Home Posts tagged "baseball injuries"

The Best of 2016: Baseball Articles

With baseball athletes being the largest segment of the Cressey Sports Performance athletic clientele, it seems only fitting to devote a "Best of 2016" feature to the top baseball posts from last year. Check them out:

1. Preventing Baseball Injuries: Actions Speak Louder Than Words

This was my first post of 2016, and it turned out to be one of my most impactful. A cool follow-up note on this: one of the suggestions I had to reduce pitching injuries was to push the high school season back in warm weather states, and here in Florida, they actually moved it back two weeks for 2017. I doubt my writing had anything to do with it, but it's nice to see things moving in a positive direction. 

2. Should Lat Strains Even Be Happening?

The lat strain is becoming far more prevalent in higher levels of baseball as pitchers throw with more and more velocity. In this lengthy article, I discuss mechanisms of injury, diagnostic challenges, prevention strategies, and longer-term prognoses.

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3. 6 Saturday Shoulder Strategies

I wrote this as a "brain dump" in about 30 minutes on a Saturday morning, and it turned out to be a hit with the baseball audience.

4. Looking Closer at Pitching Injuries: An Interview with Jeff Passan

I interviewed Jeff Passan around the time of the launch of his popular book, The Arm, and we covered in more specific detail some of the areas he touched on in the book.

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5. Specificity, Delayed Transmutation, and Long-Term Baseball Development

This was actually a video blog more than an article, but it was still very popular - but didn't quite crack the top 5 videos of the year because it's more baseball specific.

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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training – Installment 22

It's time for the September installment of this series. With the baseball season wrapping up for many minor league and high school players - plus the start of post-season play nearly upon us - I've got a lot of new thoughts rattling around my brain.

1. There's no such thing as "catching the injury bug." 

This is a term that gets thrown around a lot in professional sports. Certainly, there is a significant amount of happenstance in professional sports. Quarterbacks get sacked from the blind side and injure acromioclavicular joints (get well soon, Jimmy G!!!). Hitters get hit by pitches, and outfielders run into walls. Not all injuries are preventable, but not everything we assume to be "happenstance" is unpreventable, either. Additionally, there's something to be said about finding ways to shorten the down time on the disabled list when players are hurt. This recent article in Hardball Times does a good job of highlighting this observation: Doing What it Takes to Keep Players Healthy.

With respect to preventing injuries, most of the focus goes on training and rehabilitation initiatives. Is there a good strength and conditioning program? Are there good manual therapists on hand? Does the organization prioritize high quality nutrition? Are recovery options plentiful? The list goes on and on.

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There are, however, many overlooked factors that are outside the control of the sports medicine staffs in these organizations. For instance, if a front office creates a roster of players who a) are older and b) have more extensive injury histories, it's going to be a lot harder to keep that team on the field. Additionally, how bullpens are managed factors into injury risk heavily. Some relief pitchers get absolutely abused between game appearances and scenarios where they warm up and don't go into the game. I once had a MLB lefty specialist say that he threw more in two months in the big leagues than he did in 100+ innings as a college starer. 

The point is that while some injuries are, in fact, happenstance, the majority are highly preventable - particularly if as many different factors as possible are taken into consideration. The injury bug excuse just doesn't hold water.

2. There are varying levels of "strong enough."

In the strength training world, you'll often hear debates on the question, "how strong is strong enough for athletes?" Truth be told, it's not a simple question to answer.

First and foremost, you get what you train. So, I might just squat and deadlift all the time, but never build an appreciable level of single-leg strength. So, if my sport requires a ton of single-leg strength, I'm really not strong at all in a specific sense. That said, no competitive powerlifter is going to be able to hand his hat on a good Bulgarian split squat number; he's got to squat and deadlift heavy to be successful.

Taking this a step further, though, we have to consider what we're trying to strong enough to do? Is it strong enough to safely perform sprint work and plyos in training, as would be the case after a few months in post-op ACL rehabilitation scenario? Or, is it strong enough to be able to safely participate in athletics, as an athlete would be later in the rehabilitation timeline?

Does an athlete just need to be strong enough to need to even consider this continuum? Or, does he need to be strong enough to make good use of strength-speed and speed-strength training initiatives?

Is the athlete strong enough to not have to worry about training limit strength (the far left of this continuum) as much? Not many athletes ever get to this point because it takes a ton of hard work, consistency, and even a genetic predisposition to being strong to get there. However, I've seen several in my career, and we needed to spend a lot more time training absolute speed and speed-strength.

Above all else, I'd say that in the athletic world, the "strong enough" classification refers to a coach's refusal to push an athlete further due to the potential for injury. For example, there is no doubt in my mind that one of our pro outfielders could unquestionably train to attain a 600-pound raw squat in a matter of 3-4 months. The risk of pushing toward this goal just isn't worth the risk; he has other athletic qualities to which we can devote his training time and recovery capacity - and without the risk. If he could only squat 185 pounds, though, it would be an entirely different story.

3. If applied incorrectly, cross-training can beat athletes up as much as it can help them.

I'm all for young athletes playing as many sports as possible. A rich proprioceptive environment creates an awesome foundation for future athletic development in more specific endeavors. Likewise, later on, once an athlete has specialized, there is definitely a time of year for cross training - but it definitely has to be applied correctly. What am I getting at?

[bctt tweet="The lower the movement variability in one's sport, the less bold the cross-training can be."]

To put this in context, imagine a soccer midfielder or football defensive back. Both these athletes have a ton of movement variability in their sport participation; there is a lot of change-of-direction, full-tilt sprinting, backpedaling, jumping, and a host of additional sport-specific skills. Asking one of these athletes to go out and play ultimate frisbee or beach volleyball for a change of pace isn't going to dramatically increase their injury risk.

Conversely, take the typical pro golfer or baseball pitcher into this same challenge, and it's going to be a pretty stressful event with a much higher likelihood of injury. It's not to say these athletes are soft or "delicate;" it's just that the majority of their athletic calendars take place with more specificity, and there is less movement variability to their sports challenges. With both the golf swing and pitching delivery, you want to consistently repeat your mechanics.

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Invariably, during interleague play in Major League Baseball, we see an American League pitcher who gets injured running the bases or swinging at the plate. Specificity of training matters, and it takes a considerable volume of specificity to build a tolerance to competing at a high level.

This isn't just specific to amplitude of movement (range of motion). Rather, the direction and magnitude of forces need to be considered. As an example, elite swimmers have a high pain tolerance from the insane volumes they do in the pool, but get them into an ultimate frisbee game, and you're going to see some awkward movements because they aren't accustomed to ground reaction forces and moving in the frontal and transverse planes.

Just keep it in mind as you plan your cross-training activities. Just because you see NFL players dominating a game of "Tag" doesn't mean that your 51-year-old master's division swimming star is going to do as well with it.

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5 Steps to Becoming a Baseball Specialist

Today's guest post comes from physical therapist, Eric Schoenberg. Eric is an integral part of the Elite Baseball Mentorships team. 

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A thought came to mind as I was considering how we can work towards reducing the incidence of injury in baseball: we need more specialists.

If we use the field of medicine as a model, the Total Knee Replacement has pretty much been mastered. Of course, there is room for improvement, but over the past 25 years, this surgery has become a massive success. The biggest reason for this is a progression of specialization:

MD > Orthopedist > Orthopedic Surgeon > Knee Specialist > Total Knee Replacement (TKR) Specialist

If you need a knee replacement, you don’t go to your primary care physician. Instead, you schedule an appointment with an Orthopedic Surgeon that specializes in TKR. So, if you are a baseball player, why does it make sense to work with a “general” strength coach or physical therapist?
[bctt tweet="Every profession matures into a state of “super-specialization” as it develops."]

Strength coaches and physical therapists have a great opportunity ahead of us to move our professions forward in this manner.

The current entry point for a strength coach is minimal. Most commonly, entry into the field falls somewhere between a fitness certification and a 4-year degree. In some cases, you will see dual degrees, Master’s degrees, and the occasional PhD.

However, there is no direct path available to niche into a “baseball specialist.” Instead, we have private sector, college, and even some professional strength coaches that may have seen baseball players by chance, but have no more experience with them than any other sport. It’s not a criticism of them, though; there simply isn’t an established “curriculum” they can pursue. As a result, in most cases, highly “specialized” baseball players are being managed by “general” strength coaches.

I have to believe that this is as much of a contributing factor as any to the high incidence of injury in the baseball world. By the time these athletes make it far enough in their careers to have access to “baseball specialists,” they are often too damaged for even the experts to manage.

Here are five tips to establish yourself as a trusted resource in the baseball community:

1. Watch baseball.

Don’t just watch it for entertainment value. Study the movements. Use slow motion and rewind on your TV. Watch video online and gain a better understanding of the actions and positions unique to the sport. Once you think you have it figured out, you are only just scratching the surface. Keep studying! Start to recognize why faulty mechanics can lead to improper distribution of stress and ultimately injury. By doing this, you can pair this knowledge with your individual assessment of the athlete to create a more optimal training program.

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2. Spend time on a field.

Baseball players are unique in their habits and tendencies. Gain a “feel” for the game. Understand the culture of the game. Learn how to identify with and communicate with athletes that are much younger than you. Understand that most of their time on the field is spent standing around and waiting. Educate your players on how to optimize this time to prepare mentally, hydrate, properly warm up, etc. It is not enough to say you used to play baseball 20 years ago; nobody cares. My credibility and effectiveness in managing baseball players increased 10x once I started spending time at the field as part of a team. Create an angle to quickly establish trust and common ground with the athlete and watch your results dramatically improve.

3. Understand the unique physical characteristics and demands of baseball players.

Baseball players have physical characteristics that differ from other sports. Educate yourself for the benefit of your athletes. Learn about humeral retroversion, gross extension patterns, laxity, valgus stress, dynamic stability, rotator cuff timing, etc. Work towards understanding the importance of stability of the landing leg, proper hip hinge pattern, and the importance of tri-planar single leg balance. Don’t “stretch” a guy that is already too loose. Instead, give him some stability and watch his pain go away. The baseball player’s anatomy is a long way from “neutral.” Do your best to bring them closer to the middle and not further away. For example, your ability to recognize that a baseball player should not be cued to pull their shoulder blades “down and back” because their shoulder blades are ALREADY down and back may save dozens of careers.

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4. Master functional anatomy and human movement.

Understand the critical role of the scapula. Train the rotator cuff in the throwing position through the entire range of motion (especially end-range external rotation). Learn how the kinetic chain applies specifically to baseball. Hitting and throwing are highly coordinated, precisely timed, multidirectional movements. Don’t train your athletes with single joint exercises that only occur in the sagittal plane. Learn about hip/trunk separation to maximize power and explosiveness. Be able to educate the athlete on what it means to have a labral tear or understand the specifics of an ulnar nerve transposition. If you can’t explain these pathologies, then how can you minimize risk when working with these athletes? Take pride in your job on this front.

5. Be willing to respectfully challenge the “institution of baseball.”

CSP coach Tony Bonvechio wrote a blog post a while back where he warned about the dangers of the phrase “this is how I’ve always done it.” I find myself observing on a daily basis that regardless of level – little league, high school, college, pro ball – at least 80% of the player’s warm up routine is exactly the same. How can that be? We have progressed as a profession; however, kids on baseball fields across the world are all doing the same useless warm-up routine.

An example of progress is Joe Maddon and the Chicago Cubs. He has softened the traditional stance of getting to the ballpark at 1pm for a 7pm game. Instead, they have created a culture that emphasizes more sleep, nutrition, and recovery and his players love him for it. (and, by the way, the team is doing pretty well, too).

If we want different results, we have to continue to move towards a different approach. The efforts of strength coaches and physical therapists to move towards becoming baseball specialists will go a long way in helping to reach this goal.

If you are interested in learning more about our approach to managing baseball athletes, we'd love to see you at one of our Elite Baseball Mentorships. The next three-day course - this one focused on the lower-extremity - is August 21-23, with Thursday, July 21 serving as the early-bird registration deadline. You can learn more HERE.

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Preventing Baseball Injuries: Actions Speak Louder Than Words

We're at a point in time where just about everyone knows that throwing a baseball year-round is a bad idea. Moreover, we know that it's best for kids to avoid early sports specialization. 

Dr. James Andrews has been outspoken against early specialization and year-round throwing for roughly a decade.

John Smoltz devoted a big chunk of his Hall-of-Fame acceptance speech in Cooperstown to discouraging kids and parents from early specialization and year-round baseball.

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Seahawks coach Pete Carroll recently referred to the trend of kids playing only one sport as "an absolute crime."

USA Baseball launched their Pitch Smart campaign - featuring an advisory board of many MLB team doctors and athletic trainers - to prevent overuse in youth baseball.

All the way back in 2006, a landmark study by Olsen et al. clearly demonstrated strong associations between injuries requiring surgery and pitching "more months per year, games per year, innings per game, pitches per game, pitches per year, and warm-up pitches before a game" as well as showcase appearances during adolescence. Overuse is the one factor that predicts injury over and over again in the research.

A 2011 study demonstrated that players in warm weather climates had less shoulder strength and more problematic range-of-motion adaptations than those in cold weather climates. And, speaking from personal experience from having Cressey Sports Performance facilities in both states, it's been far more challenging to develop players in Florida than it is in Massachusetts. There is simply too much baseball competing with general athletic development.

These are just a few examples, too. Hundreds of professional athletes have spoken out against early sports specialization. College coaches have in some cases refused to recruit one-sport athletes. And, there are more anti-specialization posts and websites freely available on the Internet than one could possibly imagine. Yet, the problem isn't even close to going away, and injuries still at all-time highs.

Now, I can understand how some players, parents, coaches, and scouts don't stay on top of the American Journal of Sports Medicine and might have missed this important information. What I can't understand is how they'd miss it when the world's most recognized orthopedic surgeon is speaking out against it. Or how they can miss it when one of the most accomplished pitchers of the last century devotes the biggest media spotlight of his life to bashing early sports specialization. Or how they'd overlook one of the premier coaches in the NFL so vehemently putting down the practice. Or how a governing body like MLB would devote time, money, and resources to a problem that they think will have a significant negative impact on the future of the game beyond just the billions of dollars that are already being wasted on players on the disabled list.

The problem is not a lack of knowledge; the problem is a lack of action and consequences.

When you were a little kid and stole a cookie from the cookie jar - even after your mother told you it was off limits - you got punished for doing so. If you didn't have consequences, you'd keep stealing cookies. Unfortunately, this isn't an option with youth baseball. Really, the only consequence is injury, and it's surprisingly not that great a teacher.

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A lot of kids and parents continue to make the same mistakes even after an arm surgery and extended layoff. They've been brainwashed to think that the only way kids can succeed in baseball is to play year-round to keep up with other kids and get exposure to college coaches and pro scouts. There are too many coaches, showcase companies, and scouting services lining their pockets by lobbying hard to make these false assumptions stick. 

If knowledge ("eating too many cookies is bad for you") isn't working, and it's hard to deliver consequences, what's the next step? You've got to make it really hard to get to those cookies - and they better taste like crap if you do manage to do so. 

Stepping away from this analogy, the big governing bodies that matter need to step up their game. Here are six quick changes that I personally feel could have a profound impact on reducing injury rates across all levels:

1. Major League Baseball needs to implement a high school scouting "dead period" from October 1 through January 1. It is entirely hypocritical for MLB to push PitchSmart, but turn a blind eye when literally hundreds of scouts are showing up for October-December showcases and tournaments that directly compete with the PitchSmart initiative. Most of the highest-profile players aren't even attending these events anymore (advisors know it's an unnecessary injury risk), and there is absolutely nothing a scout would see in November that they can't see in the spring during the regular season.

2. MLB should also mandate that no pitcher can throw in more than three consecutive games - including "getting hot" (throwing in the bullpen, but not entering the game). Some might criticize me for this, but after extensive interaction with relievers at this level, I firmly believe that bullpen mismanagement is one of the biggest problems in MLB pitching injuries. Fans and the media only see the actual number of appearances, but when you factor in the number of times a pitcher "gets hot" without entering the game, you have relievers who are literally throwing over 120 times in a season.

3. The NCAA needs to implement innings limits on freshman and sophomore pitchers. Keep freshman pitchers to 120 innings and sophomore pitchers to 140 (combining the college season and summer ball). Additionally, any pitcher who throws more than 120 innings during the spring/summer should have a mandatory 60-day period of no throwing prior to starting fall ball.

4. The NCAA should also implement a conservative pitch count limit for college starters. I think 130 is a good place to start, and while I still think it's unnecessarily high, it reins in those coaches who'll leave a guy in for 150+ pitches. Sadly, this happens far too often in college baseball these days, and there are zero repercussions (although I do commend ESPN's Keith Law for always calling these coaches out on Twitter).

5. State athletic associations in warm weather climates need to structure high school seasons to allow for athletes to compete in multiple sports. As an example, in Massachusetts, the high school baseball season begins on the third Monday in March, while the first basketball practice is November 30. If a high school basketball player wants to play baseball, he might only have a 1-2 week overlap during that month - and it only happens if his team goes deep into the playoffs.

Conversely, the high school baseball season here in Florida begins on January 18, while the last regular season basketball game doesn't occur until January 30. The state championship games take place February 23-27 - which is roughly halfway through the baseball season! There is absolutely no reason for a high school baseball season (in which teams play about 30 games) needs to start prior to March 1.

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That extra six weeks would make a huge difference in getting more baseball players to also participate in winter sports and help to get a baseball out of young hands a bit longer. And, you'd see a lot more players well prepared on day 1 of baseball tryouts because they'd have more off-season preparation under their belts. It would simply force teams to play three games per week instead of two; this is exactly what's done in Northern states (and they'll sometimes play four, if weather interferes).

6. Similar to point #4, state athletic associations should also have regulations on permissible pitch counts for high school arms. I think 115 pitches is a good number.

Closing Thoughts

I should note that I actually think Little League Baseball does a solid job of disseminating information and including specific regulations within the game and between games. The changes - at least in my eyes - should rest with high school athletic associations, the NCAA, and Major League Baseball. Impact will come from the top down.

As you can see, with only two exceptions, I'm much more about managing the competitive year than I am about micromanaging pitch counts. And, the two pitch count recommendations I put out are remarkably conservative and just reaffirm common sense (which, unfortunately, isn't so common anymore). Pitch counts alone haven't proven to be tremendously effective, but do have a place when implemented alongside guidelines for managing the overall baseball calendar.

There is absolutely no reason for skeletally immature middle and high school baseball players to have longer competitive seasons than professional players.

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The Best of 2015: Baseball Articles

With baseball athletes being the largest segment of the Cressey Sports Performance athletic clientele, it seems only fitting to devote a "Best of 2015" feature to the top baseball posts from last year. Check them out:

1. Common Arm Care Mistakes - Installment 6 - In this article, I talk about how important it is to select arm care exercises that truly appreciate the functional demands placed on the shoulder and elbow during throwing.

2. Changing Baseball Culture: A Call to Action - Physical therapist Eric Schoenberg makes a call to action to step away from four baseball traditions so that we can more easily prevent baseball injuries.

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3. What is a "Big League Body?" - Big leaguers come in all shapes and sizes. Your baseball strength and conditioning programs need to appreciate that.

4. 6 Physical Attributes of Elite Hitters - Here are six physical characteristics that elite hitters seem to share.

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5. Projecting the Development of High School Pitchers -  Cressey Sports Performance Pitching Coordinator Matt Blake shows what a difference a year can make in projecting high school pitchers for college baseball success.

If you're interested in learning more about how we assess, program for, and train baseball players, I'd encourage you to check out one of our Elite Baseball Mentorships. The next course will take place January 17-19, 2016 at our Hudson, MA facility. You can learn more HERE.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 5/18/15

Good morning, everyone. In following with Monday tradition, here are some good strength and conditioning readings to kick off your week:

6 Mistakes Experienced Lifters Make - Ben Bruno was spot-on with his points in this article at T-Nation.

Durability on Decline for Today's Players - This MLB.com feature brings to light some pretty crazy numbers on how injury rates have gone up in professional baseball - both due to change in the game, and how players prepare.

35 Ways to Transform Your Body - As always, the folks at Precision Nutrition come through with practical advice for those looking to improve their nutrition and training programs. Here, they highlight lessons from their most successful clients.

Finally, just a friendly reminder that we're ten days out from the early-bird registration deadline for the Alex Viada seminar at Cressey Sports Performance in Hudson, MA. This will surely be a great event you won't want to miss. You can get more details HERE.

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Changing Baseball Culture: A Call to Action

Today's guest post comes from physical therapist Eric Schoenberg, who is an integral part of the Elite Baseball Mentorships team. Enjoy! -EC

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Baseball is a game of ritual and tradition: lucky socks, pre-game meals, stepping over lines, special handshakes, and on-deck habits are all part of the “rhythm” of the game. Unfortunately, other “old-school” traditions are still the norm when it comes to the management and prevention of injury on the diamond. It is clear that we are moving in the right direction with new technologies and smarter training; however, injuries continue to pile up. A difficult question to answer is: are any of these injuries avoidable or are players already “damaged goods” by the time they get to the professional ranks? Some things are out of our control, but clearly we can do better.

Here are four opportunities for us to make a difference:

1. Identify the signs before there are symptoms.

The best form of treatment is prevention. The best rehab for a pitcher is one that does not exist at all. To support this point, a sign is a warning that something bad is about to happen. Some examples of objective signs in an at-risk pitcher are a decrease in velocity, loss of location/command, and ROM changes. This might be a loss of total glenohumeral ROM, internal rotation, or shoulder flexion; scapular upward rotation; elbow extension; forearm supination; and hip rotation. Or, it may be a significant increase in shoulder external rotation (see here and here for details). Some examples of subjective signs are poor body language, lack of confidence, altered communication, and working slower on the mound – just to name a few. Once a pitcher does become symptomatic, we need to take it seriously. I am not implying that we need to baby our athletes (there is enough of that going on!), but on the flip side, the solution is not to ignore the pain and “pitch through it.” As always, the truth is often found somewhere in the middle. In 15 years, I have yet to come across a pitcher that ended up needing surgery that did not first have signs and symptoms that were either missed or ignored.

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2. There is no such thing as “normal soreness.”

To piggyback on point #1, the expectation is not that a pitcher will be pain-free 100% of the time. That is unrealistic. There is unavoidable stress and tissue breakdown associated with pitching. If there isn’t, my guess is the pitcher is not throwing very hard! However, I would like to make this point loud and clear: There is no such thing as “normal soreness.” By definition, if things were normal, then there would not be soreness (and certainly not pain). To this point, one could argue that throwing a baseball 100x at 85-100MPH is not “normal,” either, so what can we do about it? Let’s follow this rule: if a pitcher presents with pain, tightness, or fatigue in the front of his shoulder or the inside/outside of their elbow or forearm following an outing, then he needs an evaluation and treatment. If a pitcher presents with soreness in their glutes, core, and posterior cuff, then he needs some rest and a pat on the back for a job well done. Remember, just because the pain or soreness is common doesn’t make it right.

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3. One size never fits all.

I can’t think of a situation in baseball (or life) where one approach works for everyone. For example, not every baseball player needs to stretch or “loosen up.” Most players are already too loose or lax and need to gain stiffness and stability with their pre-game routine. They need to warm-up and activate. Yet, at every level, we see teams line up and stretch before games. This robs their bodies of the good stiffness that they have worked to develop in the gym and during the off-season. We need to warm the tissues up and take the body through the appropriate ranges of motion to prepare to play; however, we don’t need to stretch these tissues right before asking them to generate massive amounts of force. For these loose-jointed individuals, throwing, sprinting, and hitting will provide all of the “stretching” that’s needed.

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Another example that needs to be looked at is too many reps of strengthening or band exercises done right before activity on the field. If we don’t want to overstretch an athlete prior to playing, then we certainly don’t want to fatigue them. A fatigued pitcher has a 36x higher chance of getting injured than a non-fatigued pitcher. Let’s save the fatigue for the innings on the field and not with hundreds of band reps or a 50-pitch bullpen session before the 1st pitch is even thrown.

4. Avoid this question.

The worst question you can ever ask a pitcher on a mound visit or in the dugout is “How are you feeling?” This same question is asked every day on fields across the world and yields no valuable information. Any pitcher, at any level, will answer, “I’m good, coach.” If they don’t, they are playing the wrong sport.

Instead of asking this question, we should be using our experience as professionals to make unemotional decisions to best help our players stay healthy for the entire season.

It is our job is to acquire as much information as we can through experience and observation to make the best decision possible with the data that we have at that moment. Players lie. It is a way of showing their competitive spirit to stay in games and try to help their teams win. It’s called adrenaline. It’s not their fault. It is our fault for asking bad questions that have no good answers. The pitcher’s job is to get outs, not to decide what soreness is “normal.” That is what what we get paid to do.

Let’s close by comparing injury management in baseball to one of the world’s most successful companies. Apple talks about avoiding the “sameness trap.” This is the thought that if you ask a consumer what they want, they will tell you to do what other popular companies are doing. Steve Jobs worked to avoid this by not asking his customers what they wanted, but instead, giving them what they didn’t know they needed. So, let’s stop asking the same questions and getting the same generic answers and worked towards continuing to change the culture in baseball and help our athletes get better results.

If you are interested in learning more about our approach to managing baseball athletes, we'd love to see you at one of our Elite Baseball Mentorships.

EBM-Cressey
 

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 2/5/15

I hope everyone's week is going well. It's a bit late, but here is a collection of recommended strength and conditioning reading for the week:

How and Why to Make the Perfect Super Shake - We're big fans of "super shakes" for getting in healthy calories in a convenient way, especially if you're a teenage athlete who hates waking up early for breakfast. Check out this great "how to" infographic on the topic from our friends at Precision Nutrition.

Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers - This is a book I should have read a long time ago, but for some reason, I never got around to it. I'm now halfway through listening to it, and I regret not doing so sooner. It could have made my education regarding stress and the autonomic nervous system a lot more efficient!

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Baseball Injuries: What to Expect in the Next Few Months - Football season is over, so it's time for baseball! Pretty soon, you'll be hearing about how "Player X is on the disabled list with Injury Y." In this article from a while back, I discuss exactly why this is the case. 

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The Best of 2014: Baseball Articles

With baseball athletes being the largest segment of the Cressey Sports Performance athletic clientele, it seems only fitting to devote a "Best of 2014" feature to the top baseball posts from last year. Check them out:

1. No Specialization = National Championship? - I posted this article right after Vanderbilt won the College World Series, and it was my biggest "baseball hit" of the year. There are some great lessons on long-term athletic development in there.

2. 6 Key Qualities for Long-Term Athletic Development - I wrote this post right after 18 Cressey Sports Performance athletes were selected in the 2014 Major League Baseball Draft. As with our #1 baseball post from the year, long-term athletic development was a hot topic!

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3. Are Pitchers Really Getting "Babied?" - Many baseball "traditionalists" insist that pitchers are getting injured because we're babying them in the modern era. I disagree completely, and this article summarizes my thoughts on the subject.

4. Long-Term Success: What You Can Learn from Corey Kluber - Long-time CSP client Corey Kluber won the 2014 American League Cy Young, and a lot of the points I make in this article on his work ethic help to explain why. It was featured on Gabe Kapler's website.

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5. Draft Q&A with Eric Cressey: Part 1 and Part 2 - This two-part article was actually an interview of me for Baseball America. I think it delves into a lot of important topics for up-and-coming players as well as coaches and parents.

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Baseball Injuries: Are Pitchers Really Getting “Babied?”

Today, I want to tackle another argument that gets thrown out there a lot nowadays in the baseball world:

"Pitchers are getting hurt because we're babying them."

Usually, this phrase comes from more of an “old school” coach who simply doesn’t appreciate how substantially the game has changed over the last 20-30 years. Flash back to the 1980s and 1990s, and you’ll see the following differences:

1. Kids weren’t heavily abused with year-round baseball at a young age, so there weren’t as many damaged goods arriving in collegiate and professional baseball.

2. Strength and conditioning was simply non-existent at all levels. As quantifiable proof of this evolution of the game, recent research has shown that the average MLB player’s body weight increased by roughly 12% between 1990 and 2010. Bigger, stronger athletes throw harder – and guys who throw harder get injured more frequently. All those guys who threw 86-90mph in the 1980s would be out of jobs if they played nowadays and didn’t strength train.

3. Video analysis was archaic back then as compared to now. Nowadays, throwers at all levels can optimize mechanics much more easily with the help of technology. Better mechanics should reduce injuries, but we have to realize that optimizing mechanics usually also equates to greater velocity. Efficient movement is efficient movement, so this is likely a “wash” in terms of injury risk.

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4. Travel wasn’t as stressful at the professional level. The game has expanded to include more teams (which equates to more travel) and nastier time zone changes. That wreaks havoc on players more than the typical fan realizes.

5. The season was slightly shorter. This is likely a trivial difference, but with the expansion of the wild card at the MLB level – as well as the World Baseball Classic every few years – the season has been stretched out a bit. Anecdotally, it seems that more and more players are heading out to play winter ball as well.

6. There weren’t nearly as many guys throwing cutters. This pitch isn’t very friendly on the elbow, and it seems like everyone is throwing it nowadays.

7. The pitching side of the game wasn’t as specialized. Nowadays, outside of starters, you have set-up guys, lefty specialists, righty specialists, and closers. It seems counterintuitive, but the more specialized a pitcher you are, the more likely you are to pitch frequently. And, this doesn’t just include getting into games, but also the number of times pitchers throw in the bullpen, but don’t go in the game (a scenario that is not-so-affectionately known as a “dry hump” in professional baseball).

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8. Sports medicine wasn’t as advanced. This is a bit of a leap of faith, but I’d say that modern medicine has made it possible for pitchers at the highest level to throw through a lot more arm discomfort than in previous decades. The anti-inflammatories/analgesics are more powerful and they’re sometimes handed out like candy, so you have a lot of scenarios where minor issues become major injuries over the course of time because they’re masked pharmaceutically.

Take these eight points all together, and you realize that we have taken already damaged pitchers and provided them with tools (strength and conditioning and video analysis) to help them move at greater velocities than ever before, throwing more stressful pitches than ever before – and then pushed them out into a longer and more stressful competitive calendar than ever before – where they pitcher more frequently than ever before. And, sports medicine has trended more toward making it easier for them to push through injuries than preventing injuries in the first place.

How the heck does that equate to us “babying” them?

This is on par with sending an experienced racecar driver out to the Daytona 500 track in a beat-up old lemon and having him drive it as fast as he can for 250 days per year. Would you be surprised if the car broke down, or the driver crashed and was injured? Would you say that the car or driver was “babied?”

Go ahead and let all your starters throw 150 pitches per game, and leave ‘em out there for 300 innings. Dry hump all your relievers until they don’t sit down in the bullpen all season. And, be sure to let me know how it goes.

The current system hasn’t “babied” pitchers; the pitch count and innings restrictions were a response to the dramatic changes to the game that have effectively destroyed the long-term health of pitchers. Look at the velocity drops (and, in some cases, injuries) of CC Sabathia, Tim Lincecum, Josh Beckett, Dan Haren, Mark Buerhle and others who have racked up a lot of innings at a young age. While other players their ages may be able to preserve (or even increase) their velocities, these guys are on the steady downslope. Do you really think the problem is that they haven’t pitched enough?

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This leads to a very important clarification I should make: I’ll agree that pitchers need to throw more – but only if that means they pitch less. In other words, we need to get them away from specificity. We know too much specificity hurts them – and we also know that pitching off the mound generally increases arm stress as compared to flat-ground throwing, especially when that mound work is highly competitive. Whether it’s long toss, weighted balls, flat-ground work, or a combination of all these things, players need to find a way to build or preserve arm speed without the stress of the mound.

On the whole, pitchers aren’t being babied. In fact, in most cases, they’re being pushed more than ever before – and if you just keep pushing, something will always give.

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