Home Posts tagged "baseball injuries"

Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 1/7/19

Here's some recommended reading/listening from around the strength and conditioning world to keep your week going:

The Speed Podcast with John O'Neil - The crew at TC Boost interviewed CSP-MA Director of Performance, John O'Neil, who spoke to some of our training methodologies at CSP.

Becoming an Industry Leader with Pete Dupuis - Michael Keeler interviewed my business partner, Pete Dupuis, on the business of fitness, and there was some great material for all of the fitness business owners out there.

6 Random Thoughts on Programming for and Coaching Young Athletes - This was a hefty brain dump from Mike Robertson, and it included quite a few good pearls of wisdom.

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If you're looking for a quick and easy way to expand your rowing exercise selection, definitely try the standing 1-arm cable row with offset kettlebell hold. Holding a kettlebell in the racked position on the non-working arm not only adds a core control element, but also facilitates thoracic (upper back) rotation away from the rowing arm. We know that left thoracic rotation works hand-in-hand with right serratus anterior recruitment (and vice versa), so this is an awesome progression we like to use with our throwing athletes. You could progress this particular version by adding a bit more upper back rotation to the left on the eccentric (lowering) portion of each rep. Try it out! #cspfamily

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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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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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Should You Play Fall Baseball?

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance Director of Performance, John O'Neil.

We know that playing baseball year-round is a bad idea, but how do you determine if it’s a good idea for youth athletes to skip fall baseball and focus on developing themselves for the spring? Societal pressures – parents, coaches, scouts, recruiters - have dictated that if you’re a player and not doing as much total work as your competition is, you won’t keep up with the curve, but we know that’s not the case. Intelligent work will always trump total volume of work. The tough part lies in the action of identifying which athletes are better off sitting out a supplementary competitive season for the sake of success in the main season. Here are three questions to ask if you’re considering fall baseball and long-term baseball success is your goal:

1) How many innings did you throw during the spring and summer?
2) Are you playing another sport?
3) Are you adequately prepared for success within the fall season?

1) If you’re a pitcher and have thrown greater than 100 innings during the spring and summer seasons, fall baseball is highly contraindicated. A February 2011 study from Fleisig et al. provided the data for us that a youth pitcher, ages 9-14, is 3.5 times more likely to need an elbow or shoulder surgery down the road if they throw more than 100 innings in a calendar year. We can theorize and maybe think that a high school pitcher can afford slightly more innings, or, we could ask the question, what does a high school pitcher really gain out of throwing more than that? If they haven’t attracted recruiting attention in their first 100, you’re either not good enough to pitch at the next level OR have a very poor strategy for exposure. As CSP-FL co-founder Brian Kaplan has often said:

I’m in favor of shutting down pitchers at 100 innings, and I will provide more detail about when 100IP might not be the ideal number in point 3.

2) If you’re currently playing another sport, how does playing baseball as a secondary sport impact your long-term development? What is the goal of fall baseball? If the goal is skill acquisition and repeated exposure in a game environment, how does your commitment to the other sport detract or enhance from playing baseball?

Let’s take the high school soccer or football schedule. Most teams will have some type of organized activity six days per week, leaving one day a week where baseball can be the priority. From a skill standpoint, I would consider it more detrimental to both swing and throwing mechanics to be doing those in a fatigued state. Moreover, not providing the athlete with a true off day for the duration of the fall will lead to a much greater likelihood of an injury in the primary fall sport they’re playing. For position players, how much baseball skill work do you expect to get in only playing on weekends? A typical game might only involve a dozen swings and a handful of plays in the field, and that includes pre-game warm-ups.

If you’re not going to take a day off, maybe work on qualities in the gym that will ensure more long-term success. If you have the time given the constraints of the other sport, get to the cage/field multiple times per week if you feel the need to get more reps at the plate or in the field. Early specialization is not the answer for youth athletes. From a physical preparation standpoint, we know that specific physical preparation (SPP) is only as good as the general physical preparation (GPP) that underlies it. Even if baseball is the long-term primary goal, allow kids to develop GPP through other sports and specialize at the latest possible moment.

3) If fall ball is productive, what are the reasons? There are several: repeated  game exposure can ensure success on a baseball field from a perspective of tension and arousal, as we can’t simulate those in the cage.

However, if the competitive season is already close to six months long, when does the athlete have time to develop other athletic skills that will carry over to success within the competitive season? Fall ball may be a time where you gain exposure to scouts/recruiters, or great for the northeast athlete who only played 30 games in spring/summer. But, if you can’t set the athlete up for success in the short fall season, why bother? Specifically, how much skill work can the athlete get in to be set up for productive game play?

For pitchers, this means getting in multiple throwing sessions per week outside of competitive throwing days within the fall season. It also means that the pitcher needs to have been ramped up and be ready to throw in game situations in the weeks prior to the season, making it tricky when the gap between summer and fall baseball is anywhere from 2-6 weeks. For every week off of throwing, I’d like to see pitchers ramp up for at least an equal, if not a double amount of time prior to getting back out there (one week off = 1-2 weeks ramping, 2 = 2-4, etc.). It doesn’t matter if you’re only throwing a few innings every Sunday. Be prepared to be successful every time you toe the rubber. This is a case where even if the pitcher only threw 50-80 innings – far short of the 100 recommended in point 1 – it’s not a good idea to throw them into the fire if they can’t play catch, long toss, and throw bullpens during the week.

If you fall into the three categories I outlined above, I’d advise against playing fall baseball and instead working on physical qualities that will ensure success from a more long-term perspective. Get to the gym, get stronger, faster, more athletic, work on durability, take time off from throwing, and prepare yourself for a successful spring and summer season.

Who Definitely SHOULD Play Fall Baseball?

If you do not fall into the categories above, you may still be asking if playing fall baseball is right for you. There are two categories of high school players who need to be playing fall baseball if they expect to move on and play at the collegiate level. As outlined above, even these players need to prepare for the fall season as if it were their main competitive season. In other words, they need to be sure they are throwing, taking BP, and training regularly even if only playing on weekends.

1) High School Seniors who don’t yet have a collegiate commitment
2) Players who didn’t play much during the spring/summer seasons

1) If you have a chance to be recruited to play in college, but haven’t yet received the right opportunity for any multitude of reasons, fall baseball can be a last-ditch effort to get in front of coaches and scouts. Many Ivy League and D2/D3 schools recruit well into the fall. Make sure you are picking the right spots, though. Get out to showcases/tournaments/camps where these coaches will actually be in attendance, given that it is your last chance to play in front of them. This will require far more advanced than (definitely) the spring and (usually) the summer season will. You can’t just play in any local weekend fall ball league and expect coaches to come find you if they haven’t already. For senior pitchers, you can be a little more aggressive with your workload during this time because the summer after senior year of high school will most likely be a low workload or complete dead period. For underclassmen, stick more stringently to the guidelines given above.

2) If you are a player that missed significant time during your main competitive season, regardless of grade, fall baseball is a very good idea. This could be in the case of someone who was injured and had to sit out, or, someone who was buried on the bench and only got half the amount of action as some of his teammates. In this case, keeping up with what everyone else is doing in terms of yearly workload is a very important thing. This will make you better on a physical level, as repeated exposure to better pitching and facing better hitters will have carryover to the main competitive seasons. Additionally, your comfort level in a competitive game experience could make or break your ability to play at the varsity high school level in the spring, or your ability to be good enough to get recruited in the summer that follows. Identify the biggest areas of need that will drive your ability to be successful long-term and address them. If you haven’t played in real games very much, this could be the limiting factor.

As you can see, the decision on whether or not to play fall baseball is a very individual one. Be sure to consider all these factors as you make that decision.

About the Author

John O'Neil (@ONeilStrength) is Director of Performance 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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Arm Injuries, Sports Science, and Player Development

Earlier this week, I hopped on The Motus Global show with Will Carroll, and we covered a ton of ground in the 40 minutes we chatted. From arm injuries, to sports science, to player development, there's a lot of good stuff in this podcast. You can check it out at the links below:

Overcast: https://overcast.fm/+JRLCkbN08

or

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-motus-show/id1245348721?mt=2

Enjoy!

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The Best of 2016: Baseball Articles

With baseball athletes being the largest segment of the Cressey Sports Performance athletic clientele, it seems only fitting to devote a "Best of 2016" feature to the top baseball posts from last year. Check them out:

1. Preventing Baseball Injuries: Actions Speak Louder Than Words

This was my first post of 2016, and it turned out to be one of my most impactful. A cool follow-up note on this: one of the suggestions I had to reduce pitching injuries was to push the high school season back in warm weather states, and here in Florida, they actually moved it back two weeks for 2017. I doubt my writing had anything to do with it, but it's nice to see things moving in a positive direction. 

2. Should Lat Strains Even Be Happening?

The lat strain is becoming far more prevalent in higher levels of baseball as pitchers throw with more and more velocity. In this lengthy article, I discuss mechanisms of injury, diagnostic challenges, prevention strategies, and longer-term prognoses.

Latissimus_dorsi

3. 6 Saturday Shoulder Strategies

I wrote this as a "brain dump" in about 30 minutes on a Saturday morning, and it turned out to be a hit with the baseball audience.

4. Looking Closer at Pitching Injuries: An Interview with Jeff Passan

I interviewed Jeff Passan around the time of the launch of his popular book, The Arm, and we covered in more specific detail some of the areas he touched on in the book.

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5. Specificity, Delayed Transmutation, and Long-Term Baseball Development

This was actually a video blog more than an article, but it was still very popular - but didn't quite crack the top 5 videos of the year because it's more baseball specific.

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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training – Installment 22

It's time for the September installment of this series. With the baseball season wrapping up for many minor league and high school players - plus the start of post-season play nearly upon us - I've got a lot of new thoughts rattling around my brain.

1. There's no such thing as "catching the injury bug." 

This is a term that gets thrown around a lot in professional sports. Certainly, there is a significant amount of happenstance in professional sports. Quarterbacks get sacked from the blind side and injure acromioclavicular joints (get well soon, Jimmy G!!!). Hitters get hit by pitches, and outfielders run into walls. Not all injuries are preventable, but not everything we assume to be "happenstance" is unpreventable, either. Additionally, there's something to be said about finding ways to shorten the down time on the disabled list when players are hurt. This recent article in Hardball Times does a good job of highlighting this observation: Doing What it Takes to Keep Players Healthy.

With respect to preventing injuries, most of the focus goes on training and rehabilitation initiatives. Is there a good strength and conditioning program? Are there good manual therapists on hand? Does the organization prioritize high quality nutrition? Are recovery options plentiful? The list goes on and on.

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There are, however, many overlooked factors that are outside the control of the sports medicine staffs in these organizations. For instance, if a front office creates a roster of players who a) are older and b) have more extensive injury histories, it's going to be a lot harder to keep that team on the field. Additionally, how bullpens are managed factors into injury risk heavily. Some relief pitchers get absolutely abused between game appearances and scenarios where they warm up and don't go into the game. I once had a MLB lefty specialist say that he threw more in two months in the big leagues than he did in 100+ innings as a college starer. 

The point is that while some injuries are, in fact, happenstance, the majority are highly preventable - particularly if as many different factors as possible are taken into consideration. The injury bug excuse just doesn't hold water.

2. There are varying levels of "strong enough."

In the strength training world, you'll often hear debates on the question, "how strong is strong enough for athletes?" Truth be told, it's not a simple question to answer.

First and foremost, you get what you train. So, I might just squat and deadlift all the time, but never build an appreciable level of single-leg strength. So, if my sport requires a ton of single-leg strength, I'm really not strong at all in a specific sense. That said, no competitive powerlifter is going to be able to hand his hat on a good Bulgarian split squat number; he's got to squat and deadlift heavy to be successful.

Taking this a step further, though, we have to consider what we're trying to strong enough to do? Is it strong enough to safely perform sprint work and plyos in training, as would be the case after a few months in post-op ACL rehabilitation scenario? Or, is it strong enough to be able to safely participate in athletics, as an athlete would be later in the rehabilitation timeline?

Does an athlete just need to be strong enough to need to even consider this continuum? Or, does he need to be strong enough to make good use of strength-speed and speed-strength training initiatives?

Is the athlete strong enough to not have to worry about training limit strength (the far left of this continuum) as much? Not many athletes ever get to this point because it takes a ton of hard work, consistency, and even a genetic predisposition to being strong to get there. However, I've seen several in my career, and we needed to spend a lot more time training absolute speed and speed-strength.

Above all else, I'd say that in the athletic world, the "strong enough" classification refers to a coach's refusal to push an athlete further due to the potential for injury. For example, there is no doubt in my mind that one of our pro outfielders could unquestionably train to attain a 600-pound raw squat in a matter of 3-4 months. The risk of pushing toward this goal just isn't worth the risk; he has other athletic qualities to which we can devote his training time and recovery capacity - and without the risk. If he could only squat 185 pounds, though, it would be an entirely different story.

3. If applied incorrectly, cross-training can beat athletes up as much as it can help them.

I'm all for young athletes playing as many sports as possible. A rich proprioceptive environment creates an awesome foundation for future athletic development in more specific endeavors. Likewise, later on, once an athlete has specialized, there is definitely a time of year for cross training - but it definitely has to be applied correctly. What am I getting at?

[bctt tweet="The lower the movement variability in one's sport, the less bold the cross-training can be."]

To put this in context, imagine a soccer midfielder or football defensive back. Both these athletes have a ton of movement variability in their sport participation; there is a lot of change-of-direction, full-tilt sprinting, backpedaling, jumping, and a host of additional sport-specific skills. Asking one of these athletes to go out and play ultimate frisbee or beach volleyball for a change of pace isn't going to dramatically increase their injury risk.

Conversely, take the typical pro golfer or baseball pitcher into this same challenge, and it's going to be a pretty stressful event with a much higher likelihood of injury. It's not to say these athletes are soft or "delicate;" it's just that the majority of their athletic calendars take place with more specificity, and there is less movement variability to their sports challenges. With both the golf swing and pitching delivery, you want to consistently repeat your mechanics.

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Invariably, during interleague play in Major League Baseball, we see an American League pitcher who gets injured running the bases or swinging at the plate. Specificity of training matters, and it takes a considerable volume of specificity to build a tolerance to competing at a high level.

This isn't just specific to amplitude of movement (range of motion). Rather, the direction and magnitude of forces need to be considered. As an example, elite swimmers have a high pain tolerance from the insane volumes they do in the pool, but get them into an ultimate frisbee game, and you're going to see some awkward movements because they aren't accustomed to ground reaction forces and moving in the frontal and transverse planes.

Just keep it in mind as you plan your cross-training activities. Just because you see NFL players dominating a game of "Tag" doesn't mean that your 51-year-old master's division swimming star is going to do as well with it.

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5 Steps to Becoming a Baseball Specialist

Today's guest post comes from physical therapist, Eric Schoenberg. Eric is an integral part of the Elite Baseball Mentorships team. 

EBM-Cressey

A thought came to mind as I was considering how we can work towards reducing the incidence of injury in baseball: we need more specialists.

If we use the field of medicine as a model, the Total Knee Replacement has pretty much been mastered. Of course, there is room for improvement, but over the past 25 years, this surgery has become a massive success. The biggest reason for this is a progression of specialization:

MD > Orthopedist > Orthopedic Surgeon > Knee Specialist > Total Knee Replacement (TKR) Specialist

If you need a knee replacement, you don’t go to your primary care physician. Instead, you schedule an appointment with an Orthopedic Surgeon that specializes in TKR. So, if you are a baseball player, why does it make sense to work with a “general” strength coach or physical therapist?
[bctt tweet="Every profession matures into a state of “super-specialization” as it develops."]

Strength coaches and physical therapists have a great opportunity ahead of us to move our professions forward in this manner.

The current entry point for a strength coach is minimal. Most commonly, entry into the field falls somewhere between a fitness certification and a 4-year degree. In some cases, you will see dual degrees, Master’s degrees, and the occasional PhD.

However, there is no direct path available to niche into a “baseball specialist.” Instead, we have private sector, college, and even some professional strength coaches that may have seen baseball players by chance, but have no more experience with them than any other sport. It’s not a criticism of them, though; there simply isn’t an established “curriculum” they can pursue. As a result, in most cases, highly “specialized” baseball players are being managed by “general” strength coaches.

I have to believe that this is as much of a contributing factor as any to the high incidence of injury in the baseball world. By the time these athletes make it far enough in their careers to have access to “baseball specialists,” they are often too damaged for even the experts to manage.

Here are five tips to establish yourself as a trusted resource in the baseball community:

1. Watch baseball.

Don’t just watch it for entertainment value. Study the movements. Use slow motion and rewind on your TV. Watch video online and gain a better understanding of the actions and positions unique to the sport. Once you think you have it figured out, you are only just scratching the surface. Keep studying! Start to recognize why faulty mechanics can lead to improper distribution of stress and ultimately injury. By doing this, you can pair this knowledge with your individual assessment of the athlete to create a more optimal training program.

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2. Spend time on a field.

Baseball players are unique in their habits and tendencies. Gain a “feel” for the game. Understand the culture of the game. Learn how to identify with and communicate with athletes that are much younger than you. Understand that most of their time on the field is spent standing around and waiting. Educate your players on how to optimize this time to prepare mentally, hydrate, properly warm up, etc. It is not enough to say you used to play baseball 20 years ago; nobody cares. My credibility and effectiveness in managing baseball players increased 10x once I started spending time at the field as part of a team. Create an angle to quickly establish trust and common ground with the athlete and watch your results dramatically improve.

3. Understand the unique physical characteristics and demands of baseball players.

Baseball players have physical characteristics that differ from other sports. Educate yourself for the benefit of your athletes. Learn about humeral retroversion, gross extension patterns, laxity, valgus stress, dynamic stability, rotator cuff timing, etc. Work towards understanding the importance of stability of the landing leg, proper hip hinge pattern, and the importance of tri-planar single leg balance. Don’t “stretch” a guy that is already too loose. Instead, give him some stability and watch his pain go away. The baseball player’s anatomy is a long way from “neutral.” Do your best to bring them closer to the middle and not further away. For example, your ability to recognize that a baseball player should not be cued to pull their shoulder blades “down and back” because their shoulder blades are ALREADY down and back may save dozens of careers.

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4. Master functional anatomy and human movement.

Understand the critical role of the scapula. Train the rotator cuff in the throwing position through the entire range of motion (especially end-range external rotation). Learn how the kinetic chain applies specifically to baseball. Hitting and throwing are highly coordinated, precisely timed, multidirectional movements. Don’t train your athletes with single joint exercises that only occur in the sagittal plane. Learn about hip/trunk separation to maximize power and explosiveness. Be able to educate the athlete on what it means to have a labral tear or understand the specifics of an ulnar nerve transposition. If you can’t explain these pathologies, then how can you minimize risk when working with these athletes? Take pride in your job on this front.

5. Be willing to respectfully challenge the “institution of baseball.”

CSP coach Tony Bonvechio wrote a blog post a while back where he warned about the dangers of the phrase “this is how I’ve always done it.” I find myself observing on a daily basis that regardless of level – little league, high school, college, pro ball – at least 80% of the player’s warm up routine is exactly the same. How can that be? We have progressed as a profession; however, kids on baseball fields across the world are all doing the same useless warm-up routine.

An example of progress is Joe Maddon and the Chicago Cubs. He has softened the traditional stance of getting to the ballpark at 1pm for a 7pm game. Instead, they have created a culture that emphasizes more sleep, nutrition, and recovery and his players love him for it. (and, by the way, the team is doing pretty well, too).

If we want different results, we have to continue to move towards a different approach. The efforts of strength coaches and physical therapists to move towards becoming baseball specialists will go a long way in helping to reach this goal.

If you are interested in learning more about our approach to managing baseball athletes, we'd love to see you at one of our Elite Baseball Mentorships. The next three-day course - this one focused on the lower-extremity - is August 21-23, with Thursday, July 21 serving as the early-bird registration deadline. You can learn more HERE.

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Preventing Baseball Injuries: Actions Speak Louder Than Words

We're at a point in time where just about everyone knows that throwing a baseball year-round is a bad idea. Moreover, we know that it's best for kids to avoid early sports specialization. 

Dr. James Andrews has been outspoken against early specialization and year-round throwing for roughly a decade.

John Smoltz devoted a big chunk of his Hall-of-Fame acceptance speech in Cooperstown to discouraging kids and parents from early specialization and year-round baseball.

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Seahawks coach Pete Carroll recently referred to the trend of kids playing only one sport as "an absolute crime."

USA Baseball launched their Pitch Smart campaign - featuring an advisory board of many MLB team doctors and athletic trainers - to prevent overuse in youth baseball.

All the way back in 2006, a landmark study by Olsen et al. clearly demonstrated strong associations between injuries requiring surgery and pitching "more months per year, games per year, innings per game, pitches per game, pitches per year, and warm-up pitches before a game" as well as showcase appearances during adolescence. Overuse is the one factor that predicts injury over and over again in the research.

A 2011 study demonstrated that players in warm weather climates had less shoulder strength and more problematic range-of-motion adaptations than those in cold weather climates. And, speaking from personal experience from having Cressey Sports Performance facilities in both states, it's been far more challenging to develop players in Florida than it is in Massachusetts. There is simply too much baseball competing with general athletic development.

These are just a few examples, too. Hundreds of professional athletes have spoken out against early sports specialization. College coaches have in some cases refused to recruit one-sport athletes. And, there are more anti-specialization posts and websites freely available on the Internet than one could possibly imagine. Yet, the problem isn't even close to going away, and injuries still at all-time highs.

Now, I can understand how some players, parents, coaches, and scouts don't stay on top of the American Journal of Sports Medicine and might have missed this important information. What I can't understand is how they'd miss it when the world's most recognized orthopedic surgeon is speaking out against it. Or how they can miss it when one of the most accomplished pitchers of the last century devotes the biggest media spotlight of his life to bashing early sports specialization. Or how they'd overlook one of the premier coaches in the NFL so vehemently putting down the practice. Or how a governing body like MLB would devote time, money, and resources to a problem that they think will have a significant negative impact on the future of the game beyond just the billions of dollars that are already being wasted on players on the disabled list.

The problem is not a lack of knowledge; the problem is a lack of action and consequences.

When you were a little kid and stole a cookie from the cookie jar - even after your mother told you it was off limits - you got punished for doing so. If you didn't have consequences, you'd keep stealing cookies. Unfortunately, this isn't an option with youth baseball. Really, the only consequence is injury, and it's surprisingly not that great a teacher.

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A lot of kids and parents continue to make the same mistakes even after an arm surgery and extended layoff. They've been brainwashed to think that the only way kids can succeed in baseball is to play year-round to keep up with other kids and get exposure to college coaches and pro scouts. There are too many coaches, showcase companies, and scouting services lining their pockets by lobbying hard to make these false assumptions stick. 

If knowledge ("eating too many cookies is bad for you") isn't working, and it's hard to deliver consequences, what's the next step? You've got to make it really hard to get to those cookies - and they better taste like crap if you do manage to do so. 

Stepping away from this analogy, the big governing bodies that matter need to step up their game. Here are six quick changes that I personally feel could have a profound impact on reducing injury rates across all levels:

1. Major League Baseball needs to implement a high school scouting "dead period" from October 1 through January 1. It is entirely hypocritical for MLB to push PitchSmart, but turn a blind eye when literally hundreds of scouts are showing up for October-December showcases and tournaments that directly compete with the PitchSmart initiative. Most of the highest-profile players aren't even attending these events anymore (advisors know it's an unnecessary injury risk), and there is absolutely nothing a scout would see in November that they can't see in the spring during the regular season.

2. MLB should also mandate that no pitcher can throw in more than three consecutive games - including "getting hot" (throwing in the bullpen, but not entering the game). Some might criticize me for this, but after extensive interaction with relievers at this level, I firmly believe that bullpen mismanagement is one of the biggest problems in MLB pitching injuries. Fans and the media only see the actual number of appearances, but when you factor in the number of times a pitcher "gets hot" without entering the game, you have relievers who are literally throwing over 120 times in a season.

3. The NCAA needs to implement innings limits on freshman and sophomore pitchers. Keep freshman pitchers to 120 innings and sophomore pitchers to 140 (combining the college season and summer ball). Additionally, any pitcher who throws more than 120 innings during the spring/summer should have a mandatory 60-day period of no throwing prior to starting fall ball.

4. The NCAA should also implement a conservative pitch count limit for college starters. I think 130 is a good place to start, and while I still think it's unnecessarily high, it reins in those coaches who'll leave a guy in for 150+ pitches. Sadly, this happens far too often in college baseball these days, and there are zero repercussions (although I do commend ESPN's Keith Law for always calling these coaches out on Twitter).

5. State athletic associations in warm weather climates need to structure high school seasons to allow for athletes to compete in multiple sports. As an example, in Massachusetts, the high school baseball season begins on the third Monday in March, while the first basketball practice is November 30. If a high school basketball player wants to play baseball, he might only have a 1-2 week overlap during that month - and it only happens if his team goes deep into the playoffs.

Conversely, the high school baseball season here in Florida begins on January 18, while the last regular season basketball game doesn't occur until January 30. The state championship games take place February 23-27 - which is roughly halfway through the baseball season! There is absolutely no reason for a high school baseball season (in which teams play about 30 games) needs to start prior to March 1.

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That extra six weeks would make a huge difference in getting more baseball players to also participate in winter sports and help to get a baseball out of young hands a bit longer. And, you'd see a lot more players well prepared on day 1 of baseball tryouts because they'd have more off-season preparation under their belts. It would simply force teams to play three games per week instead of two; this is exactly what's done in Northern states (and they'll sometimes play four, if weather interferes).

6. Similar to point #4, state athletic associations should also have regulations on permissible pitch counts for high school arms. I think 115 pitches is a good number.

Closing Thoughts

I should note that I actually think Little League Baseball does a solid job of disseminating information and including specific regulations within the game and between games. The changes - at least in my eyes - should rest with high school athletic associations, the NCAA, and Major League Baseball. Impact will come from the top down.

As you can see, with only two exceptions, I'm much more about managing the competitive year than I am about micromanaging pitch counts. And, the two pitch count recommendations I put out are remarkably conservative and just reaffirm common sense (which, unfortunately, isn't so common anymore). Pitch counts alone haven't proven to be tremendously effective, but do have a place when implemented alongside guidelines for managing the overall baseball calendar.

There is absolutely no reason for skeletally immature middle and high school baseball players to have longer competitive seasons than professional players.

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The Best of 2015: Baseball Articles

With baseball athletes being the largest segment of the Cressey Sports Performance athletic clientele, it seems only fitting to devote a "Best of 2015" feature to the top baseball posts from last year. Check them out:

1. Common Arm Care Mistakes - Installment 6 - In this article, I talk about how important it is to select arm care exercises that truly appreciate the functional demands placed on the shoulder and elbow during throwing.

2. Changing Baseball Culture: A Call to Action - Physical therapist Eric Schoenberg makes a call to action to step away from four baseball traditions so that we can more easily prevent baseball injuries.

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3. What is a "Big League Body?" - Big leaguers come in all shapes and sizes. Your baseball strength and conditioning programs need to appreciate that.

4. 6 Physical Attributes of Elite Hitters - Here are six physical characteristics that elite hitters seem to share.

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5. Projecting the Development of High School Pitchers -  Cressey Sports Performance Pitching Coordinator Matt Blake shows what a difference a year can make in projecting high school pitchers for college baseball success.

If you're interested in learning more about how we assess, program for, and train baseball players, I'd encourage you to check out one of our Elite Baseball Mentorships. The next course will take place January 17-19, 2016 at our Hudson, MA facility. You can learn more HERE.

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