Friday, December 23, 2011

More, More, More!!!

Happy everything!

It is that time of year when everyone thinks more is better. The kids need more cookies in the cookie jar. The kids keep asking for more stuff. There needs to be more food around for Christmas dinner. The kids love more gifts around Christmas. I won’t even mention what some people think they need more of on New Year’s Eve.

Athletics is the same way. The college bowl season started December 17th with the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl and ends January 9th with the BCS National Championship. (They are actually hosting a bowl game in Boise, Idaho –REALLY) Basketball had a 16 team postseason tournament back in the day. Now, 64 for teams were not enough, so we have a play in game. Apparently, they want even more than that.

Although, some country songs will say you can’t get enough of a good thing. It is this guy’s stance that more rehab is not always the best approach. It is one thing when an athlete sprains an ankle and it is the size of a watermelon. You can work on the swelling and ROM as soon as it is tolerated on a very consistent basis. Rest, ice, elevation, and compression. It’s another thing to have an athlete try to do 250 quad sets (contractions) one day after spraining the medial collateral ligament in their knee.

Generally speaking, athletes know what they need to play the game. They are not going to accept a therapist telling them to do something “just because I said so.” The same thing applies in the weight room and working with the strength and conditioning coach, the athlete is not going to load the bar on the back and do sets of 20 squats without any explanation. Training smarter, not harder is the approach that the athletes have now.
I may not be the smartest guy in the world, but it is not for the lack of effort. If you are giving an athlete an ice bag, educate them why. Explain the reasons behind certain exercises when you design a program. Be able to justify what you are doing to help this athlete get better. Training and rehabilitation is not comparable to the Coney Island hot dog eating contest. More, more, more, is not going to the job done, unlike eating way too many hot dogs.

Once again, happy holidays and safe travels.

Chris Ham, MSA, ATC, CES
Athletic Trainer
Vanderbilt University Baseball

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Track What You're Doing

The off-season is in full swing, and now is the time to get bigger and stronger. With this being said how are you tracking your progress, how do you know you are getting better and how do you know if your doing enough, or too much?

On the strength and conditioning side of a players development keeping track of progress is pretty easy. The player records the resistance being used and how many reps and sets he completes. If the player has some experience with resistance training, the player may also utilize percentages of maxes. The maxes can be estimated or actual. Determining which to use will usually be determined by the experience the athlete posses in resistance training. A player should be proficient in an exercise before attempting to do a maximum lift. If the player keeps track of the weight being used and challenges himself everyday, he should see progress in strength every few weeks. Not every movement will increase strength but expect some to. Tracking of this progress is also very motivating, getting stronger increases a player's motivation to improve and will increase confidence in his own abilities.

The principle of tracking can also be used for conditioning purposes. Knowing how far and how long it takes to complete drills is just as important for conditioning as resistance training. Knowing these stats can keep the player on track for increasing conditioning and speed of the athlete. We all want to know how fast a player is. But we also want to know how he adapts to conditioning and how much is enough to keep him in peak form before, during, and after the season.

Keeping track of your progress for performance factors is not a new idea. Getting into a routine and making sure you record your progress is a habit that will pay off in confidence as well as increased performance. Recording even your skill sessions will help increase your performance and become more effective in practice sessions. For the last few years I have been working with many players that record everything, and when I say everything I mean everything. They record every swing with a bat, what they were working on, and how successful the session was. They record every ground ball, every throw in practice and special workout sessions. We chart this progress to increase the player’s performance; we know exactly how much work they have done each week. This allows us to increase or decrease special practice time based on the target reps and sets of specific skills. We enter each week knowing what we need to accomplish and then get it done in an organized and effective manner.

To help players and coaches, a few sample record sheets have been posted on the website. These sheets can be printed and used, or serve as a design for your own. Remember if you want to know where you are, you have to know where you have been.
Go to the Training Resources Page.

Brian Niswender MA,CSCS

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Pay It Forward

Perhaps it's a little late, but it's worth noting that November was "Inspirational Role Models Month". As I am sitting here contemplating what topic to discuss with you this week, it is no coincidence to me that the Thanksgiving holiday is also in November. In the past couple of months my career has taken another step and of course, I am very thankful for this. But it got me thinking about those who have been very influential to me in my journey and how I attempt and have attempted to pay it forward as I continue.

It goes without saying that my parents have been big influences and role models to me. However, I don't want to turn this article into a mushy dedication. What I would like to do is take you through a somewhat abbreviated tour of how I got to my current place and talk about those who have guided me professionally.

My journey began in high school. I'm not quite sure exactly how I got into it. Perhaps it was because I was a high school athlete who saw the benefits and needs of being in top physical shape to perform my sport and stay healthy. At that time, I worked at a health club which allowed me to trade out my services in exchange for the personal sport coaching that I needed, use of the facility for practice, and eventually personal training and conditioning services. At first, I helped teach group sport lessons and manned the phones and appointment books in the fitness center. Then, I gradually progressed into assisting the fitness professionals and performing personal fitness evaluations. I'm sure it was here that I really began to develop my interest in the fields of sports medicine and sports performance. By my senior year, I had the opportunity to get involved with a personal training and consulting company that, while they made their money on the typical fitness / weight management client, really emphasized the training and conditioning of athletes in the area where I lived. As luck would have it, the company rented a small office at the club and used the fitness center area to train their clients. The owner/president of the company was a man named John Philbin. At the time, he had worked with the Washington Redskins and was currently the Head Coach / Strength and Conditioning Coach for the USA Bobsled Team. He allowed me to shadow him and his staff. They took me completely under their wing and as time went on, I began to be involved much more than just shadowing. It was here that my love for this profession began and grew much more than "What kind of job do I want when I grow up?" It became a passion.

Once I entered college, I was just as determined to learn more about the field. At the time, there were a handful of curriculum education programs. However, the dominant mode of education was the internship or work-study program for athletic trainers. I was relentless. I turned in a resume for application in both the university's athletic weight room and the training room. And for the first month I was on campus, I contacted or visited them almost daily. I was granted a student position in both the weight room and athletic training room. For the remainder of the school year, I proceded to attend class and work. I remember spending an ungodly amount of time at the athletic complex. Needless to say with the stresses of school (obviously there are many adjustments to make your first time away at school) and the stresses of a job, my grades suffered. My superiors in the weight room and athletic training room sent me home for the summer after my freshman year with a decision to make. Having spent the summer returning to my previous mentors from high school, I felt that I had acquired a fairly good background in the strength and conditioning arena. When I returned to school for my second year, I devoted my attention to the sports medicine side. Over the course of the next few years, I was blessed to be taught and mentored by several graduate assistants who came from a variety of backgrounds. As graduate students, they too had very stressful school demands. Yet, they took the time to organize a make shift athletic training curriculum for the student athletic trainers. A couple even went above and beyond to make sure that those of us who were serious about continuing on in the profession received extra attention and mentoring. It was through these young professionals that I really began to see the benefits of a wide range of experiences and began to develop my own philosophy of training.

In the real world (after school), you find mentors everywhere. I've found that the further along I've come to learn that all of my colleagues and co-workers are mentors. Everyone has a different background and set of experiences. It's up to us to take what we can learn from each other, blend what we like and can use, and discard the rest. (Yet, it's important to keep the discarded in the back of your mind - you never know when it might be useful.) This is how we continue to grow, adapt, and mold our professional philosophies. Over the years, I have again been blessed to find individuals and small groups that share my passion. These people have allowed me to continue to enjoy what I do and fuel my desire to get better at it.

How do I pay this type of inspiration forward?

1. Throughout my career I have had the pleasure of corresponding with high school students who are interested in the sports medicine / performance professions. I am always willing to share my story. As an athletic trainer performing high school outreach, I mentored several students and eventually worked with the Health Occupations teacher at the school to develop a pilot High School Sports Medicine Curriculum and team taught this class with the Health Occupations teacher for 2 years.

2. Once I completed my undergraduate degree and became a graduate assistant myself, I made sure that the student athletic trainers that I helped to supervise had the same time of support and learning environment that was provided to me. As the university was looking to maybe one day add an athletic training curriculum and added some of the necessary course work to the catelog, I took it upon myself to help create a clinical learning environment in the athletic training room. We created a clinical competencies program and tried to establish more student oriented learning environment each week when the physicians were around to see injured athletes.

3. Later in my professional career, I have searched for opportunities to present / speak at various conferences and meetings. I try and instigate or spur on informal discussions with individuals / small groups about relevent topics. I have hosted interns. And, it is this desire to "pay it forward" that has led me to co-found's web and blog sites.

I know that I have mentioned it before in my blogs, but one mentor of mine in particular - Dr. Jack Hughston - used to say, "If you're green, your still growing. If you're ripe, you're next to rotten." We should never stop trying to learn, grow, and pay it forward.

We should all stop for a moment, take a look at the path we've taken to get to where we are, and remember those who have helped us get there. Then, just as it was important for us to absorb what those mentors taught us, it is important for us to become mentors ourselves and "Pay It Forward". It is only then that we can continue to grow our professions and fuel the fire of those future professionals and leaders.

David Yeager, ATC, CSCS

Monday, November 21, 2011

Using The Off-Season For Professional Growth

The professional baseball job market has been a focus in the media since the 2011 season ended. Similar to those in the MLB free agent pool, many MiLB strength and conditioning coaches are goal setting in hope of career advancement within a competitive field. Common year-end goals for MiLB strength and conditioning coaches include:

- Obtaining a full-time position with benefits
- Getting promoted in level (i.e. Rookie, Single-A, Double-A, Triple-A, MLB)
- Receiving raises in salary, live-out stipends, and meal money per diem
- Becoming a Minor League Strength and Conditioning Coordinator

With career goals in mind, improving your stock within an organization relies upon your ability to perform your job well. The off-season is an ideal time for adding to your skill set. Being proactive towards education and preparation is an effective way to focus on career variables which are in your control.

Continuing Education

The NSCA requires professionals to maintain and report CEU’s every 3 years, which provides added motivation to sign up for a conference or seminar each off-season. Conferences cover a variety of topics, for those wanting to see what has been occurring elsewhere in the field. Whereas, seminars are often focused on a single topic or specialty. Networking can be an added benefit of attending professional meetings.

Learn and apply a new skill or specialty every off-season. Why would anyone ever promote someone who isn’t willing to advance their knowledge?

Program Evaluation

It is important to reflect back on the previous year and determine what went well and what did not. Was there a program or circuit you relied on more heavily than others because it just seemed to work well in the baseball day? Identify that program and use the reasons for its success to develop further tools. Also, did any strength and conditioning coaches in your league use exercises that could be a complement to one of your programs?

Be a good self-evaluator. Make the most of your strengths and resources. Identify and improve upon your weaknesses.


There is an attitude in professional baseball that because of the rigors of playing every day, the ability to put together a structured strength and conditioning program is limited. Although off-days, rain-outs, day games, fatigue, and injuries can make scheduling in-season training a challenge, the more prepared routines you have ready for the variety of situations that occur, the more comfortable you will be when the situation dictates you need to adjust the schedule on-the-fly. If you have a gym routine you like, ask yourself, what will I do to complete this on the field and/or without equipment available?

Anyone can improvise a routine arbitrarily. The more prepared coach can improvise while remaining goal-oriented, sport-specific, and focused on individual training needs.

Thanks for reading.

Eric McMahon, MEd, RSCC
Minor League Strength and Conditioning Coach
Texas Rangers

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Game 6

If you did not see it, you probably have heard about it. Game 6 of the 2011 World Series was one that will be remembered for a long time. I was one of the fortunate to be there in person.

As a fan of the game, the first seven innings were horrible. The Cardinals had just as many errors as they did hits. They actually looked like little leaguers, dropping fly balls, throwing the ball around everywhere, and lack of communication. After that, everyone decided to show up and play. It was a roller coaster ride of emotions. The air was sucked out of the stadium when the Rangers hit back-to-back homeruns and later demoralized the fans when they tacked on another run an inning later. So much so, the season ticket holders sitting next to me left in the 7th inning (how on earth do you leave a deciding game of the World Series). Personally I was glad. They had nothing positive to say the entire ballgame. They hated the outfielder that dropped the ball. They hated the third baseman that dropped a routine pop fly (who by the way, was electric at the plate the entire postseason) and they swore at the pitcher that didn’t get the lead runner on a bunt play.

How many Cardinal fans were swearing at the outfielder when the ball dropped between he and the shortstop?

Have you ever played the game and yelled at a pitcher to throw a strike? Or scream at the catcher from the outfield to block the ball?

I can go out on a limb and say that the Rangers player did not purposely let that fly ball go over his head and hit the wall. I am pretty confident the Cardinal INF and OF did not miss those balls on purpose. The Cardinal’s catcher did not just let that ball go by him and let a runner move up.

Here is my challenge to you:
Invest in your teammates. I am very fortunate to still get to see this at the level that I work. They are still invested in the outcome of the team just as much as how they perform individually. Your individual success will help the success of your team. If your teammate misses a groundball that could have been a routine double play, but still gets a runner out – tell him nice stop. If your pitcher is struggling to find the strike zone – words of encouragement go much farther than you screaming at him to just throw strikes and kicking the dirt around.
Emotions can get the best of a person in a competitive situation. The really good ones are invested in their teammates and don’t show them up on the field.

Tying into what Brian said last week – watch yourself. Watch yourself, physically and emotionally. I am talking about your body language and your communication.

Chris Ham, MSA, ATC, CES
Athletic Trainer
Vanderbilt University Baseball

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Watch Yourself

Have you ever watched yourself on video? This can be a very helpful tool in understanding yourself as a baseball player. Video has been used in baseball for decades to break the game and the player down. This tool has been usually used by only professional coaches, but don’t be afraid of taking a look at yourself. When viewing your video go in prepared. Take the instructions that your instructor or coach have been passing on and check yourself out. Be critical, this is the time to do it. Be honest with yourself, and take what you see and transfer it to the field.

Brian Niswender

Thursday, October 13, 2011


People often ask me, “How do I make healthy changes in my diet?” Well, easier said than done, right?

Our daily lives are filled with habits. Your eating and exercise habits determine, to a large degree, how healthy you are and how you perform on any given day. Habits are formed by repetition and some studies suggest you need to do a new habit at least 21 times before the habit becomes automatic.

Changing habits is not that complicated, but the secret is in the simplicity. Focus on changing one habit at a time and write down your plan and what you are going to do to make that happen. Start small. Set your habit change goal and then think through the action steps needed to help you reach it. For instance, if your new habit is to eat more fruit during the off season, then break down the steps you are going to take to achieve that. The devil is in the details. The action steps you might decide on to be successful at eating more fruit are:
1) Buy it at the store;
2) Identify when you are going to eat it; and
3) Decide on how much fruit you are going to aim for in a day and be specific in the amount or daily servings. (Like no less than 2 or 3 1 cup servings each day) And then determine a time frame to practice the new habit and repeat it daily to make it automatic.

Be realistic when setting out to change a habit by considering what is important to you and what is going to help you reach, for instance, your nutrition goals in the off season. Know the benefits you will be gaining from making the change—it helps stay motivated and focused on the prize!

It’s also helpful to think through the barriers you face in making this change or maybe what has stopped you in the past from making the change stick. Decide how you are going to work through these obstacles before you encounter them.

Stay positive and ask for help in forming your new habit. We all need support when doing things differently----maybe a buddy system to hold you accountable. Be patient with the process and you will be successful in making habit changes that last.

In the words of Aristotle, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

Is there a new eating habit or nutrition goal that you are working on right now?

Kim Larson, RD, CD
Total Health
Sports Nutrition Consultant

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Long Toss

This week, I have decided to post a question and my response from a recent forum post discussion that I was involved in. Feel free to comment and keep the discussion going.

Proposed question / topic: "What is a good way to throw long toss? I've heard many different things. I'm specifically asking whether or not to throw rainbows or line drives once you get to long distances but if anyone has anything to add on the subject, feel free to add in."

My response: "In a nut shell, my philosophy is line drives. Biomechanical research indicates that the rainbow delivery does not mimic the normal delivery and place undue stress on the shoulder and elbow joints. Long toss needs to be viewed as high intensity exercise. When an athlete is in the weight room and working out for power and strength, he will typically perform high weight / low repetition training (i.e. 3-6 reps). I believe that a long toss program should follow this same model. Once the player gets loose, he should gradually progress back performing 3-6 throws at each distance until he can no longer maintain the ball on a line or at the very least 1-hop the ball to his partner. Also, since this is a high intensity activity, care should be taken to monitor the number of times per week this is done. During the off-season a maximum of 3-times per week is appropriate. However, during the pre-season (once bullpen sessions become more frequent) and in-season, a maximum of 2-times per week may be more appropriate depending on the pitcher's outing frequency and workload."

Below is a link to an article at that addresses throwing programs:

The Throwing Conditioning Program

David Yeager, ATC, CSCS

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Take A Moment

Why do playoff games take so long? Why to Yankee vs. Red Sox games take so long? The answer is the title of this article…Take A Moment.

The casual baseball fan gets frustrated with the down time during the game, like the time between pitches. For the more intense fan, the time between pitches can be the most interesting. Notice what the players do between pitches. Do they change their routine? Do they take more or less time? In pressure situations, like the playoffs of a Yankee vs. Red Sox game, the time between pitches increases. Why? The pitcher and hitter need to take a moment.

This moment allows the players a chance to process all of the distractions and get down to what matters, the execution of the play. The distractions increase as the pressure increases. Examples include: more crowd noise, colder weather, knowing the importance of each play, and more detailed scouting reports.

What can you learn from this? When pressure comes, take a moment. Use it to take a deep breath or focus on something small. Use a pressure moment to learn how to gather your thoughts when you need them most. No matter what the outcome, if you can gather your thoughts you are on the way to a solid mental approach.

Matt Krug, MA
Sport Psychology Consultant

Monday, September 19, 2011

End of Season Training Strategies

With the playoffs upon us in the Minor Leagues, our role as strength and conditioning coaches changes from earlier in the season. Just as marathon runners and elite weightlifters taper training volume in preparing for competition, steps should be taken to ensure the optimal performance of baseball players when winning matters most.

Two goals for end-of-the-season training are:

(1) Maintain or improve the team energy level into September; and
(2) Be proactive towards overuse injuries which can cause players to miss time.

Maintaining the Team Energy Level

One misconception is that baseball is not a taxing sport on its athletes. With only 5-10 days off over a 140 game regular season, fatigue is a major factor during August and September. A 6-month in-season period is too long to be a single training phase. Therefore, the traditional model of “in-season vs. off-season” training does not apply in professional baseball.

Using a tapered volume approach allows players to maintain their energy level to perform with high intensity late in the year. The chart below shows some examples of how volume can be tapered as the season progresses.

Examples of Tapered Volume:
Strength Training Frequency
Early Season = 2 Total Body/wk
Mid-Season = 1.5 Total Body/wk
Late Season = 1 Upper & 1 Lower/wk
Core Lift Repetition Volume
Early Season = 4x 8,6,4,4
Mid-Season = 4x 7,5,3,3
Late Season = 4x 6,4,2,2
Assistance Lift Rep Volume
Early Season = 2-3 x 10
Mid-Season = 2-3 x 8
Late Season = 2 x 6-8
Sprint Pole Interval Volume
Early Season = 10x Poles (2000y)
Mid-Season = 8x Poles (1600y)
Late Season = 6x Poles (1200y)
Sprint Workout Volume
Early Season = 10 x 60y (600y)
Mid-Season = 10 x 45y (450y)
Late Season = 10 x 30y (300y)

The psychological stresses of professional baseball’s schedule mimic an endurance sport, consisting of high volume training ‒ fieldwork, batting practice, throwing, strength and conditioning sessions, and games. The limited time for recovery and sleep, due to night games and travel, requires that coaches be tactful in planning workouts around baseball activity, promote restful sleep habits, and encourage adequate nutrition.

Preventing Overuse Injuries

In the final month of the season, breakdown must be avoided at all cost. The focus shifts from encouraging players to challenge themselves with strength and conditioning sessions to maintaining consistency in corrective exercise and tissue maintenance programs (areas players should keep up with all season). Any workouts during this phase should be volume controlled and not for the purpose of being metabolically taxing.

The following are examples of common end-of-the-year ailments and prevention strategies:

• Aches, Pains, and General Tightness occur when the tissues of the body are placed under frequent stress from activity. Using a rolling device should be a daily occurrence to prevent the buildup of adhesions within the muscular and connective tissues and improve mobility. Contrast bathing is another common strategy to regenerate the tissues of the body.

• Hip and Low Back Pain are common late in the season. Ankle band (mini-bands) walks, quadruped hip mobilities, and glute bridging exercises are low intensity enough to incorporate in the daily team warm-up, and, through activating the glutes, will protect the muscles of the low back from being over-stressed during movement. Athletes with hip flexor tightness and an anterior pelvic tilt are more prone to low back pain.

• Oblique and Intercostal injuries in baseball are most often exposed during the rotational movements of throwing or hitting. Performing multi-planar torso rotations in the daily team warm-up and in medicine ball core routines is an effective strategy to prepare the trunk for rotation. Trunk rotations while pivoting the back foot create a similar range of motion to throwing and hitting.

• Shoulder Pain can most often be avoided through strengthening the rotator cuff and improving scapular control. Shoulder tubing routines and prone body weight scapular stability exercises are efficient and can be performed in the weightroom, training room, or team warm-up.

Other aches and pains do arise throughout the year. However, a focus on players’ most mobile joints, the hips, trunk, and shoulders, will provide a solid injury prevention approach for a team program.

Eric McMahon, MEd, RSCC
Minor League Strength and Conditioning Coach
Texas Rangers

Monday, September 5, 2011

Breaking The Body Down

Working Smarter, NOT harder.

I am not going to lecture on Crossfit Training, mixed martial arts training, or any other kind of training that you can think of that absolutely can leave an athlete hanging on their knees.

Everyone wants to work smarter, not harder. The body is no different. The body will take the path of least resistance or pain. If the body does this too long, it will develop a movement deficiency. I am going to break the body down into segment s. A joint should be either mobile or stable. If a mobile joint acts as if it is stable, the body is not going to move efficiently. As well as a stable joint that becomes mobile, more serious issues will occur.

Joint by joint from the ground up (unless you are gifted enough to walk on your hands):

Ankle – Mobile
Knee – Stable
Hips – Mobile
Low Back (Lumbar Spine) – Stable
Thoracic Spine – Mobile
Scapular – (Stable - relatively)
Shoulder – Mobile
Elbow – Stable
Wrist – Mobile

Just taking a quick look at the list you will notice that over other joint is mobile. Having adequate mobility in these joints will allow for the body to move more efficiently. When it comes to throwing and hitting a baseball, moving efficiently can aid in the longevity of an athlete.

If the scapula is not stable, then the rotator cuff will not function properly (the rotator cuff comes off the scapula). If the shoulder is not mobile, it won’t be able to handle the demands that are placed on it during the late cocking and acceleration phases of throwing. I could go on and on how one joint can have a negative effect on another.

As an athlete you want to get the most out of your body. It is your own responsibility to know what your body is intended to do or not to do. When your body is not in line with its design, there are reasons for concern. Bottom line, know your body and how it should operate. If you know how it works and shouldn’t work, then you will know when to be concerned.

Chris Ham, MSA, ATC, CES
Athletic Trainer
Vanderbilt University Baseball

Monday, August 29, 2011

Center of Mass in Hitting

I continue to hear arguments to where the weight of a player should be when they hit a baseball, is it out front is it back. The problem as I see it is not where it is from a philosophical stand point but from a scientific stand point. Can we determine where the weight should be based on biomechanics? Let’s take a look at a picture.

I made a few dots to look at an approximate location of the center of mass, they are in orange. The first dot is where the COM basically started and just after the point of impact the COM has moved back. So the COM is behind the front foot, but the majority of the player’s weight is being supported by the front foot as seen in the picture. So here is the contradiction that gets a lot of coaches and players. We want our weight back, but want it on our front foot. This is where a biomechanical explanation can help. In human movement the center of mass

ybe outside the players body and just because the weight of the player is supported by an arm or leg does not mean that is where the weight really lies. I hope that didn’t muddy the water. Just look at the picture, and then take a look at a few more pictures and in the majority of players that are at an elite level you will notice a trend. The trend will be that the COM is behind the front foot, no matter the distribution of the weight in the feet. Teaching a hitter how to control their Center of Mass both in the Performance Training Arena as well as while performing skills will increase the player’s awareness in space and increase cross over to the field.
I have included a variation of an exercise that is highly COM demanding that can increase a player’s power for hitting and lateral movement. The variation is a speed skater movement added to a lateral box hop. As you can see from the picture the players COM is probably outside the body, the weight is on one foot and moving in a lateral direction. If the players weight gets over the foot or drifts over the foot the player looses balance, just like in hitting a baseball. If the player drifts the player in most cases cant stay balanced which decreases his chances to hit.

Have fun with the exercise and take a look at those pictures and start looking at it from a scientific position and many times the problem will take care of it self.

Brian Niswender MA
Co-Founder Baseball Strength Coaching .com

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Ingredient Caution: What You Don’t Know Could Hurt You

Recently two elite level athletes tested positive for Methylhexaneamine, (Former American 100 Meter champion Michael Rodgers and Robert Kendrick, American tennis player) a stimulant that is now being put in energy drinks and energy pills for its amphetamine-like affects. 1, 2 Dimethylpentylamine or DMAA, is a potentially dangerous supplement ingredient that comes from a well-known flower---the geranium. The active form of geranium is a potent stimulant that can cause serious health effects like heart palpitations, increased blood pressure and possible heart attacks. It acts similar to ephedra, (now banned) another stimulant partly responsible for the sudden death of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler in 2003, from heat stroke.

Last year the World Anti Doping Agency added Geranimine to its list of banned substances. Geranimine gives an adrenaline “rush” that lasts 3-5 hours. Next generation energy drinks (one named Clear Shot) and other dietary supplements like “fat burners” (AMP by E-Pharm) that are marketed to increase concentration and performance, contain this stimulant---often listed as geranium seed or stems on the label. Some energy pills and “party pills” also contain the stimulant and added caffeine, as well. Most of the products out there combine it with caffeine to produce a stacking effect that can potentially be lethal in certain situations. In high temperatures or heat indexes, the dehydrating effect of this combination could have serious health effects for an athlete.

The average high school or collegiate athlete, or any consumer for that matter, would have no idea that this ingredient is powerful and dangerous----especially when taken with alcohol or other prescription drugs. Coaches and trainers working with athletes need to ask athletes on a regular basis what supplements they are taking---or considering taking----and caution them on taking anything that advertises more energy, fat burning or better performance. The safest and most effective way to improve health, energy and performance is via whole fresh foods. And more enjoyable, too!

Kim Larson, RD, CD
Total Health
Sports Nutrition Consultant

Monday, August 15, 2011

Minimizing the Risk of Injury in Little League Players

It’s that special time of the summer again when young players flock to Williamsport, Pennsylvania in search of the Little League World Series Championship. Watching the games on television, you can’t help but notice the young pitchers and pay attention to how many pitches they throw and the types of pitches they throw. At the youth level, it seems that the pitchers who excel are the ones who are able to learn to throw a breaking ball. At that age, it is difficult for the hitter to recognize and hit that pitch. So, often the pitcher uses the curveball or slider frequently. Recently, in the media, there has been a lot of discussion regarding overuse injuries of the youth pitcher. The conventional wisdom was that throwing the curveball at too early an age would lead to injury in the young pitcher. However, research done by several authors in the past couple of years contradicts that idea.

A couple of studies done by The American Sports Medicine Institute (Birmingham, AL) and Connecticut Children’s Medical Center (Farmington, CT) were done to evaluate and compare the biomechanical differences between the fastball, curveball, and change-up pitches. Both studies demonstrated that the stresses to the shoulder and elbow joint were greatest when throwing a fastball as compared to the other types of pitches. The authors concluded that throwing the curveball may not be responsible for the rising injury toll in young pitchers.

So, if it’s not the type of pitch, then what is responsible for what seems like an epidemic of shoulder and elbow injuries in the young baseball athlete? The answer, yet again, may come from research done at ASMI in Birmingham, Alabama. Three main risk factors seem to be more responsible for contributing to a young pitcher’s development of pain and injury: Improper Mechanics, Fatigue, and Overuse.

Improper Mechanics

I’ve wrote about this area in many of my articles and blogs, but it bears repeating again. The overhead pitching motion is a fine-tuned sequence of movements in body segments originating from the lower extremities and pelvis, progressing through the trunk, and culminating in the smaller, less powerful upper extremity structures. The better and more efficient the thrower’s mechanics, the better the chances of reducing stresses on the shoulder and elbow. Mechanical faults that alter the timing of the sequencing of events or place the body in an improper position can result in increased upper extremity forces and torques. These increases in joint stresses can lead to an increase in subsequent risk of injury. Even though the curveball, by evidence of research, is less stress full on the elbow and shoulder than the fastball, the pitch should still be taught by a qualified pitching instructor. Too often, a volunteer coach or parent attempts to introduce the breaking ball to a young pitcher. Without proper knowledge of the pitching motion and the specific grips and key teaching points, the athlete may learn incorrect technique which may surely elevate his risk of potential problems.


The ASMI study notes that young athletes who pitch with arm fatigue or throw more than 85 pitches per game are more likely to require elbow surgery. Younger, less experienced pitchers are unable to maintain their accuracy or level of performance as they become fatigued. The fine-tuned chain of events necessary to execute the throwing motion is altered and creates timing delays and compensations in movement and muscle activation patterns which may ultimately result in an increased risk of injury. Fortunately, many youth baseball programs have adopted limits on pitch counts per outing and mandated specific lengths of rest prior to returning to the mound.


Along with the number of pitches per outing, the length of a young player’s “season” also impacts his risk of potential shoulder or elbow injury. Adolescents who pitch more than 8 months out of the year are also several more times likely to require arm surgery. 8 months out of the year?! This seems absurd to me. The Major League Regular Season is only 7 months long and these are mature, seasoned, developed, and conditioned pitchers. If you enjoy playing baseball, that is fantastic! It is a great game. But as a youngster, go out and play other sports too. Learn how to move, run, cut, jump. Develop your overall athleticism. As you get older, then you can begin to focus on a sport that best suits your talents. If it’s baseball and pitching, then having a better foundation of athleticism can only help you.

The moral of the story is that if your son is going to throw the curveball, he should learn how to throw it correctly. It is important to learn how to identify when he is beginning to tire and be sure to allow for adequate rest and recovery between outings. Finally, avoid overuse by allowing your young player to become a multi-sport athlete. This will allow the body physically and mentally rest from the repetitive stresses of baseball and help to develop a better physical foundation for athletic performance.

David Yeager, ATC, CSCS

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Approaches to Core Training

As an incoming college freshman, I was sent a manual through the mail with my football team’s workouts for the summer ahead. The manual was about 75 pages of mostly strength routines and information about the testing we would undergo once we arrived for pre-season training camp. The only core routines were hand-jotted at the bottom of the typed lifting program sheets, on a single line reading, “Abs: 250 reps”. Even at 18 years old, with no formal training in exercise, I remember thinking... Gosh, there’s got to be more to it than that!

What Are the Goals of Core Training?

As with every area of strength and conditioning, the common answer, “To Enhance Performance, and Prevent Injury” applies here. A performance goal of core training is to strengthen and support the middle of the body for improved coordination of the body as a whole. Many coaches aim to prevent injury by adding support to the mid-section’s structural beam, the lumbar spine, by using draw-in and bracing techniques, emphasizing stability exercises (i.e. planks), and ensuring that training does not compromise the natural anatomical arch of the low back. Other considerations may include improving hip mobility or scapulothoracic stability, depending upon how broadly the core is defined in your program.

A Movement Balanced Approach

This approach is about being anatomically balanced in all movement planes. Historically, exercise menus of various sit-ups, crunches, and twists have focused on building the endurance of the abdominal and oblique muscles. The erector spine, quadratus lumborum, and transverse abdominis, for example, have been more often neglected by traditional core routines. There are a few ways to create balanced core routines, either by incorporating all movements of the torso into each core program, or by equally dividing the movements throughout the training week. Here is a list of core movements to build exercise menus upon:

o Flexion: (e.g. Sit-Ups)
o Extension: (e.g. Superman)
o Lateral Flexion and Extension: (e.g. Side Plank Hip Lift)
o Rotation: (e.g. Medicine Ball Side Tosses)
o Low Back Support: (e.g. Supine Dead Bug Progressions)
o Hip Mobility: (e.g. Quadruped Hip Abduction)
o Scapulothoracic Stability: (e.g. Front Plank Scapula Pinch)

The goal is to diversify the types of core exercises being performed, as no one method of core training has been deemed most beneficial in scientific literature.

Rotational Core Training:

There are two predominant approaches to rotational core training: (1) Rotational Power-Endurance, and (2) Anti-Rotation. Rotational power-endurance exercises are dynamic in nature and most often include twisting movements using resistance. Some examples include medicine ball (MB) side tosses, MB standing torso rotations, “Russian twists”, and supine “knee-up” low trunk rotations.

Anti-rotation, or rotational stability, exercises include stability movements of the torso against rotational forces created from the momentum of the limbs. Common examples include, Grey Cook’s kneeling chop and lift exercises (from his menu of FMS corrective exercises), Convertaball twists, cable core presses, and Keiser push-pulls combinations.

What’s the difference… Rotation vs. Anti-Rotation? Rotational exercises train the concentric and eccentric nature of the twisting torso, while anti-rotation exercises are focused at stabilizing the rotation of the spine to best maintain the upright posture of the body. For example, there are anti-rotational elements to many functional single limb weightroom exercises (i.e. one-leg squats or deadlifts, lunges, one-arm presses, etc.). While rotational power-endurance exercises (i.e. MB throws) are excellent to develop rotational range of motion and explosiveness, developing anti-rotational stability should first be addressed to ensure the body can handle the force production of repetitive twisting.

Eric McMahon, M.Ed., RSCC
Minor League Strength and Conditioning Coach
Texas Rangers

Sunday, July 24, 2011

It Is Brutal Hot Outside Right Now!

Just a Friendly Reminder. . .

It is brutal hot outside right now.

CNN reports that the “heat index values” – how it feels outside – have been running over 125 degrees Fahrenheit in the worst areas. The heat index scale is designed to describe how intense heat feels, which includes factors such as humidity.

In working multiple camps this summer – the athletes have not been prepared for this heat. Most of you have already heard all of this, but now would be a nice time for a friendly reminder. As the athletic trainer for these camps, I am not nearly as active as the athletes. However, each day I have easily taken down a gallon of water and a few cups of some sports drink.

Here are some examples of stories that I have heard over the camps:

- Have you drank enough today? “I drank a lot of water. Two or three cups.”

- When’s the last time you have used the bathroom? “”First thing this morning.”

- Have you eaten anything? “I had a couple bananas.”

These are never good signs when it is six o’clock in the evening and people start cramping up during activity.

These are just a few symptoms for dehydration:

- Headache
- Fatigue
- Nausea
- Dizziness
- Decreases bathroom breaks
- Decreased sweating

If your body is telling you it is thirsty, you are already a little behind when it comes to hydration. Another great way to check your hydration levels is to check the color of your urine. Yes, it sounds pretty nasty, but it is an excellent way to take a quick measure of your hydration levels.

If your urine is pale like lemonade, that’s a sign of proper hydration. If it’s dark like apple sauce, you need more fluids. With proper hydration and a sound diet, most of the time, you will be in good shape.
Use a water bottle that you brought to be your guide through the process. For example – I carry around a half gallon container (yes I get made fun of) throughout the day. It serves as my reference for that days H20 intake. Plus, I would not always bank on water being in the dugout for every game in the summer.

This is information that you should have heard before this point in time. However, each year around this time, the athletes tend to struggle and need a little refresher.

Enjoy what is left of your summer and stay cool.

Chris Ham, MSA, ATC, CES
Athletic Trainer
Vanderbilt University Baseball

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Get out of the way

Are we getting in the way of true baseball performance training? I have read some very interesting commentaries on some exercises lately and have noticed some teams going to a very none aggressive styles of training, which leads to a very detuned baseball player. Why are we going down these roads? I have been in contact with many baseball strength and conditioning coaches that make comments like, most of the program is prehab, and very basic, but the reason is the funny part. As an organization we don’t want to be doing stuff that can potentially hurt a player. I’m sorry, do we need to wrap these men in bubble rap and play on a marshmallow field. I remember one coach that had a player, a very high prospect, which had a bit of a weight issue. As a pitcher he was progressing, but the teams had figured out that he could not get his big butt off the mound to field a ball, and so started bunting every inning. The strength coach involved started working with the player on basic agility drills and for the few weeks the player had lost a few pounds and gained a little quickness. This came to a halt when the field director attended a game and observed the activities. As he put it, we don’t want to risk him spraining an ankle or something, he just needs to do the basic stuff. REALLY, come on, bubble wrap! How about, can we bench, should we bench as baseball players, and again the funny part is the explanation I get every time I hear this comment. If we take the bar to the chest it puts to much strain on the shoulder, and this same coach will take a player put him in an incline and drop the arms and dumbbells past chest level. Do we not understand some basic mechanics? Just because it is a dumbbell doesn’t mean its ok to do anything we want. Come on, can we stop nit picking on little things that might have happened to one player out of a 1000. Lets get to the nuts and bolts, are the players really getting better or are we getting in the way of true progress and record breaking players (with out enhancement). I pose this to every baseball strength coach out there lets make sure we are not in the way!!!!!!

Brian Niswender
Co Founder

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Just when you think you have seen everything the food and drink industry comes up with one more over the top angle to sell their products---no matter what the health cost to the consumer.

Recently the market has been flooded with new drinks and dessert products laced with melatonin—a drug used to induce sleep. You can find it in numerous products like drinks with names like, Dream Water, I Chill, Relax Zen and Drank. These are the anti-energy drinks that are touted to help you relax and, yes, lead you to slumber land quickly. Other companies are getting a piece of the action by putting melatonin in brownies and desserts called, Lazy Cakes, Mary J’s Brownies, Lulla Pies and Kush Cakes. Sold on-line and in stores like 7-11, Walgreens and university bookstores these harmless looking products are not harmless at all---they can have serious effects on those who are tempted to eat or drink them.

Melatonin is a drug and it should not be used in foods or drinks. Melatonin, prescribed in controlled, therapeutic doses can aid sleep effectively, but putting a drug (which is also a hormone) in food products crosses the line, in my opinion. These companies are getting away with this right now because they have put it in desserts and drinks and classified them as dietary supplements, which are not regulated by the FDA. Melatonin has not been approved by the FDA as a food additive so it is neither guaranteed safe, nor effective, in this usage. Bad idea!

This is especially concerning because these products tempt kids who may not even realize or know what they are buying or how it might affect them. One story I read on the web reported a young athlete having this brownie and being unable to go to practice after eating it because he became so sleepy and lethargic. Other reports indicate small amounts of Dream Water, 2.5 ounces is so powerful it can knock a person out cold and cause a “hangover” effect when doses are higher. This sleep-inducing effect can be dangerous to those getting behind the wheel of a car or operating machinery, as well as for athletes headed for training, practice and games. The best approach is to steer clear of these products and be aware of what they look like on the store shelves---they are not your grandma’s brownies!

Putting drugs in food and drinks that taste good promotes overconsumption, which may lead to overdosing of the product and serious consequences for those who consume them. Reading the label is not the answer since these products deliberately disguise the ingredients and make label reading difficult for the consumer. In my view, it’s not reasonable or logical to ask the consumer to police every food or drink on the market to make sure they aren’t containing random drugs, like melatonin. What ever happened to food safety?

Kim Larson, RD
Sports Nutrition Consultant

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Where Bat Speed Comes From

The Major League All-Star Game is approaching and that means HOME RUN DERBY! This brings up a topic that I discuss often with players and coaches: Where does bat speed come from?

Many players and coaches spend a multitude of their training time emphasizing forearm, wrist, and hand strength and endurance in the belief that “strong hands = greater bat speed”. However, a 2004 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research concluded that grip strength and bat velocity are not significantly related. So, where does bat swing velocity come from?

If you subscribe to the kinetic chain model of performance, the movement patterns of the baseball swing and the throw are very similar from the ground to the torso. The basic phases of the swing can be divided into the swing, launch, contact, and finish. The stance is highly individualized and emphasizes comfort and confidence for the hitter. The athlete is relaxed and balanced with a slight flex in his knees and elbow and both eyes on the pitcher. The stride and load take place simultaneously creating rhythm and momentum in order to harness potential energy with the weight back, ready to explode and initiate the swing. The back knee “triggers” the swing and the hand patch is down and directly toward the ball. The hips and torso continue to rotate to the contact point while the hands “stay inside the ball” and continue on the downward approach. The contact point is the strongest position of the swing. The body is balanced with the front side firm and closed while the back knee forms an “L”. The hips and shoulders are level with the chest positioned over the hips. From contact the bat head stays level as the hands drive “through the baseball” to get extension. During the finish, balance is the key.

The development of force and motion illustrated in the baseball swing progresses from the ground to the bat (proximal to distal). Through synergistic force production and interactive moments of the legs and hips and abdominal muscles, energy is stored and the Summation of Speeds creates a transmission of the energy through the core to the upper extremity where it is released through the bat. Placing most of the force development in the central core, allows small changes in rotation around the core to effect large changes in the positioning of the arms and hands. This creates higher angular velocities similar to the cracking of a whip and lets the muscles of the forearms, wrists, and hands be more directed toward precision and control rather than power production.

For those who continue to believe that grip and forearm strength is the key. I agree with you but, not for the same reasons. The baseball season is long. During the season, the typical hitter may take an average of 145 swings per day (early cage work, batting practice, pre-at bat swings, and during their in-game at-bat). The bat may weigh anywhere from 32-34 ounces. Over the course of a season, the hands get fatigued. It is important to maintain strength-endurance of the forearm, wrist, and hand muscles in order to prevent and limit fatigue. Particularly, because as discussed, the last link in the chain is the hands. If the precision and control muscles are not doing their job because their “tired”, then the maximum power and force cannot be transmitted through the bat to the ball.

Unfortunately many of the fallacies in baseball training programs continue to be taught to our younger players. It is important to remember that for the purposes of generating bat swing velocity and power, emphasis should be placed on the lower extremity and core rather than an over abundant amount of wasted time strengthening the forearms and grip.

Suggested Reading:

Hughes SS, Lyons BC, Mayo JL. Effect of grip strength and grip strengthening exercises on instantaneous bat velocity of collegiate baseball players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2004; 18(2): 298-301.

Kibler WB, Press J, Sciascia A. The role of core stability in athletic function. Sports Medicine. 2006; 36(3): 189-198.

David Yeager, ATC, CSCS

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Warming-Up: Too Much vs. Not Enough

The pre-game warm-up is one of the more contentious issues in high level athletics. A recently published article in the Journal of Applied Physiology suggested that power performance may be best served by a shorter, lower-intensity warm-up routine (Tomaras & MacIntosh, 2011). The researchers compared sprint cyclists performing two warm-up routines: (1) A 50 minute routine, progressing from 60-95% HRmax and ending with four sprints; and (2) A 15 minute routine, ranging from 60-70% HRmax, and ending with a single sprint. The researchers found that the shorter warm-up resulted in significantly less muscle fatigue and a higher peak power output.

Sprint cyclists and baseball players are different in countless ways. However, the researchers were effective in demonstrating that warm-up efficiency and recovery are important consideration for coaches before a game. Here are a few strategies for warming-up your position players, to prevent injuries, optimize performance, and prevent excessive fatigue.

Keep Players Moving:

Warm-up routines are not to be confused with static stretching routines for improving flexibility. Most of the benefits of a good warm-up (i.e. ↑ contraction speeds, ↑ movement economy, ↑ oxygen utilization, ↑ neuromuscular transmission, and ↑ muscle metabolism), derive from increasing the body’s heart rate, blood flow, and temperature of the muscles. The dynamic, or moving, portion of the warm-up (i.e. jogging, shuffling, carioca, squatting, lunging, arm circles, etc.) should make up the majority of the time allotted.

Keep Players On Their Feet:

Unless you are warming up a wrestling team, transitioning the team from standing, to sitting, to prone, and back to standing again takes up valuable time that players could be performing more sport-specific exercises. Baseball-specific exercises, including running mechanics drills, cross-over starts, torso twisting, and throwing, should be performed to facilitate the motor unit recruitment needed for maximal game performance. With the exception of sliding, baseball is always performed on your feet!

Progress Simple to Complex, Slow to Fast:

Warm-up routines should be progressed from smaller and slower, less taxing, movements, to more complex, faster, movements to ensure the safety of each exercise being performed. After a general warm-up, closed-chain dynamic flexibility exercises are most effective in reducing muscle stiffness while requiring the muscles to remain active in supporting the weight and posture of the body. Plyometric exercises (i.e. skipping, bounding, jumping, throwing, and swinging) should be performed towards the end of the warm-up to ensure that the muscles have been activated properly to sustain the eccentric stresses of decelerating the body.

Begin 30 Minutes Before The Game:

This amount of time allows for a general and dynamic warm-up to be completed with a coach in the first 8-10 minutes, throwing and sprint work in the middle 10-12 minutes, and individual preparation (i.e. extra stretching, mental focusing, etc.) in the 10 minutes leading up to the game. Not all athletes have the same weaknesses and imbalances. Nor do all athletes require the same level of muscle activation to perform optimally or injury free. Allowing a few extra minutes for players to mentally focus on the game ahead, get a drink, or relax is often overlooked when putting together the pre-game schedule.

Keep 3 Goals In Mind:

In professional baseball, most players have been active much of the day prior to the game. As long as players (1) Break a sweat by getting their heart rate up, (2) Alleviate any tightness in the hips, torso, and shoulders, and (3) Progress to game speed running, throwing, and swinging, they are likely doing enough to prepare the body.

Quality Not Quantity:

Focusing on dynamic, multi-joint, and baseball-specific movements can improve the quality of a pre-game warm-up. Excessively long or fatiguing warm-up routines should be avoided to promote season-long success.

Cited Source:
Tomaras, E. K. and MacIntosh, B. R. (May 2011). Less is More: Standard Warm-up Causes Fatigue and Less Warm-up Permits Greater Cycling Power Output. Journal of Applied Physiology, Published online ahead of print, link: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00253.2011.

Eric McMahon, M.Ed., CSCS
Minor League Strength and Conditioning Coach
Texas Rangers

Monday, June 20, 2011

Staying In The Moment

It has been a really long baseball season. I hardly remember the first talk coach had at the beginning of the season. I do remember him writing on the board “8/25 - ??.” Those question marks are a symbol of the end of the season.

The nice thing about the beginning of the season is that most everybody has those questions marks that will end of their season. The beginning of the school year means fall baseball, inter squads that seem to never end, six a.m. workouts that make you want to throw up, and what seems to be the endless amount of drills that make you think that the spring season will never arrive.

You take a deep breath and the spring season has finally begins and everyone has a new life. Multiple outings for the bullpen pitchers, high pitch counts for the starters, catchers beaten and bruised, and position players that have legs that feel like lead.

You have put all the work in to make it to this point. The post season has arrived (and probably gone) for some of you. Those endless hours have got you to this point, because not everyone makes it to this point. Although you still have work to be done, stay in the moment. Use those positive experiences of the past (those workouts and endless scrimmages) to guide you through to a positive ending. You might be experiencing some things in the postseason that you have not been through – that’s ok. Guess what – the baseball is still round and the infield is still going to have the same dimensions. You are still going to tie on the cleats and play the game as hard as you can. So sit back for a minute and enjoy the moment. The game is the easy part - dealing with the external activities is what gets everyone.

Sorry to keep this short. My team has a practice to go to in Omaha . Wish me luck.

Chris Ham, MSA, ATC, CES
Athletic Trainer
Vanderbilt University Baseball

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Dishing Up Dietary Advice With A New Plate

Does your plate look like MyPlate? The new Choose MyPlate graphic officially replaced the Food Guide Pyramid on June 2, 2011 when the United States Department of Agriculture announced that the pyramid was out the door. Many of my colleagues and friends agree that the pyramid concept of showing how to eat healthy was pretty confusing for most consumers.

In my opinion, the new plate showing how each of the food groups should be positioned on a real plate is much more user friendly, since we all eat from a plate. Consumers and families, as well as the athlete, can benefit from seeing the balance needed in our daily meals using healthy foods from fruit, vegetables, grains, protein foods and dairy. The plate shows the ratio of the foods that we should aim for, but does not quantify the portions each person needs to meet their calorie needs. Therein lies what may become an issue for many with this oversimplified approach. How do you feel about the new MyPlate visual? Does it help you make better decisions with your food choices?

The main messages to guide you to a healthier plate are as follows:

Balance Calories
• Enjoy your food, but eat less and avoid oversized portions.

Foods to Increase
• Make half your plate fruits and vegetables
• Make at least half your grains whole grains
• Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk

Foods to Reduce
• Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread and frozen meals---and choose the foods with lower numbers
• Drink water instead of sugary drinks

This advice, promoting simple but effective changes, will help direct food choices toward quality, variety and an array of powerful nutrients needed for good health and performance. Compare your plate to MyPlate next time you sit down for a meal! Learn more at

Kim Larson, RD, CD
Sports Nutrition Consultant

Monday, June 6, 2011

Recovery from Baseball Activities

Recovery from a baseball game is easy. Let’s take a look at the facts. How long is the typical baseball game, at the pro level 3 to 3.5 hours, college 3 hours, high school 2 to 2.5 hours, little league 1 to 2 hours. These are just rough estimates but for the most part pretty fair, how much time minus the starting pitcher is there activity? Let’s break that down. Typically a player will get 3 to 4 at bats per game, and let’s say that each player will see on average 7 pitches per at bat. That gives the player 21 pitches to focus, swing and potentially get a hit. If that player gets just one hit in the game they will be batting .333. This player will now only have to run the bases once and the chances the player gets all the way around and scores are slim, considering that most baseball games are in the single digits. The maximum the player will run around the bases is 360 feet or 120 yards, basically the full length of a football field. How about running on defense? In the infield, if the player can cover 5 to 7 yards on either side of the position, the defender is doing good. That means the player covers 40 total feet. In most cases a player will get 7 or fewer balls hit to them per game. So, if they covered the total area just to one side of their position the player may run 140 feet in a game, or about 40 yards. Outfielders, on the other hand, must cover more space so we will go as high as 50 feet either side of the position. Again, if the player makes 7 plays, the player would potentially cover about 350 feet or about 116 yards. Let’s put this in context, on average let’s say the outfielder will be asked to run at 100% 240 yards in a typical game, the infielder will be asked to run 160 yards in a typical game. In most cases not even half of a lap on a track. So is the game really physically grueling, meaning energy expenditure and calories lost from activity high? The truthful answer is no, but why is the game so exhausting.

I’m going to throw something out there that not many coaches that I have been in contact with talk about, mental recovery. What is mental recovery? The ability of the mind to come back to a resting state is the best way I can describe this mechanism. Training a player to calm the mind,rest the thoughts, and allow the body to recover and heal from day to day activities. All the physical recovery is still very, very important. The body needs fuel and hydration and with out them the mind cannot focus. But, there is a lot of information on this type of recovery. I just want to get this concept out in the open and if anyone has been doing any work on this please let me know, we have started to do some work with this concept and so you may be hearing more from us in the future.

Brian Niswender MA, CSCS

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Great Mask Debate

It doesn’t take much to see the public’s increased awareness about the dangers and long-term effects of concussions in sport. Just read the paper or search the web and you’ll see where a state legislature or local school district has passed a law or approved a new rule regarding testing and return to play guidelines following a mild traumatic brain injury.

Likewise, the sport of baseball has also updated with the times. This season, Major League Baseball implemented the 7-Day Disabled List to be used exclusively with those players diagnosed with a concussion. MLB has also tightened its diagnosis and return to play guidelines. Both a physical exam and neuro-psychological testing that must be submitted to the league’s medical director prior to a player’s clearance to return to play.

With all the increased awareness, one of the first lines of defense in the prevention of these injuries is still the protective equipment. The catcher in baseball is perhaps the most susceptible to repetitive trauma both from foul tips and the hitter’s backswing. There are typically two types of masks that that a catcher uses: the traditional cage and helmet, and the hockey-style.

Currently, there is no published study that distinguishes one mask as better than the other. Students in an Experimental Mechanics Class at Kettering University have been working to find an answer. After testing both mask styles for frontal impact (simulating a foul tip) and side impact (representing a backswing impact), the students concluded “Overall, the testing would support the theory that a traditional style catcher’s mask would protect better against a foul-tip and a hockey style catcher’s mask would protect better against a hitter’s backswing.”

As a sports medicine provider who works with the baseball athlete, it has been my experience that far more foul tips are experienced than backswings. Although the engineering students suggest that the traditional mask system needs to be improved in the area of the helmet, I would still recommend the traditional cage system over the hockey-style mask for the prevention of repetitive trauma to catchers and umpires.

David Yeager, ATC, CSCS

Monday, May 23, 2011

Gaining Early Professional Experience

In any field of work there is a progression that takes place from learning the trade to operating independently. As strength and conditioning coaches we are very familiar with this process, having navigated our early careers as volunteer and interns before earning any compensation for our work with athletes. I have been very fortunate this season to have an intern working with me and my team for the first time. My goal in taking on an intern has been to make the experience beneficial for both of us. I can accomplish more with an assistant than I can alone. He can learn the duties and responsibilities of the field and gain experience working with high-level athletes. In becoming a mentor, I have realized quickly that mentorship is just as important a part of my career as were the times when I was volunteering to gain early professional experience. Looking back on some of the key points taken from my mentors has helped me in providing further perspective to my intern this season.

Professionalism- First and foremost, professionalism is a given requirement of any coaching position. The media is filled with examples of coaches who have overstepped their bounds or have acted inappropriately and have lost their jobs. However, the basis of professionalism is presentation. As an intern, present yourself as clean, organized, and on-time and you will be viewed as reliable. Your co-workers and athletes will assume you know the plan for the day and that you can assist them. The majority of internships in strength and conditioning will require you to tuck your shirt in. This can be a little strange at first when your work attire is shorts and a t-shirt. Get used to it. You will be the best looking one in the room!

Drills and Skills- Young coaches rely on their education to implement the drills they know, while veteran coaches rely on their experience to determine which drills work best for the team. As an intern, having an open mind is key in the progression from the text book to the field. Remember that not all drills work well in a team setting or are possible (or safe) due to equipment limitations. When given a choice of what drill to implement, ask first, “What skill am I aiming to improve?” and second, “How does this drill fit in the overall training plan?” Transition time and set-up are primary factors in determining which drill fits when.

General Career Advising- I first learned about what it took to become a strength and conditioning coach by searching for job postings in the field that I was interested in. Ultimately, this searching led me towards obtaining CSCS and USA Weightlifting credentials and a graduate degree. As a mentor, I try to look back on my educational experience and remember why I made the decisions I did. The process would seem black and white ‒ I was taking the next step towards my career with each college class, certification, personal training position, internship, and coaching position. At the time, however, there was definitely some grey. I took my first fitness position during my college summers, so that I would get a free gym membership to train for my upcoming football season. I took my first anatomy class because I thought I wanted to go to medical school. I performed an internship in cardiac rehabilitation before I decided that I wanted to work with athletes. Sometimes the professional choices we make are not on a career track, but rather a life track. As I have gotten older this has become more and more true. Focusing on your interests and skills is the best place to begin any career.

Eric McMahon, MEd, CSCS
Minor League Strength and Conditioning Coach
Texas Rangers

Monday, May 16, 2011

Statistically Speaking...

I am going to go out on a limb and say that there is something wrong with your shoulder. You probably throw a baseball more than 100 times a day for 9 or 10 months out of the year. You have probably been throwing a baseball since you were 5 or six years old.

Check these out if you get a chance – just read the abstracts:

Wright, RW, Steger-May, K, Klein, SE. Radiographic findings in the shoulder and elbow of Major League Baseball pitchers. American Journal of Sports Medicine. 2007 Nov; 35(11):1893-43.

Fredericson M, Ho C, Waite B, Jennings F, Peterson J, Williams C, Mathesonn GO. Magnetic resonance imaging abnormalities in the shoulder and wrist joints of asymptomatic elite athletes. PM R 2009 Feb;1(2): 107-16.

Miniaci A, Mascia AT, Salonen DC, Becker EJ. Magnetic resonance imaging of the shoulder in asymptomatic professional baseball pitchers. American Journal of Sports Medicine. 2002 Jan-Feb;30(1):66-73

The same thing can be said about the knees and backs. It would probably take about one google medical search that takes .000005 seconds to find articles saying the same thing about the knee and back.

I say this because the majority of you have had shoulder trouble at some point in time. If it persists, you need to go talk to an educated individual. When it comes to an overhead athlete – you need to talk to the right kind of physician. Your family physician is really smart – don’t get me wrong. However, he might panic when he sees damage to the rotator cuff and some fraying of the labrum. I would highly recommend talking to a physician that has some experience with the overhead athlete - an orthopeadic/sports medicine physician.

Chris Ham, MSA, ATC, CES
Athletic Trainer
Vanderbilt University Baseball

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Are you coo-coo for coconut water?

Coconut water is all the rage right now and everyone, including Hollywood stars and some athletes, are going coo-coo over it. What’s the big draw? After tasting the Zico brand last week while on a road trip in California, I can honestly say it may not be the taste or the mouth feel. I truly am a coconut lover, but the slippery liquid with the off-coconut flavor isn’t something I could enjoy drinking—for pleasure, thirst or during exercise for hydration.

The health and nutrition claims certainly draw you in. The Zico brand label states Zico pure premium coconut water is, “A miracle of hydration and replenishment with 5 essential electrolytes (sodium, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus) and more potassium than a banana (Ok, true: 569mg vs. 560mg---but, really?) Zico assures rapid hydration and replenishment and has zero fat and cholesterol.” Not sure where the fat and cholesterol content factors in to its importance as a drink, other than to tell us that it does not contain any coconut oil.

Coconut water is the liquid inside young coconuts and for the first time, about 10 years ago, it was given the patent to bottle it in a way that preserves its nutrients—although they do vary among the fruit. That said, the calcium, phosphorus, magnesium are in very small amounts (30 mg calcium vs. 300 mg in 8oz of skim milk) and the potassium contained is about the same as in an equivalent amount of skim milk, as well. The high potassium content can lead to diarrhea and other GI issues, so not a great choice for athletes in intensive or endurance sports especially.
Zico is one coconut water that is enriched with sodium so it’s sodium content is about the same as an equivalent amount of skim milk or even Gatorade. From a rehydration standpoint, that is the biggest plus about the the Zico Coconut Water for use during or after exercise. Many of the other coconut waters on the market have too little sodium for them to be an effective rehydrator. Its sugar content is about the same as Gatorade so it’s low in sugar and in the right concentration for use during exercise.

There are no scientific published studies to back up the claims that it is a good sports drink. So don’t believe all you see or hear from Hollywood movie stars about a new drink or food..….it could be someone just going coo-coo for no reason at all.

Kim Larson, RD
Sports Nutrition Consultant

Monday, May 2, 2011

Use Video for Performance Skills

Coaches have been using video for many years to help players work on their skill development, things like hitting and pitching, but what about other skills like squatting, stealing, and agility. Using video to evaluate any skill can help the coach or trainer increase production from the player. The video can also be saved and re-evaluated when needed, and used to demonstrate progress.

In the last 10 years functional movement assessments have moved to the fore front and many trainers and strength coaches have been using these types of evaluations to judge the starting point of some athletes programs. These are great tools for evaluating an athlete’s movement skills and great information for the performance staff, but can the athlete or coach understand what we are looking for in the terms we use as professionals? Video in many instances can bridge the gap in understanding for the athlete and coach. Showing an athlete how he or she moves can help them understand what they are doing in space. This understanding can have great impact on the progression an athlete has. I know that nearly every trainer has been frustrated when correcting an athlete’s form and they reply by saying that’s what I was doing, the video doesn’t lie.

We have been recently using video in all of our new functional assessments and have had great successes with understanding from both coaches and players. In our evaluation procedures we use movements like the deep overhead squat, lunging, broad jump, vertical jump, pro agility, and sprinting just to name and few. In all these evaluations we use video to not only give us another eye, but to demonstrate to the athlete things that we see as potential problems or skills we need to work on.

Using video is not just for specific skills like hitting and pitching, but can be very helpful in helping athletes and coaches understand what an athlete is doing and how we can change it. Get that camera out and see how this tool can help you as a performance staff member as well.

Brian Niswender, MA

Friday, April 29, 2011

The art and science of at-bat music - Minor Leaguers give a great deal of though to their tunes

04/29/2011 10:00 AM ET
By Benjamin Hill /

The increasing prevalence of baseball walk-up songs -- and the public's fascination with them -- isn't difficult to understand. There are very few occupations in which one's introduction is accompanied by the swagger-inducing backbeat of a favorite tune.
"What would your walk-up song be?" has therefore become a common question amongst baseball fans, one that leads to endless thought, debate and consideration (feel free to add your own opinions in the comments section or on's Facebook page). And, not surprisingly, the players themselves usually approach the topic with the same amount of careful consideration.

Music is a powerful thing, after all, and the proper selection could be the difference between a warning track flyout and a game-deciding home run. You never know.

He's the man

When it comes to unique walk-up songs, it would be hard to top the annual selections of Indianapolis Indians third baseman Josh Harrison. Since his freshman year of college, the 23-year-old Pirates prospect has approached the plate while custom-written tunes blast over the stadium PA.

"Other guys might have to figure out what to walk up to, or might want something that someone else has, but I don't have to worry about that," said Harrison. "My brother does mine."

The sibling in question is older brother Shaun, an amateur rapper and producer whose most recent compositions include "I Ball" and "I'm Da Man." Harrison is alternating between the two this season in Indianapolis, with the latter a popular holdover from his 2010 campaign with the Double-A Altoona Curve.
"Looky looky look at me! Ain't I fresh as I can be? Still I prevail when they test and throw the best at me. Cuz I'm the man. I'm the man. You can tell from my stance I'm the man."

The combination of such strut-worthy lyrics with a giddily propulsive beat quickly made "I'm the Man" a Blair County Ballpark favorite as the Curve proceeded through an Eastern League championship season.

"It definitely surprised me," said Harrison of the song's popularity. "Fans were starting to ask me where it came from, and when I would tell them my brother made it, they'd be like 'Well, where can I get it?' But it's just something [Shaun] does in his free time -- he loves to make music. I've never had any teammates ask if he could make a song for them too, but you never know."

And while the insistent repetition of the words "I'm the Man" indicates a somewhat immodest approach, Harrison makes clear that the song helps to establish the proper at-bat mindset.

"There's a lot of confidence and swagger, but you have to have confidence in the way you carry yourself. Otherwise you won't make it in this game," he said. "And I'm very big on family, so to hear something that my brother wrote helps me stay in the right frame of mind. It relaxes me."

Democracy in action

Earlier this season, Altoona starting pitcher Jeff Locke walked to the plate to a team-selected Lil Jon song. He was less than thrilled with the experience.

"I'm a New Hampshire guy, I'm not familiar with rap," said Locke, a proud resident of North Conway. "I decided that if there was going to be music, it was going to be music that I wanted to hear."

So Locke came up with a thoroughly modern-day solution to his walk-up angst: he logged in to Twitter to solicit suggestions from his followers. What resulted was a deluge of recommendations, many of which were from New Hampshire friends, family and former teammates.

"I wanted a song that would mean more to me than a 'rah rah woo woo' kind of thing that gets a guy pumped up. I wanted something that would make me relaxed," he said. "And so many of my friends and family back home knew I was really into Dave Matthews Band -- for my birthday this past November I got tickets to their final show at [TD] Garden. ... I like to play the guitar as well. I'm not that good at it, but it's something I like to have fun with."

A Twitter consensus was eventually reached, and Locke's new song is a live Dave Mathews version of the iconic "All Along the Watchtower." But the work wasn't done yet. After an extensive period of focused listening and a brainstorming session with teammate Jeremy Farrell, Locke determined that the track should start precisely at the 3:48 mark. That's the snippet of music that will be heard at Blair County Ballpark this season, not only when Locke bats but also when he takes the pitcher's mound.

"A lot of starting pitchers want their walk-out music to start at the start of a song. That makes sense, they're starting pitchers," said Locke. "I'm a starting pitcher too, but if I did that there wouldn't be any music. It would just be fans yelling for the first 25 seconds."

Now that Locke has found what seems to be an ideal choice, he plans on keeping it for a long time to come.


"It's really nice to have something that no one else has, instead of the same old country, or the same old rap," he said. "I think this is going to stick with me for a while, unless I start getting hit all over the park."

(Almost) Anything goes

Of course, walk-up music presents many opportunities for comedic ballpark moments. A prime example comes from Kevin Huisman, a veteran of Minor League front offices who in 2006 worked in the Stockton Ports control room.

"Tommy Everidge, our first-baseman, decided that he wanted the New Kids On the Block's 'The Right Stuff' as his walkup song," wrote Huisman in an email. "We were all a little surprised, but the first time we ran it, [relief pitcher] Scot Drucker made it his mission to have a good time with it. Our bullpens at Banner Island Ballpark were out behind the left field wall, with chain-link fencing allowing the fans to see in. Well, it started with Scot and one or two other guys waving their arms when the song came on. Then some of the fans caught on. "By shortly after the All-Star Break, the guys in the bullpen would be sitting on the two rows of bleachers in the bullpen, and coordinating synchronized arm waving, with the front row going one way and the back row going the other way. The fans loved it, and I think it fueled Tommy's performance that season, as well."

Drucker, a 2010 Toledo Mud Hen who will soon be suiting up for the independent Grand Prairie Air Hogs, has fond memories of those Stockton days.

"I don't know how fond the coaches and manager were of us doing that, especially if we were losing, but we generally picked the right times to do it," he recalled. "Tommy was a stocky guy, and he looked pretty funny when he ran. So me being a prankster, I would try to get the soundboard guys to play the 'Super Mario Brothers' theme song whenever he drew a walk."

Drucker often takes a similarly light-hearted approach with his own selections. In Toledo last season, he dusted off the New Kids On the Block once again and took the mound to the saccharine sounds of "Step By Step."

"Oh, yeah, I've got to make fun of myself as well," he said. "I've seen it all. Some guys want to take a comical approach, others need something that's going to get them all fired up for 10 seconds. It doesn't matter, really, as long as it's clean."

The final word

John Foreman, the Altoona Curve's Director of Creative Services, is in charge of determining if his player's requests are indeed "clean."

"Even if a clean version of a song exists, that doesn't always mean it's necessarily ballpark appropriate," said Foreman, who handles nearly every aspect of the team's walk-up requests. "If I'm able to, I'll edit out [offending] words myself, or maybe ask the player if we can start at the second verse instead of the first."

Foreman previously worked for the Class A Short-Season State College Spikes, and he notes that players at that level were far more likely to change up their choices throughout the season.

"I think that maybe, at this level, the fans are more likely to identify with a player through what song he's chosen," he said. "A lot of people in the crowd, not to mention gameday employees, know who's coming up before they even hear a guy's name. As soon as they hear the song, they know exactly who it is."

And as for what those songs might be, it really depends on the player's background.

"You definitely see more rap and hip-hop than anything else, but the guys from Texas are more likely to choose country, and the guys from Latin America are going to go with Latin music," said Foreman.

What it all adds up to is an increasingly entrenched part of the ballpark experience, one that Drucker summarized thusly.

"Knowing a song is coming can help you focus, and some guys do think it gives them a little something extra," he said. "It's a nice routine to have, as long as you don't go too crazy with it, and something that the fans can relate to."

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A New Attitude

As an athletic trainer and strength and conditioning coach, my role is to prevent injuries and enhance performance through the improvement of overall and sport-specific athleticism. Since I started my career in the strength and conditioning realm, my tendency is to attack injury prevention and reconditioning from a performance training philosophy. As I entered the athletic training field, I found myself approaching performance enhancement through functional / injury prevention strategies.

I’m old enough that my education seemed to be set against the backdrop of the “old school” tough love approach and the transition into the “new school” evidence-based approach to training / reconditioning. So, I understand when players make comments like, “My goal is to stay out of the training room this year.” Or, when coaches chide a player for being on the treatment table or in the whirlpool tub, I can relate to the coaching philosophy. But, at the same time, I can understand the big picture of the sport-specific dynamics and my role in the sports performance team.

Baseball is primarily a repetitive stress and overuse injury type sport. An athlete who avoids the training room because of pressure or the belief that if he reports a complaint, then the athletic trainer will keep him off the field is backward. The opposite is routinely true. When a player waits to report an injury that began as a nagging little discomfort and has progressed to a more significant pain that hinders or affects his performance on the field, it’s too late. By then, the athletic trainer or medical professional often has no other recourse than to “shut down” the player from activity to allow for rest, healing, and recovery. When in reality, early communication and assessment between the athlete and the athletic trainer could more than likely allowed for continued sports participation while at the same time addressing the physical needs of the injury.

We need a new attitude.

When I meet with my teams and newly arriving players, I feel that it is important to stress my underlying philosophy that the athletic training room should be viewed as an extension of the weight room and ultimately, the field. As I mentioned, my role is to help players stay on the field and perform at their optimal level. When the sports medicine team has a strong understanding of the sport-specific needs of the athlete from an injury prevention and performance standpoint, programs can be adjusted and fine-tuned through specific techniques in the training room. Therefore, the athlete can get the most out of their performance training and this training can hopefully provide greater carryover on the field.

What about “The Training Room Rat”?

Besides the athlete who needs encouragement to approach the medical team and communicate small issues before they become large, there is the other end of the spectrum that consists of the player who is constantly requesting and needing attention. The role of the athletic trainer in this case is to provide education and initial guidance to allow the player to transition to the weight room and become an active participant in his performance training programs.

David Yeager, ATC, CSCS

Monday, April 11, 2011

Developing Our Coaching Language

As modern day strength and conditioning coaches we seek out our information in many places… Journal articles, colleagues, blogs, magazines, YouTube, Google, and countless others. Our ability to share and acquire new training techniques is greater than it has ever been before. As a result, we must be more critical than ever in planning to ensure that the exercises we choose for our athletes are appropriate, effective, and taught correctly.

Last month, I read a blog post by Vern Gambetta titled, “Pedagogy – The Foundation of Coaching” (; March 8, 2011). In summary, Coach Gambetta believes that coaching and teaching are synonymous, and that his generation of coaches, before ours, benefitted from being trained and assessed as teachers and instructors. For those who don’t know, Coach Gambetta was trained to be a physical education teacher and has published a variety of articles on teaching speed mechanics to athletes. Being taught to teach (i.e. lesson planning, organizing groups, where to stand, speaking effectively, and demonstrating exercises systematically) is an area that many young coaches have scarcely covered in today’s exercise science based curriculums. In any philosophy of coaching, choosing effective language is the key to portraying the importance and goals of the methods we implement.

One challenge we face is that the professional language of the strength and conditioning field (used in journals and text books) is over-scientific for most of the players, hitting coaches, and pitching coaches who we work with on a daily basis. Over-coaching athletes with lengthy scientific exercise descriptions and difficult to read training programs can create confusion among players who are seeking simple solutions to improve their performance and technique.

Every year players bring me programs from their off-season trainers which are difficult to read and implement in any setting other than the facility where they were designed. Sadly, the players who pay for these routines often do not fully understand the programs themselves and are coming to ask what a particular exercise is or why they are performing it. Is this confusion really necessary, or would we all be better served by choosing simpler and more consistent language with our athletes?

My advice for coaches is to use the simplest and most efficient training cues possible. Most coaches can write programs for developing strength, losing body fat, and/or improving speed and agility. However, all effectiveness will be lost if the coaching verbiage does not resonate with the athlete. I would like to conclude this post with a quote.

“How you coach is as important as what you coach.” –Vern Gambetta

Eric McMahon, MEd, CSCS
Minor League Strength and Conditioning Coach
Texas Rangers