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How to Get the Most Out of the Start of Your Baseball Offseason

This article, How to Get the Most Out of the Start of Your Baseball Offseason, was originally featured on MikeReinold.com. 

 

It’s been a long summer of baseball and it is time to start thinking about your offseason training program!

Some people think of the offseason as a time to rest, or to get away from baseball, or to do everything they can to dominate again next season. I’ve seen every spectrum of player, from the player that wants to just sit in a tree stand until February to the player that comes in to train the first day of the offseason.

Offseason training programs in baseball are now standard.  Believe it or not, this was not the case 20 years ago.  However, I think there is another golden opportunity that many players do not take advantage of at the start of the offseason.  Think of it as setting the foundation to prepare your body to get the most out of your offseason training.

Here is what I recommend and do with all my athletes at this time of year to get the most out of the start of your baseball offseason training.

 

Take Time Off From Throwing and Baseball

One of the most important aspects to the start of the baseball offseason is to take a step back and get away from baseball.  While this may seem counterintuitive, I do believe it is critical to your long term success.

For professional baseball pitchers in MLB, the start of the offseason means spending time with family, golfing, hunting, fishing, and probably taking a well deserved vacation to somewhere tropical.  It’s a long season, both physically and mentally.

I wouldn’t say that a summer of baseball is much easier for the younger baseball players, either.  Between traveling teams, tournaments, showcases, and grinding away at practice, the summer is almost as busy as the pro players!  I actually joke with some of my high school and college baseball pitchers that they can’t wait to go back to school to take a vacation from their summer baseball travel schedule!

But there are important physical benefits of taking time off as well.  Throwing a baseball is hard on your body and creates cumulative stress.  Furthermore, several studies have been published showing that the more your pitch, the greater your chances of injury:

  • Pitching for greater than 8 months out of the year results in 5x as many injuries (Olsen AJSM 06)
  • Pitching greater than 100 innings in one year results in 3x as many injuries (Fleisig AJSM 2011)
  • Pitching in showcases and travel leagues significantly correlated to increased injuries (Register-Mahlick JAT 12, Olsen AJSM 06)

I have found that my younger athletes that play a sport like soccer in the fall, tend to look better to me over time.

Sure, that is purely anecdotal.  But specializing in a very unilateral sport may actually limit some of your athletic potential, especially when you are in the certain younger age ranges where athletic development occurs.  Everything is baseball tends to be to one side.  Righties always rotate to the left when throwing and swinging, heck everyone even runs to the left around the bases!

There is plenty of time to get ready for next spring.  Take some time off in the fall and let your body heal up.  You aren’t going to forget how to pitch or lose your release point or feel.  You’ll come back stronger next season.

 

Regen Your Body

Tough travel schedule, long hours in a car, bus, or  plane, cheap hotels, bad food, lack of sleep, inconsistent schedule.  Sound familiar?  That is a baseball season.  It’s tougher than you would think on your body.

All of these factors, and more, wear down your body and it’s ability to regenerate.  The constant stress to your body is a grind that drains your energy, increases your fatigue and soreness after an outing, and lengthens the time your body needs to fully recover between outings.

In order to get all that you can out of your off season training, you need to regen your body first.  This begins with the first principle above and taking time away from throwing, but there are also other things you can do to reset and regenerate your body.  You body needs to heal and sleep and nutrition are two great things to focus on at the start of the offseason.  Here are  a few things I recommend:

  • Get on a consistent sleep schedule
  • Sleep at least 8 hours a night
  • Eat a clean diet while avoiding fast food and processed foods
  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate

Think of it as allowing your body to get back to neutral so you can start building on a solid foundation during the offseason.  You don’t want to start your offseason training with your body worn down.

 

Clean Up Any Past or Lingering Injuries

I’m always amazed at the amount of people that limp through a baseball season and think that taking some downtime after the season is going to cure all their aches and pains.  What happens many times is that they take time off and then start training or preparing for next season and find out they may feel better but they didn’t address their past injuries.  They still have deficits.  If you wait until you start throwing again to find this out, it’s too late.

All my athletes start the offseason out with a thorough assessment that looks at all past areas of injury, regardless of whether or not they are currently symptomatic.

Many times, strength deficits, scar tissue, fibrosis, and several imbalances are still present after an injury, even if your are playing without concern.  Your body is really good at adapting and compensating.  It will find a way to perform.  This is likely one of the reasons that the number one predictor of future injury is past injury, meaning if you strain your hamstring, you are more likely to strain it again.  You probably never adequately addressed the concern.

You have to dig deep and find the root cause of the injury as well as clean up the mess created from the injury itself.  Remember, many injuries occur due to deficits elsewhere in the body.  Sometimes that elbow soreness is coming from your shoulder, for example.  Resting at the start of the offseason is great for the elbow, but you didn’t address the cause of your elbow symptoms.

 

Rebalance Your Portfolio

In the financial world, the concept of rebalancing your portfolio is one of the cornerstones of sound investing.  Essentially at periodic intervals you should assess your current portfolio balance and adjust based on the performance of your assets.  As some of your stocks go up and others potentially go down, your top performers are probably taking up a very large percentage of your portfolio and skewing your balance.

By rebalancing your portfolio at the end of the year, you assure that you redistribute your assets evenly and minimize your risk.

This same concept is important for baseball training.

After a long season of wear and tear you no doubt are going to have imbalances.  This happens even if you get through the season injury-free.  I say this often, but throwing a baseball is not natural for your body.  You’ll have areas of tightness and looseness, you’ll have areas of strength and weakness.  You’ll have imbalances and asymmetries.

In my studies on professional baseball pitchers (you can find some of my published data here and here), and an article on baseball shoulder adaptations), I have found many things:

  • You will lose shoulder internal rotation and flexion (if you don’t manage this during the season)
  • Your will gain external rotation, which isn’t necessarily a good thing and needs to be addressed!
  • You will lose elbow extension
  • You will lose shoulder and scapular strength
  • You will lose overall body strength and power
  • Your posture and alignment will change

One of the most powerful things I can recommend for any baseball pitcher is that you get a thorough assessment at the end of the season.  This serves as the most important day to me in your offseason program and the cornerstone of what I do with my athletes.  We need to find out exactly how your body handled the season and adjusted over the way.  Everyone responds differently.

Without this knowledge, your just throwing a program together and hoping everything works out.  This may work one year, but it’s going to catch up to you eventually.  Probably right in the middle of next season!

 

Set a Foundation for the Start of Your Baseball Offseason Training

What is the purpose of all this?  Simply taking time off after a season isn’t enough anymore.  Simply jumping into an offseason baseball training program isn’t enough anymore.  Simply performing a baseball long toss program isn’t enough anymore.

You need to actively put yourself in the best position to succeed.  Offseason training is the norm now.  You used to be able to gain a competitive advantage by training your tail off all offseason, but your peers are doing this too.

You can set yourself apart by setting a strong foundation BEFORE your offseason training.  This is not as common and one of the biggest mistakes I see amateur baseball players make each offseason.

Set yourself apart by starting your offseason on the right path.  Take some time off, regen your body, get your past injuries evaluated, and go through a thorough assessment to find ways to maximize your bodies potential.  Do this before the start of your offseason training so you set a fantastic foundation to build upon just.  This is a big part of our baseball offseason performance training at Champion Physical Therapy and Performance.

 

 

 

3 Exercises Baseball Players Can Use to Gain Control of the Lats

The latissimus dorsi muscle is important in baseball players.

The lats can be a baseball player’s best friend as well as their worst enemy at times. The lats are an expansive muscle group originating in the low back and ending up at the humerus and sometimes also attaching to the scapula.

When the lats are given free reign without control from opposing musculature, gross extension patterns in player’s lumbar spines may begin to show up.

This can then lead to players letting their coaches know of nagging arm and back pain.

With the three exercises below, players can regain control of certain opposition muscles such as the serratus anterior, the internal oblique and the transversus abdominis to help restore balance.

Bear Position Step Up

The combination of bear position hold and a “step up” can be a great integrative exercise for abdominal control as well as shoulder stability and mobility.

Players need their serratus anterior properly engaged to maintain their ability to repeatedly throw gas over an entire game. This exercise helps players find their abs and serratus while gaining control over their lats. This can then allow them to demonstrate scapular control in a slightly challenging position.

This exercise can be coupled with the next two exercises to help ingrain this new position.

Cues I use: 

  • Reach your arms as long as you can throughout the whole movement.
  • Keep your belt buckle towards your chin
  • Breathe going in through your nose and out through your mouth while trying to fill the middle part of your back instead of your neck and upper chest. 

 

L-Sit Vertical Pull Progressions

This exercise can actually be a good starting point for some players because they can use the bench to take away or add more body weight as needed.

Coaches can also use this progression to help players struggling with getting a proper pull-up or to increase their pull up total. This exercise also teaches players what better lat engagement feels like.

I often use two variations, a dead stop from the floor (left video) and the full hang position (right video).

Starting from the floor helps teach players to better engage lats and drive upward with authority. You can also have someone hook their heels and exhale to make them engage their abs to help counteract too much spinal extension.

This full hang progresses the exercise because there is no rest between reps. Again get the person to engage their abdominals by hooking the bench.

Intensity can be increased via external load (weights or weight vest), increases in sets or reps, or an increase in total time through varying the tempo up/down/or at the top of the repetition.

 

Single Arm Short Seated Lat Pull-down

Lats love to keep us in an extended position, especially in overhead athletes who repetitively go overhead in their sport. This can be a common reason why players can have shoulder trouble and neck pain.

Short seated lat pull downs are based on postural restoration techniques of getting your deeper abs working to help counteract the extension of the lats and to help restore a more optimal balance between the two!

Cues I use:

  • Inhale as you bring one arm down and slightly crunch to that side while reaching long toward the ceiling with your other hand. Think of your elbow going into your front pocket, this will help you feel your abdominal wall on that side engaging.
  • Exhale fully on the way up bringing yourself back to midline and repeat on other side
  • Tuck your belt buckle to chin to help get a neutral pelvis throughout the motion.

Gain Control of Your Lats

Gaining control of the lats is vital in ensuring players can handle the rigors of a baseball season with minimal back and neck issues. Try incorporating these exercises into your programming to help players improve and recover faster but restoring balance.

7 Steps to Have a Long Baseball Career

Most of us are here because of our shared love for one thing: baseball. Throughout our careers, we all grow to appreciate the little things: the smell of freshly cut grass, the pop of the catcher’s mitt, and taking in the view from the dugout, eager to put life’s troubles aside for the next few hours.

Unfortunately, many of us don’t get to experience these things forever.

So why do we end up parting ways with the game we love? The end of the road usually comes down to one of three things: injury, burnout, or you weren’t good enough to compete at the next level.

 

7 Steps to Have a Long Baseball Career

To help those who’ve had to prematurely walk away from doing what they love most, this article will go over how you can put building blocks in place from when you were playing on your local Little League team all the way through the professional level to ensure your longevity in the game.

 

Little League Building Blocks 

Play Other Sports

Little League and youth baseball are incredible for teaching children the rules of the game. More importantly, it gives kids an opportunity to develop a passion for baseball and associate feelings of joy, fun, and happiness with the diamond.

At the same time, it’s crucial that kids also participate in a variety of other sports.

Early specialization is real, and high-strung parents have no problem locking their child into one sport so they have a shot at a college scholarship. Kids need both physical and mental variability, and exposing them to multiple sports will satisfy both of those needs.

Step one for longevity on the diamond: Play more than just baseball during your Little League years.

Practice Gross Motor Skills, Coordination, and Agility

Prepubescent athletes don’t need to be partaking in a full fledge strength and conditioning program.

Firstly, they don’t have the hormones needed to reap the benefits of heavy resistance training, and secondly, they probably don’t need rigid constraints placed on how they should move.

But, early childhood is a critical period for an athlete to develop good motor skills, coordination, and agility. Because of a child’s plasticity and sensitivity to advancing their motor development, these years are a great time for them to practice moving their bodies in a variety of ways to help integrate visual, vestibular, and somatosensory information.

This will help give them a stronger base to work from later on in their athletic career.

 

High School Building Blocks

Get a Movement Assessment

These are the years when an athlete is constantly trying to adjust to their growing body, is probably playing in more games per year, and may be starting to lift weights.

For all those reasons, it’s now time to start making movement assessments a must.

Because of one’s athletic history, body type, and anatomy movement, compensations may start to rear their ugly head. Finding a quality physical therapist and strength coach who can identify where you move well/poorly and develop a plan to help you mitigate injuries is invaluable.

A well-done assessment will not only show you what you’re good and not good at, it will also direct how you train, warm-up, and even what throwing program is best for you. Get assessments early, often, and make it habit throughout your career.

Begin a Structured Strength & Conditioning Program 

When an athlete reaches puberty they have the hormonal capabilities to increase their muscle mass, strength, and power, and participating in a strength and conditioning program will help accomplish all three. Piggybacking off of the last building block, baseball is a unique sport; the repetitiveness of throwing and hitting, and the demands those two actions place on the body, mean that any old football or bodybuilding program won’t suffice for maximizing your performance and keeping you healthy. Find someone who knows the body and knows baseball, then begin making an individualized strength and conditioning program part of your routine.

 

College Building Blocks

Master Time Management

If you’ve made it to the collegiate level you’ve shown that your skills are above and beyond those possessed by the majority of your peers.

Your lack of skills or physicality often isn’t what breaks you at this level; it’s the pressures of having to manage multiple aspects of your life that will hurt your performance.

In high school, you go to school from 8-2, practice and play, go home and eat mom’s cooking, and repeat. You now have to go to multiple classes, study, cook, do your laundry, pay for things yourself, and, on top of that, practice and play.

If you want to be successful at this level and prolong your career, you must develop good organizational skills, learn to make lists, and manage your time.

Become a Creature of Habit

Each ensuing year after high school will become more stressful. You’ll have more responsibilities and the pressure to perform well will continuously increase as you get closer to competing at the next level.

Creating routines and good habits are critical to help minimize stress and set yourself up for success. Creating routines for how you go about your studies, practice, nutrition, training, and mental preparation will allow you to block out unnecessary stress and keep you focused on reaching your goals on the field.

 

Professional Building Blocks

Learn to Love Recovery

By the time you’ve reached the professional level your body will have accumulated a lot of games played or innings thrown–and you’ll want to have many more in your future.

With that said, prioritizing recovery will greatly enhance your chance at having a successful career.

Fitting so many games into such few months means you must learn what your body needs to help your muscles and nervous system recover to the best of their ability every day. Below is a list of common recovery modalities that can be of great help while enduring long seasons:

  • Manual Therapy
  • Mobility Training
  • Improving Quality/Quantity of Sleep
  • Meeting with a Registered Dietician/Nutritionist
  • Limit Alcohol Consumption
  • Self-Myofascial Release
  • Active Recovery Training
  • Cryotherapy
  • Contrast Therapy
  • Sauna
  • Meditation

 

In Summary

Appreciate that being able to have longevity in any sport is a gift – but a gift you can exercise control over.

Respect your body as much as you respect the game and you’ll find you won’t have to prematurely walk away from doing what you love.

If you’re a parent reading this, how can you set your kid(s) up for success? If you’re a coach, how can you get the most out of your high school athletes? And if you’re a college or professional player, how badly do you want to get to the next level and how much are you willing to sacrifice to get there?

Put the right building blocks in place and the game will be good to you.

 

 

How a Bad Night Sleep Impacts Pitching Performance

A recent research report investigated the effect of travel on Major League Baseball teams and performance.  The authors found the MLB teams traveling eastward, such as those ending a series in Seattle and starting traveling to their next one in Boston, had an impairment in performance.

They authors found that some offensive statistics decreased, but pitching performance was the most impacted.  Pitchers traveling eastward with at least a 2-hour time difference allowed more home runs.

The results could be explained by the effect of jet-lag on the body’s circadian rhythms.  This likely resulted in fatigue that could have reduced velocity and command.

In my experience with the Red Sox, we often times sent our next starting pitcher to the next city early to assure they could get a good night sleep and be prepared for the game the next day.

Based on this information, I think it’s easy to say that a good night sleep the night before a start is very important for your pitching performance.

 

How jet lag impairs Major League Baseball performance.

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2017 Jan 23;:

Authors: Song A, Severini T, Allada R

Abstract
Laboratory studies have demonstrated that circadian clocks align physiology and behavior to 24-h environmental cycles. Examination of athletic performance has been used to discern the functions of these clocks in humans outside of controlled settings. Here, we examined the effects of jet lag, that is, travel that shifts the alignment of 24-h environmental cycles relative to the endogenous circadian clock, on specific performance metrics in Major League Baseball. Accounting for potential differences in home and away performance, travel direction, and team confounding variables, we observed that jet-lag effects were largely evident after eastward travel with very limited effects after westward travel, consistent with the >24-h period length of the human circadian clock. Surprisingly, we found that jet lag impaired major parameters of home-team offensive performance, for example, slugging percentage, but did not similarly affect away-team offensive performance. On the other hand, jet lag impacted both home and away defensive performance. Remarkably, the vast majority of these effects for both home and away teams could be explained by a single measure, home runs allowed. Rather than uniform effects, these results reveal surprisingly specific effects of circadian misalignment on athletic performance under natural conditions.

PMID: 28115724 [PubMed – as supplied by publisher]

Source: How jet lag impairs Major League Baseball performance.

Resting Heart Rate Variability Among Professional Baseball Starting Pitchers

Heart rate variability (HRV) can be an important metric for athletes to measure recovery and response to stress.  A recent research report was published looked at HRV between starts in professional baseball pitchers.

The results indicate that changes to the autonomic nervous system were present on the day after a start, but returned to baseline the next day.  This indicates a certain level of stress the day after a start, which would help justify a lighter day of training and recovery-based activities.

We all know that pitching performance decreases with fatigue.  The authors recommend each pitcher measure their HRV daily over the course of a season to best monitor overtraining.  Certainly interesting and something to keep an eye on in an attempt to develop a system of customizing pitchers’ training and workloads between starts.

I also wonder the implications of monitoring relievers to assess potential overtraining over the season.  Hope someone measures this in the future as well.

 

Abstract: Cornell, DJ, Paxson, JL, Caplinger, RA, Seligman, JR, Davis, NA, and Ebersole, KT. Resting heart rate variability among professional baseball starting pitchers. J Strength Cond Res 31(3): 575–581, 2017—The purpose of this study was to examine the changes in resting heart rate variability (HRV) across a 5-day pitching rotation schedule among professional baseball starting pitchers. The HRV data were collected daily among 8 Single-A level professional baseball starting pitchers (mean ± SD, age = 21.9 ± 1.3 years; height = 185.4 ± 3.6 cm; weight = 85.2 ± 7.5 kg) throughout the entire baseball season with the participant quietly lying supine for 10 minutes. The HRV was quantified by calculating the natural log of the square root of the mean sum of the squared differences (lnRMSSD) during the middle 5 minutes of each R-R series data file. A split-plot repeated-measures analysis of variance was used to examine the influence of pitching rotation day on resting lnRMSSD. A statistically significant main effect of rotation day was identified (F4,706 = 3.139, p = 0.029). Follow-up pairwise analyses indicated that resting lnRMSSD on day 2 was significantly (p ≤ 0.05) lower than all other rotation days. In addition, a statistically significant main effect of pitcher was also identified (F7,706 = 83.388, p < 0.001). These results suggest that professional baseball starting pitchers display altered autonomic nervous system function 1 day after completing a normally scheduled start, as day 2 resting HRV was significantly lower than all other rotation days. In addition, the season average resting lnRMSSD varied among participants, implying that single-subject analysis of resting measures of HRV may be more appropriate when monitoring cumulative workload among this cohort population of athletes.

Source: Resting Heart Rate Variability Among Professional Baseball Starting Pitchers