Coaches, trainers and baseball athletes often wonder if an exercise or even the full program is the right type of program for them and their current needs.
Believe it or not, this is actually an easy question to answer – and yet it separates the good coaches from the bad coaches. Or, good application of training methods to bad application of training methods – whichever expression you prefer.
Simply put, if an exercise has specificity to the sport, can be performed without pain, can be performed with good technique, and can be both objectively and subjectively measured to improved movement quality from week-to-week…then it is definitely a good exercise/program for the baseball athlete!
In multiple past blogs, I have discussed the meaning of specificity and why it is the most important training principle in regards to creating sport-specific results in baseball athletes.
Essentially, the more closely an exercise simulates the target activity to what you’re trying to train, the more specific and “functional” it is.
However, it’s important to understand that the realm of specificity doesn’t just need to mimic the movement you would see in the sport – this is one of the biggest mistakes strength and conditioning coaches make.
For example, single leg hip thrusts and Bulgarian split squats will have a measurable benefit towards your running speed, even though they look absolutely nothing like running. These types of movements and progression work because specificity applies to a fraction of a movement just as much as it applies to the total movement.
In the case of the single leg hip thrust, the vertical loading of the running motion is obviously missing. But, the exercise still effectively teaches the hamstrings to pull and extend the hip while simultaneously controlling both flexion and extension.
The fact that single leg hip thrusts can be used by baseball athletes who can’t run due to shin splints or a low-back injury makes it one of the most powerful tools in specificity progression for running.
Training without pain is immensely critical for success in baseball – the injury rates are high enough as it is, let’s not add to that problem by “working through the pain” in the gym.
Actual pain is very different than the natural discomfort that comes from training hard, training with real pain is something that will set you back a few notches, which is super ironic because you’re in the gym supposedly to get better at baseball, not worse.
Pain is a mechanism that the body uses to protect itself while trying to repair a structure or tissue. It will limit your range of motion and limit the amount of load you are able to place on that tissue, which causes you to then utilize an altered movement pattern to try and “train through it”
But, training and reinforcing bad movement patterns is the last thing we want to do, this is something that can quite literally rob you of your performance capabilities and may even lead to permanent injury.
Work around pain, not through it. You should always be training pain-free.
Correct movement during exercise is a must-have and NOT a nice to have.
If you don’t have great technique within a movement, proper progression cannot take place because you do not want to reinforce poor motor patterns or cement-in bad habits in the gym.
When you have proper control and technique of a movement pattern, it provides a synergistic force production between muscles and muscle systems that translate into more strength and power production being produced in a way that’s safe (and pain-free) for your tissue structures.
When your muscles are working in a more coordinated fashion, the body can produce more force with much less effort and distribute this force over more muscle systems to result in less wear and tear on your active joints, ligaments, and tendons.
Historically, strength and conditioning coaches in baseball only ever cared about how much weight an athlete can lift. However, if we start putting more thought into true baseball specific programming, we know that progress comes in many different forms.
And greater coordination are all forms of what you could verify as significant progress, and when you look at training from a baseball-specific perspective, you can create both objective and subjective measures for performance enhancement.
For example, it’s hard to truly quantify how much your balance improved while performing a slow single leg anterior reach, or how your core stiffness has improved while performing a T-stab push-up, or how the rhythm of your pelvis and spine have improved during a Cossack squat.
Yet, these are all examples of progress and are improvements that will lead to you performing better during a game setting. Objectively quantified or not.
The keys to progress in baseball are patience and persistence.
Most athletes and coaches can fully agree on this, but few actually practice what they preach. One of the biggest mistakes in baseball training program design is an overall lack of proper progression, and this is due to a misunderstanding of both specificity and the importance of patience.
If you’re not patient and you don’t understand the above five points for creating the perfect baseball training program, then you will move ahead to advanced movements too soon which will result in poor motor patterns leading to the athlete not being able to perform the volume of work required to keep getting better.
What you end up with is a baseball athlete “doing all the right stuff” but getting nowhere because of it.