We have all seen it before:
A baseball player swings a heavy bat in the on-deck circle.
A basketball player performs jumps with a medicine ball prior to the game.
We’ve even heard stories of athletes doing heavy squats before an outing. In fact, and I am not entirely sure how true it is, but rumor has it Red Sox pitcher and playoff hero Nathan Eovaldi was squatting upwards of 500 pounds prior to the game in which he threw 97 pitches in relief (with his fastball above 100mph).
Note from the editors: Here’s the original tweet about Eovaldi squatting:
Nate Eovaldi, starting for the #RedSox today, is a monster. Said Rick Porcello: “His workouts are ridiculous. He’s like warming up (for a start) with 300 pounds on the squat rack. Can’t even think about that this time of year.”
— Maria Torres (@maria_torres3) October 16, 2018
And here’s the subsequent tweet which bolstered Eovaldi’s growing mythology:
— Maria Torres (@maria_torres3) October 28, 2018
How did Eovaldi do this? Why does he not see a significant drop in performance after lifting? In fact, how can any athlete perform a resisted activity and actually increase their power and speed output?
We can get a better understanding of this phenomenon if we understand the energy systems involved in anaerobic and ballistic activities (which are the basis of most team sports), fully grasp the concept of post activation potentiation, and learn how to apply these concepts in order to avoid fatigue and produce tremendous displays of speed and power.
Can resisted activities “fatigue” the muscles prior to explosive bouts?
First and foremost, yes, resisted activities can fatigue the muscles to a point where they do not perform efficiently and at their best prior to explosive bouts. However, there are some key areas that, if focused on and abided, can help our resisted activities aid in performance increases.
Energy systems involved in anaerobic and ballistic activity
Shorter sprints, swinging a bat, throwing a ball, shooting a basketball, explosive jumps etc. are fueled by the anaerobic energy system.
- This system involves movements performed at maximum intensity for a max of 12-15 seconds.
- Essentially, the two compounds that fuel these movements (Adenosine Triphosphate and Creatine Phosphate) are finite and only last so long.
- We can only perform an activity at maximum intensity if stores of these two compounds are fully replenished. Thus, the resisted activity prior to an explosive movement must be limited in time (12-15 seconds), and also be followed by max recovery to allow ATP and CP to restore.
If we limit the resisted movement prior to the explosive movement to shorter bouts, we can expect increased muscular performance during the ballistic activity (i.e. one submax squat repetition only needs about a minute of rest before stores are replenished enough to fuel your explosive bout right after).
So, if you are looking for a final answer, those rules above should help. Could swinging a heavy bat for 5 minutes non-stop prior to your at bat fatigue your muscles? Yes. However, some rotational medicine ball throws or three swings of a loaded bat will actually increase the output of your power movements. Keep reading to find out why!
What is post activation potentiation (PAP)?
Post activation potentiation is a fancy term for the idea that resisted activities (squats, deadlifts, presses, sled drags/pushes, or any resistance applied to a movement) or isometric holds help activate the muscles via the contraction and thus give the ability for the muscles to reach heightened performance with the subsequent explosive activity (jump, sprint, throw, etc).
Essentially, you are aiming to place a load on the muscle groups involved in the intended speed or power activity and the muscular contractions required to “turn on the muscles” as well as the nervous system. Think of this in the same likeness as a car in a drag race spinning its wheels, driving its engine and prepping itself for an explosive straight-away sprint.
Now, think of this same thought and how it would correlate to a sport like baseball. More and more baseball players are performing rotational medicine ball throws in the dugout/clubhouse when they are a player or two away from their turn to hit. The ideas is that placing some resistance and emphasizing rapid rotation for a few repetitions will help “turn on” the muscles involved in rotation prior to hitting.
This can help maximize power output in the swing. If you are a player who feels that taking actual swings with a loaded bat can ruin your swing path, feel free to grab a medicine ball and throw it a few times in order to prep yourself.
How can PAP be implemented into the pre-game routine and as contrast training for advanced athletes?
If you have the luxury of actually lifting weights before you play, keep it simple. One to two sets of a squat at 70-80% of your max is more than enough to get your legs going and activate them for your sprints or whichever activity you are performing. However, working with resisted jumps or moving lesser weights as fast as possible (speed-strength and strength-speed) could be even more effective.
While heavier squats, deadlifts, presses, etc. can get the job done, I actually prefer lesser loads where intent to move as fast as possible is the main goal. For example, I would actually rather two to three explosive squats at 55% of an athlete’s max because in addition to the muscular contraction benefit I alluded to earlier, the central nervous system may also see more heightened activation prior to the speed movement.
Think about it: pairing pre-fired muscles with a heightened and alert nervous system can yield incredible results. In addition, I feel that you will exhaust less of the compounds (ATP and CP) that fuel anaerobic movements with this method versus a few repetitions at a heavier weight. The intent to move may be fast, but the total time of the set could be reduced while achieving the same result. With this in mind, here are some great ways to prep before your games even when you are at the field:
- Medicine ball resisted squat jumps
- Overhead medicine ball throws
- Rotational medicine ball slams or throws
- Resisted sprints
Now that you have some strategies for pre-game use, here are some of my favorite contrast pairings for various areas (jumping, sprinting, pressing ability, and rotational ability). WARNING: these pairings are good training tools to implement for the advanced athlete who has a solid base of strength and power. You want to save these methods and have them in your toolbox when an athlete sees plateaus in their training and needs that extra stimulus.
Also, try to save contrast training for two to three week cycles geared towards peaking or at the end of the offseason. Even with advanced athletes you do not want to perform these for big chunks of time as it can counteract the entire purpose. We want to stimulate the muscles and nervous system, not burn them out.
Jump Higher / Vertical Extension Contrast Pairing
Dynamic effort front squats (x3) and box jumps (x3). 6-8 sets.
- Perform squat repetitions
- Rest 1 minute (or longer)
- Perform box jumps
- Rest 4 minutes (or until fully recovered) before repeating
Note: You can add chains or bands to the squat as the athlete advances if you want to further promote acceleration through lockout.
Sprinting / Linear Speed (Acceleration) Contrast Pairing
Resisted sled sprints (69-90% bodyweight) (10-20 yards) and unresisted sprints (10-20 yards). 6-8 sets.
Push / Pressing Power Contrast Pairing
Dynamic effort push-ups (x3) and supine medicine ball drop chest passes (x3). 6-8 sets.
Rotational Contrast Pairing
Lateral sled drags (x4 steps each side), pallof press isometric hold (10 seconds), and light medicine ball rotational throws (x3 each side). 6-8 sets.
Note: Here we are looking to activate the body in the frontal plate (lateral drags). The frontal plane is a big component in weight transfer during rotation. Then, we look to activate the core anti-rotation capabilities which will help provide efficient rotation by allowing the trunk to counter rotate and resist rotation from the lower half.
You now know how to ensure that you do not “fatigue” your muscles prior to explosive activities while also working to maximize output. Apply these principles and reap the benefits of increased speed and explosiveness!