Welcome to Part 3 of our pitching programming strategies blog series. If you missed Part 1 or 2, you can check them out here and here. Today’s topic will cover a programming strategy known as “high/low.”
What is the high/low strategy?
The late Charlie Francis popularized the high/low method in the 1970s and ‘80s. Francis was a Canadian Olympic sprinter and sprint coach best known for working with Olympic sprinter Ben Johnson. High/low does not refer to a specific program; instead, high/low refers to an organizational strategy that characterizes (or groups) training load elements according to their central nervous system (CNS) intensiveness as a way to maximize workload and recovery (1, 2).
In this system, all training loads (or exercises) that register medium to high in neuromuscular intensity (think deadlifting close to your 1 RM, sprints, or throwing a max effort bullpen) are grouped to the same day. These days would be preceded and followed by either an off day or light intensity day. The reason behind this consolidation of training intensities is that the medium intensity (~7-8 RPE) exercises are stressful enough to prevent full recovery within 24 hours, while simultaneously being weak enough to prevent performance enhancement in a variety of speed/power contexts (1).
So how would a program look that utilizes a high/low organizational strategy? In a three high-intensity day training week, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday would be high-intensity training days, while Monday, Wednesday, and Friday would be low-intensity training days. Here is an example of how a high/low framework could look in a Track & Field (T&F) setting:
While this programming organizational strategy has been prevalent (for good reason) for quite some time within the T&F community, it has only recently gained slight traction in the baseball community. So, how can the high/low method be applied to training pitchers?
High/Low Application in Baseball
Before we examine how the high/low method can be applied to pitchers, I think it is important to reiterate the key distinction of the programming strategy: the consolidation of medium to high-intensity training loads to the same day to maximize workload and recovery. The strategy takes into consideration not only the training demands on the muscular system but on the nervous system as well. The prioritization of high-intensity days allows for at least 48 hours for CNS recovery (3), thus mitigating daily CNS fatigue, which may limit nervous system force output. Failing to account for CNS fatigue is not ideal for developing elite throwers. A good way to think of this is: Velocity training is nervous system training.
In the context of training pitchers using a high/low organization, training loads can be grouped by RPE (rate of perceived exertion), and, thereby, throwing velocity. In this way, the higher the throwing velocity, the higher the intensity. Within this framework, we can then group the following workout types into high intensity and low intensity:
We can then structure a training week around this organization. Here is an example in TRAQ of a two high-intensity day training week utilizing the high/low method:
In this example, the athlete was in a mound velocity phase performing an MD (mound) hybrid A and a mound velocity session. This training structure follows high/low organization in that each session is either performed at a high or low intensity with no middle ground. This allows for greater recovery of the athlete’s nervous system.
This high/low organization is not exclusive to velocity training. An athlete’s training can be structured in this manner during an on-ramp phase as well. Here is an example in TRAQ of a three high-intensity day training week utilizing the high/low method:
Who may be a good fit for this programming strategy?
As is true of many things in player development, high/low organization is not a training absolute. It is not for everyone, especially younger and some amateur athletes. These groups of athletes are not yet capable of high training outputs; therefore, they cannot fatigue their nervous system to the same extent as elite level athletes (2). While lower-level athletes do not need to worry about the organization of training load and its effects on nervous system output, their training should still be organized and structured responsibly.
Some other attributes of athletes who may be a good fit for this strategy include, but are not limited to:
- Properly on-ramped and has completed one or more velocity phases (if high/low is being utilized during a velocity block)
- General physical preparedness is no longer a low hanging fruit for improving velocity
- Athlete progress has become stagnant
When can this strategy be implemented?
Typically, high/low program organization would occur in the offseason. More specifically, it can be utilized in the mid to late offseason when neuromuscular demand is higher. In contrast, training in the early offseason (which can also be classified as a GPP, general physical preparation, period) is generally made up of training components of lower neuromuscular demand.
I think James Smith, renowned sports coach and author of Applied Sprint Training, said it best: “…[The high/low framework] allows for a greater sustainability of intensive loading over the long term. Recovery is built into the system, and the delicate balance between workload and recovery is preserved” (1). At Driveline, we have found—myself, especially—this method to be very effective for some athletes. Going forward, we will continue to use and track its effectiveness. Therefore, I believe it is useful to have the high/low programming strategy in your toolbox.
Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for Part 4!
By Stephen Hart
- Smith, James. Applied Sprint Training. Vervanté, 2014.
- Leggins, Brock. High-Low Organization of Training. www.dmymca.org/media/documents/High_Low_8202D89003F1D.pdf.
- Decant, Zach. “Conditioning and Baseball.” Zach Decant Sports Performance Enhancement, www.zachdechant.com/conditioning-and-baseball/.