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CSP Elite Baseball Development Podcast: Jon Berti

We welcome Miami Marlins utility player Jon Berti to the latest podcast. The current MLB leader in stolen bases, Jon shares insights on developing speed and refining a baserunning approach. He also speaks to the importance of defensive versatility, and highlights how his multi-sport upbringing has contributed to his long term development.

A special thanks to this show's sponsor, Athletic Greens. Head to http://www.athleticgreens.com/cressey and you'll receive a free 10-pack of Athletic Greens travel packets with your first order.

 

You can follow Jon on Instagram at @Jon_Berti.

Sponsor Reminder

This episode is brought to you by Athletic Greens. It’s a NSF-certified all-in-one superfood supplement with 75 whole-food sourced ingredients designed to support your body’s nutrition needs across 5 critical areas of health: 1) energy, 2) immunity, 3) gut health, 4) hormonal support, and 5) healthy aging. Head to www.AthleticGreens.com/cressey and claim my special offer today - 10 FREE travel packs - with your first purchase. I use this product daily myself and highly recommend it to our athletes as well. I'd encourage you to give it a shot, too - especially with this great offer.

Podcast Feedback

If you like what you hear, we'd be thrilled if you'd consider subscribing to the podcast and leaving us an iTunes review. You can do so HERE.

And, we welcome your suggestions for future guests and questions. Just email elitebaseballpodcast@gmail.com.

Thank you for your continued support!

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CSP Elite Baseball Development Podcast: What Makes a Fastball Elite with Matt Ellmyer

We’re excited to welcome Cressey Sports Performance - Florida associate pitching coordinator Matt Ellmyer to this week’s podcast for an in-depth discussion on how we evaluate the most important pitch in baseball: the fastball. Matt discusses the evolution of fastball usage in the game today, and highlights key metrics utilized to measure its effectiveness. Finally, he covers what pitch characteristics beyond just velocity that pitchers can develop to optimize their fastballs.

A special thanks to this show's sponsor, Athletic Greens. Head to http://www.athleticgreens.com/cressey and you'll receive a free 10-pack of Athletic Greens travel packets with your first order.

 


You can follow Matt on Twitter at @MattEllmyer and on Instagram at @CSPFL_Pitching.

Sponsor Reminder

This episode is brought to you by Athletic Greens. It’s an all-in-one superfood supplement with 75 whole-food sourced ingredients designed to support your body’s nutrition needs across 5 critical areas of health: 1) energy, 2) immunity, 3) gut health, 4) hormonal support, and 5) healthy aging. Head to www.AthleticGreens.com/cressey and claim my special offer today - 10 FREE travel packs (valued at $79) - with your first purchase. I use this product daily myself and highly recommend it to our athletes as well. I'd encourage you to give it a shot, too - especially with this great offer.

Podcast Feedback

If you like what you hear, we'd be thrilled if you'd consider subscribing to the podcast and leaving us an iTunes review. You can do so HERE.

And, we welcome your suggestions for future guests and questions. Just email elitebaseballpodcast@gmail.com.

Thank you for your continued support!

Sign-up Today for our FREE Baseball Newsletter and Receive Instant Access to a 47-minute Presentation from Eric Cressey on Individualizing the Management of Overhead Athletes!

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5 Warm-up Options to Improve Hip Extension

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance - Florida coach, Dylan Lidge.

The ability to access hip extension while the opposite hip flexes is crucial in sprinting, throwing, hitting, and a myriad of other athletic endeavors. To ensure true hip extension, the heel, knee, pelvis, rib cage and head need to be stacked. Here are few dynamic ways to challenge hip extension in a warm-up.

Side-Lying Hip Extension Iso Holds to Wall - You should be able to draw a straight line from the bottom knee to the ear. Keep full foot contact onto the wall. Aim for a 30 second hold.

DB Goblet Hip Flexion End-Range Lift-offs - The goblet load keeps the athlete in a stacked position and is a great way to get the core activated. The athlete should “push the floor” under them and “stay tall” to ensure the glute extends the hip. Aim for a 5 second hold.

Arms Overhead High Knee March with Med Ball - The med ball challenges the athlete to go into hip extension and shoulder flexion without compensating. Control the pace for 15yds.

Split Squat Iso Hold - Back Heel Pressed to Wall - The back heel into the wall helps the athlete utilize their glute and hamstrings for hip extension. Hold for 30 seconds.

2-arm KB Racked High Knee March - Cue the athlete to exhale at the top of each rep. The kettlebells challenge the athlete to establish good core stiffness in a stacked position. Perform 8 reps on each side.

About the Author

Dylan Lidge serves as a Strength and Conditioning Coach at Cressey Sports Performance - Florida. Prior to joining the staff, Dylan completed an internship at CSP-FL in the summer of 2020. He graduated from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign with a B.S. in Kinesiology. He is currently studying at the University of Illinois-Chicago for his MS in Kinesiology with a concentration in Biomechanics. At UIC he holds a position as a teacher's assistant in an exercise technique course, as well as an instructor for a personal fitness course. In 2019, he interned with the UIC Strength and Conditioning staff assisting with the baseball team. Dylan has coached baseball at the collegiate, high school, and youth levels.

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Exercise of the Week: Bear Push-ups

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance coach, Ethan Dyer. 

The Bear Push-Up is an upper body movement we’ve been using with our athletes who struggle to find effective shoulder internal rotation and traditional protraction during push-ups from the floor or certain cable presses.

Generally, in throwers, we see the gradual loss of gross internal rotation over the course of a career and sometimes over the course of a season. This is largely due to bony adaptations (humeral retroversion), but also due to adaptations to the eccentric stress they encounter at the arm during a throw - especially on the mound. While a loss of external rotation in throwers is typically more problematic than a loss of internal rotation, really any loss of motion should be addressed - and this drill (as part of a comprehensive program) can help offset the gradual loss of IR we might see.

When we place the athlete in a position of flexion at the hip and knee, we’re pulling them away from what we’d traditionally think of as anterior pelvic tilt and gross extension. We’re giving them a better chance to capture some traditional flexion through their upper back in a way that should allow for as much internal rotation and protraction as possible through the press.

There’s even more value here - in wrist extension, some throwers lack the requisite internal rotation through their distal forearm and hand needed to perform effective push-ups from the ground. By using a barbell, we can mitigate this issue while simultaneously biasing additional internal rotation at the shoulders due to the pronated grip.

All of this comes together to make the bear push-up a great choice for throwers who need to drive a little more internal rotation at the shoulder, while getting in some pressing volume with an accessory-type movement. If your push-ups just don’t look right, or they struggle to find good scapular movement around the rib cage even when cued up, give these a shot. Depending on the rest of the day, you’re looking at 2-3 sets of 12-15 or something like 3-5 sets of 6-8.

About the Author

Ethan Dyer serves as a Strength & Conditioning coach at Cressey Sports Performance. He started as a client at CSP and eventually went on to intern at CSP-MA. Following another internship at Indianapolis Fitness and Sports Training, Ethan joined the CSP-MA team. He was a pitcher at the College of the Holy Cross before transferring to Endicott College to complete his undergraduate work with a major in Exercise Science and minor in Psychology. A Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach through the National Strength and Conditioning Association, Ethan has been a volunteer with both the Miracle League and Special Olympics, and has a passion for working with young athletes to help them fall in love with training while avoiding injury. You can follow him on Instagram at @Ethan___Dyer.

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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training: Installment 39

It's time for this month's installment of my random thoughts on sports performance training. In light of this week's $50 off sale (ending Sunday night) on Mike Boyle's outstanding resource, Complete Youth Training, I thought I'd focus this edition on the training of young athletes.

1. Warm-ups are important in youth sports, too.

If you've read this blog over the years, you've surely appreciate that I'm a big advocate for high quality warm-ups as a means of optimizing subsequent performance and reducing the risk of injury. However, I have to admit that most of my writing in this regard has been focused on more advanced - and older - populations, whether it's in baseball, strength training, or any other athletic discipline. Meanwhile, some of the youth sports warm-ups you'll see are far from comprehensive - and that's if they're actually present at all.

Fortunately, I now have a chance to correct this oversight by highlighting a recent meta-analysis, "Effectiveness of Warm-Up Intervention Programs to Prevent Sports Injuries among Children and Adolescents." You can check out the full text HERE. The brief synopsis of a ton of hard work by Ding et al. is that across 15 meticulously-selected studies of 21,576 total athletes (ages 7-18), a 15-20 minute warm-up reduced injury by 36%.

Beyond the obvious benefits of staying healthy, what's interesting about this outcome to me is that a variety of different warm-up initiatives worked to deliver this injury reduction. In older, more trained populations, more of the benefits are likely coming from increases in body temperature and, in turn, tissue extensibility. Conversely, in a younger, more untrained population we see in this meta-analysis, you're probably getting more chronic protection from injury because the warm-ups are delivering actual training effects: improved balance, added strength, optimized landing mechanics, and a host of other factors.

This makes me think that we can always benefit from "microdosing" important training initiatives with our athletes, and warm-ups are one avenue through which coaches can do so. It's interesting to consider whether the benefits would have been as pronounced if the drills were done at different times, but adaptation is adaptation, and the warm-ups are probably the best way to guarantee accountability in the group environment.

2. Ground-to-Standing Transitions may be the lowest hanging fruit for young athletes.

One of my closest childhood friends grew up on a farm. I'll never forget the first time I went to help him with baling hay; we basically walked/rode around a giant field for six hours, picking up and stacking these on the back of a truck.

I didn't bother to look up the weight of each until now, but apparently it ranges from 40 to 75 pounds. And, it would explain why my entire body was sore for about a week. Perhaps unsurprisingly, that same friend was a good three-sport athlete and state champion in wrestling. Obviously, the farm taught him how to consistently work hard. However, I can't help but think that the fact that most of those physical tasks - from baling hay, to feeding animals, to digging - all involve low to high force transfer - which isn't much different than a lot of athletic endeavors. If you don't live on a farmer, what are some good ways to challenge this dynamic in training beyond just the Turkish Get-up?

As you can see, these patterns can be trained at low and high speeds, with and without external load.

3. Global strength can be a means to accessing other patterns and reducing injury risk.

In another recent study, Relationships between Hip Strength and Pitching Biomechanics in Adolescent Baseball Pitchers, Albiero et al. delivered some interesting findings that aren't altogether surprising. Now, please keep in mind that I don't think that some non-weight-bearing dynamometer strength tests provide the most accurate reflection of functional carryover to performance, but in this particular study, they help to verify things that we probably already know:

a. Improved hip extension strength in throwers (shockingly) improves hip extension in the pitching delivery.

b. More hip extension strength is correlated with increased hip-shoulder separation.

c. Good hip-shoulder separation helps athletes translate pelvis rotational torque to the upper extremity.

d. Not surprisingly, previous research has demonstrated that increased hip-shoulder separation has previously been associated with higher pitching velocity and decreased humeral rotation torque and valgus elbow load.

The take-home message? Young pitchers need to get strong into hip extension to throw hard and stay healthy - and this benefit is likely delivered through hip extension's impact on "setting up" hip-shoulder separation. There's definitely a point of diminishing returns on hip extension ROM/strength and these benefits won't be further conferred on advanced pitchers, though.

Closing Thoughts

I could go on and on about lessons learned in training young athletes (and I might, at a later date), but in the meantime, I'd strongly encourage you to check out Mike Boyle's resource, Complete Youth Training. I loved this product as both a strength and conditioning coach and a parent. Mike did a tremendous job of outlining the problems in the current youth sports landscape while also including practical solutions to these concerns. You can learn more - and get $50 off through Sunday at midnight - HERE.

 

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Contralateral vs. Ipsilateral Pressing and Rowing

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance coach, Ethan Dyer. 

The current sports performance training meta as it pertains to unilateral pressing and rowing exercises is to lean on contralateral variations as the default. This is because contralateral activities generally allow for greater force production due to the extension bias associated with those movements.

A problem with this is that cable exercises will always be harder to load than most pressing and rowing where dumbbells or kettlebells (and, of course, barbells) are involved. So, if 90% of the time we assume that cables are a poor choice when prioritizing load, what can we really use a cable press or a cable row to accomplish? I would argue that putting a dent in hip range of motion to allow for improved on-field movement is the best answer.

With a split-stance contralateral cable row, for example, the concentric portion of the movement is going to bias external rotation at the front hip. The actual activity of rowing is pulling us away from our front side. The flip side of this is when we find internal rotation on our front side during a split-stance ipsilateral row; the preponderance of concentric activity pulls us into our front hip.

The same logic applies to pressing. During a contralateral split-stance cable press, for example, the activity carries us into our front hip (IR), whereas an ipsilateral press is going to carry us out of our front hip (ER).

Now that we’ve established what we can accomplish with these movements in terms of rotation, we can make programming decisions based on the athlete we have in front of us. It’s important that we base these decisions on their task and performance as opposed to strictly looking at table range-of-motion measures (which may or may not tell us how they’re going to move on the field).

If we have a left-handed pitcher who struggles to find IR at their glove-side hip after front foot strike, a left-side only contralateral press and a right-side only ipsilateral row can be useful weapons. If we have a receiver or an attacker who struggles to juke and change direction at higher sprint speeds, leaning on contralateral rowing and ipsilateral pressing to get/keep them out of a hip can be a useful strategy.

Besides the obvious programming implications here, there is an important overarching rule that should be appreciated as well. It’s fine to have multiple priorities - qualities that you are training for - within a program, but we get in trouble when we try to use an exercise to target multiple or all qualities at once. Cable rows and presses are perfect examples.

[bctt tweet="When we use an exercise to improve both force production and range of motion, we end up doing neither to the extent that we desire. We'd be wise to learn from the Latin writer Syrus, who said “To do two things at once is to do neither”."]

About the Author

Ethan Dyer serves as a Strength & Conditioning coach at Cressey Sports Performance. He started as a client at CSP and eventually went on to intern at CSP-MA. Following another internship at Indianapolis Fitness and Sports Training, Ethan joined the CSP-MA team. He was a pitcher at the College of the Holy Cross before transferring to Endicott College to complete his undergraduate work with a major in Exercise Science and minor in Psychology. A Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach through the National Strength and Conditioning Association, Ethan has been a volunteer with both the Miracle League and Special Olympics, and has a passion for working with young athletes to help them fall in love with training while avoiding injury. You can follow him on Instagram at @Ethan___Dyer.

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Wall March Variations for the Win

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance - Florida coach, Dylan Lidge.

Wall marches are drills that have been used commonly over the years in the strength and conditioning and track and field communities. Unfortunately, many coaches don't appreciate how much you can build on the basic wall march to teach a number of different movement competencies.

This closed chain exercise can be used in warm-ups as a more dynamic movement. As a great "bang for your buck" warm-up, it provides glute activation, hip flexion/extension, ankle mobility/stability, foot position awareness, and even scapular protraction/upward rotation. It also teaches an athlete the feeling of a stacked position, which is key for producing force efficiently. Not to mention, this is an excellent way to teach athletes sprint mechanics, primarily during acceleration.

To perform the Glute Wall March, stand upright with your palms against the wall at shoulder height. Push the wall away as if you are at the top of a push-up. Next, take a few steps back to get into a forward lean while keeping your heels on the ground. This should be around 45 degrees, as this position allows an athlete to produce more horizontal force into the ground, which is required during acceleration. From there, lift both heels off the floor and transition to the toes of the feet (just like doing a calf raise). Flex one hip and allow the femur to raise until it is perpendicular to the torso. The shin angle of this leg should match the torso angle. Dorsiflex the ankle to match the angle of the femur. Meanwhile, the opposite leg should be straight. We see "triple extension", or extension through the hip, knee and ankle; this will create a straight line from the head to the heel and reaffirm the "stacked"position. Cue the athlete to push into the wall with high intent. In order to push the wall, the athlete must put force into the floor or "drive the floor away."

Here are some key benefits:

Glute Activation

Pushing the floor fires the glute, which pulls the hip into extension. The Glute Wall March puts the athlete in hip extension they will get to on the field. Owning hip extension in this position is a great way to prep an athlete to perform on the field or in the gym, and protect against excessive arching through the low back, which may create spine discomfort/injuries.

Hip Flexion

The core stability the wall provides assists an athlete during hip flexion, which is when we often see compensations in posture, such as excessive lumbar flexion and extension. Especially with athletes who display poor lumbopelvic control, this position can set them up to own their hip flexion.

Ankle Stiffness

Ankle stiffness is necessary for athletes to display elasticity while running or changing direction. If you're looking for a drill to improve ankle stability or to improve your "bounce" during plyometrics, give this a try.

Foot Orientation

The orientation of the foot on the floor is in late stance during the Glute Wall March. This is a great way to build an arch for those who have flat feet. An adaptation many pitchers develop is a flat arch in order to access pronation as they drift off the rubber. Overall, late stance is able to bias supination, which can help counter those in excessive pronation.

Scapular Protraction/Upward Rotation

The serratus anterior is important for driving the "rotation" aspect of scapular upward rotation via its protraction capabilities. Athletes, especially those who throw overhead, need to be able to get the scapula "around and up" the rib cage in order to in order to both create a good ball-socket congruency at lay-back, and also to reach thee arm overhead and finish out in front.

Running Mechanics

The Glute Wall March allows an athlete to feel the position they need to be in during the acceleration phase of a sprint. During acceleration, athletes must apply horizontal force into the ground. This requires a forward lean. As the glute wall march is closed chain exercise, it provides stability for the athlete to feel the necessary forward lean during acceleration.

Fortunately, we have several variations we can use to bias our training toward different benefits. Here they are:

Glute Wall March Isometric Holds

Isometric holds are a great way to get an athlete to feel a position. Typically, we'll program three five-second holds on each side - although you could also do 30s/side if you're looking to really reap the tendon health benefits of this drill.

Glute Wall March ISO - Supinated Forearms

This has all the benefits of a glute wall march iso hold, but it's an easy way to sneak in a forearm stretch in a population that often lacks elbow extension and forearm supination.

Glute Wall March 1-2's

Once an athlete understands what a stacked position should feel like, progressing to this variation can allow them to put more force into the floor. A common cue is to pretend the legs are "pistons of an engine." This promotes the feeling of leg drive during acceleration.

Wall Assisted Load and Explode

This dynamic variation can help an athlete feel more intent of driving the floor away. It's a great way to help an athlete use the ground to produce force while maintaining a stacked position.

As you can see, these drills deserve a place in your training programs, whether it's warm-ups, arm care, movement training sessions, or as a filler in between power training or strength exercises!

About the Author

Dylan Lidge serves as a Strength and Conditioning Coach at Cressey Sports Performance - Florida. Prior to joining the staff, Dylan completed an internship at CSP-FL in the summer of 2020. He graduated from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign with a B.S. in Kinesiology. He is currently studying at the University of Illinois-Chicago for his MS in Kinesiology with a concentration in Biomechanics. At UIC he holds a position as a teacher's assistant in an exercise technique course, as well as an instructor for a personal fitness course. In 2019, he interned with the UIC Strength and Conditioning staff assisting with the baseball team. Dylan has coached baseball at the collegiate, high school, and youth levels.

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Why We Shouldn’t Compare Kids in Sports

One of the more concerning trends I’m seeing on the youth sports scene is the how often the youngest kids are compared to their peers. This is an issue among programs monetizing sports participation, coaches responsible for identifying/developing proficiency, and parents concerned that their kids are falling behind.

I’m somewhat uniquely positioned to speak on this because I’ve been involved on the development of 12-year-olds who’ve eventually become professional athletes. And, more importantly, I’m a parent of three daughters. The older two, Lydia and Addison, are 7-year-old twins.

The most important lesson you learn as a twin parent is that people will always think saying “double trouble” is hilarious even though it’s incredibly hackneyed. Once you move past that, though, lesson #2 is more actionable: you should never try to compare your twins to one another.

This was obvious even when they were in the womb. When we’d go to ultrasounds, Lydia was front and center; we joked that she had her face pressed against the glass. Meanwhile, it would always take the technician and bunch of time to find Addison, who was always “hiding.” At one ultrasound, all we could see was the bottom of her foot.

When they were born, out came a brunette with olive skin (Lydia looks like her mom) and a strawberry blonde with a lighter complexion (Addison is a sunburn waiting to happen, just like dad).

Lydia came out screaming and ready to take on the world. Addison struggled a bit and needed four days in the NICU with oxygen and a feeding tube. Lydia was a feisty baby and always wanted her mother, and Addison was super mellow and could usually be found in dad’s arms while mom was holding her sister.

At 18 months, they flip-flopped. Lydia became the rule follower, and Addison started giving us attitude. Lydia ate just about everything we put in front of her, yet Addison’s taste buds refused to recognize the existence of all but about five foods.

Lydia walked five months before Addison (who was a little taller/heavier) did. Addison picked up swimming faster than Lydia. Lydia swings a bat right handed, while Addison does so lefty. Lydia was reading chapter books while Addison was still working on sight words. Addison, on the other hand, thrived with math relative to her sister.

Lydia is faster; Addison is stronger. Lydia listens intently and has picked up more “coaching intensive” sports like tennis, softball, and gymnastics quickly. Addison, on the other hand, is a bit of a space cadet in the field at softball games; she’s kicking grass and watching adjacent fields. Conversely, she’s in her element with creative initiatives like music, art, and dance.

I develop athletes for a living, and I can tell you without wavering that I have zero clue what sports my kids will enjoy doing next week, let alone years from now. Our twins have spent 99% of their lives together since conception and are completely different now, and we’ve seen unpredictable iterations of them to get to this point.
We don’t predict athletic success well at all. We don’t even predict what sports kids will enjoy well. You’d be amazed at how many professional athletes weren’t child prodigies or even standout middle school athletes. Let’s face it: puberty makes a lot of coaches look much smarter than they are!

In other words, the ONLY thing we can control is enriching their experiences in these sports while they’re participating – and comparisons don’t do that. What does work?

First, praise effort over outcomes. The reps – and the fun that comes with executing them with teammates/friends – are what matter. I can’t tell you a single score from one of my little league games, but I could write a book about an a**hole coach I had who took things way too seriously. In hindsight, he really didn’t know much about baseball, either.

Second, celebrate novelty. It gets kids excited, and participating in a variety of sports at a young age provides a rich proprioceptive environment that cultivates an invaluable athletic foundation upon which specific skills can later be built. This broad athletic foundation includes variability in planes of motion, speed of movement and the forces involved. Collectively, these exposures teach athletes to distribute stress over multiple joints and avoid overuse injuries at specific segments.

Third, appreciate that random practice outperforms blocked practice over the long-term when it comes to skill acquisition. Mix in a variety of drills and fluctuate the order and duration of them, then integrate fun competitions with them.

Fourth, recognize the importance of in-season and off-season periods. This fluctuation of the seasons helps keep kids from getting bored with certain sports, but also facilitates graduated exposures to stressors. A 10-year-old throwing a baseball 12 months out of the year is a terrible idea; playing some soccer and hoops is a great way to stay active while developing in different ways.

Fifth, as soon as a kid is mature enough for it, get them involved in a foundational strength training program. It’ll have a “trickle-down” effect to a variety of athletic qualities while reducing their risk of injury. Again, it has to be fun, just like everything else!

Summarily, don’t compare kids; instead, appreciate that they’re all unique and develop at different rates and in different ways. Youth sports is all about instilling a passion for the game, enjoying a sense of community, and fostering a positive lifelong relationship with exercise.

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Spring Sturdy Shoulder Solutions Sale!

Thursday is Major League Baseball Opening Day, an event that's always circled on the calendars of just about anyone in the baseball world. We're excited to see all our pro players back on the field in games that count!

To celebrate, I've put my resource, Sturdy Shoulder Solutions, on sale for $40 off through this upcoming Sunday (4/10) at midnight.

This has been one of my most popular resources of all time, and it's particularly useful if you work with baseball players. Don't miss out on this great chance to pick it up at an excellent discount. Just head to www.SturdyShoulders.com and enter the coupon code APRIL22 at checkout to get the discount.

 

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Are BCAAs Worth the Hype?

Today's guest post comes from the team at Examine.com, my top resource for cutting-edge research in health and performance. As a member, I get monthly updates/summaries on a variety of topics in this regard - and it's been invaluable for helping me to stay on top of what's new in my field.

This post is timely, as they have a 30% off sale to celebrate the 11th anniversary of their site launching (you can learn more HERE). In today's post, they touch on a popular - but often misunderstood- supplement: branched chain amino acids (BCAAs).  Enjoy! -EC

Given the importance of protein for exercise, branched chain amino acids (BCAAs; isoleucine, leucine, and valine), which contribute heavily to muscle synthesis, are commonly marketed by supplement companies as being able to provide benefits for resistance training performance, recovery, and body composition. Are they effective, or a waste of money?

The Study

This systematic review of 12 randomized controlled trials assessed the effects of BCAA supplementation on physical performance, muscle damage, and body composition.

Studies that met the following criteria were included:

  • Assessed healthy people who were at least 18 years old, without chronic disease.
  • Utilized BCAA supplementation in isolation compared to a matched control group.
  • Assessed physical performance, muscle damage, or body composition as an outcome.

The sample size of the included studies ranged from 9 to 46, with an average of about 22 participants per study. The studies were published between 2008 to 2018, and study length varied from 1 day to 8 weeks. The average BCAA dose was 19.5 grams per day and was compared to either water, carbohydrate, artificial sweetener, or taurine (a non-essential amino acid). Ten of the studies recruited nonathlete participants, one recruited experienced runners, and one recruited soccer and rugby athletes.

Blood Parameters

Eight studies assessed the effects of BCAA supplementation on blood parameters associated with muscle damage. Seven of them assessed creatine kinase (CK), three assessed lactate dehydrogenase, two assessed lactate, two assessed aldolase, and one article assessed myoglobin and interleukin 6 (IL-6).

Of the seven studies assessing CK, three reported a decrease in CK in the BCAA group compared to placebo following an exercise protocol designed to induce muscle damage (24, 72–96, and 48 hours after exercise in each study, respectively).[4][11][12]

Of the three studies assessing lactate dehydrogenase and of the two studies assessing aldolase, one reported that both markers were lower 72 and 96 hours after an exercise protocol designed to induce muscle damage in a BCAA group, compared to placebo.[11]

Of the two studies assessing lactate, one found that it was lower in the BCAA group than the placebo group immediately after a cycling exercise protocol.[6]

The only study assessing myoglobin and IL-6 found no effect of BCAAs following an exercise protocol designed to induce muscle damage.[2]

Body Composition

Two studies evaluated participant body weight and lean mass. One of these studies found that BCAAs prevented body weight and lean mass loss during an 8-week calorie-restricted diet, compared to a control group consuming a carbohydrate supplement.[9] Notably, the supplement used in the study demonstrating an effect of BCAAs also contained 1,000 mg of citrulline malate and 2,500 mg of L-glutamine. The placebo was a standard electrolyte sports beverage.

Performance:

  • Repetitions performed: Three studies assessed repetitions performed, one of which reported that the BCAA group performed more squat exercise repetitions than a placebo group. The same study reported improvements in body composition.[9]
  • Total distance performed: Two studies assessed distanced performed, with no differences between groups in either study.
  • Strength: Five studies assessed strength, one of which reported a greater increase in 3RM strength on squats and bench press in the BCAA group, compared to the placebo group. The same study reported improvements in body composition.[9]
  • Vertical jump: Three studies assessed vertical jump performance, none of which found an effect of BCAAs.
  • Power: Three studies assessed power, none of which found an effect of BCAAs.
  • Perceived exertion: Two studies assessed perceived exertion, one of which found an improvement at 75 and 90 minutes during a cycling protocol in a group consuming BCAAs, compared to a group consuming a carbohydrate-based electrolyte beverage.[3]
  • Muscle soreness: Six studies assessed muscle soreness and pain, four of which found a reduction in subjective muscle pain in groups consuming BCAAs, compared to a placebo.[2][4][7][11] One reported an effect of BCAAs, as compared to an artificially-sweetened beverage 48 and 72 hours following an eccentric exercise protocol.[2] A second study reported that BCAAs reduced muscle soreness 24 and 48 hours after an exercise protocol designed to induce muscle damage, compared to an artificially-sweetened beverage.[4] A third study reported that consuming BCAAs with taurine reduced muscle soreness 48 hours after an exercise protocol designed to induce muscle damage as compared to a carbohydrate-based placebo,[7] and in another study, consuming BCAAs before an eccentric bicep curl protocol reduced muscle soreness at 72 and 96 hours, as compared to a starch-based placebo.[11]

Note

While several studies demonstrated positive effects of BCAAs, several points must be considered:

  • The background protein intake of the participants probably moderated the benefits of BCAAs. Since BCAAs are three essential amino acids, and therefore found in protein food sources, BCAAs might be less useful for individuals already consuming adequate protein. Of the eight studies reporting benefits of BCAAs, three did not utilize a dietary control or report participants’ total protein intake, only requiring that participants maintain their usual dietary habits, [4] [11][7] and another study did not control participants’ dietary intakes nor provide information on their intake.[6] In one study, participants maintained an overall protein intake of about 1.2 grams per kg of body weight per day (g/kg/day), which the authors noted was lower than the recommended range for resistance training individuals (1.4–2.0 g/kg/day).[12] Another study utilized a calorie and carbohydrate-restricted diet, providing 35–40% of calories from protein.[9] One study asked participants to maintain their habitual intake while assessing their calorie and macronutrient intake during the study, reporting that the BCAA group derived about 69% of total energy from carbohydrates, while information was not provided on fat or protein intake.[3] One study provided all food to participants, providing 1.5 g/kg/day of protein to both BCAA and placebo groups.[2]
  • None of the studies compared BCAAs to another source of amino acids (e.g., a protein supplement or protein from food) except for one study utilizing both taurine and starch in comparator groups.[7]
  • Even if BCAAs were to provide a small benefit on markers of muscle damage or soreness, using BCAAs for this purpose might become redundant if training volume is managed appropriately to avoid excessive muscle damage in the first place.

The Big Picture

Several other review papers have been published assessing the utility of BCAAs for resistance-trained individuals. Here are a few that were published recently:

A 2021 meta-analysis[13] previously reviewed in Study Summaries assessing the effects of BCAAs on muscle soreness and markers of muscle damage found that BCAA supplementation reduced CK levels at less than 24 hours after exercise, as well as 24 and 48 hours after exercise, while improving muscle soreness at less than 24 hours only. However, the observed effects were small.

A 2021 narrative review[14] assessing the effects of BCAAs on muscle strength and hypertrophy concluded that “... the proposed benefits of BCAA used in the marketing of supplements appears to be at odds with the overall state of the current literature, which does not support the efficacy of supplementation on muscle strength and hypertrophy."

A 2017 meta-analysis[15] assessing the effects of BCAAs on muscle soreness and markers of muscle damage, reported that BCAAs reduces CK at less than 24 hours and 24 hours after exercise compared to a placebo, with no effects on lactate dehydrogenase or muscle soreness.

In a 2017 systematic review[16] assessing the effects of BCAAs on markers of muscle damage, 6 of 11 studies reported a beneficial effect of BCAAs.

At the end of the day, limited evidence suggests that BCAAs might reduce muscle soreness and indirect markers of muscle damage in resistance-training people. However, studies demonstrating the benefits of BCAAs utilized non-protein comparator groups, and often failed to report information on participants’ total protein intake. BCAAs probably don’t have utility for people already consuming adequate protein and managing training volume appropriately.

Note: We'll link to the studies referenced in this article in the first comment below.

Wrap-up

If you're looking for more detailed reviews like this, I'd strongly encourage you to check out Examine.com. Their membership offering is second-to-none and is something I review every month to stay on top of the latest research. And, it's on sale for 30% off through Monday to celebrate their 11th anniversary. You can learn more HERE.

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