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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 4/18/18

I hope you're having a great week. Here's a new installment of recommended reading and listening from around the 'net.

Pat Davidson on Coaching, Cuing, and Creating Savages - Pat Davidson never disappoints - and this podcast with Mike Robertson is no exception.

Sleep and Training: The Ultimate Balancing Act - This was a solid guest post from Tim Hendren for Tony Gentilcore's blog. He provides five actionable items you can employ to get more high-quality sleep. I especially liked the point about getting your pets out of your bed, as this little monster has been waking my wife and me up for years.

How Should Relief Pitchers Warm Up? - In light of the nasty weather nationwide early in this baseball season, I've had several questions about how I recommend guys handle cold weather warm-ups at this time of year. My recommendations aren't much different from what I recommend for relief pitchers at any time of year. Get warm, then never cool off. This old post of mine goes into detail on it.

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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training – Installment 30

I haven't written up a new installment in this series since last June, so it seemed like a good time to do so. With the professional baseball season underway, I've got plenty of stuff rattling around my brain.

1. The MFR Stick is an absolute game changer.

In the past, we used "The Stick" for self-myofascial-release of the forearms, triceps, and biceps.

It works pretty well, but we've broken a number of them over the years when certain meatheads got a bit overzealous with their soft tissue approaches, and it exploded. Additionally, guys always seem to want to take dry swings with it, and the beads would invariably come flying off and wind up all over the facility.

Luckily, Perform Better came through in the clutch this offseason with the release of the MFR Stick.

Athletes have raved about how much better it is, from the greater feedback provided by the steel, to the reduced "give." And, it's far more durable. This is a must-have for any gym, in my opinion. Pick one up here.

2. Not surprisingly, music selection matters - but with a few key considerations.

It's hard to overlook the beneficial effects of music on exercise performance, whether considering your own anecdotal experience, watching Michael Phelps throw on his headphones before a big race, or actually reading the research. If you actually dig a little deeper, a few important "asterisks" emerge:

a. The benefits tend to be more significant in shorter, more anaerobic tasks, as opposed to lengthier aerobic endeavors (study).

b. Music is more impactful if it is self-selected (study).

c. Males tend to be more impacted by musical selection than females are (study).

d. Motivational music can lead to greater risk taking (study).

The take-home messages are that:

a) if you're a male powerlifter looking to make some really aggressive lifting decisions, you should select your music accordingly.

b) if you're a female cardio enthusiast going out for a leisurely jog, why are you reading this blog? music probably doesn't matter all that much.

c) everyone will continue to disagree over the musical selection at every gym for the rest of time.

3. The most successful coaches and rehabilitation specialists I know understand how to find the commonalities across various disciplines.

The Postural Restoration Institute and Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization approaches both utilize flexion-bias movements to restore normal function.

Both Muscle Activation Techniques and the Selective Functional Movement Assessment emphasize the importance of differentiating between passive and active range-of-motion, and understanding how to enhance motor control in the “gap” between the two.

Various pitching coaches may disagree on the utility of weighted balls or extreme long toss, but everyone agrees on the importance of quality catch-play.

My point here is that the best professionals have good filters to not only weed out the garbage, but to identify the best components of every discipline they encounter. And, they have the foresight to make sure that they don’t get married to a single school of thought, as doing so prevents you from identifying these important unifying themes.

Have a great week!

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 3/26/18

Here's a little recommended strength and conditioning reading to kick off your week!

My 5 Least Favorite Coaching Cues - As always, here's some great stuff from Mike Robertson. Sadly, I used to make all these mistakes myself!

20 Random Things I've Learned from Being a Pro Level Strength Coach - I thought this was an awesome look into professional sports from former Lakers strength and conditioning coach Sean Light.

New Training Program for Syndergaard - Here's a MLB.com feature for which I was interviewed. We discussed changes to Noah Syndergaard's offseason program.

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Exercise of the Week: Landmine Lateral Lunges

Here's an exercise we came up with this offseason in the middle of a training session with NL Cy Young Award Winner Max Scherzer of the Nationals - and it quickly became a "keeper" for his programs moving forward.

Max has gotten pretty strong with lateral lunges, and the kettlebell/dumbbell goblet set-up doesn't work all that well once you're past an appreciable amount of weight. Likewise, holding the weight between the legs drives a more kyphotic (rounded shoulders) posture and can limit range-of-motion. Enter the landmine lateral lunge, a great option for getting strong outside the sagittal plane.

A few quick tips:

1. Sit back into the hip without the toes lifting up.

2. Keep the head/neck in neutral.

3. Make sure you're wearing shoes with good lateral support so that you aren't rolling over the sides.

Enjoy!

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When Pitching Goes Poorly: 5 Strategies for Righting the Ship

Pitchers can struggle for a number of different reasons, whether it's command, velocity, "stuff," or actual pain/soreness. Historically, when players run into these tough patches, they've been conditioned to look to their mechanics first - and often unnecessary modifications are made on this front before looking deeper into the situation. With that in mind, I thought I'd use today's post as a quick look at some of the other "big picture" considerations.

1. Health

Very simply, if you hurt, it will alter movement patterns. It will change the way that you prepare and, in turn, execute pitches.

When it comes to optimizing pitching performance, the challenging thing (and this will sound crazy) about pain is that it can be covered up. Anti-inflammatories/pain killers can make symptoms and allow throwers to get away with bad patterns over an extended period of time.

2. Movement Quality

There are also instances where an athlete may have a significantly out-of-whack movement pattern, but without any symptoms. The goal with these individuals is obviously to optimize movement quality to get improvements without having to touch mechanics - and before pain kicks in.

3. Fatigue

Fatigue both acutely (within a game) and chronically (over the course of a season) can markedly impact a pitcher's consistency. It's a topic that also warrants much deeper digging, too, as it can be impacted by nutrition, initial work capacity, sleep quality, environmental conditions, and a host of other factors. We know that fatigue impacts not only mechanics, but also the motor learning we're trying to achieve in our preparation work.

4. Extrinsic Factors

Some guys pitch (and feel) terribly in cold weather. For others, really hot, humid days are the problem.

Pitching on a poorly maintained mound can minimize the effectiveness of even the most elite pitchers.

Throwing to an inferior catcher - or in front of a bad umpire - can have a dramatically negative impact on pitchers' success.

Only some of these factors can be modified, but the important thing is being able to recognize them so that you don't automatically assume that the struggles are coming from a different category from this list.

5. Feel

This is likely the most subjective and hard-to-describe issue. Some days, guys just don't have "feel" for a particular pitch on a given day, week, or month. At the younger levels, it is usually secondary to one of the first four factors I've outlined. At the more advanced levels, though, you almost have to chalk it up to a bit of random variation. Even the best pitchers on the planet have some considerable variation in their spin rates and extension numbers from pitch-to-pitch (as I outlined in this blog last year: Are Pitching Mechanics Really That Repeatable?)

I think this "feel" discussion reminds us that we don't want to throw the baby out with the bath water just because a guy struggles in one outing. When someone is struggling on the mound, look for trends and ask a lot of questions.

Wrap-up

These factors don't exist in isolation. For example, sometimes a physical issue (e.g., shoulder pain) can become a mechanical issue (e.g., lower arm slot). Moreover, thoracic outlet syndrome would qualify as a condition that spans the health, movement quality, feel, and fatigue realms.

There is a time and place for mechanical corrections, but before you go down that path, check these factors out first. We apply this sequential approach to development with all of our pitchers, aiming to identify "big rocks" early on that will deliver the most profound performance improvements.

This comprehensive approach to developing pitchers will be utilized heavily in our Elite Collegiate Baseball Development Summer Program. For more information, click here.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 3/2/18

I hope you're having a great week. We brought our daughters to Disney for the first time, so it was a quiet content creation week for me. Luckily, I've got some good stuff from around the 'Net for you:

Neck Pain and Headaches - This guest post from Dr. Michael Infantino on Tony Gentilcore's blog was outstanding; it included some solid background information and good strategies to employ.

Baseball Players Historically Have Shown Great Strength - This was an interesting look at the history of strength in the game of baseball from Tim Kurkjian at ESPN.com. I think it overlooks the fact that wrist and hand strength doesn't really matter if it isn't supported by hip strength, but it's still a good read and message about the direction the game has taken.

EC on the Robertson Training Systems Podcast - I'm joining Mike Robertson on his podcast this upcoming week, and it reminded me to reincarnate my last appearance on the show - which was February 2016. Give this a listen and it'll prime you for our discussion of what's changed over the past two years.

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7 Ways to Maintain Strength During Baseball Season

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance - Massachusetts coach, John O'Neil.

With the off-season winding down, many players are wondering how to maintain the strength they put on during the off-season. Here are seven simple but effective ways to maintain strength during the baseball season.

1. Maintain Body Weight.

Here at CSP, we spend all off-season putting 10, 15, and sometimes 20 pounds on athletes to help increase their ability to produce force. Sports are won by those who exhibit greater Rates of Force Development (RFD), and, the limiting factor for many youth athletes is the ability to produce gross amounts of force. A larger person has a better chance of producing force. If your mass is decreasing throughout a season, maintaining the same levels of force production will be difficult.

Make sure to consistently weigh yourself during the season. If you tend to be a guy who struggles to keep weight on, make sure to bring food with you to the field and stay properly hydrated. Sneaking in extra calories pre- and post-practice, in addition to occasionally having something to eat mid-game, could go a long way in maintaining body weight. Be sure to read EC’s article, 8 Tips for Not Wasting Away During Summer Baseball, too, if you haven’t already.

2. Consolidate Stressors.

This is a fancy way of saying to make your harder days focused on building yourself up and letting your easy days be focused on recovery. If you’re at the field six days a week, a seventh day of rest might be exactly what you need, instead of hitting the gym on day seven. Try and sneak in weight room sessions on the same days that you have extensive on-field work. All stress is stress. For example, a position player who is on his feet for 2+ hours a day six days in a row probably needs the seventh day to rest and would get a much greater benefit from stacking lifting weights on top of a few of the harder days during the week. Know that if you’re not taking care of your recovery modalities (through sleep, nutrition, lifestyle), your body’s ability to absorb and adapt to stress will be diminished.

3. Appreciate Micro-Sessions.

While a majority of off-season lifts will take 60-90 minutes, this doesn’t mean that in-season lifts need to as well. There’s nothing inherently wrong with hitting 3-4 20-40 minute sessions throughout the week. This ensures that the quality of work will be higher; in fact, the quantity of work for four 30-minute sessions might also be greater than just trying to blow it out on the gym the one day you have a dedicated 90 minutes. A typical 30-minute session could be as follows:

A1) Deadlift or Squat, 3x3
A2) Arm Care, 3 sets
A3) Core, 3 sets
B1) Single-Leg Exercise, 3 sets
B2) Upper-Body Push, 3 sets
B3) Upper-Body Pull, 3 sets

By switching to a tri-set format and making the session full-body, you can sneak in extra work and still finish the above session in under 40 minutes. In fact, even getting in two sets of all of the above multiple times a week will probably have greater carryover than going several days between sessions just so you can wait to get in the typical 18-24 set range that we hit during a mid-offseason session.

4. Understand the Difference Between Soreness and Progress.

Not all strength training sessions need to be tough or need to make you sore to create progress. In fact, if you’re constantly sore during the season, you’ll be limited in your ability to output the highest levels of power that you can achieve. Simple ways to avoid soreness from in-season lifts include not including brand-new exercises – the novelty of a new exercise will create more soreness than one you’ve recently done - and avoiding high amounts of eccentric stress. For example, a Bulgarian split-squat is a great exercise, but a step-up might be a better in-season choice because it provides far less eccentric stress.

Not all lifts need to be heavy grinders, either; in fact, maximal strength is the training quality that will have the longest carryover in terms of the amount of times you need to hit it just to maintain it. Issurin’s Residual Training Qualities chart claims that Max Strength will stick around for periods up to 30 +/- 5 days, which means you could theoretically hit Max Strength qualities 1-2x/month and maintain them. A simple action item to scale this would be to take your main lift and hit it within different zones on the force-velocity curve in different weeks: In week 1, go heavy (near absolute strength), in week 2, work on strength-speed, in week 3, work on speed-strength, and just rotate it. The weight room shouldn’t beat up your ability to play the sport during the season.

5. Don’t Waste Valuable Energy on Needless Extra Reps.

To add on the point I outlined in #2, your body doesn’t know the difference between fatigue created on the field and fatigue created in the weight room. If you’re a position player, know that the extra 100 swings you decided to take after practice are going to hinder your body’s ability to adapt to stress you want to add to it in the weight room. When it comes to extra on-field work, pick and choose your battles. We know that fatigue is the enemy of motor learning, so if you are sacrificing quality of on-field technique work because you feel like you need extra reps, you might be just getting worse at your sport. Keep the quality of all swings, throws, and fielding reps high and near the speed of sport if you want them to have carryover. If only the amount of reps that you NEED to take are applied, then you’ll have much more time and energy to get some strength work in.

6. Choose the Right Conditioning Modalities.

We know that baseball is an alactic-aerobic sport. The average work:rest ratio amongst pitchers is close to 1:20 (delivery takes less than 2 seconds, average MLB time in-between pitches last season was 23.8 seconds). The average work:rest ratio for position players is generally far greater given the lack of action they’ll take part in compared to the pitcher. If you’re training for baseball by applying long-distance running, you’re essentially training to be less efficient at the time demands the sport requires. This topic is covered widely in previous articles (here and here) on this site, but it is still amazingly prevalent within the baseball community. To layer on top of the points I made above, you’ve sapped the adaptive capacity of the individual for something that has nothing to do with getting better at the sport. In short, keep your speed work fast and keep your rest time focused on recovery.

7. Maintain Needed Mobility.

While this one may not directly relate to strength as much as a few of the others, it’s important to understand that if you are losing mobility you need to perform your sport at a high level, you now have to choose between spending time gaining that mobility back or maintaining strength. Force, power, RFD, speed, and all the other physiological qualities for which we train are only as good as your ability to use them on field. Simple strategies such as having a daily mobility routine as part of pre- and post-practice can save valuable time that you can use towards increasing the physiological qualities that I mentioned above in the weight room. Five minutes before and after every on-field session can save valuable time later in the season when overuse-related mobility concerns start to arise, not to mention, they’ll keep you healthy and on the field throughout the season.

Wrap-up

On March 4, 2018, Christian Wonders and I (John) will be delivering a one-day seminar, “In-Season Training Strategies for Baseball.” This event, which will take place at our Hudson, MA location, is a great chance for baseball coaches to learn about the training process and how communication between a strength coach and a sport coach can help take performance to the next level. Both Christian and John have experience working as on-field baseball coaches and as strength coaches, and they’ve used their ability to speak a common language with great success. It’s also a valuable event for strength and conditioning professionals to learn more about integrating performance training and skill development. For more information, click HERE.

About the Author

John O'Neil (@ONeilStrength) is a coach at Cressey Sports Performance-MA. You can contact him by email at joh.oneil@gmail.com and follow him on Instagram

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 2/21/18

Here's a little strength and conditioning reading to get you over hump day:

John Kiely on the Past, Present, and Future of Periodization - I really enjoyed this podcast from Mike Robertson and John Kiely. It's an excellent resource on the program design front.

It Needs to Be Said: Throwing Doesn't Build "Arm Strength" - Your throwing program may build arm speed and arm endurance, but it's not building arm strength. Give this article from my archives a read to learn more.

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Video: Why Injuries are Highest Early in the Baseball Season

I recently posted on Instagram in reference to how Major League Baseball Injuries are highest during spring training and early in the regular season. Surely, some of this has to do with the fact that some players had lingering issues from the previous season that never went away - but it definitely goes further than this. Check out today's video to learn more:

I'll be back with some more new baseball content later in the week.

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2018 Cressey Sports Performance Collegiate Elite Baseball Development Program

Registration is now open for the 2018 Cressey Sports Performance Collegiate Elite Baseball Development Program. This event takes place at our Hudson, MA facility, and runs from 6/4/18 through 8/11/18.

During last year's offering, we had pitchers move to Massachusetts from eleven different states (plus Australia!). This summer, we anticipate another awesome collection of motivated athletes who'll push each other to get better in conjunction with the same training opportunities and expertise we provide to our professional athletes.

This program is a good fit for pitchers who need to prioritize development over just getting innings or exposure. In other words, it's a suitable replacement for those who still need to throw, but also need to gain 20 pounds, learn a new pitch, sort out old aches and pains, or improve their mobility.

Each athlete will begin with a thorough initial movement and pitching assessment that will set the stage for individualized strength and conditioning and throwing programs, respectively. These programs correspond to six days a week of training. Generally, four of the six training days per week are double sessions, with throwing in the morning and strength and conditioning in the afternoons. A typical training week would look like the following:

Monday: AM throwing, PM Strength and Conditioning
Tuesday: AM throwing, PM Strength and Conditioning
Wednesday: Late AM throwing and movement training (at field)
Thursday: AM throwing, PM Strength and Conditioning
Friday: AM throwing, PM Strength and Conditioning
Saturday: Optional AM Kinstretch (mobility) class, followed by throwing and movement training
Sunday: Off

In our throwing programs, we integrate weighted ball work, long toss, and bullpens (including video analysis). We'll integrate Rapsodo and Motus sleeves in these bullpens as well.

All the athletes will receive manual therapy with our licensed massage therapist weekly, and nutritional guidance throughout the program. Also to help with recovery, athletes have access to Fatigue Science Readibands (to help monitor sleep quality and quantity), MarcPro, and Normatec.

Last, but not least, we'll incorporate a regular educational components to educate the athletes on the "why" behind their training. Last year, this consisted of not only staff presentations, but also conference calls with Alan Jaeger, Noah Syndergaard, Steve Cishek, Brandon Kintzler, and Oliver Drake.

The best part is that it'll take place in a motivating environment where athletes can push each other to be the best they can be. By optimizing the situation, you can help change the person.

Interested in learning more? Email cspmass@gmail.com - but don't delay, as spaces are limited; this offering sold out last year, and we'll be capping the group size.

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