baseball

Baseball and Gaining The Off-Season Advantage

The off-season can pass by in the blink of an eye. Even though the cold and dark months between November and March remind you nothing of the game of baseball, they are the most crucial for ensuring you’ll be at your best come opening day. What you do with these months is what separates you from, and elevates you above, other players.  

How Bad Do You Want to Get Better?

I can vividly remember sitting in our small high school gym and being handed a blank piece of paper by my coach. We were instructed to fill the piece of paper with our goals:

Team

  • - Win Back-to-Back Conference Championships
  • - Win Sectional Title
  • - State Champs

Personal

  • - Gain 10 lbs.
  • - Lead by example (Everyday!)
  • - Make all routine plays in the field
  • .- 300 Batting Average

This list was from my junior year of high school. Each year I would strive for, and ultimately achieve, more. This was only possible because within each goal was an action plan.

Let’s take a deeper look at the first goal in my personal list:

Gain 10 lbs

You’re cheating yourself by just writing down your goal and leaving it as that. That’s too easy. You have to ask yourself: how will I gain 10 pounds this off-season? Answering these questions will help you expand your goal sheet and create a roadmap for how it’ll be accomplished.

Below is what a piece of my final goal sheet looked like.

Gain 10 lbs

  • -4x/week of strength training
  • -Eat a lot!
  • -Weekly weigh-ins

With an action plan your chances of reaching your goal increases exponentially.

As an athlete, many times a well-designed strength and conditioning program needs to be part of your action plan. When training properly you’ll be able to work towards accomplishing many things at once. Other than the obvious (getting jacked) a training program will also provide many other benefits as you head into your spring season.

  1. 1. Get Stronger

If you’re not using progressive overload, you’re missing out. If you’re somewhere between 14 and your mid-20s, your body is at its peak of hormone production. Testosterone and growth hormone are flooding your bloodstream. Taking advantage of an increase in production of these hormones is a wise decision. Progressively overloading your tissues and nervous system will allow your body to better deal with stress. You want to train to better be able to handle higher volumes and intensities. In short, gradually challenge your body more and more each week and you’ll become stronger and be able to handle increased demands of future training sessions and long seasons.

You also must appreciate that without a good base of strength it will be more difficult for you to improve other fitness qualities. If you were to fill up a bucket with various fitness qualities, you can only add so much until nothing else fits. You can either keep trying to force things into an already full bucket, or you can GET STRONGER. The stronger you are, the more force you can produce, and the bigger the bucket becomes. Now you have more opportunity to get explosive and increase your speed.

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  1. 2. Increase Bodyweight

Studies have shown that an increase in bodyweight can lead to an increase in throwing velocity. If you go back to physics class…

F=ma

Force= mass x acceleration. The more mass you have, the more force you’ll be able to produce, and in turn, the harder you’ll be able to throw. Obviously, there are other variables, mechanics being one of them. But, if you’re a high school or college player, it’s likely you’ll be able to pick up a few mph by increasing your weight. Couple your increase in weight with increased strength and power and you’ll be better at delivering and accepting force, and you’ll be able to mitigate injuries while continuing to throw harder.

  1. 3. Increase Range of Motion

Throwing a baseball is one of the most violent and high-velocity movements in sport. This is in no way a means to scare you. You just need to appreciate the importance of all of your joints working optimally so you’re not overstressing one area over another.

Maybe because of your lack of shoulder external rotation, your medial elbow is being stressed much more than it should. Or, if you lack internal rotation in your lead hip, it could lead to your throwing shoulder having to work way harder than it should during your delivery.

Making sure you have as much mobility as possible heading into a season is extremely valuable. A smart off-season training program will understand this and incorporate soft-tissue work, along with mobility training for your thorax, shoulder girdle, elbow, and wrist.

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  1. 4. Rotator Cuff Strength & Endurance

Along with putting on mass in your glutes, hamstrings, quads, lats, and other prime movers, it’s also important to designate time in your training program for your rotator cuff.

Think of your shoulder joint as a golf ball sitting on a golf tee. It’s your cuff that will keep that ball centered on the tee. The better your rotator cuff is at centrating your humeral head in the glenoid fossa, the more durable your shoulder becomes. A strong rotator cuff will also help you have better control when decelerating your arm during the follow through of your throw.

  1. 5. Create Camaraderie and Develop Good Habits & Routines

The last major benefit of having an off-season strength and conditioning program has less to do with physical gains and more do to with gains in the mental and emotional realm. Training with teammates is a great way to create camaraderie and build team chemistry, as you’re all working hard towards the same goals.

Knowing you’re individually prepared is important, but having confidence that your entire team is prepared is powerful.

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Developing consistency with an off-season strength and conditioning program is also a sure-fire way to carry good work habits and routines into your spring and summer seasons.

In Summary

A quality off-season strength and conditioning program is one of the most valuable things an athlete can invest in. Take care of your body, put in smart work and you’ll be rewarded when the season rolls around. Even if you’re in high school and are playing a winter sport (which, if you’re an underclassman, I highly recommend) you should still make room for 1-2 strength training sessions each week in order to make sure you’re building your base of strength and have adequate amount of mobility.

Start today. Write down your goals, create action plans, and get to work!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Mike Sirani is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and Licensed Massage Therapist.  He earned a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Applied Exercise Science, with a concentration in Sports Performance, from Springfield College, and a license in massage therapy from Cortiva Institute in Watertown, MA.  During his time at Springfield, Mike was a member of the baseball team, and completed a highly sought after six-month internship at Cressey Performance in Hudson, MA.

Mike’s multi-disciplinary background and strong evidence-based decision-making form the basis of his training programs.  Through a laid-back, yet no-nonsense approach, his workouts are designed to improve individual’s fundamental movement patterns through a blend of soft-tissue modalities and concentrated strength training.

He has worked with a wide variety of performance clients ranging from middle school to professional athletes, as well as fitness clients, looking to get back into shape.  Mike specializes in helping clients and athletes learn to train around injury and transition from post-rehab to performance.  If you’re interested in training with Mike, he can be found at Pure Performance Training in Needham, Massachusetts.

Readiness, Preparedness and the Plight of a Minor League Baseball Player

So about two months ago I was out doing some grocery shopping when I got a call from an athlete of mine who is currently playing minor league baseball.  For the sake of this article, let's call him Tim. Before we get to the phone call, however, let me give you a quick backstory:  Tim is a very good athlete who put in a lot of hard work this offseason and managed to take his fastball from high 80's to 93-96 MPH.  For anyone who has played baseball, and played for an extended period of time, you'll know these type of velocity jumps are hard to come by.  As an unrelated aside, I hate when coaches try and take all the credit for their athletes improvement.  Yes, good programming and coaching makes an enormous difference, but at the end of the day nothing is possible if the athlete isn't making the sacrifices and putting in the time to get better.

Anyways, when I picked up the phone I could immediately tell something was wrong and it didn't take long to figure out why...Tim's velocity had disappeared.  Just several weeks before he was sitting 93-96 MPH, but now that he had been at spring training for a few weeks his velocity had dropped to 85-88 MPH.  If you aren't a baseball person, that's a big drop and is enough to make a team reconsider signing you.

After we spoke for a little while, and Tim filled me in on what all they had him doing, it became crystal clear why he was experiencing so many problems:  his true preparedness level was being masked by fatigue.

Readiness vs. Preparedness

Over the past several years there has been a BOOM in tracking software that allows coaches to see how their athletes are recovering, and how ready they are to perform on a specific day.

Whether we're talking something as simple as tracking daily fluctuations in Heart Rate Variability, or something as complicated as Omegawave, the end goal is the same:  coaches want to know the status of the athlete right now to make the best training decisions for the day in question.

While this concept of readiness and preparedness is a simple one, it unfortunately gets routinely overlooked and deserves our attention.  To help better understand the relationship between preparedness and readiness take a look at the graph below.

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The graph above is owned by Omegawave and Val Nasedkin. It does an incredible job displaying the concepts we're talking about today, and I couldn't recommend checking out their software enough. Furthermore, much of the verbiage we'll be using today comes directly from them.

While there's a lot going on in the graph, I want to draw your attention to the two main pieces we're focusing on today:  readiness vs. preparedness.

When thinking of preparedness, think of it as your overall fitness level.  In other words, it's the accumulation of all the work you've done over time.  Thus, it's a long term quality.  You aren't changing your overall level of preparedness in a single day or one week, we're talking about training for months and years to acquire truly high levels of preparedness.

Readiness, on the other hand, is a short term quality that merely reflects the athlete's ability to display his or her preparedness level on a particular day.  For example, let's say you take an athlete out to run 100 meter sprints at 100% effort on Monday.  What do you think will happen to their readiness level on Tuesday?  It's going to drop, and it's going to drop because you have created fatigue.  You have essentially masked the athletes true preparedness level with fatigue.

In the offseason, this isn't actually a bad thing when managed properly because in order to create adaptation we have to stress the system and generate adequate amounts of fatigue.  In fact, it's a major part of the offseason for highly competitive athletes.  Grab them in the middle of a grueling training cycle and you'll see performance levels below what they're truly capable of.  That's just how the training process works.

If you'd like to see a real world example of this process, you should checkout this article by Lance Goyke on fight conditioning.  You'll notice fatigue is generated, but once the athlete tapers things change drastically.

To further help drive this point home, I'll steal a line from Dr. Pat Davidson's ebook and training program MASS:

"Fatigue is the mask behind which fitness hides. It’s fun to wear masks, because nobody really knows who you are. I live a life of reverse Halloween. I wear a mask nearly year round, and it’s called fatigue.  Every now and then I enjoy reverse Halloween days, and I take off my mask. When I take off the mask, then you see that a monster was living there all along, and I do things that may seem scary to most.

Training is the process of living in fatigue for most of the time. Training is the reverse Halloween phenomenon. Training is how rabid dogs learn to put the foam away behind a mask. And then there are the reverse Halloween days where the real monster, who has been masked by the regular guy face unveils the beast that has been lurking in the shadows all along.

You can’t let the monster out too often. It’s not safe. You keep the monster hidden away by masking it with fatigue. Fatigue is the chains that keep the monster from destroying the city. Every now and then it can be fun to take off the chains though. Remove the fatigue and let the monster rage."

Back to Tim and Velocity

Returning to our man Tim and his velocity dilemma, the answer was really quite simple:  the organization was creating too much fatigue and hiding his true abilities.  What does too much fatigue look like?  Give this a go:

  • - Wake up everyday at 6:30
  • - Run everyday
  • - Throw everyday
  • - Train everyday
  • - Play one to two games a day

Out of respect for Tim and the organization I don't want to get into any specifics, but the above gauntlet is more or less what he was being told to do on a daily basis.  Thus, it's really no surprise his velocity disappeared.

And just to prove a point, once Tim left camp and got back into a good routine his velocity immediately jumped back to 93-96 MPH #takethemaskoff.

about the author

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James Cerbie is just a life long athlete and meathead coming to terms with the fact that he’s also an enormous nerd.  Be sure to follow him on Twitterand Instagram for the latest happenings.

Training the Rotator Cuff: Assessing and Programming for Optimal Shoulder Performance

Whether you’re an aspiring collegiate baseball player trying to improve throwing velocity, or a weekend warrior trying move serious weights, it’s important to understand how to keep your shoulders healthy to truly maximize the benefits of an aggressive strength training program. As a coach thats worked with hundreds of baseball athletes, I'm often asked how to incorporate certain exercises to have strong and healthy shoulders. Given the unique velocity and range of motion demands of the baseball players that I work with, I've learned some important lessons on how to keep shoulders both moving and functioning properly.

So...here we go.

The Cuff

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The rotator cuff is made up of 4 muscles (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, subscapularis), and its main role is to keep the humeral head centered in the glenoid.

While that may sound simple in theory, it's really a complicated process because it's analogous to keeping a golf ball centered on a golf tee. To make things even more difficult, let’s imagine that golf tee is moving:  as you raise your arm overhead to throw a ball or to press a dumbbell or barbell, the position of the scapula will change, so we hope the rotator cuff is able to provide enough dynamic control to prevent contact with the acromion, thus avoiding impingement.

When I first assess clients as they come in, I usually see three main limitations at the shoulder:

1.  Faulty position of the scapula relative to the ribcage

2.  Poor rotator cuff strength

3.  Poor motor control of the shoulder

It’s important to understand the cycle of injury, and how each of these limitations impacts that cycle.  Here's a great graphic illustrating just that.  In particular, this graphic does an outstanding job depicting how a lack of strength (functional instability) can lead to earlier onset of fatigue, poor motor control, and mechanical instability (laxity/pathology).  Aka things we don't want.

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Here's another fun fact to consider before we move on:  cumulative fatigue increases sympathetic tone as a stress response, thus creating sub optimal joint positioning (cue mind blowing).

All in all, what we're talking about is balancing position, strength, fatigue and motor control.

It's All About Position

When looking to enhance shoulder health, it all starts with making sure you have ideal joint positioning. If the muscles can’t generate good leverage and moving segments don’t articulate well with stationary segments, a joint isn’t going be able to move freely or produce/withstand maximal forces.

A very basic example of that can be seen via a length-tension and force-length relationship.  While these graphs are getting after the same thing, I've given you both to help you better understand what's happening:

As the above graphs illustrate, there's an optimal resting muscle length that allows for just the right amount of overlap between myofibrils for force production.  Once you get outside that range, the muscle will not function as optimally (this is what happens when position is out of whack).

Most ardent clients will come in looking something like this:

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They are very Lat dominant, bilaterally extended through their rib cage, with anteriorly tipped scapulae. On the table, they will likely present with bilaterally limited shoulder IR and bilaterally limited shoulder flexion.

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Before we try and do any sort of mobility work, or address rotator cuff strengthening, we need to re-establish a more neutral resting position for the shoulder and optimal starting position for the muscles to do their jobs! I like to start with an All Fours Belly Lift Drill.

All we are looking for here is a good bilateral reach through the floor, creating an activation of both Serratus Anterior (protraction), and creating some desperately needed thoracic flexion. The key once in this positon, is to deeply inhale, getting air into your upper back, then forcefully exhaling and drawing your ribs down. This is repeated for 5 breaths.

Creating Strength

When it comes to strengthening the rotator cuff I usually implement drills focusing on shoulder abduction, or external rotation. These are two motions that will typically fail upon muscle testing. Since the posterior cuff is heavily relied upon to decelerate the arm at the tail end of the throwing motion, I focus specifically on developing the strength of these muscles with our baseball players.

External rotation drills at 90 degrees are usually best, and I will use a variety of dumbbells, manual resistance, or cable resistance.

I look for good ball in socket rotation, and for the client to feel activation in the posterior shoulder, not in the front.

Another drill I started to implement a lot within the last year or so is the Chain Full Can.

I like that this drill utilizes variable resistance from the chains, creating a gradual increase in resistance as the athlete flexes their shoulder in the scapular plane. Also, to be honest, it makes a fairly boring drill typically used with small pink or purple dumbbells into something a little bit more legit.  This matters when you're working with a bunch of baseball players who are secretly enormous meatheads on the inside.

At the initial portion of this movement, if someone has weakness in their rotator cuff they may either crank back into lumbar extension or shrug to compensate their way to the top portion of the lift.  Since most of the links are resting on the floor at the beginning of this movement, the load is less, so the athlete is less apt to compensate to flex their shoulder.   At the top portion of the lift, all of the links are off of the ground and the load is highest where the rotator cuff needs to be strengthened most.

Using chains for this drill also increases grip demands, which causes reflexive rotator cuff activation. And finally, chains are unstable, since they’re suspended in the air, creating the need for added contribution from the rotator cuff to stabilize the shoulder in the glenoid as it goes through a full range of motion.

Control and Timing

The next step is to integrate motor control and rotator cuff timing to ensure proper dynamic stability of the shoulder. Rhythmic Stabilizations are my go to drills to these qualities in varying positions of instability. These drills force you to react to external resistance to stabilize whatever joint is being acted upon, enhancing proprioceptive control and timing of the rotator cuff and the muscles that act upon the scapulae.

These are great drills to train rotator cuff control/timing in various positions without excessively loading up the shoulder. I actually conducted my Master’s Thesis on the implementation of Rhythmic Stabilization drills and their effect on throwing performance. I found that players who presented with a greater degree of laxity benefitted more in terms of throwing performance—measured in velocity. Clients that may present with higher degrees of laxity lack the ability to stabilize their joints through muscle stiffness. Therefore, these drills can be really beneficial in addressing this deficit in motor control.

Where to Go

The big question now is where does all of this fit together into a program? I find that you can split up your rotator cuff strength and motor control work into separate days. For instance, any rhythmic stabilization drills would pair nicely with a primary lower body lift since it's low load and can be done as active rest. I usually program for 3-4 sets of 5-10 seconds depending on number of positions and overall difficulty.

When incorporating direct rotator cuff work, I will put these exercises at the end of an upper body training session to mitigate overall effects of fatigue. I will usually program 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps on a given training day. Try adding these in to your overall training routine and let me know what you think.

Closing Thoughts

It’s important to understand that building rotator cuff strength and control is a sequential process. At each phase of a training program, the exercises must coordinate with training goals. All in all, the key is finding out what you need as an individual and then attacking the weakest link. If you are generally lax, stretching may be the worst thing you can do! However, if you're toned up and positioned horribly, training for stability might come secondary to repositioning and improving range of motion.

I know that was a lot of technical information, so if you feel like you're head is spinning in three different directions don't hesitate to drop me a line below in the comment section.

about the author

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Sam Sturgis

Sam holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Athletic Training from Quinnipiac University (2010) and Master’s Degree in Strength and Conditioning from Springfield College (2012).  A skilled Strength Coach and Athletic Trainer at Pure Performance Training in Needham, MA, Sam works primarily with baseball athletes and clients rehabilitating from injury.  Sam has developed a successful off-season baseball Strength & Conditioning program for youth athletes in the greater Boston area. Sam also serves as the Athletic Trainer for the New England Ruffnecks baseball program.

To contact Sam, he can be reached at ssturgisppt@gmail.com

Aggressive Throwing Programs: Are You Asking the Right Questions

Everyone wants to throw gas. If you throw 80mph, you want to throw 85mph. If you throw 85,mph you want to throw 90mph. If you throw 90, you want to throw 95mph…and so on and so forth.

For a pitcher, it’s the ultimate attention grabber. The radar gun doesn’t lie, and lighting one up is the quickest way to turn heads.

Assuming you have any semblance of control, throwing hard helps you get a college scholarship, helps you get drafted, and helps you toward the big leagues.

Sorry, but they aren’t handing out many signing bonuses for an 85mph fastball.

Think of it like the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine—everyone is looking for that 4.3 speed because it’s a game changer.

Due to the high premium baseball places on velocity, and the paychecks that can come along with it, weighted ball programs have gained a tremendous amount of popularity over the past several years. Not only that, they can deliver great results. By playing with the force velocity curve, you can see some pretty impressive jumps in velocity over a relatively short period of time.

Unfortunately, a lot of high school and college athletes are jumping into aggressive weighted ball programs without asking the right questions—they end up chasing short-term gains as opposed to setting themselves up for long-term success.”

If you’d like to read more about what questions you need to be asking, the difference between general and specific training, and how to build a pyramid, then head over and checkout the rest of the article here:

Aggressive Throwing Programs:  Are You Asking the Right Question

about the author

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James Cerbie is just a life long athlete and meathead coming to terms with the fact that he’s also an enormous nerd.  Be sure to follow him on Twitter and Instagram for the latest happenings.

 

 

 

Header Photo Credit

Baseball Conditioning: Why You Need an Aerobic Base

My relationship with long duration, low intensity cardio has always been one of mutual dislike.  I don’t like it, and it doesn’t like me.   A hate-hate relationship if you will. Thus, it probably doesn’t come as any surprise that I drifted so heavily towards a sport like baseball.

I mean, can you get anymore alactic than that?  In the world of team sports it’s hard to beat.  Take one swing, run one sprint, and then rest for a few minutes until it’s time to go again…glorious.

Unfortunately…the story isn’t that simple.  At it’s core, playing one baseball game isn’t all that demanding, unless you’re playing the outfield by yourself on a bad team, but playing multiple games can be.

Which brings us to the all elusive and often debated question:  “Should baseball players train aerobically?” Like all things performance related, the answer is it depends.  It’s not a simple yes or no.  You always have to take into consideration the individual:  What position do they play?  What’s their resting heart rate right now?  How’s their HRV?  How much time do I have to devote towards preparation?  What exactly am I preparing for?  How do they move?  And so on and so forth.

Speaking in broad terms, however, I feel that baseball players should train aerobically so they can obtain a solid aerobic base.  If you want to learn why, head on over and checkout my most recent post at Stack:

Baseball Conditioning:  Why You Need an Aerobic Base

about the author

812f4cb124c2dda65e33a5f1c2f087ef.jpeg

James Cerbie is just a life long athlete and meathead coming to terms with the fact that he’s also an enormous nerd.  Be sure to follow him on Twitter and Instagram for the latest happenings.

If I Could Do It Again: 6 Lessons Learned In Sports Performance Training

Have you ever heard the Corey Smith song “If I Could Do It Again”?

Well if you haven’t, and you don’t feel like watching the video above, this line sums it up pretty well:

“If I could do it again I’d do it the same, not one regret I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Although on the whole I agree, my inner athlete doesn’t.  My inner athlete looks back at how I was trained and how I prepared and can’t help but scream for a second chance:

What if I had done x?  What if I had done y?

In short, I made a lot of mistakes throughout high school and college with respect to how I trained, and left a lot of performance on the table.

If you want to learn what those mistakes were and what I would have done differently, then head over and check out this guest post I wrote for Eric Cressey:

Advice From a Former College Baseball Player:  What If?

Baseball Training: Developing Rotational Power to Drop Bombs and Throw Gas

All baseball players want to be able to do one of the following:  throw gas or drop bombs. Attaining either of those qualities, however, can be rather elusive.

For example, I remember having a conversation with a few of my teammates about just this problem back when I was still playing ball in college:

“James, baseball seems so much different than any other sport.  It makes no sense.  How can all these guys who can’t even sniff my squat, bench, deadlift and vertical jump throw so much harder then me and hit the ball so much farther?”

It’s a fair question to ask, and one I routinely struggled with back in the day.  It would frustrate me to no end to outperform a guy in the weight room, and then have him effortlessly hit a ball 450 feet.  I mean what gives?

Here’s what I, and many baseball players for that matter, missed back in the day:  power development is plane specific.

Just because you can generate big time power in one plane of movement, doesn’t mean you’ll be able to do so in another.

And this is exactly what my new article on Stack.com discusses.  I go over this mind numbingly frustrating dilemma faced by so many, and provide you with the tools to start developing big time power outside the sagittal plane.

Best Baseball Exercises For Developing Rotational Power

“But James….if I don’t play baseball should I still check out this article?”

Absolutely.

Our lives take place all around us, and very rarely ever live in the “up and down” nature of a “normal” training session.  So even if you don’t play baseball I’d still highly recommend you go check it out (and share it because that’s what friends do).

Best Baseball Exercises For Developing Rotational Power