When you ask most people what makes an elite pitcher, you’ll usually get responses like “velocity,” “stuff,” and “durability.” And, certainly, none of these answers are incorrect. However, they all focus on outcomes.
When you dig a bit deeper, though, you’ll realize that these successful outcomes were likely heavily driven by a collection of processes. If you rely solely on what the radar gun says or how many runs one gives up as success measures, you don’t really learn much about development. Conversely, if you dig deeper with respect to the characteristics of an aspiring pitcher’s approach to development, you can quickly recognize where some of the limiting factors may be. Here are six characteristics of any successful pitching development approach:
Very simply, the athlete has to be willing to try new approaches to further his development. What gets you from 80mph to 88mph will rarely be what takes you to 95mph. Openmindedness precedes buy-in, and you’ll never make progress if you aren’t fully bought in. Twins pitcher Brandon Kintzler had a significant velocity drop from 2014 to 2015 - and that loss in velocity contributed to him spending most of 2015 in AAA instead of the big leagues. Fortunately, those struggles led him to being openminded - even at age 31 - to trying out Cressey Sports Performance programming, and he regained his previous velocity and then some. And, before 2016 was over, he was their big league closer.
Good assessments identify the largest windows for improvement/adaptation, and excellent programs are structured to attack these growth areas. All too often, athletes simply want to do what they enjoy doing as opposed to what they really need to be doing. Of course, this relates back to the aforementioned “buy-in” described. Another MLB closer, Rangers pitcher Sam Dyson, saw an even bigger velocity jump after his first off-season (2013-14) with CSP.
A big chunk of that had to do with a greater focus on soft tissue work and mobility training to get that fresh, quick arm feeling back. Sam loves to lift and would tend to overdo it in that regard, so he actually improved by doing less volume. Effectively, he had to prioritize removing excessive fatigue - and implementing strategies to bounce back faster.
[bctt tweet="You can't take a fitness solution to a fatigue problem and expect positive results."]
3. Attention to Detail
Inattentive throwing, mindless stretching, and half hazard lifting techniques all come to mind here. It drives me bonkers to see athletes “give up” reps, and my experience has been that this is the most readily apparent thing you notice when you see high school athletes training alongside professional athletes. When it comes to throwing, athletes need to learn to throw with both intent and direction. Corey Kluber is among the best I've ever seen in this regard; whether it's in lifting or throwing, he never gives up a rep with wasted, distracted effort - and it's no surprise that he's become such a consistent high-level performer in the big leagues over the past four seasons.
A great program can be rendered relatively useless if it’s executed with mediocre efforts. The truth is that while many athletes Tweet about hard they work, the truth is that very few of them actually putting in the time, effort, and consistency needed to even come close to their potential. Another Cy Young award winner and CSP athlete, Max Scherzer, takes the cake on this one. Max is always looking for ways to make individual exercises and training sessions harder by adding competition. He'll have other athletes jump in to chase him during sprint and agility drills, and he'll regularly reflect back on previous week numbers to verify that progress is always headed in the right direction.
I think this is one of the biggest struggles with developing arms in the college environment. The nature of the academic and athletic calendars – in combination with NCAA regulations – makes it very challenging to have continuity in pitchers’ throwing programs. As a result, there is a lot of ramping up and shutting down throughout the year. Athletes don’t get the consistency needed to optimally develop, and they don’t get the rest needed to optimally recharge. When you chase two rabbits, both get away.
The right training environment makes a good athlete great, and an average athlete good. It’s why we’ve gone to such great lengths to foster a “family” environment at both Cressey Sports Performance facilities. We want athletes to feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves, thereby increasing accountability to something more than just a workout sheet.
Interestingly, as you look at these six factors, points 1-4 are intrinsic (specific to the athlete), whereas points 5-6 are extrinsic (specific to the environment/circumstances). Points 5-6 have a massive impact on points 1-4, though.
In Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, authors Chip and Dan Heath note that while you will almost never effect quick change a person, you can always work to change the situation that governs how a person acts - and do so relatively transiently.
With that in mind, changing the situation by heavily emphasizing continuity and environment are outstanding avenues to enhancing the previous four factors. First, you’re more openminded if you see training partners getting great results with training approaches you haven’t tried before. Second, you also learn to prioritize when you look around and athletes are outperforming you in certain areas. Third, you pay more attention to detail when you’re surrounded by other athletes working toward the same goal. Fourth, your diligence is enhanced when there is a competitive environment that challenges you to be better each day. And, all these improvements are magnified further when continuity is in place; they happen consistently enough for positive habits to develop.
An appreciation for how these six factors are related is why we structured our upcoming Collegiate Elite Baseball Development program for the summer of 2017 the way we did. The program is 10 weeks in length (6/5/17 through 8/12/17) to ensure optimal continuity. It's for pitchers who are not playing summer baseball.
Each athlete will begin with a thorough initial movement assessment that will set the stage for individualized strength and conditioning programming - which corresponds to six days a week of training.
There will also be individualized throwing progressions designed following initial assessment, and ongoing throwing training - weighted ball work, long toss, and bullpens (including video analysis) as part of the group.
All the athletes will receive manual therapy with our licensed massage therapist twice a week, and nutritional guidance throughout the program.
Last, but not least, we'll incorporate a weekly educational component (a presentation from our staff) to educate the athletes on the "why" behind their training.
The best part is that it'll take place in a motivating environment where athletes can push each other to be the best they can be. By optimizing the situation, you can help change the person.
Interested in learning more? Email firstname.lastname@example.org - but don't delay, as spaces are limited and we'll be capping the group size.
Sign-up Today for our FREE Baseball Newsletter and Receive Instant Access to a 47-minute Presentation from Eric Cressey on Individualizing the Management of Overhead Athletes!
We're very excited to announce that on Sunday, April 9, we’ll be hosting the CSP-FL Spring Nutrition Seminar featuring a day of learning with Brian St. Pierre. This event will take place at our Jupiter, FL location. Brian was CSP’s first employee in Massachusetts and has since moved on to be the Director of Performance Nutrition at Precision Nutrition.
Here’s a look at our agenda for the day:
Morning Session – Laying the Foundation
9:00am: Human metabolism and the calorie conundrum
10:00am: Protein: the magical macro
10:30am: Carbs: the misunderstood macro
11:00am: Fats: the mystery macro
11:30am: Supplements: what works, what doesn’t, and what might
Afternoon Session – Practical Application
1:30pm: How to assess and where to begin
2:30pm: Controlling portions and making adjustments
3:00pm: Dietary adjustments for advanced muscle gain and fat loss
3:30pm: Problem solving and case studies
4:00pm: Why consistency is king
Cressey Sports Performance
880 Jupiter Park Drive
Jupiter, FL 33458
We’re really excited about this event, as Brian is a polished presenter and always on top of the latest and greatest research on optimal nutrition practices. Space is limited and we expect this event to fill up quickly, so don’t delay on signing up!
If you have additional questions, please direct them to email@example.com. Looking forward to seeing you there!
PS - If you're looking for hotel information, both the Comfort Inn and Fairfield Inn in Jupiter offer our clients a discounted nightly rate. Just mention "Cressey" during the booking process in order to secure the discount.
It's time for this week's list of recommended reading. Sorry it's a few days late, but hopefully it still helps to get you over hump day! As a friendly reminder, tomorrow is the last day to get 20% off on Jaeger Bands at this link using the coupon code CRESSEY.
A Shoe by the Athletes for the Athletes - This blog at Eastbay discusses the origins of the New Balance Minimus MX20v6 Cressey Trainer. Eastbay carried, but their inventory has pretty much been cleared out (only size 7 remains). New Balance does still have some odds and ends in terms of sizes remaining on their websites, and folks in Canada can get shoes at SportCheck.ca.
Back to McGill - I attended a great one-day course with Dr. Stuart McGill yesterday, and it reminded me to look back on an interview I did with him all the way back in 2006. Even as we look back 11 years, Stu is still tremendously ahead of his times as a research and clinician when it comes to preventing and correcting back pain. We're discussed doing another interview in the near future, and I'm super excited for it. In the meantime, check out this old gem; it's still "on point" and invaluable.
Grit - I'm about 3/4 of the way through this book from Angela Duckworth, and I've found it to be excellent. There are lessons that apply across all industries, but I see particular applications with respect to strength and conditioning, a field where hard work and determination really sets individuals apart on another level. Heck, we even put a reminder of this on the wall at both facilities!
Top Tweet of the Week
If foam rolling takes you 45 minutes, you're doing it wrong - or need something else to reduce "tightness." Or you just need a cooler hobby.
It's time for part 2 of "things you aren't doing - but SHOULD be doing - with a Jaeger Band." In case you missed it, be sure to check out Part 1, too. Also, be sure to pick up a J-Band HERE, if you haven't already done so.
Without further ado, here are five more exercises to try with the oh-so-versatile J-Bands!
6. Core-Engaged Dead Bugs
In this core stability drill, we use the tension from the band to build some extra core stiffness to resist lumbar extension (lower back arching) and (to a lesser extension) rotation during leg lowering. Add a big exhale at the bottom to fire up the anterior core and reaffirm good positioning.
7. J-Band Assisted Leg Lowering
This builds on our previous drill from a core stability challenge standpoint (straight leg is harder than bent-knee), but also helps individuals improve their hip mobility. Make sure to double up the band to get sufficient resistance, - and don't do this with cleats on!
Here's a Functional Movement Systems inspired drill we'll use with those athletes who have very limited active thoracic mobility into extension. In other words, they passively rotate well (with the assistance of the assessor), but can't get to that same range of motion actively. The band assistance reduces the gravity challenge against which an individual has to extend and rotate.
9. Band-Assisted Overhead Squat
I've traditionally done this drill with a TRX, but one day, I had an athlete try using the J-Band on the road when he didn't have a TRX handy. His immediate response was that it was "frying" his lower traps. Maintaining continuous tension in scapular posterior tilt and thoracic extension really takes this squat pattern assistance drill up a notch.
10. Side Bridge with Horizontal Abduction
Once an individual gets a solid feel for arm care, I'm all for integrating core stability with scapular control and rotator cuff challenges. This is one advanced progression along those lines. I say "advanced" because many individuals struggle to get a true "T" positioning on horizontal abduction; instead, they'll yank down with the lats (more on that HERE). That said, I recommend athletes perform this on video or with a coach watching the first time, as they'll usually be in the wrong pattern. The goal is 90 degrees of arm elevation, and you should feel this predominantly in the mid-traps.
That wraps up this two-part series - but it's certainly just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to innovative exercises you can integrate with a versatile piece of equipment like Jaeger Bands. With that in mind, if you don't already have a set in your training bag, I'd highly recommend you pick up a J-Band. Your arm - and the rest of your body - will thank you for the investment!
Sign-up Today for our FREE Baseball Newsletter and Receive Instant Access to a 47-minute Presentation from Eric Cressey on Individualizing the Management of Overhead Athletes!
Go to just about any baseball field in America, and you'll find Jaeger Bands (J-Bands). They're well established as great tools for getting in some quality arm care - and doing so conveniently.
What you might not realize, though, is just how many exercises you can do beyond the traditional J-Band sequence. With that in mind, I thought I'd introduce ten exercises our guys often do with J-bands when they're looking to step up their training while on the road. Today, we'll cover the first five.
1. Chops and Lifts - Popularized by the innovative rehabilitation specialists at Functional Movement Systems, these exercises are awesome for teaching core stability as it relates to resisting excessive rotation through the lower back. Depending on the height of the band, too, they can also challenge an athlete's ability to resist extension (too much arching of the lower back).
2. 1-arm Rotational Row w/Weight Shift - I absolutely love this drill for guys who have poor extension down the mound and need to learn to accept force on the front leg. The goal is to get in and out of the front hip - and also learn how to "sync" this loading/unloading up with proper movement of the thoracic spine, scapula, and arm.
3. Lateral Lunge w/Band Overhead Reach - Similar to the chops and lifts from above, you get great core recruitment in resisting extension and rotation, but in this drill, we also add some additional upper body and hip mobility challenges.
4. Serratus Wall Slides w/J-Band - I love me some serratus activation drills - and the J-Band is a great way to progress these exercises. Before you try it with a J-Band, though, give it a shot with a foam roller using these cues:
Then, grab your J-Band and go to town on a dugout wall. If you don't feel "cleaner" scap movement at ball release, I'll be stunned.
5. Side Bridge w/Band-Resisted Hip Extension - Side Bridges are some of the best lateral core exercises there are - but some folks will do them with incomplete hip extension, thereby falling into a faulty stabilization pattern that overrelies on the hip flexors. I like using the band to teach that terminal hip extension. To make this challenging, do them "high-tension" style: brace as hard as you can, squeeze the glutes together like you're trying to crush walnuts between your buttcheeks, and exhale as hard as you can. If you're doing them correct, you should be struggling by the end of five breaths - and you'll probably gain some hip internal rotation in the process.
Power Development for Powerlifters - This is an excellent post from Cressey Sports Performance coach Tony Bonvechio. I wish I'd had it back in the early 2000s to help my bar speed along, as it took me a few years to figure out that getting faster was a key to getting stronger for me.
All the way back in 2011, I wrote up a detailed article about the New Balance Minimus, a shoe that had just been released and really caught my attention as the best option in a sea of minimalist sneakers that had flooded the market. That review - alongside my work with professional baseball players - actually led to a consulting deal with New Balance, and it's been a great partnership.
One of the biggest initiatives as part of that collaborative relationship was to find ways to continually improve the Minimus. Over the past six years, Cressey Sports Performance's staff and athletes have provided regular feedback to New Balance to fine-tune the designs - and early last year, they released Version 6, which has been extremely popular. And, last spring, I was psyched to learn that New Balance wanted to pair with us to release a Cressey Sports Performance themed Minimus, the Minimus 20v6 Cressey Trainer.
We've spent the last year fine-tuning the design, and we're excited to announce that it's now available for sale:
This is a very limited edition shoe; only about 500 pairs were produced. With that in mind, if you'd like to pick up a pair, don't delay! You can check them out at the following links:
Back in 2011, Posner et al. published a descriptive study called “Epidemiology of Major League Baseball Injuries”. The researchers reviewed all the injuries reported in MLB from 2002 to 2008 and classified them based on anatomical region. As expected, there was a lot of disabled list time attributed to injuries to shoulders, elbows, hamstrings, low backs, hands, and wrists – and a host of other maladies.
Interestingly, “illness” accounted for 1.1% of all “injuries.” No big deal, right? Players get the flu, food poisoning, and the occasional migraine, so this is actually surprisingly low.
Actually, it’s a very misleading number. You see, as the study authors point out in their “methods” section, “We utilized data only for those injuries that resulted in a player being placed on the disabled list.”
In other words, “illness” was only counted if it landed a player on the 15-day disabled list. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been sick enough to miss 15 days at work. Even when I got sick as a kid, I was usually back in school within two days because I got sick of watching the same episode of Sportscenter 18 times per day.
Before I digress too much, let me get to my point:
[bctt tweet="Illness is actually remarkably underreported in professional sports."]
Just because a guy is sick doesn’t mean he goes on the disabled list. As an example, take A’s pitcher Sonny Gray’s food poisoning incident in 2015, where he missed a start in the middle of the summer. In 2015, as one of the best pitchers in baseball, Gray was 14-7 with a 2.73 ERA. In the 31 starts he made, he put up a 3.7 WAR (wins above replacement) number, which equates to a WAR of 0.12 per start. According to Fangraphs, each WAR was worth $7.7 million in 2015 – so Gray’s food poisoning cost the team $924,000 – but definitely didn’t count against any disabled list time. Additionally, he was scratched from his opening day start in 2016 for the same reason – and it still wasn’t included in the man games lost total.
Moreover, just because a guy is sick doesn’t mean he even misses a game. I’ve heard plenty of stories of MLB guys praying to the porcelain gods between innings – and games where an entire team gets ravaged by the flu, but still has to go out and play.
What’s the take-home point? The individuals who manage to not get sick are the ones who make better progress over the long haul. Avoiding those 3-4 periods of sickness each year is on par with avoiding tweaking your lower back and missing a month in the gym.
[bctt tweet="The goal is consistency, and injury/sickness are big roadblocks to a consistent training effect."]
Here’s where I’ll toot my own horn a little bit. My wife and I have twin daughters who were born in November of 2014. I’ve only been sick once since they were born. And, this is with co-owning two gyms in two states on top of my normal writing, consulting, and speaking responsibilities, which includes travel at least once a month. Staying healthy while managing a life’s craziness has somehow become right in my wheelhouse. With that in mind, I think you can break down your ability to stay healthy into three big categories:
1. Sleep Quality
I came across this Tweet a few months ago, and it became one of my all-time favorites:
Go 3 days without your favorite thing. Then go 3 days without sleep. It turns out sleep is actually your favorite thing.
The one time I got sick was when I was really pushing my luck on sleep deprivation and trying to make up for it with extra caffeine consumption. Doing so always saps your immunity in the long run.
Interestingly, I’ve been rocking a Fitbit since back in May. And, while I don’t think it’s perfectly accurate, it does give a pretty accurate measure of when you go to bed and when you wake up. Since September 1, I’ve gone out of my way to make sure that my weekly average sleep duration is always at least seven hours per night.
It’s had a massive impact on how I’ve felt in the gym. Normally, my training is terrible in December and January when our busiest seasons in the gym are upon us. This year, I felt strong – and without any aches and pains. Sleep tracking - no matter how basic it may be - can have a dramatic impact on your immunity and, in turn, your performance.
2. Overall Stress
"Stress" means something different to everyone. As an example, I could work 18-hour days for weeks on end without feeling stressed, yet if you ask me to stand on the 4th floor of a building and look over the edge, my cortisol levels would be off the charts. I'm terrified of heights, but not long hours. Other folks are the exact opposite.
One thing we can all agree on, though, is that training is a big stressor - regardless of whether it's higher volume endurance training or higher intensity weight training. If you want to stay healthy, you have to fluctuating that training stress so that you remain in overload and overreach mode without slipping into true overtraining scenarios. I cover this in much more detail in my e-book, The Art of the Deload.
3. Nutritional practices.
A discussion of proper nutrition and supplementation habits to optimize immunity has been the topic of entire books, so I won't even attempt to do the topic justice in a matter of a few sentences (although this article from over a decade ago tested the waters in that regard: Invincible Immunity).
I can speak to personal experience when I say that I feel the best when I hydrate sufficiently, get in enough total calories, and eat plenty of healthy fats and vegetables. I'm also a huge advocate of Athletic Greens, which I take religiously every single day. I use it instead of a multivitamin, and also like the fact that it includes some digestive enzymes and probiotics for gut health.
It's not rocket science, but that's because it doesn't have to be complex. Getting sick is about your ability to fend off stress to your system. Two of these factors - sleep quality and nutrition - are about warding off the stress. The third factor is about managing the amount of stress actually imposed to the system. Critically examine these three broad realms if you want to find ways to stay healthy!
Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter and receive a four-part video series on how to deadlift!
We're only about a week out from pitchers and catchers reporting, so things are about to quiet down at Cressey Sports Performance for the offseason. I've got lots of new content prepared for the next few months, but for now, here's some good reading material from around the web.
Lindsay Berra on MLB Network on Corey Kluber's Offseason Workouts - Lindsay wrote up a great article at MLB.com last week, and this week, there was a follow-up interview on MLB Network. Here it is:
The Surprising Way Jet Lag Impacts Major League Baseball Performance - Sleep deprivation has a significant impact on performance, and jet lag is a big culprit in professional baseball. This article sums up some research on the subject. West Coast teams, in particular, really need to stay on top of optimizing sleep environments and opportunities for their guys.
Forget the Athletes; I Want to Coach the Everyday Joes - This is an excellent guest post from new Cressey Sports Performance coach Frank Duffy for Pete Dupuis' site. CSP might be best known for our work with baseball players, but Frank writes about why we love our general fitness clients, too.
Top Tweet of the Week
I have many college coaches as friends. None of them prefer to deal w/parents over kids in recruiting process. Write your own emails.