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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