The baseball off-season is coming to an end. We had a bunch of baseball players work their butt off during the last couple of months at Endeavor, and they’re looking forward to taking all the gains they made with their training out on the field.
The way I write programs, I usually separate the off-season into 3 different phases where each phase has a different focus; the early off-season, the mid off-season and the late off-season. The early off-season is usually the shortest one of all 3 phases and puts almost all the emphasis on recovering from the previous season, fixing imbalances, recuperate, etc. The mid off-season is usually the longest phase and is where the heavy lifting comes into play, and we keep the focus on increased maximal strength, power, and muscle mass for the players that need to put on size.
The late off-season phase, which is the one our players are currently doing, focuses on speed, power, and essentially maximizing the transfer from the weight room on to the field. The max strength volume comes down quite a bit during that phase to make sure the players don’t end up overtrained. Even if it doesn’t feel like it, lots of speed and power training puts a lot of stress on the CNS.
One thing that I focus on during that late off-season phase is to maximize the amount of training in both the frontal and transverse plane. If you think about most classic lifting exercises they all develop strength in the sagittal plane (squats, deadlifts, lunges, presses, rows, etc). The reality is that on the field athletes almost never need to develop force exclusively in the sagittal plane, whether it’s when they throw, when they chase a ball, or when they hit.
There is an increased need for baseball players, just like athletes in most other sports, to develop force in the frontal and transverse planes. This is something you might not have noticed if you don’t really include multi-planar exercises in your programs, but most athlete have a really hard time developing force in the frontal plane. It is not very natural for them, yet, it can boost their performance on the field like crazy!
So let’s drop the theoretical concepts of frontal plane and transverse plane. What does that mean concretely in a training program?
There are different ways to help develop force and explosive power in the frontal plane. My 2 favorite exercises for that purpose are probably the lateral sled drag and the lateral bound (with or with resistance).
As for the transverse plane, you can get pretty creative with all the med ball throw variations and speed drills with changes of direction.
These are just some examples, but there are plenty of other ways you can include exercises and drills to optimize force production and explosive power for your athletes in the frontal and transverse plane in order to have maximize transferability of your gains made in training out on the field.
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Baseball is one of the sports that puts the most stress on your joints, especially if you’re a pitcher; the throwing shoulder is under tremendous stress. With the crazy velocities at which you throw a baseball, and with the volume of pitching that accumulates over the years, by the time a pitcher gets to the professional level, he probably has a lot of overuse damage to it (soft tissue restriction, ligament laxity, partial labral damage, etc).
Last Saturday I played in a fund raising dodge ball tournament in Philadelphia. Having not played dodge ball since middle school, and not being a natural thrower (my main sports growing up were hockey and basketball) made me a little worried about my dodge ball performance. As expected I sucked pretty bad, but at least I stole the show with my purple cobra entrance before every game…
A little less glorious when you get hit in the face 30 seconds later, though!
If you’re wondering where I’m going with this, here it is: I was so freakin’ sore the next day it was unreal! My whole shoulder and arm, starting from the attachment of my rhomboids on my spine going all the down to my fingers, were as sore as I’ve ever been in my upper extremity. Rhomboids, levator scapula, rotator cuff, biceps, and all of my forearm muscles were completely smoked.
Is that a coincidence that these muscles all have fascial connections?
That just made me realize all the stiffness and soft-tissue restrictions that can build up in a baseball pitcher’s arm when he throws around 100 pitches every time is on the mound. Of course there are some adaptations taking place; the body becomes more efficient at it as you build up your arm strength, stamina and improve your technique, and you don’t get sore (like I did playing dodge ball) every outing. But it still makes you think about all the stress that the shoulder and arm are taking on a weekly basis. And when young baseball pitchers throw with their high school team in the spring, play summer league and fall ball on top of that, the accumulated stress on your arm builds up pretty fast.
That’s why taking care of your pitching arm, using injury prevention strategies, and having an smart (and planned) training program are going to be important factors in the longevity and durability of your arm over time. Soft-tissue work on the rhomboids, levator scapula, rotator cuff, biceps, and forearm muscles is going to be an important part of that ‘arm care’ program.
Try and not cry the first time you dig a lacrosse ball in your rotator cuff muscles
If I got stiff and extremely sore in these muscles by playing 6 games of dodge ball (realistically ~10 throws per game), I can guarantee you that any baseball pitcher will build up severe restrictions in those same muscles over time, whether they feel it or not.
Do your dedicated self soft-tissue work on a daily basis, go see a qualified active release therapist on a regularly (once a month, as a bare minimum- but College and professional players probably need more) and you’ll increase your chance of staying pain and injury free, and give yourself the best chance to perform at the highest level.
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Everybody makes mistakes. And if you think you’re any different and you don’t make any, you’re really kidding yourself and it’s probably time for a reality check.
We all make mistakes, whether we like to admit it or not; this is human nature. It’s part of the learning process. Strength and conditioning coaches are not different. I’m no different.
This is the time of year where everybody makes resolution for the new year or highlights what they learned or changed in the last year. I’ll give my 2011 review a different flavor by giving you my top 5 mistakes I made in the last year (or the ones that have lasted up to this past year).
1. Recommending minimalist footwear for everyone. I wrote a whole blog post on the subject not too long ago (if you missed it you can check it out HERE). The idea is that for too long we have restrained our feet in footwear with a lot of cushioning, big heel lifts and support all around. That made the feet become lazy, and they stopped doing their job because they didn’t have to anymore. But the thing is that the problem can originate somewhere else; in other words, the feet are not always the source of the problem, but rather the result from a problem originating somewhere else. In our lifestyle in 2012, there is more than just our footwear that’s wrong. Sedentary lifestyles, prolonged sitting, poor posture, long commute in cars, and early development in young athletes who do too much too young are all factors that can wreak havoc on our bodies. Any of these factors (or a combination of) can lead to permanent structural changes on our bodies. Femoroacetabular impingement (FAI), femoral anteversion and retroversion and other hip problems can lead to different feet position and structural variations.
Probably wouldn’t be a good idea to have this guy run in Vibrams…
Before I digress too much, it simply means that not everyone can get away with wearing Vibram Five Fingers or New Balance Minimus all day. I used to blindly recommend those type of shoes without assessing the person. Let’s just say that I’m a lot more careful about it now. As a side note, overweight and poor running mechanics are 2 other factors that would lead me to not recommend a minimalist type of shoes for physical activity.
2. Minimizing the importance of breathing. If you’ve followed my blog for some time, you should know by now the importance I pay to breathing patterns. I’ve blogged about that many times during the last year, and I must say that the more I learn about it, the more I realize how crucial it is with any movement pattern and for proper alignment (as a side note, I can improve your range of motion just by teaching you how to breathe; that’s how powerful it is). The diaphragm muscles (yes, there are 2 of them) have fascial connections with the thoraco-lumbar fascia which in turn connects with the psoas (that attaches on the spine) and the hips.
Because of that, proper diaphragm function and proficient breathing patterns are essential for optimal posture and positioning through various movement patterns. Ineffective use of the diaphragm muscles could lead to hyperextension of the thoraco-lumbar region, faulty positioning of the hips and plenty of other problems all the way up and down the chain. This is something I coach a lot now, and it has made a huge difference on our athletes at Endeavor. If you’re not familiar with proper breathing patterns and diaphragm function, I suggest you take a look at the PRI stuff (Postural Restoration Institute).
3. Mismanaging training volumes and intensities. Whether it is in my own training or the ones of my athletes, I think I have not always been good at managing fatigue and recovery. On paper, training volumes always look well managed, but the reality is that it goes far bey0nd that. For one, if you always go balls to the walls when you train and push yourself the the very limit every training session lifting maximal weights and pushing lactic conditioning ’til you puke, chances are you won’t recover properly even if the planned training volume for the week is moderate. The other thing is that there are a lot of other factors that factors in the equation (quantity and quality of sleep, nutrition, other sports and activities outside of the gym, the party factor, etc). Whether you like it or not, there aren’t that many athletes that won’t take some time to enjoy life during their off-season, which usually means spending a day at the beach not eating too well (or enough) or have a late night and a couple of beers once in a while. In their off-season, athletes not only need a physical break from their sport, but a mental one as well. Nothing wrong with that, as long as they keep it in check and don’t overdo it. It struck me this past summer when we had one of our pro hockey player return to Endeavor after a very long season in which his team ended up winning the Stanley Cup. First of all he came back from his team mid to late June, almost 2 months later than all the other guys, but he was also way more beat up physically and mentally. It was apparent that even after almost 10 days completely off, he just didn’t have the wheels he had the previous off-season (which started in April the year before- that’s a big difference). He took more days off from training than the previous off-season and the number of days he showed up hungry to get after it were definitely not as frequent. The off-season is not only about getting ready for the upcoming season, but also recovering from the previous one, especially if it was a very long and excruciating one. This is where HRV measurement tools are gonna come in handy; it allows you to measure physical and nervous system fatigue and you can manage fatigue and recovery so much better. And that technology is becoming available to us. I blogged about this before.
4. Aerobic training is not the evil I thought it was. I always stood up against aerobic training for team sports because it’s simply not the way most sports are played. After trying to prove my point for years, and I am starting to realize certain things. I still don’t think I was wrong about the fact that long slow pace aerobic training is not specific to sports, but I’m starting to realize that the pendulum may just have swung too far.
The aerobic system plays a huge role in recovery for the lactic and alactic systems and a decent amount of the energy produced in a team sports setting will come from the aerobic system. It still doesn’t mean that you should go for hour long jogs 4-5 times a week to get ready for your hockey season, but there just might be a place for steady state aerobics in a yearly training plan after all.
5. Not enough external rotation based rotator cuff exercises for my baseball players. With the importance of scapular stability, t-spine mobility, breathing patterns and working the rotator cuff in a stability role, I will admit that I neglected external rotation based exercises a little bit last off-season with my baseball players.
Shoulder injury prevention is about much more than just external rotation exercises, but it might have been another pendulum that swung too far for me because I haven’t done much of it with my baseball pitchers last off-season. The reality is that the external rotators of the shoulder still need to decelerate the crazy velocity of internal rotation that occurs at the shoulder in a pitching motion (over 7,000°/sec), so it’s still specific to do direct external rotation work with baseball pitchers, so these muscles become better at decelerating the internal rotation.
Those are the mistakes I’ve made this past year. What are the mistakes you’ve made during the last year?
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It’s not a breaking news if I tell you that baseball players, and especially pitchers need to address rotator cuff strength in their training program. There are many different ways to go about it beyond the traditional external rotation variations that will give you some added benefits on top of the strength you’ll gain in your cuff muscles from performing these exercises. Here are the different options you have and the benefits from using each of them.
1. External Rotation Using External Resistance. This is the category that I just mentioned above; it’s pretty much the ‘typical’ way of strenghtening the rotator cuff. It’s usually done either with an abducted or adducted arm, and can be done using different types of resistance like dumbbells, cables or bands. External rotation with external resistance helps strengthen the rotator cuff muscles concentrically and eccentrically in an external rotation pattern. These muscles are important because they help decelerate the arm in the pitching motion.
Side-lying DB external rotation
2. Internal Rotation Exercises. The reason why I put this one in a separate category than the previous one is because I think internal rotation based exercises serve a completely different purpose than external rotation exercises for baseball players. For one, internal rotation exercises will strengthen the subscapularis, a very important internal rotator that won’t get much work from the external rotation exercises. The subscapularis, located under the shoulder blade, prevents anterior migration of the humeral head during horizontal adduction or internal rotation of the humerus. This can cause impingement in the shoulder, which usually happens when the pec major and the latissimus dorsi (both internal rotators) take over. There are different ways to go about strengthening the subscapularis, but the most effective way is in a prone position with the arm abducted at 90 degrees.
3. Manual Dynamic Stabilziation. I’ve talked about this type of exercise on different occasions before. If you understand anatomy well, you should know that the first role of the rotator cuff muscles, even before internal and external rotation, is to stabilize the humeral head in the glenoid fossa. So it only makes sense to stabilize these muscles in their purest function to avoid impingement. There are many ways to go about it, and you can certainly play around with the body position (supine, quadruped, kneeling, etc), and the arm position as well.
4. Dynamic Stabilization with Unstable Surfaces. Similar to the previous category, it challenges the rotator cuff muscles in a stabilization role. Instead of having a manual resistance when you don’t have a coach or a training partner around, the use of unstable surfaces can definitely be convenient. Again the positions and implements can vary.
5. External Rotation with Manual Resistance. Similar to the first category, it will strengthen the rotator cuff muscles in the external rotation pattern. There are 2 major differences from the ‘typical’ external rotation exercises with external loads. First, there are less chances of your athletes cheating the movement and trying to compensate with the scapular muscles, and second, if done the right way it will put an emphasis on the eccentric part of the movement (which is more specific to the pitching motion).
6. Dynamic Stabilization with Unstable Surface and Perturbation. This is basically a combination of categories 3 and 4. This pushes the stabilization demand on the cuff muscles a little further. Progressions from this category would not be used with novice lifters, as they need to master the different types of stabilization exercises separately before combining them.
There are many more factors that contribute to shoulder health and injury prevention. To learn more about those factors, enter your info below and get my FREE report on Injury Prevention Strategies for the Shoulder!
With most of the pro leagues and fall ball seasons almost over for every player at this time of year, it’s time to start making a plan of attack for the off-season in the next couple of months, before spring training comes around in late February-early March. There are obviously many options that present for baseball players of all ages for the off-season.
Unfortunately, season is over for most.
For the younger crowd (12 and under) it should simply be playing a different sport and changing the stimuli from baseball. That will allow the kids to develop a variety of skills other than just throwing a baseball a swinging a bat. This will also give a rest to the throwing shoulder, especially pitchers.
For players a little older, strength training should be a priority to maximize strength, power and decrease the risk of shoulder injuries. Unfortunately, too many baseball players (in part because of the culture of the sport) are not going to be part taking in any strength and conditioning program. The option of not training at all seems to be more appealing to many players, apparently. I’m even talking about professional players. Whether they don’t recognize the huge benefits from it or they’re just being too lazy is a totally different discussion.
Some players who actually do something and engage into a baseball strength and conditioning off season program, don’t always take the best route. Running distances and doing some band exercises for the shoulder might sound a good program to engage in for baseball pitchers to spare their shoulder. But what those players fail to realize is that there is a lot of factors that you need to address in the off-season, and you probably shouldn’t waste your time doing distance running. Mobility and range of motion deficits, dysfunctional movement patterns, muscle weaknesses and joint instabilities are just a couple of examples of problems baseball players present with that need to be addressed in the off-season.
A decent strength and conditioning program in the off-season should cover the following;
These are just a couple of examples that should be included in your baseball off-season training. If your program doesn’t include at least all of the above, you should start looking for a different strength coach or trainer (or get one if you’re trying to train on your own!).
My colleague Eric Cressey put a more exhaustive list together a couple of weeks ago of what a baseball off-season training should comprise of. If you haven’t read it, I strongly suggest you do so.
Many factors account for shoulder health and injury prevention. Rotator cuff strength is only one of them. Every rehab/pre-hab program will include some type of external and/or internal rotation at the shoulder. It is in fact an important part of a rehab or pre-hab program because of the decelerative nature of the rotator cuff in throwing sports, and its role in stabilization of the humeral head in the glenoid fossa.
I want to bring your attention to the last part of this last sentence “stabilization of the humeral head in the glenoid fossa. This means that the rotator cuff muscles don’t have external and internal rotation of the humerus as their only function. Which also means that they shouldn’t be solely trained in rotation if it’s not the only function.
Stabilization is actually a really big function of the rotator cuff muscles. And a function that needs to be trained and a reinforced. So in conjunction with any external and internal rotation based movements, there should be a certain amount of dynamic stabilization that is included in a program.
Don’t know where to start? Check this variations:
Like I mentioned earlier, rotator cuff work alone, whether it is rotation based, stabilization based, or a combination of both, is far from a complete shoulder injury prevention strategy for healthy and optimally performing shoulders. There is at least 5 other strategies to help maitain optimal shoulder function that you can apply. Enter your info below to get my FREE Shoulder Injury Prevention Strategies report to learn what they are!
Can you improve range of motion at the gleno-humeral joint without working on range of motion at the gleno-humeral joint? As counter-intuitive as it sounds, the answer is: YES.
Having good range of motion at the gleno-humeral joint is very important for shoulder health. For baseball pitchers it’s even more important. Having an appropriate amount of external rotation, internal rotation and comparable total motion between both sides is an important predictor of injury in many cases. I mentioned recently in a blog post that sometimes simply doing static stretching might make you try to chase improvements in range of motion without ever getting where you want.
The shoulder joint is a good example of how you can improve range of motion at one joint by addressing other areas that are not direct work to the specific muscles. Think about how the shoulder joint is built and what bony structures are part of the shoulders.
Now think about how the position of the scapula, for example, can affect movements occurring at the gleno-humeral joint and its resting posture. If you have an anteriorly tilted scapula, your whole gleno-humeral joint will be affected and your range of motion might be different than what it should be with a neutral scapular position. Same thing with someone who has a significant kyphosis and doesn’t have a lot of range of motion at the thoracic spine; it’s going to affect the way the whole shoulder will be positioned. Range of motion will also be affected.
Working to improve thoracic spine range of motion and scapular stability without doing any specific stretching for the gleno-humeral joint will improve your range of motion. They both will help reposition the humeral head in the glenoid fossa to allow for optimal range of motion. And by doing this you also avoid trying to crank on the end range of motion of the gleno-humeral joint, which might not always be a good idea if there’s some sort of bony limitation. I have recently seen 20-25 degrees of improvement in total motion (external + internal rotation ROM) in 4 weeks on one of my pitcher’s throwing arm only by hammering on the thoracic spine mobility drills and the scapular stability and strength exercises! That just goes to show you how important it is to take a look at the bigger picture.
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I don’t know if you’re as excited as I am about the new baseball season, but I can’t wait for it to kick off officially! I have many reasons to be excited;
- As a HUGE Red Sox fan, the acquisition of Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez this off-season were great moves by the organization, and the season looks nothing but extremely promising for the Sox. And knowing that Kevin Youkilis busted his ass and did quality training at Cressey Performance during the off-season just adds to the excitement!
- All our high school pitchers are going to start their season in the next couple of weeks, and I’m really excited to get out there and watch them play. They all worked really hard during the off-season and got a lot stronger, more explosive, and pretty much all got their fastball up big time, so it’ll be interesting to see how they look on the mound once the season kicks off.
- Since moving to the Philadelphia, I’ve learned to like the Phillies (as my second favorite team I’d say), since it’s pretty accessible for me to go watch live games, which I enjoy more than anything. Being from Montreal, enjoying live MLB games is something I haven’t had a chance to do much in the last couple of years. That being said, with a pitcher rotation that includes arguably the 4 best pitchers in the league right now in Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt and now Cliff Lee, how can I not be excited to go watch the Phillies?
Welcome back to Philly, Cliff!
That being said, the next few months of baseball are going to be pretty exciting!
On a different note, things are pretty quiet at Endeavor for now; our baseball and lacrosse players pretty much all left last week as tryouts are kicking off for all of them. And we’re still a couple weeks away from hockey seasons progressively ending from the end of March for youth hockey organization ’til the end of May for some pro guys. That means we’re going to start getting really busy, really soon. This upcoming hockey off-season at Endeavor looks more promising than ever with a bunch of new players that are going to join the already amazing group of players we had last year.
Busier also means more work for the coaching staff. That also means we’re going to need help to bridge the gap; we’re actually looking for interns (probably 3-4) for the summer period (May through August). An internship opportunity at Endeavor means learning and sharing with passionate coaches who thrive to get better every day, learning how to perfect your coaching abilities, gaining experience with a wide range of hockey players from Tier II pee-wees to professional players trying to secure a job in the NHL, and much more. Interning says a lot about the dedication you have at getting better and making it in the strength and conditioning business. It will definitely build up your network and might even lead to a job offer. If you’re interested in interning at Endeavor click on the link below for more details and to download the application form: