Baseball is sport unlike any other. The balance of core strength and stabilization, with core power makes training for baseball a very complex idea. Yet, core strength and core power in baseball are both highly desired traits. In this article, we will discuss proven strategies for improving strength and power in the core region, as well as minimizing injuries in the lumbar spine.
The first thing to consider when embarking on a core strength training program is the current level of core fitness. To do this there are a handful of tools and tests that can be used. The first is a kinetic chain assessment. Because the core is often the weakest point in the kinetic chain, its easy to spot. Exercises we use include an overhead squat, a basic pushup, a split squat as well as a modified or horizontal pullup. All of these exercises require core strength. In addition, these tests evaluate the ability to resist the effects of gravity on the body.
After we perform our kinetic chain tests, then we can perform more specific tests of core strength and function. The first of these tests is a basic plank exercise. Dr. Stuart McGill has stated that a person with sufficient core strength should be able to hold a plank for two and a half minutes. This is a good target. The next test is a side plank test for time. This test will evaluate the subject's ability to resist lateral flexion of the hips and spine. Because baseball does involve a high percentage of lateral motion, the ability to resist lateral flexion becomes very relevant. The third test we use is a seated pelvic tilt exercise. The ability to control posture is paramount in performing most exercises as well as reducing injuries to the lumbar spine. To do this, simply have a person sit on a stability ball and tilt the pelvic forward and backward multiple times. Following these tests, a general core strength program can be developed.
Because our ability to resist external forces on the body is more important than being able to create force. Therefore many of the core exercises we use in our program are considered "anti-movers." The plank for example is an "anti-extension" exercise where gravity is pulling our hips down and our spine into spinal extension. So the core muscles are used to prevent spinal extension.
When we look at baseball, most people see rotation. But again, players don't have a problem creating motion. Instead its controlling it and slowing down external forces that causes the most problems. So the exercises we will choose to use are anti-rotation exercises such as a single leg pushup, plank with forward reach, or side plank with a reach.
Core power training should occur only after substantial core strength and endurance have been demonstrated. Power exercises require quick muscular activation and recruitment followed by immediate inhibition of antagonist muscles. So power training is often too advanced for younger players.
In summary, core strength training does not have to be a confusing topic. Simply progress from basic to advanced after determining the needs via testing. By keeping track of how players perform on the tests, you can prescribe the right exercises and get the most improvement in both performance as well as prevention of lumbar spine injuries.
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