IN SEASON TRAINING FOR BASEBALL/SOFTBALL
“Everyone has a plan, until they get punched in the mouth” -Mike Tyson
With high school baseball and club softball rapidly approaching I thought I would take some time to discuss our approach to optimizing in season training for performance and injury prevention for our ballplayers. Throwing and hitting are two of the most violent movements in sport, these movements combined with demanding game and practice schedules make training potentially detrimental for ballplayers if not programmed correctly. Here’s a few of the principles that make up our protocol for in season baseball and softball training. Likewise, these rules most often apply to the other sports as well.
1. LISTEN. This goes for our trainers and our athletes. As trainers we must ask questions and listen. For pitchers, when was the last time you threw? When is the next time? How’s the elbow/shoulder feel? How many pitches did you throw? For positional players, do you feel fresh? How do the legs feel? Who do you play next? In high school sports, the opponent schedule matters, if our athletes are playing a school they know will be a lopsided game, that week may be a good time to get extra work in. Likewise, our athletes need to listen to their own bodies and look for trends in performance and muscle/joint soreness. Experienced athletes can often identify even the slightest whisper of a soft tissue problem.
2. KEEP INTENSITY HIGH, VOLUME LOW. Contrary to what was thought in training previous generations of athletes, lifting with higher intensity (weight) in season at low volumes (reps) causes less muscular stress and fatigue compared to the moderate intensity with higher reps. Additional benefits of higher intensity training, maintain/boost hormones like testosterone and GH, recruit far greater motor units during training, and maintain the strength high levels of strength we created in the off season.
3. DESCEND LOAD TO GAMES. Every week is different for our athletes but its pretty standard we try to get in higher intensity training sessions with in 24-48 hours of games, depending on the schedule. Then within 24-48 hours of an upcoming game we focus on restoration, movement, and functional strength.
4. GET TECHNICAL. In season is the time of year that we can really put our knowledge to use. We have a number of tools to keep our athletes strong in season without creating lactic acid and soreness. This typically means using concentric and isometric focused exercises such as sled push/pulls or concentric deadlifts that do not inherently create muscle breakdown. Adding accommodating resistance such as bands and chains is another way to lessen the impact of the eccentric portion (downward) of the exercise and increase difficulty throughout the concentric (upward) portion. Pictured below is box squat which has a more concentric focus and will have less associated muscle soreness.
5. SMART CONDITIONING AND SPEED WORK. We do not condition our athletes in season. Any sprint work we put them through is high intensity, short in duration, and is given adequate rest. As a high school softball coach, I have had the urge to condition our players when they look “flat” or are playing “without energy”. However, as most great head coaches (like my wife Caley Mitchell) know, fatigue ridden conditioning is probably not the answer. Keep it hard, fast, and days in advance of games.
6. KEEP EYE ON SOFT TISSUE AND JOINT HEALTH. We are pretty hands on with our athletes in regards to maintaining soft tissue integrity around overused joints. Using a combination of restorative exercises, manual therapy, e-stim, and compression wraps we aim to maintain normal blood flow, pliability, and elasticity to ensure stabilizing muscles stay activated; which will subsequently maintain joint health.
7. BE FLEXIBILE. Everyone has a plan until they get punch in the mouth, or injured, or has a rain out, or is playing a terrible team the next day, or feeling weak, or just needs a day off to recover. Navigating a plan and its alternate routes, more than anything else, is our job as performance coaches.