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Written on May 1, 2012 at 7:18 am, by Eric Cressey
One of the biggest concerns players have when it comes to in-season strength and conditioning programs is whether or not a particular exercise will make them sore. It’s a valid point, when you consider the profound effect soreness can have on a baseball athlete’s performance – both physically and mentally. As such, it’s important to select exercises that provide a great training effect, but won’t necessarily create a lot of soreness for a player.
The first important point to recognize is that strength exercise familiarity will minimize soreness. In other words, if an athlete has already done an exercise in the previous 7-10 days, it shouldn’t make him very sore (if at all). This is one reason why I like to introduce new exercises in the week prior to the start of the season; we can “ride out” those exercises through the first 4-6 weeks of the season without worrying about soreness.
Of course, once you get past that initial stage, it’s a good idea to change things up so that athletes will continue to progress and not get bored with the strength training program. One way to introduce new strength exercises without creating soreness is to minimize eccentric stress; so, essentially, you’re selecting exercises that don’t have a big deceleration component. This is tricky, as most athletic injuries occur from poor eccentric control (both acutely and chronically). So, we can’t remove them completely, but we can shoot for a 50/50 split. To that end, we’ll typically introduce our more intensive lower-body eccentric strength exercises (e.g., Bulgarian Split Squats) on a day when an athlete can afford to be sore (e.g., the day after a pitcher starts) for a few days. If that isn’t a luxury, we’ll simply go much lighter in that first week.
To that end, here are five “general” strength exercises I like to use in-season with many of our athletes.
1. Step-up Variations – I’m normally not a big fan of step-ups for off-season programs because they don’t offer a significant deceleration component, but they can be useful in-season when you’re trying to keep soreness out of the equation. Anterior-Loaded Barbell Step-ups are a favorite because they still afford you the benefits of axial loading without squatting an athlete.
2. Deadlift Variations – It goes without saying that I’m a huge fan of the deadlift (check out this tutorial if you need suggestions on How to Deadlift), as deadlift variations afford a host of benefits from strength, power, and postural perspectives. They’re also great because there isn’t much of an eccentric component unless you’re doing stiff-leg deadlift variations. With that in mind, we utilize predominantly trap bar and sumo deadlift variations in-season.
3. Sled Pushing/Dragging – A lot of people view sled training as purely for metabolically conditioning guys, but the truth is that it actually makes for a great concentric-only strength exercise while helping to enhance mobility (assuming you cue an athlete through full hip extension on forward pushing/dragging variations).
Just make sure to keep the load heavy and distance short.
4. 1-leg Hip Thrusts off Bench – This is a great “halfway” exercise with respect to eccentric stress. For some reason, even if you lower under a ton of control and with additional load (we drape chains over the hips), this exercise still won’t make your posterior chain sore. A big shout-out goes out to Bret Contreras for bringing it to the forefront!
5. 1-arm DB Bulgarian Split Squats from Deficit – The asymmetrical load to this already asymmetrical (unilateral) exercise allows you to get a training effect without a ton of resistance (especially with the increased range of motion provided by the deficit). It’ll still create some soreness, but it’s another one of those “halfway” exercises where the soreness isn’t as bad as you’d expect, especially if you phase it in a bit lighter in week 1 of the new strength training program.
These are just five of my favorites, but a good start, for sure. Of course, we still need to do a better job of educating “the masses” about how important it is to even do an in-season strength training program!
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