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.
Here's this week's list of recommended strength and conditioning reading/viewing:
Thrive on Throwing - This is an outstanding DVD set from Alan Jaeger that thoroughly teaches the science and practice of long tossing. Alan has generously offered to provide my readers with a 25% off discount (which applies to his other products as well). I highly recommend this throwing resource, as long toss sometimes gets a bad rap in large part due to the fact that many players and coaches implement it incorrectly.
That said, if you were on the fence, check out this feedback I received from the father of a college pitcher who took a shot on Show and Go this past summer:
"Just wanted to shoot you a breakdown on how my college son took to your Show and Go program with some modifications for baseball specificity. He followed your strength and conditioning program to the “T” and this is where he is after the first seven weeks:
May 16 – Start
Body fat: 10.0%
Lean mass: 146.68 lbs
July 7 (52 days later)
Body fat: 9.25%
Lean mass: 153.3 lbs
-Front squat for reps went from 155 lbs to 235 lbs for reps
-Deadlift went from about 205 for reps to 335 for a single
-Dumbbell bench presses for reps went from 55lb dumbbells to 80lb dumbbells
"To me, an untrained eye, it looks like this is great progress and he measurably benefited from it! He looks pretty damn good, too.
"He is about to return for his senior year as a starting left-handed pitcher and plans to continue this workout routine for the entirety of the 16 weeks. We used the Alan Jaeger long toss throwing program and mechanical training from Paul Reddick and Brent Strom and his velocity improved from 78mph to 84-85mph and his breaking stuff are now plus pitches. In my opinion, none of this would have happened your strength training program and mobility drills that allowed him to physically carry his momentum down the bump longer. All-in-all, it was a very productive summer; thanks!"
Don't miss out on this chance to take your game to the next level. Click here to pick up a copy of Show and Go: High Performance Training to Look, Feel, and Move Better!
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My good buddy Alan Jaeger has gone to great lengths to bring long tossing to the baseball world. I discussed why I really like it and what some of the most common long toss mistakes are in two recent posts:
However, one thing I didn't discuss in those previous blogs was the status quo - which is essentially that long toss distances should not exceed 90-120 feet. These seemingly arbitrary numbers are actually based on some research discussing where a pitcher's release point changes and the throwing motion becomes less and less like what we see on the mound. Alan looked further into the origins of the "120 foot rule," and informed me that these programs began in the late 1980s/early 1990s and were based on "post-surgery experience" of a few rehabilitation specialists.
Yes, we're basing modern performance-based throwing programs forhealthypitchers on 20+ year-old return-to-throwing programs that were created for injured pitchers. It seems ridiculous to even consider this; it's like only recommending body weight glute bridges to a football player looking to improve his pro agility time because you used them with a football player who had knee or low back pain. It might be part of the equation, but it doesn't improve performance or protect against all injuries. Let's look further at how this applies to a throwing context, though.
A huge chunk of pitching injuries - including all those that fall under the internal impingement spectrum (SLAP tears, undersurface cuff tears, and bicipital tendinosis), medial elbow pain (ulnar nerve irritation/hypermobility, ulnar collateral ligament tears, and flexor/pronator strains), and even lateral compressive stress (younger pitchers, usually) occur during the extreme cocking phase of throwing. That looks like this:
It's in this position were you get the peel back mechanism and posterior-superior impingement on the glenoid by the supra- and infraspinatus. And, it's where you get crazy valgus stress (the equivalent of 40 pounds pulling down on the hand) at the elbow - which not only stresses the medial structures with tensile force, but also creates lateral compressive forces.
In other words, if guys are hurt, this is the most common spot in their delivery that they will typically hurt.
So, logically, the rehabilitation specialists try to keep them away from full ROM to make the surgical/rehab outcomes success - and you simply won't get full range of motion (ROM) playing catch at 60-120 feet.
Effectively, you can probably look at the "progression" like this:
Step 1: 60-120 ft: Low ROM, Low Stress Step 2: 120+ ft: Medium ROM, Medium Stress Step 3: 240+ ft: High ROM, Medium Stress Step 4: Mound Work: High ROM, High Stress
In other words, in the typical throwing program - from high school all the way up to the professional ranks - pitchers skip steps 2 and 3. To me, this is like using jump rope to prepare for full speed sprinting. The ROM and ground reaction forces (stress) just don't come close to the "end" activity.
Only problem? Not everyone is rehabbing. We're actually trying to get guys better.
Long Toss. Far. You'll thank me later.
Want to learn more? Check out Alan's DVD, Thrive on Throwing, to learn more. He's made it available to my readers at 25% off through this link.
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In part 1, I made the case for long toss as an effective addition to a throwing program. Today, we answer the question, “Why don’t some pitchers respond well to long toss?” Let’s look at the top four reasons why someone may not be approaching long toss optimally.
1. They structure it incorrectly.
By far, the biggest mistake I see from pitchers when they’re long tossing is that they don’t utilize compression/pull-down throws at the end of the session. These throws teach the pitcher to get on top of the ball and bring the release point down to where it should be with pitching – but they do all this with the increased arm speed you get from long tossing. Effectively, you use compression throws to transition from your longest throwing distance to a flat ground session (this is a practice you’ll see from a LOT of MLB starting pitchers in pre-game warm-ups before they ever step foot on a mound).
Typically, our guys use a compression throw every 45-60 feet on the way back in (it almost amounts to a brisk walk back in). So, if a pitcher went out to 300 feet with his long toss, he’d take compression throws at about 250, 200, 150, 100, and 60 feet. I joke with guys that the last throw at 60 feet should pretty much scare the crap out of their throwing partners. If you've seen Trevor Bauer crow-hopping downthe mound for his last warm-up pitch prior to every inning, you know what I mean. Not surprisingly, Bauer is an Alan Jaeger/Ron Wolforth long toss disciple. Here’s what Baseball America had to say about it: “[Bauer] starts behind the rubber, runs over the mound and throws as hard as he can to the plate, from about 54 feet. I've heard reports that those throws have registered 100 mph…”
Some guys – particularly those with a history of control issues and the guys who are trying to tinker with their mechanics – are wise to go into a brief flat-ground (or regular) bullpen right after these compression throws. It’s a good chance to transfer the arm speed and athleticism of long toss into a little more of a sport-specific action. I’ve also seen quite a few pitchers who have improved their change-ups considerably by long tossing for part of the session with their change-up grip, and then integrating it into one of these post-long-toss flat ground or bullpen sessions. It helps with keeping the arm speed up in pitchers who tend to slow down the arm for change-ups.
2. They become good throwers and not good pitchers.
I’ll be straightforward with this one.
If you can long toss 350 feet, but pitch at 80-82mph, you can definitely stand to cut back a bit on your long tossing to spend more time focusing on mound work to sync things up and use that general motor potential to your advantage.
If you can long toss 350 feet, but have a 1:6 strikeout:walk ratio and have pitches hitting the backstop, you can definitely stand to cut back a bit on your long tossing to spend more time focusing on mound work to sync things up and actually throw strikes.
If you can long toss 350 feet, but are getting shelled because you just throw a very straight 93mph and don’t have any secondary pitches, you can definitely stand to cut back a bit on your long tossing to spend more time focusing on mound work to sync things up and learn some other pitches. The average fastball velocity is higher in low-A than it is in the big leagues, you know…
3. They think long toss covers all their needs.
There are a ton of different factors that contribute to pitching success and longevity. Once you can throw a ball a long way, there is a tendency to think that you’ve done what you need to be successful, but in reality, there are a lot more things to address to prepare your body and long toss is still pretty specific, in the grand scheme of things. As is often the case, the greatest benefits are usually derived from doing the things that you don’t do particularly well (yet). Bartolo Colon, for instance, might be able to long toss 330 feet, but he might have a heart attack on the light jog to the outfield to partake in that long tossing session.
4. They don’t long toss on a straight line.
It seems like a no-brainer, but you should throw on a straight line. If the guy 250 feet away is 20-feet to the left of “center,” you’re teaching yourself to either stay closed or fly open with your delivery. Stand on the foul line or line yourself up between foul poles, if you’re looking for a quick and easy way to “get aligned.”
As you probably appreciate now, while long toss is usually a tremendously valuable inclusion in most throwing programs, it isn’t a perfect fit for everyone – and that’s why each unique case must be considered individually.
Don't forget that long toss guru Alan Jaeger has put his popular Thrive on Throwing DVD on sale for 25% off for my readers for a limited time only. Click here to learn more.
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Long toss may have been scorned by quite a few baseball traditionalists, but I am a big fan of it – and our guys have responded outstandingly to the way we’ve used it. Perhaps it’s just my “1+1=2” logic at work, but I just feel like if you can build up the arm speed to throw the ball a loooonngggg way, then you’ll be able to carry that over to the mound as soon as you get your pitching mechanics dialed in. And, this has certainly been validated with our athletes, as we have loads of professional pitchers who absolutely swear by long toss (both off- and in-season).
So, you can understand why I got excited when my good buddy, Alan Jaeger – a man who has devoted a big chunk of his life to getting long toss “accepted” in the baseball community – was featured in this article at MLB.com about what a difference it makes - including for the Texas Rangers on their road to the World Series a few years ago.
I was, however, not a fan of this paragraph in the article:
“Former Red Sox pitcher Dick Mills has a business built around teaching mechanics and maximizing velocity, and he is a staunch opponent of long tossing. He has released countless YouTube videos angrily decrying this practice. In his latest, ‘How Long Toss Can Ruin Your Pitching Mechanics and Your Arm,’ he says, ‘Why would you practice mechanics that are totally different and will not help a pitcher during a game? And why would you practice throwing mechanics that are clearly more stressful where the arm does most of the work?’"
Taking it a step further, here’s a Dick Mills quote I came across a few years ago:
“Training will not teach you how to apply more force…only mechanics can do that. And pitching is not about applying more effort into a pitch but is about producing more skilled movements from better timing of all the parts. That will help produce more force. No matter how hard you try, you will not get that from your strength training program…no matter who designed it, how much they have promised you it would or your hope that it will be the secret for you.”
While I agree (obviously) on the importance of mechanics and timing, effectively, we’re still being told that long toss, strength training, and weighted balls are all ineffective modalities for developing the pitcher – which leaves us with what, bullpens and stretching? It sounds like every youth baseball practice in the country nowadays – and all we’re getting now are injured shoulders and elbows at astronomical rates. Something isn’t right – and the message is very clear: specificity is a very slippery slope.
On one hand, when it comes to mechanics, you need to throw off the mound to get things fine-tuned to achieve efficiency.
On the other hand, research has shown that arm stress is higher when you’re on the mound (there is less external rotation at stride foot contact with flat ground throwing). Additionally, every pitch that’s thrown is really a step in the direction of sports specialization for a youth baseball player – and something needs to balance that out. Why?
Well, specializing at a young age is destroying kids. As a great study from Olsen et al. showed, young pitchers who require surgery pitched “significantly more months per year, games per year, innings per game, pitches per game, pitches per year, and warm-up pitches before a game. These pitchers were more frequently starting pitchers, pitched in more showcases, pitched with higher velocity, and pitched more often with arm pain and fatigue.” And people think that kid need more work on the mound? What they need are more structured throwing sessions (practice, not competition) and a comprehensive throwing and strength and conditioning program to prepare them for the demands they’ll face.
But those aren’t specific enough, are they?!?!?! Well, let’s talk about specificity a bit more. Actually, let’s read – from renowned physical therapist Gray Cook, a guy who certainly knows a thing or two about why people get injured:
The physical presentation of differently trained bodies often provides a signature of the type and style of activity that developed it. Those who are exclusive in their activities seem more often be molded to their activities, and sometimes actually over-molded. These individuals can actually lose movements and muscles that would make alternate activities much easier.
Specialization can rob us of our innate ability to express all of our movement potential. This is why I encourage highly specialized athletes to balance their functional movement patterns. They don’t so much need to train all movement patterns, they just need to maintain them. When a functional movement pattern is lost, it forecasts a fundamental crack in a foundation designed to be balanced. The point is not that specialization is bad—it only presents a problem when the singular activity over-molds to the point of losing balance.
While there are probably 15-20 awesome messages we can take home from the previous two paragraphs, here’s the big one I want to highlight: it’s our job as coaches to find the biggest window of adaptation a pitcher has and bring it up to speed – while simultaneously keeping other qualities in mind.
If he’s stiff, we work on mobility. If he’s weak, we get him strong. If he’s a mechanical train wreck, we get him more bullpens. If his arm speed isn’t good, we work more on weighted balls and long toss. If you just take a 5-10, 120-pound 9th grader and have him throw bullpens exclusively, he’ll get better for a little bit, and then plateau hard unless you get him bigger and stronger.
How does this work? It’s a little principle called Delayed Transmutation that Vladimir Zatsiorsky highlighted in Science and Practice of Strength Training. Zatsiorsky defines delayed transmutation as “the time period needed to transform acquired motor potential into athletic performance.” In other words, expand and improve your “motor pool” in the off-season, and it’ll be transformed into specific athletic performance when the time is right.
And, as I wrote in The Ultimate Off-Season Training Manual, “the more experienced you are in a given sport, the less time it will take for you to transform this newfound strength and power [and mobility] into sporting contexts.” This is why professional pitchers can find their groove each year MUCH easier than high school pitchers in spite of the fact that they probably take more time off each year (2-3 months from throwing) than the typical overused kid who plays on 17 different AAU teams.
That said, there’s a somewhat interesting exception to this rule: really untrained kids. I’ll give you two examples from the past week alone at Cressey Performance.
We had a high school senior and a high school junior who both just started up their winter throwing programs to prepare for the season.
The first told me that he was sore in his legs after throwing for the first time in his life. Effectively, without throwing a single pitch or really doing any lesson work (or even throwing off a mound), this kid has managed to change the neuromuscular recruitment patterns he uses to throw the baseball. Strength, power, and mobility took care of themselves: delayed transmutation.
The second told me that his arm feels electric. Ask any experienced pitcher, and they’ll tell you that your arm is supposed to feel like absolute crap the first 4-5 days after an extended layoff, but it always gets better. However, when you’re a kid who has gotten more flexible and packed on a bunch of muscle mass, it’s like all of a sudden driving a Ferrari when you’re used to sharing a minivan with Mom: delayed transmutation.
Specificity is important in any sport, but a it really is just the work as far to the right as you can go on the general to specific continuum. Elite sprinters do squats, lunges, Olympic lifts, jump squats, and body weight plyos as they work from left to right on the general-to-specific continuum to get faster. So, why do so many pitching coaches insist that pitchers stay as far to the right as possible? Symbolically, long toss is to pitchers what plyos are to sprinters: specific, but just general enough to make a profound difference.
In a very roundabout way, I’ve made a case for long toss as something that can be classified as beneficial in much the same way that we recognize (well, most of us, at least) that mobility drills, foam rolling, strength training, movement training, and medicine ball drills to be excellent adjuncts to bullpens. In the process of learning to throw the baseball farther, we:
1. push arm speed up
2. train in a generally-specific fashion
3. improve contribution of the lower half
4. realize another specific, quantifiable marker (distance) of progress
5. keep throwing fun
6. train the arm with just enough LESS specificity to help keep pitchers healthy, as compared with mound work
The question then becomes, “Why don’t some pitchers respond well to long toss?” In part 2, I’ll outline the most common mistakes I’ve seen:
When I told Alan Jaeger that I was sending this article out, he graciously offered to set up a 25% off discount code on his Thrive on Throwing DVD set for my readers. This outstanding DVD set thoroughly teaches players and coaches how to approach long tossing, and Alan has also applied a discount to his J-Bands and his Getting Focused, Staying Focused book for pitchers. Here's a link to the discount page.
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Today, we've got another great guest post from Matt Blake."If I embark on a voyage of exploration, and I set as my goals the willingness to follow any lead, pursue any interesting observation, overcome any difficulties, and I end up in some exotic locale that might be very different from my predictions before setting out, have I changed my destination in any way? I would say not; the sine qua non of science is not the conclusions we reach but the process we use to arrive at them, and that is the polestar by which we navigate."-PZ Myers, Biologist, University of Minnesota
One might ask why the heck a pitching coach is leading off his article on a fitness expert's blog with a quote from a biologist, and how it would have any relevance to the topic at hand. Where could this possibly be going?
Well, I recently attended the American Baseball Coaches Association "Hot Stove" Pitching Discussion in Dallas, Texas on January 10th with about 200-300 coaches from all over the country. And, I would say that this notion was the overriding theme to take away from the event.
This "Hot Stove" pitching discussion was part of the bigger national convention that takes place every year. This event provided an outstanding forum for people to hear some leading thinkers in baseball discuss pitching in an informal public setting. Some of the notable attendees of this event were Tom House, Alan Jaeger, Brent Strom, and Derek Johnson. For those of you who are unfamiliar with these names, I'll give you a brief description of each.
Tom House is a former major leaguer, former major league pitching coach, and is regarded as one of the great modern day pitching gurus and currently coaches at the University of Southern California.
Alan Jaeger runs Jaegersports.com and has an outstanding understanding of long toss, arm care and how it should be applied to your player's development.
Brent Strom is a former major leaguer, is an instructor in the St. Louis Cardinals system, and teams up with Ron Wolforth to run the Ultimate Pitching Coaches Bootcamp every year. They also run some outstanding Elite Pitcher Bootcamps during the summer. These two presented early in the weekend and are proponents of the "Blending" and "Chunking" theories and advocate for training pitchers through the use of athletic and aggressive throwing drills.
Derek Johnson is currently the Pitching Coach at Vanderbilt University and is regarded as one of the premier pitching coaches in the country. Producing ten drafted pitchers (including three first-rounders) over the last three years will usually do that.
Honestly, this is just a handful of people in a room that included dozens of D1/D2/D3 pitching coaches, as well as numerous outstanding high school coaches, but these guys really stand out with their contributions to the pitching community's knowledge base.
Tom House did his part by speaking to the crowd about the importance of being able to accept new ideas that run counter to your current train of thought. He brought up an interesting point regarding the need to be strong enough to change your positions and adapt your training methods as the information presented to you deems necessary. This is not too far from what you see happening on the strength and conditioning front every day. If I remember correctly, it wasn't too long ago that Mike Boyle questioned the value of the almighty squat. Who would have thunk it? This is a great example of a man following a process of logical thought to create his own philosophy even if it runs counter to much of the traditional thought. You don't need to agree with him on this, as we still use a lot of squatting variations at Cressey Performance, but based on his interpretation of the research, this is what he thought gave him the best value in the risk/reward category for his athletes.
On the baseball side, this idea was none more evident than when Tom House was challenged about the effectiveness of the towel drill and admitted he was wrong about this drill in its original form. This drill has been a staple in many pitching coaches' dry work for years. In coming to understand where the towel drill was lacking, Tom has recently changed the weight of the implement in the drill from 2 oz to 5/6/7oz depending on the training intentions. This essentially changed the deceleration demands to be more similar to a baseball and worked to counter the argument at hand, by letting everyone know, that as science has progressed he has needed to adapt his training methods.
One of the other important topics that House brought up was the need to understand the science behind the overhead throw. If we expect to train players at the highest level, we need to know what is actually happening in the body. By incorporating information relating to a player's "Kinematic Sequence," one is more apt to see where players are either efficient or inefficient in creating energy and delivering force to the ball. Understanding the sequencing of the body's rotations is essential to getting the timing of the delivery right and avoiding stressful mechanic flaws.
The way he phrased it may or may not have gone over a lot of coaches' heads and split the camp into science-based vs. common sense/feel coaches. But, I obviously believe Tom is right on this point or I wouldn't spend my waking life in Eric's facility. On the flip side, I can also understand where coaches who do not naturally gravitate to the analytical style would find other ways to communicate this information than the technical jargon House used. At the end of the day, your players either understand what you're saying or they don't. If they don't, you need to come back to their level of thought before they tune you out.
Along these lines, one of the points I strongly agree with Tom on is the need to look at the golf industry and how advanced their level of instruction is in the private sector. Greg Rose and the people of the Titleist Performance Institute are doing some great things on the technology front, as far as analyzing swings and doing physical assessments to improve golf technique. Obviously, this is a different beast with the way their market dynamics have been established, but there is enough money within the baseball industry to start dedicating some of our resources to making sure we have the best information available to the general public. The rate at which players are getting injured because people are simply uninformed is not okay in this supposed "Information Age."
One of the refreshing things to see is that people are at least beginning to recognize that we can't be so rigid in our approach to training pitchers. We are just now leaving an era where we thought we had all the answers and we could box up our pitchers to 90 degree angles and call it a day. Funny that injuries are up at nearly every level of the game from little league to the Pros, so obviously something isn't working. With that said, I'll leave you with one last short story that Tom House provided us at the convention. It has do with a time when he was coaching Nolan Ryan on the Texas Rangers. Nolan credits a lot of his success later on in his career due to the physical shape Coach House got him in. Obviously, this is a second-hand retelling of a story, so I'll leave it up to Tom to come over to Ericcressey.com and correct me in the comments section, but I think you'll get the gist.
As many of you know, Coach House is famous for really being a pioneer on the biomechanical analysis front. One day, House was attempting to talk to Nolan Ryan about his famously high leg kick, by letting him know that it might make more sense to bring his leg kick down a bit and get himself a little more under control. In Nolan Ryan's Texan drawl, he calmly responded, "Tom, with all due respect sir... I understand you know a lot about the game, but if there's one thing I know.... It's that the higher I lift my leg here, the harder I'm gonna throw this baseball. So you can go ahead and stick that in your computer of yours." And if that doesn't bring this discussion full circle, I'm not quite sure what will.
In the end, I think as important as it is to follow the research, it is just as important to let the common sense/feel aspects drive the questions being researched. Obviously, science is continuously digging deeper, but if we don't listen to our athletes, we may be digging in the wrong places. Like I've said before, the athlete throws the baseball, so giving them the necessary information and letting them find their own signature style with it is essential to their development.
Matt Blake can be reached at email@example.com.Related PostsA New Model for Training Between Starts: Part 1Philosophizing from Goliath's ShouldersA Baseball Training Interview with Eric CresseySign-up Today for our FREE Baseball Newsletter and Receive a Copy of the Exact Stretches
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