Professional Baseball Strength & Conditioning

By

YOUTH SPORTS

How to Make a Young Athlete Slow

By Mike Boyle

The PBSCCS recently received an inquiry from a mom who asked if her son should run cross country to get in shape for baseball? The following response was provided Mike Boyle, Co-founder of Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning. Mike was the strength and conditioning coach for the Red Sox 2013 World Series Champions and has coached collegiate, professional and Olympic hockey teams.

If you want your son or daughter to perform poorly, I have the answer. The answer is cross country. I have had countless parents over the years tell me that they can’t understand why little Janie or Johnny had such a bad softball or baseball season. They worked hard all off-season running 5 or more miles each day.

Let’s get some facts straight. There are no team sports in which you run for miles at a time. Even if you actually “run” miles in a game, those miles are actually a series of sprints interspersed with a series of walks or jogs. Running long distances does not prepare you to run short distances. There is a concept in sports called specificity of training. The concept basically means that, from a conditioning perspective, “you get what you train for”. Therefore, the best way to condition for a sport is to mimic the movement patterns and energy systems of the sport. If the sport requires an athlete to accelerate, sprint, jog and walk, then the training program should require the athlete to accelerate, sprint, jog and walk.

There is another important concept to understand when training for sports. It’s very simple, “train slow, get slow”. The reality is it is very difficult to make someone fast and very easy to make someone slow. If you want to make an athlete slow, just ask them to run slower and longer. Sounds simple. They may be in shape, but the wrong shape. Baseball is an anaerobic sport that requires quick bursts of acceleration, speed and power plus the ability start, stop, decelerate and change directions quickly and under control. Running long distance trains, the wrong energy system (aerobic vs. anaerobic), trains the wrong muscle fiber type (slow twitch vs. fast twitch) and stimulates the wrong hormone response (catabolic vs. anabolic).

The increased risk of injury with a steady state, aerobic sport like cross country is another problem with cross country. Approximately 60% of individuals who take up distance running get injured? Those are really poor odds.

Finally, the athlete who dominates in sports is the fastest, most powerful athlete. Conditioning matters, but for improved performance and reduced risk of injury, train for the sport, not for endurance. Athletes should get stronger and become more powerful. It takes time to improve strength and power. Adaptation takes time. Kids can get “in shape” in a few weeks. Most kids are playing their sport at least a few times per week in the off-season and pre-season, so improving strength, speed and power are bigger concerns than improving conditioning.

So, this pre-season, don’t give the gift of slowness. If your son or daughter is not a cross country runner, don’t let them run cross country. If you want them to enjoy a nice outdoor run and don’t care about speed, be my guest. However, if you want them to get faster and in great sport condition, then have them train the way the best athletes train. Have them get stronger by engaging in a supervised strength training program and develop a fitness base with tempo runs (periods of striding for 80-100 yards at 75-80% of max effort interspersed with periods of walking). From tempo runs, have them progress to shuttle runs that emphasize acceleration, deceleration and change of direction and then to interval runs to maintain endurance and improve anaerobic fitness.

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Michael Boyle is Co- founder of Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning, and Strength and Conditioning Coach for Men’s Ice Hockey at Boston University. He has also been the Strength and Conditioning Coach for the NHL Boston Bruins, Boston Red Sox, US Women’s Olympic Ice Hockey Team and helped with the development of the USA Hockey National Team Development Program.

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