4 Training Considerations for Catchers
Written on October 11, 2022 at 8:55 am, by Eric Cressey
Today’s guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance – Florida coach Dan Rosen.
In a recent episode on the Elite Baseball Development Podcast, Eric spoke with Coach Jerry Weinstein about his lengthy coaching career and the lessons he has learned throughout that time. On top of being a successful coach at the collegiate, professional, and Olympic level, Jerry is also well-known for his work that he has done with catchers. In the podcast, he discussed the importance of catchers being defensive minded, having the ability to get themselves into and out of positions behind the plate, and more. In today’s article, I aim to address these qualities and others that can help catchers become more successful.
Training Consideration #1: Healthy Feet
Foot health can be its own blog, but I specifically want to cover big toe extensibility and maintaining the ability to both pronate and supinate the foot.
Having an adequate amount of big toe dorsiflexion (roughly 60-70 degrees) is important for a number of reasons including plantar fascia health, Achilles tendon health, the ability to complete a gait cycle (a step). Without this mobility, compensations may arise up the chain. Before every pitch, catchers give their signals in a stance that requires them to access their big toe extensibility. In a nine inning game, one team will throw roughly 150 pitches; multiply that across a whole season and you have a catcher who has spent a considerable amount of time in big toe dorsiflexion. Without an adequate amount, what can end up happening is catchers may roll onto the other four toes for support, causing the big toe not to do its job in this stance. Ways in which we can train big toe ROM include isolating the toe itself through toe CARs/toe yoga, performing spring ankle sets while ensuring the big toe is the main weight bearing toe, spending time in the gym barefoot, and becoming more mindful of what our big toe is doing in exercises that would typically force it into extension such as in hops, pogos, and in exercises that utilize staggered or split stance positions. Dr. James Spencer also outlined a few good exercises in a previous article here: Big Toe, Big Problems.
Although catchers are not walking much while they catch, they do move throughout phases of gait. The signal stance we just discussed would mirror the late phase of gait, as the toes are the last point of contact with the ground. The later phase of gait is associated with propulsion, which will be important for catchers as they come out of their stance to move their body weight toward a base for a throw. After the pitch calling stance comes the primary stance. Traditionally this would look like the picture below.
Some catchers, however, find dropping one knee down is a more comfortable and more efficient way to receive the pitch.
In the first picture, we can see heavy pronation and eversion (feet rolling inwards) of both feet. Catchers often have to shift or sway their bodyweight from one foot to the other in their stance, which is why access to pronation will be important. It is worth noting, however, that the athlete needs the ability to access supination to create a more rigid foundation for force production. If the athlete is constantly in pronation (as the catcher is in the first picture), he’ll be stuck in “deceleration mode.” In the second picture, we see the left foot that is more biased towards supination.
One strategy I like to employ in this regard is to bias the various phases of gait with different exercises in a training program.. For example, you can adjust a split-squat to train each of them. Elevate the front foot to bias early supination, keep the shin over the mid-foot throughout the movement to bias pronation, or elevate the back foot and/or float the front heel to emphasize the re-supination in the later phase of gait.
Where you place the weight loading implement can also have an impact on which phase is being biased on the working foot; 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
It’s important to assess hip range of motion in all three planes to determine where an athlete may be limited. Hip flexion range-of-motion is particularly important, as a catcher certainly spends a lot of time in a position of deep hip flexion. If this motion is lacking, a catcher may find compensatory motion at a joint above (the lumbar spine) or below (the knee).
Knee health is another important consideration for catchers, as they spend just as much time in deep knee flexion as they do in toe dorsiflexion and hip flexion. With respect to knee health, it’s my belief that adequate leg strength, proper foot mechanics, and access to a sufficient amount of usable hip mobility will put the knee in a better position to be durable throughout the year (provided 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 strategies, while others will rely on more external rotation strategies to maneuver behind the plate. Therefore, it’s important for a strength and conditioning coach and athlete to discuss what specific limitations arise when the catcher is attempting to play their position.
It is also worth noting that with the amount of time catchers spend in a squat or in awkward positions, bony adaptations of the head of the femur (ball) or acetabular rim (socket) may develop, leading to a loss of hip ROM. Accessible hip mobility will help catchers to play their position effectively by allowing them to work in the frontal plane so as to shift their weight in attempt to receive or block a ball. One movement that trains this quality is the Half-Kneeling Adductor Dip.
It will also be important to have the ability to internally rotate one hip while the other hip externally rotates. We can see this occurring in both pictures above. This ability can be trained using both the always-popular seated 90/90 ER/IR hip switches as well as a new favorite of mind, the Cable Assisted Lateral Cross Connect.
Lastly, catchers should have the ability to come out of the hips in 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 gain speed as fast as possible, and athletes need it to overcome a static position (as in catching). Catchers naturally adopt a lower center of mass due to the stances they find themselves in. Having the ability to accelerate will support them in the ability to get out of their stance and get their body weight moving either towards the base they are throwing to or to field a ball.
Training acceleration for this population can be done similarly to that of 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 slightly more specific for catchers, provide them with the ability to rotate their body as they accelerate or start their sprints in positions that require them to overcome a lower center of mass; examples would be half-kneeling and push-up positions.
Training Consideration #4 – Arm Care
While the intensity of every throw does not match that of a pitcher, catchers do rack up a substantial throw total throughout a season. Reps are reps. Catchers need just as much focus on their arm care training as pitchers do. One thing to note with catcher throwing mechanics is that the arm action is typically shorter, and they may not be able to use as much of their lower half due to the lack of momentum they have going forward when making throws. This is closely related to the quick transition time they need to have with their hands. Because of this shorter deceleration path (and, in turn, less assistance from the lower half), it stands to reason that catchers will need to have extra strength in the upper extremity decelerators than you’d expect.
Footwork is also important to consider when thinking about arm care. If a catcher cannot properly switch their feet and get momentum going towards their target in an efficient manner, it will require the shoulder and elbow to work harder to get layback, align the release point with the target, and gain velocity on the throw.
There is a lot that goes into being a great catcher, but as with 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 the catcher and coach – can help the athlete feel good and perform well throughout the year and a career. I highly recommend you go listen to the episode of the Elite Baseball Development Podcast with Eric and Coach Weinstein if you haven’t already:
About the Author
Dan Rosen serves as a Strength and Conditioning Coach. Dan graduated from the University of Maryland with a B.S. in Kinesiology. He then completed his internship with CSP-MA in the Spring of 2021. Dan also 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 Sport 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 also Precision Nutrition certified.
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