Home Posts tagged "Elite Baseball Mentorship" (Page 2)

Understanding Scapular Positioning in the Throwing Motion

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance - Massachusetts pitching coordinator, Matt Blake (@Blake_Matt). Matt is an integral part of the Elite Baseball Mentorships team. Enjoy! -EC 

At a recent conference, Eric Cressey gave a presentation that tackled the importance of baseball professionals understanding scapular mechanics and the integral role they play in the throwing athlete’s kinetic chain. Eric Schoenberg also recently showed a great drill to incorporate scapular motion into the kinetic chain of activity. Given that I’m the third member of the Elite Baseball Mentorships team with these two, I figured I might as well chime in to highlight its importance from my perspective as well.

This is an important discussion to have because it can help demonstrate the need for all phases of development to work together to keep the high-level thrower operating on all cylinders. If we’re all speaking the same language, we can work to build the athlete’s awareness for their overall movement and integrate the education from the warm-up through the initial phases of the throwing progression.

If we’re all saying different things to the athlete using our own jargon, it’s easy for them to misinterpret the carryover of certain drills, exercises, and concepts across channels. If we all lay down similar verbiage in our conversations with the athlete regarding their prehab work, dynamic warm-up, strength training and throwing motion, it makes it a lot easier for them to appreciate the importance each piece holds in the puzzle.

In order to get started, let’s look at where the scapula is positioned and introduce its fundamental movements so we can begin to appreciate its role in the kinetic chain.

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When looking at the scapula’s position and actions, you have to acknowledge the importance of its relationships with the rib cage and the humerus. These relationships are integral in tying the torso and the arm action together in a high-level throw. These interactions between the thoracic region, scapula and humeral head may be the most overlooked or misunderstood components of the delivery – especially for the average coach who has no anatomical background.

The degree of misunderstanding is mainly because the actions are so subtle and can’t be fully appreciated when the athlete throws with their shirt on. This is why its so vital to have a strength/rehab professional in the mix, who can provide a shirtless scapular screen to give us a baseline on where the scapula lies at rest and how it functions in relation to the movement of the arm.
 

Once you can identify how an athlete presents, you can begin to build a more individualized corrective movement progression. This will serve to help the athlete identify and turn on the appropriate movement patterns to keep the humeral head flush with the scapula through its full range of motion. This is essential in the throw, because of the importance of a “clean” arm action to help alleviate some of the stress involved in the high-level motion. For demonstration sake, here’s an example of a HS pitcher, who throws 88-91, with a relatively efficient arm action for his age.

The ability to create elite levels of hand-speed in a durable manner can be won or lost based on how the humeral head functions in conjunction with the scapula. In my mind, this is the crux of the delivery, where you need to be able to tie the “whip-like” arm action into the sequential actions of the torso.

As the thrower engages his landing position, the kinetic forces of the delivery are beginning to flow up through the chain towards the scapula and arm. It’s crucial at this point for the arm to get set up in a sound position to optimize control of the (glenohumeral) joint in an effort to handle the energy that’s about to drive through that portion of the chain towards release. The “optimal” timing of this set-up will be dictated by how the athlete sequences hip and torso rotation, as well as how much laxity they present with, etc. - but for the sake of discussion, we’ll say landing is a crucial checkpoint.

From here, the key actions that we’re going to break out today are upward rotation and protraction. This isn’t to say that they are more important than the other actions, but throughout the season, throwers tend to lose upward rotation from the stress of the throwing motion. With that in mind, let’s identify what it is and how it works with protraction to aid the durability of the high-level delivery.

This concept is something that EC has written and produced videos about countless times over the years, but it continues to be a point that needs to be reiterated time and again. For those who haven’t seen it, this is a great video to consider in this discussion.

From this video, we’ll take it a step further, so you can visualize how this actually plays out in the throwing motion itself.

As you can see, there is a considerable amount of range of motion and control that needs to be in place if you expect to keep the humeral head “centered” from lay-back through the entirety of the deceleration phase. The challenge here is that we can’t always see how the arm action is working with the shoulder blade. One way to combat this is via communicating with your athletes about where they feel their soreness the day after throwing.

Generally speaking, I like to have guys tell me they’re sore near the medial border of the scapula, in the meat of back, where the scapular retractors are eccentrically controlling the scapula as it moves away from the mid-line. If guys are sore near the back, top, or front portion of the shoulder joint itself, then we’re probably getting too much “joint-play” and the humeral head is gliding and translating away from the center of the socket too much during the throw.

If these other patterns of soreness are presenting somewhere along the line, either the rotator cuff wasn’t doing its job, the scapula wasn’t working in sync with the humeral motion, or the thrower’s motion in general is putting them in positions that aren’t utilizing the correct patterns. In this case, let's assume that we did have a “good” post-throwing stress pattern.

Once we’ve identified that we are using scapular upward rotation and protraction to our benefit to control the socket, now we need to work extremely hard to counteract the eccentric damage associated with these actions. This is where the recovery protocol and the warm-up itself are crucial on a daily basis to make sure we’re getting back both the range of motion that we need, as well as activating it correctly before we begin to throw again.

To learn more about how physical assessment, strength and conditioning principles, video analysis, and drill work for the pitcher fit together, be sure to check out one of our Elite Baseball Mentorships. Our next event will be held January 17-19, 2016 at Cressey Sports Performance in Hudson, MA. The early-bird registration is December 17, 2015. For more information, check out www.EliteBaseballMentorships.com.  

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Get Up to Get Down: The Impact of Scapular Movement on Pitch Location

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

Every baseball player on the planet has heard their coach say “stay on top of the ball”, “get out in front”, and/or “throw downhill”. It is an easy thing to say, but a little more difficult to teach. A common response that I hear from players that I work with is: “I understand what the coach is saying, but I don’t know how to actually get my body to do it”.

There are many mechanical reasons why a pitcher will struggle to create this downhill plane. (e.g. front leg stability, trunk tilt angle). However, on the movement side of things, one of the main culprits that we see is a lack of scapular upward rotation. If you are a frequent visitor to this blog, you know that EC has hit on this topic for years. I wanted to add some thoughts to this critical concept.

If a pitcher lacks the ability to “get up” (insufficient scapular upward rotation and/or elevation), he will not be able to effectively get his hand out in front to maximize velocity. Pitchers will describe this feeling as “cutting the ball off” or “feeling stuck”. The result is a decrease in velocity and difficulty “getting down” in the zone. It is very common for this to occur later in the season once the off-season training effect has been lost and the predictable loss of range of motion (shoulder flexion, upward rotation, hip and thoracic mobility) kicks in.

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The most effective pitchers share three things in common: consistent velocity, consistent location, and health. None of these are possible with faulty scapular movement patterns.

The best time to establish proper scapular upward rotation is in the off-season (NOW!). The challenge comes with educating the athlete on how to not lose this motion during the season.

By now, we are aware of the importance of wall slide variations, back to wall shoulder flexion, and trap raises. However, the message of consistency with these exercises EVERY DAY during the season cannot be overstated. This is akin to brushing your teeth. A habit needs to be established and it then needs to be repeated. Every baseball player that I see in my office for elbow or shoulder pain comes in with faulty scapular movement. This is certainly not the only thing that leads to pain in pitchers, but it is certainly a good place for us to be looking early on.

A great exercise that we have been using to emphasize “getting up and out in front” is the One-Arm Band Rotational Row from a Low Setting.

This drill is much more about the deceleration phase than the actual rowing pattern, however all phases of the movement are important. I prefer to use a band instead of a cable due to the increased velocity of the recoil. This is a great drill to use in a training or warm-up program. With that said, I find the best application is to be used in a pre-throwing program (preferably the last drill before a pitcher picks up the ball to begin throwing).

Set-Up: Wide base to emphasize hip mobility. Front foot should mimic where the land foot is in the delivery. Back foot and hips are rotated fully so the athlete is “squared up” in the sagittal plane. Coaching from the Posterior View will give you a good vantage point to see this.

Instruction: Initiate the rowing motion from the hips first, then the thoracic spine, then the scapula, and finally the humerus. Make sure the athlete’s elbow doesn’t end up behind the line of his body. Back foot should rotate to mimic the position on the rubber with the hip hinged and loaded. Cue the athlete to decelerate the band with his body (core, front hip) and not just with his arm. Coaching from a 90 degree angle to the side will show this the best.

A key component for a pitcher to develop/maintain velocity and location is to make sure that their body is in a stable position to deliver their arm (and the baseball). The One Arm Rotational Row accomplishes this by via the following avenues:

1. Single Leg Strength

a. Land Leg: Proper stability and balance to accept weight, stop forward momentum, and translate force from the ground up the chain.

b. Drive leg: Ability to hinge back into drive hip and not translate forward (toward 3rd base for a RHP) or collapse into valgus. Keeping weight through the whole foot and not just on the toe

2. Stable core throughout delivery – especially as trunk and hips start to separate

Leaking into anterior pelvic tilt or lumbar extension will drive scapular downward rotation and depression (resulting in the hand moving under or around the ball, as opposed to staying behind the ball).

3. Optimal Thoracic Positioning

This drill drives thoracic flexion moment to allow for a congruent platform for the scapula to ride up and create the desired extension at ball release.

Give this drill a try with your athletes (make sure to train both sides) and emphasize consistency with their scapular upward rotation exercises in order to develop a more durable arm with improved velocity and location.
If you are interested in learning more about our approach to managing baseball athletes, we'd love to see you at one of our Elite Baseball Mentorships. The next three-day course is June 23-25, with May 23 serving as the early-bird registration deadline. 

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Cressey Sports Performance Upper Extremity Elite Baseball Mentorship – January 17-19, 2016

The Cressey Sports Performance Elite Baseball Mentorships provide an educational opportunity to become a trusted resource to this dramatically underserved athletic population. Through a combination of classroom presentations, practical demonstrations, case studies, video analysis, and observation of training, you’ll learn about our integrated system for performance enhancement and injury prevention and rehabilitation in baseball athletes. Cressey Sports Performance has become a trusted resource for over 100 professional players from all over the country each off-season, and this is your opportunity to experience “why” first-hand at our state-of-the-art facility.

Our next upper extremity course will take place on January 17-19, 2016 in Hudson, MA.

Course Description:

The Upper Cressey Sports Performance Elite Baseball Mentorship has a heavy upper extremity assessment and corrective exercise focus while familiarizing participants with the unique demands of the throwing motion. You’ll be introduced to the most common injuries faced by throwers, learn about the movement impairments and mechanical issues that contribute to these issues, and receive programming strategies, exercise recommendations, and the coaching cues to meet these challenges.

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Course Agenda:

Sunday

Morning Session: Lecture

8:30-9:00AM – Registration and Introduction (Eric Cressey)
9:00-10:00AM – Understanding the Status Quo: Why the Current System is Broken (Eric Schoenberg)
10:00-11:00AM – Common Injuries and their Mechanisms (Eric Schoenberg)
11:00-11:15AM – Break
11:15AM-12:15PM – Flawed Perceptions on “Specific” Pitching Assessments and Training Modalities (Eric Cressey)
12:15-1:00PM – Lunch (provided)

Afternoon Session: Lecture and Practical

1:00-3:00PM – Physical Assessment of Pitchers: Static and Dynamic (Eric Cressey and Eric Schoenberg)
3:00-3:15PM – Break
3:15-5:15PM – Prehabilitation/Rehabilitation Exercises for the Thrower (Eric Cressey and Eric Schoenberg)
5:15-5:30PM – Case Studies and Q&A

5:30PM Reception (Dinner Provided)

Monday

Morning Session: Lecture and Video Analysis

8:00-9:00AM – Strength Training Considerations for the Throwing Athlete (Eric Cressey)
9:00-10:00AM – Key Positions in the Pitching Delivery: Understanding How Physical Maturity and Athletic Ability Govern Mechanics (Matt Blake)
10:00-10:15AM – Break
10:15-11:30AM – Video Evaluation of Pitchers: Relationship of Mechanical Dysfunction to Injury Risk and Performance (Matt Blake)

11:30AM-12:00PM – Lunch (on your own) 

Afternoon Session: Observation at Cressey Sports Performance – 12PM-5PM*

Tuesday

Morning Session: Practical

8:00-9:00AM – Preparing for the Throwing Session: Optimal Warm-up Protocols for Different Arms (Eric Cressey and Eric Schoenberg)
9:00-11:00AM – Individualizing Drill Work to the Pitcher and Live Bullpens from CP Pitchers (Matt Blake)
11:00-11:30AM – Closing Thoughts and Q&A (Eric Cressey, Eric Schoenberg, and Matt Blake)
11:30AM-12:00PM – Lunch (on your own)

Afternoon Session: Observation at Cressey Sports Performance – 12PM-5PM*

* The afternoon observation sessions on Monday and Tuesday will allow attendees to see in real-time the day-to-day operation of the comprehensive baseball training programs unique to Cressey Sports Performance. This observation of live training on the CSP floor with our professional, college, and high school baseball players will allow you to experience firsthand our approaches to:

• Programming
• Proper coaching cues for optimal results
• Soft tissue techniques
• Activation and mobility drills
• Strength/power development
• Medicine ball work
• Multi-directional stability
• Metabolic conditioning
• Sprint/agility programs
• Base stealing technique
In addition, you will experience:

• Live throwing sessions
• Biomechanical video analysis using the Right View Pro system
• Movement evaluation
• Live case examples
• Live evaluations of attendees with Eric Schoenberg
Location:

Cressey Sports Performance,
577 Main St.
Suite 310
Hudson, MA 01749

Cost/Registration Information:

$899 early-bird (before December 18), $999 regular. No sign-ups will be accepted on the day of the event. Click here to register using our 100% secure server.

Continuing Education Credits:

2.0 NSCA CEUs (20 contact hours)

Notes:

• Participants will receive a manual of notes from the event’s presentations.
• Space is extremely limited. We are keeping the size of this seminar small so that we can make it a far more productive educational experience.
• This event will not be videotaped.
• For details about travel, accommodations, and other logistics, please email cspmass@gmail.com.

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Changing Baseball Culture: A Call to Action

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

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

Here are four opportunities for us to make a difference:

1. Identify the signs before there are symptoms.

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

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

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

3. One size never fits all.

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

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

4. Avoid this question.

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

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

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

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

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

EBM-Cressey
 

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Common Arm Care Mistakes – Installment 6

It's that time of the year when our baseball players are in-season, so things get a bit quieter around Cressey Sports Performance. Sometimes, it's even so quiet that my staff members film videos like this:

As impressive as this reverse stunner was, I actually get even more excited about taking a step back to work "on" the business instead of "in" the business when quiet season rolls around. Often, this work on the business consists of "audits" on everything from assessment, to programming, to coaching cues; we want to know how we can get better. One topic that came up during one of these discussions was the recent trend of fitness professionals and some physical therapists insisting that upper body carrying variations with appropriate joint positioning would suffice for arm care. Examples would include things like Turkish Get-ups, or bottoms-up carrying variations:

While I absolutely love all these exercises, I firmly believe that they are only a few pieces of a larger puzzle - and this brings me to this arm care mistake:

Not selecting exercises that appreciate the true functional demands placed on the shoulder and elbow during throwing.

The problem with the "carries are enough" mindset for shoulder health is that this opinion is heavily predicated on the assumption that we're talking about general population folks who don't have to stabilize extreme positions like end-range external rotation during the late-cocking phase:

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A 90/90 External Rotation Hold would be a much more appropriate training strategy that would appreciate the unique joint position demands of throwing, as Eric Schoenberg demonstrates:

Another example would be the crazy distraction forces that occur at the shoulder during ball release:

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A rhythmic stabilization at the ball release position probably yields better carryover to the act of throwing:

Most of the research on isometric training shows a 10-15 degree carryover in strength from the joint angle trained. In other words, if you don't train anywhere near end-range external rotation, don't expect to be strong in that incredibly crucial position.

I've only spoken to joint position specificity thus far, though, and there is more to this discussion. Baseball players also need to handle some pretty crazy velocities of arm speed - particularly with respect to shoulder internal rotation and horizontal adduction, as well as elbow extension. Good programs start out by building strength through these patterns:

ECCishek

Once a solid strength foundation is in place, we need to begin to challenge athletes on the velocity end of the spectrum:

Very simply, to keep throwers healthy, you need to challenge both cuff strength and cuff timing - and do so at functional significant positions. In my opinion, just relying on carrying variations doesn't really accomplish either of these challenges correctly, and you can't carry in the positions that really matter.

As a final point, I'll add that I think it's a leap of faith to say that a largely reflexive muscle group (the rotator cuff) will automatically fire across an entire population when we know that structural deviations from normalcy (e.g., asymptomatic cuff tears, labral pathology) are widely prevalent.

Carrying and supporting variations are absolutely fantastic and I'll continue to use them a ton, but in my opinion, it's shortsighted to say that they can serve as a complete replacement to more "functional" arm care drills that replicate the forces and positions our players encounter on the field.

If you're looking to learn more about our comprehensive approach to arm care, I'd strongly encourage you to check out an upcoming Elite Baseball Mentorship.

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Coaching Cues to Make Your Strength and Conditioning Programs More Effective: Installment 9

It's been nine months since I last posted an update to this coaching cues series, so this post is long overdue! Here are three technique coaching cues you can put into action:

1. "Follow the arm with the eyes."

We'll often see individuals who try to do thoracic mobility drills like the side-lying windmill, but wind up turning them into potentially harmful stretches for the anterior shoulder. Basically, you'll see too much arm movement and not enough upper back movement. One way to increase movement of the upper back is to "drive" it with the eyes, which effectively keeps us in a more neutral neck position. Check out the demonstration video from The High Performance Handbook video library for more details:

2. "Build up tension through the hamstrings over the next five seconds."

I normally don't like internal focus cues, but this would be an exception. I generally use this cue specifically when we have a beginning lifter who is learning to deadlift, but it can also be incorporated with an intermediate lifter who struggles with early knee extension and the hips shooting up too early. Basically, it slows the lifter down, but still encourages him to apply force into the floor.

I'll have the individual set up the starting position, but not initiate the deadlift unless everything is perfect - from the feet up to the head. Then, I'll tell him to gradually build up tension in the hamstrings over the course of five seconds, with the bar slowly breaking the floor at the end of that period of time. It won't lead to great bar speed (something we ultimately want), but that's not of great concern when we're simply trying to optimize technique.

As an important add-on, make sure the athlete has already taken the slack out of the bar before you initiate the hamstrings cues:

3. "Where the arm goes, the shoulder blade goes" - and vice versa.

This is a coaching cue I recently heard physical therapist Eric Schoenberg use at one of our Elite Baseball Mentorships, and I loved it. It simplified something I'd been trying to create with kinesthetic coaching (actually putting an athlete's shoulder blade in the position I wanted).

There are a lot of folks out there still teaching clients and athletes to "lock down" the scapula during rowing exercises, or make the rowing motion segmented into "retract and THEN pull." The truth is that the upper extremity doesn't work like this in the real world; otherwise, we'd all move like robots. Healthy upper extremity action is about smooth, coordinated movements of the scapula on the rib cage (scapulothoracic joint) while the ball and socket (glenohumeral joint) maintain a good congruency, just like a sea lion balancing a ball on his nose.

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If you move the ball (humerus) without moving the socket (sea lion) with it, the ball falls off (comes unstable). The same thing can happen if you move the socket without moving the ball. The question then becomes: what active or passive restraints have to pick up the slack for the excessive motion that takes place? It can be the biceps tendon, rotator cuff, labrum, or shoulder capsule.

If we teach people to move the shoulder blade and humerus independently of one another - and load that pattern - we're really just establishing a faulty movement strategy that can't be safely reproduced under higher velocities. You can learn a bit more in this video:

Hopefully you enjoyed these tips and will benefit from applying them in your strength training programs. If you have other exercises you'd like covered, please just let me know in the comments section below.

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Trust in the System: How Being an Optimist Will Help You in Strength and Conditioning

I'm always trying to learn about things we can find outside the strength and conditioning industry that may in some way benefit the way we coach athletes. I recently finished up the audiobook, The Pursuit of Perfect, by Tal Ben-Shahar, and there was a section that really stood out for me.

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It can be quickly summed up with this quote:

"Those with a positive view of old age lived on average more than seven years longer than those with a negative view."

Immediately, I began thinking about this message's implications with respect to training progress, coaching approaches, and running a business.

As an eternal optimist, this quote resonated with me. With respect to personal relationships, I joke that I don't have any enemies; I just have raving fans who are in denial. I do my best to see the good in people and always try to give folks the benefit of the doubt, even if a first impression was less than favorable. In short, I feel like good things happen if you think about good things!

Applying this to the strength and conditioning field, I've always said that I want athletes to see training with us as a competitive advantage for them. I want them to know just how meticulous we are in our assessments and programming, and how nobody else takes as much pride in delivering baseball-specific training. I want them to know we're getting out to do continuing education instead of "getting comfortable;" have developed a great network of everything from pitching coordinators, to physical therapists, to nutrition consultants, to orthopedic surgeons to help them get the best training and care; and have built a system where our training model dictates our business model (not vice versa). I want them to know we've fostered an environment where they can train around individuals with similar goals and look forward to training around people who want to "get after it."

In short, them having an extremely positive view on training with us is vital to their success. If they don't buy in, they're starting behind the 8-ball.

"Buy in" doesn't always happen, though - and it's for one of two broad reasons:

1. The athletes' personalities don't allow it; they're skeptical of everything.

2. The program simply isn't worth buying into; the athletes have no confidence in it.

In the first instance, as an example, I've actually had a few people request refunds for The High Performance Handbook before even starting the program. Conversely, I've had other folks that open up the program and instantly email me about how excited they are to try out some new exercises, or how they're really excited to finally have some good structure in their training programs.

Which group do you think is going to train harder and with more consistency over the long haul? If you're questioning a program (or a coach) before you even try it (or him) out, you might as well just stay home. You have to get your mind right before you can get your body right.

There are parallels in the business world, too. When business owners encounter new ideas (especially from other industries) that may be worthwhile to incorporate in their existing structures, many immediately insist, "My business is different; it won't work for me." Usually, these are the same business owners who spend their entire professional careers (which are often short-lived, because they go out of business) speaking negatively about their competition, as opposed to emphasizing their own unique strengths. Clients and athletes perceive and dislike pessimism, regardless of the industry.

The "hardcore" evidence-based crowd in the health and human performance industries can trend in this direction, too. They're often so pessimistic about every new idea because it's not backed by research that they completely discount anecdotal evidence supporting new ideas. It's important to remember that everything we understand with research-backed certainty was just a theory supported by anecdotal evidence at one point, though. And, if we wait around for the peer-reviewed literature to "approve" everything we do, we'll miss out on a lot of beneficial stuff, and the industry will progress at a snail's pace.  Evidence-based practice is tremendously important, but you can't combine it with unyielding pessimism.

In the second scenario above, some programs and coaches just aren't very good. And, the problem about delivering a low-quality product is that word spreads much quicker than it does when you do a great job. In our business, if a kid drops a weight plate on his foot, word spreads quickly. If we train 100 pitchers in an off-season and none of them has an arm surgery, though, nobody really hears about it. Building credibility and a confident following of athletes takes time.

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I think college strength and conditioning is the best example. We have some athletes who absolutely dread going back to school in September because their programs are the exact same thing every year, and there is no element of individualization. It's the same old repeatedly-photocopied-program from 1989, plus loads of distance running. They have no confidence in their programs before they even show up because they've experienced it first-hand, know its reputation, and are keenly aware of the fact that it hasn't changed at all.

Conversely, take a college program that wants to do right by their guys with continuous improvement. We often host an Elite Baseball Mentorships at Cressey Sports Performance, and we've had strength and conditioning coaches, athletic trainers, and baseball coaches from dozens of top tier D1 schools attend over the years. Many of these coaches go out of their way to tell us just how excited their athletes are to hear that the coaching staff is attending. Seeing their coaches want to get better enhances their confidence in the program. When they return, the athletes get excited when they see new exercises implemented, a new piece of equipment in the weight room, or some updated coaching cues to clean up movement. A dedication to continuous improvement among coaches fosters an environment of optimistic, motivated athletes.

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What's the take home message of this post? Put on a happy face, be open-minded, give people the benefit of the doubt, and try new things. Doing so might not add seven years to your life, but it'll certainly help you build a life that's a lot more fun to live.

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Timing Adjustments and Their Impact on the Pitching Delivery: A Case Study

Today's guest post comes from Matt Blake, the pitching coordinator at Cressey Sports Performance in Massachusetts. Matt is an integral part of the Elite Baseball Mentorships team.

I recently Tweeted out a picture of some mechanical changes a pitcher had made and it received a lot of responses. As such, I decided I would follow up with a little more depth and context to this particular picture to help shed some light on the thought process that goes into making mechanical adjustments. So, for starters, here’s the picture in question, with the left side being the original delivery and the right side being the revised version.

delivery1

Typically, when discussing pitching mechanics, I avoid using still shots, because they can be very misleading. In this particular case, there were some substantial changes that were made in this landing position, which I thought encapsulated a lot about the enhanced movement quality of the delivery as a whole, which we’ll unpack in further detail here.

For those familiar with the pitching delivery, the first thing that should jump out at you is the extremely late arm action in the initial delivery. This could be classified as an “inverted arm action” at landing, where in this case, the elbow isn’t necessarily hyper-abducted (elevated) above the shoulder, but the hand is definitely below the elbow. In a Cliff's Notes version, this positioning is generally regarded as increasing stress on the shoulder and elbow. This is in part due to the orientation of the humeral head in the socket at landing, as it’s in a position of excessive internal rotation and pinned into the front of the socket. As a result, we’re not in an optimal position to get the rotator cuff to function to center the head for a clean ball in socket rotation.

This is coupled with the fact that we’re adding more torque to the joint since we have more range of motion involved in getting the hand to full lay-back before accelerating to release. That being said, there are plenty of pitchers who throw very hard and have successful big league careers pitching with an inverted pattern, and the reason they throw so hard may very well be due to their inverted pattern, so you have to constantly weigh the risk/reward of making mechanical adjustments for pitchers.

As an example, Billy Wagner had an inverted pattern and multiple injuries, but was hitting 100mph before it was industry standard to hit 100mph - and he accumulated 422 saves in a successful big league career.

wagner1024px-Billy_Wagner_on_September_15,_2009

When weighing this potential risk/reward, some of the questions might include:

  • Where is this pitcher currently in the developmental process?
  • What type of stress does he currently report during or after throwing?
  • What can we gain by making adjustments?
  • What do we have to lose by adjusting this current delivery?

These are important questions to consider, because you’re obviously not going to take a big leaguer at the tail end of his career, and adjust what has got him to that point. Conversely, you might adjust a 15yr old high school pitcher, who throws hard, but has erratic command and reports a high level of stress after he’s done throwing.

In this particular case, we had a sophomore in college, who had a track record of success in high school, and was looking to establish his role in a very competitive program with a strong history of winning. His contributions as a freshman were limited in part due to command issues and his velocity would be erratic going anywhere from 82-90mph on any given day.

With these considerations in mind, it became apparent in looking at the the delivery in its current state, that these mechanics might be a limiting factor in commanding the ball at a competitive level, as well as sustaining his velocity on a consistent basis. On the flip side, though, if we reduce the inversion in his arm action, we may lose a mph or two of velocity initially, as we learn to “re-tension” the delivery and create force in a different manner. In order to fully comprehend these issues, let’s take a look at this delivery in full:

As I stated in the video, the crazy thing about this delivery is that for how extremely late that arm action looks in that still shot, it’s really a misrepresentation for how much I like the feel of this delivery as a whole. There’s a lot of quality movement that’s “loose” in nature, and this athlete has a good feel for creating “extension” in the throw, so we really don’t have to adjust the integrity of his movements, but more the timing associated with some of the actions, and at the crux of it, the athlete’s mindset for creating leverage in his throw.

If you look at where this delivery starts to break down, it’s in the excessive “counter-rotation” of his shoulders that creates too much length in the throwing arm and that couples with an exaggerated extension of the back leg into landing.

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As a result, the hand can’t catch up and “get on top of the ball” at landing and our pressure into the ground ends up being poor. This combines to create an issue for the stabilization pattern as a whole now, because the front leg can’t brace to create a fixed point of rotation to anchor the throw, as it has to allow for the torso to translate forward in an effort to create time for the hand to get into position behind the ball. So, as you can see, by the front knee ending up working into a more flexed position, we’re diffusing the ground force reaction we’re trying to convert into rotational power, and the pelvis loses its leverage on that front hip, flattening out our rotation. When this happens, you’ll notice that the path of the hand is actually diverted wide instead of keeping an efficient driveline through the target. Without a firm landing position that allows us to accept force properly, and keep the rhythm of our sequencing intact, our command and velocity will continue to be erratic in nature.

delivery3

Once we identified these issues, we had to rule out that there wasn’t a mobility or stability issue that was limiting our ability to move through more functional positions. In this particular case, mobility definitely wasn’t the issue, and even though the stabilization pattern was currently poor, the athlete did have the ability to stabilize. It really just came down to his awareness for what he was trying to accomplish. So, once we came to agreement that these were things that could be fixed and would be beneficial to his development in the long run, we had to start re-organizing the focus of his repetitions.

Anytime you’re making changes, it’s essential to understand root causes and not just symptoms. For me, the inverted arm action was a symptom of a misdirected focus in the delivery. We needed to make the focus less on length and extension in the throw and more on strength in the landing and properly sequencing his rotations through the chain. By creating a stronger stride pattern and tying the timing of the arm path into the lower half sequencing, we would have a more connected and repeatable delivery that had a more efficient stabilization pattern. Let’s take a look at what shook out over the next seven weeks and then we’ll discuss some of the altered components.

As discussed in the video, the first thing that should stand out in the revised delivery is the compactness of the arm action, and from there, the angle of the ball flight out of his hand. And, to be honest, I could run through every drill that we did to get him to this point, but I don’t know if it’s really the drills themselves that are important. I think we could have accomplished this in a multitude of ways, as long as we kept the focus on cueing him to be “strong into the floor.”

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Now, that being said, we definitely used versions of the “stride drill” to coordinate the rhythm of the back-hip rotation and arm action, and we did our share of step-behind shuffles to speed up his timing and learn to accept force properly upon landing, but if the focus on trying to create force into the ground and working from “top-to-bottom” on the baseball wasn’t in place, I don’t think either of those drills would have mattered.

Changing his focus and “pre-throw vision” for what his ball flight should look like helped him organize his body into this revised delivery. By placing the importance on being “strong into the floor”, it didn’t allow him to put himself into these overly extended positions, whether it be the lower half or the arm action, as he came to understand these weren’t “strong” positions. Ultimately, understanding the importance of landing in a position that allowed him to accept the force and transfer it up the chain was crucial in this process.

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At the end of the day, the most important part of making any type of delivery change is getting “buy-in” from the athlete himself. It doesn’t matter what I think a delivery should look like unless the athlete understands and accepts why it’s important for him to make these changes, because ultimately he’s the one who has to throw the baseball.

In this particular case, we had a college pitcher who is on the cusp of turning himself into an impact pitcher in a competitive college program. If getting himself into more efficient positions in his delivery allows him to command the baseball more consistently, and he can reduce the erratic nature of his velocity, he’ll give himself a real chance to be a reliable college performer and we can begin to entertain the possibility of becoming a pro prospect.

All in all, I’m really proud of the work this athlete put in over the summer and I think these rapid changes speak volumes about the level of commitment he has to his development, as changes of this magnitude aren’t common in this time frame and they certainly don’t happen by accident. Needless to say, there’s still a lot of work to be done to “own” this remodeled delivery. It needs to become second nature and highly repeatable in order for this athlete to be able shift into a narrow-minded focus on just competing in the strike zone, but I’m certainly excited to see where his continued effort leads him.

For more pitching discussion, you can follow Matt on Twitter.

Looking for more video analysis and training insights like this? I'd encourage you to sign up for one of our upcoming Elite Baseball Mentorships. We have an upper extremity course in November, and you won't find a more intensive baseball educational experience.

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How Can Pitchers Ever Be “Elite” If They Take Time Off from Throwing?

The other day, the following comment/question was posted as a reply to one of my articles:

"How does an elite pitcher take 2-3 months off from throwing and stay an elite pitcher? I can see shutting down for one month from any throwing, but any more than that and atrophy and loss of neuro patterns kick in."

The short answer is, "They just can - and have - for a long time." I absolutely appreciate the question, and think it's an excellent one. Unfortunately, high level throwers have shown time and time again that they can do it. I'll give you a few examples among Cressey Sports Performance guys from the 2014 season.

Corey Kluber (Indians) made his last appearance of 2013 on September 27, and he didn't start his off-season throwing program until December 9. According to FanGraphs, his average fastball velocity was up from 92.9mph in 2013 to 93.2mph in 2014 - in spite of the fact that he threw 235 innings in 2014, which was 47 more than he's ever thrown in his career. Corey's saw his average fastball velocity increase in each of his four seasons in the big leagues - and he took 2-3 months off from throwing in each of those off-seasons. Clearly, the time off didn't hurt him, as he won the American League Cy Young in 2014.

Sam Dyson (then Marlins, now Rangers) made his last appearance of 2013 on September 22, and also didn't start a throwing program until mid-December. Check out his FanGraphs velocity improvement from 2013 to 2014 "in spite of" his lengthy time off in the fall/winter.

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Corey and Sam are just a few examples, and I've got dozens more. Elite pitchers don't struggle to stay elite; in fact, time off from throwing allows them to recharge and get their strength and mobility back to prepare for becoming "more elite" in the subsequent season.

With that point made, there are three perspectives I think are important to consider on this front.

1. Health vs. Mechanics

As I've written previously in 7 Reasons Pitchers Shouldn't Do Year-Round Throwing Programs - Part 1 and Part 2, there are a lot of physical adaptations that simply can't happen (at least not optimally) when an athlete is still throwing. You can't regain passive stiffness of the anterior shoulder capsule or ulnar collateral ligament. You can't make significant improvements to elbow and shoulder range-of-motion. You can't get rotator cuff strength/timing up, or improve scapular control. Trying to fix these things when a guy is always in-season is like trying to teach a 16-year-old to drive in the middle of the Daytona 500; things might get a little better, but don't expect great results when stressful situations are still in play.

Conversely, we can't optimize mechanics if a pitcher isn't throwing; we know that. However, I'd argue that having a healthy, strong, powerful, and mobile athlete is an important prerequisite to learning correct mechanics. Most players are really tired at this time of year - even if they don't appreciate it (more on this later). Motor learning never happens optimally under conditions of fatigue. I'm all for aggressive throwing programs and meticulous video analysis, but if mechanics and throwing programs are the only tools you have in your toolbox, then you're like a carpenter who only has a hammer: everything looks like a nail. If you understand structure, function, and adaptation, though, you've got a many resources at your fingertips to make an athlete better - and do so safely.

ECCishek

2. The Psychological Component

An example likely best illustrates this point. I recently saw a minor league pitcher who had an outstanding season: an ERA under 3.00 and a career high of 170+ innings. You'd think a guy like that would be wildly enthusiastic about baseball after such an awesome season, and even want to continue playing in any way possible.

That wasn't the case, though. He told me that for the first five days after the season, he avoided everything baseball. In fact, he was so worn out on baseball that he didn't do anything except watch TV and relax for two days. Only after that did he even feel like going for walks with his girlfriend - and he just started up his off-season training three weeks later. This is not uncommon.

It might come as a surprise, but a lot of players are completely "over" baseball by this time of year, particularly if they played for a team that wasn't in a playoff race, or pitched a career high in innings. Forcing them to continue throwing is a quick way to make them really apathetic to baseball and your coaching. If you need proof, ask any minor leaguer how he feels about being sent to Instructional League. A lot of necessary work happens there, but that doesn't mean they enjoy it.

3. Athletes might not know the difference between feeling "good" and "bad."

I'd argue that there are a lot of pitchers who say they feel great at the end of the season, but actually present really poorly in their post-season evaluations. I think a big part of the problem is that we can't necessarily perceive the issues - mobility and stability deficits - that lead to baseball injuries on a daily basis, as most arm injuries involve mechanical pain. In other words, they usually don't hurt unless you're throwing. I've seen athletes who claim they feel awesome at the end of the season, but they actually have experienced big losses in range of motion, stability, and power.

To apply this to kids who play year-round baseball, I think it's safe to say that we have a generation of kids who legitimately have no idea what it's like to feel good/fresh. They've never thrown a baseball with excellent rotator cuff strength or full scapular upward rotation. They don't know how to effectively create separation because their hip and thoracic mobility is so subpar, and even if they actually had good mobility, their poor core control wouldn't allow them to make use of it. You could make the argument that it's a "subclinical epidemic;" we just have a lot of "unathletic athletes" who aren't willing to take a step back to set themselves up for many steps forward. Build a big foundation and stay healthy, and you'll always pick up the specific mechanics corrections much easier.

Wrap-up

This article was a long response that could have been summed up with the sentence, "Don't be afraid to take time off from throwing." The research is very much in support of it helping to keep pitchers healthy, but the anecdotal evidence also supports the notion that it supports the long-term baseball development process, too.

Are you an athlete looking to learn more about Cressey Sports Performance's services at our Hudson, MA or Jupiter, FL locations? Check out www.CresseySportsPerformance.com.

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Get with the Program: Strategies for Individualizing Baseball Development

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

Regardless of your profession with respect to the baseball world, chances are that you spend a good portion of your days writing programs. Whether it is a home exercise program for a physical therapist, a training program for the strength and conditioning specialist, a throwing program for the pitching instructor, or a practice plan for a head coach, the quality of your programs can differentiate you from your competition. As opposed to writing a daily “workout,” a detailed, individualized program gives the athlete structure and sets expectations similar to a curriculum in education.

Each time we host an Elite Baseball Mentorship, the topic of programming comes up in our wrap-up roundtable discussion. As professionals, our job is to add value to our services and give our athletes a competitive advantage over their peers. A big way in which we can do this is by writing great programs for our athletes. It should be noted that writing such detailed and specific programs takes a lot of time and effort, but the athletes that we work with deserve nothing less. A “one size fits all” program with empty promises may sell well online, but most are a disservice to the athlete. This article will outline examples of different programs that we write on a daily basis.

There are many ways to subdivide programs to suit the needs of your athletes. For the purposes of this article, I’ve divided programs into three different categories: Temporal (length of program), Age, and Time of year/Season.

Within each category, athletes are divided into into three sub-categories: Lax, “Middle of the road”, and Stiff. Determining an athlete’s degree of laxity or stiffness is critical to determine whether an athlete needs to focus on mobility (“loosen up”) or stability (“tighten up”).

In addition, it serves as a more logical way to group athletes together when an individualized program is not possible based on time, space, and resources – most notably in the high school or college team settings.

Let’s take a look at each category, starting with temporal, and hit on some different points worth considering when designing programs for your athletes.

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Daily programming:
• Practice vs. Gameday
• Prehab/Rehab
• Pre-game warm-up
• Pre-throwing
• Throwing (Long toss, bullpen, in-game)
• In-game (between innings, reliever warm-up)
• Nutrition
• Post-game/Recovery

Weekly:
• Strength and Conditioning – frequency of strength and mobility sessions
• Rehab/Physical Therapy treatments (includes soft tissue work)
• Home exercise programs
• Throwing (5-day, 7-day, Reliever)
• Recovery work

Monthly/Season:
• Early season vs. late season (adaptive changes will require change in programming)

Year:
• Pre-season, in-season, post-season, time off

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Next, age must be appreciated when considering program design. There are major differences between these age groups in terms of laxity, injury history, injury predisposition, activity tolerance, recovery time, and a host of other factors that must be considered when programming for your athletes. As an athlete gets older, the number of games played in a season dramatically increases and must be accounted for in their programs. The table below illustrates a breakdown of the age category:

agechart

Lastly, we need to pay attention to season when designing programs. An interesting study by Posner et al, found that MLB injuries were 10x more likely to occur in April than September. It is critical to appreciate that exercise selection needs to change based on season out of respect for throwing volume. In addition, the importance of adaptive changes such as decreased (or increased) ROM, pain, fatigue, weight loss, among others must be appreciated. Also, competing demands such as multiple sports in season, travel, schoolwork, and family commitments need to be taken into consideration as we create programs for our athletes.

seasonchart

Other considerations for varying volume, duration, and intensity in your programs include:
• Position (pitcher, catcher, IF, OF)
• History of injury in past year
• Multi-Sport vs. Early Specialized (include multi-sports in same season – high school athlete)
• Geography: Athletes from the Northeast will have a shorter competitive season with less games vs. their southern counterparts.

In conclusion, once you determine an athlete’s degree of laxity and define time, age, and seasonal considerations, you can use these templates in combination to help organize your programming and become more efficient.
For example:

➢ A daily in-season program for a lax 17 year old left-handed pitcher (and 3-sport high school athlete) with a history of medial elbow pain.

It is important to appreciate that this program design will vary greatly from:

➢ A weekly off-season program for a stiff 30 year old RHP (big leaguer) with a medical history of 2 shoulder surgeries and currently experiencing left knee pain.

If you found this information helpful in organizing your thoughts when it comes to managing the baseball players with whom you work, we encourage you to sign up for one of our upcoming Elite Baseball Mentorships. We have events in both October and November, and you won't find a more intensive baseball educational course.

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