Over the course of the last few weeks I have had the privilege to coach under and be coached by some of the best coaches in the business. Timing has been perfect because of the gap between football and the start of spring training is always hard for me. I don’t know what to do with my self as I am a baseball addicted and football is my fix until the Lombardi trophy is finally hoisted in triumph. So as I waited for the last contracts to pop up on bleacher report of who is signing where and what team is projected to win the World Series, I decided to take a journey through the kettlebell community to improve on my ability to use kettlebells as a tool in the development of the baseball players that train with me in the offseason. With season approaching I thought it would ideal to reflect on the kettlebell exercises that I have used over the course of my coaching career that have shown to help my athletes maintain healthy shoulders, hips and thoracic spines throughout a long season.
Just to be clear kettlebells are a tool that I use but are not the end all be all when I am programming. I use many other tools to help my athletes stay healthy but I think it is important to go over some exercises that the kettlebell is an excellent source of equipment when performing these exercises.
1.) Tension + Relaxation = Optimal Expenditure
Baseball players are embarking on a long journey this season and they need to have the ability to create tension when needed but also have the awareness to turn it down (relaxation) when the time is right. The players at the elite level not only shine because of their talent but they have the awareness to ramp it up when needed and dim the lights down to conserve when they know it is going to be a grind. A good friend of mine Dan John talks about arousal levels and how as your arousal level goes up your time under arousal will start to diminish.
You must be in tune with proper arousal meter order to understand the readings it will portray to you.The RKC does a great job at the beginning of every certification getting you to master breathing patterns that create tension patterns and breathing patterns that create relaxation patterns. Baseball is a job that requires 162 games in 180 days out of you. Grinds of long road trips and environmental influences out of the control of a player’s hands as well as your hands. This is job is a recipe for high arousal and limited relaxation and that is on a continuum of sympathetic to parasympathetic performance throughout a long season. Getting the athlete to work on diaphragmatic breathing during their rest periods between sets is just a simple way for them to work on regaining control of that arousal system.
Deadlift (High Arousal)
Hip Flexor Stretch (Low Arousal)
Side Plank (High Arousal)
Rest 1 Minute (Last 30 secs is diaphragmatic breathing work focused) (Low Arousal)
2.) High Bridge +Single leg Kettlebell Deadlift + Kettlebell Swings = Optimal Longevity
Baseball players are extension based athletes. This means that they need to have ideal hip extension over the course of a long season because they tend to lose what Dan John calls the bow. This is the integrity it takes from the knees to the hips to the shoulders to efficiently hinge back and extend forward like if you were to shoot an arrow at a target. High bridge can be a great exercise and assessment when a player gets back from a long road trip. What happens is over the course of a long road trip a player’s hips tend to tighten up causing them to shift their extension pattern to the lumbar spine. Getting them to do a few bridges (10 reps) and then asking them where they feel it, whether it is their lower back, quads, hamstrings or glutes will tell you how they will move next when they walk out the door. Baseball players tend to feel it in their lower back, quads and hamstrings before they feel it in their glutes giving you a great indication that their glutes aren’t firing first. Glutes are the strongest hip extensor muscle in the hip complex and if they aren’t firing first which tends to happen after a long road trip they need some work before the player steps back on the field. Adding in some single leg deadlifts and some light kettlebell swings are a great way to get the glutes firing again. Throwing in some mini band work as well would help lock everything into place.
3.) Time under appropriate tension = Optimal Integrity
Tension comes up again but I am going to attack it from a different approach this time. I believe the loaded carry family and Turkish gets up are very important when your working with a baseball player in season. Turkish gets up are the end all be all when your talking about full movements for baseball players in my eyes. When you are able to use a tool that has a unilateral tension displacement such as the kettlebell, it brings a component that dumbbells can’t. When you grasp the kettlebell and put it over head you turn the rotator cuff on and signal the shoulder that its time to work. Than as you go through the 14 steps of the get up you get a component of hip mobility, thoracic mobility, shoulder dynamic mobility/stability and unilateral core activation through various degrees. Everything that you need for a baseball player.
Now when you add in bottoms up carries, waiter carries and suit case carries you keep that treasure chest safe with great armor. See baseball players rotate and throw at such a higher force that they need to maintain the breaks that they have acquired in the offseason. Waiter carries attack the shoulder joint with great isometric manipulation around the area. Bottoms up carries add in the dynamic component to keep the rotator cuff awake and strong and there is nothing better to maintain that anti-rotation component than having a player hold a heavy kettlebell on one side and walk for distance. This lets the oblique’s (which is one of the highest injuries in pro players in spring training) and the surrounding muscles that connect the lower half to the upper half maintain quality breaks. Do not forget that you challenge the grip of these athletes when you carry heavy and if they start to lose their grip it is a great indicator that they are fatigued and need to shift back up to number 1 and work on living in their parasympathetic state to get some recovery.
In season training is a key component in all athletes and having the right tools in the tool box is key. Athletes have limited time to train because of their undulating schedule from traveling across the country to taking a test right before the game, so they don’t fall behind in class. The kettlebell is a convenient tool to maintain sport specific postural integrity for overhead athletes. Creating the understanding of arousal on both sides of the spectrum, owning it with posterior strength (high bridge, KB SL deadlifts) and optimizing shoulder and anti-rotation synchronization with carries and get ups will give them the chance to login in numerous innings and starts to further their career.
Optimal Integrity +Optimal Longevity= Optimal Expenditure