Post by Trent Calmer
Definition of “unconventional” – Not based on or conforming to what is generally done or believed.
With the rise of Crossfit over the past decade, functional movement has made its way into the forefront. Movement quality is starting to become prevalent as professionals are starting to incorporate unique training tools into clients rehab/training programs. These unique tools include battle ropes, steel maces, steel clubs, and slosh pipes. As unconventional training becomes popular, I would imagine there will be newer, even better implements that will continue to be invented based off of the current ones that are being used. The fitness/supplement company “Onnit” was how our staff here at Athletes In Motion came to discover some of these training tools. We started off by getting a few maces and a couple battle ropes from Onnit and once we tried them ourselves, our staff knew they would be great for developing our baseball players.
Are Current Unconventional Training Techniques Really “Unconventional?”
I ask this question because of my own personal experiences with lifting growing up. I lifted “conventional” focusing mainly on sagittal plane movements with barbells, dumbbells or machines. The lifts could be characterized as mainly “football lifts” that focused on hitting all those show muscles. I did so much shrugging in high school that I am still trying to loosen my perpetually tight traps. It wasn’t until I got a degree in exercise science that I realized I was focusing on all the wrong aspects for baseball performance. At AIM we see a lot of high school athletes that are receiving the exact same strength and conditioning program that I was given in high school. A ton of football lifts in the sagittal plane. Due to kids sitting more because of the technological advances our society has made, athletes are coming to us more broken down than before. No matter what sport they play, they are forced to do the same cookie cutter lifts that I did in high school.
Not only are kids coming to us with the same ancient lifting program that was the exact same that I had in high school, most kids come from high schools where they have never been taught proper lifting mechanics. It is also very common for us to get a high school senior who is extremely strong when it comes to the big lifts (bench, squat, deadlift), but can’t move outside that sagittal plane whatsoever. Due to the fact that baseball movement patterns mainly operate in the frontal and transverse plane (hitting/throwing), these “unconventional” training implements become “conventional” for a lot of our athletes. These particular athletes who can move massive amounts of weight in the sagittal plane often see huge gains when they transition to a program with movement patterns they have never experienced before.
Benefits of Various Unconventional Implements with Baseball Players
Maces/Steel Clubs – Think of these like a kettlebell that has a long handle. These training tools are extremely beneficial for the overhead athlete as various movements can really strengthen the core, back, shoulders, triceps, and forearms. All of these muscles are extremely important for baseball performance and often underdeveloped with the athletes that come in to train with us. One of the best exercises with these two implements that is programmed with all of our athletes is the mace 360 swing.
The reason why this exercise is so beneficial for baseball players is because it teaches proper core bracing. As the mace swings back and around the body, the athlete is cued to “pulse” the core to prevent the back from possibly anti-extending, or anti-lateral flexing. Resisting these motions is extremely transferable to the skills of hitting and throwing. The great thing about this exercise is that it can easily be modified if you don’t have a mace to work with. A bat with a donut or an ankle weight tied to the end can easily replicate the feel of a mace and also work wonders with the youth players who might have trouble with the lightest maces. At AIM we have homemade weighted bats that weigh roughly 3-4 pounds. These bats are great to do 360 swings with if an athlete struggles with the maces.
Battle Ropes – The main reason Athletes In Motion incorporates battle rope finishers into athletes workouts is because of the anaerobic energy system development. Doing short max effort bursts (roughly 7-15 seconds) are great for getting guys ready for the demands of baseball. Alternating waves is a very simple movement that is incorporated with athletes of all levels. It is a great tool for seeing body control/core awareness. With the younger guys, the ropes will move them. As they get properly cued on the correct positions and gain more experience with the ropes, athletes learn to control their bodies and move the ropes with high amounts of force. The ropes also do a great job of strengthening the arms, back, shoulders and chest with a multitude of movements in various planes that can be done. Jumping jacks with the battle ropes are great for conditioning as well as getting some explosive upward rotation work.
Slosh Pipes – At Athletes In Motion, our staff avoids copious amounts of overhead pressing with our athletes. The demands of the sport place the throwing arm overhead a tremendous amount so instead of doing vertical pressing movements, our trainers incorporate overhead carries using what’s called a slosh pipe. Essentially they are homemade pipes with water filled about 2/3 full so it “sloshes” back and forth during various movements/exercises. The overhead carry is great for baseball players as it creates stability in the core and strength in the overhead position. At AIM we have various sizes that make it an exercise that is utilized with our baseball players of all ages. A great progression with athletes is having the athlete walk in the frontal plane with a slosh pipe. This gets the athlete using their lateral glutes and also creates more slosh in the slosh pipe. If one of our athletes is having trouble carrying the slosh pipes overhead, an easy regression is to have the athlete carry the slosh in a front rack position with their arms crossed. Slosh pipes are also great for reinforcing proper mechanics during a squat. The slosh forces the athlete to use their core to stabilize as they get to the bottom position of a squat.
At Athletes In Motion we are continually finding new implements that will optimize our development of overhead athletes. An athlete that signs up for strength and conditioning with us will use these tools consistently as they offer a new stimulus not experienced by most athletes. Along with the use of unconventional implements, strength and conditioning programs at Athletes In Motion include traditional conventional practices. Our new back lifting area has a barbell and trap bar that has been game changing for our posterior chain development. In order to increase power in the major baseball movements, it is crucial that our athletes work to progressively overload the deadlift and hip thrust exercises that can be executed in this back area. Increasing the load with these two exercises will be game changing for increasing ones bat exit speed and/or mound velocity. Our athletes take part in a multi-disciplinary lifting approach that incorporates all types of training in all planes of movement. Athletes of all ages and all sports are welcome to sign up for a program! Accomplish your goals with us.