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Aerobic Fitness for Baseball: Part I

Questions by Andrew Ferreira, answers by Resilient’s Doug Kechijian

​​AF: Baseball is notorious for it’s slow pace and athletes that lack conditioning, why the need for a strong aerobic foundation?

DK: At first glance, baseball does not seem like a sport that requires much development from the aerobic system.  Baseball athletes certainly don’t need to be able to run a competitive time in a marathon but a requisite level of aerobic preparation is necessary.  The best baseball players are generally the ones who produce awesome amounts of force very rapidly (e.g. throwing a fastball or hitting a home run).  In the most extreme cases, however, baseball requires that power be repeatedly produced with little deterioration throughout the game.  The best starting pitchers, for example, are those who can throw as hard in the seventh or eighth inning as they can in the first.  The aerobic system/long term energy system helps to replenish the short term energy system associated with powerful, explosive efforts.  Fatigue compromises technique and biomechanical efficiency.  All things being equal, power athletes are more likely to be injured in a fatigued state because the nervous system develops compensatory strategies to delay fatigue.  Compensatory strategies may help to maintain power outputs (throwing velocity, base running ability, bat speed) but can put joints and soft tissues in compromising positions.  A well developed aerobic system attenuates the “need” for compensatory motor patterns because it delays the onset of fatigue.

AF: What is it’s relevance in terms of physical preparation, recovery, and on-field performance?

DK: The aerobic system can improve on-field performance for the reasons mentioned above but its relevance is even more substantial when the athlete is not competing.  Improving recovery is one of the biggest initiatives in the field of sports science.  There are compression pants, fancy ice machines, devices that allegedly stimulate areas of the brain associated with relaxation, nutritional supplements, you name it…the truth is, we don’t know if any of this stuff really works to improve recovery.  Think of a well-developed aerobic system as free recovery.  Biological power and the ability to produce energy is finite, like a bank account.  Athletes spend a certain amount of “currency” just to meet basic survival needs.  Aerobic fitness is associated with increased vagal tone and parasympathetic dominance.  This means that the “cost” of living at rest is less for the athlete with superior aerobic conditioning.  Athletic performance is costly from a biological perspective.  It induces a stress on the system that necessitates the need for a compensation that inoculates the organism against subsequent stressors.  Athletes who lack the requisite level of aerobic fitness for their respective sport are “competing” when they’re not playing relative to their more aerobically fit counterparts.  The aerobic system is the off switch that facilitates recovery after competitions involving explosive efforts.  Simply put, the biological cost of energy production is less the greater the relative contribution of the aerobic system.  Physiology is a trade off between efficiency and speed.  The aerobic system produces energy less rapidly than the anaerobic system but with less of a withdrawal fee.  Overnight shipping is more costly than ground shipping.  When less biological resources are invested to sustain basic function at rest, more resources are available to replenish energy substrates depleted during competition.

AF: How you would best go about regaining and establishing an aerobic foundation after a long season of deconditioning?  Is aerobic exercise in the traditional sense (jogging, biking, etc.) the preferred way or is there a more optimal means – e.g. cardiac output training?

DK: The heart is a “dumb” muscle so if the goal is simply to develop the heart’s ability to distribute blood to the working muscles, the means don’t really matter.  Energy utilization comes down to delivery and extraction.  In the aerobic system, the heart pumps oxygen-rich blood to the working muscles and the muscles must utilize this oxygen to produce ATP, the cell’s energy currency.  Both delivery and extraction must be trained to optimize the power of the aerobic system.  The delivery side of the equation can be trained with more generalized means since developing the pumping capacity of the heart is the primary objective.  Extraction should be developed with more sports specific movements since extraction is a local phenomenon.  In the next article in this series we will discuss specific ways to develop these different components of aerobic development for the baseball player.

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Emotion and Execution In Sport

Among the Lakedaemonians, it is considered a matter of indifference of whom and in what the enemy consists. The Spartans are schooled to regard the foe, any foe, as nameless and faceless. In their minds it is the mark of an ill-prepared and amateur army to rely in the moments before battle on what they call pseudoandreia, false courage, meaning the artificially inflated martial frenzy produced by a general’s eleventh-hour harangue or some peak of bronze-banging bravado built to by shouting, shield-pounding and the like. In Alexandros’ mind, which already at age fourteen mirrored that of the generals of his city, one Syrakusan was as good as the next, one enemy strategos no different from another. Let the foe be Mantinean, Olynthian, Epidaurian; let him come in elite units or hordes of shrieking rabble, crack citizen regiments or foreign mercenaries hired for gold. It made no difference. None was a match for the warriors of Lakedaemon, and all knew it.

This quote, taken from Steven Pressfield’s Gates of Fire, a fictional account of the Battle of Thermopylae, speaks to the professionalism for which the Spartan military is commonly lauded.  As Pressfield would have it, their skill and high level of execution, not bravado and fury, is what differentiated the Spartans from less professional soldiers.  The Spartans did not have to personalize their enemies to artificially create a sense of purpose because the profession of soldiering was intrinsically meaningful.  In sport, however, athletes are often celebrated for “playing with emotion” or “playing with passion”, an appealing albeit incomplete narrative.  This concept likely resonates with us because like grit, discussed here, it suggests that the more we care, the better we’ll perform.  Athletes who display little emotion during games are often assumed to be disinterested or unmotivated.

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Elevation Training Masks: An Analysis

Somebody’s overcompensating for his weak inspiratory muscles…

Walk into a commercial gym and there’s a good chance you might see somebody running on a treadmill while wearing something resembling a Bane mask.  Internet clips of professional athletes wearing said devices are also beginning to circulate more and more.  In the fields of medicine, health, and performance, sound clinical reasoning is far more powerful than any specific intervention or tool.  Effective clinical reasoning is contingent upon asking relevant questions and drawing logical conclusions from known evidence and measurable information.  Analyzing the case for elevation training masks provides insight into how to critically evaluate other products and technologies alleged to improve performance.

This process requires that we answer three questions:

  1. What is the product alleged to do?
  2. What is known?
  3. What conclusions/deductive leaps can reasonably be made?

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Pelvic Influences on Hamstring Injuries

There was recently a discussion about hamstring injuries on social media during which somebody asked if “extension” can be a contributory factor. This was our answer:

If by “extension” you mean a motor strategy suggestive of lower cross syndrome or anterior pelvic tilt, it might be relevant to this discussion. Different ways of saying the same thing often distract us from the principles that unite commercial movement systems. While hamstring strains are multi-factorial, an extension pattern/anterior pelvic tilt/lower cross syndrome could alter motor control at the pelvis during early stance in sprinting in a way that puts hamstring tissue at risk for injury – which is why it’s so hard to differentiate mechanical from neurological archetypes.

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The Myth of Mental Toughness Training: Part II

Part I discussed misapplication of physical efforts associated with military selection courses to team sport athletes and raised questions about what constitutes mental toughness and the degree to which it can be taught.  Focusing less on esoteric constructs like mental toughness and more on preparation is a practical strategy for high performers.  In sport, athletes whose execution remains steadfast despite changes in the internal or external environment are generally considered to be mentally tough.  The distinction between mental toughness and disciplined execution becomes academic when teams take collective measures to maximize preparation.  Rather than fixating on abstract qualities allegedly developed during grueling workouts, civilian organizations would be better served implementing the following training and preparatory tenets of the special operations community:

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