As anyone who reads my posts regularly surely knows, I've devoted a significant portion of my life to figuring out how to make guys throw baseballs faster. Sure, having a great change-up and a filthy curveball is nice, but let's be honest: throwing gas is what gets scouts' attention and earns you fame, fortune, chicks, scholarships, and, of course, intimidation on the mound.
However, my interest in velocity isn't just limited to how to get to "X" miles per hour; it also extends to understanding how to stay (or improve upon) "X" miles per hour over the course of a single appearance, season, or career while staying healthy and developing the rest of one's pitching arsenal. Erratic radar gun readings are as much a problem as "insufficient" radar gun readings.
My foremost observation on this front has been that velocity is much more erratic in high level teenagers than any other population. At Cressey Sports Performance, we've had loads of high school guys top the 90mph mark over the years, so we've built up a good sample size to consider. While some of these guys are quite consistent, I find that they tend to have more 4-6mph drop-offs here and there than any other population with which I've worked. A guy that is 90-94 on one day might come back at 85-87 five days later - seemingly out of the blue.
However, I don't think it's just a random occurrence. Rather, in my experience, EVERY single time it happens, it's because he has let his body weight drop - usually due to being on the road for games and not packing enough food. We see it all the time in kids who throw great up in New England, but then head down South for tournaments. All of a sudden, they are living out of hotels and eating out of restaurants multiple times per day - which certainly isn't going to be as conducive to maintaining body weight as "grazing" around the house and chowing down on Mom's home-cooking multiple times per day. To make matters worse, a lot of kids lose their appetites when they get out in the heat - and not many people from across the country are prepared for the weather in Georgia or South Carolina in July. So, insufficient caloric intake becomes completely inadequate caloric intake - and that's not exactly a recipe for throwing the baseball faster.
Beyond just the body weight factor, though, you also have to look at the fact that the advanced teenage pitchers are generally also the best athletes - so their coaches almost always have them out in the outfield or at SS/3B when they aren't pitching. Playing a position interferes with a solid throwing program and just doesn't give a kid a chance to rest. There are more calories burned, too!
What's interesting, though, is that kids who don't throw as hard - say, 70-82 - never have variability in their velocity readings; they are super consistent. Why? Well, for one, they usually aren't quite good enough to get on travel teams and in competitive scenarios that would require them to have to consciously consider how to maintain their weight. Rather, it's Mom's home-cooking all the time - so it's easier to maintain their weight. And, they may not be talented enough to be able to play other positions when they aren't pitching.
This difference is really interesting because both populations - independent of strength and conditioning - are at ages where their bodies are changing and (presumably) getting heavier naturally as they go through puberty and gain muscle mass. As this picture shows, however, their strength coaches are apparently getting shorter and balder at the same time!
This rarely applies to anyone who has pitched in the professional ranks for more than a year or two. You never see a professional pitcher go out and throw 5-7mph slower than normal unless he is hurt or coming back on very short rest. These guys have found their "set points," and have learned over the years how to get in enough calories when on the road (out on their own means cooking for themselves, plus eating whatever their clubhouse dues gets them at the park). Plus, they aren't playing the field.
All that said, regardless of your age, experience level, and current velocity, don't skimp on calories. If you look at every bit of research on the pitching motion, body weight predicts pitching velocity. If you're on the road, make sure you pack some shakes, trail mix, bars, fruit, nuts, jerky, or whatever other convenience food helps you to get in the calories you need to light up the radar gun. I love Precision Nutrition as a resource on this front. It doesn't just help you to eat healthy foods; it helps you with strategies to make getting in enough qualities calories conveniently when you may be pinched for time or kitchen access.
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I came across the abstract for this interesting Australian study the other day: Actual versus perceived lifting ability in healthy young men (18-25 years).
Basically, researchers compared what men under the age of 25 SAID they could lift with what they actually COULD lift when tested. According to the researchers, "One third of subjects were able to accurately self-report their lifting performance, approximately one-third underestimated, and the remaining third overestimated their lifting ability."
So, out of every three people, we have one person who is pretty even-keeled and honest with himself about his physical abilities.
And, we have another who is either a) intimidated and doesn't think he can do it or b) lazy and unwilling to "do it."
Finally,we have everyone's favorite: the tough guy who talks a big game. These are the guys who sit behind their keyboards claiming to squat 500 pounds - or bench 400, or throw 95mph fastballs. However, nobody every witnesses it. They have big balls on the internet.
How many times have you walked into a commercial gym and seen a 400-pound bench press? I think I've seen it once - and the guy weighed about 330 pounds.
How about a legitimate 600-pound squat? I've never seen it in a commercial gym, only a few times without a squat-suit in hardcore powerlifting gyms, and only twice college weight rooms in my life.
And, I'm certainly not seeing 95mph fastballs at every high school baseball game. In fact, as I recall reading last year, there are only about eight pitchers in all of Major League Baseball who have consistent 95+mph fastballs. Maybe the rest of the pros need to spend more time on the internet to be able to throw baseballs faster?
However, go on to any internet forum - whether it's for lifting or pitching - and you'll come across all this hidden talent that is yearning to be discovered. Sorry, folks, but you're the 1/3 of people I referenced above. Put up or shut up. I'd actually say that this 33% figure also applies to baseball fathers; about one in three is CONVINCED that his kid is much better than Junior really is.
Finally, as an interesting little aside, ever wonder why nobody ever lies about their deadlift numbers?
I have to assume that it's because the deadlift is a pretty "yes or no" exercise. You either can or can't pick something heavy up off the floor. It's not like a squat or bench press, where you can shorten the range of motion and instantly improve your numbers.
Related PostsCrazy Dads and Kids Who Throw CheddarShoulder Mobility for Squatting
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1. I haven't done a "Random Friday Thoughts" blog in a while, so in the spirit of randomness, I thought I'd throw you a curveball and kick off the week with some Tuesday random thoughts.
2. Last week, I booked two plane tickets to Halifax, Nova Scotia for my fiancee and I. She's a bridesmaid in a wedding up there in a few weeks, so I'll be making the trip as well. As part of being what amounts to a "third wheel" for the weekend (the only people I know other than Anna in the entire wedding are the bride and groom), I'll have quite a bit of downtime while in the area. Any readers out there have any suggestions for what to do in Halifax? It's not hockey season, and I don't drink Molson, so I'm at a bit of a loss...
Also, just out of curiosity, when did one have to sell off all his/her internal organs in order to afford a flight to Halifax? Roundtrip airfare was over $1,500, and Air Canada followed up with an email that said, "We also mandate that you name your first child after us."
3. I wrote a guest blog for Men's Health last week; check it out: A Quick Fix for Stiff Shoulders.
4. Also on the writing note, I've written a few guest chapters lately. The first was a strength and conditioning chapter for an upcoming pitching book for young baseball players and their parents. The second (which is still a work in progress) is a chapter for a new IYCA project. So far, it's coming along really well - and I'm really honored to be on-board for this with a group of really talented guys who are trying to do something very special.
5. Tonight (Tuesday), Boston Red Sox Head Athletic Trainer (and Optimal Shoulder Performance co-creator) Mike Reinold is hosting a free webinar: "What's New for 2010." Click here for more information.
6. Speaking of Mike, he had a great post last week about Epicondylitis and Cervical Radiculopathy. It's a great adjunct to my "Understanding Elbow Pain" series from back in May. If you missed it, here's a link to the sixth (final) installment (and you can link back to the previous five).
7. I realized the other day that there is one big thing I've always considered in our training programs for pitchers, but failed to mention on this blog: they need both open- and closed-chain hip mobility, as the right and left hips must rotate independently of one another during the stride to the plate. Here's a good example:
You can see that Beckett is just short of stride foot contact here - which means that he's at just about maximal hip external rotation on the lead leg...in open chain motion. The femur is rotating on the acetabulum.
Meanwhile, he's riding out his trailing leg...in closed chain motion. The acetabulum is rotating on the femur.
As such, adequate mobility training for pitchers should include a combination of both open- and closed-chain drills, although I'd say that the majority should be closed-chain.
8. Today's Mike Robertson's birthday; head over to RobertsonTrainingSystems.com and show him a little love.
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However, what is very interesting to me is that 9/10 cases were treated non-operatively; in other words, Tommy John surgery is much less prescribed in football quarterbacks than baseball pitchers - meaning that the quarterbacks respond better to conservative treatment.
What's up with that? They are the same injuries - and presumably the same rehabilitation programs.
In my eyes, it's due to the sheer nature of the stress we see in a baseball pitch in comparison to a football throw. As a quarterback, you can probably "get by" with a slightly insufficient UCL if you have adequate muscular strength, flexibility, and tissue quality. While this is still the case in some baseball pitchers, the stresses on the passive structure (UCL) are still markedly higher on each throw, meaning that your chances of getting by conservatively are probably slightly poorer.
I'm sure that the nature of the sporting year plays into this as well. Football quarterbacks never attempt to throw year-round, so there isn't a rush to return to throwing. There are, however, a lot of stupid baseball pitchers who think that they can pitch year-round, so kids often "jump the gun" on their throwing programs and make things worse before they can heal completely.
That said, we've still worked with a lot of pitchers who have been able to come back and throw completely pain-free after being diagnosed with a partial UCL tear and undergoing conservative treatment (physical therapy). It's an individual thing.
Related PostsUnderstanding Elbow Pain - Part 3: Throwing InjuriesUnderstanding Elbow Pain - Part 4: Protecting Pitchers
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In Part 1, I talked about the importance of having an extensive set of effective cues to use with clients to get the ball rolling on a great training experience. However, cueing was just one piece of the coaching puzzle. It’s these other pieces that, in my eyes, make or break someone in the semi-private model. Here are a few of the factors you need to be successful as a semi-private coach:
1. Knowledge and Programming – As the adage goes, “failing to plan is planning to fail.” You need to have done your homework in order to not only write effective programming, but also know how to modify it based on individual needs. For this reason, I think that a lot of up-and-comers are actually smart to start off with some one-on-one training because it allows them to program specifically for a small number of clients and meticulously monitor the responses to those programs. And, it forces them to think through any modifications they need to make on those programs.
As a frame of reference, when we hire a new employee, it takes approximately 6-12 months of education before I’m truly comfortable with them writing programs without me reviewing every one of them before the client sees the program.
2. Friendship – Here’s a straightforward one: if you’re a dork, loser, pain-in-the-ass, arrogant prick, or you smell bad, people aren’t going to want to be your friend. If they don’t want to be your friend, they certainly aren’t going to want to become your client – regardless of how good your programs and cues are.
As an example, I’ve started a tradition of asking for reviews of interns at the six-week mark of their internship from some of our trusted clients. We just hand them a slip of paper with each intern’s name on it, and ask for the first two sentences that come to mind. One recent intern was not a popular one, as he received several negative responses, most notably “Kind of a douche. Not a good fit for CP.” Here was a kid who was enthusiastic, proactive, well-read, and had a strong resume – but none of it mattered because he sucked at making friends.
This is a more crucial success factor in the semi-private model than one-on-one training, too. In personal training, you have time to cultivate very solid individual friendships with clients from the get-go because you have 2-4 hours of complete one-on-one time with them each week. You can ask about their kids, their vacation, their hemorrhoids, their stock portfolio, and their divorce settlement. When you have 3-6 other clients rolling at the same time, though, they chat with one another and not you – because you need to be busting your butt to keep things rolling on the training front.
Don’t get me wrong; you’ll learn a ton about your clients over time and cultivate awesome friendships. In semi-private training, though, they’ll make a lot more friends beside you, too – and get results more affordably while you enjoy your job more.
3. Continuity – Semi-private models give rise to larger clienteles. A personal trainer might only be able to keep 20-30 clients at most, while in the semi-private model, coaches see a lot more people than that. As such, in businesses with more than one employee, you can’t expect to be present for every single training session. To keep the right flow, you have to hire and educate great people who you know will keep the trains running on time in your absence – whether it is with respect to programming, coaching, answering the phones, or just maintaining an unconditionally positive and energetic training environment.
As a funny little example, I went on a quick trip to Orlando back in January after a speaking engagement in Tampa – so my business partners, Pete and Tony, were “manning the CP ship.” My fiancé and I were at Sea World, and I got a text message from CP client Kevin Youkilis of the Boston Red Sox:
“Tony is fantastic. He really got the most out of me today. And Pete’s vert is legit.”
I, of course, knew that Youk was screwing with me, and my business partners were laughing hysterically in the background because
a) I am a workaholic and worry too much when I’m out of the office
b) Pete’s vertical jump (37”) is slightly higher than mine (36”), and he doesn’t let me forget it.
Truth be told, I was happy to be the target of the joke, as it meant that my staff was executing the exact program I’d written to a “T,” and they were joking around in the office (a sign that the place wasn’t in chaos, and they were keeping things fun and entertaining with the clients).
At the same time, as much as you want continuity, it’s important to have employees with different abilities and unique traits that complement your own. For instance, Chris Howard, our newest employee, is a licensed massage therapist and has a master’s degree in nutrition. And, on a funnier note, the running joke among clients is that the second I leave, Tony puts techno music on the stereo. The clients get continuity with some variety, and Tony gets just a bit more feminine!
4. The Individual Touch – While it can be hard to completely make every client’s day when you might see 60-80 people over the course of a day, that doesn’t mean that you can’t go out of your way “after hours” to find ways to put smiles on their faces. One example: in our case (predominantly baseball players), we follow all our players – from middle school all the way to the pros – in the papers and email/text guys whenever they get some love in the press. I also make a ton of introductions between our high school players and college coaches from my extensive network on that front, or I make a phone call to find a place for our pro guys to train or get soft tissue work when they’re on the road in a city where I have a contact. Sometimes, it’s as simple as just going out there to watch a game and cheer for them.
Other examples include sending thank you notes for referrals or merely connecting a client with a practitioner (e.g., manual therapy, sport-specific coach) in a related field. You may only see them five hours a week, but that gives you another 163 hours each week to be a valuable resource and friend to them.
5. Organization – My general rule of thumb is that every hour of training requires at least one hour of planning. Here are Cressey Performance’s hours:
Tu: 8-9:30AM, 12-7:30PM
Fr: 8-9:30AM, 12-7:30PM
That’s 45.5 hours (closer to 50 during busy seasons). My business partner, Pete, puts in about 40 hours a week on his own just handling billing, scheduling, phone duties, website maintenance, the CP blog, and other behind-the-scenes organizational tasks. I can tell you that both Tony and I spend about 6-8 hours per week on programming in addition to our coaching responsibilities, and I handle a lot of the phone calls and inquiries from agents and teams, plus the more complex questions that aren’t in Pete’s scope of expertise (exercise science). Chris Howard puts in a few hours a week on programming. There is always a staff in-service on Monday morning of at least 30 minutes.
None of this includes the reading/continuing education we all do on our own, or the work Tony and I put in with our personal blogs, which are undoubtedly very influential in driving clients to Cressey Performance. And, it doesn’t cover any of the “after-hours tech support” from phone calls/text messages and Facebook/email messages that I think really separates us as a business. We are here to set the clients up for success, not just punch the clock and unlock/lock the doors.
These are only five factors that quickly came to mind, and there are certainly many more that could have made this post much longer. Many of them will be influenced by your niche, business model, client-to-coach ratio, facility size and “flow,” hours of operation, amenities, and a host of other factors. Just make sure you’re looking past just the cues; there is much more to being a successful coach in a semi-private model.
Most of you already know by now that I'm not a fan of "traditional" cardio.
Step aerobics classes have ruined enough knees, Achilles tendons, and hips.
Ellipticals don't allow you enough hip flexion to avoid developing hips like a crowbar.
Most people don't need to sit on their fat a**es on bikes, either because most people, well, they sit on their fat a**es enough as it is.
In short, as I've noted in the past in my discussions of The Law of Repetitive Motion Part 1 and Part 2, take a small amplitude of motion and repeat it thousands of times and you're going to wind up with some issues sooner than later. And, to take it a step further, you're going to get efficient at this motion - and over the course of time, burn fewer calories (especially if you're doing steady-state cardio and not interval work).
It's not like I haven't made suggestions on other stuff to do, either. Try Sprinting for Health, Rethinking Interval Training, or When Things Get Boring, Turn to Cardio Strength Training. I also recently raved about the emphasis Chad Waterbury placed on movement on his great new fat loss program, Body of Fire.
And, if you need one more example, here was a little fun I had with an impromptu conditioning session on Sunday afternoon at Cressey Performance: Alternating Lateral Lunge Walk with Keg paired with Inchworms.
I'd already done some cable woodchops, t-push-ups, face pulls, slideboard, easy sprinting progressions, and medicine ball throws in a circuit format that day (pair up two exercises with low resistance and rotate back and forth without stopping for three minutes). It's not rocket science because we aren't building rockets; people just need to move more.
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With the boom of semi-private training in recent years, there has also been a boom of questions from fitness professionals on how on Earth it is logistically possible to train several people when they may all come from different backgrounds and have different needs. Back in 2006, I was one of those people – so I can certainly speak from perspective.
I did almost all one-on-one personal training for about a year from the summer of ’05 to the summer of ’06, when I moved to Boston and went out on my own as an independent contractor. When I arrived in Boston, all these questions on how to make it work in the semi-private model were rattling around my head. Admittedly, I entered this model cautiously, doing 50/50 private and semi-private training as I got my feet wet with it.
By July of 2007, when I opened my own facility, every client was involved in the semi-private model and loving it for the affordability, camaraderie, and increased training frequency it afforded. It took time, but I’d learned the ropes. Now, three years in, I’ve taught it to an entire staff, plus the 22 interns we’ve had since we opened our doors.
Looking back, I had been an idiot. I’d spent the overwhelming majority of 2003-2005 in college strength and conditioning settings – watching 18-22 year-old athletes thrive in a semi-private model (in the weight rooms, on the field/court, in the athletic training room, and in their courses and study halls). During my undergraduate years, I’d done an internship in cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation, where I watched people rehabilitate from near-death experiences – in a semi-private model. Physical therapy? Semi-private model. And, as Alwyn Cosgrove reminded me, his cancer treatments were done in a semi-private format – and he’d beaten Stage 4 cancer twice. There must be something to that.
What was I missing, then?
Very simply, I thought that “cueing” and “coaching” were synonymous.
Basically, “cueing” amounts to knowing what to say, when to say it, and to whom to say it in order to elicit a desired change from a client. Ask anyone who has been successful in this industry, and they’ll tell you that your cues get better as you become more experienced as a coach. It’s why my staff and I can teach a new exercise to a client much faster than an intern can; we’ve built our “cueing thesaurus” to know what to say – and what to say as a modification if the first cue doesn’t get the job done.
No doubt, having a good “cue” arsenal is huge. It’s essential for us in the first 8-12 weeks when we’re intensively teaching new clients technique and getting them ingrained in our system. If done correctly from the get-go, good cueing sets a client up for tremendous future success. If they know what “chest up” means on a deadlift, they’ll get it on a lunge, split-stance cable lift, or medicine ball drill.
And, for me, this speaks volumes for why client retention of those who have been with us for 2-3 months or more is so imperative; they become “students of the game” and are actually easier to coach because they have more experience and a bigger exercise pool from which to draw because a) they’ve learned compound exercises (or derivatives of those exercises) and b) we’ve ironed out a lot of their imbalances. As a cool little story, since the summer of 2007, I’ve been training a kid who is has just finished his freshman year on a scholarship to pitch for a PAC-10 powerhouse. I know his college strength coach now – and he told me that this pitcher is like having an additional strength coach in the weight room. You want clients like that – because it means that you just have to write good programs, crank up the music, and continue to develop the friendships you’ve built with them.
In reality, though, it isn’t always that easy. Cueing is just one piece of the coaching puzzle – and those other factors will be my focus in Part 2.
- Eric Cressey
I don't know if there is something in the water that the reporters around the country (and particularly the Massachusetts sports scene) have been drinking, but Cressey Performance's Elite Baseball Development Program has gotten a lot of love in the news this weekend.
Last week, CP athlete Tim Collins was part of a blockbuster trade, as he went from the Toronto Blue Jays to the Atlanta Braves. Tim didn't disappoint in his debut, striking out five batters in two innings pitched without allowing a walk, hit, or run. In a recent posting about Collins in the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, beat writer David O'Brien wrote the following:
"I asked [Braves Manager] Bobby Cox if he knew anything about him, and Cox started talking about seeing video of him. Said he's extremely athletic, a muscular little guy who's real aggressive. Apparently the video showed him pitching and also working out, because he made quite an impression on Cox and others with the workout portion."
Apparently, Bobby Cox is quite a fan of the EricCressey.com and Cressey Performance YouTube pages. Hello, Bobby!
Saturday night, CP athlete Kevin Youkilis had the game-tying and game winning RBIs for the Red Sox in a come-from-behind win at home against the Rangers.
These features were followed shortly by another one - this time on a talented pitching prospect from Worcester, MA, Louisville pitcher Keith Landers. The Worcester Telegram just did this feature on Keith and the training he started up about eight weeks ago at Cressey Performance as he works his way back from a shoulder surgery.
Finally, here's a blog post from ESPN.com's Brendan Hall that features a boatload of CP studs who have had great summer showings: Tyler Beede, Adam Ravenelle, Carl Anderson, Barrett O'Neill, John Gorman, Jordan Cote, Ben Smith, Matt Luppi, AJ Zarozny, and David St. Lawrence.
Here's this week's list of recommended reading:
Total Football Training - I just got an advanced copy of San Francisco 49ers strength coach Duane Carlisle's new product, and read it over this past weekend. There's some really good stuff in there - definitely a good fit for the football players reading this blog. It includes an eight-week off-season training program where all the drills are demonstrated on the accompanying DVDs.
Inverted Row Ignorance - Here's one from the archived that reminds us once again just how often this exercise is absolutely butchered.
The Right Way to Stretch the Pecs - Here's a T-Muscle article that gives you some practical suggestions on loosening up these chronically tight muscles without throwing your shoulders under the bus.
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