The baseball season is rapidly approaching and will likely be here before we know it. Practices are in full swing for most high-school athletes and soon enough we’ll be cutting the grass, striping the fields, and lacing up the spikes for another season.
Before the season gets under way I wanted to tackle a few of the bigger mistakes that most players make, which in turn end up having a profoundly negative effect on their performance. Chances are, most players aren’t even aware they’re making these mistakes, and more importantly they don’t know what to do to address them so that they can perform at the top of their game all summer long (thank you Kid Rock).
MISTAKE #1: Training TOO MUCH. Or, Not Training Enough.
When it comes to proper training for a baseball player there are many different skills and abilities that come into play that make an individual a successful player. A few of those include strength, power, speed, agility and mobility. Hopefully you’ve worked hard throughout the off-season to develop those traits with a proper strength and conditioning program. Now comes the time to show everyone what you’ve got, to put all your hard work to use.
But what about all that training that helped you to improve in the winter months? Should you continue the same program? Should you stop altogether? As in most cases, the answer lies somewhere in the middle. More specifically, the answer depends on your level of competition (Little League, High School, College), number of games per week, your position, and playing time. All these factors considered, the answer is traditionally somewhere between 2 and 3 sessions per week. Those sessions shouldn’t last more than an hour, and should be sure to address each individual’s weak points as well as their position-specific-needs.
MISTAKE #2: Improperly Warming-Up. Or, Not Warming Up At All.
If you asked me what the most underrated, overlooked component of a sport or training program was I would unequivocally say THE WARM-UP. Too often the warm-up is poorly planned, rushed and in some instances skipped altogether. A proper warm-up will get the athlete’s body amped up to perform at their full capacity. As an athlete, would you rather compete at 80% of your potential, or at 100%? I thought so, so stop leaving untapped resources on the table by not warming up properly!
There are several components of a complete warm-up:
1) Improve soft-tissue quality. When you are loose, you simply perform better.
2) Incorporate general movements (think bodyweight squats) to increase core temperature
3) Dynamic flexibility/mobility drills – This does NOT mean holding a stretch for :20
4) Activate inhibited/weak muscles. Throwing is a very intense and powerful movement, it is imperative that baseball players learn how to activate those muscles that are opposite to the throwing muscles in order to keep their shoulders and elbows healthy!
5) Excite the CNS. The Central Nervous System is largely responsible for explosive movements (i.e. swinging a bat, running to first, sprinting to field a ball and throwing a ball). The CNS doesn’t respond particularly well to being called upon with no warning and leads to slower, less powerful movements.
6) Include specific movement patterns. This would include movements you can expect to perform in a game (throwing a ball, sprinting, swinging a bat). It is important to note that these movements shouldn’t be rushed and it would be optimal for the athlete to warm-up to a full sprint, for example, by performing a few sprints at 70, 80, and 90% before going all out.
MISTAKE #3: Poor Recovery Habits
Baseball isn’t traditionally as physically brutalizing a sport as say football, or rugby, (save for the occasional bench-clearing brawl), and so players usually aren’t so sore that they can’t train in-between games, and should take advantage of this. Keep in mind that “training” doesn’t necessarily mean that you should be gasping for air 10 minutes in and unable to scrape yourself off the floor by the end of a session. Those types of workouts, whether in-season or off, are largely counterproductive for athletes and will do more harm than good. A training session can in fact be more of a “recovery” session where athletes perform soft-tissue work, mobility drills, strength training (dependent upon game schedule), and a few activation and CNS exercises. A good recovery session should actually be very similar to a good warm-up, but just more of an extended version, and with a greater focus on developing and addressing individual weak-points.
Other recovery habits should include:
- A stretching program. There are certain times where holding a stretch can be detrimental to performance (before a game or training session), and certain times where it can aid in recovery efforts (night after a game, or on an off-day).
- Proper diet/nutritional strategies. Well beyond the scope of this article, but I will try to sum it up in two sentences:
- Eat like a caveman – if our hairy, smelly, grunting brethren could have caught it or picked it, you can eat it.
- Learn about peri-workout/game/practice nutrition – if you aren’t currently implementing a sound nutritional strategy around workouts, practices and games this change will make THE SINGLE BIGGEST DIFFERENCE IN YOUR PERFORMANCE.
- Sleep. I cannot stress this enough. 8 hours, every night, no exceptions. Bonus points if those hours are consistent (i.e. 10PM-6AM) as this allows your body to stop worrying about guessing when sleep is coming and focus more on recovery and repair. I can promise you that nothing happening on Twitter, Facebook, or Catfish is so gravely important that you can’t wait until the next day to see it. Amazing to think people existed at one point without all these everyday distractions, but we are a strong and resilient bunch, I expect you will survive.
Kyle von Carlowitz is the Director of Performance Enhancement at Elite Sports Performance in Mentor, OH. Kyle holds a MS degree in Exercise Physiology from Kent State University and is credentialed as a Certified Physical Preparation Specialist. He currently works with athletes ranging from Jr. High to College, in a wide variety of sports and ability levels. His expertise lies in individualizing training programs to allow each athlete to reach their optimal level of performance. You can contact Kyle at firstname.lastname@example.org