Ways to Improve Your Preseason Training By: Gunnar Thompson, NASM-CPT, PES, CPPS
I want to start off by stating that I sincerely believe in hyper-personalization when it comes to athletes' training, nutrition, and recovery. While everyone has their own specific needs to improve their performance and health, it is possible to provide a general outline of what the best coaches and trainers are doing to prepare their athletes for the upcoming season. The four propositions mentioned below reflect principles I have learned from the great minds of Ron Wolforth, Randy Sullivan, Flint Wallace, Eric Cressey, Jim Smith, Joe Defranco, and Cameron Josse that should be universally utilized by all athletes.
First, athletes should work on improving their tissue quality. This is an immediate way to boost durability and performance. For some time, we have utilized Foam Rollers, Massage Rollers, Lacrosse Balls, and other tools to provide a Self-Myofascial Release (SMR). While there is some debate about what is actually happening when SMR is performed, it is accepted by the majority of coaches and trainers as a critical component to improving tissue quality. If you or your team do not have a foam roller, it is an inexpensive tool that will pay off immediately.
Second, the ramp-up of workload is still something that most players and coaches miss in their preparation. I feel like this is absolutely necessary to mention as baseball season is drawing near and scrimmages/preseason games are about to be played. Randy Sullivan explains this concept well when he talks about athletes' ligaments and tendons, the places where athletes normally break down. Randy explains that ligaments and tendons are slow to adapt to stress since the blood supply in these areas is very limited. This is why starting small and building up is critical for athletes, and even more so for athletes who must perform overhead movements, such as throwing. I have heard Randy recommend throwing into the Baseball Training Sock to start off a progression, as it is the least stressful way to get throws in, and it helps to develop a less stressful adaptation to build upon.
The next thing that comes to my mind as it correlates to ramp-up is something that comes from Ron Wolforth. He believes that the MLB has it right when they start their pitchers throwing one or two innings in the first outing, and adding an inning to each appearance to create a gradual increase in workload. From these points, it easy to see why an athletes' preparation should not start with scrimmage/game number 1. It should be started well in advance and gradually built upon until the first scrimmage/game.
Third, developing multiple warm-up routines is imperative to keep players healthy and alert for the entire season. I took this thought from Flint Wallace, who stated his athletes would have a different warm-up for every day of practice, and on game day they got to choose their warm-up. This concept also comes from the “Certified Physical Preparation Specialist” certification that was taught by Jim Smith, Joe Defranco, and Cameron Josse. During this certification, they mentioned that every athlete will show up every day with different needs. An athlete will never be the same from day to day, hour to hour, or minute to minute. As a player or coach, it is your responsibility to progress or regress the training as needed by the individual that day, hour, and minute. This may seem like an impossible task, but if there is variability in a warm-up program the athlete has the freedom to do this without even thinking about it. Therefore, athletes and coaches should create variety in their warm-ups. Ladders, hurdles, resistance tubing, weighted balls, hip mobility, and the Shoulder Tube are all great warm up options for players. This will not only keep them healthy, but they will stay alert throughout the season. Baseball is known for repetitiveness and extended length. When you combine the two you create boredom. Do everything you can do to prevent this mental struggle that boredom creates.
Finally, recovery is the single most overlooked portion of preparation. The majority of people still believe that when the game or practice is finished, your training for the day is over. But the elite coaches and trainers I mentioned above actually view it as the START of preparing for tomorrow! Without recovery, it is impossible to come back the following day better prepared to train or compete. There are various methods in building a recovery protocol. I have seen the tools mentioned in the “warm-up” portion also used in recovery along with others such as the Rocket Wrap Compression Floss, Electrical Stimulation, contrast baths, and diaphragmatic breathing, to name a few. These are all great ways to increase blood flow, and to better prepare the athlete physically and mentally for the next day's work.
As I mentioned previously, this post is not meant to tell you exactly how and what to do. That is highly dependent on each individual and their specific needs, and a proper program should never be a one size fits all. Instead, the items listed above are things I believe players and coaches should be aware of when preparing for this season and every season. Use the concepts mentioned by the coaches and trainers above and make them your own. Develop a proper preparation protocol for you or your players and it will pay dividends.
Be unique and #BeELITE!