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Not-So-Simple Sports Medicine Solutions

Earlier this week, MLB.com writer Lindsay Berra published a new installment in her series on common injuries in professional baseball. This time, she covered the topic of hamstrings strains, and even interviewed Cressey Sports Performance - Florida co-founder Shane Rye for the piece. You can give it a read here.

As a brief background, hamstrings injuries in MLB are already well ahead of 2016 pace, and this article goes into some detail on why these injuries have been so challenging in MLB over the years. The article cites a few reasons:

a) the nature of baseball (stand around for a while, then have to sprint full-bore without a re-warm-up)

b) poor strength and conditioning practices (e.g., lifting too much to the exclusion of actual sprinting and mobility work)

c) muscular imbalances (e.g., poor glute recruitment, quad/hamstrings imbalances, etc)

I'd also add previous injuries as a big risk factor. Many times, it's one player who is reinjuring the same old hamstrings injury to "inflate" league-wide numbers. 

For a while, the solution was to get the hamstrings stronger relative to the quads. Then the answer was to bring an underactive synergist (gluteus maximus) up to par. And, lately everyone has jumped on board the Nordic hamstrings curl bandwagon; they apparently not only help prevent hamstrings strains, but cure cancer, acne, and hemorrhoids - and will even make girls like you. I joke, but it's actually a perfect lead-in to the next point: sports medicine doesn't have a perfect answer to the hamstrings problem in baseball.

Luckily, as with everything in life, the internet has all the solutions. Monday Morning Quarterbacks abound, and all these doctors, rehabilitation specialists, and strength and conditioning professionals really could have just gotten the billion-dollar solution they needed on Twitter.

As an example, when I linked to the aforementioned article on Twitter the other day, one reply was particularly entertaining: 

"Simple fix already seen especially in female soccer training. With the 'best' sports med docs in pro sports crazy it hasn't been corrected."

This response couldn't be further from the truth.

First, comparing males and females is an issue in itself. Females have far more joint laxity, so they're significantly less likely to have "tight" hamstrings (for a variety of reasons) that could potentially be injured. Moreover, male athletes are stronger and more powerful than females, so there are gender-specific differences in the actual forces experienced. The faster you are, the more likely you are to pull a hammy. This is also why we see far more hamstrings strains in baseball than we do in softball even if they're both equally "far behind" in prevention strategies.

Second, soccer and baseball couldn't be more different. Soccer is continuous play for 90 minutes, and as I recall, the average midfielder covers approximately seven miles per game. Baseball games might last four hours, and a player might not cover seven miles in an entire month - and all of it is done at a high percentage of maximum speed. They stand or sit around, and then are expected to sprint full-tilt without much warning. Improving work capacity in soccer players can definitely reduce the risk of injury late in matches, but won't do much in the baseball world because they never really get fatigued; rather, they stiffen up from doing nothing.

Third, the competitive calendar is different. If you look at the Major League Soccer schedule, most clubs play 6-7 matches in June. Major League Baseball teams play this many games each week - and do so with a much more challenging travel schedule. That crazy schedule pushes out a lot of training time, and makes optimizing recovery incredibly difficult.

Fourth - and this is a very subjective, anecdotal observation - baseball players are less likely to take good care of themselves off the field. Major leaguers are far more likely to go out and crush eight beers after a game than the 16-year-old female soccer player that's been positioned atop a pedestal of sports medicine excellence. They also don't test for recreational drugs in 40-man roster players in MLB. Don't you think the guy who went on a bender the night before a doubleheader is more likely to strain his hamstrings than Susie Soccer who still lives with her parents?

I could go on and on about the differences, but I don't think that the point needs to be illustrated any further. Every sport has different physiological, biomechanical, social, and psychological factors that need to be taken into account in the injury prevention battle. Most people on social media can't possibly even come close to fathoming all these different contributing factors.

Now, I'm all for borrowing training ideas from different facets of the sports medicine industry. I've learned a ton from coaches in everything from sprinting, to tennis, to track & field, to powerlifting. Nobody has the perfect solution for your sport-specific problem, though (even though social media might tell you otherwise). Still look to to learn from these other professionals, but critically evaluating everything you come across. 

Above all else, make sure that you're still working hard to get educated in your specific sporting discipline. As an example, it's one reason why I'm going through the American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI) Injuries in Baseball course right now. This resource brings together some of the most renowned surgeons, rehabilitation specialists, and strength and conditioning professionals in the baseball world each year. And, it's on sale for $100 off this week as an introductory discount. If you work with overhead athletes in any capacity, I'd encourage you to look into it. You can check it out HERE.

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A Letter to This Year’s MLB Draft Picks

It’s been over ten years since we first had a Cressey Sports Performance athlete selected in the Major League Baseball. Each year, the number grows – especially since the addition of a FL facility to complement our original MA operation. Over the past four years, exactly 100 athletes have been selected, so the early part of June is always an exciting time around both facilities.

This decade of draft picks has been accompanied by countless hours each off-season interacting with the professional players we train. They range from 1st rounders to 50th rounders. They come from all over the US and abroad. There are both high school and college draft picks – and to all 30 MLB organizations. Several races and ethnicities are represented in the CSP Family, and they come from all sorts of socioeconomic backgrounds. Some of these athletes trained with us as early as middle school, too.

The point is that I’ve seen the draft – and the professional careers that follow – from a variety of angles. In the process, I’ve learned a lot of lessons. If you are fortunate enough have your named called in the next few days – or you know someone who is – consider these ten suggestions.

1. Don’t stop learning.

Signing to play professional baseball serves as either the temporary or permanent halt to formal education. Either high school has ended and you head to the working world, or you’re drafted as you leave college. In many cases, players return to start or finish a college degree at some point. This does not mean, however, that your education has ended – and I’m not just talking about learning about the game of baseball.

Learning is a skill that needs to be refined just like hitting, throwing, and taking ground balls. It’s very easy to detrain the “academic” portion of your mind, and that’s a terrible thing in the 18-22 year-old age range, when your brain is still developing. Don’t get to age 30 and realize that you’ve forgotten how to learn; be a student for life. Read books, listen to audiobooks, watch Ted Talks, attend seminars, take college courses, and ask questions of the smart, experienced players and coaches you meet. Don’t let baseball make you dumb.

As a start, I would recommend Decisive by psychologists Chip and Dan Heath. It’s an invaluable read that will teach you about the decision-making process – especially if you’re on the fence about whether or not to sign. I’ve given it to many of our high school draft picks over the years.

2. Remember that your money is your money.

Last week, in a text message with an agent, he commented to me, “A signing bonus is about so much more than performance.” In other words, teams don’t just pay you for what you’ve done; they pay you because they’re betting on your future. Effectively, they’re investing in you. That money is intended to put you in the best position possible to help them down the road.

That money should be used to make sure you don’t need to have an offseason job. It should cover travel, training, massage therapy, equipment, or whatever else you need to be the best baseball player you can be.

What shouldn’t it go to? The second cousin who wants you to invest in his real estate idea. Or the entourage that thinks you should always pick up the tab for dinner because you’re a “bonus baby.” This leads us to…

3. Invest in yourself and appreciable assets.

I’ll be blunt: that expensive car you want will depreciate 10-20% the second you drive it off the lot. It won’t be a tax deduction, and it sure as heck won’t make you any better at baseball. The same goes for jewelry, boats, tattoos, and a host of other luxuries. Additionally, if you consider a 7% historical rate of return of the stock market, that money would likely double every ten years in the stock market if you were to invest it. So, that $80,000 car at age 20 really was worth $1.28 million at age 60. There's a big opportunity cost to your decision. 

On the other hand, investing in your training, equipment, and education will be tax deductible. The same goes for investing in your retirement.

I always love hearing about players and their agents and financial advisors preparing budgets not only because it creates a sense of fiscal responsibility, but also because I know small hinges swing big doors. If you take a calculated approach to your finances, you’re also far more likely to take a calculated approach to preparing for training and games.

Stop investing in “stuff” and prioritize experiences. Recognize the difference between a “want” and a “need” before it’s too late.

4. Figure out your team.

It’s remarkable how many people come out of the woodwork and want something from you the second you’re drafted. Sure, it probably doesn’t happen to the 39th rounder, but you can bet that there are a lot of people out there looking to take advantage of the 18-year-old kid who became a millionaire overnight. Think long and hard about the people – parents, siblings, coaches, agents, friends, sports medicine professionals – you trust and how they each help you in unique ways. Once you’ve got your team in place, think long and hard any time you bring someone into that circle of trust. Too many cooks in the kitchen can quickly ruin the finished product if they aren’t agreeing on the recipe.

5. Be a better person next week, month, and year than you are today.

It takes hard work to become a draft pick. It takes even harder work to get to the big leagues and make a career out of it. Your work ethic should actually improve when you get to the next level as you’re challenged by better competition and you recognize how hard it is. Sadly, money can change that pursuit of excellence for a lot of players, as that paycheck comes with a lot of distractions. Aim to treat people even better and work even harder than you did before your occupation and bank account changed, especially because there will be more eyes watching you. Think back to the aforementioned team; which one of them will you count on to set you straight when you start straying from the habits that have made you successful in the first place? Tell them now that you expect that honesty from them.

6. Communicate with your families and significant other about what is ahead.

Several years ago, I had a great conversation with the wife of a retired MLB player. They were still happily married well after his career ended. I asked her what she thought the key was to marriages that lasted when it’s well established that a shockingly high percentage of professional baseball marriages end in divorce.

She told me that the secret – in her mind – was for the wife/girlfriend to either have “her own thing” or be “100% invested.” In other words, she had to be able to keep herself busy with her own education, occupation, or charity work. If she didn’t do that, she needed to be 100% invested in the baseball life by helping the player with everything from cooking healthy foods to managing a crazy travel lifestyle (this particular wife had actually learned massage therapy to help). What always failed was the wife or girlfriend who spent the majority of her life harassing the player about how he was at the park too early or late, or complaining that she was bored. I know it sounds harsh, but I’ve seen it over and over again – and I’m really just relating her words, not mine.

I think a big issue is that most players honestly have no idea how hard the professional baseball lifestyle is until they experience it. And, if players don’t understand it, how are players’ families and significant others supposed to understand what to expect and how to act?

Just imagine: you’re 18 years old and just told your girlfriend of four months that you love her because you’ve spent every single minute of the month of June with her. She’s in for a very rude awakening when the only time you can call her is at 2am in the middle a nine-hour bus ride in the Midwest League. And, chances are that you’d rather sleep than talk on the phone, anyway.

I’ll end this point with a story. This offseason, one of our most well-known MLB clients and I got on the topic of vacations. I was surprised to learn that he’s never been to Europe, as he could afford any vacation he’d like. His logic was straightforward: too much missed training time, and too much travel. He’ll get to it when he retires. What are you going to say when a two-week family vacation comes smack dab in the middle of your offseason training program? It’s better to have these conversations now than later.

7. Be an awesome teammate, and learn conflict prevention and resolution strategies.

In professional baseball, you’ll have teammates from all over the world. They’ll speak multiple languages and have all sorts of different tendencies. You’ll hate some of their music and find some of them to be terribly obnoxious. You’ll probably hate your manager, pitching, or hitting coach at some point, too. In many cases, all these frustrations will be magnified by a 14-game losing streak or the fact that everyone is sleep deprived after brutal travel circumstances. Maybe you’ll even be pissed off that your second baseman booted a ground ball behind you. If you pick fights with everyone, though, you’ll have a very short career unless your on-field performance is incredible. Nobody wants to play with or employ a jerk.

Steve Cishek is a long-term CSP athlete and close friend of mine. He’s played for three teams since his MLB debut seven years ago. Everywhere he goes, he creates raving fans because he’s such an awesome teammate and unconditionally positive person. Be like Steve; try to find the good in people instead of chasing down conflict.

To that end, a book I’d recommend on this front would be Legacy. There are some tremendous lessons on leadership and being an awesome teammate. Just read some of the replies to this Instagram post, if you don't believe me.

 

A little reading material for our collegiate baseball development program guys. #leadership #legacy #cspfamily

A post shared by Eric Cressey (@ericcressey) on

8. Be an advocate for yourself.

I know a 100mph+ arm who received close to $1 million in the draft a few years ago. Before he’d even thrown a professional pitch, a minor league pitching coach was trying to overhaul his delivery. He was 6-6 and more of an East-West delivery; they wanted to stand him up tall and bring his arm over the top. Those are massive changes – and it effectively ruined his first three years in pro ball. The results were subpar, and things spiraled out of control because he had 7-8 different pitching coaches all giving him different cues. This happened in part because he was a nice guy who never wanted to be perceived as uncoachable – so he got pulled in many different directions and wound up pleasing nobody, especially himself.

He finally walked in to the minor league pitching coordinator’s office, slammed the door behind him, and demanded to be left alone. He’s been a completely different pitcher ever since.

There will surely be coaches who can help you a ton, and others who will make your life much more challenging. It’s your job to nurture relationships with them so that you can have dialogue about what has and hasn’t worked for you, and how you can work together to get to where you want to be. The best coaches I know never tell players what to do; they facilitate discovery by the player and regularly solicit feedback. And, the best developmental organizations are very meticulous about making sure that clear and consistent messages and cues are related by the entire coaching staff. If you are hearing mixed messages from different people, speak up and get clarification; you will always be your own best coach.

9. Control what you can control.

If you’re a 27th round pick, it’s going to be harder to get to the big leagues than if you were a 1st round pick – even if you have identical numbers to that first rounder. It’s not fair, but it’s the truth. Moreover, regardless of when you’re drafted or how much you’re paid, you probably won’t get promoted as soon as you deserve it. A lot of politics outside your control govern those decisions.

The sooner you recognize that the only things you control are your actions and your attitude, the better. Some accountants get frustrated with their bosses, and some nurses don’t get the promotions they deserve – so you certainly aren’t alone.

10. Develop your coping mechanisms.

If you’re getting drafted, there’s a strong chance that you were one of the best players – if not the best – in the history of your town. Now you’re competing against a bunch of guys who were also the best players in their towns – and you’re adding the best international players. And, you’re going from all the hoopla of the draft directly into the obscurity of minor league baseball. Make no mistake about it: there will be fewer people at your Gulf Coast League back field games than you had at your high school games.

Moreover, it’s only a matter of time until you get your butt handed to you on the field. It might be a golden sombrero as a hitter or giving up seven runs in the first inning as a starting pitcher – but it will happen. And, as Mike Tyson has said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

What’s your plan? How do you cope with failure and make sure that it doesn’t impact your next performance?

I know some guys who read the Bible to “reset.” I know others who play video games. Some call their fathers or high school coaches. Some watch video and take notes on what they learned. Some keep journals. I even know some players that said it was easier to handle the “lows” when they came home to their kids, as opposed to when they didn’t have children.

The game will humble you quickly and test you with physical and psychological challenges that you’ve never considered. I can’t speak to what playing 200 games in 230 days is like, but I can tell you that every player I've met finds it exhausting. I can’t tell you what throwing 200 innings is like, but I’ve trained plenty of guys who’ve given me perspective on just how hard you have to work to be able to do it year-in and year-out. You don’t have to learn all those lessons immediately upon your arrival in pro ball, but the sooner you can start making good decisions, the higher your likelihood of success will be. Good luck!

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 6/6/17

After a crazy few days of travel and lots of college baseball assessments, I had time to pull together a little recommended reading I've covered over the past week.

The Captain Class - I'm about halfway through Sam Walker's great new read. In it, he looks at the factors that impact the most successful teams of all time.

The Bench Press Arch: Why You SHOULD Use It - In light of my blog from earlier this week, Cressey Sports Performance coach Tony Bonvechio went into great depth on the rationale behind arching - whether subtle or more extreme - during bench press technique.  

Gym Owner Musings: Installment #5 - Speaking of CSP, my business partner, Pete Dupuis, pulled together this great collection of thoughts for current or aspiring gym owners. 

Top Tweet of the Week

Top Instagram Post of the Week 

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Are Pitching Mechanics Really That Repeatable?

The 2011 Major League Baseball Draft class was pretty ridiculous. As I recall, it was ranked as the deepest draft since 1986, and the top 20 picks alone produced established big leaguers like Gerrit Cole, Trevor Bauer, Dylan Bundy, Anthony Rendon, Archie Bradley, Francisco Lindor, Javy Baez, George Springer, Jose Fernandez, Sonny Gray, Matt Barnes, and Tyler Anderson. Even just looking a few picks later, you see names like Joe Panik, Jackie Bradley, Jr., Michael Fulmer, and Trevor Story – and these are really only the tip of the iceberg. Mookie Betts was a 5th rounder, Blake Treinen was a 7th rounder, Kyle Hendricks was an 8th rounder, Travis Shaw was a 9th rounder, Cody Allen was a 23rd rounder, and Kevin Pillar was a 32nd rounder.

Interestingly, Massachusetts was ranked as the #5 state in country that year, so Cressey Sports Performance was right in the thick of things. As a result, the spring of 2011 was a big lesson for me in managing highly touted prospects – and it set the stage for our draft classes to grow with each passing year thereafter.

Foremost among these prospects was CSP athlete Tyler Beede, who was committed to Vanderbilt and ultimately wound up turning down a large signing bonus from the Toronto Blue Jays as the 21st overall pick. Three years and a Vanderbilt national championship later, he was a first round pick again, and is currently in AAA with the San Franciso Giants.

This isn’t an article about that draft class, though; it’s about a lesson I learned during the spring of 2011 that applies to every single pitcher on the planet, regardless of age and ability level – and whether they were even close to being drafted in 2011 (or any year).

Ask any Northeast scout, and they’ll tell you that evaluating any New England prospect is incredibly challenging. Talent is very spread out, so it’s difficult for scouts to even geographically get to all the prospects they want to see. Additionally, it’s hard to consistently see good pitchers match up with good hitters to see how they compete on higher stages. Northeast players are also far more likely to be multi-sport athletes than prospects in other parts of the country, so you’re evaluating athleticism and “projectability” more than just baseball competencies.

Moreover, because of weather restrictions, the season can be very short, so a starting pitcher might only have 7-8 starts prior to the draft. Also on the weather front, pitchers peak later as the temperatures warm up. The first 3-4 games of the season are usually played in 40-something-degree weather, and rain (or snow!) might actually push games back a day or two last-minute, throwing off both the players’ and scouts’ schedules.

Getting back to Tyler, he started his season well, pitching at 91-94mph for the first several starts. Typically, the lines were complete games with 14-18 strikeouts, 0-1 walk, and no earned runs. To give you a frame of reference, between his junior and senior years, Ty went 14-1 with a 0.80 ERA with 189 strikeouts in 96.1 innings – pretty much what you’d “expect” from a eventual first-rounder.

Roughly five weeks into the season, Ty had a Wednesday outing on the road. It was early May and probably about 50 degrees. I was a few minutes late getting to the game, and actually arrived right as he was hitting in the top of the 1st. The parking lot was out past center field, and as I was walking in, Ty drilled a ball to the gap and legged out a triple. A batter or two later, the inning ending and he went right out to the mound.

As I settled in on the left field line, I saw a crew of people get out of the car and all set up not far to my left. Like everyone else at the field that day, I quickly recognized one of them as Theo Epstein, who was still with the Red Sox at the time. He seemed to have so many Red Sox scouts with him that I actually joked to my wife that they must have borrowed the magical car from Coolio’s “Fantastic Voyage” video to get them all to the park. They fit in nicely with the 40 scouts and front office guys who were standing behind the plate.

As I recall, that day, Ty threw six innings, struck out 12, and gave up no runs and no walks, with just two hits. One was a double on a ground ball that hit the first base bag, and the other was an infield single. He pitched at 89-90mph most of the game. I might have seen one 91mph fastball. Ty still absolutely dominated overmatched hitters and showed what many people called the best high school changeup in the country, but it was a pretty “blah” outing by his standards. The team won, and we even joked around post-game with Ty and his teammates.

Within a day or two, I had gotten a few texts from scouts. Paraphrasing, they ran the gamut:

“What’s wrong with Beede?”

“Is Beede hurt?”

“Has Beede lost his fire and gotten too comfortable?”

My response was pretty simple: “He’s fine. He’s also 17 years old.”

That Sunday, Ty was in for an in-season lift at the facility. I can distinctly remember our conversation about how – as unfair as it might seem – he would always be held to a different standard than just about everyone else. Expectations of consistency would always be unreasonable, so it was always important to focus on the process and not the outcome. Even Cy Young award winners don’t have their best stuff every time out, but you can’t deviate from the plan for every little hiccup. The secret was to never get too up, and never get too down.

It was in that moment that I think I truly realized that Ty would someday be a big leaguer. Absolutely nothing I said to him came out of left field; he got it.

The next time out, he was back to his old self. A week or two later, in his last start before the draft, he was 93-96mph. He even walked to lead off the game - and then stole 2nd and 3rd as dozens of scouts gasped in terror that a kid with millions of dollars on the line would risk injury. What they didn't seem to realize is that this was all part of being process-driven (competing hard to help the team win) instead of outcome-driven (impressing scouts and getting drafted). Go figure: he led his team to an undefeated season and league championship.

[bctt tweet="Expecting a teenager to consistently perform at a high level each and every week is unrealistic."]

Every geographic climate is different. Every mound is different. Hitting in a week when you’ve had four exams and are sleep deprived won’t be nearly as easy as it is during vacation week. And having the general manager of your favorite MLB team show up to watch you pitch might even impact your performance a bit.

Teenage athletes are still developing physically, emotionally, neurologically, and socially. It’s why I absolutely abhor mock drafts that shuffle players up and down from week to week based on results and – in many cases – feedback from folks who don’t have the knowledge of physiological and psychological variability to even make valid estimations in this regard. 

And, don’t even get me started on companies that are ranking eighth graders ahead of their peers just because puberty kicked in early and their parents are misinformed enough to shuttle them around to showcases all across the country when they should be preparing their bodies for what’s ahead – and enjoying their childhood. 

This entire experience and the countless erratic performances we see from players of all levels - from high school kids who walk the bases loaded to big leaguers who develop "the yips" - has given me a lot of time to think about just how unrealistic some coaches, parents, and fans are in demanding incredible consistency in performance from throwers. If one of the best high school arms in one of the best draft classes in history had up-and-down performances, you can be sure these struggles are going to extend 100-fold to less prepared pitchers.

To further illustrate this point, I did a little digging last week. As I type this, the three hardest throwers in MLB in 2017 have been Aroldis Chapman, Joe Kelly, and Trevor Rosenthal. Modern technology like Trackman can give us a lot more information than just velocity, though. Pitching release point (extension) is one such piece of information that fits in nicely with this discussion. According to a quick look at Statcast reports on the 50 hardest pitches in baseball this year, here is the variance in extension for those three:

Chapman (20 pitches): 6.5 to 7.2 feet

Kelly (9 pitches): 5.7 to 6.5 feet

Rosenthal (4 pitches); 5.5 to 5.9 feet

With a larger sample size - particularly for Kelly and Rosenthal - we'd likely see even bigger gaps. That said, it's important to recognize that a lot of factors can play into this variability. One MLB front office friend of mine commented to me, "There are a lot of park to park variances, so we have to calibrate raw data." Additionally, pitches may be different from the stretch and wind-up, weather factors may impact extension, and accumulated fatigue plays into it as well. And, extension will be different for different pitches - although that likely doesn't factor in here because we're comparing apples (fastballs) with apples (fastballs). The point isn't that any of this data is absolutely, 100% perfectly accurate. Rather, the message that any way you slice it, the three hardest throwers on the planet - some of the guys who theoretically put themselves in the best possible positions to throw the crap out of a baseball - actually deviate a little bit from their "norm" on a very regular basis. "Repeatable" mechanics aren't perfectly repeatable.

Looking further, check out the 2017 Pitch/Fx fastball velocity ranges for these three guys, as per Fangraphs:

Chapman: 95.4-102.1 mph

Kelly: 96.0-102.0 mph

Rosenthal: 95.5-101.7 mph

(we can bank on these "interpretations" of pitches being accurate, as nobody is ripping off 95-96 mph sliders or changeups)

What do these numbers this tell us? Even in the hardest throwers on the planet, there are actually considerably larger variations in pitch-to-pitch mechanics and performance than most folks realize. Every year, the media becomes convinced that a few dozen pitchers in MLB have "lost it"- and invariably, they all figure it out at some point and it all evens out over the course of a season. Remember a few years ago when everyone told us that Justin Verlander was washed up? Yep, he wasn't.

If we were to extend my aforementioned three-pitcher "study" out even further - particularly to a collection of minor league pitchers who haven't had success on par with these three - I'd be willing to bet that we'd see even more considerable variation. And, it'd be huge if we looked at college pitchers, and massive in high school guys (and younger). 

Anyone who has spent time reviewing data from Motus sleeve measurements can attest to this. Even as the accuracy of the readings has improved dramatically and the sleeves have become an incredibly useful tool, the variability from pitch-to-pitch has remained intriguingly high. You'll see different ranges of motion and joint stresses for two of the same pitch thrown 30 seconds apart. 

Where does all this leave us? Well, above all else, I think we can at least appreciate that even in a very specific closed-loop (predictable) action like pitching, there is still at least subtle variance - and this variance becomes even more dramatic as you go from the professional down to the amateur ranks. Sorry, Dad, but your 11-year-old doesn't have "pristine mechanics;" he is just less inconsistent - and likely more physically prepared - than his peers.

Expanding the discussion to higher levels, a thought process that has recently surged among those "in the know" on social media is that velocity and "stuff" are probably even more important than consistently outstanding command (which would theoretically relate to optimally repeating mechanics). This highlight reel of CSP athlete Max Scherzer during his 20-strikeout game last year shows just how many times he missed his spots.

I'm not saying that command isn't important; professional pitchers definitely miss spots a lot less than amateur ones. I'm just saying that all these factors fluctuate more than we appreciate and it's part of that discussion. Interestingly, command is the one of these three factors most impacted by outside factors: umpire interpretation, catcher's receiving, sweaty palms, pretty girls in the stands, and whether Mom is yelling "super job, kiddo!" from the stands.

Expecting teenagers to consistently repeat their mechanics at a high level - particularly during a period of time when their bodies (and brains) are constantly changing - is absolutely absurd. Far more important is preparing their bodies for all the chaos that sports throws at them. This is done with exposure to a wide variety of athletic endeavors in the youth levels, comprehensive strength and conditioning and arm care, and a broad spectrum of throwing challenges (not just mound work!).

That doesn't mean that it will work to just throw a bunch of poop on the wall to see what sticks. This has become a larger issue of late, as countless kids have assumed "throwing with intent" to be "just try to throw hard."

Very simply, here is the most important message I can deliver to any young pitcher:

[bctt tweet="Every throw is a chance to get better or worse."]

Treat every throw like you're playing catch with a Cy Young award winner and want to leave a favorable impression in terms of your attention to detail. Don't give up any throws. Even as a teenager - and regardless of who his throwing partner was - Tyler Beede tuned out the world every time he picked up a ball. He was always working on improving or refining something. It's almost like he understood that inconsistency could always sneak up on a pitcher in the blink of an eye, and he wanted to stay ahead of it. Ty didn't become a two-time first rounder or #1 organization prospect by accident. 

Really, more importantly, the take-home message is to be patient with young athletes and pitching success. Practice consistently and train to handle all everything the sport might throw at them. Still, though, remember that some of the best in the world struggle to consistently repeat their mechanics, so you can probably cut that 17-year-old some slack when he throws a 97 mph fastball to the backstop in an All-American game. And, your 11-year-olds can still have post-game ice cream even if they walk seven batters in three innings of work. Being consistent with anything in athletics is challenging, but if you focus on processes instead of outcomes, you'll never be disappointed.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 5/22/17

I hope you all had a great weekend. I turned 36 on Saturday, and it was a pretty mellow, unremarkable birthday - which is exactly what I wanted! Here's a little recommended reading/listening/viewing for you to kick off the week:

Lat Injuries in Major League Baseball - Here's an article from Lindsay Berra on an injury on the rise in MLB. I chipped in some info on the function of the lats in throwing.  

EC on The Fit Clique Podcast - I hopped on Chris Doherty's podcast last week, and you can check it out on YouTube:

Business Bench Pressing with Pete Dupuis - Speaking of podcast, my business partner, Pete, shared some great business tips for fitness professionals on The Fitcast a few weeks ago.

How Harmful Are Processed Foods? - The Examine.com crew has been on a roll with great content lately; here's another example.

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Video: Active vs. Passive Hip Extension

Here's a video I just filmed that talked about how important appropriate hip extension is to the pitching delivery. While the video is addressed more to pitchers, the general lessons are applicable to all athletes whose sports involve hip extension (particularly if it's hip extension past neutral). Check it out:

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 5/3/17

After surviving last week's sale, I took a quick blog hiatus to get my feet underneath me. I'll have some new content posted later in the week, but in the meantime, here's with some recommended reading.

Pitching Injuries: Should Lat Strains Even Be Happening? - In light of Noah Syndergaard's lat injury this week, this article of mine from last year got a lot of traffic (and I received lots of emails and social media outreach). This one's a whopper, so have a cup of coffee ready to help get you through it.

The Hardest Topic to Write About: Program Design - My old friend Tony Gentilcore did an excellent job tackling a complex topic. I'd highly recommend you give this a thorough read to appreciate just how daunting a task it is to write about program design.

The Stop & Give Me 20 Podcast - I hopped on a 20-minute podcast interview with Anthony Renna a few weeks ago, and you can listen to it here. I really enjoyed it because it wasn't the same 10 questions that ever podcast interviewer seems to ask!

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The Phenomenon: A Must-Read for Baseball Players, Coaches, Parents, and Fans

Back on a busy day in the fall of 2015 at Cressey Sports Performance - Florida, I looked over and saw a "huddle" of our professional baseball players standing by the entrance to the gym in the middle of their training sessions. The music was pumping and there was a great training energy, so it had to be something good that had caught their attention. I was coaching on the other side of the gym, so I let my business partner, Brian, check it out. 

A bit later, Brian walked back over, and I asked him what was up. "Rick Ankiel stopped by."

"Oh yeah?" Immediately, my brain went in a few different directions. I remembered that he was traded for long-time CSP client Tim Collins in 2010. I thought of some of the ridiculous throws Rick had made from the outfield during his "second" MLB career. I thought of how insane it was that he made it back to the big leagues as a hitter after his pitching career was cut short.

And, of course, I thought of how he'd been arguably the most storied case of "the yips" in my lifetime.

Before I could answer Brian in any more detail, though, I was cut off by one of our minor league guys.

"Rick's the man. He's helped me so much."

As it turned out, he had another role of which I wasn't aware. A year after his retirement, the Washington Nationals had hired him as a Life Skills Coordinator. There were a few Nationals players at the facility that day, and all of them raved about him.

As luck would have it, Rick lives in Jupiter, and he became a familiar face around the facility. It didn't take long for me to realize why all the guys were singing his praises. Rick's an awesome dude who is always smiling and has loads of great stories to tell. I joked that he's like the governor in a room full of baseball players, doling out fist bumps to minor leaguers and a bear hug to Max Scherzer. Just as importantly, though, Rick has a tremendous amount of wisdom to share - and the perfect demeanor for delivering impactful messages. 

Rick and his wife Lory have become friends - and even neighbors - of ours. Our kids were at an Easter egg hunt with their kids on Saturday, and Lory has passed along school recommendations for my wife. Last month, Rick was kind enough to meet up with one of our high school pitchers who was struggling with command issues. The only guy in Major League Baseball history besides Babe Ruth to have 10 wins on the mound and 50 home runs at the plate is the most down-to-Earth person you'll ever meet. And, he's remained unconditionally positive in spite of a very tough childhood.

Where am I going with all of this? The yips don't discriminate. It doesn't matter if you're the nicest guy on the planet, the toughest guy in the locker room, the hardest working guy in the organization, or a remarkable athlete destined for success.

Now, many years later, Rick is opening up about what he went through in his awesome new book, The Phenomenon. It was released today, but I was fortunate to get to read through it ahead of time. It's absolutely fantastic.

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Baseball players, coaches, parents, and fans will all appreciate this book.

It's a powerful story with a great reminder that baseball is a challenging game of millimeters that can humble even the best players very quickly. It's also proof that fans rarely have any idea what the athletes they see on TV are going through.

The term "must-read" gets thrown around all too often nowadays, but in this case, I really think it holds water. If you appreciate baseball in any way, you'll enjoy this book. You can pick it up HERE.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 4/13/17

I hope you're all having a great week. I'm a few days late with posting this because we were a bit more content heavy earlier in the week, but the good news is that it gave me a few more days to round up some excellent content for you.

Kabuki Strength Chat with Eric Cressey - I joined Chris Duffin and the rest of the Kabuki Strength crew for a podcast last week. We talked baseball strength and conditioning, business development, and fitness industry trends. Check it out!

STEM-Talk with Dr. Stuart McGill - Any podcast with Stu is a must-listen podcast! This one doesn't disappoint - and I particularly enjoyed his commentary on the flawed medical model as it relates to treating lower back pain. 

It Took Me 10 Years to Become an Overnight Success - This was an excellent post from my business partner, Pete Dupuis. He shares some awesome insights on little things that can lead to long-term success - if you're patient.

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8 Takeaways From Complete Sports Conditioning

I've spent the early part of the week working my way through Mike Boyle's new resource, Complete Sports Conditioning. To say that I've been impressed has been an understatement, as it's a fantastic resource that offers a nice blend of research, anecdotal observations, actual programming recommendations for those who need to manage energy systems development in athletes. It's on sale for $100 off through the end of the day Friday.

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That said, Mike's presentations got me thinking about a variety of conditioning-related topics, so I figure I'd do a bit of a brain dump here to highlight some of my favorite take-home points from this resource. 

1. This quote kicked off Mike's initial presentation on the right foot! 

Using extra conditioning to try to enhance "mental toughness" might yield some benefits in young athletes who have larger windows of adaptation in work capacity - and because just about anything works for untrained athletes. In more experienced athletes, however, throwing in a bunch of extra conditioning usually just leads to increased injury rates - and the realization that it's super challenging to try to take the spots off a leopard.

2. You don't have to be an aerobic rock star; you just have to be good enough.

I deal with a lot of baseball players, and it's important that they have a solid aerobic base. This allows them to bounce back faster between bouts of intense exercise (i.e., throwing 95mph or running to first base) and training sessions. They don't have to have elite aerobic capacity, though.

We've always used a resting heart rate below 60 as our standard for a "sufficient" aerobic base with the baseball guys, and it was good to hear Mike reaffirm this (referencing Dave Tenney of the Seattle Sounders).

Honestly, most guys show up at the start of the offseason with a sufficient aerobic base (via this measure) because it's something that is relatively easy to maintain once established. As Mike noted, “You can get ten minutes of aerobic work with a good warm-up.”

And, as I noted in Building Aerobic Capacity with Mobility Circuits, we will do exactly that (albeit with extended warm-ups) with our guys in the first month of the offseason.

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There has definitely been an industry-wide trend of heavily emphasizing aerobic base work - and that's a good thing - but we have to be careful about taking it too far with athletes who have other important qualities they need to train. That said, remember that very low intensity work (below 70% of max heart rate) affords "easy gains" that can promote recovery and help with long-term adaptations to training, so if folks have the time for it, adding a little bit in won't hurt (assuming the modality is appropriate).

3. Appreciate the interaction between biomechanics and physiology.

It's our natural tendency to get "boxed in" based on our specialty. As an example, I'm a shoulder and elbow guy, so I'm naturally going to be drawn to learning more about those joints as opposed to seeking out continuing education on the foot and ankle, even though that's my biggest weakness. It's just like training athletes; they like to do what they're already good at, and as coaches, we need to be cognizant of giving them what they need.

This has parallels in the conditioning discussion. Many coaches will be incredibly physiology driven, meaning they understand the cardiovascular and (possibly) endocrine responses to a given training protocol. However, in my experience, these folks are often the most likely to overlook the biomechanical side of things, and that has an even larger contribution to injury risk in athletes. Mike demonstrated that he's a guy who understands both sides of the equation well. A few key points that stood out:

a. With treadmills, the athlete isn’t creating hip extension. Rather, the belt moving is creating hip extension.

b. Most "traditional" conditioning - all cardio equipment and straight-ahead sprinting - occurs almost exclusively in the sagittal plane, but most sports injuries involve frontal and transverse plane challenges that go uncontrolled. Incorporating slideboards and change-of-direction work like shuttle runs to conditioning programs is imperative to check both the biomechanics and physiology boxes.

c. Rowing might be blast heart rate up, but from a biomechanical standpoint, it can irritate a lot of lower backs and hips. I've even seen folks deal with forearm/elbow overuse issues from adding in extra gripping with rowing on top of their normal lifting programs. It's probably not an awesome conditioning option for team sports athletes.

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d. Shuttle runs are far more intensive than tempo runs because of the deceleration/acceleration components involved with changing direction - but they also allow you to train to prevent injuries better than straight-ahead running (even if heart rates are matched to the tempo approach).

This leads to...

4. Year-round competitive play may have eliminated the need for "conditioning."

When athletes is playing hockey, soccer, basketball, or some other conditioning-heavy sport, they are stressing both the same movement patterns/muscles and the same energy systems. And, if you think extra conditioning is going to help a basketball player who is already playing five games per week, you're sorely mistaken. If you add more in, you're likely going to increase injury risk and lose valuable training time that would be better focused on enhancing other athletic qualities like strength and power. 

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5. Heart rate based training is superior to time-based interval training.

Time-based interval training prescription is very arbitrary, and Mike demonstrated it in real-time with a collection of athletes from different backgrounds performing conditioning on heart rate monitors. When time during the "hard" portion of the interval is matched, athletes will have a lot of variability in how quickly their heart rates recover. A 15s: 45s work: rest ratio might be a piece of cake for one athlete, but absolutely crush another one. 

Cardiac drift - a phenomenon where heart rate will gradually trend upward as a training session progresses - will likely exaggerate this even further. The further up it goes during the "work" period, the further down it'll have to come during the "rest" portion.

The take-home point is that monitoring heart rate allows you to individual conditioning in a way that promotes faster adaptation - and gives you peace of mind that you're actually training what you want to train.

6. Maximum heart rate is highly variable.

At Cressey Sports Performance - Florida, we have a 57-year-old client who is a competitive skisurf (ocean paddling) racer. His max heart rate is 180 beats per minute, which effectively blows the "220 minus age" model for predicting max heart rate out of the water. Mike Boyle is about the same age, and he mentioned that he, too, can get up to the 180bpm mark. 

Conversely, I'm sure there are other folks who can't come close to their age-predicted max heart rate. I'm 35 years old, and I'm not sure that I could touch 185bpm, as I always seem to be an "under responder" when it comes to monitoring heart rate.

The point is that you never know unless you measure it and plan accordingly. Having an idea of both resting and max heart rate is really helpful for planning things out.

7. "If I have young kids, the last thing I am going to be worried about is fitness, and the first thing I’m going to be worried about is fastness."

I loved this quote and absolutely plan to steal it (thanks, Mike). If we are talking about SPORTS conditioning, the faster athlete should theoretically always win, and that's why it's so important to start with speed development. This comes through getting stronger and training power.

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Starting with speed is also particularly important because fatigue is the enemy of motor learning. If we want young athletes to pick up new skills, we can't introduce these challenges with a huge conditioning element that may impede that development. Sure, aerobic exercise offers benefits for motor learning, but as we noted earlier, most young athletes are already getting an "accidental" aerobic stimulus with some of their other training. As the saying goes:

[bctt tweet="Move well before you move a lot."]

If I had to ballpark an age, I'd say that it would be a bad idea to do targeted aerobic work with anyone under 15 years old. Free play and multiple sports is the name of the game up through age 12, and then the 13-15 year-old athlete has remarkable windows of adaptation for strength and power, making this a perfect time to initiate more targeted strength and conditioning work. Specific low-intensity steady state work just gets pushed out because athletes have to be athletic and work on the most pressing growth areas.

Apologies to all the middle school cross country coaches who are reading this!

8. Good conditioning programming is heavily based on common sense.

If you're ever struggling to really appreciate what athletes need, sit back and watch the sport. Appreciate how much ground an athlete covers, how much time is spent at maximum speed, how many changes of direction take place, and how much time he/she spends with the ball/puck. These observations will tell you just as much as researching the energy systems demands.

These are really just a very small tip of the iceberg with respect to what this excellent resource contains, so I'd definitely recommend you check it out for yourself, especially since it's on sale for $100 off through tomorrow (Friday) at midnight. You can check it out HERE

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