Professional Baseball Strength & Conditioning


Nate Shaw, ATC, CSCS, Major League Strength and Conditioning Coordinator, Arizona Diamondbacks

Nate Shaw joined the Diamondbacks in 2005, after a three-year stint in the Tampa Bay Devil Rays organization, the last two as their minor league strength and conditioning coordinator. He spent his first season in the Rays’ chain as their New York Penn League athletic trainer and strength coach. While with the Devil Rays, Shaw was responsible for implementing data-based research to further.gunnertechnetwork.comelop programs and procedures in accordance with injury prevention and performance enhancement.

Nate started his work in professional sports by spending two years (2001-2002) with the Toronto Blue Jays during their spring training sessions in Dunedin, FL. He also co-founded the GHFC Sports Performance Program, implementing all key facets of the operation including marketing, sales and program design.

Shaw, 33, graduated from the University of Florida in 2001 with a Bachelors Degree in Exercise and Sport Sciences.

Symmetry is important to baseball and softball players because of the total amount of repetition and volume occurring during a full season.  For the purposes of this article, we will focus on the similarities.  At the Major League level, we have 162 games during the regular season.  With spring training and a possible post season tournament we play roughly 203 games in 220 days.  That is only through the 1st round.—it’s a grind.  At the Major League level baseball volume is one of the leading reasons that athlete’s breakdown.   Symmetry becomes important when efficiency is scrutinized.  It has been quoted that movement begins and ends with posture.  This is true in Baseball as well.  Posture is important.  Asymmetry leads to inefficiency.  Inefficiency leads to overload. Overload leads to breakdown.  When a joint lacks appropriate motion to create and dissipate force, synergistic structures in and around the joint are forced to assist.  With proper alignment and symmetry in involved structures the cumulative effects of volume are minimized because each muscle is functioning properly and is not assisting with other functions.  Quite simply, having things line up in the right places means less wear and tear on the body.

Symmetry In a Side-Dominant Sport

In baseball and softball, there is side dominance; i.e., a player will hit and throw from one side for the most part. Often, if a player hits and throws from the right side, they will exhibit an increase in internal rotation on the L hip and an increase in R shoulder external rotation. These two adaptations often accompany each other.  Sport Specific adaptation is a very interesting debate topic.  Could these adaptations be the reason the athlete excels, or has the body adapted for preservation?  Regardless of what side of the fence you stand on, the next topic to be debated would be; would an athlete with perfect posture and symmetry ever suffer a non contact injury?  What should you do?  Are these corrective exercises necessary, or can you just make the athlete bench press as much as possible to fix the problem?  There may not be a definitive answer, but anecdotally we have found that asymmetry and poor posture do lead to injury.  I think that we can all agree that injuries are not good.

Every sport has specific adaptation patterns and baseball is no different.  Not all adaptations are addressed immediately due to the risk of unnecessary motor engram reprogramming.   A practical example of this would be implementing a corrective program for a player that has bad posture and causing the athlete to lose 3 MPH on his fastball.  At the major League level sometimes it is necessary to let sleeping dogs lie.  It is impossible to make everything perfect.  A good practitioner will use his experiences to sift through the pros and cons and make the right call.  Our experience has shown that faulty scapular humeral rhythm has a high correlation with shoulder injury.  Often a player’s dominant shoulder is protracted and anteriorly rotated which sometimes causes scapular rhythm to be altered. We try and address this because simply, the arm is not in the right place. A MLB starting pitcher will throw 20,000 times in a year.   Consequently, identification of small alignment problems in a timely manner can have a huge impact over a full season. Once identified, resolution becomes paramount.  Fixing shoulder problems is pretty simple; use exercise and soft tissue techniques to lengthen the short muscles, and strengthen the long muscles.  If a player has an anterior rotation / protraction in the shoulder, the treatment is to loosen the protractors and strengthen the retractors.  This will restore alignment and perpetuate better posture and efficiency.

Asymmetry Identification

Asymmetry is something we look for on a consistent basis. Much of this information is gathered during daily hands-on work with the players in an attempt to search out for potential problem areas. In spring training we have a screening process that includes posture, and various hip and shoulder measurements.   Posture is compared to a vertical plumb line and measured to confirm the digital images.  The shoulder measurements include internal (IR) and external rotation (ER) motion as well as isometric strength numbers with a digital hand dynamometer.  It is important to establish baseline information so that as the season progresses it is easier to objectify any range of motion or strength deficits that may evolve. For example, over the season a pitcher may lose IR Motion and ER strength. Obviously the goal for the strength and conditioning professional in this case is to try to minimize the loss of strength. At the major league level some strength will likely be lost, but players on a program during the year can minimize strength loss.

For the youth select level, high school and little league players, the question becomes when to start the screening process to identify problems. This is a factor of practicality, but I’m a big believer in getting information. How critical is it to know that a nine-year-old lacks internal rotation? It may not be a big competitive issue but from data perspective, it’s priceless. Keith Miester MD at the University of Florida did research on 294 baseball players age 8-16 years old with regard to humeral retroversion. The study showed that when these kids start playing baseball their humerus actually twists backward (retroversion). This study showed that adaptation to baseball starts at a very early age.

Figures 1-3 demonstrate some very basic screening measurements that can be used for young players. It is important that the person doing the tests does so in a reliable way; in other words, makes sure that its done following consistent protocol every time. If at all possible, it is best that the same individual does the tests each time. From a rehab standpoint these measurement will indicate the effectiveness of the rehab program for an injured athlete; but from a conditioning standpoint, we monitor changes in the measurements and make adjustments accordingly.  These measurements may not equate to the holy grail of sports, but any information is helpful when it comes to injury prevention.

It is a practitioners job to help foster health in young athletes and enable them to learn and experience all the values that sports have to offer.  Guiding them onto a healthy track will have no negative effects.  I would encourage coaches to conduct the some type of screening and take some measurements that are relative.  Knowledge is the answer!


Article provided by Performance Conditioning Baseball/Softball the Official Publication of the Professional Baseball Strength and Conditioning Coaches Society

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