The Importance of Rotational & Lateral Movement in Baseball Training

If you have followed much of writings you will know that I subscribe to the philosophy of hitting all of the major movement categories in an effort to improvement movement, strength, and power, with the ultimate goal of improving athletic performance. These primary movement categories include:

  • Lower-Body Knee-Dominant Movements
  • Lower-Body Hip-Dominant Movements
  • Upper-Body Push Movements
  • Upper-Body Pull Movements

There are, of course, other movements that fall into additional categories, but I usually don’t mention these right off the bat as their lines often blur depending on the exercise or context in which they are used. These secondary movement categories can include, but are not limited to:

  • Unilateral Movements
  • Lateral Movements 
  • Rotational Movements
  • Core Stability Movements
  • Loaded Carries
  • Mobility, etc…

When it comes to training athletes in general – especially those with relatively low training ages, and regardless of sport – it is important that we expose them to the many, if not all of the movement categories, as each one can serve to enhance overall athleticism while also building the foundation of strength in multiple planes.

I have discussed at length the importance of General Physical Preparation and overall strength for the development of the baseball player. These qualities are traditionally built upon higher exposures to basic, simple, foundational movements that are found in the first four primary movement categories (LB-KB, LB-HD, UB-Push, UB-Pull).

But, what is the importance of the secondary movement categories to developing baseball player? More specifically, with baseball being rotational and lateral in nature, what is the importance of these two movement categories to this highly-specialized population?

Today I will address why lateral and rotational movements are important to the developing baseball players and how they should fit into an overall training program.

Andre Ethier for Stack Magazine

Why Lateral & Rotational Training Is Important to Baseball

Lateral and rotational movements (and a combination of the two) are obviously major components in the throwing and hitting motions. We throw, hit, and pitch by laterally striding with the lower body, and then rotating through the hips/pelvis and trunk. So, common sense would tell us that these movements should be trained for in some manner, as a part of an overall baseball training program.

MLB: Miami Marlins at Washington Nationals

While general training (which in terms of strength in baseball can include bilateral lower-body movements such as the Squat and Hip-Hinge) is vital to overall development, we must remember two separate continuums that can be viewed  as concurrent at times:IMG_3012.PNGWhile overlaying these two continuums doesn’t mean that we should only move heavy loads for Max Strength with basic General Prep movements (such as the bilateral squat), it does suggest that we should be moving along the entirety of each continuum, usually working from from general prep to “sport-specific”, and from strength to speed.*

There are many methods of periodization. Some move strictly from left to right on these continuums over the course of the training year. Others undulate – or alternate – from one part of the continuum to the other.

Regardless of how you go about programming, it is important to acknowledge the need for specialized and specific prep after building a strong foundation of general preparation. This is due to the principle of specificity which states that, in order to improve a certain quality, movement, or skill, you must train it directly. This is exactly what we are doing as we progress toward the right side of both continuums, as baseball-specific movements are more lateral and rotational in nature, and are performed with little to no load (i.e. a 5 oz. baseball; a 32 oz. bat) at high rates of speed.

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Thus, to specifically train for the demands of baseball – both from a prehabilitation/injury-reduction standpoint and a performance enhancement perspective – specialized and specific training must occur, and this should certainly include lateral and rotational movements.

The scientific literature specific to baseball (and other throwing team-sports like cricket) backs this point up. Research has shown that lateral jumps are superior to vertical or linear jumps when it comes to correlating to pitching velocity in baseball.

Research has also shown that more specialized training correlates to increased throwing speeds in cricket players. This research goes on to say:

“Exercises that more closely simulated the speed (body weight jumps and medicine ball throws) or movement pattern (shoulder IR) of overhead throwing were greater predictors of throwing velocity. Strength and conditioning staff should assess and develop power to enhance throwing performance in cricket players. Exercises with greater movement and speed specificity to throwing should be used in preference over exercises that are slower and have less movement specificity to the throwing motion. Cricket players should engage in power training to bridge the gap in performance between them and baseball players.” (Freeston, Carter, Whitaker, et al., 2016)

cricket

Now, with all of this sport-specificity in mind, let’s take a moment to emphasize the last line of that research, and then discuss the fit of lateral and rotational training into the overall context of a training program.

Lateral & Rotational Training As Part of the Overall Training Program

“Cricket players should engage in power training to bridge the gap in performance between them and baseball players.” (Freeston, Carter, Whitaker, et al., 2016)

As the line from the research states above, power training (which is alluding more toward the speed end of the strength-speed continuum, as well as the specialized/specific components of the general-specific training continuum) should be used to bridge the gap between performance training and actual sport performance. In other words, these components should be used to enhance performance by translating general qualities into specific qualities. This does not mean using specialized training (i.e. lateral and rotational training) at the exclusion of training methodologies that address the rest of those continuums.

As we briefly touched on above, there are many different ways to go about programming and periodizing training for baseball. But, regardless of your recipe, the ingredients should remain roughly the same. You need the “meat and potatoes” of any training program for sport – your squats, hinges, pulls, and pushes. You need to slow cook these ingredients early and often until the base of your training is established.

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The secondary movement categories (e.g. unilateral, rotational, lateral, and core stability movements, etc.) should be included all throughout the process, with various progressions and regressions, and in a variety of volumes/intensities. In other words, lateral and rotational training can and should be included all throughout the training year, with varying emphases – for example, high volume, high intensity, or plyometric in nature.

Overall, though, as the training year progresses there should be a general trend from left to right on the aforementioned continuums. And, when the speed and/or specificity is at its peak in the training plan, rotational and lateral movements should, too, be strongly emphasized -regardless of whether you’re a weighted baseball advocate, a medicine-ball fan, or a lateral plyometrics-guy.

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Another way to put it: it doesn’t matter what brand of ingredients you buy (specific exercises), as long as you have all of the ingredients (the primary movement categories as well as the secondary categories) and use them at the appropriate times (your method of periodization), you should see an improvement in performance.

Respectfully,

RJF


References

Freeston, J.L., Carter, T., Whitaker, G., Nicholls, O., & Rooney, K.B. (2016). Strength and power correlates of throwing velocity on sub elite male cricket players. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 30(6), 1646-1651. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001246

 

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2 thoughts on “The Importance of Rotational & Lateral Movement in Baseball Training

  1. Hey Ryan … are you insinuating that sport specific drills like MB throws, etc. should be more highly emphasized during the pre-season and in-season than during the off-season? If so, are you taking into account the on-field practice activities when you say this or merely the strength and conditioning component?

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    • Noel,
      Thanks for reaching out! That’s a good question. I’m not necessarily suggesting that med ball throws, other rotational exercises, or more specialized movements should be most emphasized in the pre-season. What I did allude to is that there are many ways to periodize a strength program, as you well know. In one paradigm you could insert these specific movements with more emphasis in the pre-season in order to move from general to specific to try to increase “transfer” of strength to power to sport-specific speed. You could then taper down the volume of these moving into the season since they will be rotating and moving on that same side of the continuum hundreds of times every day in practice.

      You could also try to “off-set” all of that rotational, high-speed, sport-specific work on the field with more anti-rotation, trunk stability, and sagittal plane work with the goal of not overusing the movements or frying the CNS. But, we also must take into consideration training residuals. Block periodization says that transmutation residuals only last around 2 weeks, and realization residuals only around one week. So, if we were to go an entire pre-season or end of the off-season without touching these qualities, we might lose the potency of their adaptations.

      I think there are many ways to skin this one. That’s the art/science of strength training. Finding what works best in your own unique circumstances.

      I’m interested to hear how you would go about it, if you wouldn’t mind sharing!

      Thanks again Noel,

      Ryan

      Like

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