4 Training considerations for catchers
By Eric Cressey on October 11, 2022 at 8:55 am
Today’s guest post comes from Cressy Sports Performance – Florida coach Dan Rosen.
A Recent episodes On the Elite Baseball Development Podcast, Eric talks with coach Jerry Weinstein about his long coaching career and the lessons he’s learned throughout that time. In addition to being a successful coach at the collegiate, professional and Olympic levels, Jerry is also well known for his work with catchers. In the podcast, he discusses the importance of defensive mindset for catchers, the ability to get in and out of position behind the plate, and more. In today’s article, I want to address these qualities and others that can help catchers be more successful.
Training Consideration #1: Healthy Legs
Foot health can be its own blog, but I’m particularly interested in maintaining toe extensibility and the ability to pronate and supinate the foot.
Sufficient great toe dorsiflexion (about 60-70 degrees) is important for several reasons including plantar fascia health, Achilles tendon health, ability to complete a gait cycle (one step). Without this dynamic, compensation can rise up the chain. Before each pitch, catchers cue them into a position to access the extensibility of their big toes. In a nine-inning game, a team will throw about 150 pitches; Multiply that throughout the season and you have a catcher who has spent considerable time in big toe dorsiflexion. Without enough volume, what can happen is that catchers can roll onto the other four toes for support, causing the big toe to not do its job in this position. Ways we can train big toe ROM include isolating the toe with CAR/Toe yoga, setting the spring ankle and making sure the big toe is the main weight bearer, spending time in the gym barefoot, and being more aware of what’s going on. Our big toe is doing exercises that usually force it to extend, such as hops, pogos, and exercises that use a staggered or split stance. Dr. James Spencer outlined some good exercises here in a previous article: Big fingers, big problems.
Although catchers are not walking much while catching, they do move throughout the gait phase. The location of the signal we just discussed will reflect the final phase of walking, as the toe is the last point of contact with the ground. The next phase of gait is associated with propulsion, which will be important for catchers as they move their body weight toward the base for the throw. After the pitch calling stance comes the initial stance. Traditionally it will look like the picture below.
Some catchers, however, find getting down on one knee to be a more comfortable and more effective way to receive the pitch.
In the first picture, we can see heavy pronation and eversion (rolling the foot inward) of both feet. Catchers often have to shift or swing their body weight from one leg to the other in their stance, which is why access to articulation will be important. It is worth noting, however, that the athlete needs the ability to access supination to create a more rigid base for power generation. If the athlete is constantly pronation (like the catcher in the first picture), he will be stuck in “deceleration mode”. In the second picture, we can see the left foot is more biased towards supination.
A technique I like to employ in this regard is to favor different phases of movement with different exercises in a training program.. For example, you can adjust a split-squat to train each of them. Elevate the forefoot into bias initial supination, keeping the shin over the mid-foot throughout the movement for bias pronation, or elevate the hindfoot and/or float the forefoot to emphasize re-supination in the later stages of gait.
Where you place the weight loading implement can also affect the degree to which the working leg is biased; Contralateral (opposite side) holds emphasize pronation and ipsilateral (same side) holds emphasize more supination. Determine what the athlete needs and then position/load them accordingly.
Training Consideration #2 – Hip Mobility
Assessing hip range of motion in all three planes is important to determine where an athlete may be limited. Hip flexion range-of-motion is especially important, as a catcher must spend a lot of time in a position of deep hip flexion. Lacking this motion, a catcher may find compensatory motion in the joints above (lumbar spine) or below (knees).
Knee health is another important consideration for catchers, as they spend time in deep knee flexion such as toe dorsiflexion and hip flexion. In terms of knee health, it is my belief that access to adequate leg strength, proper foot mechanics, and sufficient usable hip mobility will put the knee in a better position to sustain year-round (if there are no contact or traumatic injuries).
To be an effective catcher, one must have sufficient hip mobility to “explore” in a small window. Some catchers will rely on more internal rotation techniques, while others will rely on more external rotation techniques to drive behind the plate. Therefore, it is important for a strength and conditioning coach and athlete to discuss any specific limitations that occur when the catcher attempts to play their position.
It is also worth noting that with the amount of time catchers spend in squats or in awkward positions, bony adaptations of the head of the femur (ball) or acetabular rim (socket) may develop, resulting in loss of hip ROM. Accessible hip mobility will help catchers play their position effectively by allowing them to work on their frontal plane to shift their weight in an attempt to catch or block a ball. One movement that trains this quality is the half-kneeling adductor dip.
It will be important to have the ability to internally rotate one hip while the other hip externally rotates. We can see this happening in the two images above. This ability can be trained using both the ever-popular Seated 90/90 ER/IR Hip Switch as well as a new favorite of the mind, the Cable Assisted Lateral Cross Connect.
Finally, catchers must have the ability to move the hips out of their stance through hip extension. One medicine ball movement in particular that we like to use on this front is the split-stance stand-up stomp:
Training Consideration #3 – Acceleration
Acceleration is the ability to achieve speed as quickly as possible, and athletes need it to overcome a fixed position (such as catching). Catchers naturally assume a lower center of mass due to the position they find themselves in. The ability to accelerate will help them get out of position and move their body weight towards the base they are throwing towards or towards. A ball field
Acceleration of training for this population can be done in the same way as for other athletes. This will include things like med ball throws, sled pushes, chain sprints, jumps for distance, and lifts that emphasize horizontal force production. To make acceleration training more specific for catchers, give them the ability to rotate their bodies when they accelerate or start their sprints in a position where they have to cross their lower center of mass; Examples would be half kneeling and push up positions.
Training Consideration #4 – Arm Care
While not every throw has the same intensity as a pitcher, catchers throw a fair amount throughout a season. Reps are reps. Catchers need to focus on their arm care training just as much as pitchers do. One thing to note with catchers throwing mechanics is that the arm action is usually short and they may not be able to use their lower half due to the lack of forward momentum when throwing. This is closely related to the rapid turnaround time at their disposal. Because of this shorter deceleration path (and, consequently, less assistance from the lower half), it stands to reason that catchers must have more power in the upper end decelerators than you might expect.
Footwork is important to consider when thinking about arm care. If a catcher can’t properly shift their feet and efficiently gain momentum toward their target, the shoulders and elbows have to work harder to get the layback, align the release point with the target, and get velocity on the throw.
There are many things that go into being a great catcher, but like any athlete, availability is the best ability. Keeping catchers healthy is the name of the game for long-term success at this position. Foot health, hip mobility, acceleration and arm care are four training considerations that – combined with constant communication between catcher and coach – can help an athlete feel good and perform well throughout the year and throughout a career. I recommend you listen to this episode of the Elite Baseball Development Podcast with Eric and Coach Weinstein if you haven’t already:
About the author
Dan Rosen works as a strength and conditioning coach. Dan graduated from the University of Maryland with a BS in Kinesiology. He then completed his internship with CSP-MA in spring 2021. Dan completed an internship with Elon University Sports Performance and a graduate fellowship at Merrimack College, where he earned his master’s degree in exercise and sports science. As a graduate fellow, Dan served as the strength and conditioning coach for the baseball, field hockey and swim teams while assisting with football and men’s ice hockey. After graduate school, Dan served as the strength and conditioning coach for the Brewster Whitecaps in the Cape Cod Collegiate Summer Baseball League. He is certified in precision nutrition.
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