Sunday, February 27, 2011


As I begin this new and wonderful baseball season – there are a couple things that come to mind. Every year that I have been with Vanderbilt Baseball, we have opened the season on the road – west coast style (btw it has rained every year).

This is the first thing that is in the back of my mind when we hit the road for a game or weekend series. I am representing Vanderbilt Baseball and the University (and the Medical Center) – it is very apparent when everyone steps off the bus wearing matching travel shirts.

The players around me are a representation of our head coach. In my experience, there is a direct correlation between how the players are coached and managed and how they act when they are on the road for a baseball trip. I can’t speak for any professional organizations – but every professional athlete still represents their organization.

There have been many occasions when I am heading in to work a baseball game or even heading home from a ballgame wearing my team issued gear (trust me – people know the difference between team issued gear and gear at the store), when someone has asked me if I work for the baseball team.
More times than not, I will be a forgotten face in the line while I am grabbing a soda on the way home. However, if I were making a scene or causing a problem, they would probably remember the guy in the store that was wearing the Vanderbilt baseball gear. This has worked the other way as well – every year the baseball team participates in a charity walk and the people have this positive image of the players and the coaching staff.

The next time that you are on a trip remember what you actually represent. You represent your parents, coaches, teammates, school or university, and baseball as a whole – people do stereotype what kind of athlete you are. Yes, I know it’s a sad generalization, but once people have a bad experience with one particular type of something, they remember it for a long time (similar to a bad experience with food).

I am not saying that you need to be a prude when you are walking around your hometown, but remember that there are people that come to the ballpark to watch you play. You can be a competitor on the field, but a great person off. Remember you are representing a lot of different things.

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

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Lets Warm Up

Warm-up can be one of the most controversial actives for any athlete or team. I want to talk about some of the concepts and maybe give some feedback on what I have seen work.
You open any textbook or training book and they will give you the “text book” answer to warming up. You need to jog or ride a bike for 5-10 minutes then you need to do 15 to 20 minute dynamic warm-up routine. Even though you might not see the dynamic routine in every warm program the point is you need 15-20 minutes to get ready. I believe in the dynamic routine and have been using it for some 12 or more years now, but we will talk about that later.
I have been working with coaches for 15 years and know that 30 minutes to just warm-up is never going to cut it, one, and the coach does not have that much time and two the athletes will not stay that focused to complete. We need to be more practical and accommodating to the situations. If a coach in high school only has 2.5 hours a day to work with his players do you think he is going to spend a half hour getting ready. Do you think pro players want to get to the park 30 minutes early so they can warm-up for drills and then warm-up for the game as well. Any strength coach that says yes is just fooling them selves. I’ve been there and done that from the pro level to the little league level. In reality you might have 15 minutes and on a good day 20 minutes, so how do you get them ready.
Let’s break it down practically:
1) General Warm up:
a. Jog around the field 1 lap. (1.5 min)

2) General Specific: dynamic 15-20 yards
a. Walking side shuffle (45 seconds)
b. Walking carioca (45 seconds)
c. Walking high knee (45 seconds)
d. Walking hurdles (45 seconds)
e. Side shuffle 50% (45 seconds)
f. Carioca 50% (45 seconds)
g. High knees (45 seconds)
h. Butt kicks (45 seconds)

3) General Specific: Stationary dynamic
a. Touch and reach
b. Diagonal touch and reach
c. Windmills
d. Rotation and twist
e. Push-ups
f. Overhead claps
g. 90-90 shoulder rotation

4) General Specific: High Speed
a. 30 Yard sprint 75% (45 seconds)
b. High skip (45 seconds)
c. Secondary steel 75% (45 seconds)
d. Sprint (45 seconds)

5) Sport specific: hitting or throwing
a. This is the time the players go through a throwing program or hitting prep program. This should take the players 10-15 minutes to complete.

This warm-up is complete in 30 minutes but has the players ready to either practice or play in a game. If you only complete the general warm-up in 30 minutes they still need to throw or hit, we are now out 45 minutes that’s 1/3 of the practice time spent on just getting ready. If you cut the whole prep into 30 minutes that’s only 1/5 of practice time.
As strength coaches or athletic trainers if you want to see the warm-up more productive and really get that internal temp up then try some variation of this, it is high paced and makes the players work. They will really be ready to play both mentally and physically. For coaches, the player will be ready and you have given them a true warm-up not the old throw the balls and bats out and let’s play.
As a note, I said try a variation of this. This is not the end all to warm-ups, and changes should be made all the time. Try different exercises and orders, the players will not get bored with the routine and again, will be more productive. Play with the idea and times.

Brian Niswender MA, CSCS

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Sweet Look At A Popular Treat - Chocolate

To celebrate and honor our national love-filled holiday this month, Valentine’s Day, I thought it appropriate to extoll the health benefits of chocolate. Chocolate will be the most popular sweet treat eaten on Valentine’s Day and with good reason: the deep, rich taste of cocoa combined with sugar and fat produce an irresistible, creamy and complex combination of flavor on the tongue. To enjoy this occasional treat even more, you may be interested in knowing its science-backed health benefits.
Chocolate has long been the feel good food and now it is cautiously being placed among the ranks of good-for-you foods, as well. Chocolate contains many naturally occurring chemicals that we have learned more about these past few years so here are a few tidbits of information if you are a chocolate lover!

Cocoa beans are very bitter and pungent by themselves--- that’s why sugar and fat are added to increase the mouth feel and flavor of the beans. This bitterness comes from the flavanols in the chocolate, which also give it its antioxidant power and positive heart health attributes. Antioxidants help reduce inflammation and damage in our cells that we generate from normal body processes like breathing and exercise. Flavanols belong to a larger group of antioxidants called flavonoids, that are found in many plant-based foods and beverages. Research has confirmed that these naturally occurring compounds have other positive effects on vascular health, such as like lowering blood pressure, improving blood flow to the heart and brain, lowering cholesterol and making blood platelets less sticky and able to clot.

The more chocolate is processed through roasting, fermentation and alkalizing to make it more appealing, the more flavanols are lost. Chocolate manufacturers are looking for ways to maintain the strength of the flavonols in their processed chocolates so don’t be duped by current marketing ploys. The most concentrated flavonols are found in those sources with higher amounts of cocoa, like cocoa powder (choose those that are not Dutch processed or treated with an alkali) baking chocolate, dark chocolate, milk chocolate and lastly, chocolate syrup. There are no health benefits to eating white chocolate, not made from the cocoa bean.

How much chocolate can we eat guilt-free? No matter what the health promoting influences are that we reap from the cocoa bean, we still need to be mindful of the other ingredients in chocolate, like sugar and saturated fat, that piggy back onto the virtuous cocoa bean. Both sugar and fat add up to lots of calories in a hurry so a prudent approach to eating chocolate is still the best route to good health. Enjoy an ounce of real chocolate as a once-in-awhile treat and don’t forget to include the other flavonoid rich foods in your diet like apples, grape juice, tea, onions and cranberries.

Kim Larson, RD, CD
Sports Nutrition Consultant

Monday, February 7, 2011

How Can I Increase My Fielding Range?

Recently, I was involved in a discussion about a player’s fielding range and whether or not this aspect of the game of baseball be improved. Those participating in the discussion had many great points. The general consensus was that, yes, fielding range can be improved. But, how? For the most part, many of the participants discussed improving lower body power, first step explosiveness, and lateral speed and agility. For my part, I agreed that these components were very important. But, I believe equally or even more important is training to improve an athlete’s reaction time.

The time it takes for a player to recognize that a ball has been hit and then initiate his movement to intercept and field it is called his reaction time. When the ball is seen or the crack of the bat is heard, nerve impulses travel to the brain where the information is processed. The brain then formulates a motor response and the player moves to field the ball. Reacting to a visual stimulus takes approximately 16-18 hundredths of a second. Auditory reactions take 14-16 hundredths of a second. However, this does not take into account that the time that it takes for the sound to travel to the player’s ear. For example, an outfielder would respond to the “crack” of the bat later than an infielder, because he is positioned farther away.

Like the other components of lower body power and quickness, reaction time can be trained and improved. The key is to enhance the brain’s processing speed. This is done by attempting to eliminate visual and auditory distracters. One technique that can be utilized immediately and without a great deal of training is the concept of “contrast sensitivity”. This has to do with the ability to pick out an object visually amidst a confusing background. Excellent results can be experienced with the use of different colored eyeglass lenses for a given time of day or stadium background. For example:

Bright, Sunny Day = more traditional darker tint
Cloudy, Grey Conditions = amber tints
Late Evening, Twilight = yellow tints

Another training technique involves emphasizing the visual stimulus. A simple drill that I have used with players is to have them perform their fielding drills while wearing ear plugs or noise cancelling headphones. This will eliminate the auditory distractions and teach them to recognize and react sooner to the visual cues.

Even though reaction time can be improved, there is a definite ceiling. Even elite sprinters cannot physiologically react in less than 0.10 seconds without anticipating the starting gun. That being said, there are ways to anticipate on the baseball field. By understanding the game situation and past performance of the hitters, players and coaches can position themselves on the field to provide a better “jump” on the ball. For example, when a right-handed hitter has been noted to routinely “pull” the ball, fielders can slightly adjust their positioning to their right. Also, in situations where the hitter would attempt to hit toward the right side of the field, the defense can adjust accordingly.

Ultimately, all of these components can help to improve a player’s fielding range. Increasing his explosiveness and lateral speed will improve his overall movement time. While training him to better recognize and process visual cues can improve his reaction and anticipation skills.

David Yeager, ATC, CSCS