The key when using MD balls to improve strength and power is to keep the volume low (2-3 sets of 5-6 reps) and the intensity high (max or near max effort on every throw). For best results, train for rotational strength and power at least twice and no more than three times per week with at least one days rest between workouts using progressively more movement-specific exercise postures. Each exercise should start from a tall-kneeling position and gradually progress to a (more…)
While the Nordic curl has been shown to be an effective exercise for increasing hamstring strength, it is not without its critics. Some players dislike it because it is very hard to do. Others are discouraged because they don’t have enough hamstring strength to perform both the eccentric and concentric portions of the exercise. An effective way to alleviate these concerns and ensure safe, consistent progress is to divide the exercise into three, progressive training phases.
Phase I. Players lacking sufficient hamstring strength to perform both the eccentric and concentric movements in the exercise can use a TRX device to perform only eccentric contractions. The exercise starts with the player in the up position and holding the handles of a TRX device. While a partner holds his ankles, the player sets his abs and then uses his hamstrings to slowly lower his body as far as possible. The TRX allows the player to use his upper body and core strength to assist the hamstrings as he slowly lowers his body forward. Once at his lowest position, the player releases the handles one at a time and performs an explosive push-up to return to the starting position. Using the TRX allows players to gradually increase eccentric hamstring strength over a progressively larger ROM. Start with 2 sets of 4 and progress to 4×8.
Phase II. Players use the TRX handles to assist with both the eccentric and concentric portions of the exercise. The TRX allows the player to gradually increase the stress in both the eccentric and concentric portions of the exercise by applying less upper body force when lowering and returning to the starting position. Start with 2 sets of 4 and progress to 4×8
Phase III. This is a true Nordic curl using both eccentric and concentric contractions. With a partner holding his ankles, the player performs an eccentric contraction to lower himself forward as far as comfortable and then performs a concentric contraction to return to the starting position. If the hamstrings fail at any point during the eccentric portion of this movement, extend the arms to catch the body and then perform an explosive push-up to return to the starting position. Start with 1 set of 4 and progress to 4×4. Coaching keys. Keep the core tight and hips extended so there is a straight line from the ear to the knee. Lean forward from the hips and eccentrically contract the hamstrings to resist the body from lowering for as long as possible. Place a foam pad under the knees and a foam roller under the ankles to reduce stress on the knees, feet and ankles.
Jose Vazquez, PT, CSCS is Head Strength Coach, Texas Rangers. Napoleon Pichardo, CSCS, is the Minor League Strength and Conditioning Coordinator, Texas Rangers
The Landmine is a great tool to use for total body strength and rotational movements. While there are a number of ways to use the Landmine, one way to engage the upper body more is to perform a swing from your knees. Performing the swing from your knees forces your upper body to do the swing without the aid of the lower body. Due to the fact that the lower body is disengaged a much lighter weight should be used. In order to perform the drill in a safe, effective manner, progress through the following progressive steps.
• Step 1: Position your body parallel to the bar. Kneel down so that the base of the bar is on your left side and grab the bar with both hands using an underhand grip with the top hand and overhand grip with the bottom hand.
• Step 2: Lift the bar up to thigh level. This is the “ready” position.
• Step 3: Move the bar upwards by swinging it away from your body. During the swing, rotate your upper body towards the bar without turning your hips. This will allow for greater core activation and increased range of motion.
• Step 4: Return the bar to the starting position following the same path used in the previous step (Step 3). Perform the prescribed number of reps, switch sides and repeat. Do 3-5 sets of 5-10 reps on each side.
Unlike some Landmine movements this one should be performed using a smooth, controlled tempo in both directions. Another good tip is to turn your head in the direction of the bar as it moves both up and down to allow for greater trunk rotation. Due to the nature of the movements, there will be some slight rotation in the hips, but try to minimize it as much as possible. Keep your core tight and your body upright throughout the movement.
Steve Chase, CSCS, RSCC, is the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coordinator for the Detroit Tigers.
Editor note: See accompanying video, Kneeling Landmine Swing on this site.
The following exercise was recommended by Vern Gambetta. I have used it with good success, first with the Mets and currently with the Rangers. This exercise has three movement sequences that emphasize the loading and unloading of the hips and hamstrings in the sagittal, frontal and transverse plane. It can be used as both a conditioning and rehabilitation exercise.
Lunge and Reach to Floor. Emphasis: Stand erect with a DB in each hand. Set the abs, step (lunge) forward on the left leg and reach forward with both hands until the DBs lightly touch the floor. Pause for 2-3 seconds and then push back to the starting position with the lead leg. Perform the assigned number of reps on the left leg and then repeat on the opposite leg. For variety and more balance and coordination, alternate right and left legs and do 10 reps on each side. Keep the abs tight throughout the exercise. As you reach to the floor the hamstrings are loaded at both the origin and insertion. This is functionally similar to the load placed on the hamstrings during running at foot contact. When you touch the floor, push off the ground explosively with the lead leg. This is similar to the load from foot contact to the push off phase. Keep the neck and head in a straight line with the trunk throughout the exercise. Benefits: Eccentric loading of the hamstrings.
Lunge and Reach Overhead. Emphasis: This exercise emphasizes the loading and unloading of the hip flexors and adductors in the sagittal plane. In this exercise both the hip flexors and adductor group are lengthened. This load is necessary to effectively unload the hip creating an explosive knee drive during running. Stand erect with feet shoulder-width apart, arms extended and hands overhead with palms facing forward. Set the abs and lunge forward on the left leg until the back knee almost touches the ground. Push back with the lead leg and return to the starting position. Perform the assigned number of reps on the left leg and then repeat on the opposite leg. For variety and more balance and coordination, alternate right and left legs and do 10 reps on each side. Keep the abs tight, arms extended and hands overhead from start to finish. Do not arch the back. Perform the exercise with a MD Ball, DBs or kettle bells to increase the intensity of the movement. Benefits: Eccentric loading of the hip flexor and adductor group and increased range of motion in shoulders and T-Spine.
Lunge and Twist. Emphasis: This exercise emphasizes the loading and unloading of both the hip flexors, adductors and abdominals in the transverse plane. Most baseball movements occur in the transverse plane, making this exercise very appropriate. Stand erect with arms extended and hands together in front of the body at chest height. Keep the palms together, set the abs and lunge forward on the left leg until the back knee almost touches the ground. As the back knee approaches the ground, twist the trunk, arms and hands toward the lead leg. Pause for 1-2 seconds, twist back until the arms are directly in front of the body and then push back with the lead leg to return to the starting position. Perform the assigned number of reps on the left leg and then repeat on the opposite leg. For variety and more balance and coordination, alternate right and left legs and do 10 reps on each side.
Keep the abs tight, arms extended and palms together throughout the exercise. Perform the exercise with a MD Ball, DBs or kettle bells to increase the intensity of the movement. To increase range of motion, balance and coordination, bring both hands up and over the shoulder on the side of the lead leg. Benefits: Transverse training of the hip flexors, adductors, core and T-spine.
Jose Vazquez, PT, CSCS
Head Strength Coach, Texas Rangers
During the off-season, I try different activities and think about how I might be able to use a few of these new exercises and drills with my players. Two years ago, I attended a “barre class” that used non-impact, small movement exercises to isolate individual muscle groups. One muscle group that these exercises had the most impact on was my glutes. After doing some of the exercises, I walked out of class feeling like I had just done 1,000 squats and lunges. Although the classes were predominantly filled with women trying to “firm and tone” their bodies (especially their backsides), I found that these exercises were great for activating the glutes before a lower body workout and/or when the glutes are inhibited. Since many of the exercises are performed while standing, they offer a unique alternative to those typically performed while lying on the ground. The following are five exercises that I have had success with. Do 1-2 sets of 15-20 reps on each leg. Start with one set and gradually build to 2 sets of each with perfect form. Do one set of the standing figure 4 stretch between each set of exercises and hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds.
Straight Leg Raise
Set-Up. Stand facing a bar with feet shoulder-width apart and toes pointing forward. Place both hands on the bar with arms fully extended and bend forward at the waist until the back is flat. Retract the scapula, set the core, square up the hips and slightly bend both the support and non-support leg at the knee. This is your starting position.
Movement. Extend the non-support leg until it is parallel to the ground, point the toes (plantar flex the foot) and raise and lower the leg from the hip about two inches at a time in a “pulsing” movement for 15-20 reps and then switch legs.
20 Degrees Out and Raise
Set-Up. Same as the previous exercise.
Movement. Start by extending the non-support leg until it is parallel to the ground with the toes pointed (plantar flexed). Abduct the non-support leg 20 degrees (move leg away from hip), raise and lower the leg about 2 inches and return to the midline. This is one rep. Do 15-20 reps and switch legs.
Open Hip Leg Raise
Set-Up. Same as the previous exercise
Movement. Extend the non-support leg until it is parallel to the ground, point the toes, rotate the non-support leg outward about 90 degrees (open the hip) and raise and lower the leg from the hip about 2 inches at a time. Keep the non-support leg parallel to the ground and return the leg to the midline after each rep. Do 15-20 reps and switch legs.
Movement. Keeping a slight bend in the support leg, point the toes of the non-support leg, abduct the leg about 200 out away from the hip and extend the non-support leg backwards about 2 inches. Return to start and repeat in a pulsing movement for 15-20 reps. Switch legs and repeat.
Set-Up.Stand arms’- length away and facing the bar with feet shoulder-width apart and toes facing forward. Grab the bar with both hands and place the ankle of one leg just above the knee of the opposite leg. This is your starting position.
Movement. Keeping the trunk erect, set the core, drop the hip of the non-support leg until both hips are level and then bend the knee of the non-support leg to stretch the glutes on that side of the body. Hold for 20-30 seconds, return to start and repeat on the opposite leg..
Ed W. Yong, MS, CSCS
Spokane Indians – Texas Rangers
In the words Yogi Berra, “you can see a lot by watching”. Over the years, I have learned a lot by talking with and watching opposing strength and conditioning coaches as they put their teams through pre- and post-game warm-ups and workouts. The following is a good, multi-plane, multi-joint, total body, warm-up exercise that is used by Dong Lien (CSCS, RSCC), strength and conditioning coordinator for the Philadelphia Phillies. It’s a dynamic exercise that targets most of the muscles in the upper and lower body, engages the core, challenges balance and engages the muscles used when running. It can be used as an essential part of a pre-practice / pre-game warm-up routine and/or to prepare for running drills.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart with both arms extended down the sides. Set the core, squeeze the glutes and then step forward with your left leg into a lunge position until your left thigh is parallel to the ground and your right knee is almost touching the ground. As you descend into the lunge position, extend the left arm straight down and the right arm out and up toward the sky. From this low lunge position with one arm up and the other arm down, slowly rotate your torso and right shoulder up and over your lead (left hip). Both arms should form a straight line. Hold this position for 2-3 seconds. Push back with the lead (left) leg to return to a standing, split-squat position with both arms down the sides. Step forward with the opposite leg and repeat the sequence. Continue alternating legs until you have performed 5-6 reps on each leg.
If you have trouble with balance or lack adequate walking space, perform the exercise in-place repeating the movement sequence 5-6 times on one leg before working the opposite leg. For added range of motion, twist the trunk toward the lead leg as you reach overhead. To increase balance, perform the drill while lunging backwards.
Gene Coleman was the Head S&C Coach for the Houston Astros from 1978-2012 and is currently a strength and conditioning consultant for the Texas Rangers and Professor in the Fitness and Human Performance Program at the University of Houston – Clear Lake.
For years, athletes and strength coaches both within and outside the sport of baseball believed that the best way to increase core strength and reduce the risk of low back injuries was to perform multiple sets and reps of exercises in which the athlete flexed and/or rotated the lumbar spine. Now, due in part, to the work of Stuart McGill, Shirley Sharman and Gray Cook, we know that the lumbar range of motion that we were trying to create with sit-ups, crunches, cross-crunches, bicycles, etc., is potentially dangerous. Their research indicates that core stability, i.e., the ability to resist or prevent rotation is more important than the ability to create motion. It tells us that we should train the muscles of the core to prevent motion in the lumbar spine in both the sagittal and frontal planes. Most authorities in the field believe that core training should start with exercises designed to prevent extension (planks) and prevent rotation (chops and lifts).
While there are numerous exercises that will prevent extension and rotation, it is important that these be performed in a particular order or progression because one exercise builds on the other. The first exercise in most progressions is the prone plank. The exercise described in this paper, moving plank, is a step-two, anti-extension exercise that can be used to bridge the gap between front planks and stability ball /ab wheel rollouts.
The exercise starts just like a prone plank; elbows are bent and forearms are flat on the floor. The palms can either rest on the floor or they can be together with the fingers interlaced. The elbows and toes hold the body up off the floor. The back is flat, abs are tight and the body is completely straight. Hold this position for 5 seconds and then start moving in the following sequence: 1) move the body forward and backward (sawing motion) rocking forward and backward from elbows and toes for 5 reps; 2) move the body side-to-side (lateral sawing motion) from the elbows and toes for 5 reps; 3) circle the entire body to the right (stir the pot) moving from the elbows and toes for 5 reps; 4) circle the entire body to the left (stir the pot) for 5 reps; 5) protract and retract the scapula for 5 reps while keeping the body straight; 6) hold the up position for 5 seconds. Keep the body straight throughout. Do not let abs sag or butt point up in the air. Add one rep per week to a max of 10 reps or 10 seconds at each position and then progress to SB roll-outs before attempting to perform ab wheel rollouts.
Eric McMahon, M.Ed., CSCS, RSCC
Frisco Roughriders, Texas Rangers
Everyone in the game of baseball understands the importance of core strength and stability. Hitting and pitching coaches empirically know that the core is where power comes from. Scientists have shown that core strength and stability are necessary to prevent injuries, improve mobility and optimize performance (1, 2). Athletic trainers and strength coaches have used both the empirical evidence provided by position coaches and research provided by scientists as a basis for developing a number of exercise choices. While there seems to be near-universal acceptance of the importance of core strength and stability, until recently there was little consensus as to which exercise or type of exercise is most effective. Current research reveals two key points about core training. First, exercises performed from a standing position are more related to the movements required in game situations than those performed in a horizontal position and second, compound movements are more effective than isolated movements such as crunches and lateral crunches (3, 4,5).
While research indicates that compound, multi-joint movements performed in a horizontal position, such as planks with hand reach, bird dogs with resistance and mountain climbers, are effective for engaging both the deep and proximal muscles of the trunk, we prefer to use these as “level 1” or preparatory exercises for players with stability issues and use sport-specific, multi-joint exercises such as resisted MD ball rotations, chops and lifts to develop the functional core strength and stability needed to reduce the risk of injury and improve performance.
Resisted MD Ball Rotations. Stand in a “ready” position facing a partner. Hold a MD ball at chest level with both arms fully extended and hands on each side of the ball. Set your abs and keep your arms straight and the ball still as your partner applies pressure with one hand on the ball in an attempt to make you rotate to one side. Using eccentric contractions of the muscles of the core slowly resist the rotary force applied to the ball as your body rotates in the direction of the applied force. Rest for 5-10 sec, repeat for the prescribed number of reps, and then repeat the exercise on the opposite side.
Resisted MD Chops. Start from the same position used in the previous exercise holding a MD ball at chest level with both arms fully extended and one hand on top and the other hand under the ball. Your objective in this exercise is to eccentrically resist the downward force (chopping motion) applied by your partner. Rest for 5-10 sec, repeat the exercise for the prescribed number of reps, and then repeat on the opposite side.
Resisted MD Lifts. Start with both arms fully extended and the ball outside one knee. Hold the ball with one hand on top and the other hand under the ball. Your partner kneels down outside the ball and applies and upward (lifting) force to the ball. Your objective is to eccentrically resist the upward (lifting) force applied by your partner. Rest for 5-10 sec, repeat the exercise for the prescribed number of reps, and then repeat on the opposite side.
Jose Vazquez, PT, CSCS
Head Strength Coach, Texas Rangers
Minor League Strength and Conditioning Coordinator, Texas Rangers
- Okada, T., et. al, Relationship Between Core Stability, Functional Movement, and Performance. J Strength Cond Res. 25: 252-261, 2011.
- Brophy, R., et. al. The Core and Hip in Soccer Athletes Compared by Gender. International Journal of Sports Medicine. 30: 663-667, 2009.
- Gottschall, j., et al. Integration Core Exercises Elicit Greater Muscle Activation Than Isolation Exercises. J Strength Cond Res. 27:590—596, 2013.
- Colado, J., et al. The Progression of Paraspinal Muscle Recruitment Intensity in Localized and Global Strength Training Exercise is not Based on Instability Alone. Arch Phys and Med Rehab. 92:1875-1883, 2011..
- Okada, T., et. al, Relationship Between Core Stability, Functional Movement, and Performance. J Strength Cond Res. 25:252-261, 2011.
I can’t tell you how often I hear someone at the end of the workout say something like “I need to do more abs; I want to get a six-pack.” The truth is that passing on a six-pack is a better way to get a six-pack than doing 600 sit-ups. The key to abdominal definition is the visibility of the abdominal musculature, not the strength of the muscles. You can do one million sit-ups, crunches or whatever exercise you want and it will have no effect on abdominal definition. When people ask me the best exercise for abs I tell them table push-aways. It usually takes a few minutes for them to get it. It’s not a joke, it’s the truth. If you want better abs, eat less and train more but, don’t just train your abs.
The idea of working the abs to get abs is one of the oldest misconceptions in training. This goes back to the old idea of spot reduction. Spot reduction has never worked and will never work. The research has been done over and over and the answer is always the same. You can’t decrease the fat layer on a particular area by working that area. That means that the guys doing sit-ups to lose abdominal fat and the lady sitting on the adductor (inner thigh) machine are both wasting their time. Good total body work is, was, and always will be the key to fat loss.
Want better abdominal definition? Finish every workout with some hard interval training instead of extra sit-ups or crunches. Interval training or what is currently called High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is the real key to fat loss and the resulting definition. Interval training burns more calories than steady state aerobic training and, because it is a sprint program, you get a sprinter’s body.
Abdominal training may potentially reduce the diameter of the waistline, but will do very little to reduce body fat. The truth is there are lots of good reasons to do abdominal work or core training as we now like to call it. A strong core is one of the keys in the prevention of back pain. A strong core will help you look better and improve performance in a host of sports, but sit-ups or any other abdominal exercise will not reduce body fat. The fact of the matter is that doing hundreds of crunches will lead to back pain long before they lead to visual abs.
A good abdominal or core program is a lot more than crunches. Most of your core work should be isometric exercises like front planks, side planks, resisted tubing or cross-cable holds and suitcase carries. One of the major functions of the core musculature is the prevention of motion. What does that mean? It means that the abdominals are great stabilizers. Work on the stability function, not on flexion and extension.
Michael Boyle is a strength and conditioning consultant with the Boston Red Sox and founder of Michael Boyle Strength.
The following two exercises can be used as core drills to work the total body from the ground up. They are baseball-specific because they force you take the forces produced in the lower body and transfer them through the trunk to the upper body where they are applied to the ball. Both drills train the legs to explode, develop core stability and improve balance, reaction time and hand-eye coordination. Because they require you perform a jump, turn, land, catch and throw, they simulate fielding plays in which you get down, grab the ball and throw without losing balance.
To perform the forehand drill, stand with your right side about 3-4 feet away from a partner. This is the starting position. Now, assume a split-squat position with your left leg forward and right leg back. When your partner tosses the ball, catch it and let the ball twist your body to the left to increase the stretch across the trunk, and then quickly throw it back across your back (right) leg. As the ball leaves your hands, jump upward and rotate your hips and body to the right, landing under control with your right leg forward and your left leg back. Catch the ball, twist to your right and quickly throw it back across your back (left) leg. Repeat this back and forth motion in continuous fashion for 10 reps each side. Rest and repeat for 10 more reps (2×10).
To perform the backhand drill, assume the same starting position in the attached photo, but this time put your right leg forward and your left leg back. Now, when you catch and throw the ball back you will use a backhand motion and throw it across the top of your lead (right) leg. As the ball leaves your hands, jump upward and rotate your hips and body to the right landing under control with your left leg forward and your right leg back. Continue to alternate jumping and throwing from side-to-side and 2 sets of 10 reps to each side.
Start with slow movements until you perfect the routine. Once you can perform both drills in rhythmically and with perfect form, gradually increase the speed and intensity of effort. You goal is to perform the drills as quickly and as explosively as possible for each rep in each set.
Javair Gillett, Strength and Conditioning Coordinator, Detroit Tigers