Thursday, December 10, 2015
Why Strength and Conditioning is Essential for the Modern American Baseball Player...
Here in the Midwest we are about to hit the fall sport season and high school football is about to "kick-off" and basketball/hockey seasons are just a few months away. It would seem that baseball would be the furthest thing from a young athletes mind right now.
Welcome to 2015 the era of sport specialization! Mother Nature used to limit our ability to play baseball during the late fall/winter but that’s not the case anymore. There is no shortage of facilities that cater to the needs of the baseball athlete. If an athlete wants to hit, throw or pitch during the winter they can do so under the expert tutelage of area hitting and pitching instructors.
I can opine until the cows come home that kids should take a break from year round sport participation but we can’t ignore the facts. Youth baseball is as competitive as ever and everyone is doing all they can to give themselves an edge.
I am not here to debate whether year round baseball is good or bad for developing young athletes… But if you truly have aspirations to be the best baseball player you can be you can’t ignore what happens as a result of this year round commitment to the sport.
I will circle back to the why but first allow me to introduce the what. Off-field strength and conditioning or Complete Baseball Performance (CBP) is essential for the modern baseball athlete!
As noted earlier everyone has access to expert baseball skill development through private/group pitching and hitting instruction. But there is a huge opportunity to set yourself apart with CBP. That’s because baseball players are an incredibly neglected population with respect to strength and conditioning.
Most training programs for young athletes are based off bodybuilding, football strength and conditioning or Cross-Fit. None of which are ideal, in fact they may do more harm than good.
A good baseball strength and conditioning program must address the unique demands of the sport. Baseball is a rotational sport with significant overhead activity with high velocity repetitive movements.
In fact throwing a baseball is the single fast motion in all of sport!
Humeral (upper arm bone) internal rotation velocity during throwing may reach 7500 to 7700 degrees per second.
And swinging a bat is not exactly a slow motion either…
During the baseball swing maximal hip rotational velocity reaches up to 714 degrees per second, where the pelvis rotates over a relatively fixed femur (thigh bone).
While qualities such as strength, speed and power are just as important in baseball as they are in other sports, it’s how you go about obtaining them that makes all the difference.
Now let’s get back to the why behind CBP. First from a performance perspective two key qualities must be enhanced through training:
Durability- this allows you to stay on the field, where you’ll have the continuity to develop your skills. If you’re always hurt or experiencing pain you won’t be able to stay on the field.
Athleticism- the better athlete you are the better things tend to “stick.” In other words the more fertile your athletic soil is the better the seeds your coaches’ plant will grow into something special!
There are also two other factors that necessitate CBP for the modern baseball player.
Sport Specialization- not only do you need CBP to counteract the demands of the sport, you’ll also need it to provide the diverse athletic stimulus that you’re missing out on by not playing other sports. This keeps your body fresh and increases your ability to adapt and develop elite level skill.
Athleticism is the foundation for sport specific skill; the more diverse and “deep” that foundation the better chances you’ll have to support high-level sport specific skill. If your foundation is to narrow it’s like trying to shoot a canon from a canoe! You’ll likely “sink” before you reach your potential.
Posture- due to modern technology kids are slouched and hunched over all day long leading to poor joint alignment and when you add on top of that extremely fast/one-sided/highly repetitive motions it can lead to significant muscle imbalances.
Start paying attention to how you stand at rest. Additionally, look around and notice how others stand at rest. I bet it looks a lot like the picture below (weight shifted into the right hip/low right shoulder/nipple, lower right hand, just to name the most obvious). This is something I see on extreme levels in some of our right-handed throwing athletes; they’re right handed people, in a unilateral sport, in a right-handed world!
Think of the poor alignment/posture as the athlete’s starting position. Their bodies have to work so hard just to play “catch up” (get the joints in position to execute the skill) it will likely lead to excessive stress on muscles, tendons, and ligaments in addition to the wear and tear on joint surfaces.
At least this will lead to poor timing and rhythm of hitting and pitching mechanics at worse it can lead to significant injuries to the shoulder, elbow, low back or hips.
Simply restoring alignment as close to neutral as possible could unlock significant gains in potential bat and running speed as well as throwing velocity.
Most strength and conditioning programs ignore this unique demand imposed upon the baseball athlete.
Baseball is an extremely fast sport and the one-sided nature and rotational demands require specific programming variables that simply aren’t addressed with Cross-Fit, Football based programs nor Stack.com.
The off-season is the ideal time to develop the body armor you’ll need to stay on the field and the athleticism that is necessary to develop elite level baseball skill.
Last week I spoke with my old friend Carlo Alvarez, Sport Performance Coordinator for MLB's Pittsburgh Pirates. There are two things from this conversation that I wanted to highlight.
First, Carlo told me that of the 40 athletes that the Pirates drafted this past June 39 had to be regressed from his basic conditioning program. He said they were a "mess" and lacked fundamental movement and general athleticism; they were not physically prepared for professional baseball. So essentially he had to take 39 kids that were skilled enough to be drafted and take them back to the basics (running, jumping, skipping, crawling...).
Secondly, the best athletes in America aren't playing baseball. 50% of the athletes in professional baseball were born outside of the U.S. Take a glance at the rosters of the 30 MLB teams and look at the starting shortstops... This is arguably the most athletically demanding position on the field and there are few American born athletes (7 out of 30 or 23%) playing that position at the MLB level.
What does all this mean? It tells me that there is a tremendous opportunity for those that make the commitment to improve their performance preparation and overall athleticism. If our best athletes don't play baseball then the kids that do choose the sport can make a huge leap by focusing on improving athleticism outside of baseball skill development. Further, skilled baseball players that are good enough to be drafted are grossly under-prepared for the demands of high-level baseball. This means athletes aren't doing the right things away from the field and they will likely stall out before reaching their potential.
The modern American baseball player spends plenty of time on skill development (possibly to much) and they are just as likely devoting time to speed and agility training and weight training that is not addressing their unique needs. It's pretty clear (by the numbers) that the current formula is flawed, it's simply not working! If we keep running into the wall maybe it's time to find another way to get around it...