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Core Research
Total-body flexibility, stabilization, strength, and power
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Fundamentals of Core Training for Baseball Athletes
Core Training has pervaded the performance training arena thanks to growing research outlining the importance of the muscles of the core in strength, power and injury prevention. For example, a key element in baseball is the overhand throw. Many people erroneously overlook the necessity of total-body flexibility, stabilization, strength, and power in all planes of motion for success of the overhand throw.1 Research has shown that the trunk (core) and lower extremities contribute nearly 50-percent to the motion of the throw.   Studies of the influence of resistance-training programs on throwing velocity in high school and collegiate athletes have shown that training does in fact increase throwing velocity in this population.2 Core Training in particular has a profound effect on the overall performance of the baseball player. 

Defining the Core

The core has been defined as the lumbo-pelvic hip complex, thoracic, and cervical spine.  The core is the body’s center of gravity and where all movement begins.  It is made up of approximately 29 muscles, many of which are neglected because they can't be seen.  Unfortunately, as a result of decreased utilization and conditioning of the intrinsic core muscolature, there has been an increase in low back injuries and a decrease in optimum stabilization during movement.3 In order to activate the core musculature properly, it is important to facilitate a phasic approach to abdominal training.

There are two prominent phases to help condition the core musculature properly.  Each focuses on different muscle synergies and activation patterns. 
"The lumbopelvic region is only as stable as the weakest link.  In order to have complete spine stability, you need both local and global stability." 2
1
The first approach is the somewhat controversial utilization of the abdominal drawing-in maneuver.  Many professionals have used this maneuver in isolation to help increase core stabilization.  However, this is one step in an integrated approach. The drawing-in maneuver can be performed by pulling in the region just below the navel toward the spine.  Research has shown that this maneuver helps facilitate the contraction of the transverse abdominus, multifidus, pelvic floor, and the diaphragm - also known as the 'local stabilizers'. According to Dr. Darin Padua, a prominent researcher from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and chairperson for the NASM Research Institute, the local stabilizer muscles are extremely important because they help promote intervertebral stability, known as the stability between two vertebrae.  This intervertebral stability must be activated first in order to achieve full spine stability.  Dr. Padua also emphasizes that once the local stabilizers are activated, the lumbopelvic stabilizers, also known as the 'global stabilizers', should then be recruited. The global stabilizers are defined as the external oblique, internal oblique, and the quadratus lumborum
2
The second phase in the process is termed bracing and focuses on activating the global stabilizers. This can be achieved by contracting your abdominals and 'bearing down', slightly bringing your rib cage to your pelvis.  These muscles focus on the stability between the lumbar spine and the pelvis.  Both maneuvers, used in conjunction, help to facilitate a strong, stable and powerful core.

So why is this information important? 

Many individuals have developed functional strength, power, neuromuscular control, and muscular endurance in specific muscles that enable them to perform functional activities.  However, few individuals have developed the muscles required for optimal neuromuscular efficiency and stabilization of the LPHC.4,5  The body’s stabilization system has to function optimally to effectively utilize the strength, power, control, and muscular endurance that it has developed in its prime movers. If the extremity muscles are strong and the core is weak, there will not be enough force created to produce efficient movements.6  A weak core is a fundamental problem inherent to inefficient movement that may lead to predictable patterns of injury.7

Training the Core

To properly train the core, it requires a systematic and phasic process.  There are three key steps to a properly designed core training program:  stabilization, strength and power.  To begin, exercises that can emphasize the local stabilizers, muscles that respond best to time under tension (6-20 seconds), is a good place to start designing a core stabilization training program.i Once a client has achieved proper core stabilization and endurance, incorporating the global musculature using exercises and acute variables for strength and power should be the focus of the next phases of training.  All core training programs should be systematic and progressive for every individual.  Each athlete will differ as to how long they will need to stay in a core training phase.  Be sure not to skip the first step of training the core - if you do not have proper core stability before adding movement, then injury could occur!

What are good core exercises for Baseball?

As noted above, there are three stages of training the core:  stabilization, strength and power. 
In core stabilization, facilitating the local core musculature, the exercises performed should involve little to no joint motion through the spine and pelvis.  These exercises are designed to improve the functional capacity of the stabilization system. 

Once you have progressed and built the proper adaptations needed in core stability (approximately 4-6 weeks), you may then consider moving into core strength type exercises.
Core strength exercises involve more dynamic movements of the spine throughout a full range of motion.  These exercises are designed to improve dynamic core stabilization, force production, force reduction, and efficiency of the entire body.1 Core strength exercises allow motion of the spine. 
Once you have created proper core strength (approximately 4-6 weeks), the last focus should be on training for core power. 
Core power exercises work to help an athlete utilize the full velocity spectrum, creating more realistic speeds like those a baseball player may exhibit or encounter during a game.

Stabilization Strength Power
Plank Ball Cobra Medicine ball back extension throw
Side plank Ball Bridge Medicine Ball Chop
Quadruped Arm/leg raise Cable PNF Overhead medicine ball soccer throw
See the charts for examples of exercises to utilize to increase core capabilities for a baseball player.

NASM utilizes the drawing-in and bracing techniques to help strengthen the core musculature working on core fitness from the inside out. Having a 'sound' foundation of the core, no matter what age, can decrease injuries while increasing the success rate of your athletes' goals.  According to experts, "greater core stability may benefit sports performance by providing a foundation for greater force production in the upper and lower extremities."3  Training the core is a dynamic and evolving topic that encompasses a wealth of useful information.

ACUTE VARIABLES

Exercise
Number of Exercises to use
Sets Reps Tempo Rest
(in secs)
Core Stabilization 1-4 1-3 12-20 Slow 0-90
Core Strength 0-4 2-3
8-12 Medium 0-60
Core Power 0-2
2-3
8-12
As fast as can be controlled 
0-60

References: 
  1. Toyoshima S, Hoshikawa T, Miyashita M. Contributions of the body parts to throwing performance. In: Biomechanics IV. Nelson RC, Morehouse CA editors. Baltimore: University Park Press; 1978.
  2. DeRenne C, Ho KW, Murphy JC. Effects of general, special, and specific resistance training on throwing velocity in baseball: A brief review. J Strength Cond Res 2001;15(1):148-56.
  3. Willardson JM.  Core stability training:  Applications to sports conditioning programs.  J Strength Cond Res  Aug 2007;21(3):979-85.
  4. Nadler SF, et.al.  Hip muscle imbalance and low back pain in athletes:  influence of core strengthening.  Med Sci Sports Exerc.  2002;34:9-16.
  5. McGill SM.  Low back exercises:  evidence for improving exercise regimens.  Phys Ther.  1998;78(7):754-65.
  6. Carter JM, et.al.  The effects of stability ball training on spinal stability in sedentary individuals.  J Strength Cond Res.  2006;20(2):429-35.
  7. Leetun DT, et.al.  Core stability measures as risk factors for lower extremity injury in athletes.  Med Sci Sports Exerc.  2004;36:926-934.

To learn more about core training and expand your knowledge of core function and exercises, please check out the NASM and review other pages on WebBall on the topic.

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