Training

Specificity in Baseball Training


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The majority of common training principles are rooted heavily in research done with athlete’s who compete in sports that take place in the sagittal plane. Not exclusively, obviously the frontal and transverse planes are used in team sports as well. That being said, many coaches still use strategies developed to increase activities such as jumping and sprinting up and / or forward to program their rotationally based athletes.

I must admit, before my time at Cressey Performance (where we deal with about 85-90% baseball players) I would have included A LOT more sagittal plane based movements in my programming than I currently do.

We can justify why exercises like a Heiden, or Lateral Jump, work so well in this context with common sense. First, specificity is King. If you want to improve a quality you must train it. That’s the SAID (Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands) principle in a nutshell, and definitely applicable in this case. To take it a step further, how many activities in the game of baseball involve first movements that are not lateral in nature? Not many, pitching, hitting, base running, and often times fielding all require explosive actions in the frontal plane.

Let’s play devil’s advocate for a second though. Being the astute coaches that we are, we are quick to question when something becomes “too” specific. Additionally, we know that many different qualities transfer to improved performance in the sport of question. Likely then, many of the more common exercises used to develop improved performance will also work for baseball players. So then where does it all fit in?

I can offer some suggestions, based on what I have seen work incredibly well with the hundred’s of ball players going through our programming at CP.

Let’s start with some very recent research. In this study: (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22706576) published in The Journal Of Strength and Conditioning Research this past June (2012), researchers found that both rotational and frontal plane specific movements translated to increased baseball performance more so than common sagittal plane choices. This study was the first of it’s kind and gave some scientific backing to something Eric (Cressey) had been stressing for a few years with his baseball programming.

So what are you saying Greg? Should we abandon all box jumps? Do we scrap squats and replace them with lateral lunges? Get rid of overhead medicine ball throws and stick with rotational choices.

The answer is yes and no. Specificity is important, and so is timing. Timing both within the training day, and within the training cycle.

Without getting to detailed, and breaking it down further than it needs to be. Here is a quick way I think about these questions.

Within a training day we will move from Specific to General to Both.

Within a training cycle we will move from General to Specific to Both.

In regards to the training day, med ball work, and jumps are done upfront; this is where you want to go more “specific” in terms of planes of movement. Or to put it simply: if you are going to start involving a lot more frontal and rotational plane exercises to develop power in these planes do it through more specific exercises like jumping and throwing.

From there you want to develop more maximal strength like qualities with traditional exercises in the sagittal plane. We use a variety of squats, deadlifts, axially loaded single leg exercises, and in some cases bridging variations up front. Also of note, I would describe a lot of what we do on upper body days with our baseball guys as an entire day of “accessory” work. We don’t do much bilateral pressing at all.

In many cases I would follow that up with a second exercise that is also a more traditional sagittal plane variety.

Once we get into the bottom third of the training day I would shift to a more mixed approach. This is of course very dependent on the athlete as well. If they suck in the sagittal plane, you may want to keep them there the whole day (with some low level lateral / rotational work upfront).

By mixed I mean that we will incorporate some lateral lunge variations, and a lot of anti-rotational torso work.

Here is a sample lower body-training day:

Foam Rolling, Warm Up

X1. Rotational Med Ball Scoop Toss

X1b. Mobility / Corrective Exercises (Forced Rest)

X2. Medial – Lateral Hurdle Hops

X2b. Mobility / Corrective Exercises (Forced Rest)

A1. Safety Squat Bar Squat

A2. Arm Care Exercise

B1. Single Leg RDL

B2. Arm Care Exercise

C1. Slide board Lateral Lunge w/ Counter Balance

C2. Half Kneeling Cable Chop

D1. Side Bridge

D2. Shoulder Stabilization Work

In terms of the training cycle, I will start by saying this: many times when you are dealing with baseball players you are not going to have a very long “off-season.” Therefore, you really might not have a chance to hit a general phase. Depending on how much time you have I would break it down like this:

General: At this point you are just coming off the season. This means your ball player has spent A LOT of time moving explosively in the more specific transverse and frontal plane. Therefore, why not keep him in the sagittal plane? Use that upfront time to develop some power with things like vertical jump variations, and bilateral forward throws.

Specific: As the training moves along, you are going to want to make his throws and jumps more specific. For the most part keep his med ball work to a variety of both overhead and rotational work, and his jumps to predominantly lateral variations.

Both: Here’s the curveball (pun intended), right? Why would we go back to both? In general baseball guys will start throwing a month or more before the season (more aggressively the closer the season comes). In this case you can’t add, add, add. You need to take away. So with the addition of throwing you are going to want to bring the volume of lateral and rotational work in their programming down. It doesn’t mean you need to get rid of jumping and throwing completely, just mix in less specific exercises like the ones you may have been using at the beginning of the cycle.

There you have it. I hope this article helps you see the value of specificity with baseball players, and more importantly how it fits in to their programming.

Greg Robins is a Strength and Conditioning Specialist at Cressey Performance in Hudson, MA. Greg has worked with clientele ranging from general population to professional athletes. His unique experience in many different aspects of fitness, strength training, and athletic preparation have helped him become an unbiased authority on all things fitness and performance related. Outside of coaching Greg is a former collegiate baseball player, active member of the MA ARMY National Guard, and enjoys power lifting.
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