Home Posts tagged "Medicine Ball Workouts" (Page 2)

5 Things that Might Surprise You about our Baseball Strength and Conditioning Programs

We have quite a few baseball coaches, athletic trainers, physical therapists, and strength and conditioning coaches who stop by Cressey Sports Performance to observe our training.  While they are the ones visiting to learn, I actually learn quite a bit about the "norms" in the baseball strength and conditioning field by listening to them tell me about what surprises them about what they observe at CSP.  Here are some of the areas that seem to surprise quite a few people:

1. They're surprised we don't do more sprint work and change-of-direction training.

The competitive baseball season essentially runs from mid-February all the way through early September, and during that time, guys are sprinting, diving, and changing directions constantly during fielding practice.  They're also on their feet in cleats for an absurd number of hours each day.  To that end, when the off-season rolls around, most guys want a few weeks away from aggressive sprinting and change-of-direction work.  Once they get their rest, we typically go to 2-3 movement training sessions for October through December, usually on off-days from strength training.  I prefer to break them up so that we can get more quality work in with our strength training program, and also so that the sessions don't run too long.  Once January 1 rolls around, the volume and intensity of sprinting increases, while the strength training program volume is reduced.  

Summarily, because we often separate our sprint/agility work from our resistance training, many folks get the impression that we don't do much movement training - but that couldn't be further from the truth.  It's a big part of our comprehensive approach to baseball development; we just fit it in a bit differently than most coaches, and emphasize or de-emphasize it at different point in the year.

2. They're surprised how much medicine ball work we do.

One of the reasons there is a bit less movement training than you might see in other strength and conditioning programs is that we do a ton of medicine ball work, particularly during the months of October through January (for our pro guys).  

Medicine ball drills are great for not only training power outside the sagittal plane, but also because it helps to iron out excessive asymmetries while maintaining pitching- and hitting-specific mobility.  Our guys may do 240-360 medicine ball throws per week during their highest volume phases.

You can learn more about the medicine ball exercises we incorporate in our program by checking out Functional Stability Training of the Core.

3. They're surprised that we don't Olympic lift our baseball guys.

On multiple occasions, I've written at length about why I don't like overhead pressing and Olympic lifts in light of the unique demands of throwing and the crazy adaptations we see in throwers.

While the Olympic lifts might have great power development carryover to the sprinting one encounters on a baseball field, the carryover to power in the frontal and transverse planes just isn't as pronounced.  In other words, power development is extremely plane-specific.  I'll take medicine ball work and non-sagittal plane jumping exercises over O-lifts for baseball players in a heartbeat.

4. They're surprised we don't do more band work.

It's not that I think bands are useless; I just think most guys use them incorrectly, and even when used correctly, they just don't really offer that much advantage other than convenience.

The fundamental issue with bands is that the resistance is generally so light that guys can quickly develop bad habits - poor humeral head control, lumbar hyperextension, etc. - while doing them.  They'd be much more effective if guys would just slow down and use them correctly.  I am also not a fan at all of using the bands to get the arms into all sorts of extreme positions; you're just using a passive implement to create more laxity in an already unstable shoulder.  If you want (and need) to stretch a shoulder, do so with the scapula stabilized.  

Additionally, I'll take cables over bands whenever possible simply because the resistance is heavier and it matches the strength curve for external rotations better.  Throwers are generally weakest at full external rotation, yet the band has the highest tension in this position; meanwhile, the cable's resistance remains constant.  Obviously, manual resistance is ideal, but bands are a distance third.

5. They're surprised how "aggressive" our throwing programs are.

The overwhelming majority of our guys long toss, and most of them throw weighted baseballs at certain points of the year as well.  They pitch less and throw more.  They all still get their 2-3 months off from throwing each year, but when they are throwing, they work hard.

This is in stark contrast to some of the throwing models I've seen in professional baseball, where many organizations limit players to 90-120 feet with their long tossing, and the only time a baseball is "weighted" is when it gets wet on a rainy day.  Guys take so much time off that they never have any time in the off-season to actually develop.  I firmly believe that while you have to have strict limits on how you manage pitchers, you also have to stop short of completely coddling them.

These are surely just five areas in which we deviate from the norm with respect to baseball development, but important ones nonetheless.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 4/19/12

Here's a list of strength and conditioning stuff you should read/watch for the week.  The theme of this week will be Functional Stability Training, our new resource. Integrating Medicine Balls in a Strength and Conditioning Program - This is the introduction to my medicine ball presentation from the event, and it also highlights a few of our overhead medicine ball stomp variations.  FST also includes a bunch of rotational medicine ball exercise progressions we utilize, as well as mobility/activation drills we utilize as fillers between sets.

To Arch or Not to Arch? - This old blog post talks about arching when one squats.  It might not be all it's cracked up to be.

Glute Bridge Exercise Progressions for Rotary Stability - This post from Mike Reinold shows how to progress what can quickly become a boring exercise, even though it's super valuable.

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Exercise of the Week: Figure 8 Rotational Medicine Ball Shotput

With spring training upon us, I thought I'd draw this week's exercise of the week from a recent video shoot I did with Stack.com and New Balance Baseball at Cressey Performance with two of our big leaguers, Tim Collins (Royals) and Steve Cishek (Marlins) .  In this video, Tim demonstrates the Figure 8 Rotational Medicine Ball Shotput while I do the voice-over.

Most of my comments serve as a general overview with respect to how we approach medicine ball workouts in general, but there are a few key points/observations I should make with respect to the Figure 8 drill in particular. 1. Notice (especially at the 1:20 mark) how Tim works to keep his head back prior to aggressively rotating through the hips and "launching" the ball.  This piggybacks on something I discussed in my recent posts on increasing pitching velocity by improving stride length; if the head comes forward, you'll leak energy early, as opposed to storing it and snapping through with aggressive hip rotation later on.  Notice Tim on the mound; his head (and, in turn, the majority of his body weight) remains back well into his delivery.

This drill helps to teach guys how to control and time their weight shift.

2. A while back, Matt Blake wrote up a good piece on how we utilize the Figure 8 drill with pitchers; you can check it out HERE.

3. Some folks will make the mistake of going too heavy on this drill.  The med ball shouldn't weigh any more than ten pounds - and we usually stay in the eight-pound range.  Making the med ball too heavy won't just interfere with generating the ideal power; it will also lead to athletes creating too much tension in the upper traps and levator scapulae to resist the downward pull of gravity.  This gives us too much tension in the neck and upper back, and interferes with the good "scap load" and long deceleration arc we're trying to create.

I hope you like it!

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Medicine Ball Workouts: Not Just for Athletes

Q: I know that you work a ton with baseball players and that medicine ball workouts are an integral part of their training at Cressey Sports Performance.  However, I'm not a baseball player - or a competitive athlete in any discipline, for that matter - and I'm wondering if I should still consider adding medicine ball workouts to my strength and conditioning program.  Are there benefits that I can't get from a traditional strength training program with comprehensive mobility drills?

A: This is a great question - and I'll start off by saying that we actually have quite a few athletes at Cressey Sports Performance who aren't baseball players.  Plus, we firmly believe that everyone has an athlete in them, so our training mandates a functional carryover to the real world for everyone.  Integrating some medicine ball workouts - even if the volume and frequency aren't as high as in our rotational sport athletes - can definitely add some benefits to a strength and conditioning program.  Here are seven of those benefits:

1. Real World Transfer - Regardless of how effectively a strength and conditioning program is designed, it'll usually be very sagittal plane dominant.  Integrating some rotational medicine ball training immediately increases the number of movements from which you can choose in the transverse and frontal planes.

2. Low-Impact Fat Loss Medleys - Look at all of the fat loss programs out there, and the overwhelming majority of them require a lot of impact - whether it's from sprinting/jogging, jumping rope, or taking step aerobics.  Performing medleys of various medicine ball throws not only allows you to increase volume in a program while minimizing stress on the lower extremity, but also affords some much appreciated variety in a program that might otherwise be dominated by a lot of boring cardio equipment.

3. Better Integration of the Core -With a correctly executed rotational med ball throw, the power should come predominantly from the lower half - which means that it should be transmitted through a stable core so that the energy will be appropriately utilized with thoracic rotation to get to the arms and, in turn, the ball.  This sequencing is no different than lifting a bag of groceries, swinging a golf club, or going up on one's tip-toes to grab something on the top shelf.  If you move in the wrong areas (lumbar spine), you'll eventually wind up with back pain - but if you've handled the rotational challenges of medicine ball workouts with perfect technique, you'll be protected in the real world.

4. Improved Ankle, Hip, and Thoracic Spine Mobility - When performed correctly, medicine ball exercises serve as an outstanding way to "ingrain" the mobility you've established with a dynamic warm-up prior to training.  Additionally, we utilize mobility and activation "fillers" between sets of medicine ball drills to not only slow people down between sets, but also address issues they have that might warrant extra attention.

5. A Way to Train Power Outside of the Sagittal Plane - Research has demonstrated that the biggest problems with folks as they grow older are not just the loss of strength, muscle mass, and bone density, but the loss of power - or how quickly they can apply force.  It's this reduction in power that makes elderly individuals more susceptible to falls.  We can't always train power "optimally" in some older adults because of ground reaction forces being too stressful, but most can learn to apply a significant amount of force to a medicine ball - whether it's rotationally or with an overhead stomp/throw variation.  Everyone should obviously build a solid foundation of strength and mobility before undertaking these options, but when the time is right, they are great additions. On a related note, here's a video I filmed a while back that shows how medicine ball workouts fit into our overall approach to developing power in athletes.

6. Reduction of Asymmetry - Most of us are very one-side dominant, and while I have no aspirations of ever expecting folks to be completely symmetrical, I think that training with rotational medicine ball drills can go a long way in ironing out prominent hip and thoracic spine asymmetries. This has been one reason why they comprise such an integral part of our off-season baseball training programs; these players spend their entire lives in an asymmetrical sport.

7. A Way to Blow off Some Steam - Lifting weights is great for letting out some aggression after a bad day, but throwing a medicine ball is on a whole different level.  In most cases, I encourage folks to try to break the medicine balls on every single throw.  As you can see, we've broken quite a few...

When we integrate medicine ball workouts with our adult fitness clients, it's usually a matter of three sets two times per week between the mobility warm-ups and strength exercises.  If it's used for fat loss, though, we'll include medleys at the end of the strength training programs.

As for a specific brand of medicine balls that we use, we've now made the switch to the Perform Better Extreme Soft Toss Medicine Balls. I've found that the rebound is optimal on these, and they still provide great durability (which has been an issue with not only other "padded" options, but also other rubber models that are using more filler materials). This is what our preferred option looks like:

 

With all that in mind, how many you break will be heavily dependent on how much you incorporate medicine ball workouts and how powerful your clients are.  The medicine ball lifespan will be a lot longer in a facility catering to middle-aged women than it will be at Cressey Performance, where 85% of clients are baseball players executing 240-360 medicine ball throws per week during certain portions of the year.

If you're looking for a lot more detail on the specific medicine ball exercises and workouts we do with our clients, be sure to check out Functional Stability Training of the Core.

FST1

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Throwing Programs: Not One-Size-Fits-All

I received a few separate emails this week from folks wondering how I plan our guys' off-season throwing programs to include everything from long toss, to weighted baseballs, to mound work.

Most people expect to be handed a simple throwing program - as one might receive with an interval throwing program following rehabilitation.  The truth is that there isn't a single throwing program that I give to all our guys; rather, each is designed with the athlete's unique needs and circumstances taken into consideration.

With that in mind, I thought I'd outline some of the factors we consider when creating a throwing program for our professional baseball pitchers (many of these principles can also be applied to younger throwers):

1. Where they struggle on the mound (poor control, poor velocity, lack of athleticism, etc.)

2. Whether I want them using weighted balls in addition to long toss and bullpens or not

3. How many innings they threw the previous year (the more they throw, the later they start)

4. Whether they are going to big league or minor league spring training (we have minor league guys an additional 2-3 weeks)

5. How much "risk" we're willing to take with their throwing program (we'd be more aggressive with a 40th rounder than a big leaguer or first rounder; here is a detailed write-up on that front)

6. Whether they are a starter or reliever (relievers can start earlier because they've had fewer innings in the previous year)

7. What organization they are in (certain teams expect a LOT when guys show up, whereas others assume guys did very little throwing in the off-season and then hold them back when they arrive in spring training)

8. Whether guys play winter ball, Arizona Fall League, Team USA/Pan-American games, or go to instructionals

9. Whether they are big leaguers (season ends the last week in September, at the earliest) or minor leaguers (ends the first week in September)

10. What each guy tells you about his throwing history and how his arm feels.  Any pitcher can always tell you more than you can ever accurately assume - so you just have to be willing to listen to him.

Here are a few general rules of thumb:

1. Most throwing programs from professional organizations don't have their pitchers playing catch until January 1 - and I think this is WAY too late to give pitchers adequate time to develop arm speed and durability in the off-season.

2. Relievers start earlier than starters (we are starting our relief pitchers three weeks ahead of our starters this year, on average).

3. Medicine ball volume comes down and throwing volume goes up.

4. Most of our guys who don't go to instructionals, winter ball, the fall league, or Team USA start in November.  Starters are generally right around Thanksgiving among minor leaguers, with some relievers a bit earlier.  Big league guys don't start throwing until mid- to late-December or even January 1.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, but hopefully it gives you some insight into some of what goes through my mind as we work to increase throwing velocity and arm health.

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