Note from Chad and Andrew: We are absolutely fired up that Pat Davidson and Doug Kechijian have decided to come on board at Show Me Strength and address all things physical preparation for the baseball athlete. Pat and Doug are two of the most knowledgable, yet humble professionals we know, while also doubling on the side as savages. We couldn’t be more pumped to have them on board.
For this follow up to Doug’s installment yesterday, Pat thoroughly dissects the science from a series of questions we posed on the topic of oxidative fitness in baseball. What follows are his thoughts on the subject.
The baseball athlete does not appear to be one who would benefit greatly from focused oxidative training. The activities within a baseball game are ones that feature brief bursts of high intensity and high velocity movements interspersed with great rest.
If we examine muscular behavior below surface level observances, a case may be made for benefit coming from possessing oxidative fitness.
The model presented in this article will focus primarily on the benefits of possessing higher levels of mitochondria and capillary density found in the musculature associated with baseball movements, and in an enhanced ability of the athlete to recover post training/competition with a more robust cardiorespiratory system. Possessing more mitochondria and a greater network of capillaries in baseball specific muscles would create a situation where these muscles would be able to alternate between excitation and inhibition from an electrochemical perspective.
Scientists such as Stuart McGill, and coaches such as Charlie Francis have explained that the primary difference between lesser athletes and greater athletes from a neurochemical/neuromuscular perspective is the rate at which muscle is able to inhibit following excitation at a local level. The content of mitochondria found in specific musculature appears to be related to inhibition rates. From a recovery perspective, the ability to replenish the components of the phosphagen system (ATP and Creatine Phosphate (CP)) is accomplished through oxidative energy system capabilities.
The movements performed in baseball are powered through the actions of the phosphagen system. The ability to repeat these movements with the same level of power would be largely based on the capacity to replenish the substrate associated with the phosphagen system, which is driven through oxidative means.
Finally, the recovery and regeneration of the organism is accomplished in the post exercise time period through parasympathetic derived means. The ability to reach a deep parasympathetic state is primarily based on allowing the system to relax fully. Tissues that are operating through oxidative means will have lowered physiological cost associated with their behaviors, and a lower resting heart rate would allow the autonomic nervous system to function in a greater parasympathetic manner.
Baseball is a sport where athletes must be able to demonstrate biomechanical proficiency to perform the sporting movements with fluidity and power. The ability to rotate the lumbo-pelvic-femoral complex, the thoraco-abdominal complex, and the temporo-mandibular-cervico-cranial complex smoothly and gracefully are the hallmarks of a baseball player who can achieve optimal mechanics in throwing, fielding, swinging, and base running.
These movement capabilities are driven through the ability to demonstrate optimal joint positioning, which is highly related to the ability to inhibit chains of musculature.
Inhibition of musculature is a neuro-chemical process. This neurochemical phenomenon is greatly linked to the energy system demands of the tissues. Tissues that are working in a non-oxidative manner for prolonged periods of time (particularly at rest) will largely be unable to relax, and will have reduced ability to achieve electro-chemical inhibition. This reduction in inhibition capacity will reduce the fluidity of movement and will delay the ability of the tissues to recover post training and competition.
Increasing the number of mitochondria found within muscles will allow them to work oxidatively to a greater extent, which will foster an enhanced ability of these tissues to inhibit. Greater inhibition capabilities can then feed into an enhanced ability to smoothly execute the mechanics of the movements associated with the game when the athlete is practicing these movements.
Fitness gains can only be maximized if proper recovery from exercise takes place.
The recovery process is based on anabolic processes. Anabolism is the storage mode of the human body. The human organism cannot go into an anabolic storage mode unless a parasympathetic state is reached. Parasympathetic states are permitted to take place when heart rates decrease substantially, the emotional setting is one of comfort and control, and the organism is safe and relaxed. Reaching a state where the organism is safe and relaxed is based on reducing threat to as great a level as possible. Threats come in both conscious and subconscious forms. The primary physiological threats to the mammal are temperatures and pH levels that go outside of the window of comfort. Therefore, if the internal environment of the organism is not maintained at a level that is very easy for the system to control, threat level goes up and the ability to fall into a deep parasympathetic environment is compromised.
An elevated resting heart rate, inabilities to breathe freely and easily (poor rib cage mobility), having tissues that exist in non-oxidative states at rest (trigger points, diminished afferent signaling from poor joint positioning, etc.), and having internal organs working harder than they need to in order to maintain the system (gut problems from a poor diet) all are potential subconscious threats that will prevent optimal recovery through a highly dominant parasympathetic response.
From a training perspective, if we are interested in increasing the number of mitochondria for the purpose of improving inhibition capacities, we should utilize approaches that foster the physiological phenomenon of mitochondrial biogenesis. The main thing to think about in this area is that we do not want to create local muscular environments that are highly acidic, as this uncouples the mechanisms inside the nucleus of the cell that leads to the making of new mitochondria. Instead, we want to perform exercise that stays short of creating acidic environments.
Another conceptual piece to consider is that mitochondrial biogenesis is an adaptation inside a skeletal muscle fiber.
The only way that muscle fibers are capable of going through adaptation is if they are recruited and fatigued during an exercise bout. Muscles are recruited based on the size principle, wherein slow twitch fibers are recruited first, and as force increases, faster fibers are called into action in a gradated fashion. Fatigue of fibers is a nebulous topic that is based on a point at which a fiber shows a demonstrable decrease in the mechanical work output. Baseball movements are typically explosive in nature, and because of that, fast twitch fibers must be targeted for mitochondrial biogenesis.
While increasing the oxidative capacities of fast twitch fibers may sound like an oxymoron type statement, it is a physiologically valid approach. One of the primary training methods used to increase oxidative capabilities of fast twitch fibers is high intensity continuous training (HICT).
High intensity continuous training involves repeated high force movements done at a pace that keeps the heart rate from going over the point of lactate threshold. An example of a HICT protocol for the lower body would be 2 to 3 sets of 20 minutes of step ups where all the step ups are high force (wear a heavy weight vest, and drive really hard on the effort), and the heart rate never spikes above the threshold point at which the athlete would enter a non-oxidative dominant state. The athlete may have to intersperse each step up with a 5 to 6 second break to keep the HR below the anaerobic threshold to avoid accumulation of acid.
The purpose of this article is to discuss the theoretical rationale for why developing an oxidative system is important for baseball players, and it is not intended to be a detailed training prescription; however, some thoughts will be provided in this paragraph.
Creating a specific training approach that increases the oxidative capacities of the baseball specific muscles is not the easiest task to accomplish, and may be largely a fool’s errand from a strength and conditioning perspective. From the perspective of increasing the mitochondrial density of fast twitch fibers of the body, pick a few good methods for the lower body and a few for the upper body and stick to them rather than trying to mimic the exact movements of baseball in a training environment. Fast twitch fibers are not the only fibers needed for targeting in baseball players. Slow twitch fibers, particularly those of the pelvis, abdomen, and thorax need to be developed so that many of the static and slow speed positions and movements associated with the game (the leg raise of the pitching wind-up, the stride of the batter, cocking positions of throwing, etc.) can be improved with specific training protocols that recruit and fatigue these fibers. Baseball players still need to do traditional strength and conditioning protocols aimed at strength and power parameters as well as the hormonal system.
In closing, it should be stated that there is a physiological cost associated with every piece of mechanical, cellular, electrical, and transport work that the organism performs. The organism has many strategies that can be used to perform work; however, there is always an easiest possible physiological strategy that involves the least amount of cost. If you are tight, you can still power through movements; however, it takes more effort compared to someone with less internal resistance doing the same movement. If you are using the glycolytic energy system to power the performance of your sport movements (or the recovery in between bouts of repeated efforts); however, you will experience fatigue faster than an athlete using oxidative means to accomplish the same task (even if that task is recovery).
The greater the cost you have to pay over your athletic career to accomplish the things you do in your sport, the sooner your career will burn out. Those who find the most energy efficient way possible to move, train, recover, and exist are those who will last the longest, be able to have more repeat great performances, and who will have longer, happier lives after their playing days are done. The oxidative energy system is our efficient system, and it is the one that requires the least physiological cost for utilization. Develop your aerobic capabilities for easy power, easy recovery, and the long haul of your athletic career.
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.