Understanding Recovery

In between busy baseball schedules, school, and showcases, we thought it might be a good time to talk about recovery! The brain has no way of differentiating “good” stress from “bad” stress, as all types of physical activity come at a cost. In the 90+ degree heat, a 4-4 day at the plate can be just as taxing as a golden sombrero in terms of stress. The body’s nervous system is incredibly complex and has seemingly limitless hierarchies and methods of operation. The nervous system is what allows us to read and learn without having to think about breathing or regulating our heartbeat in the process.  For simplicity’s sake, lets think of the nervous system as two categories: sympathetic and parasympathetic. These two systems and their relationship with one another play a critical role in both training and performance.

Most people have heard of the “fight or flight” response, in which the sympathetic nervous system releases hormones and readies the muscle’s abilities to function in order to run from a bear. As humans, this is one of our most precious assets for survival. However, the neural & physical load (stress) of constantly traveling, deadlines, or 10 baseball games in a weekend is, to the brain, the same stressor as being chased by a bear! All the brain knows is that there is seemingly no rest in sight, and it’s got to figure out a way to keep the body going. The sympathetic nervous system allows us to work hard or pitch 7 shut-out innings, but constantly living “toned” up can have negative consequences. In terms of athletic performance, here are a few common issues that can arise: loss of mobility, poor posture, reduced performance, and fatigue. All of these things are related to the body not being able to “tone down” and recover. One of the best similes I’ve heard is that being constantly in a sympathetic state is like a smart phone with too many applications open. It drains the battery and slows everything down!  

The parasympathetic side of things is the “rest and digest” system. We literally sleep and digest food in this state, so this system is what allows us to relax and recover. With a little bit of background on the autonomic nervous system, it should make sense that the ability to switch from sympathetic to parasympathetic is the name of the game in recovery. Appropriate quantities of sleep, water, and nutrition are paramount for both performance and recovery. There are countless studies which have demonstrated with empirical evidence that sleep can improve performance. People who have a hard time reaching and maintaining a parasympathetic state are often the type A’s that push themselves. While this is an outstanding characteristic of successful people, it’s important to understand that more is not always better. ESPECIALLY with regards to training.

With all of this in mind, here are a few keys to recovery:

1.     Sleep: Aim for 7-9 hours per night. Limit electronic exposure before bed, and limit caffeine intake too late in the day. It can mess with your sleep cycles. Most of the sleep experts are now saying that sleep is an individual thing in terms of quantity, but getting consistent, quality sleep is a major factor for optimal performance.

2.     Eat the right stuff: prepared food ahead of time is best. Make sure your blood glucose levels are stabilized (aka: don’t eat once every 8 hours-ESPECIALLY if you’re a teenager trying to gain weight)- Have snacks ready! Find something you like, and that can be made easily “en masse.” I like to make several pounds of ground turkey, rice, and vegetables on my Sunday evenings. I then season each serving however I want! Sometimes it’s with a salsa, sometimes soy sauce, or sometimes you can make it Cajun! Its that easy! This way you’ve got good, quality food made ahead of time!

a.     Eat REAL food! We recommend protein and vegetables with each meal. Some recommendations are as much as 2-3 pounds of vegetables per day! (We know that’s easier said than done, but EVERYONE needs vegetables!)

b.     Fruits and vegetables contain extremely important micronutrients that allow our bodily processes to operate efficiently.

c.     Slow down and ENJOY your food!  

3.     HYDRATE: Stay ahead of the game. If you know you have 3 games on Saturday, you need to start hydrating on Thursday. If you’re crazy thirsty in the 5th inning, its probably too late. Sports drinks are fine in moderation after or during a hot game, but they cannot replace water. Buy a 30-40oz canteen and fill it up several times per day!

4.     LEARN to relax: set aside time for yourself and have quiet time. Spend time with family and friends. Have fun and “chill out!” We know that the breath has an incredible ability to influence the nervous system. Sometimes smooth, controlled breathing with an emphasis on prolonged exhales can help us achieve a more relaxed, or parasympathetic state. This is one reason why activities such as meditation can help calm and steady the mind, as it’s based on attention to the breath. Try this: lie on your back, inhale smoothly through the nose, focus on filling the belly AND the chest with air. Now exhale through the mouth in a controlled manner. Feel your ribs moving. Try to get rid of all the air you can before you take your next inhale. Controlled exhalations can go a long way in helping us “tone down!”

5.     Have a really well-developed aerobic system. Cardiovascular fitness is critical to performance on the field and for general wellness. This system is what allows us to still perform at a high level over a long period of time. This system can help us recover between bouts of exercise or between games.  Additionally, aerobic exercise has been shown to improve mood, learning and cognitive abilities, and even treat ADHD. The easiest way to work on this is simply going for a 15-20 minute walk every day. I tell my athletes to walk the dog on their off days. Being in great shape can be the difference between wins and losses on championship Sunday!

We hope this is helpful! Have a question or comment? Let us know what you think, and be sure to follow us on social media!

 

 

The Deadlift: Understanding Good Technique

“There is no reason to be alive if you cannot do deadlift.” These are the infamous, heavily accented words of former Icelandic strong man and power lifter Jon Pall Sigmarsson. While this may be a tad over the top, the deadlift can help develop life-changing strength!

 If you’ve never done a deadlift, you’ve probably at least seen one. It is one of the best exercises to both display and train strength. However, as you may know, this exercise REQUIRES technique and concentration in order to eliminate injury risk. You see, there are several different areas where deadlift technique must be dialed in. You can’t simply say “pick that bar up with your back straight.”

What if the athlete doesn’t have the requisite hip mobility?

What if they don’t have the motor coordination to hip hinge properly?

Do they have sufficient core strength to stabilize the lumbo-pelvic complex?

 These are the types of things that a trained coach’s eye can identify and correct safely. We often see athletes who’ve been training on their own or at school demonstrate poor technique or poor knowledge of technique.

Here are the top three things that we think influence the success of the deadlift.

 

1.     Hip mobility is a critical component for any athletic movement, especially lifting weights. This is one reason we elect to teach the trap bar deadlift instead of the barbell deadlift. The trap bar’s handles sit a bit higher off the ground and require less hip flexion in order to perform the movement. Most people have issues creating and controlling hip flexion without some type of lumbar movement. While this is a relatively normal movement, it is very unsafe to load repeatedly. The barbell deadlift requires TREMENDOUS technique and stability to perform safely. The trap bar can also be easily elevated off the floor with plates or blocks for those who lack sufficient hip flexion- or for taller athletes who have a much longer distance to the floor. The other benefit of the trap bar is that the athlete is centered in the middle of the bar, and is subject to a more balanced load. In other words, the trap bar is a bit more spine friendly, and affords a much easier movement pattern to learn. Creating strength adaptations from lifting something heavy off the floor is what matters, not the specific exercise.

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2.     Core Stability

If you read my previous post, Understanding the Core, you’ll recall that the core isn’t just your “6 pack.” The core is a combination of the entire midsection ‘s muscles that act to both move and stabilize the spine, depending on the activity. The important thing to remember when lifting weights, is that the spine should NOT MOVE. Inability to utilize the muscles of the core to stabilize the spine is a very common mistake, and is often what leads to injury. Individuals who are naturally strong and/or neglect core training often can find themselves with a cranky back. (I can tell you from personal experience) The ability to lift heavy weights must be EARNED through experience and a sufficient amount of core strength. Core stability should be an integral part of any program not only to improve the deadlift’s performance, but to increase health, longevity, and general athleticism.

The stability ball rollout, and variations like it, are excellent drills to acquire core stability.

3.     Technique

The hip hinge is a critical movement that happens in nearly all baseball activities. It’s characterized by a hip dominant motion that loads the hamstrings and gluteal muscles. The key to a good hip hinge is the maintenance of spinal neutrality, or in other words, no spinal movement. Think of a pitcher loading his rear leg as he sits back- this should be a hip motion, not a knee motion. The deadlift, and other hip hinge exercises, have tremendous carry over to displays of power and strength on the field of play. This might seem like a “no brainer” but the unfortunate truth is that few athletes are taught to properly deadlift in the high school setting. Large class sizes and equipment limitations often can get in the way of true learning experiences. Here is what we like to see with our deadlift set up:

  • Achieve a Neutral Spine (not overly extended)

  • Create and MAINTAIN core stability- brace!

  • Load the hips from the top down

  • Pull the Slack out of the bar

  • PUSH the floor- do not pull up with your back

  • Finish with the glutes

  • Re-LOAD the HIPS as you return to the floor

Though the trap bar deadlift technique is quickly learned if taught correctly, not everyone is a candidate. Young athletes or those who aren’t there with technique or stability can benefit from simple hinge drills such as kettle bell deadlifts, RDL, or cable pull throughs. These are often prescribed as warm ups, assistance work, or as teaching tools in place of the deadlift.

We hope this is helpful! Have a question or comment? Let us know what you think, and be sure to follow us on social media!


Understanding The Core

Most people are familiar with the term core, and know that it can play a critical role in the development and performance of an athlete.  When you think core it’s easy to think of the abdominal area and the “six pack.” However, this is a common misconception! While the abdominal muscles are certainly included as a part of the core, it should actually be considered as one “midsection” unit.  It may be helpful, in a conceptual manner, to picture the core as everything that isn’t your head, arms, or legs.  

Rapid Sports Performance believes firmly in establishing a strong core, and we have A TON of exercises and methods. The two structures that we place a lot of emphasis on are the rib cage and the pelvis. The position of these two areas of dictate both posture and movement patterns.

 Here are two simple examples: if the rib cage is too extended (picture chest out, ribs out-poor postural control), it will influence the way the humerus (arm bone) and the scapula (shoulder blade) move as these two bones are connected to the rib cage.

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 If the pelvis is too extended (butt out-poor postural control), the femur (leg bone) will not be able to move properly and compensatory movement actions take place. The brain will find a way to create movement, often via extension of the lower back, and this is a common cause of generalized lower back discomfort. Simply put, when the leg bone runs out of room, the low back takes over to finish the movement.

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 So in consideration of these examples, CONTROL of POSITION is the name of the game when it comes to core training! We use challenging drills, both loaded and unloaded, that require the athlete to control the pelvis and rib cage. Muscles in the front of the body (abs for example) control rib cage position, and muscles in the back of the body (gluteal and hamstrings) are important for controlling pelvic position. It is in this regard that the core keeps the athlete healthy!

In addition to controlling position, the core plays another significant part as it transfers force from the lower body to the upper body.  The force that’s generated for a home run starts in the lower half and is transferred through the core to the upper body and ultimately into the bat striking the ball.  As another example, a stiff and strong core allows for an athlete to “stay together” during the transfer of force from the lower half to the upper half during a pitch. Athletes who do not have the strength to stay firm in the core and control rotation often find themselves losing velocity, losing their timing in mechanics, and placing stress on the wrong structures.

Here are a few common drills we will often use to help reinforce good position. It’s important to remember that even simple drills like planks are often butchered from a technical standpoint, and must be coached correctly. Make sure you feel the right things!

Drills like the dead bug and bridges (planks) force the athlete to engage the core muscles to maintain a neutral position. They can humble even the most experienced weight lifters. They are also GREAT for helping people get out of overly extended postures and can even help alleviate back pain. Be sure to exhale fully during these exercises, as the muscles that control the rib cage are respiratory in nature. The more you can exhale, the harder your core muscles must work!

The hamstrings, gluteal, and adductor (groin) muscles all act together to control the pelvis for fluid, functional movement. Unfortunately, dysfunction at some or all of these areas can lead to discomfort and even injury. You’ll often see these drills, or progressions of these drills on any given day in the gym.

We hope this is helpful! Have a question or comment? Let us know what you think, and be sure to follow us on social media!

The Thrower's Arm 101

The throwing arm of a baseball player has one of the toughest jobs in the world. It gets asked to create tremendous torque and then gets asked to slow it back down and control that torque. In fact the humeral head has been reported to internally rotate several thousand degrees per second in elite throwers. Imagine something spinning REALLY fast, and then having to come to a halt.

#Rapidfam member Zach Wheeler generates some of the highest arm speed in MLB as his average fastball is nearly 97 mph.

#Rapidfam member Zach Wheeler generates some of the highest arm speed in MLB as his average fastball is nearly 97 mph.

However, just as everything else in life, such demand can come at quite a cost, especially without proper strength and stability. The baseball player must have a strong rotator cuff and adequate scapulo-humeral rhythm (fancy talk for the shoulder blade working in sync with the arm bone) in order to avoid injury.  The rotator cuff contrary to popular belief, is not simply one structure and is made up of a team of 4 tiny muscles. These muscles act together with the deltoid (big shoulder muscle) to both stabilize and move the arm bone in the socket. While the rotator cuff team is busy doing its job, the shoulder blade’s team of muscles also is hard at work. There are about 17 muscles that attach to the shoulder blade, as it is surprisingly capable of 6 different types of movements. It can rotate up, down, tilt back and forth, and glide on the rib cage. If the baseball player’s shoulder blade does not move properly with the arm bone, things such as pain or loss of range of motion can occur, which in turn can cause decreased velocity, decreased command, or both.  

In consideration of all these characters in the story of the throw, it is extremely important to train the shoulder and scapula with optimal positioning and proper technique. This is one of the integral parts of our assessment process as we look at the following (among many other things) :

  • Can the athlete flex the arm without rib cage extension compensation? (Full range of motion over head)

  • Can the athlete adequately internally and externally rotate the humerus?

  • Can the athlete adequately rotate to each side?

  • Does the athlete rely heavily on larger muscles like pectorals or latissimus?

  • Can the athlete achieve full range of motion with scapular (shoulder blade) motions?

Some baseball players need to work on overhead mobility and movement quality, while others need to build protective strength around the joint itself. All of these questions paint a picture that helps the coach make the best decisions for each athlete whether it be strength, mobility, stability or all of the above. While it’s true that baseball players generally need the same thing in terms of strength and power, it doesn’t necessarily mean they should take the same paths to achieve these adaptations. 

Additionally, the athlete must have enough motor control and strength to generate power from the ground through the legs, through the core, and ultimately to the arm. This is why general strength training and motor competency are SO important. The more physically prepared an athlete is, the more physical (and mental) stress they are able to withstand. It’s about more than banded external rotation drills and speed ladders. Good training is multi-faceted!

We believe strongly in managing the stress of the throwing arm and giving each athlete exercises tailored to their needs. I like to think of arm care akin to maintaining the basics in a car. Changing the oil, gauging tire pressures, and rotating tires can seem tedious and not always impactful, but doing so can tremendously increase the life and value of your car. If these things are ignored all together however, you’ll certainly find yourself in need of a repair. In much the same way, maintaining the health of the throwing arm through consistent, properly executed exercise can make a huge difference on the health and longevity of a career.

We hope this is helpful! Have a question or comment? Let us know what you think, and be sure to follow us on social media!

3 Key Mobility Areas for Baseball Players

In the current training era it’s widely accepted that mobility and flexibility are critical components of good training. Athletes must have access to appropriate ranges of motion in order to facilitate safe, fluid movement. Yet, most people either totally neglect their mobility work or half-heartedly go through a few stretches before their workout. The old adage: “well lions don’t stretch before they chase gazelles” makes sense conceptually and for a very small percentage of athletes it may hold water. However, lions don’t have to go to work, sit at desks or sit in traffic. They don’t have to take tests, they don’t have to pay bills, and they don’t spend hours playing video games and perusing Instagram. My point is: our “go-go-go” world and excessive time spent seated/immobile can often be the culprits behind aberrant movement or mobility restrictions. Some of the best athletes in the world prioritize their mobility and movement quality over all else. Baseball is a rotational sport that also requires overhead motion. In order to be both capable and effective with these movements, it is of paramount importance that adequate ranges of motion are achievable. If there is not enough active control at the articular (joint) level, aberrant movements will inevitably occur. Compensatory movements during the violent demands of baseball activities can be a recipe for injury. Here are three (of many) key areas that baseball players need to prioritize.   

1.  The thoracic spine.

This is often referred to as the “t-spine” and is made of the 12 vertebrae in the middle of your back (T1-T-12).  The anatomy of the thoracic spine is designed to be able to move. It should flex, extend, and rotate. While most people can understand how rotation is important, the ability to flex and extend MUST occur for efficient throwing mechanics to occur. The tricky part about the thoracic spine is that most athletes are either very good at compensating (cheating with “fake movement”), or they do indeed rotate well on the table, but can’t achieve good flexion or active control of the rotation. This is why a thorough evaluation under a trained set of eyes is critical for any baseball player.  The goal, therefore, is to give the athlete more of what they don’t have. These drills are designed to restore good resting posture, restore movement quality, and to achieve and control adequate range of motion.

The Side-lying windmill is a classic exercise that uses gravity’s help to create rotation at the thoracic spine. Be sure to lock in the core to resist the urge to rotate at the lumbar!

The Lazy Bear is an excellent drill that helps to restore good resting posture in athletes who are overly extended. As a bonus it recruits the serratus anterior muscles which pulls the scapulae out of an adducted (slammed together) position. This can be an “arm care” goldmine for guys who have trouble flexing the thoracic spine and controlling protraction of the scaps.

2.     Shoulder mobility.

Due to the ball and socket nature of the glenohumeral (shoulder) joint, it has a large degree of movement variability. In fact, it has the most movement freedom in the body, and needs this variability in all three planes of motion, just like the thoracic spine. If movement variability is lost in throwers (i.e., the shoulder joint cannot move efficiently, either reaching overhead or rotating adequately) things start to go downhill quickly. Additionally, the baseball player should have a high degree of control of the scapula. The shoulder blade operates in conjunction with the humerus (arm bone), during normal, healthy movement. If the rhythm and coordination is lost or hindered, it is often the cause of pain for baseball players.

The prone shoulder CAR (controlled articular rotation) is one of the most efficient ways to train the entire movement of the shoulder. This drill gives the CNS (central nervous system) feedback from the joint capsules and facilitates improvements in tissue resiliency and control over newly acquired range of motion.

Supine shoulder flexion is a great way to help athletes learn proper over head movement. Many athletes either cannot “tone down” the large Latissimus muscles to get over head effectively, or cannot get over head without extension of the spine to compensate. This drill ensures a neutral position with good, clean scapulo-humeral rhythm.

3. The Hips/Hamstrings.

Can you touch your toes? Can you keep your legs straight if you lie on your back? The hips are possibly the most important tools a baseball player can develop. They are the engine that creates power. They must be able to move in all three planes of motion (notice a common theme here?). The hip, like the shoulder, is a ball and socket joint. However, because there is a deeper socket and much more muscle tissue surrounding the hip, it does not possess the same movement freedom as the shoulder. However, adequate movement MUST occur at the hips for fluid, athletic movement. Unfortunately, many athletes are missing hip flexibility and mobility, and become good compensators. This often plays a role in lower back pain presentations, or declines in performance. My favorite way to describe the importance of hamstrings flexibility and strength is the stride leg in pitchers. Pitchers who cannot straighten out the front leg and absorb the force tend to lose both velocity and control. This is because the energy traveling through the kinetic chain is “leaked” when the athlete cannot get himself or herself into the proper position!

The band assisted leg lowering is a basic stretch that provides a lot of bang for your buck. It allows the athlete to isolate one leg in a split pelvis position (one leg up, one leg down). This drill lengthens the entire posterior chain (hamstrings, calves, etc) and teaches the athlete active control of a range of motion. This drill should be done slowly and methodically, feel the stretch!

The adductor rock back is quite commonly used to help athletes lengthen the adductor muscles (groin). Be sure not to work through pain, only work with the range you have available to you!

The pidgeon stretch is one of my personal favorites. The ability to get into a hip is important for both athleticism and proper weight lifting technique. As an added bonus, you can reach across to get a stretch on the lats, which can improve shoulder mobility! Be sure you only feel the glute here, do not stretch through pain in the knee! If you are limited here, you can place a pad under the knee to reduce the required range of motion.

We hope this is helpful! Have a question or comment? Let us know what you think, and be sure to follow us on social media!

How to Effectively Eat for the Gains

Do you struggle to gain weight? Has your strength training stalled because you just can’t seem to put on that extra 5 pounds? This is one of the most common goals we see among the athletes we encounter.

 The role nutrition plays in a weight training regimen is arguably more important than the training itself, ESPECIALLY in younger athletes who need a general stimulus to elicit muscle growth. Most good strength and conditioning coaches would agree that even the best-written program in the world loses effectiveness without proper nutrient intake. As a strength coach, one of the most rewarding parts of the job is seeing people buy into lifestyle changes, and truly become better! These are the athletes who monitor what they take in, listen to their body, and most importantly, listen to their coaches.

 Far too often I see young guys fail to put on the weight just assuming they will be able to eat more. You have to know HOW MUCH to eat! YOU MUST INTAKE MORE ENERGY THAN YOU EXPEND. PERIOD. This is the golden rule of dieting, whether it be weight loss or weight gain. It’s very simple balance between energy intake and output. If you take in more than you expend, you WILL gain weight. Most people have no clue how much they really eat. If you only eat 1800 calories in a normal day, the extra 400 from an extra PBJ or two isn’t going to be enough if you’re bouncing between games, practice, and training.

 The other problem I see is that people think they can just “bulk.” You can’t just wake up one day and start eating like a body builder if you’re not accustomed to a high calorie diet. That would be no different than deadlifting 600 lbs your first day in the gym. These things take time and strategic effort!

 With this in mind we thought it might help to share a few tips on how to eat for the gains!

 

1.     Eat Lean Protein and vegetables with every meal. Most athletes, especially those involved in weight training, need about 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day. There are countless recommendations and ratios out there, but this is typically a good place to start. Protein’s primary role in the body is to build and repair tissue, including muscles. So we must have it! Vegetables are non negotiable. Find a way to prepare them to your liking and include them with your meals. They contain micronutrients like calcium, potassium, and magnesium that are critical for normal function in the human body. Preparing them in unsaturated oils (i.e., olive, avocado, coconut, etc.) is another great way to add calories for those who need higher caloric intake.

 

2.     Eat more frequently. I like to recommend eating every 2-3 hours. Keeping the blood sugar stable helps with energy and reduced feelings of fatigue. Additionally, this puts you in a better position to intake more energy than you expend. (Remember the golden rule!) Bring cliff bars or PBJ, or a protein shake, or all of the above with you to school, practice, weights, etc. Some other good on the go options:

 a.     Nuts

b.     PB Crackers

c.     Fruit Smoothies (throw some protein powder in)

d.     Protein/Energy Bars (Beware of crazy ingredients lists/excess sugar)

e.     Fruit

 3.     KEEP A FOOD LOG! Writing down what you eat is the only way to accurately keep count. Unless you’re an experienced athlete/eater, you can’t just ball park everything. Keep a journal in which you can document what you ate, when you ate it, and how much energy you took in. There are several great smart phone apps out there that not only help you log, but can also tell you calorie and macronutrient volumes. We give out a 3 day food log to our new clients, and almost without fail some thing like this happens:

Me: “Thanks for turning in your food log! I took a look at it and made some notes for you. Did you know you only ate 55 grams of protein in this 72  hours? And it looks like you’re only averaging 2000 calories a day.”

Athlete: “Really? I thought I was eating way more!”

Me: Face Palm.

 Food logs help keep us honest, and guide us more accurately.

 4.     Supplement Protein Powder. I get asked often for protein supplement recommendations. I don’t have any loyalty to any particular brand or blend, and truth be told it can be a financial burden! My recommendations are to find a brand and product that you trust and to look for quality ingredient lists. Whey and Casein are typically the most popular and effective. Avoid ingredient lists with lots of words that are hard to read—the fewer the ingredients, typically the cleaner and purer the product. Feel free to add yogurt or peanut butter or throw it into a smoothie. There are endless recipe options for protein powder supplements that are delicious. Protein smoothies are a great way to take care of daily fruit recommendations and include vital micronutrients! No more than 1-3 per day though, and include this intake with the body weight recommendation from above. Protein powder supplements shouldn’t replace real, quality food for individuals trying to gain weight.

 5.     Eat a hearty breakfast. This is my number one pet peeve with young kids who want to train hard in the summer. Set the foundation for your higher calorie day early. Consider this: dinner at 8 PM- Xbox until 12:30 AM- sleep until 9 or 10 AM. The game is at 12PM and a bowl of Fruity Pebbles isn’t enough to break that 14-15 hour fast. Even Ferraris need gas to drive fast. Understand that the food you eat is the energy you need to train or hit homeruns. Get up 30 minutes earlier and crush some eggs and oatmeal. If you don’t want to make eggs, here’s a simple and delicious way to get a lot of bang for your buck with a quick breakfast. You can make this in less than 5 minutes!  

Coach Jonny’s Oatmeal Deluxe:

      1 Cup of Oatmeal

      1 Serving Frozen Blueberries

      Approximately 1 serving of Almond Milk (you can make it thin or thick depending on your taste)

      1 Serving Peanut Butter

      1 Serving Protein Powder

      And A Dash of Cinnamon Sugar

45 Grams Protein, 70 grams Carbohydrates, 18g fat. (Approximately 622 Calories)

45 Grams Protein, 70 grams Carbohydrates, 18g fat. (Approximately 622 Calories)

6.     Crush Water. Muscle tissue is highly constituted by water. Being well hydrated allows you to perform, metabolize all the protein you’re downing, and keeps you healthy. The old 64oz/day recommendation is enough for Grandma during bingo. You’re an athlete, and you’re going to sweat a ton in the July heat. Get a 30-40oz canteen and drink 3-4 per day.

We hope this is helpful! Have a question or comment? Let us know what you think, and be sure to follow us on social media!

Acceleration Development 101

Speed kills. It’s a very useful weapon on the baseball field, and it’s a great way to get recruited. It’s a very rare thing to be really strong, really fast, and really talented. This is why players like Mike Trout only come along every so often. However, the old adage “you can’t teach speed“, is not a useful way to approach training. Speed is highly related to genetics and body type, but it certainly CAN be improved with intelligent training. These improvements take time, and come in small increments, which is why you shouldn’t expect to become a track star. BUT, becoming stronger and more technically efficient is one sure-fire way to improve your game and put you a step ahead.

 

Speed requires strength because of the incredibly high demand of sprinting. Remember that Newton guy from physics 101? Something about equal and opposite reactions? When the athlete strikes the ground, the ground doesn’t just stand there and take it. The ground holds firm! Your muscular effort propels you forward, and is why being strong matters. The more force I can put into the ground, the harder the ground pushes back, and the faster I can run. Additionally, the positions and appropriate angles require tremendous strength. You can’t expect to accelerate well if you can’t control your body effectively.

The split squat builds tremendous single leg strength while simultaneously training a split pelvis. These two things together are critical for running speed!

The split squat builds tremendous single leg strength while simultaneously training a split pelvis. These two things together are critical for running speed!

 This is also the reason that cute ladder routines and arbitrary agility drills may train footwork and elevate the heart rate, but they have no bearing on speed improvements. Today’s social media has abundant videos of people moving through agility ladders at the speed of light or mindlessly running around cones. But what is that really doing? Is the drill really driving physiological change? Ladder drills absolutely have value and can teach people rhythm and control. Sometimes, though, looks can be deceiving.

FORCE IS KING! Heavy sleds build strength in the appropriate positions.

FORCE IS KING! Heavy sleds build strength in the appropriate positions.

In addition to force application, technical proficiency plays a critical role in running, especially during acceleration. The athlete must learn how to strike the ground in a manner that allows the ground’s reaction force to project them in the right direction. We are looking for horizontal displacement during acceleration, which is why you often hear, “don’t stand up when you run.” Additionally, the athlete must possess adequate levels of hip mobility in order to achieve the correct positions. One hip must be flexed (knee drive), while the other extends (force into the ground).

Charlie Blackmon of the Colorado Rockies training acceleration.    Things to take note of:    Charlie’s trunk is slightly leaned forward and very stiff.    His front shin angle is positioned to strike the ground in a strong position, about 45 degrees.    Charlie’s rear leg is fully extended, which allows him to be propelled forward.

Charlie Blackmon of the Colorado Rockies training acceleration.

Things to take note of:

Charlie’s trunk is slightly leaned forward and very stiff.

His front shin angle is positioned to strike the ground in a strong position, about 45 degrees.

Charlie’s rear leg is fully extended, which allows him to be propelled forward.

 With all this in mind, here are some of the drills we most commonly use to teach acceleration mechanics. These drills are designed to help create context so that the athlete can apply them to their sprinting development.

Posture Holds

  Wall drills teach position and allow the athlete to be aware of where his or her limbs are in space. The wall allows the athlete to get into the lean that creates appropriate angles. And lastly, the athlete must be coached to strike the ground with the mid foot, and to achieve a proper shin angle. Finding a good shin angle can be a game changer for improving an athlete’s ability to accelerate. Be sure to emphasize the hip separation I mentioned earlier (knee drive/hip flexion and full extension of the rear leg).

 Sled March

            The Sled March builds on all of the same concepts as the posture holds, but now the athlete is able to build strength in the right positions. The beauty of prowler (sled) pushing is that athletes HAVE to apply force into the ground in order to move the sled. They should not be performed with poor technique when acceleration development is the goal, so be conservative with the load initially. Be sure to emphasize rear leg extension and an active, tight core position.

Sled Runs

            Drag sleds are great tools for speed development, and they’re generally fun for athletes to use. They should however be used with caution, as people often butcher these. These runs are effective for the same reason the above drills are, but are obviously a bit more advanced from a technical standpoint. Its not just “load up a sled and run to get faster.” I like to think of sled runs as more of a strength/power modality, as opposed to simply a speed drill. This is because the added weight will not allow the athlete to run at full speed, but encourages force output at appropriate angles in order to move the sled. This is what leads to increases in acceleration!

We hope this is helpful! Have a question or comment? Let us know what you think, and be sure to follow us on social media!

How to Effectively Train the Lower Half for Baseball/Softball

Have you ever had a coach tell you needed to get stronger in the lower half? It’s one of the most common goals I hear when evaluating new athletes, and understandably, having a strong lower half means hitting and throwing the ball with more power. However, in order to achieve a strong lower half, it’s important that I explain the 3 planes of motion and the exercises we use to drive the best results for strong, powerful baseball/softball movements. So, let’s have a brief kinesiology review:

We have the opportunity to move in three planes of motion. These are the sagittal plane (straight forward), the frontal plane (side to side), and the transverse plane (rotational movements). You see, lifting weights is mostly restricted to the sagittal plane, which is great for getting really strong, but is also where many programs miss the boat. Imagine for a moment the sagittal plane as a train, straight forward with no ability to turn. Now imagine a power lifter turned short stop who can’t rotate or turn. Not ideal, right?

Lucas Sims and Tanner Roark of the Cincinnati Reds training for strength with the trap bar deadlift.    Strength is the foundation for power and safe weight lifting (squats, deadlifts, etc.) practices are the absolute gold standard to increase muscle mass, strength, and general athleticism.

Lucas Sims and Tanner Roark of the Cincinnati Reds training for strength with the trap bar deadlift.

Strength is the foundation for power and safe weight lifting (squats, deadlifts, etc.) practices are the absolute gold standard to increase muscle mass, strength, and general athleticism.

Good training uses an intelligent blend of weight training AND frontal/transverse plane development. Rotational athletes, like baseball and softball players, must be able to create and control several different types of motion across nearly all the joints in the body.

Michael Chavis of the Boston Red Sox. The swing requires adequate rotation at the hips, spine, in conjunction with tremendous lateral force production. (All outside the sagittal plane).

Michael Chavis of the Boston Red Sox. The swing requires adequate rotation at the hips, spine, in conjunction with tremendous lateral force production. (All outside the sagittal plane).

Below are a few common training drills we use in addition to weight lifting to help drive lower half contribution, address movement outside the sagittal plane, and have good carryover to baseball/softball movements.

Medicine ball SCOOP TOSS

This is probably the most common medicine ball drill used in the training world. It can be a game changer for creating rotational power, but it must be coached and performed correctly. This is a medicine ball training drill and should be performed as such; it is NOT intended to mimic a baseball swing. We instruct our athletes to focus on proper weight shifting and to make each throw with intent. The drill also allows the athlete to train sequencing, timing, back side drive, and shoulder/hip separation. Take a look at this tutorial:

LATERAL HEIDEN

This is a phenomenal drill to help athletes understand how to create frontal plane (side to side) power. The ability to load and unload the hips can separate good athletes from great athletes. This drill can help steal bases/change direction, throw harder, and swing faster. The heiden or a variation of it is in nearly every program we write because it has such tremendous carryover to baseball movements. As an added benefit it requires the athlete to land safely by decelerating and controlling the center of mass on one leg. Athletes who decelerate well put themselves at a much lower risk of injury. Be sure to master the foundational movements before progressing and/or loading this movement.

LATERAL SLED DRAG

The lateral sled drag is one of my personal favorites because it forces the athlete to maintain a firm midsection as he or she moves the sled. The outside leg drives through the ground in order to create the force needed to drag the sled. I like to have younger athletes visualize “driving off the rubber” during a pitch. It’s a great low-level drill to create “side to side” force with strong core.

It’s important to remember that these drills are performed in conjunction with safe, efficient weight lifting methods. Without sufficient strength and movement quality, the effectiveness of these drills will be compromised.

We hope this is helpful! Have a question or comment? Let us know what you think, and be sure to follow us on social media!

Your Guide to Baseball Friendly Upper Body Strength

Ever heard that baseball players shouldn’t bench press? It’s an exercise as old as time and allows people to display unbelievable strength. There are people who make their living bench pressing! There just seems to be this stigma that its an “evil” exercise. So why does it have this reputation in the baseball community?

The answer to the question lies in the biomechanics. Baseball/softball players must have functional shoulders in order to perform optimally and to avoid injury. In order for the shoulders to function properly, there are a few major boxes they need to check:

  • They must be able to fluidly move the arm overhead

  • They must be able to move the scapula on the rib cage. It should move FREELY and FLUIDLY in concert with the arm bone.

  • They must be able to keep the scapula “snug” on the rib cage. It should not “wing” or tilt off.

  • They must be able to internally and externally rotate the arm bone.

  • They must have adequate rotator cuff strength to control the arm bone in the “socket.”

  • They must have adequate control of the thoracic spine (It should flex, extend, and rotate).

With this blog, we wanted to outline some of the reasons we do not include barbell bench press in our baseball training!

Reason number 1: Proper bench press technique requires the shoulder blades to be locked down and therefore immobile on the rib cage. This creates the stability needed to control the bar and to keep the shoulders in a good position. Unfortunately, most people don’t understand how to do this and are not properly coached. When this position is lost during a press, the shoulder will essentially dump forward and put structures in the front of the shoulder at risk.

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Reason number 2: As I mentioned, the bench press requires tremendous technique that forces the shoulder blades to be adducted and depressed (together and down), with A LOT of spinal extension. While these positions are quite natural in and of themselves, they oppose the motions required to throw. High bench pressing frequency can cause the athlete to become adapted to this extended position. In conjunction with being “stuck” in this position, added bulk and activity at the muscles used to bench press can cause a loss of range of motion at the shoulder, particularly internal rotation. Put simply: the actions and long term adaptations involved with bench pressing are “non throwing friendly” patterns. They directly compete with the list of biomechanics throwing demands I listed above!

This is a competitive bench press. It is a great representation of the extension and technique that oppose movements required to throw.

This is a competitive bench press. It is a great representation of the extension and technique that oppose movements required to throw.

Fortunately, there are LOTS of other pressing variations that are throwing friendly and build strength. For the sake of time, we will narrow it down to two exercises: the push up and the landmine press.

The push up is one of the most under rated exercises out there. When performed and supervised correctly the push up trains scapulo-humeral rhythm (fancy science talk for shoulder blade and arm bone team work), core strength, upper body strength, and rotator cuff function. This simple exercise provides a tremendous training effect and surprises almost everyone the first time they are instructed properly. Check out this brief push up tutorial:

The other pressing exercise we tend to use frequently is the landmine press. This exercise not only trains upward rotation of the shoulder blade, but it also allows the athlete to get into a safe over head position. These two actions are CRITICAL during throwing! Like the push up, the landmine press trains rotator cuff function, sacpulo-humeral rhythm (upward rotation in this case), and requires a tremendous amount of core stability.

It’s very important the athlete control the movement of the scapula on the rib cage, while the bench press requires the opposite. The important difference is that these two exercises provide a tremendous strength training effect in a much more functional fashion. Give them a try!!

Step 1 in building a strong lower half for Baseball : The Goblet Squat

The Goblet Squat is a safe and effective exercise to help build strength from the ground up and increase performance on the field.

Ever had a coach tell you “you need to use your lower half better”? The squat is a timeless exercise that can help develop freaky lower body strength. However, here at Rapid Sports Performance, we believe in building a better athlete in a better way, and that means safety and quality at all times.  Whether you’re 10 yrs old or an MLB player, the Goblet Squat is a great exercise to develop great squat technique & load up to increase overall strength.

Let’s first discuss the Back Squat. Everyone knows that the back squat is a phenomenal exercise that can, without a doubt, increase strength and performance on the field. This particular squat, however, is a highly technical lift that is often coached poorly resulting in nagging injuries due to poor technique. This squat requires:

o   Safe management of the center of mass (i.e., don’t fall over)

o   Motor coordination

o   Tremendous Core strength 

o   Mobility at the hips 

o   Mobility at the ankles 

I’m not here to throw the back squat under the bus. There are a lot of great athletes who check all the boxes to back squat safely and effectively. There are, however, some important things to keep in mind in terms of its long term training effects. The back squat forces the athlete to get into a position of heavy spinal and pelvic extension. Right now: poke our chest out and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Feel that? That’s spinal extension. We can sometimes get “stuck” in these positions, and being stuck in extended positions can have negative effects for athletes, including increased pressure and tension at the lumbar and reduced range of motion at both the hip and the shoulder. This is not good if you need to swing and throw every day!!

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Fortunately, there are a lot of squat variations that are more spine-friendly and not as complex. One of our favorites, the Goblet Squat, places the load in the front of the body, which forces us to use our abs. Everyone loves abs, right? As a result, the athlete can effectively stabilize the spine allowing the ribcage and pelvis to be in a neutral position and permitting the hips to move more freely. Generally speaking, this more “upright” trunk position is much more friendly on the lower back.  Check out the video below detailing the squat a bit more!

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