It’s that time of year and baseball season is in full swing. With the Stanley Cup and NBA Finals now over all attention turns to baseball this time of year as it is the only major sport that is played throughout the summer. I have had questions from some of our baseball pitchers here at Next Level about how best they should condition for their sport. Early in my career I was a Minor League Strength & Conditioning Coach for the LA Angels and I clearly remember a complete lack of modern exercise physiological principles being implemented with our players. But of course as a young coach I had to follow the program that was sent from the top down.
The practice utilized for conditioning is for pitchers is to go for a long run the day after a game to “flush” the sore arm of lactic acid, or minimize muscle soreness to recover faster for the next game. I could spend an entire article showing you how wrong that is in terms of biochemistry and physiology but let me just tell you that is not how the body works. That dogma has been propagated by baseball coaches for far too long!
Jogging Might Not be the Answer
I recently came across a great article by Rob Rabena who works at Cressey Performance where he highlighted some of these issues and dispelled a lot of the myth out there. “In the research study examining the physiology of pitching, Potteiger et al. (1992) found no significant difference between pre-pitching and post-pitching blood lactate levels of six college baseball players after throwing a 7-inning simulated game. Even though during an inning there is a slight lactate production of 5.3-5.8 mM, (which is not high, considering resting lactate is 1.0mM), it does not cause a buildup of lactic acid in the arm of a pitcher after a game. As a comparative example, a high lactate response would occur from squatting for multiple reps at about 70% 1RM; this might produce a lactate level of about 8-10mM (Reynolds et al., 1997).
Furthermore, jogging to flush the arm of lactic acid after a start is unnecessary and not supported by the literature, especially since we learned all the way back in 2004 that; even the New York Times reported on this in 2007!” I was taught this fact in graduate school back in 2000 before it was even formally published. You can then see why it was so hard for me to have my pitchers do this just 2-3 years later when I was working for the Angels.
Pitchers Should Sprint not Distance Run
“Most of the research available supports that assertion that pitchers should stop distance running or not make it a focal point of their baseball strength and conditioning program. Distance running trains the aerobic energy system, where pitching is purely anaerobic in nature. I’m not totally bashing distance running because it does have its benefits for certain populations, just not for the performance goals of pitchers.
Now that we know what we shouldn’t be coaching, what is best practice for conditioning pitchers? There are few things to consider when designing sports specific conditioning for pitchers:
● What should the rest periods be between sprints?
● What distances should pitchers sprint?
● How many days a week should pitchers actually condition, and does this fit into the overall training program?
The time between pitches is 15-20 sec (Szymanski, 2009), or longer for guys who are known for working slow on the mound. This can really help coaches when implementing interval sprints. Based off research and recommendations from Cressey Performance, anything 40 yards and under for 4-8 sprints, 2-3x a week is recommended. This, of course, depends on time of year (in-season vs. off-season). At the end of a workout, if the equipment is available, a lateral sled drag, farmers’ walks, or sledge hammer hits are always a plus to increase the anaerobic energy systems, which for a pitcher are most important.
Training pitchers out of the sagittal plane is another key consideration often overlooked with training baseball players; for this reason, using rotational medicine ball exercises is extremely valuable. Check out this study by Szymanski et al, (2007), which compared a medicine ball and resistance training group to resistance training only. Researchers found an increase torso rotational strength for the medicine ball group.
This explains why med balls are a great option for baseball players to not only develop rotational power, but also to blow off some steam. With that in mind, during a movement/conditioning day for pitchers, exercises like band-resisted speed skaters and lateral skips should be incorporated, along with the more traditional straight sprints mentioned above.”
Based off the literature, we can see now that distance runs or “running poles” isn’t the answer to enhanced performance in terms of pitching. A well balanced training regimen of compound, multi-planar, free weight exercises and anaerobic dominant conditioning protocols is the optimal solution. If you have questions about training for baseball or other sports, give us a call.
1. Fox EL. Sports Physiology (2nd ed). New York, NY: CBS College Publishing, 1984
2. Potteiger, J., Blessing, D., & Wilson, G. D. (1992). The Physiological Responses to a Single Game of Baseball Pitching. Journal of Applied Sport Science Research , 6, 11-18.
3. Potteiger, J., Williford, H., Blessing, D., & Smidt, J. (1992). The Efect of Two Training Methods on Improving Baseball Performance Variables. Journal of Applied Sports Science Research , 2-6.
4. Rabena, R. Should Pitchers Distance Run? What the Reseach Says. www.ericcressey.com Aug 22, 2012.
5. Reynolds, T., Frye, P., & Sforzo, G. (1997). Resistance Training and Blood Lactate Response to Resistance Exercise in Women. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research , 77-81.
6. Rhea, M., Oliverson, J., Marshall, G., Peterson, M., Kenn, J., & Ayllon, F. (2008). Noncompatibilty of Power and Endurance Training Among College Baseball Players. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research , 230-234.
7. Szymanski, D. J. (2009). Physiology of Baseball Pitching Dictates Specific Exercise Insensity for Conditioning. Journal of Strength and Conditioning , 31, 41-47.