P90x for Baseball?

In an excellent (and controversial) post about Crossfit for baseball athletes, Eric Cressey talked about why Crossfit’s Workout of the Day is a poor way to train for baseball for many reasons. One such reason was:

3) I have huge concerns about poor exercise technique in conditions of fatigue in anyone, but these situations concern me even more in a population like baseball players that has a remarkably high injury rate as-is.  The fact that 57% of pitchers suffer some sort of shoulder injury during each season says something.  Just think of what that rate is when you factor in problems in other areas, too!  The primary goal should not be entertainment or variety (or “muscle confusion,” for all the morons in pro baseball who call P90X their “hardcore” off-season program). Rather, the goals should be a) keeping guys on the field and b) safe performance enhancement strategies (in that order).

Not only is this an excellent point, but the bolded section (emphasis mine) deserves an in-depth look as well.

P90x is a popular training system sold on infomercials and targets the young adult population from ages 18-30, who unsurprisingly have a lot of dispensable income and are predisposed to watching a lot of television. P90x’s secret?

The secret behind the P90X system is an advanced training technique called Muscle Confusion™, which accelerates the results process by constantly introducing new moves and routines so your body never plateaus, and you never get bored!

Let’s just get this out of the way: This statement is stupid.

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Problem One: Constantly introducing new moves and routines on a daily basis ensures that you are unable to accurately track your progress throughout the program.

For those unaware of what P90x looks like, here’s a sample infomercial with their exercises:

You’ll notice a lot of light DB and bodyweight exercises done in rapid succession with a clock timing you.

Problem Two: P90x incorporates little – if any – heavy resistance training to build strength. Contrary to popular belief, strength is not some nebulous word that you throw around and occasionally combine with the word “core.” Strength is binary – it is the answer to the question “Did I move this heavy object that weighs X pounds?” You cannot build strength effectively without the ability to appropriately load an exercise that works your body’s musculature with compound movements. This typically ends up involving barbells and exercises like the squat, deadlift, bench press, press, and rows.

I happen to have a copy of the training schedule (given to me by a friend who failed to complete the program), and while I won’t reproduce it in its entirety, suffice to say that you are “training” six days a week with a single rest day that involves some light yoga and/or stretching.

Problem Three: Any exercise program that has you training hard for six days in a row will eventually lead to overtraining, a phenomenon I discussed in an earlier blog post.

Let’s get to baseball-specific problems with P90x, shall we?

P90x works your body in segments – isolating body parts over given days. Day 1 might be a “Chest and Back” workout while Day 5 is a “Shoulders and Arms” workout. The problem with this approach is that baseball (and every other sport out there, really) is not an isolation-based sport. Training your body to work via isolated movements will have little – if any – carryover to athletic competition. Strength, conditioning, and overall fitness is best built through compound movements that are capable of moving heavy weight through multi-joint activities – just like you would in any sport!

Problem Four: Isolation-based training – which P90x is – has little carryover to athletic competition.

While P90x can lead to building instabilities and promote dysfunction through isolated movements, I’m not terribly worried about the injury factor that it can absolutely lead to in baseball players (particularly pitchers). Why? Because P90x uses movements that necessitate low resistances, and so not much is getting done.

I can already see your responses: “But Kyle,” you say, “my completely sedentary and untrained friend did P90x Lean and got in much better shape over 90 days! Take that!”

There’s an easy response to this – and one that I hope everyone who reads my blog understands and memorizes. They are the three tenets of exercise science, and they are:

1. Everything works.
2. Some things work better than others.
3. Nothing works forever.

P90x for completely untrained individuals fall directly under the first bullet point. Training 3-4 times a week while focusing on squats, deadlifts, chin-ups, rows, explosive movements, and a focus on mobility fall directly under the second bullet point. And Olympic athletes who are trying to increase their Clean and Jerk from 212 kg to 214 kg in the matter of four years fall under the third bullet point.

If you take a completely sedentary individual and have them run 2 miles a day, every other day, their one-rep max (1RM) squat will go up. Does this mean running is the best way to increase your squat? No. It means that for individuals who don’t train and who have bodies completely unadapted to stress that anything will work.

While I’m not a fan of cookie-cutter workouts for baseball athletes, if you absolutely must get a program from someone – and you’re an untrained novice – do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe and Lon Kilgore. It’s a must-own for anyone who takes strength training seriously anyway, so you might as well pick it up and follow the program. If you’re a baseball pitcher, I’d advise against overhead pressing and possibly switching the low-bar back squat for front squats or the high-bar back squat, but those are modifications you can make after you read the book and start to understand the basics of exercise science.

Friends don’t let friends do P90x. Just say no, kids.

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