Home 2014 May

Holistic Farming: A Wholesome Choice

It's been a while since we featured a nutrition post, so today, Cressey Performance Coach Andrew Zomberg takes the baton and brings nutrition back to the forefront. Enjoy! - EC

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From a production standpoint, most farms focus on maximization. Big farms. Big concrete barns. Lots of cows. Lots of food. But this mentality only sees profit and neglects the economic, social, and environmental realities of these decisions. Fortunately, some farmers recognize the need to change and sustain our ecosystems.

I have the pleasure of buying a lot of my meat from Steve Normanton. A farmer since the ripe age of 8, Steve learned the livestock trade in South Africa and recently established himself as a full-time farmer in Litchfield, NH. His holistic farming system mirrors nature in a way that builds fertility in the soil, treats the animals humanely, and produces healthy food. He takes the focus away from yield maximization and puts it towards input optimization.

According to Holistic Management International, holistic farming is a whole planning system that helps farmers better manage agricultural resources in order to reap sustainable environmental, economic, and social benefits. This practice allows farmers to guide the relationships between plants, soil, livestock, people, and water in ways that mimic nature, while addressing the financial aspects of these unique elements. “The concept of holistic management takes into account the well being of everything involved,” says Steve. “It is not just about end product because in order to get this end product, you must better the whole.”

The term “organic” is such a buzzword, so I questioned the difference between organic farming and holistic farming. Apparently, while “organic” is a great place to start, it only refers to the end product, or the food we put into our mouths.

“Take organic dairy,” Steve suggests. “Sure, it is organic because the feed that the cows eat is organic. But cows are not designed to consume loads of grain. The grain (which fattens the cattle) turns a cow’s stomach very acidic. This toxic environment manifests super e-coli, which humans cannot tolerate.” Cows are meant to roam free and eat grass, and Steve Normanton Farm values this, allowing animals to exist they way they should.

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Holistic planning not only respects the animals, but uses their natural tendencies to keep land healthy and productive. For example, pigs are not thrown in concrete barns. They graze freely to root their nutrients, receiving 70% of their diet from underground. This nurtures biologically active soil (loaded with carbon and other organic matter) that attracts all that’s good, including water molecules. This increases the grazing capacity for the livestock and reduces the impact of erosion on the farm.

“If the soil is healthy, the grasses are healthy and we are providing better food for the animals” says Steve. “And remember, we are at the end of the food chain, so healthier animals means healthier food for us.”

Why am I writing this article? As a nutrition enthusiast, I encourage people to make the healthiest choices. Holistic farms nurture their soils and grasses for the welfare of their animals to produce high-quality, nutrient-dense food, which:

• Has a high concentration of beneficial fatty acids and a healthier ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids (omega-3s in beef that feed on grass is 7% of the “total fat” content)
• Is lower in total fat – especially saturated fat; leaner meat leads to lower LDL levels and lower in total energy (calories)
• Comprised of many micronutrients including: beta-carotene and Vitamin E (antioxidants), B-vitamins (thiamin & riboflavin) and minerals: calcium, magnesium and potassium (electrolytes)
• Has high levels of Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA, a fat found in meat & milk)

Further, the animals themselves are healthier, demanding less (if any) antibiotic treatment. They have minimal risk of contamination from dangerous bacteria because they aren’t confined in tight, crowded conditions. And most importantly, the animals are raised without added hormones, antibiotics, or steroids. (Exposure to chemicals and pesticides increases our chances of suffering from metabolic conditions such as obesity, insulin resistance, autoimmune disorders, and more).

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The choice to buy from holistic farms is also economically smart. The dollar stays in our community and contributes to the growth and stability of the American economy. And sure, short-term, holistic management yields healthy food. But long-term, these farms enhance the biological diversity and productivity of our land. When we buy from these farms, we help mirror the way nature functions, sustaining the environment that sustains us all.

Food is always at our fingertips. But as consumers, we can help move away from conventional thinking and our way of eating and understand the situation. So next time you need to stock up your refrigerator, I encourage you to make decisions that feed your body right as well as emulate the way nature functions to ensure that our future is truly sustainable over time.

You can learn more about Steve and his farm at http://stevenormanton.com. For holistic farms in your area, visit http://www.eatwild.com.

Looking for more nutrition insight like these?  Be sure to check out The High Performance Handbook Nutrition Guide by Brian St. Pierre of Precision Nutrition; it's available as part of the gold package of this resource.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 5/27/14

Here's this week's list of recommended strength and conditioning reading/viewing:

2014 University of Texas Commencement Address - I thought this speech by Naval Admiral William McRaven was absolutely awesome.  Don't be surprised if it's the best 20 minutes of your day.

Bulletproof Athlete - Mike Robertson's popular program is on sale this week at a great $50 discount. As I wrote here, I think this is an outstanding resource, particularly for beginners who need some excellent direction to kick off their training careers on the right foot.

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Calories: Should You Be Counting? - This was an excellent piece from Dani Shugart at T-Nation on a controversial topic where the appropriate answer is a bit different for everyone. 

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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training: Installment 3

My random thoughts on sports performance training always seem to be a hit with readers, so I figured I'd turn it into a series I update every month or two.  Here are five thoughts that have been rattling around my brain, in no particular order:

1. Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that we use a ton of positional breathing drills.  If you'd like some example, just check out Greg Robins' post from a few days ago here.

With that said, one of the biggest mistakes we made when we starting integrating these drills was not encouraging a "reset" at the end of the full exhalation.  Basically, when you cue an athlete to fully exhale, you want a count of 3-4 "one-thousand" before they inhale again.  Effectively, this gives an athlete a chance to a) get familiar/comfortable with this less extended position and b) regulate breathing rate (to turn off sympathetic activity). I've also found that it slows athletes down a bit so that they're forced to focus on doing things perfectly, too.

2. One thing that drives me absolutely bonkers is when I see people opening their hands up while doing Turkish get-ups.  First, the obvious: do you really want to hold a weight right over your face without gripping it?  Second, there are so many remarkable benefits from just gripping something, most notably increasing reflexive recruitment of the rotator cuff.  If anyone has a legitimate rationale for opening the hand with the kettlebell overhead, I'd love to hear it - but nobody has been able to justify it to me as of yet.  

3. I just finished up Charlie Weingroff's new DVD set, Lateralizations and Regressions, and particularly enjoyed the section he devoted to the "packed neck." Back around 2008, it was a change I made with not only my own training, but also how we coached our athletes - and it's yielded profoundly positive results.

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As Charlie pointed out, neck position impacts everything else in the body, particularly with respect to optimizing thoracic mobility and scapular control. I think that sometimes, people discount the importance of neck positioning when teaching beginners, assuming they can just teach it later on in a training plan.  In my eyes, when you allow people to deadlift (or perform any lift) while looking up (instead of maintaining a neutral cervical spine with eyes straight ahead), you're really just giving them a faulty compensation pattern to reposition their center of mass.  It's a cue that should be provided from day 1.

For more information on Charlie's new resource, click here.

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4. If you train athletes who commonly experience shoulder and elbow concerns - including those who have had surgery - and you don't have a safety squat bar handy, you're missing out on a hugely important piece of equipment.  When it comes to axial loading (bar on the upper back or anterior shoulder girdle), it's the bar we use more than any other - and it's saved my squatting career, as I have a shoulder issue that doesn't like back squatting.

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They aren't cheap, but to me, if you deal with these types of athletes/clients often, it's an awesome investment, not an expense.

5. With the MLB Draft a few weeks away - and several Cressey Performance guys expected to be selected early in the draft - one of the things I hear scouts talking about all the time is "projectability" - or where an athlete will be in the years ahead. This is especially important in a sport like baseball, where a player doesn't just quickly ascend to the highest level, as you would see in the NBA or NFL. Instead, players usually log several years of minor league baseball, and the overwhelming majority of them never even actually make it to the big leagues.

To that end, in terms of projectability, scouts are always looking for players who might make big jumps in pro ball - whether it's due to physical improvements, baseball-specific coaching, positional changes, or any of a number of other "windows of adaptation."  When you think about it in this context, the ideal would be to find a kid who hasn't been involved in organized strength and conditioning programs, is weak and undeveloped, and hasn't received good baseball coaching. There's no place to go but up, right?

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Well, the corollary to that is that these woefully underdeveloped kids are usually the ones who have the most wear and tear on their bodies. If they are throwing hard or demonstrating great bat speed, they've often spent years hanging out on passive restraints (e.g., ligaments) because the active restraints (e.g., muscles) haven't been sufficient to pick up the slack. In other words, they're injuries just waiting to happen. And, we know that having even just one surgery while in the minor leagues dramatically reduces a player's chance of making it to "The Show;" in face, one MLB strength coach told me that it reduced the likelihood of a player making it to the big leagues by 50%.

So, you could really say that projectability is a balancing act for teams. You want athletes who aren't completely tapped out physically, but at the same time, aren't so fragile-looking that you think they'll fall apart on you before you can even develop them.  I think it's why a lot of scouts love to see multi-sport high school prospects; it automatically shows that they're "middle-of-the-road" athletes. They've got solid general athletic development and less wear and tear (because of no year-round baseball).  Plus, they can pick up more advanced skills easier because they've expanded their motor learning pool with a wide variety of activities over the years. Coaching them once they're in pro ball is generally easier than it would be with a kid who's spent 12 months each year learning bad habits without ever wiping the slate clean for a few months. Plus, because they've played multiple sports, you know that they've learned to roll with different social circles - and playing professional baseball will certainly test their abilities to interact with a wide variety of people.

Just food for thought from a guy who's not a scout, but can't help but make observations from a pretty informed perspective.

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Assessments You Might Be Overlooking: Installment 5

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Performance coach, Greg Robins.

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I have this weird habit. Although, the more I pick the brains of like-minded individuals the more I realize it’s just something everyone fascinated with human development does.

I like to watch people. I like to watch their curious reactions to their external environment. I like to watch people converse with other people. I like to watch how they move, how they breathe, how they settle into their default static positions. It sounds creepy, I guess, but it’s far removed from the image you have of me lurking in the window with binoculars.

I’ll watch sports and realize I’m no longer even keeping an eye on the ball; I’m lost in awe of the fluidity of an elite athlete’s movement capabilities. If I’m close up at a live sporting event, I’m analyzing the body type and physical development of players while they’re warming up.

I’m constantly looking at people, and conversing with people; trying to piece together who they are.

When Eric started this series I thought it was fascinating. It only made me more tuned in to the details of people, outside of any diagnostic tests I may eventually bring them through. Assessments became like an experiment of sorts. I would take all these clues from the first 20 minutes I met someone and see if the eventual tests gave some validity to the observations, and presumptions I was making.

I decided I had to contribute a one of my favorite assessments that you might be overlooking:

Hypertrophy and or tone of the accessory breathing musculature, coupled with primarily breathing through the mouth.

As I stated above, one thing I watch is how people breathe. However, even before I tune into watching individual breaths, I look at the muscularity and apparent tone of their accessory respiratory muscles. In particular, I’m looking at their neck. Often time people who are “stuck” in a faulty respiration strategy have necks that seemingly look to belong on a pro strongman, not a middle-aged weekend warrior, or an undertrained high school pitcher. Their scalenes, sternocleidomastoids, and levator costarum muscles are incredibly developed in comparison to the rest of their musculature. Bill Hartman posted a great video on this a few years back, if you'd like to see it in action:

This little tip off leads me to take a closer look at their respiration. I often notice the same person breathing primarily through the mouth, rather than the nose. I lay them on their back, have them remove their shirt (when appropriate) and cue myself in to the pattern of their inhalations and exhalations.

Not surprisingly these giants of neck development, are often the same folks who are stuck in inhalation, or a state of hyperinflation. They have poor function of their diaphragms, and generally take the form of our usual “over-extended” individual. In many cases, they present with a lack of shoulder flexion because their lats are constantly “on.”

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They take shallow, frequent breaths, which never allow for full exhalation. To take a page out of the Postural Restoration Institute’s respiration manual, hyperinflation does the following:

- Increase sympathetic “fight or flight” responses and anxiousness
- Impairs nerve conduction
- Vasoconstricts peripheral and gastrointestinal vessels
- Restricts circulation in cerebral cortex
- Shunts blood flow peripherally
- Impairs coronary arterial flow
- Promotes fatigue, weakness, irregular heart rate, etc.
- Impairs breathing and weakens diaphragm contractility
- Increases overuse of “thoracic breathing”
- Enhances peripheral neuropathic syptoms
- Enhances sympathetic adrenaline activity and hypersensitivity to lights and sounds
- Increases phobic dysfunction, panic attacks, restless leg syndromes, heightened vigilance, etc.
- Facilitates catastrophic thinking and hypochondria

As you can see, this simple observation leads us to a series of additional questions, and more times than not, the discovery that someone’s ailments are the cause of their respiratory dysfunction. Their autonomics are dictating much of their dysfunction, even voluntary movement dysfunctions.

This is an important assessment because acknowledging this discord means we can intervene. Including breathing drills to correct respiratory function can help to restore many of the qualities we aim to improve (i.e. movement patterns, recovery rate, performance qualities, etc.).

If you are keen to excessive tone in the accessory musculature, you can begin to dig deeper and more closely observe their respiration, as well as ask them about different conditions listed above. If the pieces fit together, use some of the following drills to help them correct the dysfunction.


 

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 5/20/14

I've recharged the batteries after last week's product launch, so it's time to kick this week of with some recommended reading:

Lateralizations and Regressions - This is the new DVD set from Charlie Weingroff.  I'm about 2/3 of the way through it and enjoying it.  If you liked Charlie's first DVD set, you'll enjoy this one as well. Charlie does a great job of bridging the gap between rehab and high performance, so this is a solid resource for strength and conditioning professionals and rehabilitation specialists alike.

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4 Ways to Fire Up Work Capacity - There has never, ever been a Dan John article that wasn't worth reading. It's like when you were little and your grandfather told you a bedtime story, except Dan's not that old yet, and he's way more jacked than your grandfather (no offense, Grandpa). Always entertaining, and always educational and readily applicable.

CP Client Spotlight: Jake Sprague - This is a feature on one of my favorite Cressey Performance clients, who's been with us during his professional rugby career and beyond.

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Are You Packing the Shoulder Correctly?

I gave a seminar this past weekend to an awesome group of over 80 trainers, representing 10 countries. 

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They were an enthusiastic bunch with a lot of great questions, but none stuck out in my mind quite as prominently as when a few of them questioned some comments I made with respect to "packing the shoulder."  With that in mind, I thought I'd pull together a webinar on the topic for you.  It's especially timely, in light of this week's release of Functional Stability Training of the Upper Body.  Check it out:

For more detailed upper body insights like this, be sure to check out Functional Stability Training of the Upper Body, which is on sale for $20 off this week only.

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Exercise of the Week: Building Shoulder Mobility and Stability

In this installment of "Exercise of the Week," I have a drill that combines a few of my all-time favorite shoulder health exercises into one comprehensive approach that gives you a lot of bang for your buck. Check it out:

Also, for more exercises and coaching cues like this, don't forget to check out our Mike Reinold and my new resource, Functional Stability Training of the Upper Body.  It's on sale at a big introductory discount through the end of the week.

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Now Available: Functional Stability Training of the Upper Body!

I'm psyched to announce that Functional Stability Training of the Upper Body - the new product from Mike Reinold and me - is now available. This week only, you can get it at a great introductory discount HERE.

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This product reflects our up-to-date approaches with respect to optimizing upper extremity function and preventing and rehabilitation injuries, and is available in both DVD and online-only formats.  We're sure you'll enjoy it!

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 5/12/14

It's time for this week's list of recommended strength and conditioning reading:

Elite Training Mentorship - In this month's update, I publish a webinar - 5 Important Lower Body Functional Anatomy Considerations - as well as two exercise demonstration videos and an article. The rest of the ETM crew kicks in some awesome content as well. If you haven't checked out Elite Training Mentorship, you're missing out on a super affordable way to stay on top of continuing education in the fitness industry - and so so very affordably.

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Is Bulletproof Coffee all it's cracked up to be? - As usual, the good folks at Precision Nutrition take a solid, unbiased look at a popular nutrition approach.  Before you try Bulletproof Coffee, be sure to give this a read.

Can Cell Phones Harm Your Health? - This post from Adam Bornstein definitely resonated with me, as I definitely spend too much time worrying about text messages.  As I've been traveling Europe for the past 12 days, it's been incredibly nice to just have the phone turned off completely!

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Long-Term Baseball Development: Part 2

Today is the second part of Cressey Performance Pitching Coordinator Matt Blake's article on long-term athletic development for baseball players. In case you missed it, check out Part 1.

blakeindexIn the first installment of this two-part article, I outlined the problem with respect to youth baseball injuries, discussed some of the causes, and emphasized the need for age-appropriate, individualized training programs over the course of the "baseball lifespan." Today, I want to look closer at this step-by-step developmental process.

I think it’s paramount to first teach young pitchers about rhythm, tempo and direction in the throw, before they learn how to just “air it out.” If they understand how to play catch with intent and focus for every throw on a daily basis, the velocity will usually take care of itself. One way to do that is to use drill constraints to create feel for these qualities, such as in this stride drill progression below:

If the velocity doesn’t begin to develop as you matriculate into your adolescent and teenage years, you have to begin to ask why? Is it a problem with athleticism, strength, delivery issues, or something else? Typically speaking, it will be a little bit of all these, but it’s not usually because the kid isn’t trying to throw the ball hard enough. More often than not, the players that I see getting hurt at a young age have an excessive amount of effort in a poorly sequenced throw, and no awareness for how to take care of their body or how to explain to an adult/coach what they’re feeling when they throw. They need a larger framework to understand movement, so they can understand what feels good and what doesn’t outside of simply throwing to get better.

If you can teach these kids simple concepts regarding core control, how to do a proper lunge, or how to do a proper un-weighted shoulder external rotation, you’ll go a long way towards opening up pathways to throw the ball harder. A great example of this is the exercise demonstration below, which you could certainly use to help educate your athletes:

They don’t need to know what joint centration is, or why adhering to certain muscular length/tension relationships are essential in creating force and resisting fatigue, but they’ll be able to feel it and move towards these positions more frequently on their own. To be honest, we very rarely even use a radar gun at our facility, and without trying to sound conceited, we have some of the hardest throwers in the country at every level of development. It all starts with a foundation that adheres to movement quality over quantity. Owning a routine that allows you take care of your body on a daily basis by taking inventory of tissue quality and adhering to a thorough warm-up and recovery process every time we throw is essential at every level of baseball. Something as simple as implementing the use of a foam roller on a day-to-day basis could go a long way in aiding this process.

Once the athlete understands movement quality, then we can begin to layer on force production, whether it be through a more general application like strength training or a more ballistic action like throwing a baseball. They need to understand how the force is generated, and where it’s dissipated; if they can’t decelerate or disperse what they’re producing, it’s unusable. There’s a laundry list of athletes in every town who threw harder than their peers, but couldn’t use it because they couldn’t throw strikes or couldn’t avoid pain. And, it’s not unusual to see the guys who don’t throw strikes to be more likely to end up in pain, because it’s a byproduct of having reckless motor control, which creates more stress by hitting joint end ranges more frequently, and in turn, creates more tissue damage than you’d see with a strike-thrower with a higher level of coordination.

As the athlete continues to advance through the high school and college years, there only comes more societal pressure to perform at a high level, so, if you don’t have a sound base of movement, you better bear down now. This 16-20 age group is probably the most at-risk population because of how strength really begins to come into the mix, how the wear and tear of poor deliveries and overuse in the youth development systems start to reach threshold, and the increased level of exposure at year round events fuels the fire. This is usually when the majority of players begin to realize that they want to be baseball players and start to specialize in the sport at a higher rate, and with that comes an even more detrimental aspect: not clearly identifying your developmental calendar.

If baseball is the only sport you play in the HS/college years, it’s essential that you understand what the year-long developmental calendar looks like. If you don’t, and you live in a warm weather region, you could theoretically start playing “spring season” games in January for your HS or college team and play into May/June. Once that season’s done, you would naturally transition right into your summer season, whether it be travel ball or a collegiate summer league and play another 45-60 games through July/August.

Once that season is over, the HS players who would normally shut it down and play another sport are now inundated with showcases and camps from every different angle, as well as fall leagues that run into November. The college athlete has his fall season, which is usually another six weeks of competitive baseball activity somewhere between September and November, and that leaves us with the window of November to January. This is where we’d normally be dormant, but now we have showcases and tournaments to attend to make sure the scouts and schools know who we are. And, college coaches are reluctant to shut pitchers down less than 10-12 weeks out from the start of a season.

Is it really a surprise that pitchers are getting hurt?

If you don’t step back and be sensible about this developmental process, your train will get derailed somewhere, so you have to set some clear boundaries.

For all of our athletes, it starts by encouraging them to get the ball totally out of their hand for 8-12 weeks of no-throwing each year. Now, this might sound excessive to some, but it still leaves you approximately 300 days of the year to work on your throwing. If you can’t get better in the other 300 days, you’re probably misusing this other 8-12 weeks anyways!

Aside from that, we typically try to adhere to keeping our high school pitchers under 100 competitive innings on the mound, and hopefully more like 80. So, as a HS athlete, if you compete from Feb/March until July/August as your two main competitive seasons, that allows you to shape your September-Feb/March in a multitude of ways. If college camps/showcases are an important aspect of your development so you can reach the next level, then make sure you give yourself adequate time to prepare for them. Going 0-60mph in these events is a recipe for injury, as we know the kids who attend more showcases end up getting hurt at a higher rate. If you’re aware of this and use the lead-up time and structure your throwing schedule properly, and understand the drastically different warm-up component at these events, you can likely head off some of these issues.

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If you’re a college athlete, you have to consider where your most important development is going to come. Obviously, the spring is a constant, but depending on how many innings you throw, and what level of development your college team offers, the fall season may be more important than simply adding another 60 innings in a summer league. So, you have to weigh out what makes more sense. Take the summer months and work on your strength base, while allowing your body to recover from a heavy workload, so you can be ready to continue developing in the fall; Or, play competitively in the summer for increased exposure and in-game development in a competitive summer league and then take the fall off from throwing. Too many times guys will throw 80+ innings for their college team in the spring and then another 50+ in the summer and now you’re carrying 130+ innings into the fall, which is a crucial time for your college pitching coach to develop your throwing ability or work on pitching skills in a controlled environment unlike the spring schedule or even the consolidated winter build-up.

The pro side might be the most cut and dry schedule wise, because you’re typically starting spring training in Mid-Feb/March and playing until September/October. It only becomes a little murky when you consider that some prospects have to attend instructional leagues in September/Oct or play in the Arizona Fall league, leaving a smaller window of off-season development. They may also need to pay bills so a winter league becomes more attractive. With that said, they have a nice window of time from September through February, which is crucial for them to get the ball out of their hand for an extended period of time and get their cuff strength back, while working on a general foundation of movement before they start the slow build-up back towards the season.

Obviously, there are some different concerns in the world of professional development where you’re constantly weighing the risk/reward for implementing certain training stimuli on both the strength training front and throwing program design side of things since these guys are generally already very successful at their craft. But, with how long their season is, and how quick they ramp up bullpens in spring training, it becomes essential they make good use of their window from September through February to avoid being a victim of the early season wrath we see unfold every year, as depicted by the charts below (click to expand):

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Sources: Epidemiology of Major League Baseball Injuries and
Incidence of Injuries in High School Softball and Baseball Players, respectively.

We could obviously go on and on here and not cover all of our bases on specific developmental concerns, so it’s important we reiterate the main driver behind all of this.

We’re going to continue to have arm issues in the sport of baseball if we insist on pushing the boundaries of the human species to see how much performance we can get out of these players. The money in the game is so large, and velocity has become such a huge component of success for these players and organizations, that the industry of baseball from top to bottom will constantly be looking to develop more of it.

The only problem is that the means for attaining this beloved velocity needs to be individualized and it’s such a complex recipe that goes beyond what you’re looking at in the present moment. It keeps every outing on short rest or poor warm-up before a cold rainy start on file, so you need to follow the body of work as best as you can to know where the next step needs to be for each athlete. Too many people are treating this like it’s a sprint from one MPH checkpoint to the next.

Slow down, be sensible about the developmental process, and just realize that this day and age, if you want to throw hard, there’s enough information out there to point you in the right direction. The key to all of this though, isn’t necessarily who can simply throw hard anymore, it’s who can stay on the field the most consistently while doing it, and for some reason, people don’t seem to be as willing to listen to that information.

In the meantime, if you're looking for more detailed information on long-term management of throwing athletes, be sure to check out our Elite Baseball Mentorships. The early-bird price for our June mentorship is May 15.

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