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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!

4 Tips for Strength Coaches to Connect with Baseball Coaches

The ability to connect with players is a topic getting more and more attention in the sports performance world these days. But, what are some strategies for connecting with the coaches of the athletes you train?

This is a topic I have been thinking about a lot lately, and I figured no better topic to get me back into blogging.

I see a lot of articles on the science involved with being a strength coach, how to be a great programmer, how to teach the squat, top five accessory lifts for baseball players etc.

But, as we all know, being an effective strength coach is more than just the nuts and bolts of a micro-cycle or setting up correctly for a deadlift.

Strength coaches need to be equipped with a certain set of interpersonal skills which allow them to communicate efficiently with the many different personalities they will deal with daily. Athletes are the obvious example that comes to mind, but here I want to focus on the importance of a good relationship between the strength coach and skill coach, and how it can make or break the progress of the athletes involved.

I have seen this relationship from multiple angles in my career, both as both a player and an strength coach. If you’re not careful and collaborative, the dynamic can quickly turn into a coach vs. coach relationship leaving an athlete in a tough spot.

One coach pitted against the other can be escalated to even greater heights thanks to the infinite amount of training information available at your fingertips thanks to YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter, with little guidance on sorting out the good from the bad.

Most coaches develop their ideas and philosophies through personal experiences. Because no two coaches have the exact same background or coaching path, it’s unlikely they’ll see eye-to-eye on every training philosophy; that’s why strength coaches need to be adaptable!

It is naïve to believe there is a one size fits all approach that a strength coach can use to effectively communicate with every sport coach they will encounter.

So how does a coach with knowledge and expertise in getting athletes faster and stronger best communicate with a coach whose main concern is putting together lineups, winning games, and teaching how to throw a change-up?

 

Check Your Ego at The Door

In coaching, just like any other profession, there are egos involved. Some strength coaches and baseball coaches are slow to change the way they do things, especially if they have had some success. Resistance or hesitation to implement a new training style or program should not be met with resentment by the strength coach.

Instead, the strength coach must be able to communicate the basic tenants of their program to the sport coach. Explaining how the program would benefit the athletes and ultimately improving sport specific performance.

Remember, the sport coaches measure success in wins and losses, not vertical jump height and back squat numbers.

Too often I have seen a strength coach get frustrated and “write off” a coach because they are unwilling to implement fully what the strength coach recommends. Avoid the urge to get upset, and keep being a professional!

Understand where the coach’s reservations are coming from and keep an open mind, perhaps they have some good points based on their experiences that could help you grow as a baseball strength coach.

However, you can communicate to the baseball coach see the “value” in your program, building trust as you develop a relationship. Start by getting small “training” victories and build these small victories on top of one another.

These victories lead to players buying in you, which will hopefully eventually lead to their coach buying in as well as they start to see the results.

 

Share the Same Goal – Developing Players!

Another thing that is easy for strength coaches to lose sight of is the fact that they are there to elevate the on-field performance of the athletes they work with, through performance training.

Performance training is not the end goal for athletes! This elevation in on-field performance manifests itself in performance!

When I feel I am having trouble communicating or getting through to a coach, I remind myself of this fact, we both want the best for our athletes!

Finding this common ground with a sports coach can create a very strong foundation in which a cohesive work relationship can be built.

Again, patiently describing how you can help the coach and their athletes develop will create value in your training program.

 

Give a Little to Gain A Lot

Many times, a strength coach must be willing to adapt at times to achieve a greater overall goal.

A quick example of this might be getting on board with a baseball coach taking his team through an basic workout or training session once a week to allow those athletes to come train with you 3 other days that week.

Sure, in your head you know that the players will only have minimal gains in performance by training ince per week, but start building that relationship with both the players and coaches will help develop into a longer relationship.

Trying to be a dictator or a “my way or the highway” strength coach, is a sure way to drive them away from you and your training. This is especially true when you haven’t worked with a sport coach before.

 

Be Part of the Team

This is a tricky point, one that I feel is vitally important, but can also be easily misunderstood. I have heard strength coaches complain about how they don’t get respect from baseball coaches and sometimes even athletes they work with.

They get hung up on being called “coach”, complain about buy-in, scheduling difficulties, players being on time, the list goes on.

Usually these are the same coaches that don’t ever attend games or practices, rarely to ever show interest in the athletes on-field performance and then wonder why they may be treated differently from other “on-field” coaches.

As a player, I wanted my strength coach to be “all in” on me and the team! It made me feel like he was a part of the team when I would see him at our games.

I think it’s also an important way to show the sport coach that you care as much about team’s success as they do. Showing up at games, practices etc. can go a long way to smooth over any bumps that may be present in a relationship with a sports coach.

It can also begin to help coaches and player see you as an integral part of the staff. Demanding everyone call you “coach” will not earn you anything but a reputation as power hungry egomaniac.

All of this is great, but it must be mentioned here: you are not a sport-specific coach! Know your role and stick to it.

In no way should you involve yourself with any on-field activities/instruction unless explicitly asked to lend a hand.

It is not unusual to see a competent strength coach playing catch with a rehabbing pitcher or maybe helping out shagging balls during batting practice, but again, only do so if you are asked to assist!

Overstepping your bounds is the quickest way to a sport coaches dog house. Stay in your lane!

As the strength and conditioning profession continues to evolve, interpersonal relationships are becoming more and more important.

Yes, the ability to connect with athletes is an integral part of the job, but so is the ability to connect with their other coaches. Understanding and employing the tips above will go a long way in making sure you relate to the coaches in working towards a common goal for your athletes.

How to Use the Weight Room for Baseball Pitching Mechanical Issues

I truly believe that for those athletes that can do certain basic things properly the sky is the limit. However, the reality is that the underlying foundation that enables pitchers to do these “basic things” is great strength and mobility (in other words a good movement strategy).

Let me first start by saying this: there is no pitching coach on the planet that can get a pitcher into a desired position if the athlete does not physically have the strength or mobility to get into that position. Period.

Case in point, Cleveland Indians pitcher Robbie Aviles came to me a couple of years ago after a long season, presenting with a lack of Internal Rotation (IR) in his lead leg and a limited ability to engage his core. This side-by-side video demonstrates what his squat looked like at his assessment (left) and one hour later, after some intensive training focusing on strength and mobility.

(Robbie Aviles – Before and After)

 

Which pitcher (before or after) do you think will be capable of throwing more gas and for a longer period of time?

After cleaning up Robbie’s hip IR, his anterior tilt and making him aware of what great core control is all about.

It’s really all about being more mobile and stronger and being able to physically get into positions you need to get into to be successful on the mound.

In keeping with our concept of the Closed Loop, where your pitching coach and strength coach work in sync to achieve a result, I thought it would be appropriate to give some insight into how we help fix some of the issues that we observe on the mound from a strength and mobility standpoint (i.e. the weight room).

 

Maintaining a Healthy, Clean Arm Action

The words “stress free and clean” are the key words here. The bottom line is clearing pathways from a mobility standpoint, or creating stability by increasing strength, allows the body to take the path of least resistance.

This in turn takes stress off the muscles and joints that are trying to do the job all by themselves.

A great example is strengthening the core to give the arm a more stable base of support to throw from.

Here’s a great exercise to strengthen the core while the arm goes into the overhead position.

 

Shoulder to Hip Separation

We need thoracic spine (upper back) rotation to achieve a great pre-stretch in the hips/core in order to help create good hip-shoulder separation.

Successfully creating a great pre-stretch in the upper half while transferring force up the chain and into the arm, requires great core strength as well.

This core strength also gives us the stiffness needed to “hold” the upper body in place when the lower half starts to rotate, helping to create valuable torque when the upper body finally does start to unwind.

Once again, you can’t coach bodies into a position they’re not strong enough to get into or maintain.

 

Balance and Alignment

Achieving proper weight exchange at the appropriate time requires a strong lower half to be able to apply this strength in a specific manner.

Teaching this is possible, but only if the back leg and glutes are strong enough to maintain body weight and force into the ground on one leg while moving down an incline. Here’s a great one to get it done:

 

Another way to effectively transfer bodyweight, while maintaining great balance, is to have great core strength.

This first exercise is different than the one mentioned in #1 above due to the fact that it uses the core to dynamically transfer body weight and power from the lower half to the upper half in the frontal and transverse planes.

 

Timing and Rhythm

For pitchers, timing and rhythm is everything. If your throwing arm isn’t where it’s supposed to be when your front foot lands, you’re working against your body and your arm is playing catch-up.

This final point is a great example of how a mechanical problem in one area (in this case late arm action), could be caused by a mobility issue in a completely different side and/or part of the body.

For example, a lead hip that closes off early due to a lack of stability (strength) and/or internal rotation (mobility) could cause the arm to fly open early, helping to contribute to that late arm action as well as creating a “bang” on the anterior shoulder.

Here are two exercises that work on both strength and mobility:

 

 

Too often pitchers fail, not because they don’t train hard enough on the mound, but because they can’t physically do what is being asked of them.

I want to close by saying that a great throwing program MUST include input and development from both sides of the net. Only then can you ensure that you are giving it your all.

Remember:

 

You absolutely need both.

See ya’ in the gym…

Vest Cooling For The Baseball Catcher

In the game of baseball, most of the attention is focused on the pitcher. We are always continuing to research multiple avenues on how to enhance performance for the baseball pitcher. But what about the guy behind the dish?

Catchers are often beaten and scarred at the end of regulation play. Speaking from experience, catching for a doubleheader in the middle of the summer heat is difficult.

Is there a way we can optimize performance for the baseball catcher during a game?

Could it be as simple as staying hydrated, regulating body temperature to prevent heat exhaustion, or wearing an ice vest?

A recent study looked at the effects of intermittent vest cooling on increasing in-game performance for baseball catchers.

Since the game of baseball is mostly played during the hottest months of the year, the use of vest cooling may decrease perceived physical exertion, recovery heart rate, and core body temperature.

This study showed that the use of vest cooling for 4-minutes between innings in simulated games decreased core temperature, cardiovascular strain, and perceived exertion.

The subjects in this study who used the vest cooling also saw a greater perceived recovery status, meaning that they felt more recovered throughout the game.

But couldn’t ice reduce the amount of activity of your working muscles? The 4-minute interval between innings showed no negative effects on muscle temperature and body awareness!

Reducing core temperature and cardiovascular strain during competition allows for the player to increase the amount of work performed.

However, future research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms of intermittent vest cooling for baseball performance.

In this study, subjects only performed catching a fixed number of pitches during a simulated game and were not asked to hit or run the bases, as this would result in an increase in total work performed.

As a rule of thumb, I would give the baseball catcher a quick checklist throughout the game:

  1. Am I hydrated enough?
  2. Am I able to take deep breaths between innings and get my heart rate down?
  3. Is there a bag of ice readily available in the dugout if I feel overheated?

As we learn more, using a cooling vest seems like it may have a future in the game.

 

 

Bishop, SH, Szymanski, DJ, Ryan, GA, Herron, RL, and Bishop, PA. The effect of intermittent vest cooling on thermoregulation and cardiovascular strain in baseball catchers. J Strength Cond Res 31(8): 2060–2065, 2017—Baseball catchers are exposed to multiple physiological challenges while playing out- side during the spring and summer months, many of which deal with recovery and thermoregulation. The purpose of this study was to investigate the effect of intermittent cooling on core temperature, cardiovascular strain, exertion, and recovery during a simulated catching performance in the heat. Six trained college-aged baseball catchers performed in a controlled, hot (358º C), and humid (25% relative humidity) environment in a counter-balanced, cross-over design. Ice vest cooling (VC) was used as a cooling modality and was compared with a control of no cooling (NC). Rectal temperature (Tre), heart rate (HR), rating of perceived exertion (RPE), and perceived recovery scale (PRS) were recorded before and after each simulated inning. All activities took place in a heat chamber, and each inning consisted of catchers receiving 12 pitches in their position followed by 6 minutes of recovery. Nine total innings were performed, and 27 total innings were performed with each of the 2 treatments. A significantly smaller mean Tre change was seen in VC when compared with NC (0.58 ± 0.28° C, 0.98 ± 0.28° C, p ≤ 0.01, respectively). Rating of perceived exertion was significantly lower and PRS was significantly improved for VC compared with NC (both p ≤ 0.05). Mean recovery HR during VC was significantly lower than NC in the fifth (VC = 84 ± 8 b*min-1, NC = 90 ± 9 b*min-1, p = 0.04), seventh (VC = 84 ± 3 b*min-1, NC = 92 ± 7 b*min-1, p=0.02), and ninth (VC = 85 ± 7 b*min-1, NC = 93 ± 5 b*min-1, p = 0.01) innings. Heart rate during catching was significantly lower at the end of the VC trials when compared with NC (108 ± 16 b*min-1 vs. 120 ± 19 b*min-1, p = 0.02, respectively). Vest cooling decreased heat strain, cardiovascular strain, and RPE while it improved perceived recovery in catchers over a simulated 3-game series performed in hot conditions.

4 Lifestyle Factors That Affect Baseball Performance

As the summertime rolls around, the baseball tournament season is beginning to get heavy. Schedules begin to fluctuate between morning double headers and long travel for tournament play.

Hopefully, your body isn’t worn down because you’re in a solid strength and conditioning program. It’s important to maintain your athletic qualities so that they enhance your athletic skills on the field.

However, what a lot of players forget to even think about is a bunch of lifestyle factors that ultimately affect their performance. These factors can be both negative or positive. I often like to highlight 4 specific lifestyle factors that you’re not considering. These include sleep, nutrition, stress, and soreness.

 

Positive Factors: Sleep and Nutrition

Sleep may be the most important of the positive factors. This becomes critical when schedules are hectic. If you aren’t well rested, this will negatively affect your performance.

When my athletes log how many hours of sleep they get, I usually take off an hour. This is because we aren’t in a “deep sleep” for those “x” number of hours.

What if you have an early 8:30am game, and need to be at the field an hour before? When should you realistically wake up?

Does it take a while for you to “wake up”? Do you usually feel exhausted?

Does it take a while for you to “warm up” and stretch out as soon as you’re out of bed stiff as a rock?

These are all questions the athlete must think about.

Sleep, the hopeful 8-hour window, is when recovery takes place. It is during this time where growth hormone peaks, and testosterone usually peaks as soon as you wake up in the morning.

In my eBook, “The Game Day Guide to Optimal Baseball Performance”, I talk about how you can develop a nightly routine so that you can wake up feeling refreshed and ready to go on a steady basis.

When it comes to nutrition, this positive factor should also be ranked above a “7”.

Realistically, it will never be a “10” or a “9”. When ranking yourself daily, it’s important not to cheat! Be real with yourself!

Do you usually skip breakfast?

Did you eat any sort of fast-food prior to sleeping?

Do you drink enough water throughout the day?

Do you have enough pre-game snacks stored with you?

Again, these are all questions the athlete must think about.

Here’s a sample of a quality pre-game snack that includes protein, quality carbs, and healthy fats

  • Protein shake, apple and banana, trail mix with some sort of nuts and raisins
  • Banana and almond butter, hard-boiled egg, oranges/clementine’s
  • Greek yogurt with raw nuts, chicken/fish

When it comes to timing for nutrition, this becomes highly individual. For some, eating 30 minutes before warming up for a game might be the best option.

On the other hand, I know a handful of athletes that would rather eat an hour before a game because they like to play “hungry” and “fueled”.

 

Negative Factors: Stress and Soreness

The body does not know the difference between the stress before a game, during the game, after the game, or in the weight room. Stress is stress. This is important to consider because too much stress on the body can negative affect performance.

Therefore, these negative factors should be ranked below a 3 on the 1-10 scale as previously mentioned.

I use a pitch grid for my pitchers not only to track pitch count, but to track stress and soreness throughout the entire game. This will dictate how far/how much they throw in the following days from a start.

For position players, tracking your stress, or just being cognizant of it, is just as important because you’re getting more time on the field than the pitchers.

Did you get a lift in before the game? A day before the game? Two days before the game?

Not to get too specific with strength and conditioning, but if you do too much before a game this will peak the stress levels in your body.

One thing that worked for me in my playing career if I felt stressed before a game was to use mental imagery before the game. Imagine yourself playing from a first-person view and a third-person view.

See yourself performing at high levels, trusting your abilities, acting confident, breathing, and committing to every single play!

Tracking stress along with soreness gives a better picture of accumulated fatigue in baseball players.

Is your arm hanging from your shoulder? Is your back super sore and achy from all the swings you take?

If you’re not feeling too hot when you arrive at the field, make sure you do an extended warm up on your own on top of your team warmup.

 

How to Calculate Your Readiness Scores

When tracking these 4 lifestyle factors, baseball players can be even more aware of what they need to do to become game ready. When we put these 4 factors together, we can compute a readiness score.

When you try to determine their impact on your performance, I often recommend that you use a scale from 0-10 to form your readiness score.

On a scale from 1-10, positive factors should be ranked high, ideally a 7 or above.

On the other hand, negative factors should be ranked low, ideally a 3 or below.

To create a readiness score, just add your positive factors together and your negative factors together. Then, subtract your negative factors from your positive factors.

Here’s what a typical readiness score would look like:

  • Sleep – Quality 8 hours of sleep but tossed and turned a little in the AM, so 9/10
  • Nutrition – Had a good meal earlier in the day but had fast food at night, so 5/10
  • Stress – Had a good day with minimal stress, so 1/10
  • Soreness – Minimal soreness from the past day, so 2/10

You would then add those up:

  • Positive scores 9 + 5 = 14
  • Negative scores 1 + 2 = 3
  • Positive scores 14 – negative scores 3 = 11 readiness score

If you have a high readiness score, realistically a 14 or above, expect a high-performance day!

If you have a low readiness score, realistically a 10 or below, don’t expect to be performing at high levels.

So based on the example above, You’re in the middle. It’s easy to see how you can improve your readiness for tomorrow based on this.

If we track these factors daily, we can see fluctuations in our readiness scores and our performance. This makes the light bulb turn on in players because it makes it easy to link your performance to these factors. You may make better decisions with your nutrition intake, or get a little extra sleep when the day was more stressful.

 

The Game Day Guide to Optimal Baseball Performance

To review more concepts like this, check out my new eBook, The Game Day Guide to Optimal Baseball Performance.

In the Game Day Guide, I go over everything from what you should be focusing on in the offseason to research driven techniques to enhance your game day performance, and everything in between!

With 80+ pages of content and more than 15 cited research articles, I give an unbiased opinion on what you could do to become a better baseball player. I lay out the facts, but it is up to you the player, or coach, to decide how this information can be applied today!

5 Rotational Power Exercises for Baseball Performance

A strengthening program for baseball that doesn’t include rotational movements and “controlled rotation” is simply incomplete. Like the pitcher that throws 100 mph but has no idea where the ball is going, neither one is very effective.

Many of the primary activities in baseball consist of some amount of rotation in a powerful manner. Training should closely mimic the movements and energy systems utilized during the game.

Being able to rotate, and create powerful rotation is a must for baseball performance.

Try throwing a baseball with any force without rotation in your trunk. Have you ever hit a baseball out of the infield with just your arms and no trunk rotation?

 

Have you ever attempted to steal second without turning and driving your body in that direction? Not only would you look silly, but you’d be out! Get the point?

Baseball is a rotational sport. We must train that way!

Baseball players should train to generate force from the ground to fingertips in a rotational movement plane. Two areas that are largely responsible for controlled rotational power are the hips and the core.

 

The Hips and Core

When looked at more closely, the true function of the hips in baseball (and most other sports for that matter) is to stabilize the core from below and produce powerful but controlled rotation of the lower body on the upper body.

The role of the core is to control rotation and streamline the power generated below to the upper body. With most of this power coming from the explosive, rotational unloading of the hips, the teamwork between these two areas becomes obvious.

Now that we understand that importance of rotational hip and core strength and how they relate to the mechanics of pitching and hitting, what should you be doing about it?

Try incorporating a variety of controlled rotational exercises and conditioning drills focusing on maximizing hip and core strength and coordination.

 

Focusing on these areas during our training can help any baseball player develop rotational power that translates directly to the baseball diamond.

The game of baseball requires short bursts of speed and power followed by long periods of rest. Because of this, your exercise programming should include adequate rest periods of 1 minute or greater.

Adding the following exercises to your lower body/core training will most likely awaken the muscles you never knew you had. Now you realize the importance that strengthening them can have on every aspect of your game!

 

Rotational Exercises

Here are five simple exercises that will help you develop rotational strength and power. Try them out during your next training session.

 

Back Leg-Loaded Medicine Ball Throw

 

Side to Side Medicine Ball Slam

 

Single Leg Rotational Medicine Ball Slam

 

Rotational Landmine Press

 

Rotational Cable Push-Pull

Research Review: Weighted Implements and Swing Velocity

Hitting success in the game of baseball can be classified with three distinct factors: decision time, swing velocity, and exit velocity.

Since exit velocity can be influenced by the first two factors, is there a way we can enhance swing velocity before stepping into the batter’s box?

Previous researchers have tried to determine if swinging a slightly lighter or slightly heavier bat can enhance swing velocity.

Decision time and swing velocity have an inverse relationship: having more time to decide in swinging the bat will need a quicker swing velocity.

In this present study, subjects performed a swinging warm up with either a lighter plastic bat, normal game bat, or a significantly heavier bat.

The results showed that there were no significant differences in swing velocity before the swing intervention.

However, after the different swing warm ups, the plastic bat seemed to increase swing velocity post-warm up, with no significant difference from the normal game bat.

Adding to the body of research, this study shows that swinging a heavier bat can decrease swing velocity.

Although this new information adds to the body of research, the subjects rested for 2-3 minutes between their warm up trial, which may not be enough time in a normal game situation.

Previous research determined that swinging a bat within a 10% range of your normal game bat can still enhance swing velocity without altering swing mechanics. The heavy bat used in this study was almost 200% greater in mass!

If you want to optimize your swing velocity in the batter’s box, it is recommended to use a bat that you are comfortable with. A significantly heavier bat may decrease your swing velocity, so it’s important to stay within the 10% range of your normal game bat.

Evaluating the effects of underloaded and overloaded warm ups on subsequent swing velocity.

Several attempts to identify the optimal on deck procedure to enhance swing velocity in baseball have been made. However, inconsistent findings continue to constitute much of the body of literature. Additionally, the emergence of athlete monitoring in sport has led to the exploration of more sport specific tasks to potentially identify athlete fatigue and readiness to perform. Therefore, the purpose of this investigation was to examine three different bat weight warm up protocols on subsequent swing velocity and to examine the reliability of swing velocity measurements to allude to its potential a sport specific athlete monitoring metric. Thirty-two recreational male baseball players (20.3 ± 2.0years, 179.6 ± 7.1cm and 89.6± 11.1kg) completed the study. Subjects completed three testing visits that included warming up with a control bat ([CB] 32in, 29oz), plastic bat ([PB] 31in, 6.4oz), or heavy bat ([HB] 32in, 57oz). Testing visits began with three CB swing trials followed by three intervention bat trials, then concluded with three additional CB swings. Swing velocity was assessed using visual 3D technology. Analyses of variance indicate that following the PB (26.6 ± 2.0m/s) and CB interventions (26.2 ± 1.7m/s) significantly faster (p<0.001) swing velocities were generated when compared to the traditional HB intervention (24.1 ± 2.2m/s). When assessed for reliability, the average ICC was 0.681 and Chronbach’s alpha was 0.95 indicating exceptional reliability. Congruent to previous research, this data bolsters the notion that warming up with a HB can hinder swing velocity. However, in contrast to previous research this data suggests that using a PB can increase swing velocity significantly. Furthermore, visual 3D can be designated as an exceptionally reliable device to measure swing velocity.