Lessons From an Ill-Fated Baseball Player

Should baseball players train on unstable surfaces? Should baseball players depend primariily on yoga and stretching int heir off season programming? Should baseball players be training in the 12 to 25 rep range?

yoga cartoon

Here is a scenario you for you - I am currently training for my first power lifting meet. My goal for the meet is to bench between 400-430 lbs, squat between 500–530 lbs, and dead lift between 600–630 lbs. Now let’s say that in order to achieve these goals, I am going to work with a coach who specializes in increasing “strength and flexibility”. We do flexibility training multiple times a week for 1-2 hours at a time, and when I’m in the gym I do body weight exercises, or lift light weight for sets of 15-20 reps. By the time the power lifting meet comes around, I will be able to hit my marks since my “flexibility and strength” have improved so much. Good idea? ABSOLUTELY NOT!

That short story is based on a true story told to me by Melissa describing a minor league pitcher she ran into at the gym. At first I just laughed, but the more I think about it, the more it bothers me on multiple levels.

First, flexibility is a garbage term and shouldn’t be the only goal for an athlete who competes in sports that require power

Saying a muscle is flexible is like telling someone to just head north and eventually they will find your house without actually telling them your address, turn by turn directions, or what street you live on. It’s a blanket statement that means nothing. To see a joint as being flexible lets the world know you aren’t aware of how bodies are designed to work. Joints are meant to be either stable or mobile. Those that are mobile are only meant to be mobile to certain degrees. For example, your body is designed to achieve 70 degrees in a lying single leg raise; individuals that have the ability to reach beyond 90 degrees most likely have stability issues elsewhere in their bodies, which oftentimes will lead to injury. Excessive mobility is not a good thing!

Furthermore, what good is mobility without power? Compare it to a car: how would Chevy improve the 0 to 60 time in a Corvette? Would they design a new engine with more horse power and torque, or would they redesign the model so the trunk and hood open to 90 degrees rather than the normal 70 degrees? Obviously increase the torque and horsepower!

 Detroit ZR1 Reveal Hood Open

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that mobility and certain degrees of motion are needed to maintain healthy motion and mechanics. But, we all know athletes who think yoga is a good substitute for strength training. Yes, there is a time and place for everything, however if an athlete already can move properly, put the pedal down and start making adaptations in the gym. Start training the movements and exercises that will take your game to the next level, medicine balls, dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells, etc.

Second, understand specificity!!!!!

If your goal is to get some more juice on your fastball, increase your time from home to first, improve your ability to run down a ball in the outfield, or increase the power of a swing, then you need to have more powerful hips. How do you do this? Spend time training your lower body with plyometrics, under a barbell squatting, holding significant amounts of weight while lunging or doing stepups…. The list goes on. There are hundreds of other lower body exercises out there that can strengthen your hips. Don’t waste your time on an unstable surface “getting your hips stronger” or lazily cranking out sets of 15 to 20 bodyweight squats and lunges because someone without basic understanding of specificity or strength and conditioning said it will help you out. For more on this topic refer to click here.

Third, the wise hunter never hunts two rabbits

hunter two rabbits

If you claim to specialize in flexibility, do not go telling someone how to conduct their strength training, especially when you have no experience in this field. Now I know this sounds a little harsh, but I would say the same thing to a personal trainer or strength coach who over steps their bIf you claim to specialize in flexibility, do not go telling someone how to conduct their strength training, especially when you have no experience in this field. We as strength coaches have certain lines we can’t cross, i.e. manual manipulation, anything at the neck, or individuals who are beyond your ability to help. You will have more success in your career if you set up a network of physical therapists, massage therapists, active release therapists, or chiropractors that you can send your clients to. If you feel as if you can handle all of the above, more power to you, but in order to truly perfect your craft you will be much better off picking one or two and running with it.

Fourth, think about your source of knowledge 

This section goes to the athletes and clients out there. When I learned I needed to have tommy john I went to see someone who has performed the surgery many times successfully in the past. I could have gone to a butcher since they also have experience cutting meat; however I thought it was smarter to go with a specialist. How does this relate to the article? Well if you want to be strong you work with someone who is strong or has made other people strong. If you want to be a better baseball player you see someone who understands the very specific nature of the sport and has had success with baseball players in the past. It’s a simple concept.

We live in a very naive society, where people often take the first thought they hear and run with it without doing any research into the topic. This is clear by the exercise crazes that come and go. There are certain things in the strength world that have never changed, and one is that heavy resistance training will cause positive adaptations in athletes. Yes, trends will come and go, but science has over and over again backed up strength training.

Take home message

When I first entered the strength and conditioning field, I felt as if I needed to get into a pissing contest over everything I stood for or against i.e. unstable surface training, squat depth, Crossfit, Olympic lifting, etc. As I gain more knowledge and experience, I have learned that no matter what you say or present to someone, if they are not open minded it will not stick. Basically, if they have already drank someone else’s Kool-aid and think it’s the best Kool-aid ever, they won’t change. If they are truly willing to listen and taste what you offer, then they will ask you for more information.

Enjoy my Kool-aid!

Train Strong!