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Baseball Pitchers: Training Between Starts

Written on January 17, 2008 at 1:27 pm, by Eric Cressey

Maximum Strength Four-Month Mailer

Nearly four months ago, we first released Maximum Strength, and many of you purchased it. Now, we’d love to hear what you think.

In particular, we know that if you performed your “Packing Day” shortly after you received the book, chances are that you’re gearing up for “Moving Day,” when you get to put all the past four months’ hard work and dedication to the test. This is the time when you get to see some specific quantifiable results.

To that end, as I noted above, we’d love your feedback – whether it’s in the form of your pre- or post-testing numbers, subjective assessments, likes/dislikes, or even before/after pictures. A lot of work went in to preparing this book and program, and assuming that similar projects will be taking place in the months and years to come, feedback from the target audience can only help to make those projects even more successful – and in an efficient manner.

You can send your feedback to ec@ericcressey.com with the subject line “Maximum Strength Feedback.” Thank you for your time, consideration, and continued support.

A New Model for Training Between Starts: Part 2

Yesterday, in Newsletter 121, I got the ball rolling on a series I’ve been meaning to write for quite some time. The focus is why distance running is counterproductive for pitchers – and today, here are three more reasons it’s bad news.

Reason #4: Negative Effects on the Stretch-Shortening Cycle

Here, I need to get a bit geeky for a second so that I can explain the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC). The easiest analogy I can use is that when you want to shoot a rubber band at someone, you pre-stretch it before you release your shot. Muscles work the same way; pre-stretching them (eccentric action) prior to shortening them (concentric action) stores elastic energy and helps that muscle generate more force. Anecdotally, I’ve heard estimates that as much as 25-30% of pitching velocity is attributed to elastic energy – or how effectively someone makes use of the stretch-shortening cycle.

Where we’re different from rubber bands is that we can actually train those elastic qualities to make our tendons more efficient at collecting, temporarily storing, and releasing that elastic energy to help us run faster, jump higher, and throw harder. It’s why doing plyos, sprinting, and throwing medicine balls can do wonders for a player’s performance.

With the stretch-shortening cycle, we need three things, according to Komi (2):

1. a well-timed muscle preactivation before the eccentric phase

2. a short, fast eccentric component

3. immediate transition (minimal delay) between stretch (eccentric) and shortening (concentric) phases. This period is known as the amortization phase, and the shorter it is, the less elastic energy we lose (as heat).

To be honest, #1 takes care of itself. For #2 and #3, though, we are definitely working against ourselves with distance running, as the importance of the SSC rapidly diminishes as exercise duration continues. In fact, the vertical jump only predicts sprinting performance up to 300m (3).

In other words, the longer exercise goes, the more we “muscle” it instead of being relaxed. What do we know about guys who try to muscle the ball to the plate? They don’t throw hard because it impairs pitching specific mobility and they don’t let the arm whip through.

I will take a guy with a good vertical jump over a guy with a high VO2max anyday. Distance running conditions guys to plod instead of bounce – and this definitely has implications in terms of chronic overuse conditions.

Strike 1.

Reason #5: Strength and Power Reductions

As just one example of how stressful the pitching motion is on the body, the humerus internally rotates at 7,500°/second during the acceleration phase of throwing. It takes a lot of strength and power to generate this kind of velocity, but just as importantly, it takes a lot of strength and power – and in a timely fashion – to decelerate it. We need to not only be able to generate enough force to resist and control this acceleration at end-range, but also be able to generate this force quickly (power). To that end, you would think that conditioning for pitchers would be similar to that of strength and power athletes, who avoid distance running altogether.

Instead, most pitchers run several times a week. When was the last time you saw a marathoner throw 95mph?

Additionally, in many cases, coaches encounter Latin American players who have never had access to weight-training equipment – and this is a huge window of untapped potential. Using distance running when these athletes could be devoting more time to getting stronger is a huge hindrance to these players’ development, as it conditions them to go longer instead of faster. At some point, you have to put more horsepower in the engine instead of just changing the oil.

We know that when we first get young athletes started with weight training, there is a huge transformation to make them more athletic in the 8-10 weeks that follow. You would be surprised at what good training can do for many advanced pitchers in the initial phases, too. The reason is that, unlike position players, many pitchers are (to be blunt) one-trick ponies. They know how to throw a nasty cutter, a crazy 12-to-6 curveball, or a slider with a funny arm-slot. So, it’s always been “okay” for them to be completely unathletic outside of their delivery. They might get guys out, but they’re long-term gambles teams because of their increased risk of injury; weak, immobile bodies break down the fastest – just like distance runners.

Strike 2.

Reason #6: Inappropriate Intensities

In what was – at least in my eyes – a landmark study, McCarthy et al. (1995) looked at “compatibility” of concurrent strength training and endurance training. Traditionally, the attenuation of strength and power gains has been a big issue when endurance exercise is added to a strength training program. As I noted in Cardio Confusion, these researchers found that strength and power loss was only an issue when the intensity of the endurance exercise was greater than 75% of heart-rate reserve (HRR) (4). I can guarantee you that the majority of pitchers who are running distances are doing so at well over 75% HRR.

As I’ll note in my recommendations at the conclusion of this article, I strongly feel that the secret is to stay well above (circa-maximal sprinting, in other words) or below (70% HRR, to play it safe) when implementing any kind of running. The secret is to avoid that middle area where you don’t go slow and don’t go fast; that’s where athletes get SLOW!  And, ideally, the lower-intensity exercise would be some modality that provides more mobility benefits.

Strike 3. The batter’s out!

More to come tomorrow…

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