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Vest Cooling For The Baseball Catcher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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.

Total Motion Release: A New Warm-Up Approach

There is no surprise that baseball is a very one-sided sport. Due to this one-sidedness, baseball athletes present an adaptive muscular tightness and weakness in their throwing shoulder from repetition after repetition.

There is also no surprise that one of the most common techniques to improve joint range of motion and structural alignment is through static stretching. Contrary to popular belief, it may not affect throwing velocity.

Static stretching may be a good tool to pull from the tool box, but it may not have the greatest carry over since throwing a baseball is a dynamic activity.

However, what might surprise you is that there is a new method being used called Total Motion Release (TMR).

The TMR system assesses the body as a unified symphony of joints, like the Functional Movement Screen (FMS), to determine pain or dysfunction in one area that is affected by movements that take place elsewhere in the body.

The TMR system has six different movements to assess dysfunction and asymmetry. In this present study, the researchers only used the Standing Trunk Twist and Standing Arm Raise.

The TMR system was compared to a general dynamic warm up to determine which method was superior in increasing total range of motion in the throwing shoulder.

All 20 subjects performed both the TMR and dynamic warm up. However, in the cross-over design of the study, one group performed the TMR following the dynamic warm up and vice versa.

The results of the study showed that the TMR system significantly improved total range of motion in the throwing shoulder when compared to the general dynamic warm up.

The results also showed that there was also a time effect. Those who performed the TMR following the dynamic warm up significantly improved total joint range of motion when compared to the group who performed the TMR first.

A general dynamic warm up is important for increasing blood flow, tissue extensibility, and neuromuscular communication. To get the biggest bang for your buck, perform your dynamic warm up first, and then follow it up with using controlled movements from the TMR system.

Future research is needed to determine the retention rate of the range of motion improvements following the TMR system.

For example, between innings, 6-hours post pitching, 12-hours post pitching, 24-hours post pitching, as well as its effects on athletic performance such as throwing velocity, total innings pitched, etc.

Comparing the immediate effects of a total motion release warm-up and dynamic warm-up protocol on the dominant shoulder in baseball athletes.

A decrease in total range of motion (ROM) of the dominant shoulder may predispose baseball athletes to increased shoulder injury risk; the most effective technique for improving ROM is unknown. The purpose of this study was to compare the immediate effects of Total Motion Release® (TMR®) to a generic dynamic warm-up program in baseball athletes. Baseball athletes (n=20) were randomly assigned to an intervention group: TMR® group (TMRG; n=10) or traditional warm-up group (TWG; n=10). Shoulder ROM measurements were recorded for internal (IR) and external (ER) rotation, the intervention was applied, and post- measurements were recorded. Each group then received the other intervention and post- measurements were again recorded. The time main effect (p ≤ .001) and the time x group interaction effect were significant (p ≤ .001) for IR and ER. Post hoc analysis revealed TMR® produced significant increases in mean IR (p ≤ .005, d = 1.52) and ER (p ≤ .018, d = 1.22) of the dominant shoulder initially. When groups crossed-over, the TMRG experienced a decrease in mean IR and ER following the dynamic warm-up, while the TWG experienced a significant increase in mean IR (p ≤ .001, d = 3.08) and ER (p ≤ .001, d = 2.56) following TMR® intervention. TMR® increased IR and ER of the dominant shoulder more than a dynamic warm-up. Dynamic warm-up following TMR® also resulted in decreased IR and ER; however, TMR® following dynamic warm-up significantly improved IR and ER. Based on these results, TMR® is more effective than a generic dynamic warm-up for improving dominant shoulder ROM in baseball players.

Push Off Ground Reaction Force and Ball Speed in High School Pitchers

Many pitching coaches teach young players to either stay “tall and fall” or push as hard off the mound as they can when delivering a pitch to home plate. Is one method more optimal than the other?

If you want to throw hard, you must be able to produce force into the ground that will propel you in a forward direction towards home plate. The linear momentum that is created contributes to rotation of the trunk before ball release.

These movement sequences have been studied before in college-aged pitchers, and previous research has shown that college pitchers threw hardest when producing a high amount of force into the mound.

However, these same sequences have not been studied in the high school population.

A recent study looked at the role of push off and ground reaction force during the throwing motion on throwing velocity in high school aged pitchers.

Of the 52 pitchers that were analyzed, the results showed a significant relationship between ball speed and ground reaction force.

During the push off, horizontal ground reaction force reached around half the body weight of the player, which previous research has shown greater metrics in collegiate pitchers. While there was a statistically significant correlation between push off force and ball speed, it was weakly correlated.

These results tell us that high school aged pitchers are not utilizing their lower half when producing a pitch to home plate.

While the weak relationship may be due to poor hip musculature and general strength, poor motor control of the trunk, and lack of movement awareness, it may also indicate that while push off force is important, factors such as height, weight, and physical maturity are more important for high school aged pitchers.

According to the researchers, peak rotation velocity of the pelvis must be achieved prior to peak rotation of the trunk.

As a rule of thumb, if you want to throw hard and be successful on the mound, focus on these key variables:

  1. Get stronger in the weight room, and train to use this strength in a powerful manner
  2. Work on push off force and momentum when throwing your bullpens
  3. Include dynamic exercises that highlight the coordination between the trunk and pelvis

 

 

The relationship between the push off ground reaction force and ball speed in high school aged pitchers.

Baseball pitching is a sequential movement that requires transfer of momentum from the lower extremity to the throwing arm. Therefore, the ground reaction force (GRF) during push off is suggested to play a role in production of ball speed. The purpose of this study was to investigate the correlation between GRF characteristics during push off and ball speed in high school baseball pitchers. A total of 52 pitchers performed fast pitches from an indoor pitching mound. A force plate embedded in an indoor mound was used to capture the push off GRF. The GRF characteristics (peak anterior, vertical, and resultant forces, vertical and resultant forces at the time of peak anterior GRF, and impulse produced by the anterior GRF) from the three fastest strike pitches from each pitcher were used for analyses. Spearman’s rank correlation coefficients were used to describe the relationships between ball speed and the GRF characteristics. Ball speed was only weakly correlated with peak resultant force (r=.32, p=.02), and vertical (r=.45, p<.001) and resultant (r=.42, p=.002) forces at the time of peak anterior force. The ball speed was not correlated with other variables. The correlation between ball speed and push off force in high school pitchers was weak, especially when compared to what was reported for adult pitchers in other studies. Unlike for adult pitchers, higher push off force is only weakly correlated with ball velocity in high school pitchers, which suggests that training to better utilize body momentum may help high school pitchers improve ball speed.