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In-Season Training Metrics for the Baseball Player

The high school season is closing in! This was truly a remarkable off-season for me personally. We’ve had multiple athletes put on 15-20 pounds while simultaneously moving better and getting a lot stronger, and we’ve had athletes lose a few pounds while accomplishing the same things.

We said “see ya later” to our professional pitchers Joe Palumbo (Texas Rangers), Anthony Kay (New York Mets), Ben Brown (Philadelphia Phillies), Mike O’Reilly (St. Louis Cardinals), Kyle McGowin (Washington Nationals), and Bruce Kern (Lamingo Monkeys, Taiwan) and we are super excited to see the stellar season they are all going to have!

We also said “hello” to multiple high school athletes who are getting their names on the radar, and have some young men who might hear their name called in June for the 2019 MLB Amateur Draft.

With that being said, none of this will matter if training is put to a halt once March hits.

Fortunately, the official high school season start date was pushed back 2 weeks to accommodate for the brutal northeast weather. This means 2 more weeks of pre-season development!

The entire focus of in-season training is completely different from off-season and pre-season training, and I would like to highlight those differences in this post.

 

Injury Prevention

The baseball player’s workload volume increases a TON once practice starts. Throwing and swinging 5/6 times a week coupled with cold weather really do not mix well from an injury prevention standpoint.

Overuse injuries are real, and they could be hiding beneath the surface. One aspect of in-season training is maintenance of joint health. Here’s what gets abused repeatedly in the game of baseball:

  • The left ankle gets over worked when performing multiple base running drills, leaving the other muscles on the same side to become overworked, and leaving the other side of the body exposed
  • The pelvis tends to get dumped into an anterior tilt during the swing as well as an overactive quadratus lumborum from lateral tilt, which can lead to low back pain and stiffness during rotation
  • Hamstrings get tired and over worked from changing surfaces of sprinting: turf in the off-season to hard dirt with cleats during practice
  • The posterior shoulder takes a beating from both throwing and swinging a bat
  • The medial elbow also takes a beating from both throwing and swinging a bat
  • The thoracic spine (the mid back) gets out of whack and shows muscle imbalances from swinging, which can also lead to altered muscle firing patterns
  • The cervical spine (the neck) gets over worked from looking over one shoulder for multiple at bats

 

To prevent any injury from occurring, we must do 4 things religiously well:

  1. Mobilize/desensitize the overactive joints, which will be very common among most of the population
  2. Activate the problem areas associated with baseball movement patterns
  3. Learn how to reset the body and find peace of mind with relaxation techniques/breathing drills
  4. continue to get stronger, develop, and preserve your power stores

 

There is some great research from the American Sports Medicine Institute discussing movement of the shoulder and elbow and the risk of injury. See here and here.

  • Pitchers should have within 5 degrees of total rotational motionof both shoulders. If your throwing shoulder is significantly less than your other shoulder, you are 2.6 times more likely to sustain an injury.
  • Pitchers should have at least 5 degrees more external rotation in their throwing shoulder when compared to their nonthrowing shoulder. Pitchers with less than a 5 degree difference are 2 times more likely to sustain an injury.
  • Pitchers with a deficit of 5 degrees in shoulder flexion are 2.8 times more likely to sustain an elbow injury.

 

Performance Enhancement

“If you don’t use it, you lose it”. 

This is the biggest concept to understand when training in-season. You spent all winter developing your strength and power to get ready for the long season.

For every week taken off from training, will be lost, dependent on training age. For the entire high school season being at least 12 weeks, that is at least 36% of your strength gains out the window.

You could train ONCE a week during the season and further maintain and improve your strength numbers to keep your strength around. Easy fix.

However, speed on the other hand tends to be lost a lot quicker. You will be displaying your speed multiple times throughout the week from base running and getting to balls over your head, but if you’re not training your speed at some point then you are limiting yourself as a baseball player.

On the other hand, let’s just think about the aggressive action of the upper body during the throwing motion. Repeated eccentric stress will result in a loss of strength and mobility in some joints. To prevent this loss from being chronic, you need to strengthen these areas and try to get as close to your “baseline” as possible.

I’m a big believer in auto-regulation ever since I got my hands on the research in college. I saw first-hand a group of trainees get stronger and put on even MORE muscle by following an auto-regulated training model as compared to a fixed periodization scheme.

To put it in the simplest terms, auto-regulation can be thought as listening to your body. You are the only one who knows your body better than anyone else. Rather than chasing the numbers on the bar, or the percentages of your 1-RM, try chasing your rate of perceived exertion (RPE) during the season.

Not only will you further enhance your strength and power, but you will also reduce the likelihood of being fatigued from your lift. Get in and get out!

 

Recovery Management

At Infiniti Sports Performance, we like to use restorative techniques and modalities in our popular recovery room during the season, taking “arm care” to a whole other level. These techniques include, but are not limited to:

  • Myofascial massaging
  • Foam rolling and lacrosse ball trigger point release
  • Cupping
  • Voodoo wrapping
  • Vibration massage
  • Marc Pro systems
  • Mobility training

 

There are a ton of modalities that we can use to promote recovery for the baseball player, and we usually recommend a recovery session within 48 hours of your last pitch.

While the body should be doing most of the work itself when it comes to recovery, we assist in the process with the techniques and tools listed above.

However, since there are many ways to instill “recovery” work with the baseball player, we do not want them to get married to these concepts. Here is why.

Our body craves adaptation, and it also can get habituated to the same stimulus. Just like how we periodize and vary our strength programs, the same concept goes for recovery work.

 

Conclusion

Every baseball player needs to take advantage of in-season training. To sum it up, here is why:

  1. Overuse injuries are real, and they could be hiding beneath the surface. One aspect of in-season training is maintenance of joint health
  2. Learn how to reset your body in conjunction with getting stronger and more resilient
  3. Loss of range of motion in the throwing shoulder can lead to an increased injury risk of up to 2.8 times greater than pitchers without motion loss.
  4. For every week taken off from training, usually 3-5% of your strength gains will be lost, dependent on training age.
  5. Following an auto-regulated training model allows the player to still develop while minimizing fatigue

The One Aspect of Baseball Training That You Must Master to Succeed

If I were to ask you what the most important part of baseball training is, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Perhaps programming, force production, or sport specificity? Maybe injury prevention, strength, or speed? Even nutrition, movement quality, and recovery could make the cut.

Based on each coach’s individual philosophy, that list could go on forever. While there is no right answer to that question, as long as you can give a reason “why” it is the most important aspect, I would probably agree with you.

All of those listed (as well as countless others) are just pieces of a much larger training puzzle. In my years of competing and coaching, I have come to the conclusion that arguably the most important aspect of training is “consistency.”

 

Consistently Show Up to Train

 

An athlete that trains 4x a week is more likely to make gains faster than the one that comes 4x a month. The same can be said from season-to-season. Working in the private sector, we have plenty of turnover from month-to-month.

If a high school athlete plays baseball and football (which we strongly encourage all of our athletes to play multiple sports), their only true “offseason” is from November (end of high school football season) through the beginning of March (start of high school baseball). That gives them only 4 out of 12 months in the year to really focus on training.

Now compare that to the athlete that consistently makes time to train in-season. Those strength gains they made in the offseason will not disappear (they can even continue to increase) as the season progresses.

That strength is necessary to combat the stresses these athletes experience during games and practices to keep them healthy and performing at a high level.

 

Consistently Attack Their Training, Too

I have witnessed way too many athletes that show up just to go through the motions and do the bare minimum during training.

The athletes that are always taking advantage of their time in the weight room are the ones that seem to build strength, move better and complain less about injuries (if at all).

That means showing up early, get moving and taking their warm-up seriously, competing on every rep, encouraging others around them, asking for help when needed, making sure they are moving correctly, progressively overloading, never skipping sets or reps, staying after to do extra, focusing on mobility work, and so forth.

 

The Consistency Must Apply to the Coaching as Well

 

As a coach, we must bring energy every day. I’m not saying that every coach needs to be a “hype man” or “hype woman” like you see with many in the field.

They just need to know their identity as a coach and follow their principles they set forth for themselves while making sure that they are locked in to help every athlete that walks through their door that day.

Their programming should always be working towards certain goals depending on the athlete(s), time of the year, available equipment, etc. They must be learning and looking for new ways to improve on a daily basis.

Lastly, constant communication between a coach and athlete is crucial. They can write up the best program in the world, but none of it will matter if the athlete and coach are not on the same page.

 

The Athlete Must Stay Consistent with Their Nutrition and Recovery

I have been asked numerous times what supplements I recommend. I love seeing their faces when I say, “real food, water and sleep.”

If you consistently make time to eat a real breakfast, lunch and dinner while sprinkling in 2-3 smaller meals aside from those, you will have a much better chance to gain weight than the athlete that skips breakfast, eats a turkey sandwich and chips for lunch, and then nothing until they go grab Chipotle with their friends after class or practice.

For athletes that need to lose weight, following a similar protocol while just controlling their portions should yield results.

Programs like the 21-Day Fix, 24-Day Challenge and so on are effective for some of the general population because they ask someone that eats junk and sits around all day to consistently exercise and eat normal food every day over 3+ weeks.

The exercises and foods are nothing new; people have been using them for years. Those companies just gave them a plan to change their ways and found a way to hold people accountable.

 

Athletes Need to Consistently Practice Their Sport

Skill development on a consistent basis is critical. I will admit that throughout high school baseball, I did the bare minimum in terms of hitting and throwing and was fortunate enough to still earn a preferred walk-on spot at a Division-I school.

It was not until I stepped foot on campus that I realized just how far behind I was in terms of development. The “show-and-go” mentality was not enough anymore.

All of those guys that were spending extra time in the cages every day, long tossing, making live reads on balls during batting practice and so forth for the past few years were way ahead of me. Relying on natural ability will only take you so far.

It was not until a year of buying in to my coaches’ system and working my tail off while redshirting that I finally earned my chance to play halfway through that following season.

Consistently putting in extra work each day with the right intent will put you in your best position to succeed in your respective sport.

I recently came across this tweet from Coach Aaron Feld who is now a strength and conditioning coordinator for the University of Oregon (and also happens to have the best mustache in the game):

 

I feel this pretty much sums up how you handle yourself on a consistent basis. If you are being honest with yourself, is your “average” where you want to be?

If not, what steps are you taking to improve? For a lot of athletes, I’d say be more consistent with your training, eat real food, drink water, improve sleeping habits, practice skill development and just doing the right thing on a daily basis.

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.