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Modified Pick-Up Drill for Conditioning

Pick-up drills have been used in baseball for decades to improve lateral movement, enhance fielding and improve conditioning in both pitchers and position players. The traditional approach is to have a player and coach face each other, approximately 10 feet apart. The coach kneels on one or both knees with a baseball in one hand as the player gets down in a fielding position without a glove. The coach then rolls the ball approximately 3-5 feet to one side and the player responds by shuffling 2-3 steps laterally to the ball and then breaking down into a good fielding position with the chest up, shoulders over knees, back flat, hips and knees bent and arms and hands down in front of the body. The player fields the ball with both hands, tosses it back to the coach underhanded and then shuffles in the opposite direction to field the next ball. The drill usually concludes after 10-20 tosses to each side.

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Using a Weighted Sled for Acceleration Improvement

Before even beginning, let’s clear up one point.

Sport is about acceleration, not speed.

We have a problem in sports. Coaches consistently use the wrong term when discussing the quantity they covet most. Tests like the ten-, twenty- and forty-yard dash are actually tests of acceleration not speed. You only need to look at world-class sprinters to realize that top speed is not even achieved until approximately 60 meters. As coaches our interest is not in top speed but, rather in acceleration, the zero to sixty of the auto world. How rapidly an athlete accelerates will determine success in team sports, not what the athletes absolute speed is. (more…)

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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History of Strength and Conditioning in Professional Baseball Part 3: Into the 90s – The Emergence of “Strength” in Baseball

Strength and conditioning emerged as a priority activity among Major League players in the late 1980s and early 1990s. You could see the change in player size and body structure in the clubhouse and on the field. More clubs were hiring strength and conditioning coaches and more clubhouses had weight rooms, some even for the visiting teams. These rooms were equipped with free weights, barbells and dumbbells. When it started, dumbbells went up to 50-pound sets, then to 70 and finally 100 pounds and guys were using them. This era also saw some players hiring personal trainers with backgrounds in bodybuilding and football, all emphasizing the use of heavier weights and prolonged workouts. The challenge for the strength and conditioning coach became how to separate what was needed to be successful in baseball from the muscle building programs that were being advocated by outside influences.

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History Strength and Conditioning in Professional Baseball Part 1: The Beginnings (1976-1980)

My first experience in strength training for professional baseball occurred in the spring of 1976. The minor league field coordinator for the Houston Astros had become a marathon runner. When the organization brought the top minor league prospects to Florida in September for an additional six weeks of Instructional League training, he had them run 5 miles per day for conditioning. His thinking was that if he could run 15 miles a day at age 40, a 20 year old should be able to run five. After 3 to 4 days, the players were so sore that they couldn’t practice. The organization had spent a lot of money to bring these kids into Florida but couldn’t do anything with them. The general manager, who had also become a distance runner, instructed the field coordinator to get some help from someone outside the organization. The field coordinator called one of his college instructors and he recommended me.

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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.

 

Speed-Strength Training Basics: Tips for All Athletes from All Sports

Introduction – The Truth about Getting Faster. It is common for people to think of elite sprinters as having the ‘natural’ gift of speed, and in many respects, this is true. Genetics are probably the most important determinant of sprinting potential. However, what many people don’t know is that it can take anywhere from five to ten years – or even longer – to develop a world class sprinter to his or her potential. Some of today’s top sprinters in the world are in their early- to mid-thirties, and still haven’t achieved the peak achievement of their career. This tendency for sprinters to develop late in their careers has important implications for athletes in other sports who want to improve on the sprinting capabilities.

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Jumping Rope in Baseball – Back to the Future

While strength and conditioning coaches are continually looking for the next cutting edge piece of equipment to give their athletes an advantage over their opponents, most already have a small, inexpensive, old fashioned, simple and effective, training device tucked away in the corner of the weight room or in the bottom of their traveling equipment box – the jump rope. Jump ropes have been around for decades and while they were originally used for warm-up and conditioning, current practice has shown them to be effective for 1) improving speed, agility, quickness, coordination; 2) helping reduce the risk of injury by increasing strength and ankle stability while working in a safe, controlled environment; and 3) (more…)

Off-Season Strength and Conditioning: Overview of the Professional Baseball Player

As the change of seasons is marked by changes in the weather, October marks professional baseball’s changing of seasons. For teams not in the play-offs or World Series, October signals the end of a 6-month competitive season and the start of a 4-5 month off-season depending on the level that you are competing at. The professional baseball season is a marathon. Major League teams play 162 games in approximately 180 games. Minor league teams play 142 games in approximately 160 days. There are only 20 off-days during a typical MLB season and half of these occur when the team is on the road and away from home. For MLB teams not involved in the play-offs, the off-season starts around the second week of October and 1 to 3 weeks later for play-off teams. It starts the first of September for minor leaguers whose teams fail to make the play-offs and those who don’t go to instructional league.  Minor league players involved in the (more…)