of the stability in the glenohumeral joint

d) There is considerable research to suggest that congenital shoulder instability is one of the traits that makes some pitchers better than others (allows for more external rotation during the cocking phase to generate velocity).

e) Most pitchers lack internal rotation range-of-motion due to posterior rotator cuff (and possibly capsular) tightness and morphological changes to bone (retroversion). Subscapularis strength is incredibly important to prevent anterior shoulder instability in this scenario.

We also know that resistance training is the basis for modern physical therapy - which I'm pretty sure is aimed at restoring inappropriate movement patterns which can cause these structural/functional defects/abnormalities from reaching threshold and becoming symptomatic. Do you think that a good resistance training program could strengthen lower traps and serratus anterior to help alleviate this upward rotation problem? Could a solid subscapularis strengthening protocol help with preventing anterior instability? Could a strong rotator cuff and scapular stabilizers allow an individual to work around a torn supraspinatus?

And, last time I checked, strength and conditioning was about more than just being the "weights coach." We do a lot of flexibility/mobility and soft tissue work - and it just so happens that such work does wonders on pec minor, levator scapulae, rhomboids, infraspinatus/teres minor, and a host of other muscles in pitchers.

I also like to tell jokes, do magic tricks, and make shadow puppets on the wall. Am I to assume that these don't play a remarkable role in my athletes' success? I beg to differ. Sure, banging out a set of 20 chin-ups because one of my athletes called me out might make me look like a stupid monkey when my elbows refuse to extend for the subsequent ten minutes, but I still think what we do plays a very important role in our athletes success; otherwise, they wouldn't keep coming back. And, for the record, my shadow puppets are great for building camaraderie and bolstering spirits among the Cressey Performance troops - even if I'm just a "weights coach" or whatever.

This only encompasses a few of the seemingly countless examples I can come up with at a moment's notice. Pitchers are an at-risk population; your number one job in working with a pitcher is to keep him healthy. And, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that a guy who is healthy and super-confident over his monster legs and butt is going to throw a lot harder than a guy who is in pain and as skinny as an Olsen twin because his stubborn pitching coach said strength training doesn't work. You've got to train ass to throw gas!

Last fall, I started working with a pro ball player whose velocity was down from 94 to 88 thanks to a long season - but also because he'd had lower back issues that have prevented him from training. In other words, he counts on strength training to keep his velocity up. And, sure enough, it was a big component of getting him healthy prior to this season.

Putting it into Practice

I suspect that some of the reluctance to recognize strength training as important to pitchers is the notion that it will make pitchers too bulky and ruin pitching-specific flexibility. Likewise, there are a lot of meatheads out there who think that baseball guys can train just like other athletes. While there are a lot of similarities, it's really important to make some specific upper body modifications for the overhead throwing athlete. Contraindicated exercises in our baseball programs include:

  • Overhead lifting (not chin-ups, though)
  • Straight-bar benching
  • Upright rows
  • Front/Side raises (especially empty can - why anyone would do a provocative test as a training measure is beyond me)
  • Olympic lifts aside from high pulls
  • Back squats

The next question, obviously, is "what do you do instead?" Here's a small list:

  • Push-up variations: chain, band-resisted, blast strap
  • Multi-purpose bar benching (neutral grip benching bar)
  • DB bench pressing variations
  • Every row and chin-up you can imagine (excluding upright rows)
  • Loads of thick handle/grip training
  • Medicine ball throws
  • Specialty squat bars: giant cambered bar, safety squat bar
  • Front Squats
  • Deadlift variations

The Take-Home Message

There is nothing fundamentally wrong with strength training program for pitchers. In reality, what is wrong is the assumption that all strength training programs are useless because some are poorly designed and not suited to athletes' needs and limitations. Be leery of people who say strength training isn't important. Everyone - from endurance athletes, to grandmothers, to pitchers - needs it!

Further Reading

1. Bagonzi, J.A. The effects of graded weighted baseballs, free weight training, and simulative isometric exercise on the velocity of a thrown baseball. Master's thesis, Indiana University. 1978.

2. Brose, D.E., and D.L. Hanson. Effects of overload training on velocity and accuracy of throwing. Res. Q. 38:528-533. 1967.

3. Jackson, J.B. The effects of weight training on the velocity of a thrown baseball. Master's thesis, Central Michigan University,. 1994.

4. Lachowetz, T., J. Evon, and J. Pastiglione. The effects of an upper-body strength program on intercollegiate baseball throwing velocity. J. Strength Cond. Res. 12:116-119. 1998.

5. Logan, G.A., W.C. McKinney, and W. Rowe. Effect of resistance through a throwing range of motion on the velocity of a baseball. Percept. Motor Skills. 25:55-58. 1966.

6. Newton, R.U., and K.P. McEvoy. Baseball throwing velocity: A comparison of medicine ball training and weight training. J. Strength Cond. Res. 8:198-203. 1994.

7. Potteiger, J.A., H.N. Williford, D.L. Blessing, and J. Smidt. Effect of two training methods on improving baseball performance variables. J. Appl. Sport Sci. Res. 6:2-6. 1992.

8. Sullivan, J.W. The effects of three experimental training factors upon baseball throwing velocity and selected strength measures. Doctoral dissertation, Indiana University,. 1970.

9. Swangard, T.M. The effect of isotonic weight training programs on the development of bat swinging, throwing, and running ability of college baseball players. Master's thesis, University of Oregon,. 1965.

10. Thompson, C.W., and E.T. Martin. Weight training and baseball throwing speed. J. Assoc. Phys. Mental Rehabil. 19:194-196. 1965.

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A New Model for Training Between Starts: Part 2

A New Model for Training Between Starts: Part 2

By: Eric Cressey

In Part 1 of this article series, I discussed everything that was wrong with distance running for pitchers.  In Part 2, I'll outline my thoughts on how to best integrate conditioning for pitchers between throwing sessions.  This article will focus on managing starters, but I suspect you'll find that managing relievers isn't entirely different aside from the fact that you'll need to "roll with the punches" a bit more. I think the best way to introduce this article is to describe a coincidence from the beginning of the year.    On January 5, I received an email from one of my pro pitchers asking me if I could outline some thoughts on my between-start strength and conditioning mentality, as his old college pitching coach had asked for his input from him, as he was a student of the game and had tried some non-traditional ideas. In response to that email, I replied with essentially everything I'll describe in this article - plus everything I outlined in Part 1 with respect to how bad a choice distance running is. The coincidence didn't become apparent until a week or two later when I got my hands on the January installment of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, which featured a study entitled "Noncompatibility of power and endurance training among college baseball players." These researchers divided a collegiate pitching staff into two groups of eight over the course of a season, and each group did everything identically - except the running portion of their training programs.  Three days per week, the "sprint" group did 10-30 sprints of 15-60m with 10-60s rest between bouts.  The endurance group performed moderate-to-high intensity jogging or cycling 3-4 days per week for anywhere from 20-60 minutes. Over the course of the season, the endurance group's peak power output dropped by an average of 39.5 watts while the sprinting group increased by an average of 210.6 watts (1).  So, basically what I'm saying is that I was right all along - and I'm totally going to brag about it.  Part 1 of this series simply justified all of my thoughts; now it's time to put them into a framework. Some Prerequisite Q&A As a response to Part 1, I got an email from a college pitching coach looking for some further details, and here were his questions (bold) and my answers: Q: Is running 1-2 miles once a week considered distance running? A: I'd call anything over 150m "distance running" in a pitching population, believe it or not.  I haven't had a baseball player run over 60 yards in two years - and even when they go 60, they're build-ups, so only about 50% of that distance is at or near top speed. Q: Is running 10 poles in 30s with one minute of rest considered distance? A: Let's say it takes 30s to run a pole, and then you rest a minute (1:2 work: rest ratio).  Then, you go out and pitch, where you exert effort for one second and rest 20s (1:20 work:rest ratio).  This is the equivalent of a 100m sprinter training like a 1500m runner. Q: Don't you need some endurance to pitch a complete 9-inning game? A: If all endurance was created equal, why didn't Lance Armstrong win the New York or Boston Marathon?  Endurance is very skill specific.  Additionally, there is a huge difference between exerting maximal power over 20-25 individual efforts with near complete rest (a sample inning) and exerting submaximal efforts repeatedly with no or minimal rest. Q: What about guys who are overweight?  What should they do? A: Fat guys should be paperweights, bouncers, sumo wrestlers, or eating contest champions.  If they want to be successful players at the D1 level or beyond, they'll sack up and stop eating crap.  Several years ago, I promised myself that I would never, ever try to use extra conditioning to make up for poor diet. Q: What are your thoughts on interval training? A: We know that interval training is superior to steady state cardio for fat loss, but the important consideration is that it must be specific to the sport in question. These responses should set the stage for the following points: 1. The secret is to keep any longer duration stuff low-intensity (under 70% HRR) and everything else at or above 90% of max effort (this includes starts, agilities, and sprints up to 60yds).  For more background on this, check out the McCarthy et al. study I outlined in Part 1. 2. Ideally, the low-intensity work would involve significant joint ranges-of-motion (more to come on this below). 3. Don't forget that pitchers rarely run more than 15 yards in a game situation. 4. Strength training and mobility training far outweigh running on the importance scale. 5.  If you need to develop pitching specific stamina, the best way to achieve that end is to simply pitch and build pitch counts progressively.  If that needs to be supplemented with something to expedite the process a bit, you can add in some medicine ball medleys - which can also be useful for ironing out side-to-side imbalances, if implemented appropriately.  However, a good off-season throwing program and appropriate management of a pitcher early in the season should develop all the pitching specific endurance that is required. The 5-Day Rotation In a case of a five-day rotation, here is how we typically structure things.  Keep in mind that dynamic flexibility and static stretching are performed every day. Day 0: pitch Day 1 (or right after pitching, if possible): challenging lower body lift, push-up variation (light), horizontal pulling (light), cuff work Day 2: movement training only, focused on 10-15yd starts, agility work, and some top speed work (50-60 yds) Day 3: bullpen (usually), single-leg work, challenging upper body lift (less vertical pulling in-season), cuff work Day 4: low-intensity dynamic flexibility circuits only Day 5: next pitching outing Notes: 1. When a guy happens to get five days between starts, we'll typically split the Day 3 lifting session into two sessions and do some movement training on Day 4 as well. 2. I know a lot of guys (myself included) are advocates of throwing more than once between starts.  For simplicity's sake, I haven't included those sessions. 3.  There are definitely exceptions to this rule.  For instance, if a guy is having a hard time recovering, we'll take Day 2 off altogether and just do our sprint work after the bullpen and before lifting on Day 3.  That adds a full day of rest to the rotation in addition to the really light Day 4. The 7-Day Rotation With a 7-day rotation, we've got a lot more wiggle room to get aggressive with things.  This is why in-season can still be a time of tremendous improvements in the college game, especially since you can work in a good 2-3 throwing sessions between starts.  Again, dynamic flexibility and static stretching are performed every day.  To keep this simple, I'm going to assume we've got a Saturday starter. Saturday: pitch Sunday: challenging lower body lift, light cuff work Monday: movement training only, focused on 10-15yd starts, agility work, and some top speed work (50-60 yds); upper body lift Tuesday: low-Intensity resistance training (<30% of 1RM) circuits, extended dynamic flexibility circuits Wednesday: full-body lift Thursday: movement training only, focused on 10-15yd starts, agility work, and some top speed work (50-60 yds); Friday: low-intensity dynamic flexibility circuits only Saturday: pitch again Of course, traveling logistics can throw a wrench in the plans on this front sometimes, but the good news is that collegiate pitchers have six days to roll with the punches to get back on schedule. Closing Thoughts As you can see, I am a big fan of quality over quantity. Our guys only sprint twice in most weeks - and certainly not more than three times.  This certainly isn't the only way to approach training between starts, but I've found it to be the most effective of what our guys have tried. References 1. Rhea MR, Oliverson JR, Marshall G, Peterson MD, Kenn JG, Ayllón FN. Noncompatibility of power and endurance training among college baseball players. J Strength Cond Res 2008 Jan;22(1):230-4. Sign-up Today for our FREE Baseball Newsletter and Receive a Copy of the Exact Stretches used by Cressey Performance Pitchers after they Throw!
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Maximum Strength for Baseball

As a guy who trains a ton of baseball players - and is a competitive powerlifter (and weight-training author), I get a ton of questions from both baseball coaches/players and folks looking to get stronger (and healthier, for that matter).  And, to take it a step further, since the release of Maximum Strength, I've gotten a lot of questions about whether or not Maximum Strength is appropriate for baseball players. My response is "yes" - but only  with some important modifications: 1. Substitution of dumbbell bench pressing in place of barbell bench pressing (rep count will have to come up a bit higher, as you aren't going to be doing heavy dumbbell bench pressing singles) 2. Substitution of clap push-ups in place of speed benching 3. Substitution of front squats in place of back squats 4. Substitution of alternating low incline dumbbell press in place of 1-arm dumbbell push press 5. Really emphasize the sleeper stretch, wall triceps stretch, and elbow flexors stretches - particularly after you throw.

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For more information, check out Maximum Strength.

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A Great Weekend in Houston

As I mentioned last week, this past weekend was Ron Wolforth's Ultimate Pitching Coaches Bootcamp just outside of Houston, TX.  To say that it was an awesome experience would be an understatement.  I considered myself really lucky to be presenting alongside the likes of Brent Strom (St. Louis Cardinals), Phil Donley (Philadelphia Phillies consultant who has rehabbed loads of million-dollar arms), Perry Husband (Downright Filthy Pitching), and Ron himself.  These guys are not only getting important information out there for coaches, but also getting their hands dirty in the trenches to take athletes and coaches to the next level with new information.

Just as great as the presenters were the 100+ attendees.  In addition to many enthusiastic high school and private sector coaches and a few physical therapists, you had pitching coaches and/or baseball strength coaches from big-time colleges like Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Auburn, Kennesaw St., Savannah College of Art and Design, Michigan, Virginia Tech, Columbia, and Trinity.  These guys immediately earned a ton of respect in my book for thinking outside the box, and it makes me want to encourage a lot of my stud athletes their way post-high school because I know that they're going to get coaches who are always looking for ways to help them succeed. The title of my presentation was "Building the Complete and Superior Pitching Athlete."  In my introduction to the coaches, I tried to make it very clear that my goal wasn't to try to teach them everything there was to know about S&C for baseball players, but rather to give them the knowledge (and resources, in the form of my handouts) to become informed consumers in dealing with the folks who carry out their players' programs.  I wanted them to know that you CAN give a pitcher a tremendous training effect without injuries to the throwing arm or interfering with velocity by losing pitching-specific mobility. I think that the secret to appreciating what it takes is understanding that baseball strength and conditioning is not just about lifting and running.  Sure, these are components of the overall process, but if you only address these two components, you DO run the risk of impairing a pitcher's development.  Sure, you've got to pay attention to these issues, but you also have to strategically address flexibility and mobility (yes, they are different), optimize soft tissue quality, and appreciate that you can use medicine ball work to maintain pitching-specific mobility during down-periods from throwing without all the stresses that come with throwing itself.

I also tried to get folks to think about what they already are doing with respect to distance running, "core" training, upper and lower body lifting, assessments, warm-ups (check out the Monster Mobility Pack for ideas), and post-throwing flexibility work.  I discussed the difference between inefficiency and pathology and how your can have a terrible-looking MRI and/or x-ray and still be pain free.

You can still get all the information from the event by purchasing the DVDs of the entire weekend.  I'd highly recommend them, as they include some great pitching analysis and recommendations from Brent Strom, awesome information on glenohumeral internal rotation deficit (GIRD) by Phil Donley, intriguing thoughts on "effective velocity" from Perry Husband, and excellent ideas on "blending" by Ron Wolforth.  Just head over to Pitching Central's UPCBC page and pick up a copy now.

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Training the Baseball Catcher

Q: I'm a personal trainer who just started training a couple of baseball catchers.  I understand that your facility specializes in training baseball players.  I just want to know if you guys have any tips, or recommend any resources to find out common structural issues that occur with this position.  Perhaps what you guys have found through training catchers?  What lifts they should avoid, more specifically? I have begun doing a ton of research and just wanted some ideas from you guys to help me out.  Any information would be greatly appreciated. A: Well, first, there are certain things that none of my baseball guys do: -Overhead lifting (excluding pull-up/chin-up variations) -Straight-bar benching -Upright rows -Front/Side Raises -Olympic Lifts (aside from the occasional high pull) -Back Squats (we use safety squat and giant cambered bars instead, plus front squats) I could go on and on with respect to the reasons for these exclusions, but for the sake of this blog, suffice it to say that it's for shoulder and elbow protection reasons.  Fortunately, I wrote about my rationale in an old newsletter. Catchers are obviously different than pitchers and position players in that they spend a lot of time squatting, so we have particular concerns at the knees and hips. Whether or not I squat my catchers is dependent on age, training experience, time of year, and - most importantly - injury history.  If a guy is older and more banged up, we aren't going to be squatting much, if at all.  However, if we're talking about a younger athlete who has a lot more to gain from squatting (particularly if he isn't specialized in baseball yet), I definitely think there is a role for it. That said, regardless of age and injury history, I don't squat my catchers deep in-season.  We'll do some hip-dominant squatting (paused or light tap and go) to a box set at right about parallel, but for the most part, it's deadlift variations.  We get our range-of-motion in the lower body with these guys with single-leg work. As for structural issues, always check everything at the hip and ankle, as you should with any baseball player; it isn't just about shoulders and elbows (although you will want to screen those, too, obviously).  Believe it or not, a lot of the pitching flexibility deficits about which I've written also hold true in catchers. Additionally, I've found that a lot of catchers tend to lean to one side (adduct one femur), and over time, it can lead to some noteworthy imbalances in hip rotation range-of-motion.  You'll also see a lot of catchers who lack thoracic spine range-of-motion because they spend so much time slumped over (not necessarily ideal catching posture, but it does happen when you're stuck down there for nine innings). Sign-up Today for our FREE Baseball Newsletter and Receive a Copy of the Exact Stretches used by Cressey Performance Pitchers after they Throw!
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