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Youth and High School Baseball

In an attempt to better serve the coaches, players and parents involved in youth and high school baseball, the PBSCCS periodically publishes information on factors that can affect conditioning and performance at these levels. Topics are selected from questions submitted by participants, coaches and parents involved in youth and high school sports.

The question for this posting was – “What is the number one conditioning weakness that is typically observed among first year pitchers who sign a professional baseball contract out of high school?” For a response, the PBSCCS contacted Nate Friedman, CSCS, 2018 Pioneer League Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year. Because of his position as Strength and Conditioning Coach for Rookie Ball players on the Arizona Diamondbacks Missoula Osprey in Missoula, MT, Nate has a wealth of knowledge on this topic.

What is the Number 1 Conditioning Weakness Among First Year Pitchers Who Sign A Pro Baseball Contract Out of High School?

Nathan Friedman, CSCS Arizona Diamondbacks

Number 1 weakness: The number one conditioning weakness that I observe among first year pitchers who sign out of high school is that many have a difficult time achieving the prescribed performance times on given conditioning tests. More specifically, they lack: 1) a sufficient work capacity base and 2) a well-developed aerobic system.

Why this weakness occurs: I believe that this problem occurs due to a lack of awareness as to how pitchers need to be conditioned in order to be successful on the mound. Often, pitchers report that their routines in high school consisted of long, slow distance running (often at heart rates that exceed an aerobic heart rate zone) the day after an outing as well as some sprint work a day or two before an outing. With that program in place, pitchers develop two major deficiencies. First, they lack adequate work capacity because they condition only a few days out of the week and lack variability in their conditioning program.

Work capacity is the ability to tolerate a relatively heavy workload, recover and adapt to that workload. Because they can’t train at max or near max effort, recover, adapt and train again, young pitchers tend to fatigue quickly and recover slowly. This, in turn, limits their ability recover from one workout in time to perform properly in the next workout or scheduled competition. Athletes who can’t recover adequately are at greater risk of overuse injuries and/or overtraining and are not able to adapt to the training stresses needed to improve work capacity and perform on the mound.

The second deficiency that we see is that many young pitchers become adapted to living in a high heart rate zone. Living in a high heart rate zone causes them to lack the ability to recover properly between reps and preform repeated reps in a high heart rate zone during a given conditioning workout. Our experience indicates that when pitchers preform long, slow distance running they think that they are operating in a low HR zone (130-150) which would stimulate recovery and aerobic system development. Through the use of HR monitors our staff has found that when the majority of these pitchers preform long, slow distance running workouts their HR values often exceed 130-150 BPM. Working in HR zones higher than the desired 130-150 BPM defeats the purpose of using long, slow distance running as a method of recovery and aerobic training. In order to solve this problem, Diamondback players wear HR monitors during aerobic training to ensure that if their HR climbs near 150 BPM they can slow down or rest until it returns within the recommended range, thus giving them the benefits of recovery and aerobic system development training.

How to correct this weakness: In order to correct these problems, we try to ensure that our pitchers are involved in a well-rounded conditioning program throughout the week that allows them to train their energy systems during conditioning in the same way that they will be used on the mound. The goal is to help ensure that pitchers can achieve high heart rates during conditioning that are similar to those that they experience in game situations, recover properly and then repeat these efforts multiple times during conditioning drills. Each pitcher’s daily conditioning workout is based on his throwing routine for the day. Specific areas of development, e.g., aerobic capacity, high intensity work capacity, moderate intensity work capacity, sprint capacity and CNS preparation are addressed throughout the week.

Aerobic capacity, for example, is improved and maintained by performing 30-minute intervals at heart rates between 130 and 150 BPM. High-intensity work capacity is improved and maintained by performing circuits in which pitchers jog a distance, e.g. 30-yards, sprint 30-yards and then walk 30-yards or run bows. When running bows, pitchers start on the warning track at either foul pole and then jog along the warning track until they reach the opposite foul pole. From there, they sprint to where the centerfielder would play and then walk back to the foul pole from which they started. Moderate intensity work capacity is improved and maintained by running half-poles in a prescribed amount of time, e.g. ten half-poles in 15-seconds each with 30-45 seconds of rest between reps and sets.

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Nathan Friedman, CSCS, is a Minor League Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks. He is in his second season in professional baseball with the Dbacks. He has a BS in Kinesiology and MS in Sport and Exercise Psychology from Temple University. While enrolled at Temple, he worked six seasons with the Temple football team in various capacities including undergraduate student assistant, assistant video coordinator and strength and conditioning assistant.

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