School is back in session and baseball coaches are urgently getting the ball rolling for their fall programs in preparation to get their baseball players ready for the spring season. Anytime coaches start a new program the optimism is high because the clarity that the fall program can bring sets them up with the confidence needed to bring home a title. Along with scheduling fall practices and scrimmages the coaches have to manage scheduling time to get into the weight room so their athletes have an outlet to get strong and faster.
Like most baseball programs the workouts start with a warm up to improve blood flow to the muscles, increase mobility or maybe even create some stability in preparation for that day’s lift or if the players are lucky batting practice on the field. With so much going on the athletes will tend to get confused on why they are doing certain warm up exercises versus others or honestly do not care what so ever on what they are doing as long as they get to get under a bar and lift something heavy or take a few hacks on the field. Now working on the little things such as a proper warm up or some simple stretches is just not as flashy or cool to a young athlete compared to taking swings on the field. Young athletes don’t tend to see the importance because there isn’t an instant result compared to taking batting practice and watching and feeling how hard they hit the ball or how far it went. What if time stood still for 1 minute and you had the opportunity to teach an exercise that you believed was going to have an important carry over onto the field. If a genie granted me that moment, I would pick the Birddog exercise. Hands down one of the best exercise that every young baseball player should master and here is why.
The birddog starts in a 6-point position with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips with your toes gripping the ground. From this position you breathe in through your nose expanding the belly down as you push the belly button to the ground. This expansion creates stability throughout the middle of your body. As you grasp full stability you drive your heel back as far you can, point the toes as you reach the full extension. As this is going on you are simultaneously reaching as far as you can forward with your middle finger while keeping the thumb up as if you were going to show someone they did a great job. The goal is to fully lengthen the body while trying to maintain a stable position keeping the heel under the butt and while trying to keep the arm in line with the ear at the end range. In a perfect world all this would happen with ease and simultaneously unfortunately in the baseball World this doesn’t happen and tends to look different based on the player but that is what happens when you decide to fully commit to a sport that only creates bigger gaps in asymmetries.
Now let me show you what this looks like from a throwing perspective.
This only captures a minute second in time of the acceleration phase in his throwing mechanics but if you look closely this mimics a lot of what the birddog exercise is doing. He is synchronizing his contralateral sides (opposite sides) to create stability so he can transfer from his landing foot to his release point. The force that is transferred when the lead leg lands can reduce and a lot of times be expressed through other joints when the brain and neuromuscular system cannot adapt and create efficiently through such a high force movement. Throwing a baseball can create up to 7500 degrees of internal rotation along with 1.5 times body weight of distraction force at the shoulder. This leaves baseball players prone to injuries when their body cannot absorb and transfer force efficiently at such a high rate from the ground up.
This is why Birddogs are a great exercise to throw in the warm up and throughout various points in the fall strength and conditioning program to help create and maintain movement quality in baseball players. Birddogs challenge the system to communicate with the all systems to synchronize while moving through the throwing phases in baseball. I would recommend having your baseball players do 2-4 sets a day of 3-6 reps on each side. As the movement gets easier try to have them hold longer when they extend out and back. The goal would be able to hold for 6 seconds or 3 long breaths (in through the nose and out through the mouth).
You know an exercise is built for baseball when it is mimicked in the throwing phase of a baseball throw. Having your baseball players perform various forms of birddogs throughout the program will help improve the quality of how they transfer force from the ground to their release point. This can only help them improve on their self-awareness of the movement as well as give them a better understanding on why such a simple exercise can go such a long way.
Check out my article on why Baseball players should do everything else backwards.