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Tall Plank Shoulder Taps for Core Torsion Control

Assessing anti-rotation pillar strength is important prior to loading the spine with torsional activity. From a tall plank position, you can assess torsional control by observing this test/exercise. Beyond observation, this technique can be used a conditioning exercise to improve anti-rotational pillar strength and stability.

Execution. Start in a tall plank position with feet shoulder-width apart and hands on the floor under the shoulders. Set the core, slowly lift the right hand and tap the left shoulder. Pause for 1-2 seconds, return the right hand to the starting position and repeat the pattern lifting the left hand and tapping the right shoulder. To correct faulty movement and improve control, start with slow, controlled, alternating taps for 5-10 reps. Stop when fatigue or loss of control sets in. 

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Breathing Techniques

“Take a deep breath” is a common saying in sports whenever someone is facing a pressure moment.  Whether it’s before a 3-2 pitch in game 7 of the World Series, a game-winning field goal, a critical free throw, or a par-saving putt, we’ve all seen great athletes inhaling and exhaling deliberately before they clinch a victory.  But why does this simple technique always seem to work?

Benefits of Taking a Deep Breath
Taking a deep breath has physical and mental benefits.  When you feel pressure, your adrenaline helps you kick in the “fight or flight” response, a reflex that helps us survive danger by either defending ourselves or getting as far away as possible from the source of trouble.  We feel this response in our normal modern lives as “stress”, and on the baseball field, it kicks in when we are facing an 0-2 count or a bases loaded jam. (more…)

Adaptation Takes Time

Adaptation is the process that the body goes through to improve the functioning of a specific system in order to meet the demands placed on it.  The body will adapt to the stresses that are applied.  Adaptations can be positive or negative.  Positive adaptations occur when stresses is appropriately applied and usually produce an improvement in skill performance and/or physiological status.  Negative adaptations are often the result of improper training to include overtraining, undertraining and detraining and are associated with a decrease in skill performance and/or physiological status.  There are two general types of adaptation, acute and chronic.  Acute adaptations usually occur immediately following and during the first 3 to 4 days post-exercise.  Chronic adaptations occur over time, usually after weeks, months and years of training.

You can’t force adaptation (improvement).  Regardless of whether you are working to improve a sport-specific skill like fielding, hitting and pitching or physical attributes like flexibility, strength, speed and power, adaptation takes time.  The human body is not a microwave oven.  Improvements don’t occur instantaneously.  Significant improvements in skill and performance take a lot of time.  Some say as much as 10,000 hours (1).  Ten thousand might not be an accurate value for all skills, but we know that improvement takes time.  Research on athletes, for example, indicate that skill performance usually gets worse before it gets better when you change technique (2).  These findings explain in part, why it usually takes so long, if ever, for young, talented athletes to develop into Major League performers.

Improvements (adaptations) in physical attributes also take time and every attribute requires a different amount of training time before improvements begin to appear.  A brief overview of the time requirements for some of the physical attributes needed for successful, injury-free performance is presented below.

Strength.  The NSCA says that it takes a beginner with little or no supervised strength training experience approximately 2-3 months to make significant improvements in muscle size and strength (3).  The acute improvements that we see after the first 2-3 weeks of training are the result of nervous system adaptations, not increases in muscle size.  Initial improvements occur because the nervous system adapts to training by becoming more efficient, i.e., the body learns to turn on more muscle fibers and to turn them on more quickly.  Increases in strength due to actual increases in muscle size takes about 3-6 weeks, with additional improvements (adaptations) requiring another 6-7 weeks of consistent training.

Several factors determine how quickly an athlete will gain strength and how much he/she will improve.  Young, inexperienced athletes will a higher ceiling for improvement will improve faster and gain more than older, experienced athletes who are closer to achieving their maximum strength potential.  All athletes, regardless of age and experience can continue to improve strength throughout their careers provided they train properly and use the right combinations of intensity, frequency, duration, rest and recovery.

Speed and Agility.  Training programs for speed and agility target the central nervous system and are designed to improve communication between the brain and muscles so that the brain can activate a greater percentage of muscle fibers and fire them with more speed and power.  Because the CNS has the capacity to respond quickly to new stimuli, acute benefits can often occcur in 1 to 2 days.  Chronic improvements in speed and agility, however, take a little longer.  It takes at least 8 weeks to see significant improvements in speed and agility when training sessions are held 3-4 times per week and longer with less frequent training sessions.

Flexibility.  Improvements in flexibility also take time to develop.  Flexibility is not something that happens overnight, nor is it something that can be improved faster by trying harder.  And, there is no such things as “general” flexibility.  Flexibility is joint-specific and it takes time to improve range of motion and flexibility across multiple joints.  Experts say that “flexibility is improved day-to-day” and that it can take at least 2-6 months for most, and as long as 12-months for many, to see the results of daily flexibility training.

Aerobic Capacity.  Acute adaptations in aerobic fitness occur after approximately 14 days, depending on the type of training stress (workout) applied.  The acute benefits of long, slow distance (LSD) training take longer to appear, sometimes up to 4 to 6 weeks.  The delay in improvement is attributed, in part, to an increase in the production cortisol and decrease muscle protein associated with prolonged endurance activity.  Faster acute adaptations (7 to 10 days) tend to occur with shorter duration, higher intensity work such as tempo and interval training.

Significant chronic improvements in aerobic fitness take a minimum of 8 weeks to occur.  Why so long?  Before the body can take in more oxygen and utilize it more efficiently, multiple cardiorespiratory changes have to happen.  Improvements in heart rate, blood pressure, stroke volume, capillary density, minute volume ,breathing rate and metabolic pathways must be made before aerobic fitness can be enhanced and each requires a unique amount of time to develop.

Adaptation takes time and requires a unique, progressive training plan for each system of the body (nervous, muscular, cardiorespiratory, oxygen transport, etc.).  They system used in the system trained, so there is no one “universal” workout that will improve every system and every physical attribute needed to excel in any sport.  Training must be specific and progressive in order to produce the adaptations (improvements) needed.  Practicing everything makes you better at nothing.  If you are always doing something different, how can you know if you are improving at the thing(s) needed to improve performance and reduce the risk of injury?

The keys to successful adaptation are specificity, consistency, variety, rest and recovery.  Workouts have to be specific to the sport of baseball.  They must enhance the movement utilized in game situations.  They must also be progressive, i.e., each workout must build on the previous.  Athletes should work on the same thing, but progress on what they did last week, last moth and last year.  Variety is important in order to avoid plateaus, prevent boredom and reduce the risk of overtraining.  Rest and recovery are two of the most important and overlooked variables in training.  “Work and rest are both important and neither is beneficial with the other”.  Work provides the stimulus needed for improvement, but improvements occur during recovery.  The rate and amount of adaptation (improvement) produced by the training program will be enhanced or limited by the amount of rest and recovery provided during and between workouts and training phases.

References

  1. Gladwell, M. Outliers: The Story of Success. Little, Brown and Company, 2008.
  2. Godin, S. The Dip. Penguin, 2007
  3. Baechle, T. and R. Earle. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, Human Kinetics, 2008.

Gene Coleman, Ed. D., RSCC-E, FACSM, 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 Exercise and Health Sciences Programs at the University of Houston-Clear Lake.

 

Protein Needs of Athletes: What Does the Research Say?

Protein is a popular topic among both recreational and competitive athletes, many of whom are confused about how much protein they need, when they should eat it, and the best kinds of protein to choose. The following information will answer some of the questions that athletes often ask about the role of protein in a sports diet. The information is based on data presented by prominent protein researchers during the 2012 Annual Convention of the American College of Sports Medicine.

Do some athletes need more protein than others? Just as children have high protein needs during growth periods (0.6 gm/lb; 1.3 gm/kg), athletes also have higher protein needs. Recommended protein requirements for various types of athletes are presented in the following table (Table 1). These recommendations assume the athlete is consuming adequate energy from his/her intake of carbohydrates and fat. Athletes who restrict food intake end up using some protein for fuel, thus they need a higher protein intake. Most athletes consume approximately 0.7 gm/lb; 1.6 gm/kg/day, so they easily meet the protein recommendations without supplements. (more…)

There Are No Rollover Minutes in Sleep

Lack of sleep leads to a condition called “sleep debt”, which is the cumulative effect of not getting enough sleep, whether it is partial (less than 8 hours a night) or total (amount of sleep over weeks). Sleep does not work like your phone plan’s rollover minutes. The benefits of sleep occur from consistently getting a good night’s rest. You can’t get 6 hours one night and 10 hours the next to equal an average of 8 hours because you have created a sleep debt that could take weeks to repay.

The following are some of important facts that we know about sleep debt: (more…)

Sleep and Travel Reference Sheet

Understanding that fatigue is the major cause of human error and that it takes the body’s biological clock one day to adjust for each time zone traveled, I developed this reference sheet to help professional baseball players and staff transition faster to and from road trips from the Eastern to Western (3-hour difference) and Mountain (2-hour difference) time zones. Practical experience and clinical research indicate that the human body performs best between the 6:00 to 9:00 pm period of its normal biological clock. The following information should help provide faster transitions to new time zones and reduce the risk of mental and physical fatigue during games. (more…)

Power Naps Improve Alertness and Performance

Dr. Charles Czeisler, Director of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School and “Sleep Coach” to the Boston Celtics, says that daytime power napping is an extremely important tool to help athletes improve performance and recover from sleep debt and has research to support his opinion.  First, there is a study from John Moores University in London in which subjects who took a 30-minute power nap after lunch lowered their resting heart rate, reduced body temperature and improved alertness, short-term memory, accuracy and speed in a 20-meter sprint. There’s also a NASA study in which scientists found that 24-minute power naps significantly improved a pilot’s alertness and performance on trans-Atlantic flights. And there is research from Cornell University that shows that short power naps help you feel more energized because your brain is more active when you nap than when you don’t. (more…)

The Decisions You Make Today Determine Your Performance Tomorrow

Although I came into pro ball with a lot of talent, it took me almost four years to approach my potential as a power pitcher. In my first season with the Angels, I was 19-16 with 39 starts, 20 complete games, an ERA of 2.28, 9 shutouts and 329 strikeouts in 284 innings. I had 17 games in which I struck out 10 or more batters. But something more important happened that year that would affect my performance for the next 25 years – I discovered the (more…)

Avoiding the Flu

ACHOO, COUGH, COUGH, SNIFF, SNIFF

Intense training and all the activity surrounding workouts and training can affect your body’s immune system which may make you more vulnerable to whatever “bug” is going around. Although researchers are still figuring out all the details, changes in immunity have been shown to be related to elevations in stress hormones such as catecholamines and cortisol which rise during intense training and periods of stress – like off-season workouts, spring training, (more…)