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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.

Should Baseball Pitchers Run Long Distances?

There is still an on-going debate about conditioning for pitchers: running poles. Unfortunately, the old school thought of running poles seems to dominate the new school thought of taking energy systems into account when training baseball players.

You’re running poles for the wrong reasons.

Not only will this article provide the more efficient way for improving conditioning for pitchers, but it will also provide counter arguments for two common misconceptions.

Pitchers, I’m sure if you ask your coach why they make you run poles they will say one of two things: 1. You need to be conditioned or 2. You need stamina to go deep into a game.

To provide the clearest answer for all pitchers and coaches reading this article, let’s tackle these two arguments.

 

“You need to be conditioned”

I believe that it’s extremely important to have a well-developed aerobic system to recover during a workout/game or from intense training sessions/games.

However, is running poles the best option? I don’t believe so. In my opinion, you would benefit much more from performing movement based circuits.

Utilizing movement based circuits was something I picked up from my time down at Cressey Sports Performance where many of the athletes performed “movement days”.

To give you an example, here’s an example of a complete “movement day” many of my athletes have performed :

In this workout, I was able to not only improve the athlete’s aerobic capacity but also his movement quality, hip mobility, thoracic spine (upper back) mobility, ankle stability, core stability, scapular control, anterior core control, spinal stability etc.

Long-distance running is not able to improve upon all the above.

 

“You need stamina to go deep into a game”

Do you really think running pole after pole is improving a pitcher’s ability to explode off a mound and throw a ball as hard as possible to home plate?

I don’t think so.

Here’s what I think: I think pitchers have to be extremely powerful. Think about it… If you’re a pitcher, you’re EXPLODING off the mound and throwing the ball to home plate (single fastest motion in all of sports) and you’re doing this for upwards of 80-100 times a game.

You can call this “stamina” but my intuition tells me that by executing this explosive maneuver 80-100 times a game will require the athlete to possess a good amount of alactic capacity.

I think that if the athlete (in this case, the pitcher) improves alactic capacity in the specific limb required, it will allow them to maintain velocity deep into a game.

I also believe the pitcher will be able to improve resistance to a shoulder/arm injury as the arm won’t have to overcompensate for lower body fatigue.

Just because something has been done for years (running long distance) doesn’t mean it’s right. In my opinion, there are much better ways we can improve our performance other than running poles.

Rather than running yourself into the ground by running poles, focus on improving your movement patterns during the season.

2 Key Subscapularis Arm Care Exercises for Baseball Players

The subscapularis is a muscle that is often neglected when talking about arm care exercises for baseball players.

The subscapularis is a rotator cuff muscle that attaches from the inside of your shoulder blade/scapula and wraps underneath to the front part of your shoulder. It can be placed at a mechanical disadvantage with poor mechanics.

 

It contracts to protect your shoulder from excessive external rotation (layback) late in the throwing motion. There are also larger muscles that contribute to the velocity of the throw that are involved to provide stability (pectoralis major and the latissimus dorsi) in this layback position.

If the shoulder isn’t trained specific to the movement pattern, type of contraction, and position the arm needs to be in to accept these forces, you’re leaving yourself open to injury.

I often see exercises done by throwing athletes with bands or tubing that are nonspecific and do not prepare the shoulder for the forces that are placed on it during maximal external rotation.

Performing any tubing or band exercise does have a potentially positive effect for any throwing athlete, but there are simple things and pivotal positions that athletes should include that can make exercises for the rotator cuff so much better.

The rotator cuff’s primary role is to keep the humerus centered in the socket, resist distraction, and contribute to the ligamentous stability of the glenohumeral joint to prevent excessive anterior and posterior translation of the humeral head.

If the shoulder moves too much in the socket during the throwing motion in either direction that can contribute to instability and injury.

Knowing what a muscle’s role is in the throwing motion and what types of contractions it goes through should be the guiding principle in which exercises are chosen and how they’re performed. There is an extremely delicate balance that must be maintained when training a rotator cuff.

These factors are often overlooked and not included in most arm care routines and training regimens, even in professional baseball. My personal experience in professional baseball with injury, anterior subluxation requiring surgical correction, incomplete recovery, and 17 years of clinical experience working with throwing athletes has forced me to evaluate the effectiveness of rotator cuff exercises.

The posterior rotator cuff is often the prominent focus of in therapy for shoulder athletes, and rightfully so. But the subscapularis is a pivotal muscle for the throwing athlete but it is often neglected in therapy and training situations.

Below are two joint and contraction specific subscapularis exercises that we utilize and often include in our throwers’ corrective exercise programs. These videos give great detail as to the “why” behind certain exercises are chosen.

 

 

If you want to have a long-playing career, or even a healthy throwing season, you should implement these 2 exercises into your arm care routine and be sure to focus on your subscapularis.

How to Prepare in the On-Deck Circle

Baseball players have been swinging weighted implements in the on-deck circle for what seems like forever.

Weighted “donuts,” bat wraps, and heavy bats weighing up to 80 oz. are all fixtures at ballparks from the youth level up to the Major Leagues, and many hitters feel that swinging these weighted implements give them a performance boost by increasing their swing speed in the batter’s box.

However, an in-depth look at the research surrounding these tools shows that most of them might have no effect, or even a negative effect on performance, and lends credence to the idea that there might be a better way to warm up before hitting.

Here’s how some common on-deck tools stack up against each other, and a look at a relatively new strategy for warming up that current research suggests might be better than what we’ve all been doing for decades.

 

Bat Weights

Bat weights are, historically, the most common on-deck warmup tool that players use to prepare for hitting. These typically weigh 16-24 ounces, and can be applied to the bat either around the barrel or closer to the handle, depending on the brand.

Many baseball and softball players opt to use bat weights while taking practice swings in the on-deck circle because their swing feels faster after they remove the weight and start taking normal swings.

While there is something to be said for the psychological confidence boost one gets from feeling like their swing speed is increased, research shows that swing speeds typically DECREASE as compared to baseline after swinging with a weight on the bat.

So, while bat weights may provide a psychological benefit, they provide no physical benefit and may have a detrimental effect on swing speed when used directly before an at-bat.

Another (possibly bigger) issue with bat weights is that they alter the center of mass (COM) of the bat, which can disrupt swing timing and swing mechanics.

Hitting a baseball requires a high level of precision during the swinging motion, which can be thrown off by adding and/or removing weight at any point along the length of the bat, affecting its weight distribution.

This is especially true for younger athletes who have not yet established the level of motor patterning required to produce a highly consistent swinging motion.

Research has shown that hitters are less likely to produce consistent contact with the sweet spot of the bat immediately after warming up with a weighted implement, likely due to the slightly altered swing mechanics caused by the change in the bat’s COM.

While swing mechanics are eventually restored to normal after several swings with a normally-weighted bat, it can take up to 10 swings before normal kinematics are achieved.

Since most at-bats end with the batter taking far fewer than 10 swings, it’s generally not advisable to try to hit immediately after swinging with a weighted implement.

Imagine playing darts by warming up with a dart that has a small weight attached to the end of it, and then trying to throw a normal dart immediately afterwards.

Your throws right after switching to a normal dart would likely be erratic at best, and it would take a few throws for your body to “remember” how to throw the normally-weighted dart. This same principle applies for swinging a baseball bat, and in a sport where precision is so important, it’s likely not a good idea to utilize bat weights while warming up.

 

Heavy Bats

Heavy bats have recently seen an uptick in popularity as both a training aid, and as a warmup aid for use in the on-deck circle.

Most of these heavy bats are designed to mimic the weight distribution of a regular bat, which likely makes them a better warm-up option than bat weights since they have a center of mass that is like a normal bat, and will therefore cause less of a disturbance in swing mechanics after switching to a normal bat.

However, research has shown that warming up with a weighted bat can cause a decrease in swing speed after switching to a normal bat, so while they are potentially less detrimental than bat weights, there still isn’t much of a benefit.

Bats with heavily weighted knobs have also become popular recently, and have been touted to help hitters “keep their hands inside the ball.”

While it may be true that concentrating most the bat’s weight in the handle will prevent hitters’ hands from drifting away from their body or “casting” while they swing it, there is currently no research suggesting that these bats are helpful as a warm-up implement.

Again, the vastly different COM and weight distribution of these bats as compared to a normal bat will likely have a negative effect on swing mechanics after switching back to a normal bat.

 

Underweighted Bats

Underweighted bats, like heavy bats, are being used more as training aids to develop bat speed, and have shown some promise as a part of the warm-up process.

Using an underweighted bat as a warm-up implement generally has been shown to have either a positive effect on swing speed, or no significant effect, depending on which study you’re looking at.

At the very least, they seem to not have any negative effect on swing speed. However, it’s still possible that the underweighted bat may have a slightly different weight distribution than a player’s normal bat, so there is a chance that swing mechanics could be altered as a result of using it to warm up.

 

Normal Bats

While they may not be a cool or flashy option as a warm-up implement, there’s a good amount of research that suggests that just taking hard swings with a normal baseball bat may be the most beneficial warm-up a hitter can do in the on-deck circle.

Studies have shown similar improvements in swing speed following warm-up swings with a normal bat as compared to an underweighted bat, and there’s no chance of altered swing mechanics due to differences in COM or weight distribution.

In fact, the most effective way of warming up before hitting might be to utilize a normal bat, along with a max-effort isometric exercise designed to induce a phenomenon called Post-Activation Potentiation.

 

Using Post-Activation Potentiation to Increase Swing Speed

Post-Activation Potentiation or PAP is, admittedly, not well-understood by researchers just yet. Without getting deep into the proposed biological mechanisms of how PAP works, the basic idea behind this theory is that a high-intensity exercise can “supercharge” your body to move more explosively after an appropriate rest interval.

For example, it’s widely reported that sprinter Ben Johnson used to perform max effort squats before running races, and it provided him with a bit more explosiveness while running.

In general, it’s best to try to elicit PAP for a specific movement by stressing the muscles involved in that movement. For example, vertical jump height can be increased by doing heavy squats, explosive pushup velocity can be increased by performing a heavy bench press, etc.

So, if you’re looking to improve swing speed through post-activation potentiation, you’ll likely want to perform a movement that mimics a baseball swing. The best way to do this is to attach a bat handle or a rope handle to a chain, and then anchor that chain to an unmovable object like a wall or a fence post.

Stand far enough away from the wall that you can put yourself into the “slot” position as shown in the video below, and then focus on rotating as hard as you can, as if you’re trying to pull the chain completely out of the wall.

 

To elicit PAP, perform 3 repetitions of this isometric exercise for 3-5 seconds each. Studies have shown that performing these isometric “simulated swings” can increase swing speed by an average of 2 mph. For reference, an increase in bat speed of 2 mph will make a batted ball travel 8-16 feet farther, which could very well be the difference between an out or a homerun.

 

Timing of PAP

While PAP can be an extremely useful method for improving performance, it does come with a caveat. That is, it only works if you can recover from the high-intensity exercise before attempting an explosive movement.

For that reason, it’s best to perform isometric swings at least 1-2 minutes prior to an at-bat. Studies show that the greatest effects of PAP are seen between 2-12 minutes after performing a high-intensity exercise, and that less than 2 minutes of recovery can cause a decrease in explosiveness.

Given this information, it would make sense to perform max effort isometric swings either while “in the hole” or during the inning prior to an at-bat. This will give your body enough time to recover from the max-effort exercise and still experience an increase in rotational explosiveness.

Then when you step into the on-deck circle to warm-up to hit, take 5-8 max-effort swings with your normal bat, time the pitcher’s delivery, and then step up to the plate to hit. Your swing will be faster because of PAP, and you’ll have a higher likelihood of making consistent contact due to your warmup swings being performed with the same bat you’ll use during your at-bat.

 

Sources:
Montoya, B.S., Brown, L.E., Coburn, J.W., & Zinder, S.M. (2009). Effect of Warm-up With Different Weighted Bats on Normal Baseball Bat Velocity. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 23(5), 1566-1569.
Szymanski, D.J., Beiser, E.J., Bassett, K.E., Till, M.E., Medlin, G.l., & DeRenne, C. (2011). Effect of Various Warm-Up Devices on Bat Swing Velocity of Intercollegiate Baseball Players. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 25(2), 287-292.
Higuchi, T., Nagami, T., Mizuguchi, N., & Anderson, T. (2013). The Acute and Chronic Effects of Isometric Contraction Conditioning on Baseball Bat Velocity. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 27(1), 216-222.
Gilmore, S.L. (2013), Effect of a High-Intensity Isometric Potentiating Warm-up on Bat Velocity. WWU Masters Thesis Collection. 299.

Safe Implementation of a Baseball Interval Throwing Program

Whether it be a pitcher or outfielder rehabbing from shoulder or elbow surgery or injury, no greater sense of joy and excitement overwhelms them than the first day they can throw a baseball.

For some, it is the highlight of last three to four months of hard work, dedication and determination to return to the sport they love and have grown up playing. For others, especially rehabilitation specialists such as physical therapists and athletic trainers, it can be the scariest.

The first time our throwers start throwing, we always have that one question in the back of our mind…will they reinjure themselves?

Although, we would never return someone to throwing without physician clearance, a satisfactory clinical exam, a battery of plyometric testing and proper screening of pitching mechanics, the possibility of re-injury exists.

Before you start the throwing program that has been prescribed, it is important to consider some key components for the program to be properly executed.

Lastly, effective education and communication must be approached for a thrower to fully return to a competitive state.

Key Components to Address Before Starting A Throwing Program

Over the last few years with adolescent baseball injuries on the rise, there have been many throwing programs available for free on the internet developed by baseball coaches and rehabilitation specialists on how to return to throwing following an injury or surgery.

This can be concerning since key variables and questions may not be addressed in these programs. It is critical to analyze the who, what, when, where, why, and how.

Common Questions About Interval Throwing Programs

The Who, What, and When

  • Who should I be throwing with?
  • What types of pitches should I throw? Are my mechanics okay?
  • How do I monitor my mechanics changes?
  • How many days a week should I throw?
  • How many days should I rest?

The Where, Why, and How

  • How far should I throw?
  • How hard should I throw?
  • How am I going to monitor my velocity?
  • Should I throw from the mound or flat ground?
  • Can I complete multiple sets in one day?
  • Should I throw on a line, crow hop or arc my throws?
  • If I experience pain, what should I do? Continue or stop?

These key components all need to be addressed because implementing a throwing program without proper supervision and knowledge of that program can be doing more harm than good.

If you do not know the answers to ANY of those questions, you need to ask!  Your doctor and rehabilitation specialist should be able to answer those questions and customized their answer to your unique injury and situation.

For those of us who work in the clinic, we wish we could go outside and throw with our throwers. However, that is not always practical due to limited space, time management with other patients and lastly, insurance.

As rehab specialists, we hope to keep our throwers to the very last day of their rehab. However, insurance does not always allow this due to a limited number of patient visits.

In these cases, what do we do? There have been many times where throwers have been given throwing programs with no direction or insight on how to initiate or complete the program.

Interval throwing programs are an essential part, if not the most important part of the rehabilitation process and should not be overlooked by any means.

It’s what allows us to find out if our throwers are ready for advancement in rehab or if they can return to sport.

Would we allow an ACL patient to initiate running without proper supervision or guidance? How about a soccer player with a sprained ankle? Would we allow them to initiate agility training without first assessing isolated linear and lateral movements?

We know that return to play outcomes are much higher in ACL patient’s when supervised rehabilitation occurs. Why are we not doing the same for our throwers?

These questions must be addressed and the interval throwing program must be supervised at all times.

Players must be monitored so that velocity, volume, mechanics and pain can all be addressed if the thrower has questions, concerns or incidents arise during the program.

Ways to Safely Implement an Interval Throwing Program

The best way to make sure that all of this occurs is through education and communication.

We need to sit down with our throwers and their parents/guardians to educate and direct them on the throwing program itself, how to initiate it and what to do if they have questions or concerns.

The more detail and direction we can provide will ultimately lead to our goal of a safe return and their goal of returning to baseball.

We also need to make sure that there is always an open line of communication between our throwers, their parents/guardians (if the thrower is an adolescent) and the rehab specialist.

Our athletes must know that they can contact us any time if questions or concerns come up so that we can properly guide and educate them through the process. Injuries take a toll on our throwers not only physically, but emotionally and psychologically.

Telling a baseball player that he or she cannot throw can be one of the most disappointing things they could hear.

It is our job to make sure that we provide the highest quality of care to get them back to throwing quickly but most importantly, safely.

The last thing that we would ever want to happen is to have one of our throwers reinjure themselves due to something so simple such as improper guidance, which could have easily been prevented through proper education and communication.

The interval throwing program is something that must never be overlooked or taken lightly. It is such an important part of the rehab process that allows throwers to stress the surgically repaired or injured tissue in a safe and controlled manner.

It also allows our throwers to become more confident as they move throughout the throwing program and their overall rehab.

Most importantly, it gives us the objective information that we have been waiting to find out for the last few months which is, are they ready to return?

Before starting an Interval Throwing Program, it is important to consider the key components of that throwing program by analyzing the who, what, where, when, why, and how. Lastly, effective education and communication can go a long way for the athlete.

Evidence-Based Inseason Arm Care for Baseball Players

Recently the American Sports Medicine Institute published some fantastic research identifying specific changes in pitchers that may increase risk of an arm injury during the baseball season.

The most important changes have been linked to range of motion in the throwing arm.  At our facility, we identify three changes in measurement as red flags while in season: decreased shoulder flexion, decreased shoulder internal rotation and increasing shoulder external rotation.

We have adopted specific mobility and stability exercises as part of an arm care system that draws heavily on this research.  I will outline how we progress through our most common exercises that drives the best results for players.

 

How to Prevent Loss of Shoulder Flexion

Pitchers will acquire a heavy workload on the lats and low back muscles during the year, especially at the start of the baseball season.  Stiffness in these muscles will contribute to loss of shoulder flexion and the ability to fully reach overhead.

We have players start with lat soft tissue mobilization for 1-2 sets of 10, and then follow with lat isometric liftoffs for 1 set of 5 for 5 second holds.

 

How to Prevent Loss of Shoulder Internal Rotation

More people are now familiar with the concept of pitchers losing shoulder internal rotation from throwing.

This can happen for a variety of reasons, including chronic bony changes in mature throwers over time, and acute changes to the rotator cuff and trunk muscles in pitchers during the season.

This article will not detail the total motion concept, and if you are unfamiliar I would urge you to read articles by ASMI that are readily available online.  Mike Reinold has an excellent article about GIRD and loss of internal rotation in baseball players.

We mandate that all players at our facility have a plan for pre- and post-throwing to prevent negative long-term changes in shoulder range of motion.  Here you will see how we target the posterior shoulder to accomplish this.

We have players start with posterior shoulder mobilization for 1-2 sets of 10, and then follow with the cross-body rotation stretch for 1 set of 10.

How to Prevent Excessive Increase of Shoulder External Rotation

Rapid increases in shoulder external rotation have been linked with increased risk of injury in throwers.  This change in external rotation is also correlated with throwing harder, so we should not be surprised by the link between the two.  So how can we encourage our athletes to throw hard while reducing injury risk?

We use data from a recent ASMI weighted ball study that demonstrated an increase of more than 5 degrees of shoulder external rotation during a throwing program is correlated with a risk of arm injury.

Motor control of end-range external rotation and trunk position often decreases with workload and fatigue in our experience.  As a result, we prescribe two of the following exercises to maintain motor control in the layback phase of throwing.

We have players start with half kneeling cuff stabilization for 2-3 sets of 3 for 5 second holds, and then follow with external rotation oscillations for 2-3 sets of 15.

The cuff stabilization drill allows the coach or clinician to progressively load the shoulder based on feel and comfort for each player.

There seems to be a gap in the baseball world between recommendations from research and real-world implementation with players.  I hope this article will provide some ideas for fitness and medical providers to connect the dots and help reduce the epidemic of arm injuries currently plaguing baseball!

In-Season Training Guidelines For The Baseball Player

When training baseball players in-season, it’s very important to consider that the body does not know the specific stress that is being put upon it. Practicing and playing multiple days out of the week is still stress on the body, so we need to take that into account with our training.

The main purpose of this article is to provide exercise selection guidelines so you don’t put any unnecessary wear and tear on your body during the baseball season.

The chart posted below was put together by the late Canadian sprint coach Charlie Francis. This chart shows different movements and their varying degree of CNS (Central Nervous System) demand.

Note: For the purposes of illustrating the significance of CNS demand, it must be assumed that all movements listed in the chart are performed as fast as possible and against maximal resistance.

So, what does this chart mean for YOU?

You only have so much energy you can expend. When you’re in-season you want most of that energy used on the field playing your sport. This chart is a great self-check for you guys to see the varying demand each movement places on your CNS.

For example, if you’re playing three to four games per week, it’s safe to say you’re sprinting at maximal intensity, throwing a baseball as hard as possible, and swinging a bat near maximal intensity in each game. You NEED to account for this stress especially since all those movements are highly taxing on your nervous system.

To account for this CNS stress and to maximize on-field outputs I believe your in-season training should refrain from any sprinting or explosive power movements.

Exercises that have a high CNS stress include:

  1. Sprinting (Outside of playing in games)
  2. Vertical and Horizontal Jumping
  3. High Volume Medicine Ball Throws
  4. High Volume/Intensive Plyos
  5. Cleans, Snatches, Clean and Jerk

Examples of exercises that you can include in your in-season training that may not result in a lot of CNS stress include:

  1. Trap Bar Deadlift (60-80%) – Drop bar at the top to avoid eccentric portion of exercise
  2. Sumo Deadlift (60-80%) – Drop at the top to avoid eccentric portion of exercise
  3. Pin Squat
  4. Barbell Hip Thrust (Supine & Upper Back on Bench)
  5. Other Hip Thrust Variations (Supine Leg Whip, Single-Leg Hip Thrust, etc.)
  6. Supplementary Pull (Chest Supported Rows, 1-Arm DB Row, DB Pullover etc.)
  7. Supplementary Push (Push-Up Variations, Landmine Press Variations
  8. Sled Drags
  9. Sled Pushes
  10. Step Up Variations
  11. DB Reverse Lunge (Goblet or DB)
  12. Upper Back (BPA’S, Banded Face Pulls, etc.)
  13. Low Intensity Core Stability Variations (Plank Variations, Pallof Variations, Chop Variations etc.)

When training in-season, it is all about managing stress and fatigue for your athletes.

Hopefully now you can preserve your strength, limit muscular soreness, and dominate on the field!

 

Combining Strength Training And Throwing Programs For Baseball Pitchers

The increases in pitching velocity and the distance guys are covering when they go yard tells one thing for sure… Guys are getting in the gym and getting bigger, faster and stronger. Period.

That’s great. As a matter of fact, nothing could make me happier as a strength and conditioning coach. But let it be said, with training comes a responsibility on educating athletes as to how and when is the best way and time to incorporate it.

This gets especially tricky when it needs to be integrated with a throwing program. A great program should incorporate throwing and strength training as ONE program and not viewed as two separate entities. Let me try and briefly explain why one hand washes the other.

When an athlete lifts, he is spending valuable energy that he must pay back via recovery before going at it again the next time. Much like paying back a debt.

As we get closer to the season and throwing is introduced alongside lifting, overall training volume is increased and the amount of debt to payback is doubled. Stack up enough debt, and both an athlete’s recovery and performance will tank.

Any strength training program that’s combined with pitching / throwing needs to be highly coordinated to be effective.

This is the first thing we need to understand when we start putting together a strength and throwing program. As each athlete’s size, strength and other characteristics differ, so must the overall program. We break this down into three parts:

  • Physical Preparation
  • Skill Preparation
  • Periodization

Let’s look at these three separately…

Physical Preparation

This is strength, mobility and power. This is where a lot of guys miss the boat.

These goals will likely create the greatest initial performance improvements as well as lay down a “grass roots” foundation of strength and mobility for the future when training protocols get more advanced. It also goes a long way in helping to reduce the risk of injury.

An example of this would be a 6’2” high school junior weighing 165 lbs. with a less than average strength numbers in the weight room.

For this athlete, playing fall ball and spending that much-needed energy on the weekends pitching becomes not only counterproductive to his physical preparation strength-wise, but adds extra and unnecessary mileage on the arm.

Getting in the weight room earlier (September / October) to work on some hypertrophy prior to starting a strength phase in November / December should be the priority and just what the doctor ordered.

Skill Preparation

Video Analysis and Mechanical Remapping

The use of video analysis helps us break down mechanics, not only from a bio-mechanical standpoint but also from a sequencing and delivery view point. From there, we can better prepare a set of individualized throwing correctives into the throwing program.

Timeline and Throwing Sessions

I am not going to get into the specifics of the timeline too much here, but during a four-month off-season program there should an ample shutdown period which would allow for a heavier lifting schedule. Here is a summary timeline from November – February:

Frankly, I think it’s a must that pitchers throw 2x per week in preparation for the spring. Throwing 1x per week does not allow the connective tissue of the arm to develop the resiliency necessary to resist the demands of a high-level throw.

 

Pitch Design and Development

We have had a Rapsodo baseball camera in-house for a while and it has changed how we evaluate certain aspects of pitching. We are discovering things about pitchers that were unfathomable just a year ago without this technology.

You can use the information from a Rapsodo in a long-term development plan with pitchers in ways unheard of even a few years back, both for improving their existing repertoire and also in new pitch design and development. Here is a typical screenshot from the device:

While strength training should never be out of the equation for this athlete, it should share the spotlight with more sport-specific work such as correcting mechanical issues, addressing his mobility and increasing force production through plyometric training.

Periodization

Let me start by saying this. Both types of athletes need to spend time in the weight room and working on throwing movements and skills throughout the off-season.

However, each athlete simply needs to spend the bigger part of his time on what he needs the most to optimize performance. This is all about individualized programs and customization.

A complete initial physical assessment and throwing evaluation will give us the roadmap and help us make the best use of the time spent with our athletes.

On a final note, please make sure you’re getting a thorough assessment to determine where you fall on the physical / skill preparation profile. Your off-season program should be designed with this in mind and most importantly make sure it’s performed by a highly qualified PT/strength and conditioning coach or AT with a great track record.

See ya’ in the gym…

 

 

4 Considerations for In-Season Baseball Strength Training

When life becomes busy and your free time starts to dwindle as you work to balance school and your social life with travel, games, and practice, it’s easy for other parts of your routine to get left behind.

One of the most common of those parts to be neglected is strength training. Even though, due to schedule demands, training at the same frequency isn’t possible, it’s still important to maintain some type of strength training routine during the baseball season.

In-season strength training is important for staying healthy and maximizing performance. Other benefits will vary from player to player, but include maintaining strength, mitigating stress placed on tissues during the season, and working to continue their athletic development.

With that said, you can’t treat your in-season strength training program like your off-season workouts.

Guys’ bodies are encountering different volumes of different physiological and biomechanical demands. Because of those demands, you need to appreciate these four considerations in order to set yourself (or your players) up for continued success throughout the season.

Areas of the Body That Encounter the Most Eccentric Stress

Eccentric stress is defined as high amounts of mechanical stress placed on a muscle while it’s lengthening.

High amounts of eccentric stress lead to increased muscle damage, muscle soreness, and potentially a loss of range of motion at the joint(s) where that specific muscle acts upon.

As a player’s throwing volume increases during the season, you need to consider the amount of eccentric stress placed on:

  • The posterior shoulder
  • The elbow flexors
  • The hip external rotators

To gain a better appreciation for this accumulation of stress, look at the equation for the law of repetitive stress below:

If you can effectively manage the “I” in the graphic above, you’ll do a good job at mitigating injury. The body doesn’t separate stress occurred while throwing vs. stress occurred while lifting.

Insult to specific tissues is insult to those specific tissues, regardless of where it occurs. When a player’s shoulder is experiencing high amounts of stress during the season, the gym needs to be a place where you learn to remove insult to that area, instead of giving it more.

This can be done in a variety of ways.

Smarter exercise selection, e.g. push-up variations instead of dumbbell pressing, single-arm lat pulldowns instead of pull-ups, split squats instead of rear foot elevated split squats.

Managing volume (sets x reps) in the gym, e.g. only having 12-15 sets in a training session instead of 24-30.

Increasing mobility and learning to move better. However, understand that during the season you’ll be chasing your tail trying to continually improve range of motion.  Do your best to allow tissues to optimally recover, while still getting a training effect.

Better postural awareness outside of the gym along with soft tissue work.

Educating athletes about adequate recovery between throwing, games, and training.

Prevent Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness


Like what was mentioned above, you don’t want to add more insult to tissues in the gym that are already taking a beating on the field each week.

You also want to make sure players can still train while feeling fresh for their games. In order to do this, you want to ensure your workouts are providing a training effect without causing too much soreness.

Here are a few simple strategies.

  • Shorten the training sessions. Train for 45 minutes instead of 90.
  • Decrease the total number of sets performed during the session.
  • Minimize exercises with high amounts of eccentric stress. Sled pushes and step-ups may be better options than RDLs and walking lunges.
  • Gradually increase volume throughout the program. Start the first week with the lowest volume. Give players’ bodies time to adapt to the exercises. Then slowly increase sets or reps as the month progresses.

Modify Your Direct Rotator Cuff Training

The rotator cuff training you were doing during the off-season should be adjusted while you’re in-season. The increased frequency and volume of throwing means players’ rotator cuffs will be more fatigued in the gym.

This state of fatigue isn’t ideal for performing high volumes of band external rotations and other rotator cuff work every day. Keep it simple, and perform some type of external rotation exercise and rhythmic stabilizations only a couple days a week.

Still Lift Weights


All that considered, players still need to lift weights during the season. You still want to get a training effect and make workouts challenging; you just need to put more consideration into what’s going on outside of the weight room.

While players are training with you 4-6 days a week during the off-season, you’ll have more control over their exercise and activity. But when the season rolls around, that may be limited to 1-2 days a week.

Be sure to take the demands of the season into consideration and get creative with your programming to allow yourself or your players to continue to strength train and remain challenged in the gym.

In Summary

A crucial component of staying healthy and improving as an athlete is balancing work and recovery.

An in-season strength training program can easily shift the pendulum in either direction. A poorly planned program can increase the stress placed on the shoulder, elbow, and/or hip and hinder one’s on-field performance.

A smart, well-thought-out program will allow players to maintain strength, allow tissues to receive adequate rest, and prevent injury by keeping mobility in check.

Acute to Chronic Workload Ratios in Baseball

Baseball season is just around the corner and as practices fire up, coaches should remember to focus on the process of gradual rises in workloads.

Whether it’s in the weight room or on the field, all aspects of sport development are stress on the body.

As stress builds, so does an athletes reaction to it.

On the one hand, as stress rises gradually so does the athlete’s tolerance. With increased tolerance means the ability to withstand longer, and more intense workloads.

However, on the other hand, raising the intensity or volume too quickly results in fatigue, and eventual breakdown. All coaches are prone to jumping the gun. I’m no exception.

Realizing what your athletes are prepared for can go a long way in keeping everybody on the field and out of the training room.

An athlete’s best ability is durability and not being on the field doesn’t lend itself well to being a great baseball player. Excessive increases in training loads too quickly are highly correlated to soft tissue injuries.

Recent research, from Tim Gabbett especially, has shown the high correlation between rapid rises in workloads over the norm and breakdowns. This is known as the acute versus chronic workload ratio.

Pre-season practices ramp up in January for many. December and January become hugely important months to prepare for the stress and strain of what’s to come.

The most time away from coaches seeing their athletes happens during that same December, January period.

No other sport begins a season following a long layoff on break away from coaches and support staff.

Football programs train in the summer all the way up to camp. Basketball teams are in the middle of a school year when their season begins. Baseball returns from a long layoff and is thrust into their season.

It presents extremely unique challenges when it comes workloads and preventing injuries.

Acute vs Chronic Workload Ratio

The acute training load is the current load on the body from training.

The chronic training load is the long-term training load over the past weeks, and months that an athlete has been doing.

We’re not just talking about the weight room when we talk about training load. This applies to practices, weight room, throwing, everything. The acute versus chronic basically boils down to what they’ve done versus what they’re currently doing.

Take the example of a pitcher that did no throwing over Christmas break and the first week back is expected to reach max long toss distances and throw a bullpen. They essentially went from 0 to 100 in a matter of days. They have not prepared for what they are currently doing.

Sharp rises in workloads result in stiffness, soreness, and increased injury risks.
What does all this really mean in terms of planning practices?

Gradually increase the workloads. Gradually increase volumes and intensities. You’re asking for trouble by starting the year’s practices off with a bang if your athletes haven’t been doing anything but playing video games.

A study by Posner in 2011 over a seven-year period for MLB players show that the large majority of injuries occur in the first month of the year.

How Acute and Chronic Workload Ratios Impact Baseball Performance

The study didn’t include spring training injury rates but we could safely assume from the data that the injury rates are most likely even higher in March. Most overall injuries during a season happened in April and regressed the rest of the year.

The reason is athletes’ bodies are adjusting to the new stress.

In many cases, the athletes aren’t fully prepared walking into spring training. Workloads spike, and eventually something fails from being over-stressed.

Whether a muscle strain, or a ligament tear, spiked workloads will catch up to the athlete.

Baserunning Workload

It never fails when pre-seasons start up one of the biggest injuries are hamstring and quad strains.

These dominate injury reports across the board in the first month from the high school level to MLB spring training.

Athletes often fall into 3 buckets: they haven’t run, they have run but haven’t sprinted repeatedly at full speed, or they have sprinted at full speed but haven’t ran the curve of the base paths. All three leave athletes unprepared.

We combat this problem with tempo runs gradually increasing intensity from sub-maximal speeds to full speed bases over the course of several weeks leading up to the start of the year.

Athletes start with apron runs to adjust to running on a curve. These runs are usually at 65-75% of full speed around the dirt edge of the infield.

From there we move into bases and gradually keep building intensity to max speed runs.

Remember this progression happens over the course of days and weeks, not just one or two workouts. Build intensity gradually.

Throwing Workload

It should be obvious to coaches that prep for the season must start far in advance of the first practice for pitchers but you would be surprised.

Preparation is at the peril of holiday breaks for most high school athletes. Often, it’s on the athlete themselves to take care of their throwing.

Southern states start up official practices mid-January. Athletes usually rush throwing programs through January to be mound ready for practice day one.

This typically comes from the “I forgot to throw” over Christmas break. Mix terrible preparation and large escalating workloads on the arm and you’ve got a recipe for injury.

Appropriately dosed and progressed throwing programs may be the single most important aspect for keeping your team on the field. Muscles heal relatively easily compared to ligament strains, and tears.

Every year, UCL’s are at peril in the elbow from callously thrown together programs that don’t incorporate a gradual progression of intensity.

It’s not always on coaches, athletes are just as responsible, if not more, for taking care of their throwing during these breaks. Too much too soon and you’ll be sidelined.

Weightroom Workload

All forms of training are stress to the athlete regardless of where it takes place.

The weight room is no different in that we want gradual progression of intensity.

Starting athletes off the first day with percentages that reflect their pre-holiday maxes are often asking for trouble.

Young, novice athletes will lose strength quickly following a layoff. It’s not unusual for a high school athlete to lose 10-15% in a matter of weeks.

The less trained the quicker the residual effects disappear. Lowering a max number to 90% of previous capabilities is one way to adjust for those who haven’t trained over the break.

Another method is to drop the relative intensity. If you would normally start athletes at week 1 at 70% for 4-6 reps, have them use 70% for 2-3 reps.

We’re still using 70% but now we’ve lowered the relative intensity. Obviously, performing 2 reps is much easier than 4 or even 6 reps at that 70%.

Technology has taken over everything in the past few years. Resources can be thin at many schools making some coaches feel like their missing out on these expensive high powered tools.

Coaches must realize they don’t need a fancy method of measuring readiness. Common sense should take over in most cases.

The coach’s eyes are often the most important tool adjusting practices and training sessions.

A good coach can tell when athletes are tired and run down. Having the ability to know when to pull back on the reigns is integral.

Know your expectations of the pre-season period. If it’s to have simulated competition as far as games, and live at-bats from the get go make sure you’ve prepped your athletes to face those stresses when they start up and you’ll watch early year pains and strains go by the wayside.

Want to Monitor Your Own Acute to Chronic Throwing Workload Ratios?

The Motus sleeve is an amazing device that you can wear while throwing to measure the force on the arm and stress on the ligament. It has the ability to monitor the forces while throwing, but also to calculate your own specific acute to chronic throwing workload ratio. Then, the app will give you guidance on how to adjust your throwing program to optimize your results.

Motus has a special $10 off coupon code for EBP readers. Click below to learn more and enter coupon code ELITEBASEBALL: