The 7 Deadly Sins Of Baseball-Specific Core Training
By Jon Doyle, MA, RTI, CSCSC
For instance, did you know that there are a group of abdominal muscles that you cannot see, but are crucial to athletic performance? This muscle group is called the transverse abdominals. They are located close to the spine and can be worked in as little as 2 minutes per day with the correct exercises. These muscles NEED to be worked correctly if you have any desire to build a granite-like core.
In addition, the lower back withstands a great deal of stress during all phases of baseball. It is crucial that you train these muscles with specific movement patterns and exercises in order to avoid injury and increase performance.
Also, if you focus on just doing rectus abdominal exercises and not the entire core, you will surely develop a muscular imbalance which will lead to injury. If you have ever had a back injury you know how painful and debilitating it is. The best part is one simple exercise, done a few times per week, can turn your lower back into slabs of granite. And no, it isn’t hyperextensions.
2. Not Having Constant Variety
Have you done the same crunches every workout for as long as you can remember?
Variety is key in providing different stimuli to your core. You see, if you continue to do the same thing day after day, week after week, your muscles will adapt and have no reason to change. You must switch something. It can be switching of exercises, number of reps, weight used, etc.
However, you can’t just do a different exercise that also sucks. In order to develop a midsection that turns heads, both on and off the field, you must add specific exercises into your program. For example, if you are currently doing floor crunches (which suck) and switch to machine crunches (which suck even more) you are not doing yourself any good. Switch to the correct exercises and watch your looks improve, while your performance goes through the roof.
Also, don’t make the mistake of changing everything too often. Typically adding one or two new exercises will do the trick. If you feel that an exercise is getting too easy, either make it more difficult or replace it with a different exercise.
Coordination patterns built laying on the floor with traditional abdominal exercises do not carry over very well to what we do in daily life (because most activities of daily life are done standing in the upright position).
So without further adieu, here is an exercise that will help teach you how to develop abdominal coordination in a standing position. It will also teach you how to balance out tension and relaxation and improve the mobility of your low back.
Do not get into the habit of doing only what you enjoy doing. We usually like to do what we are good at so making it a point of doing a few exercises that you don’t enjoy every workout. You will be surprised how quick you will see results this way. Soon those exercises that were tough will be your favorites!
3. Staying On The Floor
Typically crunches are performed on the floor. Maybe on the ball. This is the quickest way to find yourself on the bench or the DL. The floor basically allows most of your core to relax. As I said above this exercise doesn’t do much. Yeah if you do enough of them you may feel a burn, but there are other exercises that provide much better results in less time! Why anyone would spend countless hours doing useless exercises is beyond me.
Think about this: Are you working your core when you are on the couch watching TV? Of course not, so why would you think you can work your core effectively when you are in the same position at the gym?
I tell my athletes that if you are in this position on the field you stink and need to rethink what you are doing. Start performing compound, explosive exercises and turn yourself into the athlete you deserve to be
4. Not Focusing On Specific Movement Patterns, Not Muscles
I hate the break the news to you, but Joe Muscle’s Ab routine will certainly not make you a better baseball player. And most likely it won’t give you a better looking midsection. Joe Muscle uses a ton of steroids and had a six pack before he even touched a weight or did a crunch. I’m sure you know the kid who pounds pizza and fast food, yet is still ripped. Not fair I know, but the truth.
It’s OK. Performing the correct exercises will give you that midsection that not only performs great, but looks amazing too. Look at the strongmen of yesteryear. They were all incredibly strong, yet surprisingly lean. Plus they weren’t all show and no go. They could back up their physique with feats of great athleticism and unbelievable strength.
Their secret was focusing on specific movements in their training. They didn’t use machines. They trained their body using good ol’ free weights and their own bodyweight. Everyone knew that if they did the correct exercises and ate fresh foods they would not only have the strength the needed, but the physique as well
Squat variations such as the overhead squat improve overall strength, flexibility and power. They also stress the core muscles in a unique manner. My program Unbreakable Abs explains in detail how to perform this as well as over 40 additional baseball specific core movements. Get more information at www.unbreakableabs.com
5. Lack OF Torso Flexibility
Torso flexibility, or lack thereof, may be the single biggest reason why you don’t have a quicker bat speed or a harder fastball. Yes, I know I have been preaching about the benefits of strengthening the core muscles this entire article. And I would never back away from that statement, as it is vital to your development as a baseball player. However, if you can’t move what good is it to be strong?
I am sure you’ve heard of the saying “Strong as a pillar.” Well, this is the last thing you want to accomplish. Pillars can’t move and they certainly break when placed under stress. You must be able to twist and bend. As my good friend and top strength coach John Davies says, “There has never been a player who got cut because he had too much bend.”
We all know the really jacked guy who has a hard time lifting his hand over his head. Well if you want to play the game of baseball at a high level, and I know you do or you wouldn’t be reading this article, your range of motion needs to be adequate
Now That's Flexibility!
6. Not Including Rotational Work
When was the last time you did a crunch during a baseball game? Exactly. Crunches (Only specific variations) have their place in a training program, but should never be the base of core training. Not even close. They are an assistance exercises. If you want to develop the strongest, most powerful midsection possible, you need to focus on multi-planar exercises that focus on rotation. Obviously when you do any baseball skill whether it be swinging, throwing, pitching or simply stealing a base, your torso rotates. It would be a fatal mistake to not make this a priority.
However, this takes more than twisting a little bit with light weights or using the oblique machine at the gym. Also, grabbing onto a rope and mimicking your swing will not only make you look stupid but can actually DECREASE arm and bat speed! That’s right, doing the wrong exercises, or even the correct exercises with the wrong technique, can leave you worse off than if you did nothing!
But doing the right exercise with perfect technique can bring your game to the next level. Strengthening the core in a baseball specific manner can improve every aspect of your game from hitting to pitching to running.
It is vital to work on torso rotation if you want to tap into your true power potential. The Medicine Ball Windshield Wiper is extremely effective in developing strength, power and flexibility in one drill!
7. Never Using Low Rep Work
How many times have you heard this, “I do 200 crunches every day?" Chances are quite often. Usually the person saying this looks like they have never done even ONE crunch in their life.
I believe 90% of abdominal work should be performed using low reps. Typically I will recommend sets of 3 to 6 reps, depending on various factors including goals, experience, strength and endurance levels, etc.
Only in certain select phases of a program will I have an athlete do sets with higher repetitions. Some athletes never perform high rep work and do not miss a beat.
Don’t judge effectiveness of an exercise by the “burn.” Just because you “feel it” does not mean it is doing anything.
This is crucial in developing your potential as a ballplayer. Low rep training does not mean you should will very heavy weights. Rather, use a challenging weight, not an impossible load, that allows you to perform a fast concentric movement and maintain flawless technique. Remember, nothing in sports (or life for that matter), happens slowly.
- Jon Doyle