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