This blog was actually a paper I wrote senior year for my undergrad studies. The purpose of this paper was to inform the reader how to create an effective strength and conditioning program for a baseball player and to provide a basic understanding of nutritional guidelines for athletes.
Overview of strength and conditioning for baseball players
The proper warm up
In order to get the body ready for a workout, practice, or game, and minimize chance of injury, a baseball player must go through an extensive warm up by doing soft tissue and mobility work. Using modalities such as a foam roller, baseball, and stick roller a person can perform self-myofascial release (SMR) techniques to help improve the quality of the muscle tissue, break up scar tissue and soft tissue adhesions, improve blood circulation, and improve joint range of motion (Baechile, & Earle, 2008). A 2005 study done by Shyi-Kuen et al. (2005) showed that after SMR techniques done on the calf muscles “the active and passive ankle dorsiflexion gained 2.6° and 8.0° with knee extended, and 13.3° and 9.4° with knee flexed, respectively” (p. 37). After soft tissue work it is important to perform a dynamic warm up that improves mobility and flexibility and gets the player ready to perform. This helps raise the core temperature of the body and improves joint range of motion and muscular flexibility which decreases the risk of injury (Baechile, & Earle, 2008).
Building strength, power, and stability
The focus of a strength and conditioning program is to build strength and power. Since the main movements in baseball, throwing and hitting, involve core rotational power and stability it is very important to train the core (Baechile, & Earle, 2008). In a recent study, results showed a significant correlation between core power and total body strength. They found that “there was a moderate positive significant (p<.05) correlation between the front abdominal power throw [FAPT] and 1 rep max back squat and a moderate positive significant (p<.05) correlation between the FAPT and relative back squat” (Nikolenko, Brown, Coburn, Spiering, & Tran, 2011, p. 165). When creating a S&C program the focus should be on compound movements instead of isolated movements (Baechile, & Earle, 2008). When a baseball player is on the field he is using his whole body, not just one muscle group, so baseball players should build around exercises that work more than just one muscle. The squat and the deadlift are two must have exercises in any baseball players S&C program because they are great indicators of total body strength.
An effective S&C program uses both bilateral and unilateral exercises to build strength and stability. A bilateral lower body lift such as the Romanian deadlift (RDL) is a great exercise for targeting the muscles of the posterior chain, hamstrings and glutes, but RDLs can be made into a unilateral lift by only doing it on one leg. This variation will not build as much strength but it will help build stability and balance which are both very important to baseball players (Waller, & Whitall, 2008). Generally, it is best to perform bilateral exercises early in the training session to get the most strength benefits from the exercise, and unilateral exercises later in the training session to help build stability when the body is more fatigued (Sokmen, Dowdle, & Boffey, 2013). A great way to build muscle and joint stability is through isometric exercises. With isometric exercises the angles of the joints do not change throughout the exercise. Even though the body is still during an isometric contraction the muscles are constantly firing to help combat the external resistance forces. Being able to resist forces is very important baseball players, and athletes of any sport. Since the angles of the joints do not change during the exercises the muscles surrounding the joints must work extra hard in stabilizing the joint and making sure the joint angle does not change (Baechile, & Earle, 2008).
Conditioning for baseball players is different than most other sports. Throwing a pitch or swinging a bat both take about 1-2 seconds, and making a play on defense or running the base paths may take anywhere from 4-10 seconds. This means that baseball players use the anaerobic energy system (Sporiš, Milanović, Jukić, Omrčen, & Molinuevo, 2010). Athletes like cross country runners and soccer players run for a longer period of time so they use the aerobic energy system. Since baseball players use the anaerobic energy system when they play, they should use it when they train. The best way to train the anaerobic system is with plyometric exercises and sprint variations that focus on short bursts (last no longer than 10 seconds) (Sporiš, Milanović, Jukić, Omrčen, & Molinuevo, 2010). While the conditioning is only done for short amounts of time it is still important that a solid base of conditioning is set. Zafari (2012) concluded that after combining strength training and conditioning training there was a “significant increase of maximum strength was observed in strength and endurance groups. Therefore, combination of strength and endurance training increased maximum aerobic power, anaerobic power and maximum strength” (p. 675).
Reducing the risk of injury
It is extremely important that a S&C program be made to reduce the risk of injury to the athlete. The goal of the program is to improve performance on the field which cannot happen if the athlete is not healthy. An emphasis on proper form must be executed on every single repetition of every single exercise. With baseball players (and OTA of any sports) it is very important to monitor shoulder and elbow health. The joints and the muscles that surround these joints are at higher risk of injury due to all the strenuous overhead movement that happens when throwing a baseball. Exercises such as tricep dips and rows that are done incorrectly produce anterior humeral glide (AHG) which basically means the humerus glides forward in the ball and socket (shoulder) joint which causes stress to be placed on the joint (Bhatia, & de Beer, 2011). This is bad for baseball players because every time a baseball is thrown the arm undergoes AHG. The stress caused by AHG when throwing can be managed and is not usually harmful but when creating a S&C program for baseball players it is important to reduce the stress placed on this joint as much as possible. The muscles that comprise the rotator cuff (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, subscapularis, and teres minor) which help stabilize the scapulae (shoulder blade) and movement of the humerus in the shoulder joint are easily susceptible to injury. It is important to strengthen these muscles so that their chance of getting injured is reduced (Baechile, Earle, 2008).
Nutrition and supplementation
Without proper nutrition, performance on the field and in the weight room will never be optimal. Since athletes are very active it is important that they fuel their body with the right foods. Understanding the right amount of macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, and water) to consume is very important for athletes. Athletes should focus on consuming most of their carbs in the form on complex carbs (slow digesting). This helps give the athletes energy that lasts throughout the day (Pramukova, Szabadosova, & Soltesova, 2011). However, athletes should also consume enough simple sugars to help replenish glycogen levels after exercise and after fasting while asleep. Protein is a very important macronutrient, in fact, the Greek word prota, which means ‘of primary importance,’ is where the word protein comes from. Proteins are important because they are digested into amino acids. There are 20 amino acids; 11 non-essential and 9 essential (Mader, 2009). The non-essential amino acids are manufactured naturally in the body so they do not need to be consumed through diet; however, the 9 essential amino acids must be consumed through diet (Mader, 2009). Protein can be divided into two sources: complete and incomplete. Complete sources would include those found from animals, such as chicken, fish, eggs, and other dairy products, while incomplete sources would be proteins found from plants, such as beans and soy products (Mader, 2009).
Protein has become very popular in the fitness world as a tool to help build muscle. Protein helps rebuild the muscle that was broken down during exercise. It is recommended to ingest whey protein in the form of powder after exercises because whey protein is digested and absorbed quickly in the body (Lemon, & Mullin, 1980). The faster the body breaks down the protein into amino acids and the amino acids reach the muscles, the faster muscle repair can begin. The body has a window of about 30 minutes post-exercise to consume whey protein to maximize muscle protein synthesis (Tang et al. 2007). While whey protein is fast digesting, casein protein is slow digesting which makes it the perfect supplement to take before going to bed, therefore helping the body repair muscle while sleeping (Martin et all, 2013).
Carbohydrates and proteins are very important macronutrients but fats are important in an athletes’ diet as well. According to Pramukova, Szabadosova, & Soltesova (2011), an athlete should consume “approximately 30% of their daily caloric intake” from fats (p. 108). Athletes should stay away from unhealthy fats and try to consume more healthy fats such as those from fishes, seeds, and oils. It is recommended that athletes and also the general population take some sort of omega-3 fatty acid supplement because it helps reduce inflammation, and improve heart and joint heath. In a recent study by Udani, & Ritz (2013), they determined that with dosage of high-potency fish oil supplements there was an increase in mental health scores and omega-3 status.
Being an athlete it is essential to understand how nutrients work in the body, but it is also essential to know what supplements to take to improve performance. Creatine is possibly the most researched supplement that is on the market today. Even though creatine is a very popular supplement, it is actually produced naturally in the liver as an organic acid that helps supply cells, muscle cells in particular, with energy. The vast majority of creatine in the body is stowed in skeletal muscle. Creatine supplementation just gives the body more creatine which helps the body produce more energy faster, which is very beneficial to athletes (Bird, 2003). In addition to helping the body produce more energy, creatine supplementation has a number of other benefits as well. Studies have shown that creatine supplementation can help the body recover faster from exercise. According to Rosene et al. (2009), “maximal isometric force was greater for the creatine group versus placebo for the chronic (30 days) bout. This suggests that the ergogenic effect of creatine following 30 days of supplementation may have a positive impact on exercise induced muscle damage” (p. 95).
Although the vast majority of people who take creatine supplements have shown positive results and zero negative side effects there are people who still remain skeptical on its use. There have been cases where creatine supplementation did not provide a substantial increase in performance; however this number is far outweighed by the number of cases where an increase in performance was noted. There have also been cases where negative side effects have occurred, but these negative side effects were minor, such as nausea and diarrhea. Most of the time when these side effects are present it is because the person either took more creatine than the dosage suggested, or the persons’ water intake was not sufficient (Bird, 2003).
There have been several studies done on creatine supplementation through children with diseases and the results obtained were very interesting. Research done by Bourgeois et al. (2008) involved children who have been diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. They gave a 9 out of the 50 children doses of creatine monohydrate (CrM). At the end of the study all 50 of the children had seen an increase in body fat percentage; however, the 9 children that were taking doses of CrM demonstrated less body fat accumulation than the rest of the children and they did it without reporting any negative side effects. In a study done by Tarnopolsky et al. (2004), on CrM supplementation for children with muscular dystrophy they found that “four months of CrM supplementation led to increases in fat-free mass (FFM), handgrip strength in the dominant hand, a reduction in a marker of bone breakdown, and was well tolerated in children with DD” (p. 1777). In another study that focused on creatine supplementation in children and adolescents with traumatic brain injuries (TBI), subjects with TBI were given extremely large doses of creatine for a 6 month period. They were given 0.4g/kg to ingest orally every day, which is equivalent to 27 g for a person who weighs 150 lbs. To put than in perspective, healthy people who take daily creatine supplements are recommended to take 5 g/day. The results of this study showed that with creatine administration, subjects with TBI “improved results in several parameters, including duration of post-traumatic amnesia (PTA), duration of intubation, intensive care unit (ICU) stay, disability, good recovery, self-care, communication, locomotion, sociability, personality/behavior and neurophysical, and cognitive function” (Sakellaris et al. 2006, p. 329). Even with extremely large doses of create every day for 6 straight months subjects did not experience any negative side effects in this study.
Another popular supplement that is being used is caffeine supplements. Caffeine is a stimulant that promotes alertness and focus. Most people associate caffeine with morning coffee or a can of soda but if used properly caffeine can be a very beneficial supplement for athletes. According to the research review done by Goldstein et al. (2010), “caffeine has been shown to enhance several different modes of exercise performance including endurance, high-intensity team sport activity, and strength-power performance” (p. 2). The only problem with using caffeine supplements is that the more caffeine is used, the more the body gets used to it and its positive effects will be less significant. Caffeine is an addictive stimulant so it can be difficult to use sparingly. Also, to make sure the best results are obtained from using a caffeine supplement all other caffeine consumption must be stopped (Goldstein et al. 2010). For example, drinking coffee every morning will lessen the positive effects of a pre-workout caffeine supplement. Using these guidelines an athlete can improve their strength, power, and overall exercise performance.
S&C for baseball players is very similar to S&C for athletes of all other sports. The main goal is to improve performance on the field through individually improving muscular strength, muscular endurance, cardiovascular endurance, muscular flexibility, and joint mobility and stability. It is very important to go through a proper warm-up before every training session, practice, or game to ensure the body is ready to perform at its highest level, and to decrease the risk of injury. Baseball players should focus on doing exercises that build maximal strength and power, as well as conditioning using the anaerobic system, as this is what baseball players use while they are competing on the field. It is extremely important that proper form be used when performing every exercise to decrease the risk of injury, as well as being cautious performing resistance exercises overhead to ensure that the rotator cuff stays healthy. If an athlete wants optimal performance on the field, then they must be dedicated to proper nutrition and supplementation. Understanding how macronutrients work in the body is vital to athletes for when they make their food choices every day. It is also important for athletes to understand how supplements, such as creatine and caffeine, can be used to safely increase performance. Overall, using the guidelines stated above one can build an effective S&C program for a baseball player.
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