Many high level baseball players report feeling winded during the game in the early season.
When the lights go on and things matter, those initial games can feel like it’s the first time you’ve ever played baseball, even for high level players. Reducing this sensation would lead to a greater sense of control and comfort for baseball players during the initial part of the season and may translate over to improved performance.
With this concept in mind, this article will focus on some practical training recommendations that baseball players can use to prepare for the first games of the season towards the tail end of the pre-season preparation phase.
Baseball is a tricky game to make general statements about because of the specific demand differences associated with outfielders, infielders, catchers, and pitchers. Even within the infield itself, the demands faced by a middle infielder are highly different from that of a first baseman.
Despite this, there are general demands and abilities that are shared amongst all players. Acceleration, deceleration, changing direction, and throwing are the actions shared by all players on the field, as is hitting, with the exception of American League pitchers.
The ability to perform the locomotion associated actions of baseball, batting, and throwing are all triplanar activities that require one side of the body to perform the reciprocal activities of the other side of the body. When you run, one side of the lower body has to engage in stance (ground contact) while the other side goes through swing. When you throw, one arm reaches forward during the initial portion of the action while the other side cocks.
The more different the left side of your body can behave from the right side of your body during these actions, the more optimal the biomechanics associated with the sporting action.
The only way you can get the two sides of the body to behave drastically different from one another is through possessing a pelvis and rib cage that can move optimally through all three planes and dissociate from each other as well. When the pelvis can move independently from the rib cage and vice versa, and each is capable of moving in any direction, the biomechanical foundation for baseball sporting actions is set, and easy power from the athlete with minimal joint stress can be displayed.
Being able to perform these baseball specific actions repeatedly comes down to fitness levels of the athlete. Fitness levels are largely associated with the baseball player being able to possess a robust phosphagenic and aerobic system, specifically in the tissues associated with powering baseball movements.
Why Aerobic Specificity Matters
One of the foundational studies in exercise physiology came from Dr. McArdle at Queens College.
McArdle tested the aerobic fitness levels of people on a treadmill. He then had the subjects train in a pool with, “vigorous swimming.” After weeks of swim training, McArdle put the subjects back on the treadmill and found no improvement in running fitness. McArdle concluded that you must train the running muscles in the action of running to see an improvement in running fitness.
The subjects in this study demonstrated the central adaptations associated with aerobic fitness improvements. Blood volume and ventricular chamber size both increased, demonstrating that the subjects could pump out more blood to the body during exercise, but the ability to perform the specific task of running was unaltered because the muscles never made any changes. This study helped physiologists come to the conclusion that specificity is a guiding principle of training, and that without training exactly the actions that you’re required to do in your sport, no transfer of training to improved performance can be witnessed.
We need to appreciate that nothing except baseball practice can truly prepare you for baseball, but we also may be able to better prepare athletes for baseball practice through weight room oriented training.
Training is divided into two primary categories, which are general and specific. Specific training is playing the sport or practicing the sport you are involved in. General training is everything else. What we need to keep in mind is that these categories exist on a continuum, and that some general training methods live more towards the specific side of the graph than others.
Factors related to how close towards the specific side of the graph general training parameters methods exist in include the following:
- Energy system primarily focused on
- Muscles recruited
- Force vectors of the muscles
- Type of muscular action.
The more similar we can make these four variables to what will take place on the diamond, the more specific the general training can be.
Physiological Demands of Baseball
Baseball is a sport where the athlete relies on the phosphagen system to power the actions of batting, throwing, and sprinting that takes place during the game.
Following each burst of baseball activity, the athlete recovers and replenishes the substrates of the phosphagen system (ATP and Creatine Phosphate (CP)) via the aerobic system. The phosphagen system is a local energy system. The muscles that power swinging a bat break down ATP to power the action. Following the swing, ATP has to be reassembled so that it can be used as the energy currency to power the next swing. The phosphagen system and the aerobic system are the primary means by which the baseball player replenishes the ATP pool. The phosphagen system takes the phosphate from the creatine phosphate molecule and donates it to ADP to return it to its state as ATP. After creatine phosphate donates its phosphate to ADP, it must reaquire a new phosphate to be able to perform this action again. The free creatine travels to the mitochondria to pick up a new phosphate.
Mitochondrial density is associated with greater aerobic fitness. Possessing more mitochondria makes it easier for creatine to acquire new phosphate molecules to continue to power movements. Significant efforts, such as sprinting for over 5 seconds (which can take place after hitting a double or triple, or being involved in a run-down) can really cut into your creatine phosphate stores, and it takes several minutes to fully restock this system. The aerobic system is geared to perform this task. Training methods have to feature repeated phosphagen bursts as well as aerobic protocols to ensure that both of these systems are fit enough to continually supply the baseball player for 9 innings on the field.
Muscles that move the rib cage and pelvis in the sagittal, frontal, and transverse planes simultaneously must be trained to prepare the specific muscles for baseball. The most common modalities used in training that accomplish this are running, throwing, and striking tasks. This means you’re probably going to have to do a lot of things involving repeat sprints, shuttle runs, plyometrics, med ball throws, and things like cable chops to attack baseball specific force vectors in your training as you move towards the season.
Baseball is a sport where the athlete uses all out efforts that are rhythmic and fluid in the game.
Teaching the athlete to display relaxation and rhythmicity while creating tremendous force production during these drills is paramount. Tensing and muscling up in your strategy will not prepare the athlete particularly well.
I would recommend using drop offs as the guide for determining how many sets to use. If you are doing repeat sprints of short distances, make sure the athlete is able to run at 95% of best speed. When the athlete cannot complete the distance in that time, they are done for the day. The goal should be to build up the number of repeat efforts the athlete can do with proper rest as you approach the season.
On days where the athlete is unable to demonstrate explosive efforts that are at or within 95% of their absolute best, rhythmic aerobic protocols should be used to both build the aerobic system and to facilitate recovery for the next explosive training session.
Use of the Omegawave, which can display, “windows of trainability” can help guide the coach on what days to employ explosive training and what days to back off and use aerobic methods.
Baseball is a sport where the athlete relies on ballistic muscle actions and the myotatic stretch reflex to power movements.
Ballistic movements are ones where agonist muscles create an initial burst phase to propel the body or object through space. After the burst phase, the antagonists break the limb as it approaches end range. Finally, as the movement is ending, the agonist muscle clamps the joint to finish the movement.
Ballistic muscle actions are distinct compared to non-ballistic actions. You must train in a ballistic manner to improve this muscle action.
Therefore the athlete must launch themselves off the ground, or launch objects through space to target this activity. Sprinting, jumping, and throwing will accomplish this ballistic element of training. The myotatic stretch reflex is a physiological phenomenon that increases the force production of a movement by what takes place after a muscle is pre-loaded with a stretch prior to firing it for propulsive purposes. Winding up and cocking provide a stretch before throwing and batting. Preparatory steps provide a stretch prior to sprinting or changing direction. Most baseball actions in some way involve this myotatic stretch reflex prior to the effort that will power the intended movement.
Stretch reflex activities are distinct from non-stretch reflex activities. There is no transfer of training from one to the other. There needs to be some bounce involved in the movements that baseball players are doing in training. Baseball is a sport where athletes rely on preparatory actions in the field and the base path to get a good jump, and where the body coils before it unleashes a devastating uncoiling to throw or hit.
The bounce and the coil are critical components to be able to feature in training prior to the season.
Good training is associated with good lifting, jumping, throwing, and running. Everybody does these things in training for the most part.
The thing that distinguishes the best from everybody else is the biomechanics used in training, and the way in which a good coach targets specific energy systems.
The little things matter when it comes to biomechanics. Good coaches know how to cue everything so that proper reciprocal actions and differentiation occur in baseball players during training. Without good cueing and biomechanics, the vectors will not be right to provide transfer of training and proper muscular recruitment.
Good coaches also know how to use proper work to rest ratios, how to increase workload over time, and how to train the right qualities on the right days. These are in depth topics that cannot be encapsulated in one article that spans 2,000 words. Getting to the heart of these matters takes many articles. The fundamental underlying premises must be elucidated first to spawn the next question regarding the small details pointed out to be important.
In this article, the most important concept to appreciate is that specificity is king. Specificity is a multi-dimensional, Cerebus like beast with energy systems, specific muscles, muscle actions, and directionality of muscular force production serving as its primary heads.
The art of coaching is the application of these specific principles to the individual athlete standing in front of you on a day to day basis. This art is the equivalent of hitting a moving target, which is essentially the essence of baseball. Breaking down the swing is something that takes minimal time to acquire as a skill, but a lifetime to master for the elite coach. The same could be said for the physical preparation for the athlete.
Long story long…there will certainly be more to come in this discussion. I hope this article has piqued your interest for more.
About the Author :
Pat Davidson is the current Director of Training Methodology at Peak Performance in New York City. He has a PhD in Exercise Physiology and is a competitive strongman in the 175 pound class who has finished in the top 10 at the North American Strongman (NAS) National Championships and has competed for the Amateur World Championships at the Arnold Classic in previous years. Pat has coached many strongman athletes, including multiple NAS National Champions in the 2014 calendar year. Pat bases his training methodology on his interpretation of block program design, and he relies on information from the Postural Restoration Institute (PRI) to guide him in his understanding of biomechanics and the strategies he utilizes to keep athletes feeling healthy and happy. You can contact Pat at firstname.lastname@example.org, as well as check out his awesome strength and conditioning program, MASS by clicking the link or picture here.