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