1. Regaining lost mobility – This is an incredibly loaded topic that goes far beyond the scope of any blog or article, as it’s an entire two-day seminar or book! You see, losses in mobility – the ability to reach a desired position or posture – can be caused by a number of issues – and usually a combination of several of them. Tissues can actually lose sarcomeres and become short after immobilization or significant eccentric stress (as with the deceleration component of throwing). They can become stiff because of inadequate stability at adjacent joints (learn more HERE ), protective tension (e.g., “tight” hamstrings in someone with crazy anterior pelvic tilt), or neural tension from an injury (e.g., disc herniation causing “tight” hamstrings).
The “Short vs. Stiff” issue is why you need to have a variety of tools in your “mobility toolbox.” You need focal modalities like Active Release, Graston, and ASTYM techniques to assist with dealing with short tissues, whereas you need more diffuse modalities like traditional massage and foam rolling for dealing with stiffness (although both modalities can certainly help in the other regards, this is how I prefer to use them).
You need to understand retraining breathing appropriately and how posture affects respiratory function. If you live in extension , you’ll have a poor zone of apposition in which the diaphragm can function. The average human takes over 20,000 breaths per day. If you don’t use your diaphragm properly, more of the stress is placed on the supplemental respiratory muscles: sternocleidomastoid, scalenes, pec major and minor, upper trapezius, and latissimus dorsi (to only name a few). What are some insanely common sites of trigger points in just about everyone – especially thrower? Sternocleidomastoid, scalenes, pec major and minor, upper trapezius, and latissimus dorsi. Improving respiratory function can be a complete game changer when it comes to enhancing mobility. If you see a baseball player with a low right shoulder, prominent anterior left ribs, adducted right hip, huge anterior pelvic tilt, and limited right shoulder internal rotation, it’s almost always a slam dunk.
You may need low-load, long-duration static stretches to improve length in tissues that have lost sarcomeres. This research has been around in the post-surgery community for decades ( 1984 research example here ), but it’s actually not used all that much in strength and conditioning programs – presumably because of time constraints or the fact that most coaches simply don’t know how well it can work in the right people.
Finally, as we noted in our Assess and Correct DVD set , you also need dynamic flexibility drills in your warm-ups to reduce tissue and joint stiffness, and subsequent strength exercises in your strength and conditioning program to create adequate stability at adjacent joints to “hold” that new range of motion in place.
Many physical therapist employ heat early in a session to decrease stiffness prior to strengthening exercises, too. The point is that there may be many different ways to skin a cat – but there are also a lot different types and sizes of cat. And, for the record, I don’t condone skinning cats; it’s just a really gruesome analogy that has somehow “stuck” in our normally very politically correct society. Weird…but let’s move on.
2.Improving dynamic stabilization of the scapula – I say “dynamic stabilization” because you don’t just want scapular stability; you want a scapula with appropriate tissue length, stiffness, and density to allow for the desired movement. A scapula that doesn’t move might be “stable,” but that’s not actually a good thing!
Truth be told, the scapular stabilizers generally fatigue before the rotator cuff does. And, when the scapula isn’t positioned appropriately, the rotator cuff is at a mechanical disadvantage, anyway. Additionally, poor scapular control can present as an internal rotation deficit at the shoulder, as you’ll just protract the shoulder excessively in place of internally rotating. In other words, you can do all the rotator cuff exercises you want, but you don’t increase strength of the periscapular muscles, you’ll be spinning your wheels. There are loads of drills that we use, but forearm wall slide variations are among our favorites:
3. Enhancing global strength while minimizing reactive training – As I’ve already noted in this series, we’re certainly spending a lot of time addressing specific areas of weakness like the rotator cuff, scapular stabilizers, and anterior core. However, I should be very clear that we’re still using “money” strength exercises like variations of the deadlift, single-leg exercises, squatting (in some of our guys), pull-ups, rows, push-ups, and dumbbell bench presses to get strong. That said, the volume and intensity come down a ton on the reactive training side of things. We’ll give our guys a few weeks off altogether from sprinting, as they’ve usually done a lot of that all season. Plus, nixing all the sprinting and jumping for a few weeks ensures that they won’t tweak anything, given the soreness they’ll be working with from the strength training program – and it allows us to increase strength faster.
4. Putting guys in the right footwear – One thing that many folks don’t appreciate about playing baseball every day from February to October is the sheer amount of time one spends standing around in cleats, which will never be as comfortable as sneakers or going barefoot. As such, one of the first things we do with most of our guys is get them into a good pair of minimalist shoes for training, as it gets them away from the rigidity, separation from the ground, and ankle mobility deficits that come with wearing cleats. As I wrote previously , I’m a big fan of the New Balance Minimus .
Keep in mind that we ease guys into these minimalist shoe options, rather than throwing them in the footwear 24/7 right away. They’ll start out just wearing them during training, and increase from there, assuming all goes well.
5. Normalizing sleep schedules - Professional baseball players (and really all professional athletes) have terrible sleep schedules. Because most games are night games, they generally go to bed around 1-2AM and wake up anywhere from 7AM to 11AM. The early risers I know will usually take a nap before going to the park, whereas the guys who sleep in roll out of bed and go straight to the park. Additionally, much of this sleeping comes on planes and buses, which aren’t exactly comfortable places to get quality sleep. I’m a firm believer that one hour of sleep before midnight is worth two hours after midnight – but this simply isn’t an option for professional baseball players.
That said, we try to normalize things as much as possible in the off-season. All our athletes are encouraged to try to go to bed and wake up at the same time – and to hit the hay before 11pm every night. Any naps they can get during the day are a bonus, too!
While I’ve outlined ten things we address in the early off-season, these are really just the tip of the iceberg, as every player is unique and needs an individual approach. That said, the one general theme that applies to all of them is that we’re shifting paradigms – meaning that some things about our philosophy may differ from what they’ve experienced. Some guys may be accustomed to just “football workouts.” Others may have been coddled with foo-foo training programs where they didn’t work hard. Some guys ran distances. Some guys crushed the rotator cuffs every day while ignoring the rest of the body.
The point is that it’s not just our job to find what we feel is the best fit for these athletes, but also to educate them on why the unique program we’ve designed for them is a better approach than they can get anywhere else.
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