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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For those of you who have been following my work for a while you know that I like to blog and write articles to share my knowledge, but I am first and foremost a strength and conditioning coach who walks the walk. I coach athletes on a daily basis and as much as possible, what I write about is based on my experience. I’ve been a coach at Endeavor Sports Performance in South Jersey for the last couple of years. But there is a wind of change blowing on my career right now. (Cues Scorpion’s famous song)
In all seriousness, I am proud to announce that I just got a new job as a strength and conditioning coach in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization! I am starting in mid-February where I will heading down to spring training in Scottsdale, Arizona! I will be assigned to minor league strength and conditioning for the spring training and extended spring training until June, before I head to Oregon to work with the minor league team I am following.
I am extremely excited and looking forward to this new challenge. The Diamondbacks have the reputations of having one of the best medical staff of all professional sports. Just that in itself is a HUGE reason to excited for. Not many pro sports organizations implement PRI and DNS, which shows that the staff is ahead of the curve and very proactive about continuing education.
On top of that, I’ll be working with professional athletes, which as been my goal since day one when I started to work in the fitness/strength and conditioning field. Coming from a private setting, I’m sure it’ll be a huge change, but I am really looking forward to discovering what the pro sports setting has to offer.
Not knowing what the future holds for me in terms of schedule and free time, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to invest as much time as I currently do on blogging, writing articles and newsletter and all that good stuff. I might be toning down the writing frequency a little bit, especially for the first month during spring training, as I heard that it is the busiest time of year for the medical staff. Hopefully you’ll bear with me as I take the time to adapt to the new schedule and find a way to post consistently on my blog.
The other thing is that there might be an increase of baseball specific content in the future! Although I always made a conscious effort to keep it more general and talk about all the major sports as it pertain to strength and conditioning, it might change a little bit. I’ll make sure I don’t turn into 100% baseball specific content, as I realize most of you reading my website aren’t looking for baseball-only information.
That being said I am pumped about this new challenge and will make the most out of this opportunity. My blog might suffer the consequences in the short term, but I’ll definitely keep it running because sharing my passion is important to me.
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Christmas is approaching, the year is ending, I’m going home for a couple of days, and I get to see my family; what can I say….I’m so excited I feel like doing a frog splash off the top rope!
Alright well that being said and my wrestling reference being out of the way, let’s get to the serious stuff. OK, maybe not that serious….I just felt like doing a random thoughts post before the holidays, so here we go.
1. The in-season training with all the Comcast teams is going really well at Endeavor. So far we have seen good results with the new implementation of an in-season triphasic training model with kids 16 and up. It is this time of year though where everyone is starting to get sick, tired and overwhelmed with exams at school. It’s also the time of year where some of the kids started high school hockey on top of playing club with Comcast. For those kids it means being on the ice 6-7 days per week, and sometimes even skating twice a day. Not exactly the best recipe to stay injury-free! All that being said everyone is just completely exhausted all the time, and we have been doing a lot of “recovery” workouts recently. That usually means skipping the lifting session altogether, lots of foam rolling, an extended dynamic warm up, and a lot of stretching. This is often what they need to reduce some of the stress on their bodies.
An athlete’s best friend during the season….the roller….not the chick.
2. On a different note, our baseball players have been getting after it pretty hard this off-season. I have been playing around a lot with their programs this year, and they have been kind of my guinea pigs. I have included a lot more conditioning in their programs than I typically do with my baseball players, and I’m really looking forward to see what the results will be once their season gets under way. The good thing is that they’re still getting a lot stronger even though the conditioning volume has been higher, and so far they seem to be responding pretty well to it. To be continued…
3. I’ve been on a quest to find new rap/hip hop material for my i-pod. I really like rap, but I’ve probably been listening exclusively to Biggie, Lil Wayne, and Busta Rhymes for the last 4 years. I figured some novelty wouldn’t kill me, and it turned out I found some really good stuff! –Thanks to my Comcast kids. Although some of the names were familiar I didn’t really know this newer stuff. If you’re into rap at all, I would recommend you check out Meek Mill, Wiz Khalifa, and Waka Flocka Flame. Really good stuff! I also re-discovered the Wu-Tang Clan. I haven’t really listened to that stuff since high school, and even back then I wasn’t into them much, but after listening to their greatest hits album I’m a big fan now! Here’s my favorite Meek Mill song to get you going (as a fair warning, there’s some explicit language). Wait ’til it gets to 1:42 in the song, that’s when it really kicks up a notch!
4. If you’re looking for a last minute Christmas present for a loved one involved in strength and conditioning, or even just a gift for yourself you should put your hands on Kevin Neeld’s Ultimate Hockey Training book. It goes way beyond training hockey players; it’s a complete training system to get athletes to the next level. For under $30, it’s more than worth it!
OK Kevin, I will promote your book!
5. OK I lied when I said my wrestling reference was out of the way…cause I’ve got another one! Actually it’s more of a rant. I have been a wrestling fan since I was about 5 years old. Generally people who have been wrestling fans at one point in their life, it’s usually during their childhood and early teen years– which is clearly not the case for me probably because there is still a 12 year old boy living inside of me! Anyways, people usually say stuff like: “wrestling was so much better back in the days”. My first comment is always: “Of course it was better when you were a kid because you thought it was real!”. I guess you appreciate things on a completely different level when you know it’s fake, but to me it doesn’t make it any less good. Yes there are probably some eras that were better than others because sometimes the WWE lacks highly charismatic characters that can carry the company. And a point could be made that following the attitude era (which was basically the prime of Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, and DX all at the same time) things weren’t as entertaining. But if you’re a real wrestling fan and still watch it regularly, you have to admit that right now John Cena and CM Punk are absolutely carrying the company on their shoulders. There is no doubt in my mind that in 10 to 20 years from now, they will be remembered with the greatests of all time along with the Hulk Hogan’s, Bret Hart’s, Shawn Michael’s, The Undertaker’s, and the Stone Cold’s. Cena and Punk have what all these guys have; it’s just a different era and a different generation. I personally really enjoy what’s going on in wrestling right now, and when you witness TV moments like the following (especially when you know everything that was going on behind the scenes when it happened) it’s hard to not feel like you’re 12 year old again. It is pure delight!
This has to be in the top 10 best promos shot in the WWE EVER! I seriously have goosebumps watching it!
6. Last but not least, happy holidays to each and everyone of you reading this! I hope you’re gonna have a merry Christmas and a happy New Year. I will be up in Canada enjoying some time off from work and spending time with my friends and family that rarely ever see since I moved to the US. Hopefully you will be spending time with loved ones as well, and enjoying a little bit of time off. Make the best of it, and best wishes!
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.
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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.
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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Today is just a quick blog post to point out a couple achievements from Endeavor.
1. After being the last defenseman cut at training camp with the Colorado Avalanches, Colby Cohen was called back this past week end from the Lake Erie Monsters; so he played his first NHL game on Saturday in a convicing win for the Avalanches 5-0 over the Stars. Congrats Colby, we’re very proud of you!
2. In the last 6 months, we’ve been working with a lot of baseball pitchers at Endeavor. Most of them were going on their senior year in high school with expectations to play college next year, but none of them was approached by any school. In the last couple of weeks, one of our pitchers, Matt Rakus just got offered a scholarship with a D-1 team in New Jersey. The very next week, Trevor Connors, another one of our pitcher who wasn’t expecting to be looked at, was actually visiting a D-1 college in Maryland! Seems like everything is turning out pretty well for them. But I have to admit that they truly deserve it because they have been busting their ass in the gym in the last couple of months. Apparently hard work does pay off!
3. I just established a personal best by pulling 385 for 5 reps this past week end.
For strong people it’s not that much, but for me it’s actually really good as my all-time PR is 435 for a single. That 385 for 5 reps would have gave me something to cheer about…..if only this bastard wouldn’t have pulled 425 for 5 reps right before me…