In Part I of this series we discussed the importance of in-season training for the starting pitcher in baseball, the differences between professional, collegiate, and high school demands on in-season training, and considerations for developing a week-long “rotation” or routine for high school pitchers.
Today we will further discuss the in-season routine for the high school starting pitcher by addressing ways in which the in-season routine can be adapted to the competitive schedule.
Today we will seek to answer the following questions:
- When should physical development be emphasized over competition?
- What can a pitcher do to shift the priority from training to competing?
1. Competition vs. Development – What is the priority?
It is easy to say that physical development is for the off-season, and that competing is for the competition season. But, this kind of delineation would be over-simplifying the process.
First, if performance was really just for the competition season (i.e. the spring season), then somebody would probably need to tell the travel baseball and showcase communities, along with all of the parents and players who participate in these events. Much to the chagrin and better judgement of the experts in our field, the “competition season” in baseball is practically year-round in amateur baseball. The lines between “competition” and “exposure” aren’t just blurred, at this point they’re non-existent.
Also, if the off-season was the only period for physical development, we’d constantly need to start over after every competition season, as the gains we made in the off-season prior would be all but negated. Thus, the competitive season must still include physical development, especially for the high school athlete who generally needs more physical development than more mature athletes.
That being said, in-season training should not compromise game-time performance for the starting pitcher. Ultimately, the baseball season is about baseball – wins and losses. Playing time, jobs, and athletic careers are on the line, even at the high school level.
So, how do we get the best of both worlds in-season – that is, the development of the athlete physically, all the while ensuring readiness to compete at a high level? One way is to lay out the game schedule, using the significance of each game/week to dictate the level of emphasis on training.
Since the high school baseball season is generally composed of weeks containing 2-3 games, a starting pitcher’s usage may not be able to be scripted or projected out more than a week in advance (unlike professional, which sticks to a set rotation). This means that a starting pitcher’s routine may have to fluctuate as a result. One week the training sessions may fall perfectly in place, leaving 48-72 hours of rest in between the last session prior to the next start. The next week a training session may end up being the day before.
For the weeks when things go off the script, we can look to the game schedule to determine the focus we should have on our training sessions. For the week of games that carry greater significance, such as district games, physical development may have to be minimized to ensure that the pitcher is 100% prepared to take the mound.
Conversely, weeks that don’t carry as much significance – say, games against non-district and/or weak opponents – can carry a much greater emphasis on performance training rather than on performance outcomes.
As the season progresses, we may even start to see a cycle occurring… For example:
Week 1 (Pre-Season) – Training Focus
Week 1 (Non-District) – Training Focus
Week 2 (District Games) – Competition Focus
Week 3 (Non-District) – Training Focus
Week 4 (Non-District) – Training Focus
Week 5 (District Games) – Competition Focus
Week 6 (District Games) – Competition Focus
and so on…
In a cycle like this we may even start to see a peaking effect occur, where the adaptations that occur from training hard in-season show themselves as improved performance on the field during the weeks when training is backed down.
2. Making Training Adjustments to Accommodate Important Games/Weeks
It is the job of the strength and conditioning coach to not only develop the athlete, but to also tailor that development toward optimal readiness to compete. In the case of the baseball pitcher, this means peaking him for the games that matter most, done by creating a plan that looks at the entire competition season as a whole.
But, for those who don’t have a strength coach there to create this plan, the same approach can still be taken, all we have to do is alter training so that the body is ready to perform.
There are three simple ways to back training down as important competitions approach. If you read the textbooks, they will tell you that these should occur weeks in advance, but this takes a lot of forethought and can sometimes limit flexibility of scheduling. Even making these three adjustments the week of a big competition, though, or the week before can make a difference still.
For starters, intensity (or load being lifted) should still be kept relatively high, regardless of the week. In fact, intensity can actually be maintained no matter who you are playing. It is volume that has a great impact on fatigue, soreness, and readiness. Thus, training volume should be controlled and minimized for important game-weeks.
One way to do this would be to take the prescribed sets and reps for a given intensity on a particular week, and cut the reps in half. For example, if a training session during an important week called for 4 x 6 at 82%, the pitcher could reduce the volume to 4 x 3 at the same load. In that way, intensity is still maintained, while fatigue is minimized by reducing the volume.
Another method would be to reduce the frequency of training for that “significant” week or the one leading up to it. In other words reduce the number of training sessions. This will again help to minimize fatigue and enhance readiness to play. An example would be to go from three total body training sessions to two, or from two sessions to one. This may actually be one of the easier methods for shifting the focus from training to competition, as the high school training and competition schedules often vary from week to week. Thus, dropping one training session may be convenient.
Finally, there are adjustments that can be made to the exercises themselves. We know that Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) often comes when a) novel stimuli are given to the muscle (e.g. new exercises, new volume or intensity) or b) movements are eccentrically-focused. Thus, exercise selection and implementation during an important game-week can be dictated by their impact on the body.
For example, if Deadlifts are performed in-season, and normally full repetitions (the weight is concentrically lifted and then eccentrically lowered back to the ground – not dropped), then on a week that we want to back down the training focus a bit, we can perform concentric-only Deadlifts (lift the weight and then drop it). Similarly, movements like a step-up can be used in place of a lunge in order to reduce the eccentric stress on the muscles involved. Medicine ball throws could also be swapped in place of the usual presses. These aren’t must-do’s, but they are just some ideas that can be utilized if a pitcher knows a particular exercises causes greater fatigue or soreness, and wants to prevent this the week of a big start on the mound.
While this two part series does its best to discuss the starting pitcher’s training routine, especially that of those at the high school level, it should be understood that not all training and competition circumstances are going to be ideal. For this reason, adaptability is a critical trait for all high school pitchers and coaches.
Having an open mind, too, is an important attribute for both to possess, as creativity may need to be expressed in order to find a way to not only prepare for each start on the mound, but to also develop as a total-athlete during the competitive season.
It cannot be forgotten that, while the spring season is for competing, the high school level itself is for development. Thus, a sliding and fluid middle-ground must be found between the two.