Archive for August, 2012

As September roles around and playoff races start heating up, it seems that inning totals become a hot topic. This year it has been magnified by the Strasburg saga and the parameters the Nationals placed on him at the beginning of the year. I find it more interesting to watch relievers-turned-starters at this time of the year as they have far surpassed their previous season’s workload and maybe their professional workload if they were relievers for a majority of their minor league career. Either way, with arm injuries seeming to be a matter of when, not if, organizations are doing everything possible to ensure their pitchers have the best chance of staying healthy. But are they actually increasing their chance for injury by being too restrictive? 

Dr. Glenn Fleisig of the American Sports Medicine Institute is THE leader in baseball research, specifically pitching biomechanics. He weighed in on this issue in an interview with Baseball Prospectus. The second part of the article is an interview with an MLB executive so you get a baseball view on the issue along with the scientific aspect. Let me know your thoughts on pitch count and workload for a pitcher. 

“Conditioning” for Pitchers

Posted: August 26, 2012 in Baseball

No need to beat around the bush, DISTANCE RUNNING IS COUNTERPRODUCTIVE FOR PITCHERS. We will start with the logical reasoning and work our way to the science behind this novel concept. This article piggybacks on many of the same concepts as the “Conditioning” for Baseball Position Players article, so it would be helpful to read that one first.

1. Would you rather have your pitcher look like a marathon runner or a sprinter? Especially in the lower body…

I don’t think anyone would want their pitching staff to look malnourished, scrawny, and weak, which are the words that come to mind when I glance at our Finnish friend. His body certainly doesn’t scream power or explosiveness. If you don’t want to have the same physique as someone, then why would you train like them? I still can’t figure out why anyone would think that “endurance” for a pitcher was achieved by doing that same motion continuously at a very slow pace. Last time I watched a baseball game the pitcher did not continually repeat his delivery for 20 minutes straight without ever pausing. Instead, let’s try to look like a sprinter by training like a sprinter.

2. Most of the time, distance running (or any long distance conditioning) is prescribed to pitchers after they finish throwing off a mound, like after a game or bullpen. The thought here is to flush the system of the lactic acid to prevent it from building up and causing soreness. This actually makes some sense: get the blood pumping to remove the waste. The only problem is its completely wrong on two levels. 1. Soreness is not caused by lactic acid. It is caused by delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). DOMS occurs from eccentric (stretching of the muscle) stress causing micro fractures in our muscles. 2. Lactic acid is produced, but is cleared by the our body while we’re still pitching. I was fortunate to be part of the follow up study for Between Inning Recovery Methods for Pitchers. The discovery that I found most interesting was that the blood lactate levels with our group of pitchers was close to pre-activity levels after the game simulation. To summarize, our body flushes itself.

3. Condition within the sports specific energy system. See “Conditioning” for Baseball Position Players.

4. Distance running trains the slow twitch fibers. Two types of muscle fibers exist in our body. Type I fibers (slow twitch) produce energy through aerobic pathways and have slow contractile speeds. Type II fibers are broken down into three subdivisions: type IIa, type IIb, and type IIx. Type IIb and IIx are more anaerobic and explosive, while type IIa is kind of a mix between type I and type IIb and IIx. As of right now, the exercise physiology world believes you are born with a certain number of type I and type II fibers and cannot convert one to the other. The type of physical training you do, however, can change the characteristics of the fiber (mainly type IIa) to behave more like the opposing fiber. So if we train to be explosive, our type I and type IIa fibers become more explosive and less aerobic. TRAIN FAST TO BE FAST!

5. Last but certainly not least, distance running decreases power production and strength. This occurs because of the fiber characteristic changes noted in the paragraph above. A loss of power would, theoretically, result in the loss of velocity. Matt DiLallo explains in his article that it is more important to focus on the velocity aspect (Displacement x Time) of the power equation since force is not a major issue in baseball due to the weight of the baseball and bat.

If you aren’t convinced yet, just google long distance running for pitchers. Every link on the first two pages is against it as well. Hopefully this is one baseball tradition that will change sooner than later.

Why Icing is Bad

Posted: August 25, 2012 in General Health

Earlier this week, I saw this post  and loved it. One of my original goals for this site was to present information that may challenge what we have traditionally done. So please keep an open mind while you read this, along with all of the other posts, and not dismiss an idea simply because it goes against what you might have believed your whole life. Make sure to watch the video as well.

HIIT

Posted: August 21, 2012 in General Health

There is definitely a time and a place for cardio, especially when trying to obtain the greek god like body. While I have expressed my personal vendetta against distance running, I do try to incorporate some type of cardio into my workouts when I am not in a strength phase. The method I use is called High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT for short. This method has become very popular recently and the research backs it’s hype.

 

So let me start explaining HIIT by boring you with a quick science lesson that makes me sound smart.

 

 

 

For those of you who don’t have your magnifying glasses handy, the top graph is for light to moderate exercise (steady rate) and the bottom graph is for heavy exercise (HIIT). Steady rate exercise is simply the same movement continuously at the same speed aka jogging. Steady rate is more commonly known as catching your second wind, or the part of the run where your body figures out how to become the most efficient and maintain that level of exercise.

To simplify the graph, focus on the difference in recovery time. In HIIT, steady rate takes a much longer time to occur, or does not happen at all. The constant starting and stopping uses more energy since the stimulus on the body is continuously changing.  Consequently, it takes the body longer to return oxygen consumption to resting levels. The result is a larger EPOC, which is primarily fueled by the breakdown of fat for energy. Also, it can keep your resting metabolic rate raised for up to 48 HOURS after your workout. In layman’s terms, you could be burning calories while reading this article. Burn more fat, for a longer period of time, and burn more calories while you sit around. It’s a win-win-win.

Bonus Note: It is critical to consume a 3:1 carb:protein ratio after this (or any anaerobic) workout. Carbs are not the anti-Christ in this situation, conversely they are fuel on the fat burning fire. Muscle cells are very insulin sensitive after working out. If carbs and protein are provided, the insulin will help synthesize muscle protein and muscle glycogen extremely fast. If the fat cells are in a insulin sensitive state, as they would be while you are laying on the couch, insulin will promote storage of carbs as fat.

The downside of HIIT is it sucks. It is really hard if you are pushing yourself. You are also required to sprint, which most of us don’t do on a regular occasion.

Because sprinting is such an explosive movement (hopefully), you must have a proper warm up or pulling a muscle is likely. I would suggest a few minutes of jogging followed by a dynamic warm up like high knees, butt kicks, hamstring kicks, etc.

There are a few ways you can go about HIIT. If you prefer to run outside, figure out the distance (100 yards) you can SPRINT in a given time (15 seconds). Then, I would suggest starting off with a 4:1 work to rest ratio so if you sprint for 15 seconds, rest for 45 seconds.

Personally, I prefer the treadmill. I can control the variables (speed, incline) more easily and I can’t slack. This involves jumping on the treadmill while its moving so please do not kill yourself while trying this. Using an incline has an exponential effect on the amount of calories you burn so I highly suggest using an incline or hill, if running outside.

 

My HIIT workout is below:

 

10 sets

15 seconds on: 45 second rest= 1 set

10 mph on 10% incline

 

I try to increase by .5 mph or .5% incline each time or as I find it getting easier.

 

What kind of HIIT are you doing? Please post your workout or any questions in the comments section and I will do my best to answer them. Any feedback is appreciated.

Pitching Kinetics pt 1

Posted: August 20, 2012 in Baseball

A lot of time has been spent on researching and writing about strengthening the arm for pitchers, and deservedly so. With players getting $140 million deals, it is clearly a valuable topic. “How to add Velocity” has become the holy grail of sports with people claiming to have found the secret to adding however many mph to your fastball in 4 weeks! I even saw one contraption that claimed to add 10 mph in 12 minutes. I wish I was making that up.

While no one has found a formula that worked for everyone, there are some basic principles that will help with arm health, control, and might even add a few mph on the radar gun.

First and foremost, every athletic movement starts from the ground. The scientific term used when discussing the sequence of events of any body movement is kinetic chain. Because every athletic movement starts for the ground, the kinetic chain begins with the feet. Think of the kinetic chain as the cord for the energy to flow through to, in this case, the arm. If something is wrong anywhere in the kinetic chain, the maximum amount of energy will not get to the arm. This topic could be developed into a book so let’s stick to the bottom of the chain for now. One of the things I like to do with a pitcher when I first work with him is see how he is on one leg. In pitching, you are on both legs for a split second and it is a very awkward position. As you can see from your’s truly, the lead leg is about to land on the ground as the back leg may possibly still be down for a millisecond.

Point being it is a single leg activity. Have the pitcher jump forward and laterally on one foot, noticing the ability to push off and create power from each foot and the ability to control the landing. Also focus on asymmetries, like which foot creates greater power (greater distance) and which one is more stable in the landing. More to come later….

When most of us hear the word “conditioning”, we  think of either long distance running or repeated sprints with extremely short rest breaks. After all, if you aren’t gasping for air then what’s the point in doing it, right? In some sports this might be the proper conditioning. In a basketball game, for instance, there will be circumstances where there are 3 or 4 fast-breaks in row. Repeated sprints are very sports specific and necessary. It is common for you to sprint, stop, and have to sprint again with little to no rest.

How many times does this happen in a baseball game? If you want to play devil’s advocate you could say in a run down (or pickle) which would be accurate. The natural response here is how many run downs happen in a season and the answer is very few. So why train an athlete for something that might happen twice in a season?

Baseball is all about being explosive, followed by a rest period. Would’t it make the most sense to train like this then?

Try to get the old school definition of conditioning out of your head and replace it with the idea of being conditioned within the energy system (ATP-PC, Glycolytic, Aerobic) used primarily in the sport. For baseball, it would be the ATP-PC system which is used for short burst of energy of up to 10-15 seconds.

For a professional baseball game, the average time between pitches is 20 seconds. That means that after a sprint, swing, or pitch, the athlete will have at least 20 seconds of rest before another explosive movement occurs. And yet these athletes are “conditioned” by running 30 yards at maybe 75% of their max speed, line back up, and repeat.

I would go as far as to say that conditioning for position players isn’t an effective use of time. I would much rather spend the time working on sprint technique, crossover starts, and agility (this is assuming the athlete is in good general physical shape and not a total slob).

In a team setting it is much harder to work on an individual’s sprinting technique and conditioning (new definition) might be the best alternative. By implementing a work to rest ratio of 1:3 or 1:4, the athlete should be able to come close to full recovery. This will allow every sprint to be close to 100% of their top speed as opposed to just running not to pass out.

Train fast to be fast. Train slow if you want to be slow. Give your “conditioning” program some thought before implementing it instead of just regurgitating the same drills your coach put you through.

The distance aspect and pitchers conditioning will be addressed in the next post.

What kind of drills or conditioning principles do you like when working with baseball position players?

 

 

 

 

Training for Strength

Posted: August 19, 2012 in General Health

For those who aren’t familiar with different types of cycles or phases of training, the general guidelines are governed by the reps, sets, overall volume, and rest time between sets for each exercise. The National Strength and Conditioning Association classifies muscular endurance as 15 reps per set, hypertrophy (muscle mass growth) between 7-12 reps, and general strength between 1-6 reps per set. For each phase, the premise is that you are using a weight that is heavy enough that completing all of the reps for 1 set is challenging, and the last rep of the last set is very difficult. So for the strength cycle the weights would obviously be a lot heavier as you only need to do, lets say, 4 reps for 5 sets. Hopefully all of this information is review for you, but I thought I would include it as an introduction.

Since we are focusing on the strength today, I will delve deeper into that phase. Through my limited experience of working with people and observing the general population in the gym, I would say the strength phase is the most overlooked aspect of training. Any strength and conditioning coach working with high school, college, or professional athletes worth his/her weight in salt should have the strength/ power phase as the focus of their program. If you are in the camp that thinks, “That’s great Barrett, but I’m just trying to get tone, not bulky.” Good news. This won’t happen for women unless you are on steroids and for guys unless you do some serious hypertrophy training.

 

The Benefits

Finally, to the good part. Changing your workout every 3 to 4 weeks is a great way to challenge your body and increase gains for whatever your goal may be The popular marketing term you hear now is “muscle confusion”. The change in training stimulus is a great way to stimulate your muscle and your neuromuscular system. The stress put on your body is higher resulting in more energy spent in a shorter amount of time (think running sprints vs long distances). There is also the obvious fact that general strength is a great thing.

 

How to Get Started

Just like any new physical activity, it is best to ease your way into it. If you are crazy and enjoy 11 mile runs or have been doing body weight workouts, DO NOT go to the gym tomorrow and set personal records for your squat and bench. Take a few weeks of gradually increasing the weight and decreasing the reps. 5 reps x 5 sets is a basic beginners strength template that would be good to use if you have never done anything with heavier weights.

Most importantly, put your safety first. As the weight increases, there is always more of a chance of injury. Make sure you are using proper technique with the exercise and have a spot if the lift calls for it (i.e. squat or bench).

Because of the increased stress on your body, the overall volume of your training session should be reduced. For example, if you are used to doing a 3 sets x 15 reps scheme, that would be 45 total reps for that exercise. Work your way down to the 5×5 scheme and you are at 25 reps, almost half of the volume for that body part. Increase the rest time between the sets. 90-120 seconds is the recommended break for sets under 6 reps. Since there is less volume, limit the carbs you are consuming during your strength phase. Unfortunately, carbs is not the energy source used when completing a strength phase. That honor would go to creatine. Also limit the other activity or exercise during this time period. Your muscles and neuromuscular system will need proper time to recover from the additional stress.