21 August 2011

The Science of Baseball: August 21, 2011

This week's Science of Baseball will consider two articles: one on using sling exercises in lieu of throwing to warm up pitchers and another on the effects of caffeinated gum on the performance of cyclists.

Sling exercise and traditional warm-up have similar effects the velocity and accuracy of throwing.
Huang et al. 2011 Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 25:1673-1679

A growing number of athletes have begun using sling exercises to work out or warm up for competitive play.  There has been some discussion whether or not these exercises might be useful for pitchers.  The idea is two fold: (1) sling exercises involve whole body action which may help a pitcher and (2) it reduces the number of throws a pitcher makes in total.  This study used collegiate pitchers from DI schools.  I'm not sure which schools because the mean pitch was about 75 mph. 

I doubt this study has anything conclusive to say.  The study claims they found no difference between the two techniques and suggest either would be useful.  I don't agree with that.  It is an interesting concept though that one could use alternative ways to warm up muscles needed for pitching without overtaxing tendons and ligaments used for pitching.  It might be a good idea to redo this study a few times.  It is also probably a good time to recognize just how little we know about how pitching impacts the health of an arm short-term and seasonally.  It is a field of study where teams and players both have great reasons not to participate in any studies.  More information is not always something that benefits or, at least, it can be perceived that way.  In the autumn, I will be reviewing several articles on pitching.

Caffeinated chewing gum increases repeated sprint performance and augments increases in testosterone in competitive cyclists
Paton et al. 2010 European Journal of Applied Physiology 110:1243-1250

This article was published last year, but it deals with an issue in which I have a lot of interest (case in point).  Since sports began, players have tried to get advantages outside the spirit by which the rules are written.  The research described in this paper look at how chewing gum impregnated with affects fatigue and hormone responses during cycling sprints.  The study included nine male cyclists (age 24 +/- 7 years) who completed four high-intensity exercises that consisted of four sets of 30 second sprints (five sprints each set).  The cyclists were given the caffeinated gum after the second set.  They found the caffeine reduced fatigue and increased performance by 5.4% as measured by power output.  Testosterone (measured in saliva) increased with the addition of caffeine.  Cortisol levels also were decreased.

Baseball is a game of repeated sprints.  For those of us who have played, we are generally aware of many players who drink copious amounts of drinks like Fuel or other highly caffeinated drinks.  While cognitive function has been shown to not rebound greatly with caffeine, other functions are shown to be boosted by the chemical.  I can see how caffeinated gum could be quite useful to pitchers and, perhaps, fielders later in the game.  The question then becomes: what is cheating?  We tend to think of illegal drugs (e.g. steroids, hGH, amphetamines), but ignore the drugs that are effective but over the counter (e.g. caffeine, aspirin).  Where does that line stand?

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