Conditioning for Baseball That’s Not Running Poles!!!

This article below is a practical guide to a form of conditioning called High Intensity Continuous Training (HICT) that can be really helpful to the baseball athlete and if nothing else is way more effective that running poles.

In the past I’ve written about how long distance running can kill your velocity, check it out here. Conditioning however still needs to be done because it is very, very important so I wanted to provide a better alternative.  If you want to a team HICT workout example check out the second half of this article.

HICT

This type of conditioning perfectly suits baseball because they both require high amounts of power/intensity with short rest periods.  Think of a pitcher with a tough inning where they need to make a really good pitch to get out of a jam or limit any damage.  Sometimes pitch #32 of an inning is very important and it gets tough to produce the same levels of intensity when you have to do something as intense as throwing a baseball every 15-30 seconds.  This is where HCIT comes in handy.

It is also very simple – look at the gif below and just follow along for 5 minutes!!!

HCIT step ups

How to do it:

  • Take a powerful step every 2-3 seconds – alternating legs
  • 5 minute rounds x 3
  • Take 5 minutes of between rounds
  • If the power/intensity drops then stop
  • step up with enough power to produce a bit of a jump (3-6 inches)
  • make sure the leg that is on the step is providing most of the power
  • don’t push off too much with the leg that’s on the ground
  • you should be able to carry on a conversation – I don’t mean at you should talk the whole time but if you can string a sentence together than this is an indicator that you are in the “training zone” that you need to be in.

Tips:

  • pick a step that is just below knee height
  • start to add load but don’t go past 40 lbs
  • when loading where a weighted vest or even a back pack with 10-20 lbs – holding weights can be tough on your forearm grip.
  • progress by going longer – don’t go past 12 minutes
  • add rounds – don’t go beyond 4 rounds
  • heavy resisted bike sprints can also work
  • Get a good playlist going because it is a little boring
  • get someone to do it along with you – misery loves company

Who does it help?

  • Injured pitchers:  if your arm hurts and you can’t throw pens or in games then this type of conditioning will work great to simulate a start.  Go through your pre-game routine minus the throwing and then do these as innings to keep your legs in “game shape”.
  •  This can help the player that can produce high amounts of power and speed but the numbers of times they can repeat it are limited.
  • It can also help the player that doesn’t lose any steam but just doesn’t produce enough power in the first place.  This type of athlete should however spend more time developing that overall power but when it comes to conditioning do this type.  You have to limit the conditioning they do so go with rounds that aren’t as long.

HICT for Teams

Conditioning at the end of a practice is common place at all levels of baseball.  What’s not common however is the fact that very few teams are actually doing conditioning that is going to help players improve their on-field performance.

Most of the time you will see conditioning take form in one of two ways:

1)long distance running which baseball has none of.  So that doesn’t make any sense to go really slow for really long when the game is all about long periods of no action (i.e rest) followed by short burst of explosive athleticism.

2) sprints – at least here we are performing running at higher intensities which we see in games.  But what happens here is that coaches want to “toughen up” or “build character” with short rests between long sprints making this type of conditioning really hard.  Remember that baseball has short bursts (the base’s are only 30 yards apart) with long breaks (approx 15-sec between pitches).

What should we do?

For me the answer relies in the form High Intensity Continuous Training and the best way to implement them is with circuits for both variety and athlete management.

These circuits require very short burst’s of energy with plenty of time in between to allow the rest that’s needed to achieve high intensity.  Without the rest there is no humanly way to keep intensity up.  If you are doing wind sprints with short rest periods it may feel like it is “intense” but slower speeds compared to your best when you are 100% rested would suggest otherwise.

Set Up & Execution

Pick as many stations as you need so that you have 5 players at each one.  Put the players in a single file line at each station and number them 1 through 5.  Instruct that all of the #1’s will go at the same time at their respective stations followed by the #2’s and so on.   After you complete a station you go to the back of the line at the next station and wait your turn.   If you don’t have a number that evenly divides up into 5 don’t make even groups of a lower number.   We want to ensure that there is adequate amount of rest to keep intensity up.  If you have 12 players for example put five players at stations A & B then the remaining two at station C an assigned them as #1 and #2 so that they know when its their turn.

Each player will perform 5 seconds of work or an assigned number of reps that can be done in 5 seconds.

On-Field Example

Here is an example of an on-field conditioning circuit that only requires a med ball, an old tire, a sledgehammer and a battling rope that can be purchased at most marine stores.

Here are the stations – look at the end of this article for a description of how to perform each exercise.:

  1. Battling Rope
  2. Med Ball Squat & Toss for Height
  3. Sledgehammer
  4. Half Kneeling Lateral Jumps

Every ten seconds one group will perform 5 seconds worth of exercise.  The remaining 5 seconds is used by the next group to get ready.

Perform 3 to 6 rounds continuously.  Each round is 3:20 if you stay exactly on schedule which makes 3 rounds exactly 10 minutes and 6 rounds is then 20 minutes.

The number of times that you go through depends on a number of factors such as:

  • amount of time you have in practice to dedicate to conditioning
  • How hard the preceding practice was (volume, intensity, temperature)
  • How long its been since you played a game
  • how long you have until your next game

Error on the side of caution and if the intensity levels are dropping then cut it short.  You should be able to tell the intensity based on jump distances as well as the height of the med ball throws assuming the players are still trying to be as powerful as possible.

The exercises shouldn’t cause a lot of soreness if any due to the fact that they are concentric based.   However don’t do this circuit for the first time if you have a meaningful game in the next day or two.

Potential Exercises:

  1. Rope:  Pick up the ropes and perform 10 explosive  and continuous reps of trying to make the rope wave as higher and as long as possible.  If you want to do this in an alternating fashion with the hands perform 10 reps each.
  2. Med Ball Squat & Throw for Height:  Hold the ball under your chin and squat down to throw the ball as high as you can with very little horizontal distance.  Work on transferring energy from your legs up through your body towards your arms which throw the ball as high as possible.  Transferring power from the lower body to the upper body is needed in both throwing and hitting and while this exercise looks like neither it does provide some positive carry over.
  3. Sledgehammer:  Perform three sledgehammer swings in a row with your right arm higher than your left.  One the next round through the station perform it the other way.
  4. Half Kneeling Jump – start in a half kneeling position with your left knee down on the ground.  From a completely stationary position drive off of your right leg and jump towards your left while landing on both feet like you would doing a standing long jump.  Go to the ground and jump back this time reversing the process by jumping off of your left leg to your right while landing again on both legs

This is just one example and there are ton of other fun variations that can be used.  Even using med ball throws and sled pushs/pull are also great ways to add some variety.

The buy in you get from players will be thousands more than running poles which means that you’ll have players that will try harder and moan less.

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2 comments

  1. Paul Olson

    Hey Graeme,
    Thanks for the great post! I know ‘running poles’ is incurring a lot of wrath these days, but I don’t know if low intensity, low pressure exercise like ‘running poles’ is necessarily all bad. I would imagine Joel Jamieson, an advocate of HICT, might argue that the aerobic and heart adaptations of ‘road work’ may be a simple way to begin (or maintain) the necessary aerobic foundation before HICT. I would imagine Mr. Jameison would also say there are other benefits to the ‘cardiac output’ method, such as relief of chronic inflammation. With his experience with MMA and road work, I would think Mr. Jamieson would argue that low intensity exercise in a properly managed program wouldn’t inhibit explosiveness, but would lead to adaptations that would later promote the development of explosive gains, and slow work would also maintain aerobic conditioning.
    I know there are a variety of slow work methods, and there are circuits (Cressey’s circuits come to mind), simultaneously promoting mobility and aerobic conditioning, but I’m guessing jogging WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF A PROPER PROGRAM would be simple and beneficial way for those pitchers who probably need some aerobic system work. Of course, mindlessly running poles (or doing anything for that matter) is the default for many old school pitching coaches with flawed (or no) programs to develop pitchers.
    Thanks for your insightful work- I really enjoy your posts!

    Paul Olson

    • Graeme Lehman

      Paul,

      Thanks for the comment and I couldn’t agree more. The goal of the article was to show another way of conditioning since most baseball coaches only think of the long steady type of conditioning.
      I didn’t mean to throw running poles under the bus so to say but it was an experiment I wanted to try by making the title of the article rather controversial. I worked!! I got more hits on this article that most but I would rather cater to the educated reader like yourself because it challenges me to get better.
      Thanks again
      Graeme

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