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What 4 Months of Off-Season Strength Training Did for This Baseball Program

Results and data speak for themselves.

In this article, I will be breaking down the results of 8 baseball teams ranging from 13u to 18u which we had the pleasure of working with this off-season and winter here at Champion Physical Therapy and Performance. I will provide examples and how to’s of several exercises as well! See how this baseball program increased power, strength, and performance!

If you are not a subscriber to Esposito Strength Club, make sure you click here to subscribe so you don’t miss out! You will also get access to all my Free Online Baseball Courses!

 

Why We Tested Our Athletes

First off, we like to test and collect data for many reasons. The main priority for us is knowing whether our program was successful or not successful.

I am a true believer in assessing myself as a strength coach and if something was implemented that did not achieve the results I would want or expect, I definitely don’t want to continue to make the same mistake the next year! As a coach, we also have to progress and develop our programs and coaching abilities.

 

What Data?

This is an area which I don’t know why many programs or coaches do not implement.

It’s all about your athletes getting better right? A huge game changer for us once the off-season ended was handing out progress reports of starting and ending data for each athlete. We held team meetings where we discussed results, goals and much more.

What’s even more important is the kids continued to train even after their “program” ended. This is awesome as many kids just simply stop training during the season.

Don’t make that mistake of not training! For more on that Click here for 5 Mistakes Baseball Players Make in-Season 

I believe there are two main excuses as to why most don’t test their athletes…those are:

  1. You don’t have (make) time.
  2. You are afraid you and your coaching philosophies will be proven wrong.

 

Look, I get it from a time perspective, but you are in full control of the practice plan and strength program. You make the time!

If you are afraid of being shown your training program really wasn’t as effective as your marketing led that to be…well either grow and make changes or stop coaching.

 

The Other End of the Spectrum

While testing can be a great thing, I do need to touch on the other end of the spectrum: over analyzing or collecting data just to say you collected it.

I have seen it before. I have seen some of the most unnecessary tests and assessments performed. I don’t know who actually cares to measure or needs to know the hand size of a 10-year-old baseball player but I’ve seen it done.

Sick, your 11 now and your hand grew 1/8 of an inch, our training is so good

Was it the training that caused that? Probably not as much as the sun going up and down a whole bunch.

Look, that even happened in our off-season tests. We measured the athletes’ height…but I did not include it on the final reports, many kids are in puberty and maturing…that’s a VERY big variable for me to say had nothing to do with getting taller.

If you are going to collect data, use it! Find out what went right, what went wrong, and how to make adjustments to help the athletes next season!

 

What We Tested

As we entered the off-season training, we needed to make a list of tests and measurements that were:

  • Applicable to the athletes
  • Made sense for baseball players
  • Able to be consistently replicated
  • Take 3 Sessions to perform
    • We did not want to lose too many training days

 

Our Training Parameters

I wanted to break this down a bit more for the coaches and parents who run baseball programs. I am sure some of you have a similar layout to roster structure.

  • 8 Total Rosters
  • 120 Total Athletes
  • 3 days a week of Strength Training
  • 1 Hour Per Training Session
  • 4 Total Months
  • 48 Total Workout Sessions
  • 6 of those sessions were allocated to testing, goal setting, and result breakdown and exit meeting

 

What We Tested

During the first week (November) and last week (February/March 15) of the strength program, we measured the following:

  • Body Weight
  • Grip Strength on Right and Left Hand
  • 60 Yard and 10 Yard Sprints (weather permitting)
  • 300 Meter (weather permitting)
  • 5-10-5 Pro Agility Test
  • Broad Jump
  • Lateral Bound on Left and Right Foot
  • Vertical Jump Height
  • Med Ball Stepping Overhead Throw

 

We used the GFlight to measure jump height. I absolutely love the GFlight. It’s portable, convenient, and consistent with its data and performance. Here’s a recent post for more and my review. Want a GFlight? Pick one up here and use code ESPOSTRENGTH for savings!

For velocity readings for the Med Ball Throws, we used Pocket Radar. Similar to the GFlight, it was easy to use, portable, and consistent. Here’s a great post from Mike Reinold on 3 Ways Pitcher’s can use radar to enhance performance…and check out the flame-throwing lefty in his videos…

Some of the goals of the baseball program were to simply get bigger and stronger. We only had an hour with the teams, and one of the areas we chose to not allocate much time to was speed and agility. As a strength coach, I do know many of these kids are multi-sport athletes, so that was not a major concern for me. Playing basketball, hockey or other sports gives plenty of agility and footwork.

We also know there is a high carryover when you perform strength lifting and plyometrics that translate into force production of sprinting and change of direction.

We chose several power development markers (broad jumps, lateral bounds, vertical, med ball) to track. We know these have a very strong correlation to baseball players performance and development.

 

Estimated 1 Rep Max

For our older athletes (15u, 16u, 17u, 18u) we used an estimated 1 Rep Max (e1RM) to safely find working weights for athletes. This also lets us have a better idea of appropriate weight selection for athletes, without the risk of performing a true 1 rep max test.

Every phase of the off-season for the older teams was specific in regard to developing strength and power and then using the new found strength to become explosive. This helps translate to on-field performance!

We had 3 main exercises we chose to track e1RM. Those were pushups, squats, and deadlifts.

Want to know your estimated 1 rep max…bookmark this link and use this 1 Rep Max Calculator

 

Here are some videos of the testing we performed this off-season!

 

The Results

These kids absolutely crushed their lifts. We were very clear from the beginning that the results would not happen overnight. Showing up consistently, lifting with good form, and properly increasing their weights was a great start.

While we had great results across all of the testing data, some of the areas that stood out were the power development of the Broad Jump, Vertical, and Lateral Bounds. On top of that, we created very good symmetry in the body from Right to Left on both Lateral Bounds and Grip Strength

We had a 42.98% increase in Right Leg Lateral Bound. For right-handed hitters and throwers, that is HUGE. More force to generate with will translate into higher velocity, and more power when hitting!

One of the other benefits to note is many athletes gained body weight during the off-season. While we gained weight, we also increased all power metrics…AND our running numbers either stayed at the baseline or improved. Even though we gained weight, our running did not get slower!

See the charts below for a full breakdown by age group!

 

 

 

 

 

 

How We Got Results

#1 Item that helped with results: showing up! That was something that was awesome this off-season. Almost all of these athletes were committed to coming to the gym and 100% bought into their personal development!

With that set, setting the foundations for this year and long term success was our top priority for these athletes. The programs were designed to hit the major areas for youth and developing athletes:

  • Strength and Power
  • Stability
  • Proprioception
  • Force Acceptance
  • Force Development
  • Med Ball Work
  • Plyometrics

 

We focused on what I call the pillars of strength: push, pull, hinge, squat, carry, core, balance. All of our workouts incorporated some type of movement or skill associated with those pillars.

 

Program Design for 13u and 14u Players

For our youth athletes, we always focus or the learning and mastering the basics. For a vast majority of this age group, it was their first time lifting or following a sports performance program.

This age group sets the tone and prepares them for heavier loads at older ages. You will be way ahead of everyone when you get into your 15 and older range from a strength development perspective.

We kept our rep ranges in the 8-12 for most of the exercises and focused on quality over quantity. Our progressions were designed to maintain their focus during the entire lift to be self-aware of their movement and patterns. For example, using 1 weight in a contralateral hold challenges your lateral flexion while performing a reverse lunge. This is a great progression for a standard reverse lunge.

 

Program Design for 15u, 16u, 17u, 18u Players

We had 4 significant phases for this age range during the off-season.

  • Phase 1 was re-acclimating to the gym after time off, as well as ensuring the lifting movements were ideal!
  • Phase 2 was continuing on our linear progression and added in some Isometric holds, and preparing the body to accept heavier loads.
  • Phase 3 was our heaviest load phase. We reduced the number of reps and increased the number of sets. This allows to safely get under heavier loads all within a linear progressive training approach!
  • Phase 4 was our speed phase. We take the muscle and strength we gained during the previous 12 weeks, and we teach it to become explosive and powerful. We reduce the weight as well to provide the proper stimulus for training, and prepare for tryouts and the season!

 

Just a note, we did not progress the athlete to the next phase just because the program called for it. This was where we would individualize for the athlete. If they required more time to master a movement, we simply allowed them that additional time.

 

How to Videos

Here are some great demos and how to videos of some of the exercises we used through the off-season training program. Many of these were crucial to power development as the data shows!

 

Final Thoughts

This was a great off-season for these athletes as the data shows. It was awesome seeing the progress from start to finish. Thanks to everyone at Champion (Kiefer, Diwesh, Kristy) for being a huge part of the success of these athletes!

We were very excited to show all the athletes at the end of the year meeting their results. It was great to see the kids talk about their goals and seeing their faces when they realized how they did not just hit their goal, but absolutely crushed it.

If you are interested in this type of training and results for your teams, send me a message below!

5 Ways to Strengthen Your Adductors

When it comes to your adductors, or groin muscles, stretching is one of the most common go-to interventions to keep you from straining or pulling your groin. Stretching is one of the tools we use, but how do we strengthen your groin and adductor muscles?

This article will breakdown additional ways to help you strengthen and keep your adductors healthy.

If you are not a subscriber to Esposito Strength Club, make sure you click here to subscribe so you don’t miss out! You will also get access to all of my Free Online Baseball Courses!

 

What Are Adductors

The adductor muscles (inner leg) are a group of 5 muscles that attach to the pelvis. The adductor muscles play a crucial role when it comes to performance, especially for baseball players. The adductors assist with back leg drive, separation, and hip extension. This includes explosive movements such as jumping, sprinting, and throwing.

For example, pitching requires the adductors of your stance leg to eccentrically stabilize while you drive towards the plate. Then the stride leg adductors have to stabilize as you drive your stride foot into the ground and transfer energy from the ground up to the pelvis, torso, and arm. Once you release the ball, your adductors must eccentrically slow your body down.

Slowing down one of the most violent movements in sports like throwing a baseball is a total body movement. When an area of the body is compromised, other locations will pick up the slack such as tendons and ligaments.

 

How to Stretch Your Adductors

Groin strains often happen with a sudden lengthening of the groin muscles when they are pushed past their limits of range of motion. This can occur in baseball and rotational sports, as well as other sports that involve cutting, reactive and quick stops and starts. Groin injuries are less frequently studied than upper extremity injuries in baseball, but they are still important to consider when training.

 

Here are a few examples of when this occurs in baseball:

  • Pitchers/thrower strides
  • Hitter’s back leg movement
  • Reaction and drop steps that occur in the field
  • Catcher drop and blocks

 

The Split Stance Adductor is a great stretch for the groin and adductors. This allows the athlete, to find their available range of motion and work within that range. This stretch allows athletes to maintain the length needed in their adductors to keep performing at a high level on the field while reducing injury risk.

 

Improve Rotational Power

The adductors play a huge role when it comes to rotating the hips. Transferring kinetic energy from your lower half to upper half will help lead to more potential velocity and power to your swing.

This shuffle is focused on bringing as much speed and momentum as possible into the Med Ball Scoop.  We still want to stay loaded onto your back hip to allow your adductors to lengthen. This will help create more force into your rotation and get good separation from the upper half and lower half.

This “separation” works together to transfer force between the upper and lower body. This is why you see elite athletes, such as baseball hitters or tennis players, rotate explosively through their hips and torso when making contact with a ball.

This med ball rotation exercise specifically targets your ability to powerfully rotate, which is needed for several sports skills, including hitting, throwing and changing directions.

 

Lateral Force Production

Adding bands to some of your jumps, like lateral bounds are a great way to increase your force production. The lateral bound is a great measure of pure power output in the frontal plane and developing power from your groin and adductors. The lateral bound is often tested inside gyms, combines, and athlete intakes.

If you have cranky knees, the band resisted lateral bound also helps decelerate your body at landing.

Coaching Cues:

  1. Secure a light or thin band to a post, rig, or sturdy surface around waist height.
  2. Toss the band around your waist, step out to the point where there is some tension on the band and set up in an athletic position.
  3. Perform a lateral bound
  4. Walk back to your starting point and repeat.

If you are a beginner, work on your jump mechanics first, and progress into these.

 

Eccentric Strength Development

Baseball players can experience high amounts of eccentric stress in their adductors. This is more than likely due to the amounts of high intent throws, swings and the quick reactions that occur in games and practices.

Your groin and adductor muscles help you absorb force when changing direction laterally. Seeing as baseball is played mostly in the frontal and transverse planes, you are asking a lot from your groin and adductors!

So how do we gain eccentric strength for your adductors and groin?

 

The Copenhagen Plank

For those unfamiliar with the Copenhagen Plank, this plank is no joke! For starters, you are getting a great core exercise but on top of that, your adductors are engaged to hold you in that plank position. There is also research supporting the eccentric strength increase while performing the Copenhagen plank.

See the video below for a great demo and breakdown on how to perform and progress the Copenhagen Plank: [H3]

 

Strengthen Your Adductors

For baseball and rotational athletes, we need to make sure we also have plenty of strength to be able to support the force absorption and production that occur every day in the sport.

The Bottom Hold Lateral Lunge

The bottom hold lateral lunge is a great frontal plane strength exercise you can add into your workouts. I personally like the bottom hold as I feel it allows you to find a good lateral position without trying to wrestle the weight into a goblet. Your arms are allowed to stay long like a deadlift letting you get into a similar hinge position. The bottom hold allows you to load this position more so than a goblet, so the strength aspect is slightly higher in this variation

 

The Set Up:

  • Start by holding the kettlebell or dumbbell underneath you.
  • Step laterally and hinge into your landing leg.
  • Bring the weight toward the inside of your shoe/foot
  • Return back to your starting point and repeat on both sides for the desired reps.

 

Final Thoughts

The adductors play a crucial role in athletic performance and development. Yes, we can stretch them, but that is just one piece of the puzzle.

I hope this post helped you learn additional ways to strengthen and support your adductor muscles to help reduce the chance of a groin strain.

5 Major Mistakes Baseball Players Make In-Season

With baseball season officially upon us, I wanted to break down the 5 mistakes I commonly see baseball players make in season and how you can avoid them. Baseball players often stop working out, and they have poor sleep and nutrition habits. These problems are compounded by poor time management skills. Here are some easy solutions on how to manage your time wisely to maximize your season!

If you are not a subscriber to Esposito Strength Club, make sure you click here to subscribe so you don’t miss out! You will also get access to all of my Free Online Baseball Courses!

 

1. You Stop Working Out

Look, I get it. I was a player and I remember the hectic schedule of school, practice after school, games, travel, lessons…but like a said above, it’s a SCHEDULE. I don’t know of many NCAA or Pro level teams not lifting in season. Making it a point to find 2-3 hours per week to take care of your body is not that much to ask.

Let’s put that in perspective. In a recent survey of time spent playing Fortnite during the week, 29.4% said they played Fortnite 0-5 hours per week while 32.5% played for 6-10 hours per week.

Now, I’m not saying to not play video games because, like many, I like to merk some noobs playing Battlefield 1 on the PS4 from time to time, but I don’t let it impact my training or my job.

 

What are Your Priorities?

Baseball in-season strength training is important for staying healthy and maximizing performance. Remember, some of you have spent months of training to get into the best shape you could be leading to this season. Your off-season was designed to maximize your on-field performance.

That can also be said about your in-season program, not only can you still increase your strength, but you are also maintaining your movement quality. This will have a large impact on your durability throughout the season!

If you stop training altogether, you run the risk of breaking down sooner, especially with an often hectic and busy baseball schedule. For some of you, you will go from 1-2 hours a week of baseball to potentially 15-20 hours!

Other in-season benefits will vary from player to player but include maintaining strength, managing stress placed on tissues during the season, and working to continue your athletic development.

If you are not sure what to do for in-season strength training, make sure you check out the program Mike Reinold and I put together: Champion In-Season Baseball Performance Program.

 

Baseball In-Season Strength and Conditioning Guidelines

I recently put together an In-Season Baseball Strength Training Series. I breakdown common myths, misconceptions, schedules and more! Make sure you check those out below.

In-Season Lifting Part 1: General Guidelines

In-Season Lifting Part 2: Youth Baseball

In Season Lifting Part 3: High School Baseball

 

2. You Don’t Get Enough Sleep

Sleep is by far one of the most common areas that teenagers neglect. I’ve been there myself. On school nights, I used to stay up past midnight watching TV, playing video games (being on your cell phone wasn’t a thing yet in 2000-2004 when I was in high school). I’d wake up at 5:45 am and repeat for the week. Then on the weekends, I’d sleep till 1-2 in the afternoon. I was a SLUG! My grades suffered, and my body recovery was terrible.

 

Why Does Sleep Matter?

Sleep is one of the body’s most important biological functions with roles in performance, cognition, learning, development and mental and physical health.

While there are numerous consequences as a result of inadequate sleep, identifying sleep problems and following the recommended sleep guidelines can help ensure sporting performance is maximized.

 

 

From an academic perspective (don’t forget, STUDENT-athlete), we know having adequate amounts of sleep will increase your performance in the classroom. Not only can your test scores increase, but your cognitive function, thinking, and creativity can see improvements as well.

Now, put yourself in the mind of a college coach and recruiter…the more colleges you qualify for academically, the more you can consider athletically!

 

Sports Performance Benefits

From an athletic perspective, having an adequate amount of sleep has tremendous improvements to your performance.

“Sleep is the most potent performance enhancing activity that we know of.”

– Jeffrey Kahn, Sports Performance Scientist.

In a recent study, student-athletes who get less than 8 hours of sleep per night are 70% more likely to get injured. If you are getting less than 6 hours of sleep, you are reducing your reaction time by 18%.

Baseball is a reaction sport. Hitters are reacting to the pitcher. Fielders are reacting to the hitter. Baserunners are reacting to every pitch and play of the game! 18% is A LOT to lose.

Again, sleep is an obstacle that all athletes have to face. When you get optimal sleep duration (8-10 hours), one night of sleep improves motor learning task speed by 20% and accuracy by 39%. Baseball players improve reaction times by 122 milliseconds. To put that in perspective, a 90-mph fastball takes about 400 milliseconds to travel from the pitcher’s hand to home plate. Improved sleep can also decrease fatigue by 40%. I guess you could say sleep is important.

 

How to Help Your Sleep

  • Turn off the TV
  • Limit blue light use (phones, tablets, laptops, computers) 2-3 hours before bedtime.
  • Read a book
  • Watch caffeine intake during the afternoon
  • Get consistent with your sleep and wake-up schedule
  • Put items that can be a distraction in a different room

 

3. Your Nutrition Is Lacking

The nutrition and food choices you make every day will have a tremendous impact on your energy levels, baseball performance, and your overall health!

Without proper nutrition, you can become lethargic, you can lose the ability to concentrate, and you are missing out on your body’s ability to recover. All of these will have an impact on your academic and sports performance.

You need to remember; your food is your fuel. The quality and quantity of your nutrition matter a whole lot, especially in sports performance.

I really want to make sure you realize that this is not a “diet.” Diets are often restricting, limiting, and often difficult for athletes, especially NCAA, high school and youth athletes to follow. What we want is an abundance of good quality, highly nutritious foods.

 

A mistake many make is looking for a quick fix or a quick solution to what needs a long-term commitment. Sure, adding in nutrients you may be lacking and cutting out junk food will help short term, but you need to remember sports performance is year round.

 

Drink More Water!

Drinking water is something many athletes lack. Water can help maximize your body’s natural functions, as well as help you maintain your energy levels and brain function. Your body is constantly losing water throughout the day, then you go to play games and practice in hot weather.

While sports drinks do have some positives such as electrolytes and good carbs, you are also taking in large amounts of sugar.

 

Taking Control of Your Nutrition

I recommend you track your food and nutrition daily. This will give you a good idea of your eating habits, intake, and nutrient timing. You can use apps on your phone or computer, or the old-fashioned journal works just as well.

Another helpful tip is meal prepping and planning. Planning out your food will allow you to create and stick to a schedule. This will help you make better choices throughout the day. If you are not shopping for yourself, talk with your parents and help out with the grocery list.

Finding a nutrition plan can be hard as it should be unique to the individual. Everyone has different needs based on activity levels, goals, schedules, and personal lifestyles. I would recommend you see a nutritionist for more on that!

 

4. Time and Schedule Management

We touched on this above regarding strength training and finding time to lift. When it comes to time management, everyone can always do a better job. The number 1 excuse I hear from athletes, especially in-season, is they don’t have enough time. I call BS.

Athlete schedules can be all over the place in today’s sports world. There is really no way around that as that has become the norm for playing sports. What changes though are your priorities and your choices. These choices and priorities will impact your sleep, nutrition, and development.

 

What’s Out of Your Control

To begin to work on your time management, you must make a list of necessities or items that just simply won’t change or go away. For example, we know your school schedule really won’t change all that much. From roughly 7:30 till 2:30, you are unavailable.

Once the weather cooperates, typically your baseball games and practices are usually right after school. On average, you can be done by 5 pm. If you don’t get in bed until 10 pm, what are you doing with those 5 hours a day… which equals 25 hours from Monday-Friday?

Well, you have to eat, and family time is huge, don’t forget that. We also know you will have homework. Obviously, that will depend on your school, grade, and course load but that could take up 2-3 hours a day right there.

So that leaves you with potentially 2 hours a day or 10 hours during the weekdays. Those 10 hours can be spent on self-development, strength training, sport skill development, hanging out with friends or personal time.

 

How to Work on Your Time Management

I would highly suggest you make a daily schedule or journal for yourself to see where your free hours are and how you can maximize your time. Keeping a schedule will allow you to take control of your daily routine, start controlling external factors a bit better, and manage some potential stressors.

 

5. You Ignore Recovery

When we put the previous 5 mistakes together, that adds up to a lack of recovery and potentially impacts your baseball performance. Baseball is a very violent sport from a biomechanical standpoint. The demands and forces placed on your body are some of the highest in sports. Taking care of your body is like charging your batteries.

 

 

I recently heard a very good analogy from Cory Schlesinger, a strength coach at Stanford University. Cory discussed an analogy he got from Jordan Shallow and compared the athlete’s injury risks with outside factors.

“Jordan Shallow gave me this metaphor, he was saying this fungus will fill up a pond and it doubles its size every day. So, if it starts off at .2, then the next day is .4, he asked me, if it’s going to fill up a whole pond in 30 days, what’s the day it’s half full. Day 29. That’s how I look at the human body. It’s literally the last thing and then boom. We could’ve had all these interventions from Day 2 to Day 28 or Day 29 even, but it’s that one last straw that breaks the camel’s back.”

 

What does that mean?

There are many factors that go into your athletic development. As athletes, being able to manage your stress, school, sleep, nutrition, time management will lead to an optimized sports performance environment for you to thrive in. All those factors mesh and work together.

For example, many coaches will look for the exact moment of a sore arm, or injury from sport, but will forget to look at all the other factors that could’ve led to that injury. While being injured is not ideal, getting healthy and making sure it doesn’t happen again is key.

 

Final Thoughts

One big takeaway I hope you got from this post is that all of these mistakes can be 100% controlled by you. Your body’s recovery can be impacted by being proactive with your time and schedule management. This will allow you to maximize workout schedule and outside factors and stressors. Your nutrition and sleep will have an impact on your performance on and off the field as well as in and out of the classroom.

All of the mistakes work cohesively together. It’s up to you whether they work for you or against you.

3 Ways Baseball Pitchers Can Use a Radar Gun to Enhance Performance

One of the simplest, yet most effective training aids for any baseball pitcher is a radar gun.

At one point in time, I was actually against having youth baseball pitchers use a radar gun too often and focus on velocity, but I actually think that there are a few great benefits.  And with recent advances in technology of radar guns, people can easily get an affordable pocket-size radar run, like the Pocket Radar, to use at home.

One of the key differentiators I see between amateur and professional baseball pitchers is often just intent.

What I mean is, our pro ball pitchers tend to throw with much more intent than our younger pitchers.  Sure, this could be that pro ball pitchers are older, bigger, and stronger.  But intent isn’t just an output of mass and strength.  It’s also an output of intensity, which is something many youth need to learn.

Even in our sports performance programs at Champion, our early focus with people new to training is developing intent when training.

So while I don’t necessarily want our amateur baseball pitchers focusing solely on velocity, I still think there are a bunch of great uses of a radar gun during training.

Here are my top 3 ways baseball pitchers can use a radar gun to enhance performance.

 

Enhance Power Development

Have you ever used a radar gun to check your velocity?  No matter what your velocity was on the first throw, what did you every time on that second throw?

Try to throw harder, right?  Of course you did, we all do!

In the motor learning world, this is a form of extrinsic feedback referred to as “knowledge of results.”  This can be used to give immediate feedback to the player to enhance technique, but also motivation.  We see this all the time, especially in athletes who are competitive in nature

We know that using external feedback and knowledge of the results in the sports performance world helps increase power output.  For example, in one study using external feedback of results was shown to help improve vertical jump performance.  In a 2014 study the Journal of Human Movement Science, it was shown that using feedback of vertical jump height performance results in an immediate increase in vertical jump performance, as well an 18% improvement in jump height over a 4-week training period.

One way that we apply this knowledge with our baseball players is with medicine ball power drills.  In this video, you can see we are using a radar gun set up to monitor the ball velocity.  The athlete is encouraged to ramp up his intensity on subsequent throws until he reaches his maximum velocity.  We’ll record this and try to improve over the course of his program, just like we would by recorded weights during his lifts.

 

Monitor Throwing Intensity

Another great use of a radar gun for baseball training is to monitor throwing intensity.  This is important for a few situations:

  1. A player returning from an injury that wants to slowly develop load to healing tissue
  2. A player preparing for a season that wants to slowly build capacity of the arm to handle stress
  3. A player inseason that wants to manage his workload more specifically

Monitoring the number of throws performed or pitch counts during a game is important, and something that we have shown to correlate to predicting both injury and performance.  However, using the quantity of throws on its own is too simplistic.  Overuse is more of a combination of quantity and intensity.

Compare one player playing light catch for 30 throws versus another long tossing for 30 throws.  Which one do you think was more stressful on the body?

By using a radar gun, you can document and build gradual progressions more appropriately.  Distance becomes less of a factor, and intensity becomes more specific.

Here’s an example of how we use a radar gun to ramp up a throwing session.  In this video you can see a few throws that slowly ramp up to the max intensity that we want that day.  The athlete then does his best to remain right around that velocity to get his work in for the day.

 

Improve Pitching Velocity

Using a radar gun to help improve pitching velocity is probably the most obvious.  When it comes to actually training to enhance pitching velocity, it has been shown that if pitchers know the speed of their pitch during their training, the have a larger increase in velocity.

In a recent study in the Journal of Human Kinetics, it was shown that if players were able to see their throwing velocity, the players were able to enhance their velocity by 4x more than if they did not know their speed.  That’s pretty amazing to me, and based off the same mechanisms of motor learning discussed above.

Another past study compared the throwing velocity of youth when instructed to “throw the ball hard” vs the same instruction with radar gun results.  Again the study showed that simply instructing the athlete to throw the ball hard does not increase velocity as much as when they can visually see the results.

In another interesting study in tennis players, it was shown that training for 6-weeks with feedback of serve velocity had a significantly greater improvement in velocity than a group that did not know their results.  But what is most interesting, is that this same group stopped training with external feedback of their velocity and still showed that the velocity improvements were retained 6 weeks after the program.

What this could mean is that training with the knowledge of your velocity not only helps motivate you to throw harder, but perhaps also trains you to continue to do this even when external feedback is removed.

So while I don’t think amateurs players should always be focusing on enhancing their velocity, I do think there are a few good reasons why the should focus on knowing their velocity.  Just like anything else, is the focus is on what is more important, a radar gun can not only be helpful to enhance performance, but also to control and monitor workload.

 

What Radar Gun Should You Use?

There are a few options when looking at purchasing a radar gun.  As you can see from the above examples, I value the convenience of having one on me.  So I value one that is portable and easy to use.  I’ve personally been using the Pocket Radar and think it’s perfect.  We’ve compared it to the more expensive guns, and it’s always just as accurate, but so much easier to use.

The new Smart Coach model is awesome, it can connect to an app on your phone or tablet via bluetooth, or even an external display.  This is what we’ve been using at Champion and everyone has loved it.

 

 

Four Exercises to Increase Power for Baseball Players

Power is the rate of doing work or the ability to be explosive. When it comes to being successful in sports, performance is closely linked with power.

In baseball, power can impact your throwing, hitting, base stealing, and fielding.

When you combine a strength base and move effectively, you are more likely to fully tap into your power potential. Just like increasing strength, there are many ways to increase power…

 

Here Are 4 of My Favorite Exercises to Increase Power for Baseball Players

 

Kettlebell Swings

Kettlebell swings are a great exercise that takes the power of the jump and uses that to propel a weight.

The swing is a total body movement that builds strength, while also requiring power, speed, and endurance.

 

Band Resisted Broad Jumps

Adding bands to some of your jumps, like broad jumps, are a great way to increase your force production.

The broad jump is a great measure of pure power output and is often tested inside gyms, combines, and athlete intake.

 

Trap Bar Jumps

Trap bar jumps are generally performed with low weight so that peak power can be achieved.

With too much load, the velocity will drop, which defeats the purpose of the lift. With the trap bar, the weight is now closer to your center of mass, with the arms down by the sides in a neutral position. Similar to a squat jumps, kettlebell swing, or broad jumps.

 

Weighted Seated Vertical Jumps

Similar to trap bar jumps, you want to choose a weight that will not make you too slow.

When you start seated on a box, you are eliminating the eccentric (lowering) aspect of the jump. You will not have the rubber band effect to help you.

You must provide all the power on the way up.

 

If you are adding these types of exercises into your training program, make sure your takeoffs and landings are optimal.

I typically program these types of exercises after a full warmup, but before your main lifts.

Stay in the 2-4 set range of 3-5 reps.

Focus on one rep at a time, similar to one pitch at a time, one swing at a time mindset. Make that specific rep the best you can.

Long-Term Development Plan for Baseball

In a recent survey I posted on my Instagram and Twitter accounts, I asked a series of questions for baseball players, and their personal experience with their long-term development. I had a tremendous response, including MLB players, Minor League players, players from all NCAA divisions, & high school athletes. Thank you to all who took the time and submitted their answers!

There were 2 important questions that I want to share with you…

 

Question #1

“Do you wish you started strength training at an earlier age to help your long-term development?”

96% responded with a YES.

Of the 4% who said no, were all under the age of 15 when they first started a lifting program.

 

Question #2

“What advice would you give to an athlete in high school about when to start strength training?”

98% of responded by saying they should have already started, ASAP, or prior to high school.

I wanted to break down the long-term development and talk about goal setting, and what exactly is a periodized training program.

 

Planning Out Your Long-Term Success

 

 

What Is Periodization?

This is your planning and process for long-term success. Based on your sport, age, competitiveness, and other factors, planning for your on-field performance is crucial.

Following a periodized program will help layout your foundation for where you currently are, and where you would like to get.

This could be 1 month down the road, 3 months, or a year. Having that plan allows you to steadily progress your workout program as you begin to see results!

 

What Are Macrocycles?

This is the annual plan. Long term, this prepares your athlete or client to peak at their performance day or season.

  • Off-season
    • This is your longer duration phase and where you will see adaptations and building capacities.
    • This is where you should be making the largest impact on your performance.
  • In-season
    • Maintaining what was built during the off-season. Maintaining movement patterns, body positions, and strength.
    • Depending on your age, this can also be used to continue to build on your previous success. This is commonly seen in youth and middle school ages.
  • Transition Phases
    • Post Season work. This helps the body repair, recover, rest, and regenerate. Depending on the age, athlete, sport, this phase can be 3-5 weeks.

 

 

What Are Mesocycles?

Mesocycles are phases/months of training that can range from 2-6 weeks depending on the athlete. The mesocycle is where you can have your adaptations, and changes. With higher level athletes, you can begin to have different program variations (triphasic, contrast, VBT, hypertrophy, etc.) based on goals, and what the athlete is prepared for.

There will be anywhere from 3-10 mesocycles in a macrocycle based on age, sport, and level.

These smaller cycles enable athletes to progressively improve upon an area of their training in a systematic manner. Focusing on making sure the athlete understands the purpose behind their training and can set short-term, more manageable goals to help whatever long-term goals they may have.

 

What Are Microcycles?

These are commonly smaller programs, sometimes a week. This may be seen more during in-season, or if a client is traveling a lot for sport… for example, summer baseball travel. You may have to adjust weekly based on how the body is feeling, games, practices, and travel. This is where client rapport comes in, so you can communicate with them.

I have many athletes who we adjust the workout based around how they walked in the door. Some may come in tight after a game or travel, and just not in a good position to perform the planned lift.

Making that decision can be something that can keep an injury away! For example, if you have a stiff back after a ski trip, just because your program calls for deadlifts, does not mean you have to perform them. Instead, consider performing other exercises that are not strenuous for the back and moving your deadlift routine to a different day until your discomfort is eliminated.

 

Based on that chart, those are some of the questions and what I commonly see after training baseball players from all levels (MLB, MiLB, NCAA, High School, Youth).

Be sure to apply these principles to your training for the best performance results. These principles can be used across all ages for long-term athletic success.

 

Need an Offseason Training Program?

I’m really excited to have recently teamed up with Mike Reinold to release a couple of online offseason baseball performance training programs.  Now you can follow our acclaimed programs from anywhere in the world, just like all the baseball players at Champion.  We give you everything you need to enhance performance, reduce injury, and get ready for the season!

Check them out below:

 

 

Three-Dimensional Core Training for Baseball Players

Baseball is a three-dimensional sport, but the majority of strength and conditioning coaches seem to gravitate to a sagittal plane dominant regimen while ignoring the frontal and transverse planes drastically.

The more we can train our core in all three planes of motion, the easier it is to handle the stress that throwing a baseball/swinging a bat puts on our bodies.

In baseball, the body must create, absorb, direct and decelerate energy in all three planes of motion. Being able to achieve this task should allow for a longer and more prosperous career.

Most conventional exercises like crunches, supermans and other ground-based exercises are sagittal plane dominant. We need to broaden our approach and start training with a three dimensional approach that replicates baseball activities.

 

The primary function of the core is to facilitate motion between the pelvis and the upper body. This includes accelerating and decelerating motion in all three planes on each side of the body simultaneously.

There are various ways to turn on abdominals. For my money, the core reacts best to lengthening or stretching to become stimulated.

A muscle must load eccentrically before it can explode or concentrically contract.

Lengthening our muscles stimulates proprioceptors which are located within our muscles and tendons and give our bodies feedback regarding muscle tension, muscle length, and movement/pressure. The more proprioception that is achieved during a movement, the more dynamic and beneficial the movement becomes.

By using an arm driver, the athlete can take advantage of gravity, ground reaction forces, mass, and momentum to create a chain reaction throughout the body. These types of chain reactions help strengthen and prepare the body for the stresses that the game of baseball demands to play it.

Here are some examples of standard plank variations utilizing these principles. By using your arm as a driver, you can create rhythmic eccentric and concentric contractions. Be sure to include this three-dimensional staple for your workouts moving forward.

 

How to Use the Weight Room for Baseball Pitching Mechanical Issues

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

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

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

(Robbie Aviles – Before and After)

 

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

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

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

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

 

Maintaining a Healthy, Clean Arm Action

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

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

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

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

 

Shoulder to Hip Separation

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

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

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

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

 

Balance and Alignment

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

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

 

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

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

 

Timing and Rhythm

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

Remember:

 

You absolutely need both.

See ya’ in the gym…

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 to Improve Velocity in Tall Baseball Pitchers

What did he top out at this weekend? Does that guy consistently throw hard? What was his velo?

You can guarantee to hear these questions at our facility on Monday after a weekend of baseball, and velocity will continue to be the talk of the town.

Everyone wants to throw hard and recruiters want to see the potential to throw hard, for better or worse. As you see more players throwing over 90 MPH, there is a trend to see more players well over six feet tall. Being tall creates better lever arms to potentially throw gas, but it also creates the need for more stability across more real estate.

Tall pitchers typically struggle with a few things in the weight room due to their longer limbs. The longer lever arms often require a few extra areas of focus to maximize control and eventually power development.

This article will detail a three of my favorite exercises to address those issues in tall baseball pitchers.

 

Double Kettlebell Reverse Lunge

Tall athletes almost always struggle with maintaining good trunk position, especially with a dynamic task like throwing a baseball.

Adding weight in front of an athlete during an exercise will automatically create a need to use the core effectively. Be careful that the player does not cheat during the exercise by over-arching the low back. A great cue is to “connect the belt buck to the rib cage” during the move.

Single leg work is vital to all athletic development, especially in those with long torsos. You can see how this pitcher is able to maintain a very upright torso and effectively load his lower half.

 

 

Tall Kneeling Overhead Catch and Slam

A major leak of energy when pitching is a loss of good trunk position during the throwing motion.

Sound familiar? It is very difficult to create force into the ground with the legs and deliver it to the arm with a weak center. Imagine trying to shoot a sling shot with a loose grip. Good luck hitting your target, let alone creating any speed.

Tall guys like to create trunk stability by overarching the low back and using their spine instead of abdominal muscles. The tall kneeling position takes away stability, and the overhead catch and slam teaches the athlete to resist overarching the low back while winding up. He is now in a good position to deliver speed and force back into the ball. Here we see him using the abdominal muscles just like a firm grip in the slingshot analogy.

Sled Drags

Pitchers who are tall need to find ways to build strength and endurance in their lower half. Having a long femur and torso may make the risk in a risk-reward equation too high for my liking with heavy squatting.

Sled drags are fantastic for tall pitchers because it allows heavy loading and little stress on the knees and low back. This exercise can be loaded heavy at the start of a session for a strength stimulus, or lighter for distance to build an aerobic base at the end of training. Sled variations are a staple at Adams Performance, and this version is in most of our tall athlete’s programming.

 

The most important part of our approach to building great athletes is understanding everyone is anatomically and developmentally different. Tall pitchers have powerful levers as a natural advantage, so focus their training around developing strong and stable legs to create force and a strong trunk to deliver it. Give these variations with tall pitchers a try to improve performance and help them take advantage of their natural athleticism.