I get asked relatively frequently whether we use weighted baseballs with our pitchers, and if so, how they are incorporated. I figured it'd be worth a post to outline my thoughts. To answer these questions:
Do you use weighted baseballs?
Yes, with some of our pitchers. The asterisk that follows this statement is that they're only implemented with those who have built a decent foundation of strength and mastered the fundamental mechanics of throwing a regular (5oz) baseball. So, the athletes we have that may be utilizing weighted baseballs are some of our pro guys, college guys, and more advanced high school guys. It is NOT something I think coaches should just implement on a gross scale with unprepared 13-year-old kids.
But aren't weighted baseballs dangerous?
The first response that comes to mind is "Who decided a baseball should be 50z?" It's actually a very arbitrary number.
Quarterbacks throw 14-16oz footballs (140z is the dry weight; balls actually become heavier as they're used more). And, you could say that a lot of quarterbacks throw every day - and potentially even more than pitchers throw. Yet, they have far fewer elbow and shoulder problems than pitchers - and usually far less coaching on the mechanics of throwing than pitchers.
Granted, there are differences in the way that footballs are thrown, as compared to baseballs, but you have to consider that tripling the weight of the ball would increase arm stress, right? Wrong!
If you increase the weight of the implement, you slow down the arm action. In other words, you move further to the right on the absolute speed>>>>absolute strength continuum. In other words, weighted baseballs comprise a medium between traditional throwing drills (bullpens, long toss, flat ground drills) and what one encounters with medicine ball work and resistance training. If you slow down the arm action a bit, the deceleration demands drop - and it appears to be more arm-friendly.
How are weighted baseballs incorporated?
First, let me make two things abundantly clear:
1. You should never throw a weighted baseball off a mound (arm stress is higher when elevated) or with long-toss. We do all our weighted ball drills into a tarp/net from about 6-8 feet away.
2. You don't play catch with weighted baseballs. Someone will get hurt if you try. Throw the ball, then walk to pick it up.
We don't start throwing weighted baseballs until we've built guys up on their long tossing and the arm is 100% ready. In other words, weighted ball work starts up right around the time that bullpens start. As an example, most of our guys start throwing right after Thanksgiving, and pick up bullpens around January 10 after about 5-6 weeks of long-tossing and flat-ground drill work with the 5oz ball. The entire throwing program for them encompasses about 14 weeks (sometimes a bit longer or shorter, depending on the individual).
As an example, as I wrote previously, we used weighted balls with Oakland A's minor league prospect Shawn Haviland last off-season, and he made a nice velocity jump from 87-88 to 90-94 in a single off-season. Looking back at Shawn's program, his first session with weighted baseballs was January 11, and his last one was February 18th - so it wasn't something he was doing year-round or in-season.
We have, however, had scenarios where guys have used weighted baseballs to get ready for fall throwing appearances (for example, the World Wood Bat Tournament in Jupiter, FL every October). These guys push their winter throwing programs back because they accumulated mileage on their arms in the fall (one reason I don't love fall baseball, but it's part of the game as it's played nowadays).
When the time comes to implement the weighted baseball drills, they are either done as after long toss, after a bullpen, or as a stand-alone training session. They are never done before a bullpen, which comprises complete specificity with which you don't want to interfere.
All of our weighted baseball drills generally take place in the 7-11oz range. I do, however, know some very bright minds in the field who will go heavier.
We always bring the athlete back to the normal 5oz ball at the end of each set. So, it might be three throws at 7oz, three throws at 9oz, and then three throws at 5oz, then rest. Other coaches may build all the way up (five at 7oz, five at 9oz, and five at 11oz) and then work their way back down to 5oz at the end of the session. Personally, I prefer to keep the learning loop short and keep the athlete cognizant of the 5oz feel with repeated sets as opposed to one big one.
Matching the drill to the weight of the ball is absolutely imperative, too. As a general rule of thumb, I do not go above 8oz for any drill that has a considerable lay-back (as pictured below) component, as the stress on the elbow is already pretty high in this position.
We can go considerably heavier with drills that are more focused on what's happening out in front of the body, though.
It's not easy buying holiday gifts for me. I'm "that guy" who really can't think of anything that he really wants - or even needs. Call me simple, or call me stubborn (or a bit of both), but short of books, audiobooks, and DVDs within my field (all of which are continuing education write-offs that go directly to the Cressey Performance library), I'm generally really at a loss for what to write after "Dear Santa."
So, I thought I'd make my holiday wish list a bit non-traditional for the sake of this blog. Without further ado, here's my holiday blog wish list:
1. I'd like for the phrase "it's all you" to be permanently banished from gyms worldwide.
2. I'd like to see it get markedly more difficult to be in a position to train people for a living. In other words, I think that states ought to implement licensing requirements that - even if not very strict - would discourage folks from getting into the industry if they weren't fully committed to being good at their chosen craft.
Now, don't get me wrong; I would never discourage someone from making a career change to become a fitness professional. I know some excellent coaches/trainers who have done just this and been very successful - and helped a lot of people. These effective transitions, though, were made by people who invested the time, energy, and patience to do it the right way.
3. Similarly, I'd like for more people in the fitness industry to appreciate the process (human interaction) more than just the destination (making money). There's been a big push on the business side of things in this industry to help people run their business more efficiently, and I think the intentions are fantastic. However, I think it's important to not lose sight of the fact that training people should be fun; I'm a firm believer that if you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life. If you aren't enjoying it and letting your enthusiasm show because all you can think about is getting to the four-hour work-week, then you're not doing everything you can to help your clients.
I know I can say that I am like a little kid on Christmas morning when it comes to helping out up-and-coming high school athletes with the college recruiting process, and I watch dozens of high school baseball games every spring. In addition to the great time I have working with all our pro and college guys at CP, I'm also following all of them during their seasons - because it really does matter to me how they do. While it may add value to your services in your clients' eyes, this extra stuff isn't "billable" (and never should be). It may extend your "work" week, but you don't perceive it because it's all part of a process that you enjoy, not just something you "get through" as quickly as possible so that you can do something else. Case in point: here's how I spent one Friday afternoon last spring after the facility had closed up for the day (this video followed a crazy circuit we'd designed for the guys, and the winners got the hoses):
So, if you find that you aren't having fun and taking an active interest in your clients' successes, then your job should be to rearrange things to either find your enthusiasm or put someone else in your place who can provide enthusiasm of their own. I guess the take-home point is that it doesn't take any extra time to simply care.
4. I'd like for Tony Gentilcore to misplace every techno CD he owns.
5. I'd like to see more rehabilitation specialists be proactive with soft tissue work. Please understand that it may not be indicated in every condition, but for me, knowing that a rehabilitation specialist is willing to use some elbow grease with a patient is a sign that he/she isn't just going through the motions.
6. I'd like to know why my business partner needs to wear a weight belt to answer the phone. Is it really that heavy?
7. Shameless (but justified) self-promotion alert: I'd like to see anyone who exercises purchase a copy of Assess and Correct. The overwhelming majority of people who come through our doors with a history of pain are not just people who have dysfunction. Rather, they're often people who have had dysfunction for a long time and accumulated exercise volume on top of it. Or, they've done therapy just enough to get asymptomatic, and then gone right back into their "normal routines" without addressing an underlying imbalance. That, to me, is why we made Assess and Correct.
It's a proactive approach in a more reactive fitness world. People wait for something to go wrong with the knee, back, shoulder, or something else. To me, it makes a lot more sense (both financially and in terms of the cost of one's time) to assess oneself and address what's wrong than it is to wait for symptoms to kick in - and then spend time in physical therapy. As hackneyed as the saying is, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Click HERE to check it out.
8. Along these same lines, I'd like to see people think more along the lines of "contraindicated people" than contraindicated exercises. Short of a few movements (e.g., upright rows, behind-the-neck pulldowns, empty cans), there aren't many exercises I'd completely "banish" from my training arsenal. Mike Boyle's "The Death of Squatting" interview kicked off a lot of interest on this front. I think that it's our job to fit the exercise program to the individual, and not the individual to the exercise - and as such, we don't need to worry about excluding certain exercises altogether.
9. I'd like to see distance running for pitchers (or any baseball player) completely abolished. I've wrote about my opposition to it in A New Model for Training Between Starts: Part 1.
10. I'd like for this kid to get the record deal he deserves.
1. Sorry for the slower week here on the blog. In addition to trying to catch up from my three days in Houston, I had a few projects that needed to get sorted out this week. For starters, we had to finalize the agenda for my seminar in Vancouver in March.
And, the bigger task of late has been finishing up a chapter (on baseball testing and training) that I'm contributing to Dr. Craig Liebenson's newest book. Others contributing include Dr. Stuart McGill, Sue Falsone (Athletes Performance), Dr. Ben Kibler, Dr. Pavel Kolar, Ken Crenshaw (Arizona Diamondbacks), and Mike Boyle (among others). Needless to say, I'm lucky to be in such awesome company, and you'll definitely want to check it out once it's available. In the meantime, you might be interested in Liebenson's most popular work, Rehabilitation of the Spine: A Practitioner's Manual.
2. Mike Reinold and I are also working on getting our seminar, Testing, Treating, and Training the Shoulder: From Rehabilitation to High Performance, ready for production and sale. We're hoping it'll be ready by the first of the year, but only time will tell; editing takes time, and it's out of our hands now! Speaking of Mike, he just posted a blog outlining the recently revised pitch count rules. If you coach young players or one of your kids plays ball, definitely check it out HERE.
3. On the topic of little league, the clinic with Matt Blake and I at Cressey Performance on Tuesday night was pretty popular with local coaches. One of the things that Matt and I tried to stress is that kids almost never get hurt for JUST one reason. Usually, injuries are multifactorial, so you have to look at a host of different causes - from overuse, to physical limitations (weakness or immobility), to mechanical flaws in the pitching delivery.
The questions we received gave me some ideas for future posts, so keep an eye out for those in the not-so-distant future. Along those same lines, if there are specific baseball development questions you'd like covered, feel free to post some suggestions here as a reply to this blog.
4. I got the following question the other day, and thought it might make for a quick Q&A here:
Q: I am planning on training Westside style but I do not have access to bands and chains (or any other special equipment for that matter). What should I do to change up my dynamic effort days? Should I just use variations of the lifts (i.e. close grip vs regular grip bench, sumo vs conventional deadlifts)?
A: The whole idea that you absolutely have to have bands, chains, and specialized bars to learn from the Westside school of thought (which is constantly evolving anyway) couldn't be further from the truth. There are bits and pieces borrowed from Westside teachings in Maximum Strength, and you'll see that there is plenty of rotation among movements in the four-month program - and the assumption is that you don't have any of these goodies. Rotating among back squats and front squats (without a box, with a box, or from pins) and deadlifts will give you a great rotation of movements.
Regarding dynamic effort days, I don't think it's as important to rotate exercises on a regular basis, as this speed work is there to improve bar speed on that specific movement and help you groove the movement pattern itself. However, if you want to change it up, it's not too difficult.
In the lower body, simply go to a different deadlift or squat variation, or change the percentage at which you're working. In the upper body, you can change the grip width on the bench press, do some plyo push-ups, or even just throw the medicine ball around.
5. I'm going to see The Nutcracker tonight with my fiancee. In the words of Forrest Gump, "That's all I have to say about that."
6. I will, however, say that I'm a little bummed that Jim Breuer is in town tonight about ten minutes from where I live, and I'm not going to get to see him. Doh!
It's been a while since I published one of these, so I thought I'd throw out two quick recommendations - both for reads from Cressey Performance guys.
Exercises You Should Be Doing: Quadruped Rhythmic Stabilizations - This blog from Tony Gentilcore features an exercise we've introduced in the past month since the seminar I did with Mike Reinold. It integrates "true" training for the rotator cuff along with an element of anterior core stability training.
Liquid Reeses and Banana - Brian St. Pierre presents a sweet shake idea for those of you in love with chocolate, but not wanting to eat all the bad stuff that'll give you a spare tire to remind you of how great the winter of 2009-2010 was.
A while back, I attended a seminar in Houston, and while the primary topic was how to improve pitching performance, one of my biggest takeaways was with respect to adolescent physiological development. Long-time Phillies rehabilitation consultant Phil Donley presented some excellent data on when bones actually become skeletally mature. The next day, another speaker made a what was, in my opinion, an uninformed comment about how kids shouldn't strength train at young ages because it would stunt their growth.
Let's start with Donley's very intriguing numbers (which have actually been available in the literature for over two decades now); we'll stick with the shoulder girdle just to keep things to-the-point. In a baseball population, the epiphysial plate most commonly injured from throwing at the shoulder is located at the proximal humerus (Little League Shoulder); this physis (growth plate) accounts for about 80% of humeral growth, and matures by age 19 in most folks.
We've seen a lot of kids come through our door with this issue because of throwing (internal rotation of the humerus during throwing is the fastest motion in sports) and even some traumatic falls - but I can honestly say that I've NEVER seen one from strength training. So, anecdotal evidence for me shows that strength training for kids is far from what could be considered "dangerous" for developing bones.
Now, here's where it gets more interesting: bone maturation isn't uniform across the body. While the proximal humeral growth plate might mature at 19, the distal (down by the elbow) physis is finished between ages 10 and 16. The proximal and distal radius plates might mature anywhere between 14 and 23. Meanwhile, the clavicle matures at ages 22-25, and the scapula generally matures by age 22. How many of you have ever heard of a college football being held out of weight training for all four years of his participation because all that bench pressing might stunt the growth of his clavicles and scapulae? It just doesn't happen! In reality, we know that the strength training benefits of increased muscle size and strength actually protect him from injury on the field.
In other words, violent (throwing) and traumatic (falling) events far exceed any stress on a young athlete's bones that we could possibly apply in a strength training setting, where the environment is controlled and overload is gradually and systematically increased over time as the athlete becomes more comfortable with it. I'd make the argument that a young athlete should start resistance training as early as his/her attention span allows for it; the emphasis, of course, would be on body weight exercises, technical improvement, and - most importantly - keeping things fun.
If you really think about it, an athlete is placing a ton of stress (4-6 times body weight in ground reaction forces, depending on who you ask) each time he/she strides during the sprinting motion. Kids jump out of trees all the time. They lug around insanely heavy backpacks relative to their body mass. Performance, general health, and self-esteem benefits aside, it's only right to give them a fighting chance in trying to avoid injury.
Also, another great point Phil made (although it was on an unrelated topic, it pertains to us) was that as an adolescent athlete grows, his center of gravity moves further up from the ground. This is a big part of the "lapse" in coordination we see in kids during their growth spurts. A little bit of strength goes a long way with respect to maintaining the center of gravity within the base of support, and makes an athlete more comfortable "playing low" (hip and knee flexion) to bring that center of gravity closer to the base of support.
All that said, appropriate resistance training is not only safe for kids; it's also tremendously beneficial. In a review just published by Faigenbaum and Myer, the authors concluded:
Current research indicates that resistance training can be a safe, effective and worthwhile activity for children and adolescents provided that qualified professionals supervise all training sessions and provide age-appropriate instruction on proper lifting procedures and safe training guidelines. Regular participation in a multifaceted resistance training program that begins during the preseason and includes instruction on movement biomechanics may reduce the risk of sports-related injuries in young athletes.
Dr. Avery Faigenbaum has actually published a ton of great research (including position stands for numerous organizations) on the topic of strength training for kids in recent years; you can find all of it by searching for his last name at www.pubmed.com.
In the meantime, I hope this blog can help to eliminate the gross misconception in the general population that resistance training can't be beneficial for children. When performed correctly and made fun, it is safe and provides tremendous benefits to kids in both the pre-adolescent and adolescent stages.
As you read this, I'm presenting at the Ultimate Pitching Coaches Bootcamp in Houston, TX. As such, it seems fitting to devote today's blog to some pitching content.
A question I get pretty often is what I think of light band work for pitchers the day after pitching. The truth is that I'm pretty apathetic about the use of bands, but I am adamant about the inclusion of post-throwing stretching to regain lost flexibility. Research from Reinold et al. demonstrated that pitchers lose both elbow extension and shoulder internal rotation range of motion (ROM) over the course of a competitive season, and it's no surprise, given the huge eccentric (deceleration) stress those arms encounter during the throwing motion. Anecdotally, my experience has been that they also lose hip internal rotation and knee flexion on the front leg. So, you don't just want to take care of shoulder range of motion; you also want to attend to hip ROM.
Here's the side-lying cross-body stretch, one of my favorite self-stretches for improving shoulder internal rotation. I tend to use it more than the sleeper stretch nowadays because it's generally a lot tougher to butcher the form. It's important to stabilize the scapula down and back before the cross-body pull. This should not be an aggressive stretch! If you are gentle but consistent with it, the ROM will come around in time.
You can find more ways to both identify and address shoulder and hip rotational imbalances in Assess & Correct.
So, flexibility is a must, but light band work may have a place as well. There's a lot of muscular damage, and some very light bloodflow work may assist in rotator cuff recovery, as it tends to have a poor blood supply. I go into more detail on how we train our pitchers after an outing in A New Model for Training Between Starts: Part 2.
For more information, check out Optimal Shoulder Performance.
A few weeks ago a video of strength coach Mike Boyle presenting at a seminar hit the Internet, and boy did it piss some people off. Why? Just take a look at this quote from Boyle:
"This is going to be the hardest thing for people to accept. The muscle-head crowd, the T-Muscle crowd...they're gonna be like, 'Mike you're saying don't do squats any more.' Yes, I'm saying don't do conventional squats any more." I watched the clip again. No more squatting? But isn't it the king of lower body exercises? Just what the hell was going on?
So I called Boyle to get his thoughts. Then, because I wanted to hear other points of view, I called Dave Tate, Christian Thibaudeau, and Eric Cressey.
Click here to read more...
This is another excellent guest post from Matt Blake.
Now that fall sports are beginning to wrap up and the winter training season is upon us, I thought it might be timely to contribute some more information for the youth baseball development community.
Recently, I have been running some pitching clinics on the weekends for the 9-12 year old age group - and it got me thinking a lot about the importance of proper development for the youth baseball player. This is especially true in what has been traditionally considered a "dead period" or off-season for baseball players in the Northeast.
For better or worse, I believe this mentality is beginning to change a lot, as the greater population is forcing players to become more and more specialized at earlier ages. This may not be true across the board, but there are definitely some undertones driving this movement, such as showcases during the December/January months, where players are expected to show up to a workout and light-up a radar gun in order to impress college coaches or scouts. This thought alone might send shivers down Eric's spine and will probably hold its own as a blog topic in the near future.
To give you an idea, one study published by Olsen et al (2006) at the American Sports Medicine Institute in Birmingham, AL actually documented that injured baseball players (requiring elbow or shoulder surgery) went to four times as many showcases as those who were in the healthy control group!
Now, I certainly can't say I think specialization at a young age is a healthy thing with regard to developing baseball players, as there are tremendous demands placed on the body in the act of throwing a baseball overhead. But at the same time, if players and parents decide that is what they would like to do and it is in the best interest of the kid, there needs to be a safe way to approach development during this time period for this population.
When I say this population, I'm speaking to the baseball population as a whole, but when I say a "safe approach," there obviously needs to be some clarification on the intended goals and ambitions of the particular player.
Some of the major concerns that I believe need to be addressed before engaging a player in a throwing session include:
-How much has this player thrown over the last day/week/month/year? Has he taken any breaks in his development to rest his arm for at least three weeks (at the very minimum)?
- Has he complained of arm pain during practice or competition during this period? If so, where was the pain? How often did it occur and to what degree?
These are just a few of the important signs and indicators that need to be tracked throughout the year, specialized winter training or not. The study referenced above by Olsen et al identifies a host of other variables found in the injured population and should be a must read for anyone who is working with amateur baseball players.
Now there are obviously a lot of different ways to look at this, so I'll try to explain what I think "proper development" means for players depending on their age range, and the level of performance they desire to reach.
This winter alone, I will be aiding the development of pitchers ranging from the professional and collegiate baseball players taking part in Eric's Elite Baseball Development Program all the way down to the 9-12 year old population, where players are trying to figure out how to throw a baseball in the right direction.
Obviously, the pro players are extremely specialized and probably have been for awhile. A lot of their development has already occurred and their windows for adaptation are a lot smaller, so we're working more towards preparing them to handle the stress of a 140+ games than we are skill refinement.
On the other end of the spectrum, the 9-12 year olds one might be dealing with are incredibly raw and undeveloped with huge windows of adaptation ahead of them from pure maturation of their bodies to the development of their motor patterns. This time period is huge for kids to begin ironing out the proper motor patterns that they will use to refine their athletic skills in their teen years of development.
With this in mind, a substantial amount of throwing might not be in their best interest and maybe getting more athletic in general would be more beneficial in the long term. How can you expect a player to repeat his mechanics with any sense of consistency if he doesn't understand how his body even works? One way that I like to spend time with this type of player is to extend the warm-up and movement training portion of these clinics to really drive home the importance of being in good physical shape. We also use more group oriented video analysis sessions for the players and parents to point out what common mechanical faults look like in this age group, and what verbal cues the parent might be able to use to help correct when playing catch on their own.
I actually find this portion of the clinic to be the most beneficial for all involved, because when you think about it, you only get about 3 to 4 hours with these players in a clinic setting. In order to get the information to settle in for these players, it needs to be constantly reinforced as their mind and bodies continue to develop. This is where mom or dad need to be informed, because they are the ones who will do much of the reinforcing, whether or not they are qualified to teach their son to throw a baseball. The more information they can have at their disposal and the more teaching tools you can give them, the better off they will be at aiding their child's development in the backyard.
This is the main reason why Eric and I are holding a FREE clinic this coming Tuesday, Dec 8th at 7pm for parents and coaches in the area, who are interested in learning more about how to prepare and protect the amateur baseball player. We'll be discussing the current injury epidemic in youth baseball, how it stems from overuse in competition, and what some of the major developmental needs are for the youth baseball player. If you're interested in attending, please RSVP to CresseyPerformance@gmail.com. Hopefully we'll see some of you there!
Matt Blake can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.