Home Posts tagged "improve pitching velocity"

Progress Doesn’t Happen in Isolation

I've got an important point to make today, and I think it's best illustrated with a hypothetical story.

Let's say that a 14-year-old, 6-0, 140-pound kid - we'll call him Joey - comes in to Cressey Sports Performance and does an evaluation with me in September. He says that he currently throws 70-72mph, but wants to hit 80mph by the start of the upcoming spring baseball season - and that he's willing to do anything to reach that goal.

We put Joey on a great strength and conditioning program - lifting, sprint/agility/jumping challenges, medicine ball drills, arm care exercises, self-myofascial release, and mobility work - and he crushes it with his nutrition. Joey gets on a solid throwing program, and fine-tunes his grip on the baseball and some mechanical flaws with our pitching coordinator.

Joey gets manual therapy with our massage therapist, and also makes a dedicated effort to improve his sleep quality and quantity. He hangs out with a bunch of professional baseball players in a motivating environment, and even reads some sports psychology books to prepare himself mentally. Joey crushes his offseason with us - and puberty is still kicking in to help the cause.

And, the results show up in the spring: Joey is consistently pitching harder than 80mph, surpassing his goal.

It must have been the lifting, right? Or the medicine ball work? Or the arm care? Or the nutrition improvements and weight gain? Or the mechanical changes? Or a simple grip adjustment on his fastball? Or better sleep? Or just the gains associated with puberty?

What I also failed to mention is that Joey was taking algebra in school. He also shoveled his driveway whenever it snowed. And he stopped eating gluten because he felt like it made him bloated. And he got a new pair of sneakers. And his mother switched from a minivan to a SUV. Joey even developed a weird ritual of half-naked shadow boxing in the mirror every night with the Spice Girls playing in the background. You've got to have a routine, right?

Of course, everyone takes note of Joey's crazy progress and asks him what the "secret" was. How does Joey respond? Puberty, gluten, the minivan, and his Spice Girls infatuation are all sensitive subjects he doesn't want to publicly discuss, so those are off the table. Nobody gets excited hearing about algebra, sneakers, grip adjustments, or mobility work, so those are lame discussion points for the local newspaper interview. Hanging out with professional baseball players seems like a cooler story line, though, so that's what he goes with: his progress all had to do with environment.

Nevermind the fact that Joey gained 30 pounds and started sleeping more than six hours per night. And, forget that he can actually touch his toes and do a body weight lunge without tipping over. And, overlook the fact that he is no longer throwing accidental cutters on every pitch because his delivery was so out of whack. Heck, those old shoes may have been terribly constructed and put Joey into horrible positions in his pitching delivery. 

 

If you want to throw hard, you have to firm up on the lead leg...and at the right time and in the right direction. Cleats can definitely help athletes "get away" with a bit more in this regard, as they guarantee a larger base of support (foot stays on the ground) and generally have a lot more medial/lateral support than normal sneakers. It's one reason why many pitchers throw considerably harder outside than they do off indoor (turf) mounds. That said, if you're going to pitch off a turf mound, do yourself a favor and make sure that you've got a sneaker that isn't too flimsy - especially side to side. You shouldn't roll out of the shoe (which we see in the right video). Take note of the same pitcher on the left in the @newbalance #mx20v6, a minimalist sneaker that is lightweight but still provides adequate medial/lateral support. Exact same delivery, but markedly different outcomes. Full disclosure: I helped design this shoe - but the lessons are the same regardless of what you're wearing. Thanks for the demos, @joeryan34! #cspfamily #pitching #pitchingdrills #minimalistshoes

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I know what you're saying: this is an extreme example - and you're right. However, we see a modified version of it all the time. Tom Brady refuses to eat tomatoes. Marshawn Lynch eats Skittles during games. Chris Sale needs to eat fast food to keep his weight up.

Usually, progress is incredibly multi-factorial. The results come not just from a lot of different directions, but from the synergistic interaction of many factors. And, sometimes there are other factors that may confound how we evaluate the path to success.

Tom Brady is still going to be an elite NFL quarterback if he has tomatoes for dinner the night before a game.

The 40 calories worth of Skittles Marshawn Lynch eats on gameday probably have zero impact on his performance.

Chris Sale's slider is going to be absolutely filthy even if he chooses pizza over chicken, broccoli, and rice.

And, in our example above, Joey's progress was completely unrelated to a myriad of things that took place. But, that doesn't mean we can ever really know what percentage was related to strength and conditioning vs. pitching instruction vs. nutrition vs. a host of other factors. We just know that success comes for a variety of reasons, so you have to check a lot of boxes to determine what contributed to that success. And, you have to recognize that unless you have perfectly controlled research studies, you'll likely have a very hard time isolating where the success really originated.

A perfect example of this is the debate on posture's impacts on pain and performance. Anecdotal evidence tells us that it does make a difference, but the research is actually shockingly inconclusive in this regard; we just don't know exactly how big a role (if any) that it plays in one's ability to stay healthy.

With that in mind, I'll be digging a lot deeper on the topic with my presentation, "How Posture Impacts Pain and Performance," at this year's Cressey Sports Performance Fall Seminar. It will take place on October 22 at our Hudson, MA location - and the early bird registration discount ends tonight (Friday, September 22) at midnight. Click here for more details.

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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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Aggressive Throwing Programs: Are You Asking the Right Questions?

Today's guest post comes from former Cressey Sports Performance intern, James Cerbie. In this post, James builds on a point I'd made a few weeks ago in an installment of Random Thoughts on Sports Performance. Enjoy! -EC

Everyone wants to throw gas.

If you throw 80mph, you want to throw 85mph. If you throw 85,mph you want to throw 90mph. If you throw 90, you want to throw 95mph…and so on and so forth.

For a pitcher, it’s the ultimate attention grabber. The radar gun doesn’t lie, and lighting one up is the quickest way to turn heads.

Assuming you have any semblance of control, throwing hard helps you get a college scholarship, helps you get drafted, and helps you toward the big leagues.

Sorry, but they aren’t handing out many signing bonuses for an 85mph fastball.

Think of it like the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine—everyone is looking for that 4.3 speed because it’s a game changer.

Due to the high premium baseball places on velocity, and the paychecks that can come along with it, weighted ball programs have gained a tremendous amount of popularity over the past several years. Not only that, they can deliver great results. By playing with the force velocity curve, you can see some pretty impressive jumps in velocity over a relatively short period of time.

Eric has written about weighted ball programs in the past, and I’ll just refer you here if you want to read more on the subject.

Unfortunately, a lot of high school and college athletes are jumping into aggressive weighted ball programs without asking the right questions—they end up chasing short-term gains as opposed to setting themselves up for long-term success.

Building a Pyramid

If I asked you to build a pyramid, how would you do it?

Would you start with the base of the pyramid, also known as your foundation, and gradually work your way up? Slowly adding on a layer at a time until you arrive at the top?

goodpyramid
 

Or, would you skimp on the base and spend the majority of your time building the top of the pyramid?

badpyramid

I’m no expert in building pyramids, but I think we can all agree that the first example wins out: a pyramid without a base may get up in the beginning, but it’ll lose out over the long haul.

General vs. Specific Training

The above example illustrates the difference between general and specific training.

The base of pyramid represents general fitness qualities, while the top of the pyramid represents specific fitness qualities (specific in relation to your sport of choice):

specificgeneral1

For example, a deadlift represents a general fitness quality for a baseball player because we’re developing strength and stability in the sagittal plane while working on the ability to “hip hinge.” None of those qualities are necessarily specific to throwing a baseball, but they lay the foundation for higher-level performance.

A weighted ball program, on the other hand, is about as specific as you can get: you’re performing the exact skill from your sport and doing so with heavier and lighter implements.

This is why so much effort goes into the assessment process before an athlete starts a training program. It gives us a good feel for where they are on the pyramid:

  • How’s their baseline movement capacity?
  • Are they lacking scapular upward rotation?

  • Can they get their hands overhead without driving into extension?
  • Are they strong and stable in the sagittal plane?
  • Can they get “in” and “out” of both hips sufficiently?
  • Do they have appropriate amounts of “core” control?
  • Do they have the capacity to control movement in multiple planes of motion?
  • Can they stand on one leg?
  • Do they have symmetrical total shoulder motion and shoulder flexion?

These represent only a few of the questions we want answers to, but they are all important because it tells us what an athlete is prepared to do at this moment in time, and what they need to work on to progress further up the pyramid.

What can happen in the world of performance training, however, is the inverted pyramid:

specificgeneral2


This is what it looks like when people rush straight for the weighted ball program. They skip over the all-important base of pyramid and go straight to the top because that’s what’s sexy. Although this structure will produce results in the short run, it doesn’t bode well for long-term success.

General Expresses Specific

If you walk away from this article remembering one thing, please let it be this: your general fitness qualities (the base of your pyramid) puts you in a position to express your sport specific skill.

In other words, they put you in a position to be successful—they give you the ability to get your body in the best position to throw a baseball.

For a baseball player, building up those qualities usually happens off the baseball field. It’s the free play you engaged in and the multiple sports you enjoyed growing up. And, it’s what you do in the weight room. It means doing deadlifts, lunges, push-ups, prone trap raises, and a host of other exercises because it builds your body up towards the ultimate goal: throwing a baseball to best of your ability.

If you skip over that stage and rush straight towards the top of the pyramid, then you’re not only setting yourself up for injury, you’re also leaving gobs of untapped performance on the table.

Tying it All Together

It’s incredibly tempting to jump into the latest and greatest program on the market that’s boasting to add 8mph to your fastball in two months. Before jumping into that program, you have to ask yourself if you’re physically prepared to do so.

Aggressive throwing programs are not bad. In fact, they are one of the more exciting developments in baseball over the past several years. But, it’s vital to remember where they fall with regards to development.

If you’ve put in the time and built yourself a solid foundation, then by all means get on a well-managed weighted ball program. If you haven’t put in the time building yourself a foundation, then start there and work your way up. Your performance and arm will thank you down the road.

About the Authorcerbie1

James Cerbie (@JamesCerbie) is certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association, Precision Nutrition, USA Weightlifting, and Crossfit, and is the owner ofRebel Performance. He has worked with athletes at all levels, and currently coaches in Charlotte, North Carolina. You can also find him on him on Facebook.
 

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The Truth About CC Sabathia’s Weight

Earlier this week, the New York Times published Joe Brescia's article, For Yankees' Sabathia, It Appears Less (Weight) is Less (Success).  It stirred up quite a bit of controversy among those "in the know" in the baseball world, particularly those with a knowledge of how the body actually works.  As is often the case with articles targeted toward the lay population, this piece didn't delve into the specifics in too much detail, so I thought I'd use this post to do so.  Be sure to read the article before proceeding, if you haven't already.

The Body Mass - Pitching Velocity Relationship

To begin, research has demonstrated a clear relationship between body mass and pitching velocity, so this is at least a question that has to be asked.  However, I think it needs to be answered fairly - via a compilation of anecdotal reports and actual research. And, most importantly, nobody except CC Sabathia knows how he feels at different body weights - and certainly nobody can speak to his injury history better than he can. Instead, we got some heavily dated and biased opinions with some cherry-picked interviews by Mr. Brescia.

CC_Sabathia_2009

The problem with cherry-picked interviews in this realm is that they always seem to fall back on a sample size of just a few pitchers.  "Greg Maddux did this, so everyone has to do this."  The problem is that not everyone has Greg Maddux's abilities with respect to pitching location, movement, and sequencing.  Other guys need to make it up with athleticism, especially in today's game - where fastball velocities blow those of yesterday out of the water. The game has changed dramatically; it's played with faster throwing, running, and swinging velocities than ever before (one of MANY reasons for the increase in injuries, contrary to what Lou Piniella and Leo Mazzone seem to think) - and if you want to compete at the MLB level, you don't have the option of not pushing your body to be better.  With that in mind, we have to look at what the majority of players have done to get to improve their bodies. To speak to Piniella's assertions, players don't get hurt or fall off in performance simply because they train; these problems occur when they train incorrectly, whether it's poor exercise technique, excessive volume, imbalanced programming, inappropriate loading, lack of attention to mobility and soft tissue quality, or any of a host of other factors. 

I've devoted my career to helping players get better and stay healthy by avoiding these common errors. To that end, at Cressey Performance, I work with over 100 professional players each off-season on top of a large college, high school, and middle school clientele - so I feel that I'm in a good position to give valid anecdotal evidence in the context of this weight gain vs. weight loss discussion. 

ECtable

While weight gain is almost universally beneficial at the younger ranks, as kids get past ages 17-18, things shift a bit.  As an example, in our professional pitchers crowd, I'd estimate that about 70% can really benefit from gaining weight.  Roughly 20% are at a good weight - and need to focus on improving body composition rather than actually making the scale go up or down.  Finally, only about 10% need to actually lose weight.

As it relates to throwing, weight gain is a perfect example of the Inverted-U curve.  In his latest book, David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell writes,

Inverted-U curves have three parts, and each part follows a different logic.  There's the left side, where doing more or having more makes things better.  There's the flat middle, where doing more doesn't make much of a difference.  And there's the right side, where doing more or having more makes things worse.

In other words, there is a weight that helps performance, but gaining more doesn't help past a point. Here's what the inverted U looks like graphically, with body weight on the x-axis and performance on the y-axis:

invertu

The 40 pounds Tim Collins has put on at Cressey Performance since he was drafted have had a profound impact on his pitching velocity, as he's gone from 82mph to the mid-90s.  So, as you can imagine, I look to take advantage of this weight gain window whenever possible.

TimCollins250x_20110610

The Body Mass - Pitching Stress Relationship

Unlike examples like Collins, I don't think Sabathia is a candidate to thrive with weight gain. You see, pitching is a combination of absolute and relative strength and power. From an absolute standpoint, more body weight equates to more force to push off the mound, and more momentum moving downhill; that's why gaining weight can have such a profound impact on pitching velocity.

On the other hand, from a relative strength and power standpoint, you eventually have to "accept" all the force you create.  We know that there are substantial ground reaction forces taken on by the front leg, and research has demonstrated that they are (not surprisingly) directly impacted by body weight.  Additionally, according to 1998 research on professional pitchers from Werner et al., at ball release, the distraction forces on the shoulder are approximately 108% of body weight.  You could also make the argument that these forces are even higher now, as average fastball velocity has crept up significantly since 1998, and the subjects in that study averaged only 89mph.  As is the case with body weight increases, as arm speed rises, so do shoulder distraction.  With this research in mind, there should be no question that carrying extra body weight at this critical instant in the delivery wasn't helping his cause:

CCSabathia

And, at risk of playing Monday Morning Quarterback, if you look at his recent injury history, you shouldn't be surprised. He had torn meniscus in his right (landing) leg repaired in 2010, and bone spurs removed from his left elbow in 2012.  Both are ball release/deceleration mechanism injuries to passive restraints.  In other words, they take place because the active restraints (muscles and tendons) can't keep up with the workload placed on them.  If you can't keep up with shoulder distraction forces, you only have two options, when you're in panic mode and trying to get big league hitters out:

1. Let your arm fly off your body.

2. Crank your elbow into more aggressive extension, increasing the likelihood of bony injury (loose bodies) or protective adaptation (spurs).

Clearly, gaining weight won't do much for his longevity - and, to be fair, the New York Times piece did discuss that. I'd also argue that it'd make it more difficult to field his position and run the bases during interleague play. Plus, his fat loss will make any future diagnostic tests - MRIs, x-rays, etc. - more accurate, should he encounter additional musculoskeletal problems. Here's what radiologist Dr. Jason Hodges had to say when I interviewed him five years ago:

By far, the biggest limitation is obesity. All of the imaging modalities are limited by it, mostly for technical reasons. An ultrasound beam can only penetrate so far into the soft tissues. X-rays and CT scans are degraded by scattered radiation, which leads to a higher radiation dose and grainy images. Also, the time it takes to do the study increases, which gives a higher incidence of motion blur.

I also found it interesting that there was no mention of the reduced risk of chronic problems like heart disease and diabetes; I give him a ton of credit for getting the weight off so that he can be a healthy role model for his kids (not to mention fans who've witnessed his transformation).

Your velocity doesn't matter if you're on the disabled list...period.  However, we have to ask the question of whether CC's velocity drop in 2013 was really just a function of him losing weight.

Finding the Right Body Weight to Maximize Velocity

If there are two thing I've learned over years of working with pitchers, it's that no two deliveries are alike, and every body is unique.  What works for Steve Cishek (6-6, 220lbs) won't work for Tim Collins (5-7, 170lbs).

CresseyCishekCollins

Beyond just height and weight differences, some guys have more joint laxity than others.  Each pitcher has a unique injury history. Some throwers have more retroversion in their throwing shoulders, or a larger valgus carrying angle at the elbow. 

crazyvalgus

I could go on and on about these individuals differences, but the point is that it's dangerous to assume that all guys will respond exactly the same to a given stimulus - whether it's a mechanical adjustment, modified throwing program, added athleticism, a change in body weight, or something else.

On the body weight side of things, I've had a few years to develop a sample size of where pitchers seem to fit in best weight-wise.  Obviously, there are individual differences in body weight distrubtion, limb length, and body composition, but we can generalize a bit if you think about the average build of a professional pitcher.  Being about 220-225 pounds for a 6-3 pitcher, as an example, seems to be a sweet spot.  If their weight drops, so does their velocity.  If their weight climbs, they don't necessarily benefit - and may actually feel worse.

By contrast, go to someone who is 6-5, and 240-245 pounds seems to be a good spot - so you could make the argument that each inch equates to about 10 pounds.  At 6-7, I'd estimate 260-270 pounds.  This is something that's been reflected in my conversations with the really tall guys I've trained over the years:

Really tall guys simply don't thrive with weight gain like shorter guys do.

While there are obviously exceptions to this rule, in the 6-7 and above pitchers I've encountered, we're usually focusing a lot more on improving body composition (dropping some body fat while gaining muscle mass, even if the scale weight doesn't change).  It all depends on their starting points - but I can't say that I've ever pushed hard for a guy to go from 250 to 270 pounds.

I should also note: interpreting online height/weight listings in MLB pitchers is tricky, as guys are always listed about an inch tall without a change in body weight. Plus, they are rarely updated - and guys don't grow much after they enter pro ball, but they do gain weight.  As an example, Felix Doubrant is currently listed at 165 pounds by Yahoo Sports, but ESPN.com and MLB.com have him at 225 pounds.

Obviously, there are exceptions to the "norms" I just set forth.  As an example, Cishek is more comfortable slightly lighter than typical 6-6 guys because he drops down and throws across his body, landing really closed off.  This gives him more deception and movement, but also requires a lot more mobility and athleticism than a big donkey who just stands upright and throws downhill. That same argument could be made for Jered Weaver and Andrew Miller, who are both listed at 6-7, 210 pounds.

Based on what I've heard and seen in his delivery, Sabathia is also a super athletic guy - and you can tell from the way he really gets down the mound.  I'd argue that he's better off at 270; it's a happy medium between velocity and health, in my eyes - and that's the Holy Grail of pitching we're always working to find.

The Mathematics of Sabathia's Weight Loss

According to the New York Times piece, Sabathia has lost 45 pounds over the past two years - effectively bringing him from 315 to 270 pounds. If these numbers are accurate, he lost 14% of his body weight over the course of 24 months - and that's certainly a notable reduction that has to raise his eyebrows.

However, those eyebrows are only raised if you look at things in absolute terms.  A 14% loss for a 6-3, 225-pound pitcher would be 31.5 pounds - and would certainly equate to a huge drop in velocity.  However, that 225-pound pitcher wasn't starting out from a point of what could actually be classified as obesity.  The 45-pound drop brought Sabathia back to a more normal range, whereas the 31.5-pound drop would put a 6-3 pitcher far too light to thrive. Unless he's got an insanely quick arm, it's not going to work.

This parallels my own experiences in cutting weight as a competitive powerlifter.  Losing 5-10 pounds would lower my lifts dramatically, but I knew guys in the 242-, 275-, 308-pound weight classes (and super heavyweights) who could do it in a matter of minutes without noticing a thing.  The heavier you are, the less sensitive you are to changes - especially when they happen over the course of two years.

Heavy people (especially taller ones) who diet don't experience the serious lethargy and lack of satisfaction lighter-weight dieters notice because of the total amount of calories that are still being taken in.  I remember talking to a world-class bench presser who wanted to stay above 350 pounds to shorten the distance the bar had to travel while pressing.  He told me he was drinking three gallons of Powerade a day on top of his normal diet just to keep his weight up - and was absolutely miserable.  He also couldn't go for a 1/4 mile walk without his lower back tightening up.  So, we can kill off the myth that CC was starving himself to take the weight off; he was probably just making better food choices - which actually meant he probably ate a higher volume of food.

Regarding mechanical changes that occur with significant weight gain or loss, I simply haven't seen it.  I've put 25 pounds on guys in off-seasons on countless occasions, and can't ever recall someone saying it interfered with their mechanics.  I've also had guys lose that same amount, without ever complaining about it throwing them off.  It's a much more dramatic change at these lighter weights, too.  Losing 20 pounds during an off-season when you're 320 pounds doesn't dramatically change your mechanics. And, even if it did, a high-level, intelligent athlete like Sabathia would sort it out, particularly with the video analysis resources at his fingertips.

In fact, I'd actually argue that his weight loss would improve his ability to get to the positions he needs to be successful with his delivery, as Sabathia lost a lot of abdominal fat. 

CChomeplate

When you carry a lot of weight in your midsection, there is a tendency to slip into lumbar extension (lower back arching) to counteract it.  This is one reason why pregnant women often have back pain; beyond the mechanical impingement on the posterior aspect of the spine, the muscles of the anterior core are excessively lengthen as the pelvis tips forward and rib cage slides up.  CP pitching coordinator Matt Blake and I discussed this common fault in our recent series, Understanding Trunk Position at Foot Strike (part 1, part 2, and part 3).  A larger belly would shift a guy like Sabathia into a more extended (arched) posture - similar to what we see with Lincecum on the right - as opposed to to the more neutral core positioning we see on the left with Zach Greinke.

grelin

Greinke is older and has thrown more innings over the past two years than Lincecum, yet his average fastball velocity this year was 1.5mph higher. According to Fangraphs (Lincecum vs. Greinke), since 2007, Lincecum has dropped from 94.2mph to 90.2mph, while Greinke has dropped from 94.0mph to 91.7mph.  This is one of many factors that may contribute to Greinke's ability to sustain his velocity better than Lincecum has, but I'll take a neutral core posture and clean drive line over the long haul over a heavily extended one - and that's where CC's larger abdomen was shifting him.

Finally, from a common sense standpoint, I don't think anyone would call 6-7, 270 pounds "light" - especially when we're talking about a guy who still looks pretty damn intimidating on the mound. His body weight is fine, people - as much as that doesn't sell controversy in the New York Times.

How, then, do you explain his loss in velocity? Read on.

Fatigue Masks Fitness

As the Lincecum vs. Greinke example demonstrates, getting older and throwing a lot of innings means a velocity drop. Sabathia's average fastball velocity is consistent with this trend, going from 94.7mph in 2005 to 91.1mph in 2013. Let's have a look at the active leaders in innings pitched (courtesy of Baseball Reference):

IP

As you can see, Sabathia is an outlier.  He was among the youngest on this list (if not THE youngest) to make the big leagues - and he's certainly the only one with a track record of sustained success without missing considerable time due to injury. 

Throwing a baseball is the single-fastest motion in all of sports, and CC Sabathia has done it at the highest level more than anyone else on the planet over the past 13 years.

It's virtually impossible to compare him to anyone on this list in terms of both innings pitched, admirable health, age and consistently. The only four parallels who can help for the sake of this discussion are Dan Haren, Josh Beckett, Jake Peavy, and Mark Buerhle.

Haren is the same age as Sabathia and also made his MLB debut at age 21. While he's averaged 186 innings per year over the past 11 years, he's thrown 729 innings (almost four full seasons worth) less than Sabathia, who has averaged 213 over the past 13.  Haren's average fastball velocity has declined from a peak of 91.9mph in 2005 to 88.9mph in 2013.

Beckett, like Sabathia, was an absolute stud in his early 20s and threw a ton of innings over his first decade in the big leagues - but his 149IP/year rate can't touch CC's because of the amount of time he's spent on the disabled list, especially in light of this year's season ending surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome.  He is a good comparison for Sabathia in terms of velocity, though, as Beckett's average fastball velocity dropped from 94.7mph in 2006 to 91.4mph in 2012 (his last full season). 

Jake Peavy is the same age as Sabathia, but got to the big leagues a year later than CC, and like Beckett, Peavy has missed too much time with injuries to really be a valid comparison (averaging 162IP/year). Peavy's average fastball velocity drop has been more subtle - 92.5mph in 2007 down to 90.7mph in 2013 - but you have to wonder where it would be if he'd thrown over 800 innings more during that time period - as Sabathia has.

Buerhle is a bit different, though, as he's averaged 205IP per season over the past 14 years - making him the only guy who can touch Sabathia's streak of longevity and performance.  The main difference?  Sabathia throws a lot harder than Buerhle, and that's a lot more stress.  Make no mistake about it: you don't pull your hamstrings if you don't run fast (even Lou Piniella's strength and conditioning approach supports that) - and the same applies to pitching.  Still, Buerhle's average fastball velocity has dropped from a peak of 87.1mph in 2004 to 84.2mph in 2013.

I've often heard that many front office people in baseball consider the prime of a player to be age 26-31. It's the point at which increased knowledge of the game coincides with peak athleticism and recovery ability.  After 31 - as each of these examples shows, things start to decline.  It stands to reason that power pitchers like Beckett and Sabathia, who rely heavily on athleticism, will fall off faster than those like Buerhle and Peavy, who rely more on location and movement.  I'd also add that those with considerable congenital laxity (loose joints) will fall off the fastest (more strength = more stability = better force transfer) - and based on what I've seen of Beckett and Sabathia, they are both freakishly flexible. Getting old sucks.

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What do these examples - and literally hundreds more in guys who weren't even close to as successful as Sabathia - show us?  Fatigue masks fitness.  If you throw a ton of innings (impose fatigue) and get older (reduce recovery capacity), your performance suffers. We saw it early this season after Justin Verlander's heavy workload in the playoffs last year.  And, this is true of every single sport in the history of mankind. 

That is, of course, unless you're CC Sabathia, in which case it's only because you lost some fat, at least according to a few of Brescia's cherry-picked interviewees.  To me, it's proof that there are scenarios where professional athletes can never win with the media.  Sabathia should be lauded for taking control of his health - and for taking the ball every time his team needed him to do so, pitching in some cases on three days rest.  We hear complaining all the time about how today's pitchers are soft and can't do what the pitchers of yesterday did.  How about praise for a guy who has made more sacrifices on the mound for his teams than anyone in MLB over the past 13 years?

And, who is to say that he would have pitched at all in these past few years if he hadn't taken the weight off?  If he'd come back and reaggravated the meniscus, then everyone would have been calling him too fat to perform.  There's literally no way to win without having the ability to predict the future - and that's why you have to apply common sense, anecdotal evidence, and research - none of which support the idea that being over 300 pounds is healthy or productive for a pitcher.

I, for one, am a huge CC Sabathia fan and think he can be a successful pitcher at this body weight given the right management in the years to come.  It's unfair, however, to expect him to throw 200+ innings per year in perpetuity and not anticipate a velocity loss to ever kick in.

And, more specific to the New York Times piece, it's incredibly shortsighted and borderline irresponsible to even attempt to to blame it on weight loss - which in all likelihood was necessary for him to continue to be able to perform at a high level in spite of the insane physical demands placed on him.

Note: A big thanks goes out to Matt Blake for the great photos from Right View Pro, and to the good folks at Fangraphs.com, who provide awesome stats info in the baseball world.

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Pitching Performance: Understanding Trunk Position at Foot Strike – Part 1

Cressey Performance Pitching Coordinator Matt Blake and I collaborated on today's piece, which kicks off a three-part series. I think you'll find it to be a great example of how crucial it is for pitching experts and strength and conditioning specialists to work together to help athletes get to where they need to be. -EC

Today, we’re going to be taking a look at a key phase of the pitcher’s delivery that we like to identify when doing video assessments; this phase is the trunk positioning at foot strike. In doing so, we’re going to dig in on some variables that may make or break this position for pitchers.

The trunk orientation at foot strike is a key indicator because it’s a critical moment in the delivery that captures the momentum and potential energy that we were attempting to build in the stride phase.  Just as importantly, foot strike is the instant at which we begin to convert it into kinetic energy that moves up the chain.

In order to efficiently capture this energy, our body has to be set up properly at landing to both accept the ground reaction force in our legs and induce a sequence of stretch-reflex mechanisms throughout the body to optimize our hand speed at ball release. This is where the term “Hip and Shoulder Separation” originates; this commonly thrown-around concept is quite often bungled because of how people strive to get it. Without getting into stride phase mechanics, let’s just look at a couple key identifiable traits that we like to see at landing.

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Our model for this example will be Zach Greinke, because of his ability to create elite velocities in a highly repeatable manner from a body type to which most pitchers can relate. In order to do that, he’s got to be powerful and efficient, and (with or without knowing it) he has to get into some highly leveraged positions to create hand speed.

The first thing we want to identify is where the torso stacks up over the stable base we’ve tried to create at landing. The key landmarks we make note of here are 1) the degree of pelvis rotation that is leading the sequencing, 2) an effectively braced lumbar region, and 3) a balanced use of thoracic extension/rotation and scapular retraction, and 4) where the head is oriented. All of these markers need to be working together to create a lag effect from the initial rotation of the pelvis, up the spine to the shoulder girdle, and into the distal aspects of the throwing arm.

This “lag effect” or “segmental separation” has been documented in a handful of studies at this point, and is very evident in elite throwers, so we’re not going to dive into this too much. Instead, today’s post is more about identifying what the segmental separation looks like in these throwers and how it might be overdone at times.

The key in creating this separation effectively is keeping our target in mind and making sure these sequenced rotations are expressed in the right direction.  If you’ll notice the picture of Greinke above, he’s very adept at getting this separation without “selling out” for it by creating excessive lumbar extension (lower back arching) and letting his ribs flare upwards. He’s in an effective position to keep his ribs and pelvis functioning together so as to keep his intra-abdominal pressure for an effective bracing pattern.  In other words, the ribs need to stay down and pelvis can't tip forward excessively as he raise his arms to throw.

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This is an important concept because a lot of athletes may be able to create “separation,” but they’re not doing it in a manner that allows their core to stabilize effectively over their pelvis upon landing. If there’s too much counter-rotation or extension in the lumbar region, we may be getting more “pre-stretch” than we can handle, and getting it from the wrong place, as the lumbar region is designed to be stable and resist this extension and rotation.  If this is the case, we may not be able to recall the stretch we’ve created, missing our temporal window to transfer force, and in turn, leaking energy. This doesn’t just mean losses in velocity or poor command, though; it can also lead to both acute and chronic injuries. 

We want the lumbar region to create an effective bracing pattern that simply allows us to channel the energy created in the lower half and then use our thoracic mobility to effectively “lengthen the whip.” If this isn’t the case and we become over-reliant on the lumbar region for this separation, we can begin to see lower back issues, or oblique strains on the non-dominant side from the excessive stretch in a region that is not structurally designed for a lot of range of motion.   As further anecdotal evidence, I (Eric) have never seen a player – pitcher or hitter – with an oblique strain who had what I’d deem acceptable anterior core control.

That being said, below is an example of two pitchers who set up in different postures, one relying on more torso extension than the other to create “whip” in the throw.

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Now, obviously, the pitcher on the right has had a history of success at the highest level, so we're not saying you can’t pitch like this, but aside from the potential health issues in trying to mimic this level of extension, we also see amateur pitchers who have a hard time realizing an effective release point due to the excessive range of motion required to get from Point A to point B.

With pitchers like this, a lot of times you’ll see them miss consistently up to the arm side or compensate by cutting balls off to their glove-side instead of being able to backspin them there.  This is due to a host of factors, but mainly because they’re not able to sustain their braced rotation and create an effective driveline to release from this position.

The other piece of the puzzle that needs to be understood at landing is how we create effective  centration patterns in our joints.  Key examples in the pitching delivery are the front hip where the femoral head meets the acetabulum (pictured on left) and the throwing shoulder where the humeral head meets the glenoid fossa of the scapula (pictured on right).

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We’ll leave the hip socket alone for now, but let’s try to understand why it’s important to create a relatively neutral orientation in our lumbar region for the sake of keeping our shoulder healthy.  

In order to get proper function at the glenohumeral (ball and socket) joint, we need the scapula to get to the right amount of upward rotation on the rib cage so our humeral head can center itself in its socket and get the rotator cuff to function in its true role of dynamic stabilization during external rotation (and, later, out front at ball release).

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If we are in a hyperextended position because we’re driving through an excessive combination of both lumbar and thoracic extension, we may be putting our shoulder blade in a depressed and downwardly rotated position that isn’t optimal for timing purposes in the throw.  In other words, the arm gets up, but the shoulder blade can’t – meaning the golf ball is falling off the tee.

If this is the case and we can’t upwardly rotate the scapula on time to keep the humeral head centered, we can run into an excessive amount of superior humeral glide.  Unless the rotator cuff is bull-strong to hold the humerus down in the socket, we have to rely heavily on other active and passive restraints (long head of biceps and glenohumeral ligaments, respectively) of the shoulder.  These problems are exacerbated by the fact that the humerus is externally rotating to get to the lay-back position, and when this happens, the humeral head has a tendency to translate forward.  So, the cuff, biceps tendon, and glenohumeral ligaments are all working hard to prevent both superior and anterior migration of the humeral head.  And, the biceps tendon is twisting and tugging at its attachment on the superior labrum; this is known as the peel-back mechanism for superior labral injuries. 

If you’re a visual learner and none of the previous paragraph made sense to you, don’t worry.  Check out this video and things should make sense:

Yet again, don’t get us wrong, there’s a lot of velocity to be had in these excessively extended positions, assuming they are timed up right, but the long and the short of it is, you’re probably not Tim Lincecum. If you’re attempting to sell out for these lengthened positions, you better have a real nice blend of hip mobility and stability, a ton of anterior core strength, some thoracic mobility and scapular stability and a boat load of athleticism to sustain these positions over the long haul. A quick arm won’t hurt, either!

These issues don’t normally present themselves during the first inning of a start in April, but they do have a tendency to linger underneath the surface until a point where your body is fatigued and the incessant abuse of throwing a baseball time and time again takes its toll, bringing you to threshold.

At the end of the day, we’re not going to be the internet warriors who tell Tim Lincecum he’s doing it all wrong, because he’s not, but we are going to warn the millions of amateur pitchers who aren’t Tim Lincecum that they need to be aware of how they’re attempting to create separation in their throw. More often than not, amateur pitchers are trying to write checks their body can’t cash for that ever elusive 90mph throw. Our advice to you is to dig in and learn more about how the body moves along your way. You’ll find that more often than not, you can do more with less, assuming you’re getting the range of motion in your throw through the right segments and optimizing the timing of your sequencing.

As much as it is the guys who have considerable amounts of laxity who throw hard, it’s the guys who combine it with right amount of stability to create the relative stiffness necessary to stay healthy over the long haul. Needless to say, there’s a lot more that goes into creating the durable high level delivery, but that should give you a couple key points to think about as you begin to figure out how you’re going to make yourself a better player this offseason.

In Parts 2 and 3 of these series, we'll cover some drills you can utilize to prevent or correct these problems.  In the meantime, if you'd like to learn more about how we manage throwers, be sure to register for one of our Elite Baseball Mentorships.  The next one will take place December 8-10.

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It Needs to Be Said: Throwing Doesn’t Build Arm “Strength”

Today, I'm going to tackle one of my biggest pet peeves in the baseball world: people saying that throwing builds arm "strength."  Sorry, but it doesn't. 

What I'm going to write below might seem like wordplay, but truthfully, it's a very important differentiation to make.  If young athletes believe that throwing builds arm strength, they'll quickly convince themselves that year-round throwing is safe and acceptable, when it's actually one of the worst things they can do for long-term health and development. Here's what you need to know:

1. Throwing builds arm speed - which is power.  Power is heavily reliant on muscular strength.  If you can't apply much force, you can't apply much force quickly.

2. Throwing also builds muscular endurance in the arm.  Muscular endurance, too, is heavily reliant on muscular strength. If you don't have strength you can't have strength endurance.

If you enhance muscular strength, power and endurance will generally improve.  That's been shown time and time again in the research, both in throwers and other athletic situations.  However, if you train power and endurance, strength almost never goes up.  Otherwise, we'd see loads of athletes stronger at the end of seasons than they were at the beginning. In reality, if you check rotator cuff strength and scapular stabilizer proficiency at season's end, it's generally much lower.  As physical therapist Mike Reinold describes it, managing arm strength during the season is a "controlled fall."

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This underscores the importance of using the off-season (including a period with no throwing whatsoever) to improve rotator cuff strength and optimize scapular control.  Simultaneously, athletes gain passive stability at the shoulder as the acquired anterior instability (secondary to increased external rotation from throwing) reduces.

Now, we need more research to see if it's the case, but I think that one of the hidden benefits of throwing weighted baseball is that doing so essentially helps us blur the line between arm strength and speed, as I outlined in this presentation a while back:

Of course, it depends heavily on the volume, frequency, load, and type of weighted ball drills utilized, as well as the time of year at which they're utilized.  However, as I mentioned, it is somewhat of a noteworthy exception to the rule of throwing a 5oz baseball.  Weighted balls surely still take a toll on arm strength over the course of time, but that might be a "slower fall."

Regardless, when you're talking about a throwing program, feel free to say that you're building "arm speed" or "arm endurance," but let's all appreciate that you definitely aren't building "arm strength." 

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Elite Baseball Mentorships: The Importance of Hip Rotation

Today’s guest post comes from my friend and colleague, physical therapist Eric Schoenberg.  Eric is an integral part of our Elite Baseball Mentorships.

The ability to properly assess, interpret, and manage hip range of motion (specifically rotation) is a critical skill in preventing injury and improving athletic performance in a baseball player.  Proper hip rotation sets up better alignment and direction in the pitching motion which sets up proper pelvic and trunk rotation and an improved ability to generate torque.  Stodden, et al. reports a direct correlation between increased hip rotation ROM and increased throwing velocity.

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As we covered in Phase 1 of the Elite Baseball Mentorship , a pitcher who does not internally rotate fully through the back hip will tend to land closed-off.  While some pitchers may use this to improve deception or get more movement on their pitchers, this positioning can lead to the pitcher (especially a less experienced one) to either miss high and arm side or attempt to throw across his body and cut the ball.  The pitcher will in turn try to “make up” velocity with his arm/shoulder due to the movement faults in the kinetic chain. This compensation is a very common cause of shoulder and elbow injury in pitchers.

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Additionally, Kibler, et al. notes that kinetic chain deficits are discovered on examination in a majority of patients with SLAP (superior labrum anterior-posterior) injuries. Deficits in hip abductor or extensor strength, deficits in hip rotation flexibility, or core strength weakness have been identified in 50% of SLAP injuries.

In Phase 1 of the mentorship program, we discussed in great detail the importance of understanding total motion of the shoulder as a key risk factor in pitching injuries. A recent study from Garrison, et al.  once again demonstrated that total ROM (ER + IR) is a better metric for predicting injury risk than GIRD (Glenohumeral Internal Rotation Deficit).

These same concepts also apply to the hip.  However, there are fewer research studies and less consistent findings of hip ROM norms in rotational athletes.  In addition, you will see some clear differences in ROM based on position (pitcher vs. hitter) which need to be appreciated when designing training and rehab. programs.

Tippett reports increased hip IR in the trail leg (vs. lead leg) of college baseball players. In contrast, Hills (2005) reported no significant difference in hip IR between the back hip and lead hip in hitters, however hip ER and total ROM was significantly greater in the back hip. Whereas, Laudner, et al. notes that in pitchers, there is less internal rotation of the trail leg than position players resulting in a less effective and potentially more dangerous throwing motion.

Anecdotally, as we look at the lead leg in a hitter, internal rotation force often exceeds available hip internal rotation ROM resulting in microtrauma to passive structures and resultant instability of the hip (i.e. abnormal gliding and shear forces of the femoroacetabular joint).  As a result, and similar to the shoulder, the athlete will lose dynamic stability (motor control) causing unequal distribution of force on the weight bearing surfaces and finally osseous (bony) or labral pathology ensues.

Finally, from a strength prospective, there is a clear difference between recruitment patterns used to hit a baseball vs. throw a baseball.  EMG studies by Shaffer and Jobe et al. show hitters rely much more on the lower half and core for power development and transfer, while using the upper extremity/hands more for position and direction.  On the other hand, pitchers seem to rely more on energy created in the core and upper extremity, potentially placing pitchers at an increased risk for upper extremity injury.

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Key Takeaways

1. Failure to properly identify and correct hip ROM deficits (especially lack of hip internal rotation in pitcher’s drive leg) will result in increased injury risk throughout the kinetic chain.

2. Asymmetrical rotational patterns in baseball players result in need for training and rehabilitation programs to work rotation in both directions.

3. Continued proof of the need to respect structural changes (i.e. retroversion) as well as position specificity (i.e. pitcher vs. position player) in developing effective training and rehabilitation programs.

4. From a treatment perspective, don’t just rush to stretching what seems “tight”. Consider the principles of relative stiffness, pelvic alignment, breathing patterns, and lumbopelvic stability before we start cranking away at the hip joint.

If you would like more information regarding the mentorships, please visit our website, www.EliteBaseballMentorships.com.  The early bird registration deadline for the August 18-20 Phase 2 Mentorship is this Thursday, July 18, 2013. Click here to register.

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Free Presentation: Individualizing the Management of Overhead Athletes

It's been a while since I updated the free bonus I give to all my baseball-specific newsletter subscribers when they sign up for this free mailing list, so I figure now is as good a time as ever.  With that in mind, by entering your name and email in the opt-in below, you'll be emailed access information so that you can watch my 47-minute seminar presentation, Individualizing the Management of Overhead Athletes.  I've given this presentation to more than 10,000 coaches, players, sports medicine professionals in the past 18 months, and it's been a big hit.

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In this free presentation, you'll observe a lot of our Cressey Performance athletes training and learn:

  • Why different athletes need different approaches to power development
  • Why it’s essential that you learn to train outside the sagittal plane
  • Which medicine ball and plyometric variations I use with baseball players
  • Why not all throwers have identical deceleration patterns or training needs
  • How your arm care programs can be improved to reduce the risk of injury and improve throwing velocity

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Hope you enjoy it.  Thanks for your continued support - and please don't hesitate to share this page to those who you think might be interested in and benefit from the information I present.

*Note: We respect your privacy and won't share your information with anyone.  Instead, we'll deliver you awesome content on a regular basis!

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8 Tips for Not Wasting Away During Summer Baseball

The summer baseball travel season is in full swing, and that means more and more of our athletes are starting 1-2 week trips to play all over the country. This is a really important experience for the majority of players, as it's when they get in front of the most college coaches for the sake of recruiting, and they often head south to face more talented opponents.  There are more college camps taking place, as well as tryouts for the East Coast Pro and Area Code teams.  In short, summer ball is important, and you don't want to screw up in how you approach it, as doing so can mean that you'll miss out on both skill development and opportunites to get "seen" by a coach who'll have you playing at the next level.

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Unfortunately, though, this is also a time of year when a lot of things change for young baseball players.  Instead of five minute drive to school for practice and games, they're hopping on 15-hour bus rides to get to a weekend tournament. Instead sleeping in their own beds and eating Mom's home cooking, they're staying in hotels and stopping for fast food. Instead of having a predictable weekly schedule of MoWeFr games, they might play five in three days. Instead of enjoying moderate Northeast spring weather of 50 degrees in the morning and evening and 75 degrees in the afternoon, they get East Cobb in July, when it's 95 degree weather with 95% humidity. In short, they get a taste of what minor league baseball will be like if they make it that far in their careers!

The end result, unfortunately, is that many players wind up coasting into July and August on fumes because they've lost weight, strength, throwing velocity, bat speed, ninja skills, and overall manliness.  They expected their biggest challenge to be "simply" pitching against a 5-tool hitter or hitting a 95mph fastball, but instead, they get absolutely dominated by the lifestyle off the field. 

Guys who don't handle the summer season well are the ones who stumble back in to Cressey Performance at the end of August, making their first appearance since February.  And, in spite of the great off-season of training they put in before the high school season began, they usually look like they've never trained before, and they're often asking me to help them bounce back from some injury.  Sound familiar?  If so, read on.

Below, I've listed seven tips for avoiding this common summer baseball deterioriation.  You'll notice that many of them are completely to do with maintaining body weight; as I've written before, weight loss is a big reason why performance drops in baseball players both acutely (dehydration) and chronically (loss of muscle mass).  Also worthy of note is the fact that the majority of these tips could also apply to professional baseball.  Anyway, let's get to it.

1. Make breakfast big.

When traveling, breakfast is the only meal over which you have complete control.  You can wake up earlier to make sure that you have a big and complete one, or you can sleep in and grab a stale bagel on the way out the door.  When I travel to give seminars, I intentionally pick hotels that have all-you-can-eat breakfast buffets and I absolutely crush them.  Basically, I'll eat omelets (with veggies), scrambled eggs, and fresh fruit until I'm so full that I contemplate renting a fork lift to get me back to my room.

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This is because things always get hectic at mid-day.  Seminar attendees want to ask questions, get assessed, or just "pick my brain" during the lunch hour.  So, if I get something, it's usually quick and not really that big.  Does this sound similar to how you eat prior to games? You don't want to eat too much, but know you've got to have something or else you'll be dragging by the 7th inning.

If I've packed away a big breakfast, I can power through the day pretty well regardless of what lunch looks like.  Traveling baseball players with day games can do the exact same thing.

As an interesting aside to this, I'm always amazed at how many young baseball players talk about how nobody outworks them, and how they're always in "beast mode."  Yet, across the board, very few players will be "beastly" enough to wake up a few minutes earlier to eat a quality breakfast, always complaining that they don't like to get up early, or that they aren't hungry at that time of day.  Well, just because your stomach doesn't like food at that time of day doesn't mean that it won't benefit from having it.  You think your shoulder and elbow like throwing a baseball? Nope...but they do it. 

[bctt tweet="Working hard isn't just about the hitting cage or weight room; it's also about the kitchen."]

I'll get off my soap box now.

2. Appreciate convenient calories.

Remember that in the quest to keep your weight up, your body doesn't really care if you're sitting down for an "official" meal.  Rather, you might be better off grazing all day.  Mixed nuts, shakes, bars, and fruit will be your best friends when it comes to convenience foods out on the field - or on a long bus ride when you have no idea when you'll be stopping for food.

3. Make the most of hotel gyms.

Let's face it: most hotel gyms are woefully under-equipped.  You've usually got dumbbells up to 40 pounds and a treadmill, if you're lucky.  That should be plenty, though, as you're not trying to make a ton of progress in these training sessions; you're just trying to create a training stimulus to maintain what you already have.  Here's an easy example of a hotel gym workout you can use in a pinch:

A1) DB Bulgarian Split Squat from Deficit: 3x8/side

A2) Prone 1-arm Trap Raise: 3x8/side (can do this bent-over if no table is available, or do it off the edge of your hotel room bed)

 

B1) 1-leg DB RDL: 3x8/side

B2) 1-arm KB (or DB) Turkish Get-up: 3x3/side

C1) Yoga Push-up: 3x10

C1) 1-arm DB Row: 3x10/side

D1) Prone Bridge Arm March: 3x8/side

 

D2) Standing External Rotation to Wall: 3x5 (five second hold on each rep)

Another option, obviously, is to try to find a gym near your hotel while you're on the road.  That can obviously be tough if you don't have a car handy, though, so it's always good to have these "back-up" minimalist equipment options at your fingertips.  And, of course, you can always rock body weight only exercises.

4. Have portable training equipment.

You aren't allowed to complain about the lack of equipment in the typical hotel gym if you haven't put any thought into what training implements you can bring on the road with you.  Things like bands, a foam roller, a TRX, and a number of other implements can make your life easier.  I've brought my TRX on numerous vacations with me and it always proves useful. The scenery usually isn't bad, either.

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5. Pack quality training into short bursts.

If you know you're going to be on the road for week-long trips here and there throughout the summer, it's important to get your quality training in when you're at home in your "consistent" environment.  Think of it as managing a bank account.  You make deposits when you're at home with good equipment and quality nutrition, and you're taking withdrawals when you're on the road and the circumstances are less than stellar.

6. Bring noise-canceling headphones.

There's nothing better than when you're dreading a long flight or bus/train ride, and then you fall asleep the second the trip begins, and you wake up to find out that you're at your destination.  That's awesome.

What's not awesome is that every single team in the history of baseball has at least one schmuck who likes to blare music, yell, and dance around at 6AM when everyone else is trying to sleep. Dropping him off and leaving him for dead in the middle of nowhere isn't an option, so you're better off rocking some noise-canceling headphones.

7. Bring a neck pillow.

Falling asleep on a plane or bus and then waking up with a stiff neck is no fun.  Doing so and then having to go out and throw 90 pitches the next day will be absolutely miserable. And, this cool article about research at Vanderbilt University on the negative effects of fatigue on strike zone management over the course of a baseball season should get hitters' attention, too! A neck pillow will cost you less than $20.  It's an absolute no brainer.  Besides, you probably spent double that amount on the 15 silly Power Balance bracelets you own.*

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8. Hydrate!

You know the old saying about how if you sense thirst, you're already dehydrated?  It's especially true when you're out on the field at 1PM in the middle of July in Florida. So, drink plenty of fluids throughout the day.  We know that dehydration reduces strength and power - so you can bet that fastball velocity and bat speed will dip - but did you know that it also negatively affects cognitive performance? In a 2012 review in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, Adan wrote,

[bctt tweet="Even 2% dehydration impairs performance in tasks requiring attention, psychomotor and memory skills."] 

So, if you're a guy who is always missing signs, ignoring your cutoff man, or forgetting how many outs there are, it might be wise to evaluate your hydration status.

Wrap-up

These are just eight tips to guide you as you approach this important summer season, and there are surely many more strategies athletes have employed to make it as productive a time of year as it should be.  That said, I'd encourage you to monitor your body weight on a regular basis to make sure that it's not dropping.  If it is, it's time to get in more calories, hydrate better, and hit the gym.  Good luck!

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 4/29/13

Here's this week's list of recommended strength and conditioning reading:

9 Reasons Pitching Velocity Increases Over the Course of a Season - One of the big stories of the first month of the MLB season is that Justin Verlander's velocity is down. It's to be expected, given that he he started his off-season throwing program later in light of the heavy workload during last year's season and playoffs.  Still, it's good to know why some pitchers see their velocity go up during the season.

Not Your Average B.S. Core Training - Ben Bruno offers some great new core stability exercises you can incorporate in your strength training programs.

The Sagittal Plane Still Matters - Here's a great piece from Mike Robertson that'll teach you a ton about the knee, including a discussion of the "Should you train the VMO?" question.

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