Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Plyometrics for Baseball

Over the years plyometrics have been named many different things from reactive training, explosive training, to neuromotor reactive training. No matter the name the priciples are the same if it is truly plyometrics, and for the sake of argument we will continue to use plyometrics for this specific training style in this blog. So the question is what is plyometrics?
One of the best explanations I have found explains plyometrics as: the ballistic actions which exploit the stretch-shortening cycle; exercises aimed at improving elastic/ reactive qualities of strength.(Radcliffe) These type of exercises should enable the athlete to achieve maximal rates of force development and increase muscle stiffness regulation in short periods of time.
What is the stretch-shortening cycle? It is the synergistic coupling of the eccentric and concentric actions of the muscle when rapid deceleration of the bodies mass is accompanied by the amortization (pause between changes of directions) and acceleration of the bodies mass in the opposite direction at maximal effort. For training purposes it is broken down into 4 parts or phases, the eccentric action, the amortization phase, the concentric phase and the distinguishing part of plyometrics the maximal effort and speed of the concentric phase. I put great importance on the maximal effort and speed during the concentric phase because without it the training becomes less effective as plyometric. Every exercise an athlete performs has the first 3 phases in some form, but the 4th quality makes the difference. Let me give you and example; I have heard many people call an exercise like jumping rope plyometric, but does it meet the criteria just set forth. No because it does not require maximal effort on the concentric phase as well as the eccentric demands are low in most cases. This does not require the body to recruit nueromuscularly in a maximal explosive manner, and so a plyometric exercise it is not.
In application for baseball I encourage coaches and trainers to see that every exercise can be plyometric if the 4 phases or qualities are met. This type of training should be very high intensity and so planning appropriate times for this training are very important to the baseball player’s performance. In most cases higher volumes of plyometirc training are saved for the off-season, but integration of a few exercises in-season can keep the player fast and powerful.

Brian Niswender
Co-Founder BaseballStrengthCoaching.com

Monday, March 28, 2011

Where are we going?

Look how smart I am.

This industry seems to be out of control. I see more and more people confused, while the need for our services increases every year. Why are we fighting within our own ranks for who knows more, when we should be looking for ways to help each other out? I really enjoy reading about how so and so came up with some new way to train, but in reality it is just a new name. Why are strength coaches and athletic trainers fighting over what is best for the athlete? Can we not all learn from each other, from doctors to the nutritionist?
This might seem like some kind of rant and in many ways it is, but with a purpose. Where are we going as an industry? Are we really in it for the purpose of increasing human performance, or are we in it for the money? In many ways some of these questions helped spark baseballstrengthcoaching.com and still drives us and our purpose, but the question still stands, are we increasing knowledge of baseball performance?

Brian Niswender
Co Founder Baseball Strength Coaching.com

Monday, March 21, 2011

Energy Drinks: Healthy or Hazardous?

Energy drinks are the fastest growing segment of the beverage market today and in 2011 sales are expected to top $9 billion. These drinks are being marketed and sold to adolescents and young adults and are now being linked to causing serious health conditions in some people. Thirty to fifty percent of young adults and adolescents consume these wildly popular drinks that contain ingredients that claim to boost energy, performance, stamina, concentration and even weight loss. The big gun of energy drinks is caffeine---a stimulant that raises blood pressure, as well as heart rate. In small doses, around 300 milligrams, it has been shown to be a performance enhancer. In high doses it can cause irritability, increased heart rate, jitteriness, anxiety, insomnia, tremors, heart palpitations, upset stomach and nervousness. More caffeine is added in many of these products from other sources like guarana, kola nut, yerba mate, cocoa and tea. Other common ingredients you might see on the ingredient list are B vitamins, taurine, ginseng, yohimbine, L-Carnitine and tryptophan. Some of these additives may have potentially dangerous health effects and also interfere with prescription, as well as over the counter drugs, like aspirin.

Because energy drinks are classified as a dietary supplement, manufacturers can say just about anything they want about what they claim to do---even if they have no evidence to prove it. They are not regulated for safety, nor do they have any warnings on their labels. Therein lies the primary issue that I have with these drinks. In my opinion, consumers have a right to know exactly what is contained in any product that they choose to eat or drink. Recently, Consumer Lab ran a test on the 5 Hour energy shot that advertises it’s “no caffeine content” and found one shot contained 207 mg. of caffeine—more than an average cup of Joe from Starbucks! Because these drinks are unregulated, anyone choosing to drink them should exercise caution----know what you are putting into your body and think about how it might affect you. On February 14th, msnbc.com reported that an 18 year old high school senior had a seizure and was hospitalized for five days after drinking two large NOS energy drinks. Read the full article here: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/41577256
Most adults can tolerate modest amounts of caffeine (150-300 mg. per day) with no adverse effects, but its effects on children and adolescents, especially in high doses and in conjunction with other stimulants, have not been studied enough. The additive effects of many of these ingredients, along with over consumption, make the synergistic combination even more unpredictable. Simply put: the sum is more dangerous than its parts. Why then are these beverage makers not held to a limit on total caffeine dose like over-the-counter designated caffeine stimulants are (for instance, No Doz) or even soda?

Many countries are reviewing the reported adverse events associated with consuming these drinks and developing labeling regulations and other legal restrictions to protect the public’s health. In Norway, energy drinks can only be sold in pharmacies. Other countries have banned the sale of these drinks altogether……….what do you think the United States should do to regulate these drinks?

If you would like to learn more about the health effects of energy drinks on children, adolescents and young adults, log on to www.pediatrics.org for a recently published and comprehensive review article (February 15, 2011) by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Kim Larson, RD, CD
Sports Nutrition Consultant

Saturday, March 12, 2011

If Sliding Head First Were Faster, World-Class Sprinters Would Dive Across the Finish Line!

The 2011 baseball season started with tragedy at Arizona State University. While sliding head-first into second base during an attempted steal, freshman player Cory Hahn collided with the knee of the fielder and suffered a fractured neck and is reportedly paralyzed.

Though there are injury risks with feet-first sliding, it is commonly believed that the more devastating injuries are associated with head-first slides (i.e. cervical spine injuries, shoulder dislocations, and other elbow, wrist, and hand trauma). Yet, coaches continue to teach, and players continue to attempt head-first sliding because they believe it is a faster baserunning technique.

The truth…IT’S NOT. A 2002 study proved once and for all that at all levels, there is no difference in speed between head-first and feet-first sliding. The authors concluded that in fact, feet-first sliding may even be slightly faster.

Kane SM, House HO, Overgaard KA. Head-first versus feet-first sliding: A comparison of speed from base to base. The American Journal of Sports Medicine. 2002; 30(6): 834-836.

As I mentioned, there is injury potential to the lower body with the feet-first technique (i.e. ankles, knees, hips, and hands), but these are not considered to be in the same class of severity as those associated with the head-first method. It can be argued that when the feet-first slide is taught correctly and practiced, the potential for injury is low – particularly now with breakaway bases, etc.


David Yeager, ATC, CSCS

Monday, March 7, 2011

Avoiding Muscle Soreness: Micro Tears vs Muscle Tears

For professional baseball players, the majority of training occurs in-season while balancing the physical workload of games, practice, and team travel. Spring Training begins early in the year (February-March) and is followed by a 140-162 game regular season lasting through September or later (The 2010 World Series ended on November 1st). It is also not uncommon for players to participate in Winter Leagues in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, or Arizona during the off-season months. So, given the limited time for physical preparation during the off-season and the high baseball workload throughout the year, how should coaches go about avoiding muscle soreness in players from in-season strength and conditioning work? A simple answer is that coaches must use caution towards high-volume types of training while promoting a variety of fatigue-reducing recovery strategies (i.e. SMFR, contrast bathing, massage, nutrition, and rest). Possessing a better understanding of muscle soreness is helpful in providing guidance to players who do not wish to perform resistance training in fear of becoming sore.

The muscle soreness occurring 24-72 hours following unaccustomed training is referred to by exercise professionals as DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). Symptoms of DOMS may include compromised running mechanics, decreased functional range of motion or stiffness, and reductions in strength and power. Of importance to coaches, baseball performance may be negatively affected by excessive muscle pain, leading to compromised movement patterns in throwing, running, and hitting. A risk of muscle injury in tissues surrounding the prime movers (major muscle groups) is of increased concern from altered baseball mechanics.

It is important to realize that the negative effects of DOMS are temporary, and that the damage to the muscle from training (i.e. overstretching) occurs within the muscle cells (at the level of the myofibril) and not in the muscle tissue as a whole. From a medical perspective, a muscle tearing injury (occurring in an entire muscle) would result in a less pliable, scarring over of the affected tissue (i.e. scar tissue). This is NOT the same tearing of muscle tissue which results in DOMS. The term “micro-tears” is often used to describe the displacement, or tearing, of the myofibril proteins (actin, myosin, troponin, and tropomyosin) which serve as cogs to contract our muscles. Micro-tears are believed to promote muscle growth and gains in strength, leading to the notion that DOMS may be a natural part of the early strength building process.

The most effective method of preventing DOMS is to avoid unaccustomed training through a consistent routine. The complete replacement of myofilament proteins naturally occurs every 7-15 days within muscle cells, allowing for relatively quick recovery and adaptation from exercise induced stress. A consistent training approach which considers the overall workload of professional baseball players (i.e. games, practices, travel, nutrition, and sleep) will allow for the players to gradually improve muscular fitness to achieve a higher training level. A workload of 1-2 strength or power sessions per week in-season is a good starting point to avoid overtraining. Workouts can be divided into lower and upper body days as needed.

Key Points For In-Season Training:

 DOMS is most common with strenuous initial training sessions after prolonged inactivity – Perform a consistent routine and do not add new exercise movements in-season.

 DOMS is caused by the eccentric, or lowering, portion of exercise movements –
Avoid performing “negatives” or exercises with strenuous deceleration components.

 DOMS symptoms temporarily lessen after a warm-up which promotes blood flow –
Recommend that players perform a general cardiovascular warm-up before all activity.

 DOMS can negatively impact players physical and psychological performance –
Be cautious in overloading players too soon to avoid poor performance on the field.

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