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  • Fitness Fundamentals: Core Strength Training

    The Key To Increased Speed, Power And Throwing Velocity

    by Dan Potts, C.P.T.
    Motion Studies by Anthony Frascello, All Rights Reserved

    (This article appeared in the Summer 2000 issue of HardBall Magazine)

    Most amateur adult ballplayers understand that power and flexibility in the arms and legs are critical to the ability to perform athletic movements. While this is true, it is not the whole story. Athletic movement and balance are triggered and controlled by the muscles in the center of the body, or core.

    An untrained core can cause poor posture, which detracts from hitting, throwing, and fielding function. A strong, healthy core area contributes to low back and hip function, and plays a major role in the health of the shoulder capsule. For the powerful muscles of the extremities to perform at peak efficiency, the core muscles must be well-trained.

    Core Training

    Effective body core training requires the use of rotational/diagonal movements in a sensible exercise program. Some of these exercises not only train the core area, but also replicate the movements and requirements of the game of baseball.

    The core area can be trained with a variety of modalities. I prefer medicine balls, dumbbells, swiss-balls and pulley movements. Since 1992, I have used core movements to train aspiring college and professional baseball athletes. Invariably, they have experienced tremendous gains in mobility and quickness and explosive capacity.

    Exercises To Avoid

    Bench presses, barbell curls and behind-the-neck presses serve no direct purpose, and may be detrimental, in a baseball conditioning program. The barbell bench press often irritates the front part of the shoulder capsule. If you must bench press, use dumbbells. The behind-the-neck press can cause cervical column and rotator problems. Barbell curls can build over-developed biceps, which may create undue pressure in the elbow of the throwing arm.

    Core Movements In Baseball

    Almost every athletic movement in baseball requires diagonal/rotational movement and, therefore,core strength. A shortstop moves laterally to his right, backhands the ground ball, plants his foot and rotates his trunk as he throws to first.

    A pitcher, as he lifts his front leg, rotates his body away from the batter; completing his delivery, he rotates back toward the batter and follows through across his body. The batter triggers his swing with a slight backward weight shift, then drives his hips open, transferring his power at the right moment with rotational movement.

    A Basic Program

    As a beginning program, I have selected three simple movements to strengthen the core. In the second phase of the program (our next article), we will add three exercises to build explosive power in the body core. In subsequent articles, we will focus on movements to enhance an athlete’s ability to perform specific baseball skills.

    It is critical to perform the strengthening movements three times per week for at least three weeks before advancing to the power exercises. The services of a qualified physical trainer, familiar with the concepts of core strength training, can be a tremendous benefit in the implementation of this program.

    Before undertaking this program, thoroughly assess your general physical condition, cardiovascular health, and the soundness of your legs, hips, back and spine. Medical doctors are best qualified to make such assessments.*

    Strengthening Movements

    These exercises contribute to the general health and tone of the body core, specifically training the muscles of the hips, abdomen, lower back and sides.

    Alternate Arm and Leg Raise (Figure I)

     


    Figure 1

     

    This movement strengthens the tranverse spinal area, forcing the body to stabilize itself in a diagonal pattern from the shoulder to the opposite hip. In a classic horse stance, elevate your straightened right arm with your thumb pointed upwards, while extending your left leg up and back behind you . Hold this position for five seconds. Then switch to the opposite side. Perform 3-5 times each side.

    Back Raise with Feet Elevated on Bench or Swiss Ball (Figure 2)

     


    Figure 2

     

    This movement is great for your lower abdomen, lower back and obliques. With feet elevated on a bench or a swiss ball (advanced variation, adds instability), elevate your hips upward, hold for a two-count and relax. Perform 3 sets of 10 reps. As your lower back muscles become stronger, you may prolong the ‘hold” position or, for another variation, perform a rapid "half-stroke” movement with no hold.

    Side Leg Raise (Figures 3A and B)

     


    Figure 3a

    Figure 3b

     

    This exercise will improve the health and tone of the external oblique muscles and upper hip flexors. Lie on your side with knees together and bent. As shown in Figure 3A, support your head with your top hand, rotate your trunk about 45° back and extend your bottom arm, palm to the mat. Keeping the knees bent and together, raise your legs off the mat (Figure 3B). Perform three sets of ten repetitions each side.

    Don’t Rush It!

    Be careful. Start with one set of each exercise and gradually add more. Closely monitor your soreness the following day. As your core area becomes stronger, you should notice marked improvement in your ability to execute athletic movements.

    * Editor’s Note: The purpose of this article is to make professional traning concepts and techniques available to MSBL/MABL members. No MSBL/MABL member (or any other reader of this magazine) should begin this exercise program without a thorough medical assessment. HardBall Magazine, and the editor, author and photographer of this article, assume no responsibility for injury to anyone who claims to have been damaged in any manner by attempting to use the information herein.


    About Dan Potts

    Dan Potts is an Elite Athlete Strength Specialist in the Seattlle area. A former University of Washington baseball player, Dan currently plays for the Rainiers of the Puget Sound MSBL. He has trained Olympic, collegiate and professional athletes for nearly two decades, specializing in developing biomechanically functional programs for the advanced skilled athlete. Dan works with several of Seattle's top hitting and pitching instructors, developing strength programs for their more promising players.




     

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