3 Training Reasons Behind Baseball’s Steroid Problem

TAGS: steroids, baseball, strength training, strength coach, barbell, training

I’m not going to sound off about the big money that is involved and the chance to make it to the big leagues as many other people do for reasons behind steroid abuse. If those guys want to cheat the game and the fans while they destroy their health, then they can suffer the consequences.

I want to talk about how a few concepts in the training of baseball players that cause many of them to turn to ergogenic aids such as steroids. The better the athlete, the better the baseball player; it’s that simple.

Baseball is currently plagued by three concepts that coaches and parents pass off to baseball players that are without question, pure garbage.

  1. Base stealing techniques
  2. Aerobic Conditioning
  3. Strength Training Principles

Baseball coaches typically teach base stealing incorrectly. This results in reasonably fast, athletic guys getting thrown out more often. Here are a couple great examples of what I learned at the high school and collegiate level:

  • Crossover Step---The athlete will cross the outside leg over the lead leg to generate force while “punching the air”.

Problem: The last time I checked, baseball players wear cleats that provide more traction on the grass and dirt. What happens to the lead leg when the outside leg crosses over? The lead foot has to pivot in the ground because the other foot is in the process of crossing over. The friction caused by the contact of the cleats with the ground will make the runner slower before he has taken his first full step. Not to mention, there is the possibility of a knee injury from trying to twist on a leg with the foot anchored by cleats. Don’t forget to “punch the air”. Some base-runners are taught this without consideration that when you rotate the torso on a transverse plane, the torso can only go so far before it has to decelerate itself. So basically you’re speeding yourself up just to slow yourself down.

  • Pivot---The base-runner will pivot both feet quickly to align himself with second base so that he is traveling in a straight line without any wasted motion.

Problem: You want the runner to pivot his feet in the ground while the ball is being delivered to home plate? That’s fine, but with a ball reaching home plate typically within .4 seconds and a good catcher that can get the ball to second base in 1.9 seconds after receiving the pitch, pivoting the feet to align oneself without even getting the body moving towards second base isn’t going to cut it. At this rate the runner would have to take his lead and get a jump just as the pitcher gets the ball back from the catcher.

In both cases we are asking our base-runners to accelerate as quickly as possible by putting them in the slowest possible position. Yet these two techniques are commonly taught and even validated by some baseball commentators on national television.

The solution is to instruct your base stealers to apply force with the back leg. That will generate some momentum toward second base. As that force is being generated, the base-runner will drive the lead knee upwards with a dorsi-flexed toe. The runner has already started moving towards second base with the directional step and the lead leg is in the most powerful position to apply force. With the directional step, friction with the ground and the potential for a knee injury is minimized and the runner gets a considerably better jump.

Now let’s move on to the second concept that is killing our national pastime. Aerobic conditioning is the biggest fallacy impacting baseball today. The concept of cardiovascular endurance is pointless for every athlete---even runners! Why are baseball coaches making their players run long distances? At best, a baseball player will have to sprint 270 feet to leg out a triple or 360 feet if one would be so lucky as to get an inside the park homerun. The success of a base-runner won’t be determined by how long and how many times they can run to first base. Success is determined by how quickly the athlete can get to the base.

Why do pitchers run long distance? As a former collegiate pitcher I always wondered why the pitchers would go run 4 miles around campus while the fielders would stay and run sprints. Do pitchers have to run more than position players during a game? Coaches argue that pitchers need endurance on the mound which doesn’t make sense because each pitch is an explosive move that taps the anaerobic energy system. If you improve a pitcher’s anaerobic threshold, they will be consistently explosive on the mound. A pitcher’s actual endurance will be based on pitch efficiency and his ability to get outs quickly in order to last into the late innings of a game. Cardiovascular endurance won’t take a pitcher late into a game. If cardiovascular endurance made the best pitchers, then marathon runners would be winning Cy Young awards and not the athletes we see on the mounds today.

Why are pitchers forced to run immediately or the day after a game? Coaches argue that pitchers need to run to remove lactic acid from the bloodstream to reduce soreness and get their pitchers ready to throw again. Really? Running poles, ¾ pole sprints and other long distance exercise actually introduces more lactic acid into the bloodstream, therefore adding to the recovery time a pitcher needs to be effective again. I remember back in my pitching days having coaches that would make us jog along the wall to right-center field and then sprint all the way across to the left field pole. We would repeat that about 20 times or until someone vomited all over the field. Doing this type of activity could possibly triple the lactic acid concentrations in the bloodstream and our coach is out there telling us how good this is for us. Great advice coach! Stuff like this is part of the reason why I can’t throw a baseball anymore. Restorative massage therapy and other modalities including PNF are proven methods to return a pitcher to form, yet very few coaches take advantage of these concepts.

My last and possibly favorite problem with baseball would be strength training. Where do I begin with this one? Pitching coaches like [name deleted] talk about how strength training isn’t important for baseball. Then he’ll rave about how beneficial his wife, who is a certified “fitness” instructor, is to all the baseball players they train because she makes them stronger. He also states that if a player is in good shape, then he is in shape to throw. Really? What kind of shape should I be in? Maybe I’m not running enough poles because my arm is killing me. Or maybe it could be that throwing all year round and not developing proper strength in the posterior muscles responsible for decelerating the arm during the throwing motion is why so many shoulders get injured.

Strength training for baseball is still somewhat barbaric in the sense that some coaches still believe that bicep curls and big forearms are the key to hitting home runs. I also see guys pulling “baseball” workout charts off websites that look like programs that Governor Arnold used to do in his Pumping Iron days. If all athletes were structurally the same and if baseball was dependent on how many sets of 10 an athlete can perform on a leg press then we could all be big leaguers. Just make sure you don’t forget to run your poles.

Many high schools and colleges use linear periodization which is a poor way to develop a baseball player. Baseball players have a short fall season, a shortened off-season winter session, a very long spring season and then most play baseball all summer. According to linear periodization, at what point in this scheme do I develop power, hypertrophy, speed and agility all in the time frames that this form of periodization requires? More importantly, what if an athlete isn’t ready to advance into the next stage of development? Do they proceed anyway? Why aren’t more baseball players exposed to an instructional, biofeedback based conjugate system where athletic attributes like strength, size, explosiveness, and speed can all be developed? Coaches also have the option to laterally deviate from the current program if the development of the athlete is delayed, advanced, or put on hold due to competition. Doesn’t this make more sense than just following a program written for a whole year that is based on measurements that are “supposed” to never change and an environment that is “supposed” to remain constant?

Exceptions aside, most high school, college and professional programs have one common trait. Most of them do a lousy job of instructing their athletes from an athletic development standpoint. Too many coaches assume that their athletes can squat, bench, etc., and with that assumption comes an increased risk that an athlete will get injured. A good strength and conditioning program should prevent injury and improve performance. With all the injuries that occur and the lack of success that many baseball players face, it would seem evident that many players reliance upon ergogenic aids would be a direct result of the lack of quality strength programs and instructors that are available.

It isn’t an enjoyable thing to take shots at coaches. My own personal experience of being poorly developed as a baseball player has made me a little bitter because I’ll never be able to throw a baseball in the same capacity again. As a coach, I don’t ever want another athlete to have to go through the ordeal I had to face and that is why I feel that some things need to be said regardless of whether it hurts people’s feelings. My goal isn’t to take shots at coaches, but to offer solutions that are better than what is currently being done; teaching base-runners a better movement to make them more effective, helping pitchers with recovery, and strength training that will prevent injury while making players stronger and faster. Baseball is our national pastime, but the outdated training techniques being implemented are ruining the game by ruining its players.

Will Haskell
Athletic Development Specialist
Assistant Director of Athletic Development
The Sports Academy Northwest
will@tsanorthwest.com

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