Home Posts tagged "Catcher"

Ankle, Hip, and Thoracic Mobility Training for Catchers

Today, my good friend Joey Wolfe has a great guest post on the topic of training baseball catchers.  Joey's a really bright guy with a lot of experience on this front; I think you'll enjoy this. - EC

One of the biggest challenges for young players is being able to make adjustments to their swing, throwing mechanics, running mechanics, etc. Sometimes mental barriers get in the way of making the adjustment, yet often times it is a physical limitation; more specifically a mobility, stability or sequencing issue. As a coach it can be very frustrating trying to get a player to make an adjustment to their mechanics that their body is simply unable to make. A good coach will try to figure out another way to communicate the adjustment to the player. A great coach will figure out where the problem lies. This is where the strength & conditioning coaches come in. Although most of us may not know what it means to beat the ball to the spot, all of us should have a good understanding of how to improve the mobility of our athletes. It is this skill set that will directly affect the performance of our athletes.

The main responsibility of any catcher is to catch the ball. If a catcher cannot consistently catch the ball he will quickly find himself playing in the outfield. A catcher has many responsibilities; handling the pitching staff, calling pitches, receiving, blocking, throwing; the list goes on. In order for a catcher to be successful they must first and foremost be comfortable. Without the proper mobility the catching duties can quickly go from hard to impossible. Here are the three areas that stand out as the limiting factors in regards to mobility for catchers.

1. Limited ankle mobility: It is imperative that a catcher has mobile ankles. Having mobile ankles allows the catcher to comfortably get in a squatting position. With nobody on base (primary stance) a catcher is generally going to sit into a deep, comfortable squat with the ankles slightly everted. Stiff ankles have a tendency to put more stress on the hips. Also, without ankle mobility a catcher’s ankle sway will be limited. Ankle swaying is extremely important for catchers, especially at the lower levels because pitchers tend to lack command of their pitches. Ankle swaying allows the catcher to get their nose and body in front of the ball without moving the receiving arm too much. When there is a lot of movement with the receiving arm the pitch doesn’t look as good from the umpire’s vantage point. Finally, if an ankle is locked up it will limit the catcher’s ability to get in the proper throwing position to deliver the ball to second base. Although the movement may start at the hip, the ankle needs to have the appropriate amount of mobility to allow the ankle to externally rotate so the back foot can get in the correct position. Here are some of our favorite ankle mobility exercises.

Multiplanar Wall Ankle Mobilizations (previously described by EC here)

Ankle Inversion with Band

Sit with the band attached to your inside foot with a pad under calf so heel is off the ground. Use only your ankle, pull toes to stretch the band shin and return to the starting position for prescribed number of repetitions. Do not allow any movement throughout your leg or hip during the exercise. There should be less motion moving your foot out than in. This exercise will work the muscles in your lower leg and challenge the coordination in your ankle.

Ankle Eversion with Band

Sit perpendicular to a band that is attached to the outside of your foot. Place a pad under your calf so the heel is off the ground. Move your ankle away, stretching the band for the prescribed number of repetitions. Do not allow any movement throughout your leg or hip during exercise. There will be less motion moving your foot out than in. Working the muscles in your low leg and challenging the coordination in your ankle.

2. Poor thoracic mobility: It has been pretty well documented that limited shoulder mobility and/or thoracic extension will impede one's ability to get into the correct squatting position. Well imagine trying to catch an Aroldis Chapman fastball or a Tim Collins curveball if you can’t get down in a comfortable squatting position; not fun! Remember, the key to being a successful catcher is being comfortable. The absence of thoracic mobility is highlighted when a catcher has to get down into their secondary stance (two strikes on the batter and/or a runner on base). What you’ll find is a rounded upper back and shoulders that roll forward. This creates three problems.

First, it makes for a smaller target for the pitcher. Pitchers want a big target to throw to, not a small one. Therefore, generally speaking, it is the catcher’s job to make himself look as big as possible.

Second, it limits the catcher’s ability to receive the ball comfortably from the pitcher. Often times the catcher will feel “locked up” when they are unable to move freely through their t-spine. A low and away curveball from a right-handed pitcher will give them fits and you can forget about a good right-handed two-seam fastball or filthy left-handed slider. Basically any pitches that require the catcher to go get the ball will create challenges for a catcher that is tight in their t-spine.

Third, when a mobility issue is present the lengthened muscles will serve to dissipate the force transfer from the ground and lead to slower feet. This will make it near impossible to do anything quickly. Whether it is going down to block a ball, throw a runner out or back up first base, being tight up top will effect what is going on down below. Here are a few great exercises to help improve mobility in the t-spine.

Thoracic Spine Mobility - Double Tennis Ball

Tape two tennis balls together to for a "peanut" shape. Lie on your back with the balls under your spine just above your lower back and your hands behind your head. Perform 5 crunches. Then raise your arms over your chest and alternately reach over your head for 5 repetitions with each arm. Move the balls up your spine 1 to 2 inches and repeat the crunches and arm reaches. Continue moving the balls up your spine until they are just above your shoulder blades and below the base of your neck. During the crunches, try and "hinge" on the ball rather than rolling over it. Think about keeping your ribs pushed down to the ground during the arm reaches, as if you were getting a deep massage in your mid to upper back.

Side-Lying Extension-Rotation

Quadruped Extension-Rotation

3. Bad hip mobility: Last, but certainly not least, on the list of mobility restrictions is bad hip mobility. Of the three limitations I have mentioned, this one may be the biggest culprit in young catchers today. Given the number of hours kids spend sitting in class, watching T.V. and playing video games, it comes as no surprise that their hip mobility is negatively affected. We often find that the catchers we work with lack internal rotation (internal rotation deficit), and are short/tight in their hip flexors and adductors.

Two of our favorite stretches to address an internal rotation deficit are the knee-to-knee stretch and the supine dynamic hip internal rotation stretch. Allowing for more rotation in the hips is going to free the catcher to better perform the ankle sway, which really starts at the head of the femur. That internal hip rotation gives the ankles and the rest of the body a better chance to get in front of the ball when receiving a pitch and also allows the feet to get in the proper position when throwing the ball.

Lying Knee-to-Knee Mobilization

As Eric mentioned a few weeks ago in his epic post 15 Static Stretching Mistakes, the lying knee-to-knee stretch can impose some valgus stress at the knees if it isn't coached/cued properly. So, instead of thinking of letting the knees fall in, tell the athlete to actively internally rotate the femurs. The stretch should occur at the hips, not the knees.

Supine Dynamic Hip Internal Rotation

When addressing the adductors (groin), we are advocates of doing as much soft tissue work as one can stand. It’s not easy to get in to all of these areas with a foam roll, so we'll often we’ll have our clients use a tennis ball or lacrosse ball (if they can handle it). After hammering these areas with some soft tissue work, we’ll have our catchers do a few lengthening exercises. A couple of our favorites are the Split-Stance Kneeling Adductor Mobs and the Half-Kneeling Hip Stretch. When done right, both of these exercises emphasize the importance of hip mobility while maintaining core stability. Here’s a look at some of these exercises.

Split-Stance Kneeling Adductor Mobs

Half-Kneeling Hip Stretch

Simple and easy way to stretch some of the tightest muscles in the body. Squeeze the glutes of the knee that is on the ground, then push the hips forward. To progress, raise your arms overhead.

Typically, catchers are big guys who – for their size – move free and easy, especially in the aforementioned areas. Being a good catcher is more than just being big and strong. It is about being big and strong while maintaining your mobility and flexibility. Anyone can add size and strength, but if your movement is compromised in the process, then it is almost certain that you will see a decrease in performance. Spend some time doing these mobility exercises before, during (preferable) or after your workouts for the next few weeks and see how much better your body feels. Good luck!

About the Author

Joey Wolfe is the owner and founder of Paradigm Sport, a Santa Cruz based training business that specializes in performance training for athletes. Before his career as a strength & conditioning coach, Joey played baseball professionally in the Toronto Blue Jays organization. He now works with dozens of youth, high school, college and professional baseball baseball players. Joey's aptitude in the specific skill sets as well as the strength and conditioning aspects of the game provide him with a unique perspective from which to work with his clients on multiple levels. He can be reached at joey@paradigmsport.com.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 6/28/12

Here's this week's list of recommended strength and conditioning reading:

Training the Baseball Catcher - This one was lost to archives at EricCressey.com, but it's valuable information for anyone who deals with baseball players.  

Sounders Sports Science and Mentorship Weekend in Review - I liked this review from Patrick Ward on a great event with an outstanding speaker line-up (including Chris West, who was one of my mentors). 

Rotating Your Lifts - I liked this article from Jesse Irizarry because I think it's a valuable reminder that sometimes, the indirect route is the fastest way to get to your goal.  I see too many people who think that they can only get better with specificity in their strength training programs, but the truth is that there is a ton of value to taking a step back and being more general with your training.

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Newsletter 136

You probably noticed that the newsletter is a day late this week. I have been absolutely swamped with the goings-on at Cressey Performance on top of heading to a big baseball seminar in Houston this weekend (fly out Thursday night). Fortunately, though, this full schedule provided me with the idea for this newsletter.

With the chaos of the past week, I didn't have time to do my normal cooking and food prep for the week on Sunday night. So, Tuesday morning (had already had a normal breakfast), with about twenty minutes left before I needed to head out to work, I looked in the fridge in hopes of pulling together a few meals from a stir fry or casserole. Nothing was there.

As a result, I just wound up grabbing a half-empty tub of cottage cheese and added a tablespoon of psyllium husk powder for fiber. Later in the day, I'd add some Superfood and a scoop of low-carb Metabolic Drive, and had that concoction with a handful of almonds from the stash in the top drawer of the desk in my office. Another meal was a Metabolic Drive bar, and a third was simply a shake with Superfood and some Flameout (fish oil) and almonds. Obviously, it wasn't an ideal daytime meal plan - and it certainly wasn't an aesthetically-pleasing culinary masterpiece like you'd see in John Berardi's Gourmet Nutrition Cookbook, but it got me through the 8-10 hours.


I had a shake with my evening training session, and then came home to cook up a legitimate, whole food meal.

This certainly wasn't optimal, but it was a nutritional "out" for me: it got calories in, kept my energy levels up, and did so without blowing my diet with unhealthy convenience foods. Having good food easily accessible to me is huge when things get busy; I'll roll with mixed nuts, protein powders, protein bars (homemade and Biotest ones), Superfood, and beef jerky. We're also lucky to have a cafeteria in our building, and a good take-out place with awesome salads just about three miles down the road. So, in my eyes, there is never a reason for me to eat garbage - even if I haven't had time to cook up good stuff for myself.

Obviously, this can be applied to diet, but it also has applications in other facets of your healthy lifestyle.

From a training logistics standpoint, what happens if you walk in to your gym to squat, and find that the only squat rack is occupied and there is a long line waiting to use it. Do you stand in line, or do you go to trap bar deadlifts (option A) or walking dumbbell lunges (option B)?

Also along the training lines, but with more of injury perspective, what do you do if your shoulder starts acting up when you go to barbell bench press? Do you try to push through it, skip it altogether, or move to neutral grip dumbbell bench presses (option A) or a push-up variation (option B)? (As an aside, I just wrote an article covering these situations; check it out HERE)

How about professionally? If you're a trainer or a strength coach, if something stumped you, who do you contact? Have you built a good network of health care professionals with both general expertise and specializations? Case in point, one of my current clients started up with me in December of 2006, and he came to me with a C5-C6 disc hernation that had left him with numbness in the tip of his middle finger for the previous ten years - and none of the neurologists and physical therapists he'd seen could do anything about it. I introduced him to John Pallof, PT, COMT, and John had complete feeling back in his finger within two sessions from a combination of manual therapy and neural flossing.

Nowadays, John sees every neck issue that comes to Cressey Performance. Likewise, Dr. Bill Morgan sees all our significant wrist and elbow issues - and the list goes on and on. So, it's not just about having a network; it's about having a network of great people, some of whom specialize in certain areas. I had dinner with Dave Tate a while back, and I recall him saying that he was less concerned with knowing everything and more concerned with knowing who to call to find out everything. Dave was right on the money.

What about easily accessible resources? What books, DVDs, journals, and newsletters do you consult on a regular basis to stay on top of things and research new issues that cross your path? Improving your own abilities is just as important as expanding your network. If you haven't seen it already, a while back, I compiled a Recommended Resources page outlining my recommendations for both free websites and products you can use to stay ahead of the game.

At risk of sounding overconfident, I think that the Building the Efficient Athlete DVD set is something that every trainer and strength coach should watch, as it covers everything from functional anatomy, to static and dynamic assessments, to troubleshooting common resistance training technique mistakes.

Food for thought - and hopefully a little something for everyone.

New Blog Content

Random Friday Thoughts
Training the Baseball Catcher
Relative Strength Improvements on Maximum Strength

Have a great week!

EC

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Training the Baseball Catcher

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