Plyometric Training for the Sport of Baseball

26 Aug Plyometric Training for the Sport of Baseball

Plyometrics are a specialized type of training modality developing the power outputs of the kinetic chain. Bat speed, change of direction, and sprinting in the sport of baseball all incorporate a power component. As a result, a strength and conditioning program for the sport of baseball should entail modalities to increase the power outputs of the baseball athlete.

Power

Power can be defined as the ability of the neuromuscular system to exert the greatest amount of force in a short amount of time (Vladimir Zatsiorsky, Professor, Department of Sports Science, Pennsylvania State University). The process by which power can be enhanced within the kinetic chain is through a combination of increasing the rate at which force is produced by the muscular system and decreasing the amount of time by which this force is created by the neural system. As a result, power development is a process of creating increases in the rates of force production, enhancement in neuromuscular efficiency, and reductions in neuromuscular inhibition. (Clark, Michael, Integrated Training for the New Millennium, 197)

The focus of reactive neuromuscular training (i.e. power training) is on the stretch-shortening cycle. It is through the utilization of this training principle by which the fitness professional can increase force rate production, neuromuscular efficiency, and decrease neuromuscular inhibition. As a result, power training is comprised of a series of modalities utilizing the stretch-shortening principle to address the rate at which force is produced by the muscular system, the rate at which motor unit recruitment occurs within the neural system, the firing frequency of motor units, motor unit synchronization, and the efficiency at which the neural and muscular systems operate.

The process by which power is developed within the kinetic chain is systematic training. Systematic training incorporates the principle of progression in a four tier training system. Each tier within the systematic training system incrementally increases the training intensity and incorporates more challenging exercise modalities to progressively improve the rate of force production, neuromuscular efficiency, and coordination within the kinetic chain.

Utilization of a systematic training system by the strength and conditioning coach will incrementally increase the force outputs of the muscular system in addition to improving efficiency within the neural system. Characteristics of modalities utilized in a systematic training program for power development are exercises which are: multi-planar, multi-faceted, multi-joint, proprioceptively enriched, speed orientated, integrated, progressive, and require rapid rates of force production.

Plyometrics

Plyometrics are one type of modality utilized in the development of power within the kinetic chain. Plyometrics are a category of exercises enabling a muscle to reach maximum force in as short a time as possible (Thomas Baechle, Essentials of Strength and Conditioning, 319). Plyometrics incorporate the force of gravity to store potential energy within the muscles. This occurs during the eccentric phase of such exercises. This energy is then used immediately after a brief amortization phase in the opposite direction during the concentric phase of the exercise.

The box jump plyometric exercise is a simple example where these components of such exercises can be easily understood. Standing on top of the box is the starting point of this exercise. The next step is jumping off the box where gravity will pull you down to the floor. At this juncture of the exercise potential energy is being stored as your feet come in contact with the floor and the musculature of the lower body elongates. Immediately following this brief contact time on the floor, you will jump forcefully upward through a series of concentric contractions by the musculature of the lower body. The potential energy stored within your musculature is utilized and transferred to kinetic energy during the concentric muscular actions of jumping off the floor, thus increasing the force outputs of the jump.

Plyometric exercises are typically classified into lower body and upper body exercises. Lower body plyometrics, commonly referred to as jump training, utilize gravity and the stretch-shortening cycle in conjunction with jumps, hops, and bounding whereas upper body plyometric exercises are characterized by throws, catches, and pushes often times utilizing a medicine ball within the exercise.

Plyometrics and power training in general are similar to resistance training in that both utilize the principles of progression, overload, and cross-specificity. As a result, it is necessary for the strength and conditioning coach to implement exercises in a systematic manner to continually challenge the neuromuscular system of the kinetic chain cross-specifically to the requirements of the baseball player.

Plyometric Training Variables

Power training as with any other component within an integrated training program can be varied or manipulated through the utilization of the specified training variables. The training variables utilized in accordance to power training are intensity, volume, frequency, and duration.

  • Intensity is the amount of work for a specific exercise, group of exercises, or an entire training program. Intensity in resistance training is typically manipulated through modifications in repetitions and load. In plyometric training, intensity is controlled by the type of exercise performed. Plyometric exercises are typically classified from simple to complex relative to movement patterns where highly complex plyometric exercises are of high intensity, and basic patterns are considered low intensity. For example, jump-in-place plyometrics are considered low intensity whereas depth-jumps are high intensity as a result of exercise complexity.

 

  • Volume is defined as the total amount of work performed in a given exercise, exercises, or the entire training program. This variable directly affects intensity and the overall outcome of any training program. Volume measurements in plyometric training are frequently measured as the number of foot contacts within lower body orientated plyometrics and base repetitions with upper body exercises. Typical volumes for plyometric training in accordance to the National Strength and Conditioning Association are as follows: 80-100 foot contacts for beginners, 100-120 foot contacts per session for intermediate level participants, and 120-140 foot contacts for a advanced level athlete. In addition, volume for certain plyometrics can be expressed as a specified distance.

 

  • Frequency can be defined as the number of times a given exercise is performed within a specified time frame. Research on frequency relative to plyometric training has not determined a single pattern best suited for performance enhancement. Research out of Europe has indicated a time frame of 48 to 72 hours is required for full recovery from high intensity plyometrics. As a result most plyometric training programs are geared around this 48 to 72 hour recovery guideline. This is a general frequency guideline very dependent upon training intensity and training experience of the client. As a result, frequency is one training variable requiring adjustment in accordance to individual client factors.

 

  • Duration is the amount of time between sets of a given exercise. Duration often referred too as recovery is a key variable in regards to the facilitation of plyometrics as a form of power training. Power training requires a longer recovery between sets than traditional resistance training. A work to rest ration of 1:5 – 1:10 is required to assure correct execution and exercise intensity (Don Chu, Jumping Into Plyometrics, 14). For example, if a single set of tuck jumps requires 10 seconds to complete, 50-100 seconds of recovery is suggested.

 

Macro-Level and Micro-Level Plyometric Training

Plyometrics are one type of type of exercise modality to be utilized within in integrated training program. The strength and conditioning coach must recognize plyometrics and power exercises are not stand alone training modalities, and must be utilized in conjunction with additional training modalities. During design of a program the fitness professional must combine plyometric training in conjunction with additional mobility, stabilization, and strength training exercises in order to provide comprehensive performance training for the athlete or client.

The integration of plyometrics within a comprehensive performance program requires adherence to certain guidelines and training principles. First and foremost plyometrics generally consist of very high intensity exercises. As a result the strength coach must be cognitive of this characteristic of plyometrics at the macro-level as well as at a micro-level in the development of individual training sessions.

At the macro-level plyometrics should be integrated into a periodization schedule in accordance to the athlete’s competition, training schedules, and training experience. Intensity levels will be adjusted in accordance to the periodization schedule and the principle of progression. For example, if working with a professional baseball player it is suggested to create a series of plyometric programs in conjunction with an off-season, pre-season, and in-season periodization schedule where intensity levels are adjusted relative to the meso-cycles within the periodization program.

During the development of individual training sessions exercise order is a prime consideration relative to the implementation of plyometrics. A number of different training principles can incorporate plyometric training such as complexes and contrast training, but regardless of the training methodologies incorporated within the training program, plyometrics and power training require the kinetic chain to be prepared to execute explosive neuromuscular actions. As a result the implementation of a comprehensive series of modalities in the form a warm up program to prepare the kinetic chain for these explosive type exercises is fundamental prior to execution.

A warm up will address both the muscular and neural systems of the kinetic through a series of flexibility, mobility, and dynamic exercises. It is imperative the fitness professional allot a set time frame to achieve these requirements of a comprehensive warm up prior to the execution of plyometric training. A failure to do so can increase the chance of injury and reduce performance benefits.

Progressive Overload

Plyometrics and power training as with other performance training modalities adhere to the principle of progression. The principle of progression is the implementation of exercises or training modalities progressively forcing the neuromuscular system of the kinetic chain to work harder.

The overload placed upon the kinetic chain through the principle of progression will force the neuromuscular system to adapt to the higher levels of stress. The adaptations by the kinetic chain can be in the form of improved mobility, stability, strength, endurance, power, or skill acquisition.

As stated previously, the progressive overload of the kinetic chain via plyometric training is predicated upon increasing the intensity level of the exercises systematically. Intensity level of plyometric exercises are predicated upon the level of complexity of the individual exercises and should proceed from simple to complex, stable to unstable, body weight to external resistance, and low load to high load training modalities (Michael Clark, Integrated Training for the New Millennium, 206).

Systematic Program Design

Plyometric program design should follow a systemic and structured approach to the development of power within the musculature system. This is achieved through the implementation of a plyometric program with sequential training stages. Each training stage increases the intensity level of training in a progressive manner that continually challenges and improves the power outputs of the kinetic chain.

In accordance with a plyometric program design template popularized by the National Academy of Sports Medicine, systematic training for power development utilizes a four-tier training system. Tier one incorporates low intensity plyometric exercises, tier two moderate intensity, tier three high intensity, and tier four advanced.

Tier One: Low Intensity

Exercise Guidelines: Exercises to establish base motor skills, landing mechanisms, correct kinetic chain alignment, and neuromuscular efficiency.

Training Goal: Develop correct landing positions in jump training and facilitate neuromuscular efficiency.

Sample Exercises: Stabilization Box Jump, Lateral Hop w/ Stabilization

Tier Two: Moderate Intensity

Exercise Guidelines: Modalities to develop the eccentric and concentric neuromuscular system through full ranges of motion. Exercises will require postural control and stabilization of the kinetic chain.

Training Goal: Begin enhancement of the stretch-shortening cycle, facilitate optimum neuromuscular efficiency, and initial increases of power production in multiple planes motion.

Sample Exercises: Tuck Jumps, Plyo Push Up w/ Bench, Ankle Flips

Tier Three: High Intensity

Exercise Guidelines: Exercises designed to increase the neural, muscular, and power production outputs of the kinetic chain.

Training Goal: Develop optimal levels of force production and neuromuscular efficiency through multiple planes of motion.

Sample Exercises: Bounding, Multiple Response Jumps, Lateral Bounding

Tier Four: Advanced

Exercise Guidelines: Implementation of cross-specific plyometric exercises to the athlete’s chosen sport. Exercises are performed at the same intensity level and movement speeds as during competition.

Training Goal: Develop optimal force production cross-specifically to the movement patterns of the athlete’s sport.

Sample Exercises: Depth Jumps, Box Jumps w/ Weighted Vest, Medicine Ball Long Response Front Throws

Summary

The modalities and exercises chosen for the development of power should be done in accordance to the requirements of the sport of baseball and in adherence to the training principles of power development within the kinetic chain. Each individual athlete will have differing needs and requirements to be met within these goals requiring alterations within exercise selection. During the program design, keep in mind the overall goal of the training program is the development of neuromuscular control, stability, strength, endurance, and power within the muscular system specific to the requirements of hitting, throwing, sprinting, and change of direction. The utilization of a systematic training system is extremely beneficial during the implementation of power training modalities.

About Performance Coach Sean Cochran: Sean Cochran, one of the most recognized performance coaches in sports today. A career spanning positions with 2 major league baseball organizations, over 10 years on the PGA Tour and work with top professionals including three-time Masters, PGA, and British Open Champion Phil Mickelson, future hall of fame Trevor Hoffman, and Cy Young award winner Jake Peavy. He has been involved in the production of numerous performance videos and authored books including; Performance Golf Fitness, Complete Conditioning for Martial Arts, and Fit to Hit. He has been a presenter of educational seminars for numerous organizations including the world renown Titleist Performance Institute.

References

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