Why Your Conditioning is Hurting Your on Mound Performance


#1

Originally posted at
http://www.joshheenan.com/how-to-properly-condition-a-pitcher/

Well rounded athletes or the athlete who focuses on the fundamentals of movement and conditioning in order to master the finer points of his sport. While I believe that all baseball players should embrace this philosophy, I urge pitchers to exercise particular caution in applying it. This is especially true with regard to distance running and pole running, two long-time staples in the pitching community. As I explain in the following paragraphs, these conditioning methods may harm a pitcher’s on-field performance more than they enhance it.

Common Misuses of Conditioning

The first misconception about distance and pole running is that they help to remove excess lactate from the blood after a pitching outing. This belief embodies a basic misunderstanding of the physiology of pitching. Pitching is a maxium effort burst movement that is repeated dozens of times over the course of a game. The burst motion of pitching relies on the phosphogen or ATP-CP system, which is regarded as a lactic anaerobic energy system because it neither uses oxygen nor produces lactic acid if oxygen is unavailable. In laymen’s terms this means that, contrary to popular belief, pitching does not increase blood lactate levels significantly. Therefore, “flush” runs designed to lower blood lactate levels merely expose pitchers to a decrease in power and increased risk of injury without bestowing any measurable benefit.1

Distance and pole running present other problems as well: a lack of neural adaptation (high powered nervous system output); limited or diminished strength gains; and an underdeveloped range of motion in portions of the lower body that are essential to the pitching motion. Holloszy and Booth produced the following paragraph while studying the biochemical adaptations to endurance exercise in muscle.

“The nature of the exercise stimulus determines the type of adaptation. One type of adaptation involves hypertrophy of the muscle cells with an increase in strength; it is exemplified in its most extreme form by the muscles of weight lifters and bodybuilders. The second type of adaptation involves an increase in the capacity of muscle for aerobic metabolism with an increase in endurance and is found in its most highly developed form in the muscles of competitive middle- and long distant runners, long distant cross country skiers, bicyclists, and swimmers. Although many types of physical activity can bring about varying degrees of both types of adaptation in the same muscle, it does appear that these adaptations can occur quite independently of each other in their most extreme forms. For example, the hypertrophied muscles of weight lifters do not appear to have increased respiratory capacity, whereas the muscles of rodents trained by prolong daily running, which have large increase in respiratory capacity, are not hypertrophied and show NO INCREASE IN STRENGTH”2

As I have discussed elsewhere, bodyweight is directly correlated to ball velocity. Distance running reduces an athlete’s fast twitch muscle fiber count and muscle mass, which leads to diminished overall body mass and ultimately robs a pitcher of crucial miles per hour on his pitches. However, there is good news even for pitchers who have unwittingly sacrificed body mass and velocity by doubling as distance runners. By using creatine as a dietary supplement, a pitcher can increase body mass both quickly and safely, and will likely reap the benefits in the form of increased ball velocity. I discuss this topic at length in my article “Why All Baseball Players Should Be Using Creatine.”

Further proof that pitchers should avoid distance running is offered in a tremendous article titled “Noncompatibility of Power and Endurance Training Among College Baseball Players.” This study split 16 Division I collegiate pitchers on the same team into 2 groups, both of which were tested before and after th season. The sprint group performed repeated maximal sprints ranging from 15 to 60 meters with 10 to 60 seconds rest between each sprint. Workouts were performed 3 days per week and consisted of 10–30 sprints. The second group (8 Pitchers) performed moderate- to high-intensity aerobic exercise (jogging or cycling) 3–4 days per week for 20–60 minutes per day (mainly poles). Over the course of the season, the sprint group increased power by ~20% while the endurance group decreased power by ~ 3%. That’s dramatic.3

Pitcher increase power

In short, pitchers should think long and hard before incorporating distance and/or pole running into their training routines. Basic physiology suggests (and the research confirms) that these endurance-based practices jeopardize a pitcher’s power, muscle mass, and skill-specific endurance. Any pitcher intent on succeeding at the highest levels of the game should focus on building and maintaining muscle mass and fine tuning mechanics to optimize the power transfer between his wind-up and delivery. Ball velocity is, and always will be, the factor that separates the wheat from chaff.

Optimal Conditioning for Pitchers

Here are three options I use for conditioning for pitchers (all baseball players for that matter). Be sure to fit your workload and rest frequencies to the aerobic and muscular systems that you are working on.

Sled Pushes
Sets of 10-40 yards.  You can adjust loading parameters to meet your goals with regard to power, speed, and strength.

Flat Ground Sprints
Sets of 10-40 yards.  You can play with the number of sets to fit your goal of repeated power.
Hill Sprints
Sets of 10-20 yards is sufficient.  You can play with the number of sets to fit your goal of repeated power.  Obviously the steeper the hill, the more you will hate life!

Conclusion

Just because a practice has become tradition does not mean that it is the best, or even a good way, to enhance on-field performance. Further research and anecdotal evidence will undoubtedly reveal even better ways than the ones I offer above to optimize a pitcher’s output. However, the next time a coach tells you to run poles or run a few miles, politely share this article with him and ask their opinion. I welcome any and all feedback, and I sincerely hope that this post is merely the start of a much larger conversation.

Works Cited

  1.     Potteiger JA, Blessing DL, Wilson GD. The physiological responses to a single game of baseball pitching. J Strength Cond Res. 1992;6(1):11–18.
    
  2.     Holloszy JO, Booth FW. Biochemical adaptations to endurance exercise in muscle. Annu Rev Physiol. 1976;38:273–291. doi:10.1146/annurev.ph.38.030176.001421.
    
  3.     Rhea MR, Oliverson JR, Marshall G, Peterson MD, Kenn JG, Ayllón FN. Noncompatibility of power and endurance training among college baseball players. J Strength Cond Res Natl Strength Cond Assoc. 2008;22(1):230–234. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e31815fa038.

#2

What do you think of mixing in some swimming?
I know there are studies showing shoulder impingment among swimmers, however, the studies I have read were of competitive swimmers. In other words people that spent hours and hours a week in the pool.
Mixing in a day a week of some swimming work….high intensity “sprints” while swimming could give a conditioning benefit while giving the joints a bit of a break.
I think one of the biggest reasons (coaches would not admit this) coaches have pitchers distance run is the same reason they have them shag fly balls….its babysitting. They dont know what to do with them when they are not throwing.
Love the sprint/sled work by the way.


#3

Eric jumps into this topic so I’ll refer you to his article.
http://www.ericcressey.com/swimming-for-pitchers

I agree with him. Pitchers live in an open chain environment. Sure swimming can be closed chained, but I would rather put them in a true close chained environment that offers a lot of sensory feedback.

And I couldn’t agree more about the baby sitting topic. Even at the higher levels I’ve seen this as the case.


#4

Training actually has a very minimal effect on changing muscle fiber type from slow to fast twitch or vice versa. By type, I mean the type of myosin heavy chain isoform (MHC) within the muscle fiber.

While there is some flexibility between MHC IIa and IIx, there is very little transition between type I and type II.

One study actually showed a slight increase in type I fibers following strength training(from 36 to 39%), a decrease in type IIx fiber type (from 18 to 1%) and an increase in type IIa (from 46% to 60%).

Another study on endurance training only showed a 5% increase in type I muscle fiber percentage, which is considered very slight.

Interestingly, restricting an individual to bedrest will drastically increase their type IIx muscle fiber percentage. The problem is, this coincides with decreases in muscle fiber size AND changes in the metabolic properties of the muscle.

BOTTOM LINE: muscle fiber TYPE isn’t as elastic with training or important for performance as people think.

What training does is change the metabolic properties (and size) of the muscle fibers. An individual with a high % of slow fibers can strength train and his fibers will increase in size and behave much more like fast twitch fibers (more glycolytic enzymes, etc.) whereas an individual with a high % of fast twitch fibers (Usain Bolt) could train for endurance and his fibers would shift to becoming more oxidative in nature, likely shrink in size and begin behaving more like slow twitch fibers.

This is a good article. I think it would help your case to cite some studies showing the incompatibility of concurrent strength and endurance training. It’s clear that if you ONLY endurance train you won’t get stronger…but college athletes are constantly doing both, and don’t realize that this dampens the adaptive response to each. In other words, you can’t get the best of both worlds.

see: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10623984

“The chronic hypothesis contends that skeletal muscle cannot adapt metabolically or morphologically to both strength and endurance training simultaneously. This is because many adaptations at the muscle level observed in response to strength training are different from those observed after endurance training.”

Basically, they know that doing both at once limits strength gains. But they don’t know if it’s because the muscle fibers can’t adapt metabolically to two separate demands, or if the endurance training is simply fatiguing the system and making the strength training sessions less productive, leading to worse results.


#5

If anyone is overly concerned about damaging their shoulders while swimming, they can do what I like to do when I swim(not ever lap, but I mix them in)

They are basically ‘leg laps.’ You swim on your back and use only your legs to move forward. Just using your arms to keep you stable.

I have found that it burns the heck out my legs.


#6

http://www.thecompletepitcher.com/pitching_swimming.htm

Article I found on here


#7

Swimming tightens my hip flexors very quickly and makes me feel weak. Not a fan of it, personally. Then again my body is a train wreck.


#8

LankyLefty, Awesome reply with great backing info!

I’m going to disagree not with the science but the application. According to the numbers you posted, there is minimal transfer of fiber type. The athlete’s I’m working with are mainly trying to be the top 1% in the country/world in pitching. We are looking to maximize force production to maximize ball velocity. A slight decrease in LBM, power, or total force output can have a massive impact to their career.

The average male power output peaks at ~27-30 years old. From there, there is an increase in type I fibers and decline in type II. For our athletes, we want them to maximize their longevity as well as current power production. If we can change fiber type while they are younger and adaptable, the aging process of the fibers will be slowed down.


#9

[quote=“jimster”]If anyone is overly concerned about damaging their shoulders while swimming, they can do what I like to do when I swim(not ever lap, but I mix them in)

They are basically ‘leg laps.’ You swim on your back and use only your legs to move forward. Just using your arms to keep you stable.

I have found that it burns the heck out my legs.[/quote]

Good idea for variation without the risk of impingement.

Again, Not that I think its “bad” but I think the specificity of the movement, limited ROM, and lack of GRFs are going to limit the carryover to pitching.


#10

[quote=“jimster”]
http://www.thecompletepitcher.com/pitching_swimming.htm

Article I found on here[/quote]

Jimster, I’ve worked with Dana in the past. Great guy, knows his stuff, and “gets it” especially being (formerly) in the MLB. Not the easiest of gigs managing staff and personalities.

The article you linked to offers no scientific evidence. That being said, I wouldn’t disregard it, but the only ways I see us growing in sports performance is 1) great research 2) outstanding anecdotal evidence that “makes sense” and leads back to point #1, great research.


#11

Josh, I totally agree with you on that front. Sounds like you’re really invested in your athletes and have a deeper understanding of the training process. Thanks again for posting all of this

Ben


#12

I completely agree it’s all in the application of it

Being that I’m getting a knee scope in a couple weeks, I can’t run or do any type of typical leg exercise, so I’m delegated to just swimming right now.

Swimming is just one of many things one can do. But I think there are better ways to workout, but I think it can be used to mix up a workout. A good alternate workout to keep workouts fresh.

Plus I find swimming quite fun and relaxing.

I haven’t noticed any soreness from swimming other than general fatigue. Of course, I’m not a competitive swimmer.

I would think that a lot of the shoulder issues comes from being a competitive swimmer. If someone plays catch every leisurely. I wouldn’t think they would be likely to develop arm issues that are associated to competitive pitchers.

Overdoing anything can be bad in general, and swimming is no exception


#13

[quote=“LankyLefty”]Josh, I totally agree with you on that front. Sounds like you’re really invested in your athletes and have a deeper understanding of the training process. Thanks again for posting all of this

Ben[/quote]

Thanks for the kind words Ben. I actually sent one of my pro pitchers an article from your site on bodyweight. He’s made great progress the past 5 years, but still needs to get heavier!

Best,