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

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