In just about every baseball circle, whether it be those in high school, college, travel ball, or professional, you will hear coaches echo identical sentiments on their emphasis on strength training for baseball; you’ve probably heard it before, “It’s all in the legs and core, especially the core!” they will tell you.
Look through social media enough and you will also see the same emphasis on “the core” from the majority of private facilities and travel ball organizations: plenty of medicine ball throws, landmine twists, and rotational band/cable movements.
This could be because that’s all a particular facility allows us to see through the lenses of their smart phones (part of the business of performance training is marketing, and some might think that sexy exercises market better than “boring” ones), or because they only have a limited amount of time to work with their athletes so they expedite the “core training” process. Either way, these types of exercises are only a portion of what core training is and should be.
While sport-specific and/or ballistic trunk exercises are important, and the movements in which they correspond (rotation, with the goal of utilizing the entire kinetic chain) are vital to baseball, they are only a piece of the puzzle that is performance enhancement for baseball.
For the strength coach (or sport coach) that works with their athletes in more of a team-setting, though, we are afforded the opportunity to spend nearly an entire calendar year (and generally multiple years) developing our athletes. In this way, we can slow cook the movement quality and athletic development process. Most of us already inherently know how this works to some extent: we teach the body weight squat before adding external loading; we teach the push-up before pressing; we teach the hip hinge before the Clean; etc.
Core training – or rather, training the trunk (more on the semantics below) – shouldn’t deviate from this same principle. Whether it takes ones full year, more, or less, the same progression from simple and regressive exercises to complex and ballistic exercises should still see the same adherence.
There are many effective ways to go about training the trunk. Today I would like to take some time to start discussing how I personally progress my ballplayers (at the high school level) through their core training throughout an entire off-season.
I will organize this discussion the same way in which I organize my training – by the phase – and in a more pointed fashion (also with a ton of visuals), as to be more easily consumed and practically read. And, it will all be covered over the course of a three-part series.
Part I will cover my first phase for training the trunk – Basic Trunk Stability – while Parts II and III will discuss the subsequent phases, which I call Dynamic Stability and Power/Speed.
PHASE I – BASIC TRUNK STABILITY
Overview: the Basic Trunk Stability phase sets the foundation and standard for which every other trunk/core phase rests upon.
- Build basic foundational strength of the core musculature – an athlete must be able to actualize the utilization of their trunk to serve its role of both stabilizing the spine and transferring energy from the lower to the upper extremities.
- Teach proper breathing in concurrence with bracing – intra-abdominal pressure is vital for stabilizing the spine against forces and under heavy loading. Learning to breathe in the early stages of training and how to brace will make it easier to utilize the intra-abdominal pressure later in the training process (when it matters the most).
- Teach proper posture, how to position the trunk and spine, and how to find spinal/pelvic neutral – although sport isn’t always played in neutral, being able to find and get to spinal/pelvic neutral is key to injury prevention, and then later allows for the effect and safe transition in and out of neutral.
- Teach how to stabilize entire trunk by utilizing the gluteals in conjunction with the abdominals and proper breathing – one of the reasons I would prefer to call the “core” the “trunk” is because I include many other muscles besides the abdominals as a part of the “core”, including those that control the hips. Since the pelvis and lumbar spine interact with each other, this is an imperative link to make, and the gluteals are a major part of it.
Duration: typically 9-12 weeks
Sample Exercises and Progressions:
- Front Plank
High Plank -> High Plank + A-Frame -> High Plank + Shoulder Taps
Low Plank -> Low Plank + Leg Lift Hold -> Low Plank + Alternating Leg Lifts
Quadruped Hold -> Quadruped w/ Opposite Reach and Hold -> Quadruped w/ Alternating Opposite Reach
- Side Plank
Side Plank Low -> Side Plank High
- Glute Bridge
Glute Bridge Hold -> Single-Leg Glute Bridge -> Glute Bridge March
Partner Anti-Rotation -> 1/2 Kneeling Pallof Press + Hold -> Parallel Stance Pallof Press + Hold -> Parallel Stance Pallof Press w/ Heartbeat -> 1/2 Kneeling Chop/Lift
As you can see, progressions generally move in the following directions:
- From highly grounded to less grounded (e.g. Kneeling to Standing – which raises the center of mass)
- From static to more variable (e.g. High Plank Hold to High Plank + A-Frame back to High Plank – which puts them in the proper posture, takes them away from it, then requires them to reestablish it).
- From all bases of support to less bases of support (e.g. Glute Bridge to Single-Leg Glute Bridge)
Benchmarks: Overall, the athlete must show an understanding and proficiency in the aforementioned goals before progressing to the next phase.
Generally, this takes about 9-12 weeks, and takes this long for a reason: there are plenty of progressions that make these basic trunk stability exercises (the high plank, low plank, glute bridge, anti-rotations) much more challenging to both posture and strength. We are in no rush to get them out of this phase, as we have an entire off-season to transition from Phase I all the way through Phase III. Mastering Phase I, though, is essential for the effective training of subsequent phases.