Four Mental Training Tips for Baseball Players

Mental skills in baseball are often overlooked and very undertrained. Today, we’ll cover four tips that can help any baseball player improve on-field performance and handle pressure situations like a champ.

 

#1: Start a Simple Meditation Practice

The word meditation sounds weird and scary, right? Many players think that only monks, hippies or yoga enthusiasts take time out of their days to meditate. But meditation doesn’t have to be a big scary thing. Rather, athletes should just think of it as quiet time to sit, reflect, and let their minds get a break from everyday life.

Here’s how easy a meditation practice can be:

Step 1: Find a quiet place where you can sit where you won’t feel self-conscious or nervous. A place out of the public eye is ideal.

Step 2: Find a comfortable cushion to sit on or lay flat on your back. Propping up the back by sitting against a wall can be good, but I don’t lay down in a bed or another place where falling asleep is likely.

Step 3: Set a timer for 10, 15 or 20 minutes. Start shorter—10 minutes is a good starting place where you can get your feet wet.

Step 4: Sit still, relax, close your eyes, and let your mind wander wherever it wants to go.

Step 5: Breathe in and out through the belly—pushing it out and in—and consider counting each breath. Counting belly breaths helps keep your mind present, where you’ll feel less distracted by things from the past and future that you’re concerned about

That’s it! Keeping it simple will help you get started, and the quiet meditation time will help reduce the anxiety and stress we athletes feel in pressure situations on the mound.

For a deeper explanation of meditation, as well as the other three tips outlined in this article, check out the video below:

 

#2. Visualize Yourself Succeeding

Visualizing success is an important part of an athlete’s mental skills routine. If we don’t deeply believe that we can accomplish goals, become who we dream of, or execute on a very specific task…we never will. The self-fulfilling prophecy is a concept in which when we believe something will happen, it becomes more likely to actually happen. Thus, if we believe we’re destined to fail or choke under pressure, we increase the likelihood that we’re correct.

Expect and visualize yourself succeeding—the positivity will carry you through hard times and tough situations. Visualize the good swing you’ll put on the ball, the flight of the pitch you’re about to make and yourself competing in the Major Leagues in front of thousands of fans. If you do that, it becomes more likely that it will actually happen.

 

#3. Have Confidence and Create a Fight Mentality

When under pressure, it’s easy to want to pull back and be passive, hoping you can get the outcome you want. Rather, we have to get even more aggressive when we get nervous in games, reminding ourselves that we CAN do it, and that we’re going to pull through no matter what.

As athletes, we need to truly believe we can succeed. By both imagining it and reminding ourselves that we’re capable of anything we put our minds to, we can maximize our chance at success.

A lot of times in a game, it comes down to the fight or flight dilemma: when we’re scared of giving up the game-losing hit or we’re nervous about not getting the game-winning hit as a hitter, we pull back and play the game scared. Athletes play their best when confident and aggressive—trying to take the fight to the other team, forcing them to play scared. When times get tough, show those teeth like a wolf and fight for yourself and your team.

 

#4. Use Positive Comparison

Find players in the Major Leagues who you look up to, who possess similar qualities or characteristics. How would your heroes respond if placed in the situation you’re in? Would they come through and get out of a bases-loaded jam? Would they have a good at-bat when the team needs a big hit? Would they feel nervous or afraid?

Find a player or players who share similar qualities and ask yourself if he wouldn’t be afraid, why should I? If so-and-so would confidently walk to the plate with the game on the line and have a great at-bat, why can’t I? If he could beat this team, I can too because I’m a lot like him.

Use positive comparison as a tool to remind yourself of the special skills you do have, that you might forget when you’re nervous or lacking confidence.

 

Use These Mental Skills Tips as Part of Your Routine

Nothing happens overnight, so get started today with building new, positive mental habits. Mental skills training is very overlooked despite the fact that most players will report that they feel themselves struggle with doubt, anxiety and low confidence on the field. Make a change today and start seeing how good you could be if you played with confidence and a clear mind every single day on the diamond.

 

Need Help Building a Mental Training Practice for Yourself or Your Team?

I have a step-by-step mental skills video course called The Resolute Athlete. It’s 40+ videos of instruction and stories, along with seven worksheets designed to help you learn the high-level mental skills possessed by the game’s best players. It’s perfect for teams and individuals.

And for more free baseball and mental training videos, subscribe to Dan’s YouTube Channel here.

How to Program Medicine Balls Into Baseball Workouts

Med ball exercises are a great way for a rotational athlete, such as a baseball player, to develop power and strength from their lower body to their upper body.

You often hear about rotational power or kinetic linking, but how do we maximize that? How does that relate to athletes, especially baseball and softball?

These qualities can be maximized with ballistic training. Movements often found in sports are considered ballistic.

What is ballistic movement?

“Movements that are performed with maximal velocity and acceleration can be considered ballistic actions. Ballistic actions are characterized by high firing rates, brief contraction times, and high rates of force development.” -Department of Kinesiology, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario.

 

SO, WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BENEFITS OF MED BALLS?

Here are just a few of the many benefits of training with med balls:

  • Improved coordination in movements demanding high rate of force development in all planes of motion (especially rotational power)
  • Improved ability to control and decelerate rotational forces
  • Improved kinetic linking through which helps the ability to generate and transfer force through the body.
  • Injury prevention because athletes are training to control rotation and deceleration.

After seeing some of those benefits, you can see why med balls are commonly seen in sports performance programs.

 

SETS & REPS

When done right, med balls can be a very demanding on the body and the central nervous system. We program all med ball work to be done BEFORE any lifting for that day.

We will pick 2-3 med ball drills per workout day that will benefit the athlete the most.

Taking that into consideration, here is a how we commonly program med balls for our athletes:

  • 2 Days a Week Strength Program: 3-4 sets of 5-8 reps
  • 3 Days a Week Strength Program: 3 sets of 5-8 reps
  • 4 Days a Week Strength Program: 2-3 sets of 5-8 reps

 

TOP 5 CONSIDERATIONS FOR MED BALLS

 

STANCE

There are several positions you can begin your med ball exercises in. Typically, I work from the ground up with new athletes. This gives less room for error with form, and a progression to reach in the short and long term goals.

  • Tall Kneeling (TK)
  • 1/2 Kneeling
  • Iso-Hold Stance
  • Split Stance
  • Athletic Stance
  • Single Leg

Here are some examples:

TK Rotation Med Ball Slams

 

Iso Lunge Med Ball Side Scoops

 

Split Stance Med Ball Side Scoops

 

Athletic Stance Med Ball Chest Press

 

1 Leg Med Ball Side Scoops

 

DIRECTION & BALL PATH

Where is the athlete and med balls intended path? Taking the stances from above, now add in the follow 3 items:

  • What direction is the athlete facing? Are they facing the wall, or facing sideways, etc.
  • Where is the ball starting from? Is the ball starting above their head, at their side, at their hips, etc.
  • Where is the ball going? What is the intended target or direction you want to slam/throw the ball?

 

INITIATION

There are typically 3 initiation methods for med ball exercises:

  • Non-Counter Movement: This will be your traditional slam method. Accelerate at the wall, floor or target from a specific starting point.
  • Counter Movement: This will be a movement initiated by a partner or a coil motion. The ball is moving against you so that you must stop, load, and then unload in your intended direction.
  • Continuous: This will be a rapid movement – quick and precise. You will commonly see a plyo based or rubber bouncy ball for continuous med ball exercises.

 

MED BALL TYPES

There are several types of med balls out there. Some have handles, some are large, and some are small. Here are the common types we use with our athletes:

  • Jam Balls: These balls won’t have much bounce. They are very dense, and can be on the heavier side.
  • Plyo Balls: These are commonly smaller, and offer a bouncing recoil when you slam them. These are great for continuous and rapid med ball type exercises, and even single leg stance exercises.
  • Soft Toss Med Ball: Commonly seen in gyms as Dynamax or PB Extreme Balls, these are great for slamming, tossing, and offer many uses.

 

INTENT

This may be the most important one. For athletes, one common goal is becoming faster and quicker. Med balls are great for developing these qualities. However, many athletes can’t check their ego at the door when they start training with med balls. They will grab the heaviest possible ball to throw or slam…VERY SLOWLY!

If the med ball is moving slowly, are you truly gaining the benefits of ballistic training? Probably not.

You have to put full effort and intent into each throw, and you have to find an appropriate weight that allows you to move quickly. This is how med balls were designed to be used. Med ball exercises are truly a “you get what you put into it” exercise.

Regaining Shoulder Range of Motion in Baseball Players

Regaining motion following heavy doses of high intensity throwing cannot be overlooked.

Throwing causes significant range of motion changes from eccentric stress. Any movement activity causing significant muscle damage can alter movement in the days following.

Pitchers throwing a large amount of pitches suffer significant eccentric stress, not only in the arm/shoulder but throughout the entire body. Joint distraction forces at the shoulder and elbow rapidly increase to 1–1.5 times the body mass to decelerate the arm.

Mike Reinold, in a 2008 study, showed significant decreases in shoulder internal rotation, total motion, and elbow extension following pitching in the dominant shoulder.  These changes were noted immediately post pitching and continued to exist 24 hours after.  These motion losses begin acutely but can progress into long term alterations.

Many of us in the baseball field have long known about glenohumeral internal rotation deficit (GIRD) when it comes to the throwing shoulder, but several recent studies are linking injuries to other movement loss within the glenohumeral joint.

Over 6 years, Dr. Chris Camp and others studied range of motion on all invited pitchers from one professional organization, totaling 81 pitchers followed and accounting for 132 pitcher seasons.

The authors looked at shoulder flexion, horizontal adduction, external rotation, internal rotation, as well as elbow flexion and extension in both the dominant and non-dominant arm during the pre-season.

Out of the 53 injuries they encountered over the 6-year period, the most significant risk factors for elbow injury were loss of shoulder external rotation and loss of shoulder flexion. Injury risk at the elbow went up 7% for each degree of external rotation loss and 9% for each degree of flexion loss.

None of the range of motion measures correlated with shoulder injuries. The study shows that altered kinematics at the shoulder have a significant effect down the kinetic chain at the elbow.

In the Camp study, the presence of an internal rotation deficit did not correlate to any increased risk of shoulder or elbow injuries.

However, the predominant overall theme remains in that pitching causes significant stresses to the arm and body, and that stress can cause significant motion losses. Motion losses are regularly tied into shoulder and arm injuries.

Regaining full overhead capacity can be much more than simply soft tissue restrictions but an easy place to start is by mobilizing the tissue around the scapula and shoulder. Gaining full overhead motion can be a combination of many factors, and it often starts at form and function when it comes to global movement.

Body and anatomical positions determine form and form dictates function.  The pelvis stuck in a poor position affects the lumbar spine which affects the thoracic spine orientation which 100% affects the scapular position which affects the shoulder.  The following list to regaining overhead motion is a good place to start but is not an exhaustive list by any means.

 

Positions – Form and Function

1. Pelvic control

Pelvic control in my opinion is the foundation of all patterns within the body.  The inability to control the pelvis stems from poor glute and abdominal motor control.

Compensation patterns result from this lack of control in the form of extended spinal positions, especially at the lumbar spine.  An over extended lumbar spine creates the rib-flair up the kinetic chain, and the rib-flair allows for false motion with overhead athletes.

Developing the ability to control the pelvis should be a priority for efficient overhead motion.  Pelvic stability should revolve around the rectus abdominus, obliques, and glute complex.  Teach and train a neutral pelvis along with anti-extension throughout the torso.

 

2. Thoracic Extension

The ability of the t-spine to extend assists in humeral flexion through efficient scapular mechanics.

A poor position places the scapula at a disadvantage.

A forward head posture with excessive rounding of the upper back drives the scapula forward into anterior tilt.

An athlete unable to extend through the t-spine will be unable to effectively upwardly rotate, and posteriorly tilt the scapula resulting in less overhead ability.

A study by Strunce in 2009 showed large increases in shoulder range of motion following thoracic spine and rib manipulations.

Although not on an athletic population, the results demonstrated the immediate benefits of positioning when it comes to the thoracic cage.

Active range of motion at the shoulder improved in flexion by 38° and improved total rotation by 30° after manual manipulation.

Results from another study by Edmonston in 2012 confirmed that extension of the thoracic spine does occur during arm flexion. The ranges of thoracic spine extension with humeral flexion was an average of 12.8 degrees, showing the importance of the kinetic chain in overhead motion.

 

3. Scapular Positioning

For the shoulder to function correctly, it relies on assistance from the scapula to get overhead.  Upward rotation and posterior tilt are significant factors in flexion.

For the arm to get a full 180 degrees of motion, the scapula must contribute 60 degrees while the glenohumeral joint handles the other 120 degrees. Without that 60 degrees, motion is compromised.

Focusing on the lower trap and serratus anterior are a good place to start as both are responsible for upward rotation, while the lower trap is key in posterior tilt.  Both are the most commonly inhibited muscles in overhead athletes due to posture, lifestyle, training methods, etc.

 

4. Soft Tissue Restrictions

Obviously, the muscles attaching to the scapula and humerus play huge roles in not only creating motion but restricting motion as well. Overactive or tight tissues limit motion.

Some muscles that have great influence on scapular positioning and subsequently on motion include the latissimus dorsi, pec major and minor, rhomboids, and levator scapula (to name a few).

Manipulating these common problem areas can go to great lengths in restoring fluid movement and positioning. However, muscles aren’t the only factor.

Capsular restrictions around the glenohumeral joint itself can factor into the equation as well.

 

Soft Tissue for Scapular Upward Rotation

 

T-Spine Extension for Overhead Athletes

 

The “overhead” in overhead athletes tells us all we need to know. The overhead position matters to throwers and being able to get there the right way is key. Don’t let flexion disappear or become a compensation pattern over the course of a long season. Keep moving efficiently for long term health when it comes to the shoulder and elbow.

 

Sources:

Camp, Christopher L., et al. “Decreased Shoulder External Rotation and Flexion Are Greater Predictors of Injury than Internal Rotation Deficits: Analysis of 132 Pitcher-Seasons in Professional Baseball.” Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, vol. 5, no. 7_suppl6, 2017, doi:10.1177/2325967117s00221.

Edmondston, Stephen, et al. “Clinical and Radiological Investigation of Thoracic Spine Extension Motion During Bilateral Arm Elevation.” Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, vol. 42, no. 10, 2012, pp. 861–869., doi:10.2519/jospt.2012.4164.

Reinold, Michael M., et al. “Changes in Shoulder and Elbow Passive Range of Motion after Pitching in Professional Baseball Players.” The American Journal of Sports Medicine, vol. 36, no. 3, 2008, pp. 523–527., doi:10.1177/0363546507308935.

Strunce, Joseph B., et al. “The Immediate Effects of Thoracic Spine and Rib Manipulation on Subjects with Primary Complaints of Shoulder Pain.” Journal of Manual & Manipulative Therapy, vol. 17, no. 4, 2009, pp. 230–236., doi:10.1179/106698109791352102.

 

Long-Term Development Plan for Baseball

In a recent survey I posted on my Instagram and Twitter accounts, I asked a series of questions for baseball players, and their personal experience with their long-term development. I had a tremendous response, including MLB players, Minor League players, players from all NCAA divisions, & high school athletes. Thank you to all who took the time and submitted their answers!

There were 2 important questions that I want to share with you…

 

Question #1

“Do you wish you started strength training at an earlier age to help your long-term development?”

96% responded with a YES.

Of the 4% who said no, were all under the age of 15 when they first started a lifting program.

 

Question #2

“What advice would you give to an athlete in high school about when to start strength training?”

98% of responded by saying they should have already started, ASAP, or prior to high school.

I wanted to break down the long-term development and talk about goal setting, and what exactly is a periodized training program.

 

Planning Out Your Long-Term Success

 

 

What Is Periodization?

This is your planning and process for long-term success. Based on your sport, age, competitiveness, and other factors, planning for your on-field performance is crucial.

Following a periodized program will help layout your foundation for where you currently are, and where you would like to get.

This could be 1 month down the road, 3 months, or a year. Having that plan allows you to steadily progress your workout program as you begin to see results!

 

What Are Macrocycles?

This is the annual plan. Long term, this prepares your athlete or client to peak at their performance day or season.

  • Off-season
    • This is your longer duration phase and where you will see adaptations and building capacities.
    • This is where you should be making the largest impact on your performance.
  • In-season
    • Maintaining what was built during the off-season. Maintaining movement patterns, body positions, and strength.
    • Depending on your age, this can also be used to continue to build on your previous success. This is commonly seen in youth and middle school ages.
  • Transition Phases
    • Post Season work. This helps the body repair, recover, rest, and regenerate. Depending on the age, athlete, sport, this phase can be 3-5 weeks.

 

 

What Are Mesocycles?

Mesocycles are phases/months of training that can range from 2-6 weeks depending on the athlete. The mesocycle is where you can have your adaptations, and changes. With higher level athletes, you can begin to have different program variations (triphasic, contrast, VBT, hypertrophy, etc.) based on goals, and what the athlete is prepared for.

There will be anywhere from 3-10 mesocycles in a macrocycle based on age, sport, and level.

These smaller cycles enable athletes to progressively improve upon an area of their training in a systematic manner. Focusing on making sure the athlete understands the purpose behind their training and can set short-term, more manageable goals to help whatever long-term goals they may have.

 

What Are Microcycles?

These are commonly smaller programs, sometimes a week. This may be seen more during in-season, or if a client is traveling a lot for sport… for example, summer baseball travel. You may have to adjust weekly based on how the body is feeling, games, practices, and travel. This is where client rapport comes in, so you can communicate with them.

I have many athletes who we adjust the workout based around how they walked in the door. Some may come in tight after a game or travel, and just not in a good position to perform the planned lift.

Making that decision can be something that can keep an injury away! For example, if you have a stiff back after a ski trip, just because your program calls for deadlifts, does not mean you have to perform them. Instead, consider performing other exercises that are not strenuous for the back and moving your deadlift routine to a different day until your discomfort is eliminated.

 

Based on that chart, those are some of the questions and what I commonly see after training baseball players from all levels (MLB, MiLB, NCAA, High School, Youth).

Be sure to apply these principles to your training for the best performance results. These principles can be used across all ages for long-term athletic success.

 

Need an Offseason Training Program?

I’m really excited to have recently teamed up with Mike Reinold to release a couple of online offseason baseball performance training programs.  Now you can follow our acclaimed programs from anywhere in the world, just like all the baseball players at Champion.  We give you everything you need to enhance performance, reduce injury, and get ready for the season!

Check them out below:

 

 

4 Ways to Improve Your Command and Control in the Weight Room

Generally, when players start to struggle with throwing strikes, they’ve been conditioned to modify their mechanics. Many times, this is completely unnecessary.

Anatomy often tells us that in order to fix a “control” issue, strength and stability may need to be addressed before looking deeper into the situation.

Not long ago, I noticed a great tweet from Lantz Wheeler (from the Baseball Think Tank):

 

I found this to be one of the greatest external cues that I could use to get my point across to younger athletes struggling with throwing strikes.

It also prompted me to dive into this article on creating better “control” in the delivery through strength and stability.

But first, we should know the difference between command and control.

 

Command vs. Control

Even though they are similar, they’re not quite the same. These two skills are necessary for any pitcher who wants to elevate their game to the next level. But for today, we’re going to be talking about control. But first what’s the difference?

 

Control

To have control over one’s pitches means that a pitcher is able to throw strikes.

Not just out of the zone swings and misses either, but actual called strikes.

A pitcher needs to exhibit the ability to throw a fastball for a strike at any time during an at-bat, in other words “consistency”.

 

Command

Once a pitcher gains control over their pitches they must then move on to learning command.

Pitchers with good command have the talent to place their pitches anywhere they want within the strike zone. Not only can they just throw strikes, but good strikes.

This is more about how the ball is coming off your hand and how you’re locating the ball. I’ll leave that to our pitching coaches and Rapsodo.

Having better “control” means that your brain does a good job calling on the right muscles at the right time, and that you have the strength to maintain a stable platform to throw from.

So really, when we’re talking about control, we’re talking about becoming more stable, which is basically talking about getting stronger.

This brings us back to Lantz’s comment. When a pitcher lacks the ability (stability) to maintain pelvic position, it’s hard to make an efficient rotation at front foot strike, while still maintaining his driveline to the plate.

The outcome is usually missing high and arm side, in other words a lack of CONTROL.

A lack of strength and stability alters and creates less than optimal movement patterns. This in turn will create inconsistent throwing patterns and problems executing pitches as in throwing strikes (control).

“Don’t take mechanical solutions to athleticism problems. Before tinkering w/ mechanics, make sure a pitcher can jog to the mound w/out tripping.” – Eric Cressey

Many times, a pitching coach will spend hours working on arm slot mechanics when the athlete’s poor hip or core stability is the culprit.

This can lead to a lot of wasted time and frustration from both the player and the coach. Until these issues are fixed both will be banging their heads against the wall.

 

Now, let’s get into how we can create strength and stability in order to drive “control”.

 

Strength and Stability Drive Control

 

Train Single-Leg Strength

This helps create good, consistent ball and socket congruency (femur centered in the hip) at foot strike as well as a strong STABLE platform to throw from. Enter the Split Squat:

  • Build single-leg strength,
  • Improve flexibility in the trailing leg,
  • Improve stability and control through the hip, knee and ankle, etc.

 

Improve Anterior and Rotary Core Strength and Stiffness

Next to the lower half, the core / rib cage positioning is probably the most important part of a pitching delivery.

It is at the center of the body and serves as a platform for the shoulder blades to move on, which in turn, dictates where the hand will be at ball release. It also gives us the stiffness needed to “hold” the upper body in place while the lower half starts to rotate.

I mean many young athletes can barely perform a plank correctly, let alone try to stabilize their core, while throwing a baseball as hard as they can.

Working on some good anterior core strength can be just what the doctor ordered. Oh yea, let’s throw in some serratus work while we’re at it to work on upward rotation as well.

(TRX Forearm Flutters)

 

Make Sure Your Program Includes Rotational Movements and Anti-Rotation Movements

Being able to control when your body rotates or preventing itself from rotating when it shouldn’t (think rolling an ankle or tweaking a knee), is a key part of ensuring you have good control and stability throughout your body.

An example of a rotational movement would be a wide stance cable rotation. An anti-rotation movement would be core stability at stride length.

(Core Stab at Stride Length)

 

Rotator Cuff Strength and Firing Time

The cuff has to be strong and timed up to center the humeral head (ball) on the glenoid fossa (socket) while the arm is accelerating.

Perturbations work great to help teach the smaller stabilizers to fire quicker and more efficiently rather than using the bigger prime movers such as the lat and deltoid.

Firing time of the cuff is just as important as cuff strength in regard to injury prevention.

 

(1/2 Kneeling Band Stabilizations)

 

Our goal here at RPP is to make sure movement quality and strength has been optimized to get improvements before even considering touching your mechanics.

But as always, every pitcher is different. Determine what the needs are first, and then prescribe the correct training effect from there.

See ya’ in the gym…

Proper Conditioning for the Baseball Player

Conditioning with Tempo Runs

Conditioning for baseball players has long consisted of LSD: long, slow, distance work.

While slow aerobic work has it benefits, I tend to disagree that it is a useful technique for baseball athletes which leads up to the inclusion of tempo runs. Tempo runs tend to fill the gap between speed, aerobic fitness, and recovery.

Tempo runs are low intensity sprints performed at 65-75% of max speed. They are essentially the middle ground between full out sprints, and slow jogging.

They are termed such by the great Canadian sprint coach Charlie Francis. He utilized tempo runs as not only a form of aerobic development for sprinters but as a means of recovery in his high / low system of programming.

A high-low system, if you are unaware, means high nervous system intensive demands are all placed on one day, followed by low nervous system demands the following day.

Using this format allows for greater recovery in preparation for the next high training day. Speed, strength, and power are all highly dependent upon the neuromuscular system, or the CNS.

Training high-intensity elements on back-to-back days constantly creates CNS fatigue and disrupts the body’s ability to produce at a high output.

High CNS means are prioritized with at least 48 hours of recovery before they should be trained again. The rest gives the neuromuscular system time to rebound. Fatigue doesn’t bode well for developing speed, strength, or power.

 

CNS Recovery

Tempo runs are an excellent means of recovery work on low intensity days. Staying in the 65%-75% of max speed is essential for nervous system recovery.

The high / low system is focused on eliminating the middle ground of sprinting at 76-95% intensities. These intensities are too slow to be utilized for speed development, and too fast for recovery. They become too intensive to recover from quickly and create residual fatigue for the next high intensive day.

When that happens, the main work, such as strength, power, and speed suffers. Tempo runs give athletes a more specific training effect without substantial nervous system fatigue.

 

Speed technique

Speed and power athletes can benefit from tempo runs due to its specificity. Tempo runs allow athletes to focus on some of the technical pieces important to high level sprinting. Athletes can focus on arm drive, relaxation, and rhythm in a submaximal setting when performing high volumes of tempo runs.

A cue I use often is to pretend as if you’re Usain Bolt in the early rounds of the 100m, cruising to a victory 20m ahead of the pack. Run easy, relaxed, and rhythmical.

 

Aerobic development

Baseball has long been a slave to the belief that pitching is built around a foundation of aerobic capacity. Long, slow, jogging and distance work is not specific, nor is it complementary to speed, and power development.

Too much slow work interferes with gains on the other end of the spectrum. Tempo runs give athletes the benefits of cardiovascular development in a more complimentary fashion to the rest of their training.

While the aerobic system is important and necessary it must also be understood that it isn’t the end all be all. Where the aerobic energy system is important is in the parasympathetic nervous system and in recovery process of the body.

 

Capillary Density

One of the biggest benefits in that of increasing capillary density. Low intensity tempo runs build a larger capillary network throughout the muscle. Increasing capillary density provides many benefits.

 

Staying Warmer

Increasing capillary density creates more heat throughout the muscle as well as allows for the muscle to stay warmer longer.

This was hugely important for Olympic level sprinters as often their training runs would require 10-20 minutes of rest to insure full recovery.

The ability to stay warm was key. With baseball, this is an absolute no-brainer. Position players may easily stand around for long periods of time without moving.

Enhancing capillary density can help keep athletes warmer when the time comes for that one all out sprint effort following 20+ minutes of waiting in the outfield for a ball to come your way.

 

Blood Flow and Nutrient Transfer

Enhanced capillary density improves blood flow throughout the muscle complex.

Increasing blood flow not only enhances heat, but also improves oxygenation, as well as nutrient transfer.

Nutrient transfer is important in not only the benefits of more nutrient availability on the good side but also the removal of waste products on the bad side.

 

Implementation

I prefer a walking rest interval during our tempo runs. This is generally a 1:2 ratio.

Take the distance of each rep and walk half that between each run. If athletes are doing 100yd tempo runs, I have them walk to the 25yd line and back for their rest interval.

 

Intensity

The intensity is the most important element with tempo runs. Athletes should stay within 65-75% of maximum speed.

Calculations can be made based upon an athlete’s best 60m time or other sprint time, but I find it unnecessary to do a bunch of calculations. Rather, I rely on the athletes to determine their own 65-75%.

Not only does this give them awareness of their own movement, but they will drift towards their current readiness levels as well. A more tired athlete will run slower than a fresh athlete, which is fine.

If a coach does base it off a best time remember to factor in the conditions of where the best time was performed versus where the tempo runs are happening (track vs grass field).

The best indicator of proper intensity is an athlete should be able to perform the first rep and the last rep at the same intensity. An athlete running too fast will begin to fatigue and the last reps will be slower and more tiring than the first.

Tempo runs should be almost refreshing to the body. Fatigue should not be a large factor.

 

Total Volume

The total volume often depends on goals but I often stay between 1000-1600 total yards of volume.

At times, we may work up close to 2000 yards but that is few and far between. Charlie Francis used 2000 yards as his standard for 100m sprinters.

Coaches should build volume gradually just as they would with any other new stimulus.

Each run varies from 50-100 yards but any variety of distances can be effective.

 

Location

In general tempo runs should be performed on a softer surface. Grass makes for the best surface to eliminate repetitive pounding that baseball athletes may not be used to.

Tempo Example:

14 runs of 80 yards with a 40-yard walk rest interval

Implementing tempo runs into a baseball program can not only enhance the cardiovascular system that so many coaches believe in, but also assist in the recovery processes and speed development.

Baseball is a speed/power sport and training athletes to the match the demands of competition should be a priority. Long distance running doesn’t fit the mechanical, nor physiological requirements of the sport.

Adding tempo runs can complement the explosive sport demands while also assisting those of aerobic development, and recovery.

Top 4 Exercises to Help Generate Front Leg Power in Throwers

In this blog post, I am going to focus on the lead leg when throwing. While arm path and direction are definitely something to not ignore, the lead leg plays a very important role when throwing a baseball, especially pitching.

 

Why the Front Leg is Important

Think of the front leg as a means of transferring momentum as energy gets built up. This allows for an optimal transfer of energy into the upper body through the throwing process.

The top pitchers in baseball often show similar traits and mechanics. While they each have a unique way to their delivery, most tend to hit similar checkpoints, and one of these checkpoints is a great front leg brace.

Without the front leg bracing and assisting in that energy transfer, where could all the force go?

Shoulder? Elbow? Your back?

All that will depend on the athlete, and their individual body makeup and throwing biomechanics.

 

How to Work on the Front Leg

The following exercises are some of my “Go To’s” I have used with MLB, MiLB, NCAA, all the way down to youth levels!

 

1. OVERHEAD MED BALL TOSS

This is a great drill to work on your front leg and knee extending. Watch the videos below to see what not to do, and how to optimally perform the med ball drill with the help of a ramp or wedge. We normally perform 2-4 sets of 3-5 reps on each side.

 

2. STEP UP JUMPS

This is a great drill to work on your front leg power and force. Start on a box around 12-18 inches based on your height. For reference, the athlete in the video is 6’3″ using a 18″ box.

Drive off your front leg to explode as high as you can. Allow your trail leg to perform a knee drive.

This will help to optimize your timing and production.

I personally like to use the gFlight to measure the athletes jump height. Here’s what we found out about this RHP…1. His left leg was measuring about 11-13″ each jump. 2. His right leg was measuring 7-9″ per jump.

So that lets us know there is a imbalance of power and force.

Getting his right leg caught up will only help his plant lead leg when throwing.

We normally perform 2-4 sets of 3-5 reps on each side.

3. FRONT FOOT ELEVATED LUNGE

This is a great drill to work on your front leg power and force.

Standing on an elevated plate or riser allows the athlete to get near parallel or slightly below parallel in the lunge pattern. The more weight, the more force you must produce to perform the exercise. I typically program 3-5 sets of 4-8 reps on each leg.

 

4. DUMBBELL STEP UPS

This is a great drill to work on your front leg power and force. This is a very similar leg extension seen in throwers.

We are now adding a weighted component, which will increase strength and power, and should help with force development.

The more weight, the more force you must produce to perform the exercise. I typically program 3-5 sets of 4-8 reps on each leg.

How to Own the 60-Yard Dash

Speed is one of the most important tools in the game of baseball. Everyone wants to get faster in some way, whether it be linear speed or being quicker towards the ball.

There’s a reason why the 60-yard dash is the first test that is performed at every showcase across America – because speed matters!

Believe it or not, you can train yourself to become a faster athlete. Since speed is a skill, it can be trained.

Since the 60-yard dash is the first test that is performed at showcases, it’s important to grab a coach’s attention early on.

To improve on the 60-yard dash, you need to have outstanding relative strength, mobility, acceleration/top speed mechanics, and start mechanics!

 

How Can You Improve Your 60-Yard Dash?

First, you need to improve your relative strength. The stronger you are per pound of bodyweight, the more force you’re going to be able to apply into the ground with each foot strike. What this does is propel your body further in space, leading to a longer stride.

Here’s a crazy display relative strength – Miami Marlins Outfielder, Matt Brooks Trap Bar Deadlifts 3x his body weight (550 LB)! It should come as no surprise that Matt is also EXTREMELY fast!

 

Next, you need to MOVE BETTER! Flexibility and Mobility is HUGE!

By improving flexibility and mobility in your hips and legs you will be able to improve extension of your hip, knee, and ankle when accelerating.

Improving your flexibility and mobility goes along with performing a proper warm-up before your 60-yard dash.

 

 

Sprint Technique for the 60-Yard Dash

When we perform the 60-yard dash, we go through two different phases of sprinting: acceleration and top-speed.

The first phase of your sprint in the 60-yard dash is known as the acceleration phase.

For this phase, your goal should be to maintain a steep forward lean and a positive shin angle. This will give you the best mechanical advantage to accelerate and dominate the first 10 yards of the 60-yard dash.

Exercises to Improve Acceleration Technique include Sled Drags, Sled Pushes, Hill Sprints, Push-Up Sprint Start, Mountain Climber Sprint Start, Falling Sprint Start

 

Once you have concluded the acceleration phase of the 60-yard dash, you will approach the Top Speed or max velocity phase.

For this phase, your body angle will shift to more of an upright posture.

You will want your foot strike to be directly underneath your center of gravity and you want to perform more of a cycle action of the lower limbs, as opposed to the drive action we’re looking for with acceleration.

Exercises to Improve Top Speed Running Technique include Flying Sprints, Speed Bounds, Straight-Leg Bounding, Running High Knees

 

Owning the Warm-Up

Now that we talked about some specific exercises and speed drills you can incorporate in your training to lower your 60-yard dash, we should talk about how to warm up properly before you run your 60.

This is SUPER important because you want to prepare your body in the most efficient way possible so you have the best opportunity to DOMINATE the 60!

 

Start Technique

Finally, you’re ready to practice your start technique!

Your starting technique is critical because this will determine how much distance you will cover in the first few steps. A strong start can help you lead into a stronger finish.

The start technique shown in the video below is the same starting stance I used to run an elite 60 (6.42 when I played) and continue to utilize with my high school and college athletes that have to run the 60-yard dash for scouts.

 

By improving on your mobility, mechanics, and strength, you’ll be a step closer into getting faster.

In his newest 8-week Speed Program, Six Stages of Speed, Alex covers multiple exercises and modalities to use that will help you own the 60-yard dash.

If you’re a baseball player that is serious about training for better speed, give the program a try!

Three-Dimensional Core Training for Baseball Players

Baseball is a three-dimensional sport, but the majority of strength and conditioning coaches seem to gravitate to a sagittal plane dominant regimen while ignoring the frontal and transverse planes drastically.

The more we can train our core in all three planes of motion, the easier it is to handle the stress that throwing a baseball/swinging a bat puts on our bodies.

In baseball, the body must create, absorb, direct and decelerate energy in all three planes of motion. Being able to achieve this task should allow for a longer and more prosperous career.

Most conventional exercises like crunches, supermans and other ground-based exercises are sagittal plane dominant. We need to broaden our approach and start training with a three dimensional approach that replicates baseball activities.

 

The primary function of the core is to facilitate motion between the pelvis and the upper body. This includes accelerating and decelerating motion in all three planes on each side of the body simultaneously.

There are various ways to turn on abdominals. For my money, the core reacts best to lengthening or stretching to become stimulated.

A muscle must load eccentrically before it can explode or concentrically contract.

Lengthening our muscles stimulates proprioceptors which are located within our muscles and tendons and give our bodies feedback regarding muscle tension, muscle length, and movement/pressure. The more proprioception that is achieved during a movement, the more dynamic and beneficial the movement becomes.

By using an arm driver, the athlete can take advantage of gravity, ground reaction forces, mass, and momentum to create a chain reaction throughout the body. These types of chain reactions help strengthen and prepare the body for the stresses that the game of baseball demands to play it.

Here are some examples of standard plank variations utilizing these principles. By using your arm as a driver, you can create rhythmic eccentric and concentric contractions. Be sure to include this three-dimensional staple for your workouts moving forward.

 

10 Keys to a Better Long Toss Session for Baseball Pitchers

Note from the Editor-in-Chief: We love long toss at Elite Baseball Performance, especially programs that are smart, individualized, and well structured for the right time of year.  Alan Jaeger has done a lot of great work in this area and has really helped popularize long toss in general.  Dale does a great job discussing some of these concepts and points he uses to get the most out of long toss below.  If you are interested in learning more, we encourage to learn more from Alan’s Thrive on Throwing 2 program and be sure to check out his J-bands for your arm care program.  

 

In baseball, there is no substitute for a well-conditioned and healthy arm. Virtually no baseball specific activity can be done successfully if you have a weak or an injured arm. You can’t make accurate throws if you’re an infielder, you can’t gun down a runner from the outfield, and you certainly can’t pitch well.

I’ll say it again: the bottom line is that a baseball player needs to have a strong, conditioned and healthy arm to play the game. It can be the deciding factor as to whether a player moves on to the next level.

In this article, you’ll learn how to better structure and improve your long toss sessions/

“Your arm is your life line as a player — it can either be an asset or liability. Be proactive — it is one of your five major tools, so treat it that way.”

 

 

When Should a Player Implement a Long Toss Routine?

The primary goal of any throwing program should be to put the arm in the best position possible to be healthy and perform at the highest level. The next priority is to build strength, endurance and accuracy. The most important time to establish a throwing program is during the offseason, for two main reasons:

 

  1. No Interference From Games and Practices

When a player is in the offseason, there are no demands of games or practices giving players the freedom to follow a sound throwing routine. This freedom allows players to throw based on their own personal needs and work on specific mechanics. Also, in the absence of excessive game related throwing, the player will be better able to recover adequately between sessions.

 

  1. Less Wear and Tear From In-Season Throwing

When a player is in season, bullpens and game-related throwing put a tremendous amount of wear and tear on the arm. It has been shown that arm strength, more specifically rotator cuff strength and scapular stabilizer proficiency, actually decreases over the course of the season. Because of this, we don’t want to add any excess stress on the arm during the season.

 

How to Long Toss

A long toss session can be broken into two phases: the stretching-out phase, and the pull-down phase.

 

Stretching-Out Phase

This is the first stage of a long toss session where our goal is to let the arm stretch itself out with a loose arm action. Here we are allowing our arm to throw as far as it wants to throw while keeping throws pain free and effortless. Be aware of keeping sound mechanics.

The goal of this phase is to “stretch out the arm,” creating a greater capacity for arm speed using a longer, looser arm motion. Progressively throw farther and farther until comfortably maxed-out in distance. After peaking in distance, we’ll start the pull-down phase.

 

Pull-Down Phase

After reaching maximum distance during the stretch out phase, we will work back in towards our throwing partner. Because the muscles have been lengthened and the arm has been adequately loosened, we have a greater capacity for the arm to generate speed.

As you come in, you will notice that it will take a great deal of concentration to pull your throws downhill and not sail them over your partner’s head. If you decelerate or ease up on your throw to gain this control, you cannot effectively increase your arm speed.

To pull your throws down to your partner, we will have to accelerate through your release point by taking your maximum effort throw toward your throwing partner. We want to focus on maintaining good balance and creating downward extension through your release point towards your target.

The number of throws during the pull-down phase will vary from player to player. A general rule of thumb is to come in 10 feet at a time with each throw.

Arm speed and endurance comes from the combination of both phases. The additional distance provides the arm with an opportunity to generate more arm speed on longer, looser and well-conditioned muscles. Now that we’re clear on what a long-toss session looks like, let’s discuss some ways to maximize your training effect.

 

Baseball Field

 

10 Tips to Get The Most Out of Your Long Toss Session

  1. Warm up properly using a dynamic warm up.
  2. Always maintain sound throwing mechanics. Don’t let your mechanics degrade by overthrowing.
  3. Keep your throws loose and nearly effortless. You should not be straining to reach your target.
  4. If you max out in the stretching-out phase in terms of distance, don’t worry, just stay at that distance and continue to work there until your arm allows more. Remember, the end point of your throwing distance should still see a nice controlled throwing motion with your normal mechanics.
  5. Remember that the goal of a long toss program is to progressively build arm strength through increasing distance.
  6. Let your arm dictate the number of throws that you perform at each distance. If you feel strong, feel free to throw a few extra, but remember: if at any point you feel sore or fatigued, stop throwing. You should never throw through fatigue and certainly not through soreness.
  7. When returning from max distances to throw from 60 feet, concentrate on finishing through your release and forcing the ball down – it is easy to miss high.
  8. Use a step behind before every throw. It keeps the hips properly closed preventing the arm from flying open too early, especially as you stretch out to longer distances. Add a second crow-hop if necessary to build momentum.
  9. Starting a long toss program early on will help you develop a unique understanding of your arm that will pay big dividends for years to come. Get to know your arm now and put yourself ahead of the competition.
  10. Perform a cool down. Gently stretch and perform a post-throwing mobility routine to help speed up your recovery and maintain muscle tissue quality.

 

Don’t Forget Arm Care & Prehab

Even the strongest arm is vulnerable to serious injury if not properly cared for with functional rotator cuff and scapular stabilization exercises.

By neglecting the importance of a rotator cuff strengthening program and an adequate throwing warm up routine, you are pushing the odds in the favor of injuring yourself at some point.

Elite Baseball Performance has a great free arm care program designed to build your base strength.

 

Use These 10 Tips to Improve Your Arm Strength & Health

Without the opportunity to long toss, the arm won’t gain the strength, length, and endurance it needs. Following a quality arm care and long toss regimen will pay dividends in the long-run. Use the guidelines in this article to have better long toss sessions and build arm strength for years to come.