Baseball is one of the biggest sports in the entire world, and certainly one of the most popular sports in the US – nearly every kid in the country grows up playing some form of ball.
Because of its popularity, there is also a lot of money in the sport, and where money goes people follow.
Some of these people know how to coach baseball athlete’s skill development properly.
Some of these people “invent” equipment that has already existed for years, and the reason nobody knows about it yet is because it doesn’t work well or is easily replaced by a dumbbell and barbell.
Lastly, some of these people understand proper plyometric training, but many don’t.
That’s what I want to discuss today, the proper use of plyometrics – and not the consistent abuse of plyometrics that you see so prevalent in “sport specific training” in the current modern strength and conditioning for baseball field.
Getting Real About Plyometrics
I’m speaking to all of you out there – athletes, coaches, and parents. Plyometric drills are one of the most abused training techniques currently being used by strength and conditioning coaches.
Of course, when used wisely, it’s a SUPER effective training technique. In fact, you will find plenty of properly sequenced plyometric work within the training programs I have designed here at BaseballTraining.com
When used properly, they can increase running speed, functional power output, and jump height. This is very well documented within the literature at this point in time, and when done properly you can receive three major benefits.
Plyometric drills are incredibly efficient at improving the time it takes for you to switch from an eccentric (muscle lengthening) contraction to a concentric (muscle shortening) contraction.
This “in between” phase is known as the amortization phase, and it is of the pinnacle importance for improving agility.
The stop-start speed that is so desirable in baseball for elite levels of agility is very much represented by how fast (or in contrast, how slow) you can effectively switch from an eccentric contraction to a concentric contraction (e.g. change direction on a dime or explode in a different direction).
Weakness in this area will result in a longer amortization phase, and consequently, lower power production during the agility portion of your overall athletic ability.
#2: Neural Changes
We have seen in strength and conditioning science that athletes who partake in plyometric training are able to recruit more muscle fibers and motor units during movements which allows them to initiate movements faster and with more force.
For example, let’s say you have two baseball athletes and they are both of equal ability.
But, one of them decides to do plyometric training for a proper 8-Week phase, whereas the other decides not to.
By the end of the phase, the athletes who decided to do proper plyometric training will be measurably faster and more explosive than his non-plyometric training counterpart.
Furthermore, the athlete who decided to do plyometric training will not only be faster and more explosive – but from a neural perspective, he will also improve his explosive efficiency.
Meaning, even though he is moving faster/more explosive – he will not be creating more fatigue along with it.
#3: Structural Progression
Plyometrics cause some post-workout muscle soreness due to the level of muscle damage they cause during training.
This is very understandable given the amount of force you produce each workout doing these movements, but what’s important to note here is that they do not cause significant muscle hypertrophy.
Meaning, they aren’t as effective for muscle growth in comparison to a more standardized weight lifting approach.
I mention this because although structural adaptations occur in response to plyometric training, they aren’t the changes most baseball players would come to expect.
Plyometrics aren’t about adding more muscle quantity, instead, they are about improving muscle quality through boosting the strength capacity of each muscle fiber.
Sounds Great! Let’s Do Them All the Time!
The above benefits combined with the fact that plyometrics create very quick results for athletes has coaches salivating over using it in their programming year-round, yet, Roman’s research all the way back in 1986 showed us that the results from plyometric training severely taper-off after only one month.
So, the coaches out there forcing their athletes to perform plyometrics year-round aren’t getting better results than the coaches who are creating proper periodized strength and conditioning systems that include plyometric blocks of training 3-5x per year for 4-week phases.
In other words, these coaches are abusing these techniques rather that using them to maximize their benefits alongside a “big picture” well designed program.
Another reason why they are totally overdone in baseball strength and conditioning is due to the fact that athletes don’t feel as tired after doing them. Meaning, 3 sets of 10 depth jumps seems much more approachable to most athletes than 3 sets of 10 deep squats.
Unfortunately, here, both athletes and coaches typically evaluate the efficacy of a workout based on the fatigue they are receiving – so since there isn’t as much “tiredness” associated with the plyometric work, they think they need to “do more” in order to get a training effect.
Not only is this counterproductive due to learning poor movement patterns in a fatigued state, but it can also dramatically increase the risk of injuries in baseball athletes.
And if you know anything about competitive baseball, these athletes don’t need any more injury risk than there already is!
If you want to do plyometric training correctly for baseball so that you can reap all of the amazing benefits but minimize all of the associated costs, follow these crucial instructions:
· The joint positions you use to explode during movement should be as close as possible to the sport movement you are trying to mimic
· The amortization phase should be short enough to avoid losing any elastic energy you create, but long enough to allow for a stretch to occur. The research suggests that elastic energy can last for up to two seconds when performing plyometric movements, so, theoretically, you have a two-second window between the landing-phase and the take-off phase to maximize your results. Having said that, I recommend you try your best to keep this less than one second
· The difficulty of the movement needs to match the preparedness of the athlete. In other words, do not do movements just because they look cool, plyometrics can be dangerous and thus should be highly individual in their exercise selection application
· Plyometrics have a very powerful effect on the body, so the training volume should be very low. Staying within the range of 4-8 sets of 3-5 jumps is more than enough even for the most advanced athletes in the world
· Because of the training effects, residual fatigue, and injury risk – it is not recommended to do plyometric training year-round. 3-4 dedicated training blocks per year is more than enough to suffice here, especially since there are so many other ways you can train speed and explosiveness as well
It’s important to always remember that every training method you use, no matter how awesome it may sound, will always have an expiration date as far as applied effectiveness within a continuous training block.
Plyometrics are no different, if you use them year-round, there will come a time where you lose the cost-benefit analysis.
However, using short blocks of it within your yearly periodization can be a very, very wise thing to do.
In the end, it’s just like anything else.
Use it, don’t abuse it.