Ab Crunches: A Waste of time for Baseball Athletes

Today I went to a local gym to workout and like always found great amusement in watching many of the lifts I saw individuals performing. The most interesting thing I witnessed was a trainer at this gym working out with a young athlete, probably high school age, whom I overheard saying that he was a baseball player. At this point I became interested in observing the types of lifts the trainer had him perform and apparently I began watching during the core exercise phase of this athletes’ workout

Much to my horror, the trainer had him begin with crunches and then move on to bicycle kicks, leg flutters, and finishing with leg raises. The athlete probably spent 20 minutes doing multiple sets and reps of each of these “basic” exercises. I couldn’t help but think that those types of exercises will no more help this baseball player perform better or stay healthy than if he had just skipped them and went home.

Don’t get me wrong, baseball is a sport that requires exceptional strength throughout the core. When a baseball player is pitching or throwing across the diamond he needs to be able to stabilize his Torquebody as it rotates around his frame. Just look at the act of pitching a baseball. When a pitcher begins his delivery the first movement he makes using his core is generating torque. Torque is created by the separation between a pitcher’s shoulders and hips. This is created as the lower half begins to open up toward home plate while the pitcher’s shoulders are actually rotating in the opposite direction. This requires the core to be strong enough to withstand the strains that result when two large sections of the body are moving in different directions.

Not only must the core be able to hold up to the strain that is created during the torque process but it must also be able to help create the movement in which the upper body begins to unravel and rapidly spin to catch up with the hips after foot strike. Being able to hold the tension created during the torque movement combined with the strength necessary to begin the release of this tension is why pitching is such a demanding movement on the midsection.

While hitters experience a different type of movement, much of the demands on the midsection are the same. A hitter generates a lot of his power from his core. As he recognizes the pitch as a good one that he wants to unload on, one of a hitter’s initial movements in starting his swing begins through the mid-section. This is because the hitter is using his core to help explode his hips open which will generate much of the momentum and force that will carry the barrel of the bat into the hitting zone. Every day we hear of athletes who break down because their core is not prepared for the intense stress created by the rotational demands of baseball. Usually these injuries are classified as oblique strains and almost always occur on the opposite side of a pitcher’s throwing arm, or for hitters, the side facing the pitcher. Like I mentioned above, this isn’t too untitledsurprising considering the fact that for a right handed pitcher or hitter, the left hip is going into a counter clockwise movement while the upper body is still rotating in a clockwise motion. Therefore the core, especially the side opposite the throwing arm, is where the stress is placed. Tim Hudson has dealt with a number of oblique strains and he stated that after dealing with these injuries he finally decided to quit doing traditional core work and since then he has not had an oblique problem.

What strength coaches and players alike are beginning to realize is that trying to train the core in a simple flexion/extension method does not prepare it for the type of stress baseball movements put on it. Instead, an athlete must train in multi-directional planes which are the exact opposite of what crunches do. Athletes should prepare for the movements by doing explosive, high energy rotational exercises that will simulate the conditions required to hit or throw a baseball. This will both enhance performance and decrease injuries to the core. There are a number of great exercises that can be performed for the midsection that can actually prepare a player’s body for the stress he will endure throughout a season and I will discuss a few of them in my next article.

Until next time, Brian Oates


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