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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.

 

 

 

Breaking Down a Proper and Effective Warm-Up

One of the most common questions I get is related how to properly warm up.  This includes questions on static stretching and its role in warming up prior to a training session or athletic event.

Many people are mislead when it comes to performing a sound and ideal warm-up.

In light of this, I wanted to take some time to discuss the best way to structure and progress through your warm-ups. This template is beneficial for athletes and will help maximize their performance.

As a preface to the remainder of this article I would like to give a brief outline of how a warm-up should progress. Generally, I would advise performing full body self myofascial release through foam rolling prior to the beginning of every warm-up. Foam rolling can help work out and specific problem areas throughout the body.  

From here, I usually breakdown my warm-ups as follows:

  • Static Stretching/Mobility Work For Desired Areas
  • Core Activation
  • General Activation (Hips, Shoulders, Glutes etc.)
  • Rehearsal of Movement Patterns
  • Central Nervous System Activation

Mobility

Plain and simple, mobility is the area of the warm-up where I like to either work on certain problem areas where there are mobility restrictions present, or simply target the muscles that will be used extensively during the training session.

For example, if I have a group of athletes they will each have their own static stretches that target areas they specifically need work on. Otherwise, if you were to be working the lower body, for example, you could target your hamstrings, hip flexors, external rotators, quadriceps and ankles.

The same can be said for the days where the upper body is your focus for your training.

Core Activation

The core plays an extensive role in bracing the spine while your extremities are in motion. So, activating your core is extremely important if you desire to have an effective workout.

Exercises such as planks, loaded carry variations and anti-rotations presses are great to ignite your core and prepare it to support you throughout many different ranges of motion.

proper baseball warm up - core activation

 

General Activation

Stability is the ability to maintain mobility throughout an entire range of motion. Activation exercises not only help to work on this, but they also help us progress from the static stretches we have just done to begin our warm-up.

I always tell my athletes that static stretching is okay to do prior to training or games as long as you properly activate after. So, exercises that require mobility through ranges of motion for your hips, shoulders, and glutes are a great place to start.

Rehearsal of Movement Patterns 

This is where we perform a basic movement that corresponds to the primary movement we are training that day.

Is your session centered on the bench press? Great, perform a set of pushups to rehearse a pressing variation. Getting in some barbell squats or deadlifts? Be sure to dedicate this phase to bodyweight squats or kettlebell swings.

The goal is to now use the mobility and activation we have focused on and begin to phase it into movement patterns.

Central Nervous System Activation

I have actually written a previous article on my favorite central nervous system activation exercises.  Basically, this is the last portion of our warm-up right before we begin our training or athletic event. Our goal is to engage the nervous system and have us firing on all cylinders before we begin our lift or game. A sprint, jump or throw are the most ideal.

Our warm-up flows from mobilization to activation (in both the core and mobilized muscle groups), and then movement patterns and nervous system activation. Once we mobilize and deal with any restrictions we may have, it is imperative to be able to maintain mobility throughout a range of motion (stability) and allow muscle groups to work together synergistically.

This is imperative as we begin to rehearse movement patterns that correlate to compound movements, which use multiple muscle groups.

For example, the bench press or any pressing variation calls on the upper back, scapulae and shoulders. Activation exercises such as the “Dynamic Blackburn,” which is a prone facing shoulder activation exercise, would be great to utilize multiple muscle groups simultaneously after they have been mobilized.

proper baseball warm up - Central Nervous System Activation

 

Once we have done this and then ignited our central nervous system we will place athletes in the proper position to perform optimally whether for training or an athletic game or event!

 

Changes in Pitching Mechanics Over the Course of a Game

 

One of the keys to pitching effectively is the ability to reproduce consistent mechanics and maintain your release point while on the mound.

In the past, we have found that baseball pitchers tend to become more upright as the game goes on.  Essentially, the lead knee and trunk are more upright from what would likely be fatigue of the legs.  It’s no wonder that baseball pitchers tend to leave pitches up in the zone as they become tired.

To date, we haven’t looked at this in youth pitchers, however a recent report out of AJSM sought to quantify any potential biomechanical changes in pitches aged 14-16 at the end of game.  The authors noted similar findings.  Your glove side landing leg tends to become tired and more upright, however, the authors also noted a decrease in pitching velocity and in the amount of rear leg drive and power.

In order to best develop baseball pitchers, we need to understand what happens to the body as they pitch.  Based on this information, high school age baseball pitchers should include a proper strength and conditioning program designed to maintain leg strength and power development during the course of a game.

 


Changes in Lower Extremity Kinematics and Temporal Parameters of Adolescent Baseball Pitchers During an Extended Pitching Bout

BACKGROUND: Few studies have investigated detailed 3-dimensional lower extremity kinematics during baseball pitching in adolescent athletes during extended play. Changes in these parameters may affect performance outcomes.

PURPOSE: To investigate whether adolescent baseball pitchers experience changes in lower extremity kinematics and event timing during a simulated game-length pitching bout.

STUDY DESIGN: Descriptive laboratory study.

METHODS: Twelve male adolescent pitchers (aged 14-16 years) threw 6 sets of 15 fastball pitches from an artificial pitching mound to a target at regulation distance. Joint angles and angular velocities at the hip, knee, and ankle of both legs were collected throughout the phases of the pitching cycle as well as stride length, pelvis orientation, pitch duration, timing of foot contact and ball release, ball speed, and pitching accuracy. Paired t tests ( P < .05) were used to compare the dependent variables between the last 5 pitches of the second (baseline) and sixth (final) sets.

RESULTS: During the stride phase, decreased maximum angular excursions for hip extension (baseline: 14.7° ± 9.8°; final: 11.6° ± 10.3°; P < .05) and ankle plantar flexion (baseline: 30.2° ± 14.5°; final: 24.2° ± 15.3°; P < .05) as well as maximum angular velocity for knee extension (baseline: 144.9 ± 63.3 deg·s-1; final: 121.7 ± 62.0 deg·s-1; P < .05) were observed between sets in the trailing leg. At foot contact, pitchers had decreased hip flexion (baseline: 69.5° ± 10.1°; final: 66.5° ± 11.8°; P < .05) and increased hip abduction (baseline: 20.7° ± 8.9°; final: 25.4° ± 6.0°; P < .05) in the leading leg in the final set. Compared with the baseline set, ball speed significantly decreased in the final set (29.5 ± 2.5 m·s-1 vs 28.3 ± 2.5 m·s-1, respectively; P < .05).

CONCLUSION: Kinematic changes and decreased ball speeds observed in the final set suggest that adolescent pitchers are unable to maintain lower extremity kinematics and performance as a result of extended play.

CLINICAL RELEVANCE: The results from this study may warrant further investigation into how altered lower extremity kinematics may affect trunk and upper extremity function, performance, and risk of injuries during pitching in adolescent athletes, particularly during actual game play.

 

Source: Am J Sports Med. 2017 Apr;45(5):1179-1186. doi: 10.1177/0363546516687289. Epub 2017 Feb 3.

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.

 

 

Why Building Muscle Mass Will Improve Your Pitching Velocity

Gaining pitching velocity is hard. I get it. It’s not easy, and it can feel overwhelming not knowing why you haven’t been making progress.  Here’s the thing: most high school and college pitchers don’t have the frame – and in particular, the muscle mass required to generate the elite velocity they are after.

Ready to invest 5 minutes? This article will open your eyes to the necessity of muscle mass – and strength – when it comes to maximizing your velocity development.

Why Building Muscle Mass Will Improve Your Pitching Velocity

A muscle’s size is directly proportional to its maximum contractile strength. Period. Excellent pitching velocity is a result of being able to transfer a large amount of force into the baseball as quickly as possible. To create the arm speed necessary to do this requires a coordinated set of mechanics that efficiently generates and transfers energy from the muscles of the lower body to the trunk, to the shoulder, elbow, wrist and ball. The more force (energy) that can be created, and perhaps more importantly -transferred, the harder you will throw.

Simple enough. What this means is that the most efficient mechanics in the world won’t lead to elite velocities if the pitcher in question is 120 pounds soaking wet!

While having poor mechanics that don’t efficiently transfer energy is a large reason many amateur pitchers don’t have impressive velocity, a bigger reason is that they simply aren’t very strong or powerful. In fact, pitchers tend to be some of the least physically prepared athletes out there, especially at the high school level and below.

 

What is Lean Body Mass?

I’m about to blow your mind.  Ready?  Lean body mass is a measure of how much non-fat mass an individual is carrying. In other words, if a 200 lb individual is 10% body fat, that means that his fat mass is ~20 lbs and his lean body mass is ~180 lbs.

Although lean body mass also includes other components such as bone, blood, organs, etc, these factors are more or less constant. Because directly measuring muscle mass requires very expensive equipment, lean body mass is actually a reasonably good way of measuring how much muscle somebody is carrying.

In other words, if you get bigger and it’s not all body fat? Congratulations, you just gained muscle mass.

But not all muscle mass is created equal – knowing where your personal deficiencies and limiting factors are helps determine the emphasis of your training and what parts of your body you will need to add the most mass.

The following chart shows how much lean mass players have in high school, college and professional baseball.

lean body mass in baseball
These massive jumps from high school to college ball, and college ball to the professional levels highlight how important lean body mass can be.

Some of these differences can be accounted for in terms of variance in height (taller people have more bone mass, for example, which counts towards lean body mass). However, there is a disproportionately large gap between levels, strongly suggesting that the differences are, in large part, due to muscle mass.

As you can see, these are just general correlations.

Big pitchers dont always throw hard, and small pitchers do sometimes throw exceptionally hard (though this is exceedingly rare, and “small” for a big leaguer is still about 170 or 180 lbs).

Exploiting This Information to Throw Gas

Realize that if you want to throw as hard as you are capable of, you’re going to have to build an appreciable amount of muscle mass and strength. Whatever your frame can hold, we want to come close to maxing that out.

We go into this in-depth in [eafl id=”1022″ name=”Building the 95 MPH Body” text=”Building the 95 MPH Body”], but for now here is a useful set of realistic guidelines we came up with to shoot for.

lean mass baseball guidelines

Find the row that corresponds to your height. For example, at 6’3”, I am about 215 lbs at 12% body fat. This puts me above the minimum target weight (~205 lbs at 12%), making it unlikely that my muscularity is a major limiting factor for velocity. Still, these tables predict as much as 12 lbs of lean body mass that could still be up for the taking.

If you need help calculating your lean body mass, you can download my free tool:

 

Do You Have What it Takes?

Building the 95 MPH BodyIf you’re a high school or college pitcher, and still 30 lbs away from the low end of these guidelines above, you have some work to do.

While things like height and arm length are out of your control, gaining as much lean body mass as your frame can hold is entirely within your control. Get as big and strong as you can while maintaining excellent movement quality. Shoot to be within the general weight range for MLB pitchers of your height.

It’s only one piece of the puzzle, but it’s one that many high school players are entirely overlooking.

For more information, check out our training program to build mass in baseball players, [eafl id=”1022″ name=”Building the 95 MPH Body” text=”Building the 95 MPH Body”].

 

 

Mass Equals Gas

Why Building Muscle Mass Will Improve Your Pitching Velocity

 

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