Six Steps to Make Your Pre-Season Training Matter
By: Gary Vesper, Founder
At Driven we are always thinking ahead when it comes to our athlete development. We know that if athletes want to be at their best in March than they need to start putting in the work now. With that in mind I thought it would be fitting to highlight six keys of a successful performance program for baseball players and what athletes should be doing to maximize their time and energy, get great results and prevent future injuries.
1. Warm-Up Properly
I know, sounds obvious right? Well, not so fast. We see many athletes still using the same old methods of “touch-your toes” stretching, jogging or skipping the warm up altogether. There are two reasons why I feel athletes continue to neglect their warm-up:
1) They are tired of people harping on it.
2) They are tired of doing it and not really feeling like they are getting something out of it.
To be fair, I get where the athletes are coming from. Everyone says how important warming up is yet they do not know or offer a better solution than the tried and untrue methods. These typical warm-ups are boring, ineffective and inefficient.
So lets uncover some techniques that truly optimize the athlete for game readiness. Learning how to foam roll properly will make a huge difference in an athlete’s ability to train hard consistently and alleviate the nagging bumps and bruises DURING a season.
The next step to a proper farm up is flexibility and mobility of specific joints and muscles. At Driven we teach athletes how to stretch with resistance bands and then use their new flexibility during mobility drills that blend flexibility and stability through long and various ranges of motion.
The steps to a great warm-up:
- Focus on tissue quality first through foam rolling
- Mobilize joints and muscle groups together
- Activate hips, core and back
- Stabilize joints
- Get the body moving
Done this way athletes will enjoy and embrace the warm-up. And the results of longevity are invaluable.
As your athlete looks to have a breakout season I encourage you to explore the horizons with this important topic. They will feel better, train better and ultimately play better when it matters most!
2. Learn Movement Skills That Are Baseball Specific
The beauty of baseball is watching players explode to a hard hit ball while trying to stay on balance. This scenario is also the challenge of being a baseball player. How do you become a threat on both sides of the ball?
A crucial component of baseball training is to teach players how to best utilize their body positioning so that they get to hard hit balls in the field. One way to do that is to teach athletes how hip turn so that they are maximizing their force production and using their hips to generate momentum. Baseball players are not taught how to use their hips to get them into proper positioning and instead are just expected to get to the hard hit balls. By teaching baseball players how to maneuver in the outfield and infield with their hips as the force producer they are now able to move more explosively and with better precision.
The next step is to make sure the athlete how to use their entire body to steal a base. We teach athletes how to get into an athletic position that utilizes joint angles, hip and body positioning and momentum that optimizes take off and the first three steps. So many times players get picked off because they were just a step too slow. This one step is usually a result of a poor take off. By learning the sequence of stealing base you give yourself the best position to be a threat on the bases.
These two strategies are the foundation of our movement skills at Driven. Teach athletes to hip turn with their hips and with a better angle. Than give them the skill sets to steal bases effectively and you have made an impact on both sides of the game.
3. Train Hip Dominance
This one is so important! Ask a baseball player (or any athlete) how to squat and they will show you something that looks like a squat. Ask a baseball player (or any athlete) what a hip hinge is and they will have no idea what you are talking about or how to do it.
A hip hinge is a movement pattern that encompasses weight shifting backwards into your hips so that you engage more of your muscles in your glutes and hamstrings instead of just your quads. Your glutes are the true force producer of the lower body so when you get athletes to strength train beyond just squatting you open up a whole new level of athleticism.
Being able to hip hinge properly makes athletes more explosive because you are training your engine, your hips, to do the bulk of the work. By teaching and strength training an athlete how to maximize body control through their hips they become more coordinated and rely less on their knees and quads to do all of the work. This allows them to get stronger safer and provides a level of safety when the athlete goes into the game.
If a baseball player wants to reach their potential they must learn how to do exercises that include the hip hinge. This will open up a level of athleticism they did not have while easing the stress that is on the knee joint.
*Exercises: Deadlift, Single Leg Deadlift, Single Led RDL, RDL’s, RFESS, Hip Thrusts
4. Go from High Reps to Low Reps
How do you get the best results in a pre-season window? Here is how I plan for beginners in their training programs. For the record, most athletes are beginners because they simply do not spend enough time consistently training. Start with higher rep schemes (8-12) the first month so that it gives the athlete a chance to put on more size through the larger repetition schemes.* This also gives athletes a chance to get comfortable with the movement pattern and truly feel what the exercise should feel like.
* Bulking up is done through the higher rep ranges because you spend more time under tension. This builds size for the athlete because they get in a lot of good volume and strengthen the tissues of the muscle without straining them through heavy loads.
As the player works through their programs lower the rep ranges so they can get as strong as possible. That is the name of the game for pre-season training; getting athletes to become as strong as they can in this amount of time so that they can use that strength explosively. The lower rep ranges also trains the neuromuscular system to coordinate more efficiently because it has to learn how to handle a heavier load.
If you follow this program design you will have taken an athlete from just being inexperienced through a heavy volume phase, an intermediate phase to begin to load the exercises, and then a loading phase that they can now start to really challenge their strength.
*For beginners a low rep range is not below 5-6. Athletes rarely need to do single or double reps in an exercise.
5. Train Rotational Power
Baseball is a rotational sport in which requires a different set of skill sets than sports like basketball and soccer. With the bat coming across your body you need to develop rotational core control and then train that control into rotational power.
What this does not mean is doing ‘Russian Twists’ with a medicine ball for hundreds of reps. Training sitting down and with repeated flexion (rounding) does not train the core muscular to synchronize or to power through on a shot. It also does not train the core to stabilize so that when a player begins their wind up they do not suffer any energy leaks through the kinetic chain. To maximize throwing and hitting velocity the kinetic chain (the connection of muscles to perform a task) needs to be linked; energy leaks hurt power production by “leaking” explosiveness through weak points in the body.
In order to fix this we recommend performing rotational medicine ball throws against the wall. Done properly this teaches athletes to use their hips in conjunction with their core and arms to maximize efficiency. This also challenges athletes to develop pure power. Power is the expression of strength and speed at the same time. Therefore, throwing a weighted (six pounds max!) medicine ball with speed, force and coordination transfers right over to throwing and hitting.
When athletes perfect and then progress medicine ball training it is remarkable to see the speed and power in which they hit go up. This not only enhances direct on field performance it dramatically increases a player’s confidence. Perhaps the most important part!
6. Train For Speed and Power Not For Slow And Steady
“Go run some poles,” may sound very familiar to many of the parents, coaches and players. For many, they have probably heard it countless times in their playing career. My goal in this article is to help educate so that we stop this outdated strategy and apply more beneficial forms of training.
The first aspect is to understand why coaches prescribe this training strategy. The reason being is that they think that it will help reduce lactate acid build up and that it will help the endurance of their players. First, there is no scientific literature that states lactate acid is flushed by jogging. Second, proven by the literature lactate acid is not the cause of muscular fatigue. Third, if players want to “feel” better than need to apply better warm-up strategies like outlined in point number one.
The other notion is that it helps with endurance. The interesting thing is that baseball is a completely anaerobic (explosive) sport. In no way do players go for 20-40 minute jogs in the game and in no way does doing so better prepare them for the power and speed needed to dominate in the game.
Lastly, the motion of jogging is very limiting at the hips. Players go through repeated short ranges of motion for 30 minutes that only limits their ability to extend and reach when that range of motion is needed in the game. Pitchers heavily rely on their hip mobility to produce force and remain steady so by having them jog after starts it only reinforces a limited and faulty movement pattern.
Instead of jogging, baseball players should focus on repeated short sprints that require maximum effort with effective rest intervals. This training stimulus increases force production, explosiveness, power endurance and directly translates to a more powerful player. By applying this type of specificity players will be a more forceful hitter and be able to get to more plays on the defensive side without getting tired.
I hope this article gives you plenty food for thought for your baseball players pre-season training programs. It may seem like a lot but it really isn’t. Each component has a place in a program that can be addressed as a separate entity. It is important to remember that baseball is a game in which all athletic components need to be on display simultaneously. Athletes must be fast, strong, flexible, conditioned, and powerful in order to dominate and win. I hope this article helps you do just that! If you have any questions or would like some input on how to best implement these strategies please feel free to reach out.
All the Best,
Gary Vesper, XPS, FMS, Pn1, CSAC