Methods for Training Baseball Players
July 12th, 2015| Dr. Matthew DiLallo DC, MA, CSCS
The physical skills that are required to be a baseball player are straightforward, improved alactic power; alactic capacity and aerobic capacity and training should consist of methods to improve these qualities (14). According to the law of specificity, which states that muscles must be used in similar patterns and ways that they are needed in order to make specific gains on the individual. It would make sense then that the methods used for conditioning baseball players should be similar to the demands of the sport, focusing on developing the anaerobic and alactic energy systems.
The physical skills that are required to be a baseball player are straightforward, improved alactic power; alactic capacity and aerobic capacity and training should consist of methods to improve these qualities (14). According to the law of specificity, which states that muscles must be used in similar patterns and ways that they are needed in order to make specific gains on the individual. It would make sense then that the methods used for conditioning baseball players should be similar to the demands of the sport, focusing on developing the anaerobic and alactic energy systems. However, the lack of adherence to specific scientific information has led to a variety of conventional and innovative techniques being used for the improvement and maintenance of the physical conditioning of baseball players with many programs not including an anaerobic emphasis.
Traditional methods of training baseball players consists of building a large aerobic base. Pitchers need a high aerobic capacity to recover fully between their intensive bouts of alactic power (Pitching) and position players need it to maintain warmth in the muscles in between their bouts of alactic power (sprinting the field, running the bases, and swinging the bat), which are divided by extended bouts of inactivity (14). The aerobic base has been traditionally been created using long distance, low intensity, continuous running. However, research has shown that endurance exercise lasting longer than 30 minutes has detrimental effects on power output (12,13). Power output drastically drops after 30 minutes of aerobic exercise even when combined with weight training (5). According to Rhea et al, endurance training and power training are not compatible to be trained at the same time for baseball players. The aerobic endurance training resulted in a decrease in power among college baseball players. This decrease in power is not desirable for a baseball athlete and should be avoided in order to maintain performance in both pitchers and position players. Endurance training has also been shown to decrease muscle fiber size, muscle strength, and muscle power all of which are detrimental to a baseball athlete (8). So how do we build an aerobic base while still maintaining power and strength? Burgomaster et al showed that aerobic capacity can be increased via high intensity interval training rather than through steady state, long aerobic training. Balbinis et al also showed that repeated sprints with minimal rest intervals are shown to increase VO2max. An increase in VO2max means an increase in aerobic capacity. Conditioning activities should be directed away from traditional extended aerobic endurance exercise and switched to interval-type/repeated sprint conditioning. Tempo runs/tempo throws are the best example of this. By keeping the conditioning on the power end of the spectrum power can be maintained and possibly even increased over the course of a baseball season.
The sport of baseball is an alactic sport, meaning that lactate is not formed during baseball activity. Contrary to popular belief, muscle fatigue is not caused by lactic acid formation. Astrand et al. found that the normal amount of lactic acid circulating in the blood is about 1 to 2 millimoles/litre of blood. The onset of blood lactate accumulation (OBLA) occurs between 2 and 4 millimoles/litre of blood. In non-athletes this point is about 50% to 60% VO2 max and in trained athletes around 70% to 80% VO2 max (1). Lactic acid starts to accumulate in the muscles once you start operating above your anaerobic threshold. This is normally somewhere between 80% and 90% of your maximum heart rate (MHR) in trained athletes (1). When pitching, the athlete’s heart rate rarely rises much above 40-50% of VO2 max (8). Much of the energy that is used during the throwing of a pitch comes from the ATP-PC energy system. The time requirement for throwing a pitch is 1 to 2 seconds and the rest period is 18 seconds, it can be assumed that energy requirements are fulfilled by the one-enzyme reactions during the work and by aerobic metabolism during the recovery (8). The creatine-kinase levels were elevated three fold when compared to the pre exercise values, further supporting the theory of the predominate energy system being the ATP-CP (11).
Power is defined as P=(force x displacement)/time. Increases in power can happen in two ways, increase the ability to exert force (get stronger) or decrease the amount of time in which you exert the force (rate of force development) (8,10). However there is limitation to this equation. The velocity of movement slows down as the weight increases. Therefore it is important to work in the correct range of percent RM that allows for maximum power production to be utilized. Due to the lightweight of the ball (5 oz) and bat (32-36 oz) the velocity of the movement is of greater importance than force (10). According to McEvoy et al, this range has been shown to be between 30-50% of ones 1-RM for a given exercise. Moving weights in this range has been shown to maximize power development for the given exercise. McEvoy et al, found that force and muscle activation decrease towards the end of the movement as the bar slows to a stop at the end range of the exercise. Either jumping or throwing the weight can avoid this, however this can be put the athlete at risk. A much safer alternative would be to use accommodating resistance such as attaching bands or chains to the barbell in order to prevent the slowing down and concurrent muscle deactivation near the end of the movement. The adding of accommodating resistance also allows for an increase in the amount of energy available in the system, by allowing for a faster eccentric phase (KE=1/2MV2) (10,14). This allows for greater use of the stretch shortening cycle to improve performance. The stretch shortening cycle is an important component in all-running and throwing activities. As the muscle is rapidly stretched, elastic energy is stored in the muscle. This stored elastic energy can be used to produce a more powerful concentric contraction, resulting in a more powerful muscular contraction overall. Based on this finding it can be concluded that the use of this method of training may have contributed to the increases in throwing and running speed. The use of accommodated resistance shortens the time in which the bar spends decelerating as well as increases the amount of time spent near peak velocity therefore increasing rate of force development. It has been shown that while using resistance bands attached to a barbell, ones peak power and peak force are significantly increased (8,10,14).
We know that sprinters cannot maintain speed by jogging and shot putters cannot maintain power with circuit training. Likewise, a pitcher cannot maintain his velocity by doing 3 sets of 10 at 70% of 1 RM and jogging for 20 min/day. Pitchers and position players must train for both strength and power and throw the baseball maximally with good mechanics. Research suggests that most professional pitchers have some degree of shoulder instability (9); therefore adding heavy chest and overhead lifts could increase shoulder instability and increase the risk of posterior impingement syndrome. Furthermore, the addition of extra pressing work may further cause asymmetries and imbalances due to the high volume of throwing performed (9). Shoulder exercises are performed after exhausting the major muscle groups while lifting or after a throwing practice. This allows for concentration on the small muscles of the rotator cuff when lifting and avoids rotator cuff fatigue before throwing. (2). Due to the high volume of practices/games that nearly all players deal with and the countless repetitions that are needed to ingrain proper movement mechanics of technical skills like pitching and batting, overuse injuries are common among baseball players. Although much can be done to combat the onset of these types of injuries, such as prehabilitation work for the rotator cuff and elbow as well as scapular mobilization drills, to truly keep the player healthy and fresh from game to game, the introduction of soft tissue work from a trained professional is very important.
The physical capacities that should be trained for baseball are outlined in this paper. Improving alactic power, alactic capacity, and aerobic capacity will have great returns on sport performance. Baseball athletes and coaches should stray away from the traditional methods and adapt the methods outlined here so that they may maximize their performance on the field.
1.) Astrand, P. (1986). Disposal of Lactate During and After Strenuous Exercise in Humans. Journal of applied Physiology, 61(1), 338-343.
2.) Axe, M., Andrews, J., Zarins, B., & Wilk, K. (1998). Overview of the Principles of Conditioning and Training. Injuries in Baseball (pp. 527-531). New York, New York: Lippincott-Raven Publishers.
3.) Balabinis, C., & Psarakis, C. (2003). Early Phase Changes by Concurrent Endurance and Strength Training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 17(2), 393-401.
4.) Bugromaster, K., Hughes, S., Heigenhauser, G., Bradwell, S., & Gibala, M. (2005). Six Sessions of Sprint Interval Training Increases Muscle Oxidative Potential and Cycle Endurance Capacity in Humans. Journal of applied Physiology, 98, 1985-1990.
5.) Bulbulian, R., Chandler, J., & Amos, M. (1996). The Effect of Endurance and Sprint Supplemental Training on Aerobic and Anaerobic Measures of Fitness. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 10(1), 51-55.
6.) Castanga, C., Impellizzeri, F., Chaouachi, A., Bordon, C., & Manzi, V. (2011). Effect of Training Intensity Distribution on Aerobic Fitness Values in Elite Soccer Players: A Case Study. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 25(1), 66-71.
7.) Clark, J. (2010). The use of an 8-Week Mixed Intensity Interval Endurance Training Program Improves the Aerobic Fitness of Female Soccer Players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(7), 1773-1781.
8.) Coleman, E. (2009). Training the Power Pitcher. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 31(2), 48-58.
9.) Flesig, G., Dilman, C., & Escamilla, R. (1995). Kinetics of Baseball Pitching with Implications about Injury Mechanisms. American Journal of Sports Medicine, 23, 233-239.
10.) McEvoy, K., & Newton, R. (1998). Baseball Throwing Speed and Base Running Speed: The Effects of Ballistic Resistance Training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 12(4), 216-221.
11.) Potteiger, J., Blessing, D., & Wilson, D. (1992). The Physiological Responses to a Single Game of Baseball Pitching. Journal of Applied Sport Science Research, 6(1), 11-18.
12.) Rhea, M., Oliverson, J., Marshall, G., Peterson, M., Kenn, J., & Ayllon, F. (2008). Noncompatibility of Power and Endurance Training Among College Baseball Players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 22(1), 230-234.
13.) Tanisho, K., & Hirakawa, K. (2009). Training Effects on Endurance Capacity in Maximal Intermittent Exercise: Comparison Between Continuous and Interval Training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 23(8), 2405-2410.
14.) Wallace, B., Winchester, J., & McGuigan, M. (2006). Effects of Elastic Bands on Force and Power Characteristics During the Back Squat Exercise. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 20(2), 268-272.