Home Posts tagged "Baseball Workouts"

Sports Performance: Study the Majority, and Stop Cherrypicking Exceptions to the Rule

Last week, I Tweeted out the following statistic:  

As can pretty much be expected, this Tweet was met with a thumbs up from frustrated coaches and parents who know a skinny pitcher who could really benefit from weight gain, but still refused to crush calories. That was the 98% of interaction with these numbers.

The other 2% - as can also be expected, after years of social media "exposures" - was people who wanted to disagree. An example:

"Not true. My 6'0 180 pound son throws 93 and threw 90 when he was 5'10 165."

Another:

"So you're encouraging guys to just get fat and they'll throw harder? Why isn't Bartolo the hardest thrower in MLB then?"

In the research world, these exceptions to the rule are called outliers and are nixed from the data set. In the magical world of social media, they are liked, retweeted, celebrated, enshrined, put up on a pedestal - and ultimately almost become the rule. Unfortunately, those who try to replicate the exceptions wind up woefully inferior.

Remember the generation of kids who thought that they could a) abstain from lifting weights and b) go to really up-tempo, cross-body deliveries in hopes of becoming the next Tim Lincecum? With a few exceptions, they become the skinny guys who couldn't throw strikes - or convince anyone to be their catch partners because they were so erratic. And, they really didn't put themselves in great positions to throw hard, in most cases.

Lincecum himself faded as he approached 30 years old, due in part to hip surgery. After a short comeback attempt in 2016, he hasn't pitch in almost 1.5 years and currently sits at 1,682 career innings. Currently, 27 active pitchers have more career innings pitched than that - and only two weigh less than 195 pounds.

This isn't a vilification of Lincecum, either; he recognized he was an outlier and made it work for a successful career that included multiple Cy Youngs and world championships. That's a lot different than the 16-year-old with no track record of success insisting that he can throw 2,000 innings in the big leagues at 140 pounds. That's not backed by demonstrable results or even the slightest bit of logic. Need further proof that you're better off following the masses (pun intended)? 

1. The size of the average MLB player has increased from ~186 to ~210 now (really good analysis here). Not surprisingly, average fastball velocity in MLB has increased dramatically during that same period.

2. Go check out this list of active leaders in innings pitched. Take note of how few are under 200 pounds.

3. Go check out this list of active leaders in Wins Above Replacement (WAR). Take note of how few are under 200 pounds. This guy is eighth on that list (and rapidly climbing). He's 6-3 and 210-215 pounds, but not the "absurdly bulky" many naysayers insist will happen if a 16-year-old kid adds a few hundred calories per day. Max is just big enough to use gravity effectively while remaining athletic.

4. We have loads of studies demonstrating that heavier pitchers throw hard. If you want to pick just a few, use this one and this one. Hopefully, the N=1 Twitter researchers can appreciate that their studies don't have quite as much validity as the peer-reviewed research that is published in the Journal of Biomechanics and Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery.

5. This recent study reported that larger individuals signed professional contracts earlier and made it to the big leagues at a younger age. It also reaffirmed that bigger guys throw harder. Go figure.

6. Go to any powerlifting meet - or simply peruse some records online - and it won't take you long to realize that the heavier guys are the stronger guys. Strength is force. Power is work divided by time. Throwing a baseball is a sport-specific application of power.

Strength is also a foundation for stability: active control of joints. If you lack it, you'll rely more on passive restraints: ligaments, menisci, intervertebral discs, labrum, etc.

If you want to be successful in anything in life - sports, business, education, relationships, you name it - you are better off looking at what has worked for the majority of individuals who have previously been successful.

And, the research, anecdotal evidence, and logic is very much in support of gaining good weight being a wildly effective method for most pitchers to gain velocity, be more successful, and become more durable. You might be the exception to that rule, but chances are that you haven't actually tested the weight gain waters enough to know for sure. Eat up. 

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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training – Installment 29

I didn't get in a May installment of this series, but the good news is that it gave me two months to gather my thoughts for a big June! Here goes...

1. Athleticism is doesn't have to be max effort if you have a strength and power "reserve."

Cressey Sports Performance athlete Logan Morrison is currently second in Major League Baseball in homeruns. I came across this video of #22 on Twitter and it immediately got me thinking:

Hitting bombs in the big leagues - particularly on 95mph sinkers - is really challenging, but that looked absurdly easy. He put some force into the ground, got himself in a good position to succeed, and athleticism "happened."

The only reason this is possible is that he's developed a strength and power "reserve." LoMo is strong - and more importantly, he's a powerful dude. When he throws a medicine ball, in many cases, the entire gym stops and watches because it sounds like he's going to knock the wall down. When you've got a foundation of strength and know how to use it quickly, this kind of easy athleticism happens. It does not, however, happen if you're a) weak or b) strong and not powerful. I'd call LoMo a nice blend on the absolute strength-to-speed continuum.

2. If you're struggling to feel external rotation exercises in the right place, try this quick and easy fix.

One of the reason some throwers struggle to "keep the biceps" quiet during external rotation drills is that they start too close to the end-range for external rotation. A quick strategy to improve this is to simply build a little success in a more internally rotated position. This video goes into more depth:

3. Be cautiously optimistic with new surgical advances.

On a pretty regular basis, we hear about remarkable sports medicine breakthroughs that will revolutionize the way we prevent and treat both acute and chronic diseases and injuries/conditions. Unfortunately, they usually don't live up to the hype. Most of the time, we're talking about a "miracle" supplement or drug, but sometimes, we have to ponder the benefits of a new surgical procedure.

In the mid 1990s, the thermal capsulorrhaphy procedure was introduced to attempt to treat shoulder instability. It gained some momentum in the few years that followed, but the outcomes didn't match the hype in spite of the fact that the initial theory seemed decent (heat can shorten capsular tissues, which would theoretically increase shoulder stability). Failure rates were just too high.

Conversely, in 1974, Dr. Frank Jobe revolutionized the way elbow pain was treated in baseball pitchers - and saved a lot of careers - when he performed the first successful ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction (better known as Tommy John Surgery). More than 1/4 of MLB pitchers have had Tommy John, so you could say that this procedure revolutionized sports medicine even though it's taken decades to fine-tune it.

More recently, a new surgery - the UCL repair with internal brace -  has been gaining some steam as an alternative to Tommy John surgery. The initial results have been very promising, particularly in situations where the patient is a good match (depending on age, activity level, and location and extent of the UCL tear). I've actually seen two of these surgeries in the past week myself. One pitcher (Seth Maness) was able to successfully return to the Major Leagues after having it - but we still have a long way to go to determine if it might someday dramatically reduce the number of Tommy John surgeries that take place. Why? 

Right now, we only have statistics on a limited number of these cases, and they're usually in the high school and college realms. All that is reported on is return to previous level of competition (e.g., varsity baseball). We don't know whether a kid that has it at age 16 is still thriving with a healthy elbow at age 22 during his senior year of college.

Additionally, Seth Maness has really been an 88-90mph pitcher throughout his MLB career. We don't know if this same level of success will be seen with 95-100mph flamethrowers. 

Dr. Jeffrey Dugas has become known as "the guy" when it comes to these procedures, and I loved the fact that he reiterated "cautious optimism" in his webinar at the American Sports Medicine Institute Injuries in Baseball course earlier this year. If this gets rolled out too quickly and in the wrong populations, the failure rate could be significantly higher and give an otherwise effective surgery a bad name.  I think it's important for all of us to stay on top of sports medicine research to make sure we don't miss out on these advancements, but also so that we know to be informed consumers so that we don't jump behind new innovations without having all the information we need.

Speaking of the ASMI Injuries in Baseball Course, it's on sale for $100 off through this Sunday, June 24, at midnight. I've enjoyed going through this collection of webinars, and I'm sure you will, too. 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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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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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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Overlooked Uses for a J-Band – Part 2

It's time for part 2 of "things you aren't doing - but SHOULD be doing - with a Jaeger Band." In case you missed it, be sure to check out Part 1, too. Also, be sure to pick up a J-Band HEREif you haven't already done so.

Without further ado, here are five more exercises to try with the oh-so-versatile J-Bands!

6. Core-Engaged Dead Bugs

In this core stability drill, we use the tension from the band to build some extra core stiffness to resist lumbar extension (lower back arching) and (to a lesser extension) rotation during leg lowering. Add a big exhale at the bottom to fire up the anterior core and reaffirm good positioning.

7. J-Band Assisted Leg Lowering

This builds on our previous drill from a core stability challenge standpoint (straight leg is harder than bent-knee), but also helps individuals improve their hip mobility. Make sure to double up the band to get sufficient resistance, - and don't do this with cleats on!

8. J-Band Assisted Quadruped Band-Assisted Thoracic Rotation

Here's a Functional Movement Systems inspired drill we'll use with those athletes who have very limited active thoracic mobility into extension. In other words, they passively rotate well (with the assistance of the assessor), but can't get to that same range of motion actively. The band assistance reduces the gravity challenge against which an individual has to extend and rotate.

9. Band-Assisted Overhead Squat

I've traditionally done this drill with a TRX, but one day, I had an athlete try using the J-Band on the road when he didn't have a TRX handy. His immediate response was that it was "frying" his lower traps. Maintaining continuous tension in scapular posterior tilt and thoracic extension really takes this squat pattern assistance drill up a notch. 

10. Side Bridge with Horizontal Abduction

Once an individual gets a solid feel for arm care, I'm all for integrating core stability with scapular control and rotator cuff challenges. This is one advanced progression along those lines. I say "advanced" because many individuals struggle to get a true "T" positioning on horizontal abduction; instead, they'll yank down with the lats (more on that HERE). That said, I recommend athletes perform this on video or with a coach watching the first time, as they'll usually be in the wrong pattern. The goal is 90 degrees of arm elevation, and you should feel this predominantly in the mid-traps.  

That wraps up this two-part series - but it's certainly just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to innovative exercises you can integrate with a versatile piece of equipment like Jaeger Bands. With that in mind, if you don't already have a set in your training bag, I'd highly recommend you pick up a J-Band. Your arm - and the rest of your body - will thank you for the investment!

jBands

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 11/14/16

It's been a crazy weekend of travel, as we wrapped up this year's Area Code Training Camps tour with events in Oakland and Los Angeles on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. I'm sorry to say that things were a bit too crazy to get a new blog posted last week, but we'll make up for it with some new content this week. With that said, let's start off with some recommended reading to kick off the week:

#30DaysOfArmCare - This is a new series I just started up now that the MLB offseason is in full swing. Starting today,  I'll be posting a new arm care video tutorial each day for the next month. You can follow along using this hashtag on either Twitter or Instagram

cxlxznjucaai7dh

6 Tips for Writing Better Conditioning Programs - This post from Mike Robertson is pure gold - and I love the fact that Mike isn't shy about reflecting on his previous mistakes and what he learned from them.

Metabolic Cooking - I've long been a fan of this great cookbook from Dave Ruel, and it's currently on sale at an all-time low price of $10. That's an unreal price to get a bunch of recipes you'll use for many years to come.

Top Tweet of the Week

Top Instagram Post of the Week

 

535x3 isn't a PR, but I feel like every deadlift video helps to drown out the political posts on social media. #cspfamily

A video posted by Eric Cressey (@ericcressey) on

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Rhythmic Stabilizations: Where Should You “Feel” Them?

Earlier this week, I received the following question, and thought it would make for some good video content:

Q: I've been training a couple college guys this month before they go back to school and I had a few questions regarding rhythmic stabilizations. I started implementing them with my pitchers recently and they say they don't feel anything. Should they be? Is there any extra coaching points I'm missing here? Thanks for your time.

A: This video!

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Professional Development: Processes vs. Outcomes

I'm out in Long Beach, CA for my fifth annual trip to the New Balance Area Code Games.  Now in its 30th year, this event brings together the top 230 high school baseball players in the country. Friday night, I spoke as part of the opening ceremonies.

IMG_5411

I wanted to be succinct with my message, and with that in mind, I chose to emphasize the importance of differentiating between processes and outcomes. This is something I try to hammer home with all our in-person athletes at Cressey Sports Performance, but I feel it's an important differentiation for all players to make.  

An outcome is - for lack of a better term - a result. It's going 4-for-4 at the plate, getting selected for an all-star team, or getting an "A" on a final exam. It may also be negative: going 0-for-4, getting left off the team, or flunking that final exam. There is never growth in an outcome alone; it's just something that happens after all the work is done. Unfortunately, it's been my experience that far too many people - and particularly young athletes who have had considerable success at a young age - become very outcome-oriented. They devote too much time and energy to celebrating their successes instead of recognizing the processes that got them to that end (good or bad).

Conversely, a process constitutes all the habits and actions that lead to an outcome. It's the hours you spent in the cage fine-tuning your swing before those four at-bats. It's your efforts and attitude that predated that all-star selection decision. And, it's your study habits that culminated in your final exam preparedness (or lack thereof).

[bctt tweet="There is growth in every process, but not in ANY outcome."]

Not surprisingly, there's evidence to suggest that outcome-oriented parenting is an inferior approach to process-oriented parenting. You're far better off praising efforts than you are outcomes, because it's those efforts that remind your kid to bust his or her butt in everything the future holds. Your work ethic and demeanor from tee ball can sustain for decades to help you in your job as an accountant when tax season is upon you, but don't expect your 20-year-old trophies to help you out when the going gets tough in adulthood. 

Interestingly, though, this message actually has significant parallels to some conversations I had with respect to the fitness industry just last weekend, when I delivered a shoulder seminar to a room of 105 trainers, strength and conditioning coaches, and rehabilitation specialists in Chicago.

shouldercourse

At the conclusion of the event, I had several young trainers inquire about how I wound up where I am. In fact, one even asked, "What do I need to do to be you in ten years?" I always find these inquiries challenging to answer because I rarely reflect on success, and frankly don't consider myself successful because it's too early in my career (age 35) to determine that. Perhaps more significantly, though, I can't vividly describe where I plan to be in five (let alone ten) years. If I can't be sure of exactly where I'm headed, who am I to tell an up-and-coming fitness professional how he should get to where he thinks he wants to be a decade from now?

With that in mind, my answer is usually necessarily vague: 

[bctt tweet="Embrace processes, but let outcomes take care of themselves."]

The problem is that the fitness industry is unique in that none of these processes are clearly defined. In other words, there is no strict foundation upon which a large body of work in the field is entirely based. There aren't many industries like this.

For example, my wife is an optometrist, and she had four years of undergraduate education, followed by four years of optometry school (including clinical rotations), and then board exams before she could become a doctor. There was a set curriculum, and then measures to determine competency in the areas emphasized in that curriculum. And, even after that proficiency was established, Anna did an additional year of residency where she specialized in cornea and contact lens. You can't just declare yourself an optometrist one day and start a career - but individuals do that all the time in personal training because the barrier to entry is completely non-existent.

So, how do we take this lesson and apply it to our fitness professionals who really want to be great? I think the first step is to heavily emphasize a minimum standard of education: a foundation upon which a career can be built.

While the skill sets needed to be a successful NFL strength and conditioning coach are obviously different than what one would need to do cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation in a clinical exercise physiology setting, there are surely many commonalities across these domains (and everything in between). Here are a few things I think everyone in the fitness field needs to know to create a solid foundation:

1. Anatomy, Kinesiology, and Biomechanics - Structure dictates function, and you have to know what good movement (function) is before you can structure a program to create, preserve, or reestablish it.

2. Physiology - I'm not saying that you need to be able to recite the Krebs cycle by heart, but you should have a clear understanding of energy systems development, the endocrine response to exercise, how various disease states impact exercise, the role of various medications your clients may be taking and a host of other physiological considerations.

3. Coaching Approaches - I'll be blunt: I don't think that anyone should be allowed to train someone unless they've first completed internships under multiple other credentialed coaches. Massage therapists need to complete hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of hours before they can go out on their own, and I'd argue that a bad fitness professional can hurt people a lot faster than a bad massage therapist. Good coaches understand how to not only deliver effective coaching cues, but also do so in the most efficient manner possible. The only way to get to this point is to get out and coach individuals from all walks of life - and then fine-tune when things don't work the way you expected.

4. Interpersonal relations - I've always been surprised at how little formal training in psychology the aspiring fitness professional gets in the typical exercise science curriculum. And, honestly, I think that the psychology lessons taught in a classroom by a "typical" college PhD (and I don't mean that disparagingly at all) are likely a lot different than ones you might learn from successful personal trainers who've had clients for decades, or strength and conditioning coaches who've thrived in college weight rooms for generations. Motivation is a very complex topic. Multiple times in my career, I've had a client walk in and start the session with (paraphrased), "So, I'm getting a divorce." Maybe deciding between a reverse lunge and Bulgarian split squat just became a little secondary?

What These Meant for Me

As I look at these four foundational educational processes, I feel like I was really well prepared on both #1 and #2 when I entered the industry. Having a class in gross anatomy during my undergraduate experience was a game-changer, and I was also fortunate to have some excellent kinesiology, biomechanics, and exercise physiology professors that went above and beyond simple memorization challenges.

Early on, though, I struggled with my coaching approaches. I spoke too quickly, blurted out too many cues, and likely confused a lot of athletes. It wasn't until I got to watch some great coaches at the University of Connecticut do their thing that I learned to be more clear and concise, and make the complex seem simple for our athletes.

Interpersonal relations seemed to come more naturally to me, likely because I worked at a tennis club for eight summers while I was growing up; I was constantly interacting with members across multiple age groups. However, this has actually been my biggest area of study over the past 3-4 years (particularly because I now have employees), and I always have an audiobook in progress with respect to leadership, communication, motivation, and related areas.  

What These Mean for You

Everyone in the fitness field has unique preparation. Some folks are very good technical coaches, but not great communicators. Some trainers have a knack for making movements look good even if they don't know the exact anatomy governing that clean movement. Some professionals have delivered outstanding results even if they can't explain the underlying physiological changes that occurred. These successes (outcomes) don't mean that they shouldn't constantly be seeking out ways to improve (processes), so I'd encourage you to do a "self audit" to determine your biggest growth areas.

You can shore up a lot of these knowledge gaps with books, DVDs, and online mentorship programs, but I'm of the belief that the fastest way to learn will always be in-person, as you can pick up information on all four components and see how the fit together. Internships and mentorships are phenomenal in this regard; there is real-time application and feedback. Seminars are also be fantastic, particularly when you have both lecture and practical (hands-on) components.

Cressey scapula

Speaking of seminars, we just announced the lineup for our 5th annual Cressey Sports Performance fall seminar in Massachusetts. It's September 25th, with an early-bird registration deadline of August 25. For more information, click here. Hope to see you there!

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Pitching Injuries: Should Lat Strains Even Be Happening?

Last week, I came across a meta-analysis that examined the existing body of research on latissimus dorsi and teres major strains in professional baseball pitchers. While the collective sample size was small (30 total athletes), one resounding theme was present:

Lat strains can be pain in the butt to rehabilitate.

In these studies, 29 pitchers were managed conservatively, while one pitcher required surgery for the issue. In the conservative group, the average return-to-pitching timeline was 100 days, whereas the surgical case was 140 days." Perhaps of more significance, though, the researchers noted that "five patients in the conservative group suffered from complications and/or setbacks during their treatment and rehabilitation."

We have to keep the sample sizes in these studies in mind, too. They haven't had a large pool from which to draw, and many researchers might not appreciate how different "return-to-pitching" is than "feeling like your old self." The general consensus among guys I know who have had the surgery seems to be that it's 8-10 months before you're back to feeling 100% in games. 

Let's face it: if you're missing 3.5-5 months with an injury - and adding even more time to get back to 100% - you might as well just cash in an entire season. That's not only a lot of money wasted on disabled list time at the Major League level, but also a lot of lost developmental time in the minor league ranks.

To make matters worse, the rehabilitation process can be delayed because lat strain diagnoses can be somewhat challenging. According to Dr. Leon Scott, a sports medicine physician and Assistant Professor of Orthopaedics & Rehabilitation at Vanderbilt University, "Because lat strain diagnoses aren't all that simple to make, especially if a physician’s exam is limited and relies heavily on an MRI, they are often a missed diagnosis. A standard MRI may not be distal enough to capture the area of injury. Arthrogram images are an even smaller field, leading to a missed diagnosis." He also notes that in one acute lat injury he saw in the past, "With a wide field shoulder MRI, there was acute edema, hematoma seen at the bone-tendon interface. It was hard to miss." In short, ordering physicians may be trying to use a narrow imaging technique for a shoulder injury when they should be painting with a broader brush that would also pick up an upper arm injury.

 Latissimus_dorsi_muscle_animation

 Source: By Anatomography (en:Anatomography (setting page of this image)) [CC BY-SA 2.1 jp (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.1/jp/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

One professional player I saw struggled with getting a definitive diagnosis that his lat strain needed surgery for two years. At first, they suspected his anterior shoulder pain was occurring because of a labral tear, but a labral "clean-up" surgery didn't change his symptoms. Perhaps more interesting, though, the surgeon didn't even see the lat tear while he was doing the arthroscopic intervention. Five months later, another surgeon went in to repair the lat - which was actually significantly detached from the bone.

The first take-home message here is that if you're a thrower and you have shoulder pain, you need to make sure that you see a sports medicine physician who sees a lot of throwing injuries. A lat strain can be a tricky diagnosis, and even the most well-intentioned physicians may not know to look for it. This is especially because it often presents as pain in the front of the shoulder, in the event of a tendinous injury. You can see this clearly demonstrated by the attachment points in the image above, but I'll take more about this later when we get to functional anatomy.

As I pondered the research article and actually discussed it with a few of my staff members, I realized that we have literally never had a lat strain happen with one of our regular clients at Cressey Sports Performance - and we see a lot of pitchers. I say this not to brag (or jinx us), but rather to just bring to light that success leaves clues - which I'll also get to later on in this article.

That said, I should note that my ideas in this article also draw heavily on our experiences working with a lot of frustrated pitchers who have come to work with us after the injury has occurred because they need help bouncing back. Failures (in this case, injuries) also leave clues.

Before we get to all these observations and potential countermeasures to prevent lat strains, I think it's incredibly important to discuss the functional anatomy of the latissimus dorsi and teres major. And, as an extension, we'll discuss how this functional anatomy understanding needs to be put alongside biomechanics research and anecdotal observations of injured athletes to pull together a hypothesis for the "perfect storm" of lat injury risk.

Functional Anatomy

The latissimus dorsi is a big muscle with huge functional implications.

Latissimus_dorsi

It attaches on the thoracolumbar fascia (lower back) and runs all the way up to the intertubercular groove of the humerus (front of the upper arm). This is why it has to be considered as a differential diagnosis for anterior shoulder pain in throwers - alongside everything from biceps and rotator cuff tendinopathy or tears, to labral injuries, to anterior capsule injuries, to thoracic outlet syndrome.

As an interesting aside, there are a number of anatomical variants present along this lengthy anatomical course. In a small percentage of people, the lat actually attaches on the ilium (top of the pelvis). In just under half of individuals, it has a direct attachment on the scapula. The number of costal (rib) and vertebral attachments also varies from person to person.

Everyone knows about the functions of the lat at the shoulder - extension, adduction, internal rotation, and horizontal abduction - but in consideration of this expansive functional anatomy profile, we have to appreciate that it has several other key roles to consider.

Lat is a key core stabilizer - to the point that it can be heavily overused and pull athletes into a "gross extension" pattern. Notice the big anterior pelvis tilt and lordosis here - but also take note of the position of humeral extension (and the indirect effects on forward head posture).

Ext4

Given its attachment on the scapula in some individuals - and the indirect impacts of "crossing" the scapular region - the lat also contributes to scapular depression. 

Finally, it's been theorized that an aberrant, extension-biased posture would interfere with optimal diaphragmatic function (via loss of the zone of apposition). Because the lat is also an accessory respiratory (inhalation) muscle, you could say that it has to pick up the slack for a problem it actually helps create! My favorable experiences with the Postural Restoration Institute and my own anecdotal observations definitely support this theory.

Zone-of-Apposition-300x220

Source: www.PosturalRestoration.com

For all intents and purposes, you can view teres major as a "mini-lat." It shares the same scapula-to-humerus functional relationship and actions, but doesn't impact the rib cage or lumbar spine directly.

 

Teres_major

 

Implications for Throwers

By appreciating the functional anatomy of the lat, we can recognize just how vital it is to throwing a baseball hard. In short, it connects the lower body to the upper body to allow for force transfer that ultimately leads to arm speed and ball velocity.

Not surprisingly, a 1987 study from Gowan et al. observed that lat recruitment during the acceleration phase of throwing was substantially higher in professional pitchers than in amateurs. Not surprisingly, experienced, accomplished athletes know how to use big-boy muscles (prime movers) to do big-boy jobs (accelerate the arm, which is the fastest motion in all of sports). The amateur pitchers actually continued to heavily rely on smaller, stabilizing muscles - the rotator cuff, biceps, and posterior deltoid - during acceleration. That's not a safe or effective long-term strategy.  

This is likely why we rarely see lat strains in younger athletes; you probably have to throw 90mph+ to effectively "use" the lat, and muscles that don't get used usually don't get strained. The younger kids are more likely to have rotator cuff pain, irritation of the long head of the biceps tendon, or proximal humeral growth plate issues.

There's a bit more to "lat overuse" than just the acceleration phase of throwing, though. During the lay-back (extreme cocking, or maximum external rotation) portion of throwing, the lat and teres major are two of several muscles (including notables like subscapularis pectoralis major) that are working eccentrically to prevent the humerus (upper arm) from flying off the body.

layback

This eccentric pre-stretch also helps to store elastic energy that is subsequently released during the acceleration phase to create ball velocity. Most muscle strains occur - whether it's acutely or chronically - as muscles and tendons are stretched during the eccentric phase of activity. Hamstrings strains usually occur at the terminal swing phase of sprinting. Middle-aged men rupture Achilles tendons when they land on dorsiflexed ankles - where the calves are maximally stretched. The lats and teres major are the most overstretched at this lay-back phase of throwing.

On a chronic note, repeated exposures to aggressive eccentric stress can lead to muscle shortening. Reinold et al (2012) demonstrated this with respect to elbow extension and shoulder internal rotation. My experience has been that pitchers who trend toward the "tight" end of the continuum also lose shoulder flexion and "true" external rotation over the course of the season. As I describe in the video below, this is very likely related to stiffness or shortness in the lats - and the research has demonstrated that it is associated with an increased risk of elbow injuries in pitchers.

Beyond just the specific roles of the lats during the throwing motion, we have to also appreciate that they're heavily overused during daily life because of their roles as core stabilizers and accessory respiratory muscles. And, given that we don't spend a lot of time in our daily lives with our arms overhead and shoulders externally rotated, they aren't afforded a whole lot of length throughout the day. Take a chronically shortened muscle, overuse it, and then throw it into the fastest motion in all of sports, and you've got a recipe for strains. However, you can't throw hard without it. Hence, this Tweet from me a few years ago:

 

Why Do These Injuries Take So Long to Heal?

Having established the injury mechanisms, it's important to also consider why lat strains in throwers take so long to rehabilitate. I see four primary reasons that differentiate lat strains from just "any other muscle strain:"

First, as we noted earlier, early diagnosis may not happen. This can occur because the athlete just ignores the issue as normal soreness, or they manage it as "biceps tendonitis." Or, a physician may not recognize that a lat injury could create anterior shoulder symptoms. Finally, a typical MRI might just miss the injury altogether. All these factors can potentially lead athletes down the wrong rehabilitation path.

Second, my experience has been that many of these injuries are far more chronic than they are traumatic. More often than not, when you dig deeper into the history of a pitcher who has a lat strain, he's thrown through some kind of extended soreness/discomfort for weeks, months, or years. Eventually, it becomes too much to stand and begins to significantly interfere with pitching performance. Given that the issue developed over an extended period of time, it isn't going to go away overnight. 

Third, as I discussed in my functional anatomy musings earlier, the lats are heavily involved in multiple planes of motion. I've theorized in the past about how muscles that play crucial roles in multiple plans are more likely to be stubborn rehabilitation projects:

Pull a quad (rectus femoris), and you’ll usually bounce back really quickly. Pull an oblique and it’s much more stubborn. What’s the difference? The rectus femoris is really all about the sagittal plane, whereas the obliques have a big role in controlling excessive motion in the sagittal, frontal, and transverse planes. The more complex the job of the muscle, the more significant the injury – and the longer the rehab. Hamstrings have roles outside the sagittal plane and can be equally stubborn, too.

Fourth, the proximal humerus (upper arm) area really seems to scar down faster than almost any other region in the body - and this is particularly true of throwing shoulders because of the eccentric stress pitchers encounter. There are 17 muscles that attach to the scapula, and most of these structures cross the glenohumeral (ball-and-socket) joint. Perhaps more significantly, eight of these tendons attach in close proximity to the insertion of the latissimus dorsi and teres major. Throw eight tendons in a very small area that experiences a lot of eccentric stress, and you'll wind up with a gritty, fibrotic mess eventually.

Injury Risks

Whether it's a chronic or traumatic onset lat issue in a pitcher, one theme always seems to hold true: symptoms emerge after a dramatic increase in throwing stress.

On multiple occasions, I've seen lat strains that have come about because a reliever pitcher was moved into the starting rotation without a gradual increase in pitch count. 

In other instances, the lat got cranky after a big velocity jump in a single off-season. This is usually the case in a high school kid who jumps from 84 to 94mph in a single winter. As my friend Derek Johnson, the pitching coach for the Milwaukee Brewers has said, the "arm is writing checks the butt can't cash."

delivery5

Sometimes, it may come about after a single outing with an abnormally high pitch count. The pitcher just can't bounce back in time for the next start, and the subsequent start becomes the straw that breaks the camel's back. y experience has been that when you throw the typical "high arm speed" (90mph+) high school pitcher out for back-to-back outings of 100+ pitches - even on a seven-day rotation - things often start to head down the wrong path. This doesn't happen nearly as frequently in the college game, and I think this speaks to the fact that there is clearly something really important that's occurring in terms of work capacity and/or strength improvements for pitchers in the 16-19 age range.

Finally, lat issues seem to be particularly common when you see high school and college starters switch from a 7-day rotation to a 5-day rotation when they enter professional baseball. It isn't as much of a dramatic increase in stress as it is a significant loss in recovery time or capacity. I've heard many guys over the years say that they have to learn to pitch with only 90% of what they're typicaly capable.

Movement Quality 

Beyond just the increase in throwing stress, there are a few things I've found to be common in the lat strain pitchers I've seen in recent years.

1. The lower traps can't keep up with the lat.

The lower traps are very important for providing posterior tilt (slight tipping back) of the scapula and assisting in upward rotation. These two functions make it essential for a pitcher to get his scapula in the right position during the lay-back phase of throwing.

Conversely, the lat has more of a "gross" depression effect on the scapula; it pulls it down, but doesn't contribute to posterior tilting or upward rotation. This might help with an adult rotator cuff pain patient who has an aggressive scapular elevation (shrug) substitution pattern, but it's actually problematic for a thrower who is trying to get his scapula up and around the rib cage to make sure that the ball-on-socket congruency is "flush" when it really matters:

baseball-97898_960_720

As such, you can say that the lat and lower trap "compete" for scapular control - and the lat has a big advantage because of its cross-sectional area and multiple attachment points. It's also much easier to train and strengthen - even if it's accidentally.

To this end, we'll often hear throwers cued "down and back" during their arm care drills. The intension - improving posterior tilt via lower trap activation - is really good, but the outcome usually isn't. Unless athletes are actually put in a position of posterior tilt where they can actually feel the lower traps working, they don't get it. Instead, they pull further down into scapular depression, which feeds the lat-dominant strategy. This is why we teach almost all our throwers to differentiate between depression and posterior tilt on their first day in the gym.

2. The rotator cuff can't keep up with the lat.

As I noted earlier, the lat has numerous functional roles at the shoulder. Because the attachment point of the lat is on the shaft of the humerus and not the ball, the lat really can't have any direct control on the positioning of the ball in the socket. In fact, it actually indirectly destabilizes the throwing shoulder because it contributes to an anterior (forward) gliding of the ball on the socket during the lay-back phase of throwing. This anterior glide is counteracted by the rotator cuff musculature.

image412

Whenever we evaluate movement, we have to consider both osteokinematics (gross movements - flexion, extension, etc. - of bones at joints) and arthrokinematics (subtle movements - rolling, rocking, gliding, etc. - of bones at joint surfaces).

To paraphrase something that physical therapist Shirley Sahrmann has noted many times, whenever you see a strained or overworked muscle, look for a dysfunctional synergist. In this case, the synergists to the lat and teres major are the rotator cuff muscles. We just rarely consider lat strains as a consequence of rotator cuff weakness because it's usually the biceps tendon, labrum, capsule, or rotator cuff itself that winds up cranky before the lat starts barking.

3. Guys usually have a history of doing a lot of lat dominant lifting.

In a baseball population, throwing is lat dominant. Breathing is lat dominant. Core stabilization is lat dominant. When you add in a lot of lat dominant lifting to the mix - particularly during the in-season period - things don't usually go well. I'm just going to put this out there:

[bctt tweet="I've never met a high-level thrower who had weak lats."]

I'm speaking with respect to both relative and absolute measures. Relatively speaking, I've never looked at a guy and said, "Well, if he added 50 pounds to his best weighted chin-up, he'd definitely throw harder and be healthier. His rotator cuff and lower traps are too strong." Absolutely speaking, I have yet to see any research examining the relationship between lat strength and throwing velocity. I'm very confident that there is a point of diminishing returns where getting stronger doesn't help add any more velocity. Moreover, it may actually interfere with improvements - and increase susceptibility to injury. This includes elbow irritation, as heavy weighted pull-ups and chin-ups are brutal on the medial elbow in lifters who don't even throw a baseball for a living.

Just like you don't have to squat 800 pounds to have an elite vertical jump - but you probably won't jump high if you only squat 200 pounds - your lats just need to be strong enough to throw hard.

Also worthy of mention is the fact that exercises like deadlifts, farmer's walks, and dumbbell lunges, and any other drill where weights are held in the hands are actually very lat intensive. With the arms at the sides, the lats are almost fully shortened - and the lat is working hard as a core stabilizer against appreciable external loading.

The take-home message is that you really have to critically examine your entire strength training program for how much lat-dominant work your athletes are doing. My rule of thumb is that an athlete has to have full shoulder flexion and great cuff strength to "earn the right" to do pull-ups in his off-season programming, and we don't use any pull-ups or pulldowns with in-season programs. We can accomplish everything we need with horizontal pulling variations.

4. Guys usually accumulated a lot of innings or appearances without much, if any, manual therapy 

NASCARs require more upkeep that ordinary automobiles. If you're going to push a car to its limits, you better plan on changing the oil and tires more frequently. The same goes for a high level throwing arm. Manual therapy is a game-changer for maintaining or improving range-of-motion and bouncing back between outings.  

manual_therapy_page-300x206-2

The lats and teres major get pushed really hard during the throwing motion, and it's important to do regular routine manual therapy maintenance to keep them "supple" with a variety of soft tissue approaches. I've seen athletes that responded really well to cupping, some to Graston Technique, some to Active Release Technique, some to dry needling, and others to more traditional massage. Everyone is different - but everyone needs it.

Also worth of note, trigger points in the latissimus dorsi may actually relate to discomfort in other regions. Chris Howard, massage therapist at Cressey Sports Performance – MA, notes:

“Trigger points in the latissimus dorsi can refer pain and discomfort to the medial and inferior border of the scapula extending to the posterior shoulder, medial triceps region and down to the pinky and ring finger. Trigger points not only cause pain, but can also mimic nerve symptoms by causing numbness and tingling in their referral zone. Of particular interest to this article is the fact that trigger points, regardless of whether they are active or latent, have the ability to alter muscle activation patterns. In other words, once trigger points are present in muscles of the shoulder girdle, the normal activation pattern is altered, which can lead to abuse of some of the smaller muscles.”

5. Guys have insufficient anterior core control.

The stiffer (or shorter) your lats are, the more you need to have great anterior (front) core control to prevent this from happening:

When the core control isn't present, the lats are never really challenged to approach their end range - which is full shoulder flexion. Learning to add some good stiffness to lock the ribs to the pelvis during overhead motion obviously protects the lower back, but it also has the added benefit of making lats "healthier."

6. They turn all rowing motions into lat dominant movements.

Rather than reinvent the wheel on this point, check out this detailed rowing technique video I filmed a while back. In particular, points #1, #2, #4, and #6 are the most common findings in a very lat-dominant individual. I'd encourage you to watch the entire video, though, as it's not uncommon to see multiple mistakes at a time:

7. Guys have lost shoulder flexion.

If a muscle is fundamentally short, it's going to be more likely to strain. These are usually the ones who have failed miserably on points 1-6 over an extended period of time.

shouderflexion

Prevention

Several years ago, in the heart of the ACL prevention program craze, Mike Boyle made a bold statement, "ACL injury prevention is just good training." In short, if you teach athletes to move well with comprehensive, well-rounded programming and solid coaching to ensure good training technique, you're going to markedly reduce the incidence of ACL injuries. I couldn't agree more - and I'd argue that lat strain prevention training in pitchers is just good training, too. 

1. Maintain tissue quality with regular manual therapy, and complement it with daily foam rolling.

2. Make athletes earn the right to do pull-ups.

3. Don’t do pull-ups/pulldowns during the season.

4. Make sure that the rotator cuff, lower trap, and anterior core are strong enough to keep up with the lats.

5. Be cognizant of overdoing it on drills like deadlifts, farmers walks, and DB lunges/split squats. These are all great exercises that can have their place, but anything done to excess can be a problem.

6. Ensure appropriate training technique. Specifically, don't overuse the lats when you aren't supposed to use them at all.

7. Closely monitor athletes who have seen dramatic jumps in pitching velocity or workload - and avoid building up pitch counts too quickly.

8. Constantly solicit feedback from pitchers so that mild lat soreness is discovered before it can become a full blown injury.

Obviously, once an athlete already has a teres major or lat strain, things are a lot hairier. That's really the point of the article, though: as always, prevention is the absolute best treatment

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