Home Posts tagged "Increase Pitching Velocity"

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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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.

479px-Grays_Anatomy_image392

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.

grelin

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).

hipGray342shouldGray326

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

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).

grelin2

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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Baseball Development: What’s with All the Power Arms?

Back in the summer of 2013, a good friend of mine attended the a well-known national showcase with one of his athletes.  It was an invitation-only event for the best rising senior baseball players in the country.  At the end of the event, he texted me to comment on just how crazy it was that it seemed like dozens of kids were hitting 95mph on the radar gun at this event.  And, sure enough, in the post-event write-up, they commented on how over 100 kids topped the 90mph mark. 

That is a huge deal.

You see, if you backtracked just 10 years, 90mph was a huge feather in your cap - and it essentially meant that you'd be getting drafted out of high school.  Now, on a regular basis, we have dozens of kids nationwide consistently throwing 95mph+ even when there were only 35 major league pitchers in 2011 whose average fastball velocity was higher than 95mph!  As I've mentioned before, average fastball velocity is higher in Low-A than it is in the big leagues. 

The question, then, becomes, "Where are all these power arms coming from - particularly at the younger levels?"  That's a question I'll answer today.

1. More specialization.

It goes without saying that early sports specialization across all sports is, unfortunately, at an all-time high. 

However, baseball is particularly interesting because there is an extremely high likelihood of arm injury along the way.  In fact, according to a 2008 study from Oullette et al., 57% of pitchers suffer some form of shoulder injury over the course of a season.  And, that doesn't even take into account elbow, neck, core, and lower extremity injuries/conditions.  It goes without saying that just about every player will have an issue or two (or 30) pop up over his four years of high school - and it's one reason why we don't see any more "clean" MRIs during post-draft physicals for high round picks. They're all damaged; it's just that some are worse than others, and we need to figure out which of the chips in the paint and rust on the hubcabs are clinically significant.

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When kids specialize in one sport at an early age and try to play it year-round, it's like betting your life savings on the roulette wheel - except your chances of winning are even smaller.  And, even if it works out and the kid manages to be the next star, you dodged a bullet - and he very well may just be waiting for problems down the road, as a lot of the early specialization kids actually have very "old arms" even if they aren't symptomatic. 

Not surprisingly, the rise in specialization (as evidenced by the growth in popularity of fall ball teams, showcases, and opportunities to play for multiple teams during the "normal" baseball season) has paralleled the rise in velocity and injuries.  Can long-term baseball development be successful without specialization?  In my opinion, absolutely - but you have to tie up all the loose ends, and that's what my next few points will all be about.

2. Video analysis

If you want your velocity to increase immediately, there is no quicker avenue to doing so than reviewing pitching mechanics on video.  Our pitching coordinator, Matt Blake, uses the RightView Pro set-up extensively at Cressey Sports Performance for this very reason.  Many pitchers are visual learners, so this approach to coaching helps them to learn what needs to be corrected much more efficiently - and it's also of benefit to the pitching coach, as many movements in the pitching delivery occur so quickly that they really can't be spotted by the naked eye.

Surprisingly, there are still a ton of college and minor league teams who don't have video available to their players.  Access to video can be a huge game-changer, and it's one reason that a lot of high school kids are throwing harder and harder.

3. Competition

Ask any coach what one of the best ways to motivate male athletes is, and he'll tell you competition.  Most teenage guys thrive on trying to beat their buddies, opponents, or records that are in place.  Nowadays, there are more opportunities to compete (and less preparation), and any player in the country can hop online and see how his velocity compared to other guys' at the last showcase.  Although commonly overlooked, these competitive opportunities are big motivating factors to players.

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4. Strength Training

I often tell athletes that "If you don't run fast, you won't pull your hamstrings." In other words, strength training can be a player's biggest asset, but also his greatest downfall if he doesn't approach it correctly.  You see, if strength training isn't approached correctly, it can do a world of harm - both acutely and chronically.  Obviously, the likelihood of getting hurt increases if you move with poor technique under external loading.  However, taking it a step further, strength training "solidifies" movement patterns.  This can be great in a rehabilitation context if you free up some new mobility and then want to create stability within that range of motion (or just maintain what you've got).  However, if you lift like a moron, you'll mostly just teach yourself to be better at moving like crap - and that's when chronic injuries kick in.

Unfortunately, casual observers to exercise physiology don't get that there is a huge difference between appropriate and inappropriate strength training for baseball players. And, this is why there are quite a few "old school" folks in the baseball world who attribute some of the high injury rates these days to lifting.  What they should be attributing the injury to (in part) is inappropriate strength training exercise selection, volume, and technique.  After all, there are just as many guys get hurt late in the season because they cut out lifting and lose strength!

Simply stated, strength training is helping guys throw harder; there's no doubt about it.  It's how that strength training is programmed and what's done to complement it that determines if the increased velocity will lead to an injury. Nothing happens in isolation.

5. More aggressive throwing programs

A decade ago, throwing programs were far from what they are today.  Nowadays, up-and-coming throwers are using weighted baseballs and long toss more than ever before.  No two pitchers are alike in how they respond to these modalities, but having them as tools at our disposal has certainly helped us to increase pitching velocity with countless throwers.

6. Less distance running

One of our minor league pitchers stopped in to check in with me over his all-star break a few weeks ago, and he came bearing great news.  He'd hit 98mph on the radar gun four times in a single inning a few nights earlier - after never having been above 94mph before this season.

Sure, we did a lot of things differently with his programming this off-season, from strength training, to throwing programs, to mobility and soft tissue work.  However, the single biggest change he made (in my eyes, at least) was that he started sprinting between outings instead of distance running.  I have seen this time and time again, and I'm happy to report that more and more coaches at all levels are starting to pick up on it, too. 

Everybody ran long distances back in previous decades.  Yet, we throw harder nowadays.  And, everybody seems to run long distances in baseball in east Asia.  Pitchers throw harder in the U.S.  Sure, there are a lot more factors that contribute to pitching success than velocity alone, but these observations are impossible to ignore.

7. More objective ways to quantify velocity

Have you ever wondered if pitching velocity has increased simply because technology has improved, and we therefore have more accessible means of measuring it?  The price of radar guns isn't as high.  Every stadium has a radar gun.  They make pocket radar guns, and there are even iPad apps to measure velocity. 

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Basic accessibility to this technology has likely contributed to kids pushing the envelope of what they would otherwise think they were able to do.

8. More peaks, fewer valleys

Remember when Justin Verlander hit 101mph on the radar gun in the 9th inning of his no-hitter in 2011?  You could call that a "peak" velocity moment.  In short, it's a lot easier when the stakes are higher, people are watching you, and the adrenaline is pumping.  Major League pitchers don't have as many of these because their professional seasons are a long grind: possibly 200 games in 230 days, if you include spring training and playoffs.

Younger pitchers, however, are more "excitable."  With shorter seasons, there are more "big games."  With showcases and tournaments each weekend, the stakes are higher. Heck, they get excited if a girlfriend comes to watch them pitch. In the lifting world, we call it the difference between a training max and a competition max.  A competition max may be as much as 10% higher because a lifter is deloaded from training stress and put into a higher pressure competitive situation. In young pitchers, everything seems to be a competition max.  It's great for demonstrating big velocity numbers, but may interfere with long-term health and development.

Wrap-up

Clearly, there are a ton of factors that have contributed to guys throwing harder at younger ages in today's baseball world.  They don't all apply to each thrower, as different athletes will generate velocity in different ways.  While this increase in average velocity has definitely made pitchers more dominant, it has, unfortunately, been accompanied by a greater frequency of injuries.  Understanding the factors that contribute to these velocity increases is the first step in determining how to keep kids performing at a high level while minimizing their risk of injury. 

For more information, I'd encourage you to check out 7 Reasons Pitchers Shouldn't Do Year-Round Throwing Programs Part 1 and Part 2.  Additionally, you can explore these topics in much greater detail with us at our Elite Baseball Mentorships.

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21 Reasons You’re Not Tim Collins

On March 31, 2011, Cressey Performance athlete Tim Collins made his major league debut on opening day for the Kansas City Royals.  As one of the shortest players in Major League Baseball, Tim made for a great story, especially considering he was an undrafted free agent sign who never received interest from any college baseball programs, let alone Division 1 schools.  In light of this unlikely ascent to baseball's biggest stage, Tim's story was featured on Yahoo Sports, MLB.com, and Men's Health, and I also wrote up this post, which was among my most popular of all time.  By the end of the day, Tim was trending worldwide on Twitter when my business partner and I went out to dinner with Tim and his folks to celebrate his big-league debut - even though nobody in downtown Kansas City recognized him outside of his uniform.

Not surprisingly, Tim's phone was bombarded by text messages and phone calls all that afternoon and evening. However, I never could have imagined that we, too, would get bombarded with requests after Tim got to the show.  Since that date, we've received hundreds of emails (in addition to some phone calls to the office, one of whom asked to speak with Tim - in the middle of July while he was in-season) that all essentially go like this (this is copied and pasted):

"Hi, I am a 5-7 lefty pitcher that also weights 170lb but only throws 80 mph. I read the articles about Tim Collins and was wondering if you could send me the workouts that he does in the off-season with you because I'm just like him. What leg exercises/lifts did he perform. Also did he just focus on legs, core and light upper body. If I lifted upper body I get really stiff because I have a similar stature like Collins, so did he basically avoid upper body lifts or did he just perform light lifts on the upper body. Finally after I lift I have been running a mile after that to loosen up my muscle to stay flexible, is that a good or bad idea. Thanks."

Now, don't get me wrong; I think it's absolutely awesome that Tim's story has inspired guys to want to work hard to achieve their goals in spite of their stature - and we've certainly received loads of comments from folks who always put a smile on my face in this regard.  However, it frustrates (and entertains) me to think that some guys assume that they are just a program (actually, five year worth of programs) away from throwing 97mph and pitching in the big leagues.  Programs are just a bunch of words and numbers typed into Microsoft Excel and printed out; it's how they're carried out that really matters.  Additionally, there is a lot more to long-term baseball success than just following a strength and conditioning program; you also have to prepare on the baseball side of things and attain a skill set that differentiates you.  To that end, I thought I'd take this time to highlight 21 reasons you're not Tim Collins.

1. You don't have Tim's training partners.

Tim's had some of the same training partners since back in 2007, and in addition to pushing him in the gym, they've also served as a network for him to share ideas and solicit feedback.  If you just do "his programs" in a commercial gym by yourself (with obnoxious Nicky Minaj music in the background), you're not going to get the same outcome. True story: in the fall of 2009, Tim trained alongside Paul Bunyan. This experience gave him the size, strength, and courage needed to grow a beard that would become a beacon for humanity in Kansas City and beyond.

2. Your beard is not this good.

Everyone knows that beards improve the likelihood of baseball success, not to mention all-around happiness in the rest of one's life. I can't send you a strength and conditioning program that will make your facial hair grow.

3. You don't put calories in the right place like Tim does.

Tim can eat a ton of food and a LOT more of it goes to muscle than fat.  Just because you're 5-7, 150 pounds and left-handed doesn't mean you won't become a fat slob if you crush 8,000 calories a day.  Sorry.

4. You don't have Tim's awesome support network.

Tim is fortunate to have a great family, from his parents, to his sisters, to his fiance.  This is especially important for an undrafted free agent who didn't get much of a signing bonus.  His parents put a roof over his head and fed him while he worked his way through the minor leagues.

More significantly, though, people don't realize that the foundation of becoming a big leaguer doesn't come from a training program; it comes from the values that are instilled in you by those around you when you're young.  As a perfect example, Tim's father, Larry, is one of the hardest-working guys you'll ever meet.  He teaches, has a painting business, and even just accepted a prestigious award for outstanding community service in the Worcester area.  A few sheets of paper with exercises, sets, and reps written on them won't foster the kind of habits that will get you to "the show."

5. You probably don't enjoy the process like Tim does.

Tim likes training.  In fact, all of our clients knew Tim well before he made it to the big leagues, as he was always at the gym. He has been putting in eight hour days of hanging around the office (on top of his training) for five years now.  If you don't enjoy training, you probably around going to become a gym rat.  And, if you don't teach yourself to enjoy the training process, your chance of getting to your ideal destination will surely be diminished.  This was taken at 7pm on a Tuesday night, as a frame of reference:

6. You might not have Tim's luck.

Then Blue Jays general manager JP Ricciardi "discovered" Tim by accident when he was out to scout another player.  How many of you have GMs just "pop in" to your Legion games - and conveniently do it on a day when you strike out 12 straight guys?

7. Your name isn't Matt O'Connor.

Meet Matt O'Connor, Cressey Performance athlete and student at Emory University. He is sometimes mistaken for Tim when he's at CP.

If we were going to pick anyone to be "just like Tim Collins," it would be Matt - purely for efficiency's sake.

8. You might not have a switch you can flip on and off.

One of the things most folks don't know about many high level lifters is that they joke around all the time during training sessions.  When I was lifting at one of the best powerlifting gyms in the world, guys were always busting each other's chops between sets. However, when the time comes to move weights, they get very serious very quickly.  They know how to flip the switch on at will. 

However, they also know how to turn the switch off when they don't need it.  This is true of a lot of the most successful baseball players I've encountered; they leave work at work.  The guys who are constantly "on" and let the game consume their lives often have bad relationships with teammates and stress themselves into bad results.

I think part of what has made Tim successful - especially as a relief pitcher - is that he can turn his brain and his body on at a moment's notice, but knows how to go back to "normal Tim" when the time is right.

9. You probably don't even have a bulldog, and if you do, I guarantee you that his underbite isn't this awesome.

10. You don't have Tim's curveball.

I actually remember reading somewhere that Tim's curveball had more top-to-bottom depth than any other curveball in Major League Baseball, and I spoke to one MLB advanced scout who said he rated it as an 80.  Keep in mind that average fastball velocity is higher in Low A than it is in the big leagues.  Tim's velocity improvements might have been a big part of him advancing through the minor leagues, but he doesn't even get his first opportunity unless he has a great curveball.  And, no, I don't have his "curveball program" to send you.

11. You don't have Tim's change-up.

If Tim's curveball is what got him to the big leagues, it was his change-up that has kept him there.  Interesting fact: he threw two change-ups in the 2010 season - and both led to home runs. It took a lot of work to develop the change-up he has now.  But you just need his programs.  Riiiight.

12. You can't ride a unicycle.

I don't know of the correlation between unicycling ability and pitching success, but there has to be something there.

13. You might not respond to success like Tim has.

I often see one of two things happens when guys are successful in pro sports, and everyone comes out of the woodwork asking for something.  They either a) trust everybody or b) trust nobody.  I think Tim's done a great job of finding a happy medium.  He puts his trust in others and doesn't second guess them, but still guards his network carefully.

14. You might not be as willing to make sacrifices as he is.

This might come as a surprise, but Hudson, MA really isn't that beautiful in the winter.  Most pro guys move to Arizona, Florida, or California in the off-season, but Tim sacrifices that lifestyle to train with us and be close to the support network I mentioned earlier. Asking to just have a program (actually, 50+ programs) emailed to you means that you aren't willing to make sacrifices on that level, which leads to...

15. You wouldn't be doing your program in the same training environment.

I know a lot of pro guys who struggle to find a throwing partner in the off-season.  If that's an issue, it's a safe assumption that they don't exactly have many (if any) training partners or a good training environment in which to execute the program, either.  You don't just need the right people; you need quite a few of them, with the right equipment at your fingertips. At risk of sounding arrogant, I think we've done a great job of creating that at CP.

16. You don't have just the right amount of laxity.

Congenital laxity is a big consideration in training throwing athletes.  Some guys have naturally looser joints, while others tend to be very stiff.  The really "loose" guys need more stability training and little to not flexibility work, while the tight guys need a hearty dose of mobility drills.  Generally speaking, the best place to be (in my opinion, at least) is middle-of-the-road.  Tim falls right there, with a small tendency toward being a bit more loose, which favors his aggressive delivery.

17. You don't throw to a left-handed catcher in the off-season.

And, even if you do, your left-handed catcher probably doesn't have a mitt with his name on it. It's definitely a crucial part of the Tim Collins developmental experience.

18. You probably can't score a 21 on the Functional Movement Screen.

Many of you are probably familiar with Gray Cook's Functional Movement Screen, a seven-part assessment approach used in a number of fitness and strength and conditioning settings nowadays.  A perfect score is a 21, but you don't see it very often - usually because everyone gets dominated by the rotary stability test, where a perfect score (3) is essentially a same-sided birddog. The first time I saw Tim drop to the floor and do this effortlessly, my jaw just about hit the floor.  Luckily, he can repeat it on command like it's nothing, so I snapped a video (this was the first try, with no warm-up).

He's scored a 21 on this two spring trainings in a row - and that implies that he actually moves quite well.  Most people don't need his program, as they have a lot more movement quality issues to address.

19. You ice after you throw.

Tim iced after pitching one time, and hated it; he'll never do it again.  Not everyone is the same, though; some guys swear by it.  You might be one of those guys.

20. You've never personal trained a nine-week old puppy.

21. You "muscle" everything.

One of the traits you'll see in a lot of elite athletes is that they don't get overly tense when they don't have to do so.  If you're squatting 500 pounds, you want to establish a lot more rigidity, but if you're participating in the vast majority of athletic endeavors, you want effortless, fluid movement - almost as if you aren't trying.  If you just tense up and try to muscle everything, it becomes harder to take advantage of the stretch-shortening cycle.  Teaching an athlete to relax is challenging - but I never had to even address it with Tim; it was something he just "had."

There's a saying in the strength and conditioning world that "it's easier to make a fast guy strong than it is to make a strong guy fast."  I think this quote applies perfectly to Tim's development.  Not everyone has that natural reactive ability from the get-go, so different training approaches are needed for different individuals. 

Again, in closing, I should emphasize that it's great that Tim has become an inspiration to shorter pitchers to pursue their dreams.  However, as is always the case, young athletes simply following the exact training programs of professional athletes is a bad idea, as these programs may not be appropriate for their bodies or point on the athletic development continuum.  To that end, I encourage all young athletes to educate themselves on how they are unique - and find the right people and programs to pursue their dreams in accordance with those findings. And, for the record, Tim agrees!

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The Best of 2012: Strength and Conditioning Features

I love writing features with multiple installments because it really allows me to dig deep into a topic of interest. It's like writing a short book, with each blog being a different chapter. That said, here were a few of my favorite features from 2012 at EricCressey.com:

1. Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better - This weekly series was largely put forth by Cressey Performance coach Greg Robins, and it includes five tips for taking your nutrition and strength and conditioning programs to the next level. I contribute here and there, but the majority of the praise goes fully to Greg. Here are the five most popular posts from this series in 2012:

Installment 3
Installment 14
Installment 12
Installment 10
Installment 1

Here's a little sample of the kind of content Greg kicks out each week:

2. Coaching Cues to Make Your Strength and Conditioning Programs More Effective - I started this (ongoing) feature in early 2012, and it was a huge hit.  Apparently, people love the idea of having some cues they can use in place of having a qualified coach right there with them.  Here were the ones we ran this year:

Installment 1
Installment 2
Installment 3 (Deadlift Edition)
Installment 4 (Shoulder Edition)

3. Increasing Pitching Velocity: What Stride Length Means and How to Improve It - This three-part series was very popular with my baseball audience, as preparing the body for an appropriate stride is key to pitching success.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Hopefully you enjoyed these features during 2012!  I'll be back later this week to wrap up the Best of 2012. In the meantime, happy new year!

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How Each Pitcher Creates (or Loses) Velocity Differently

If you've read my baseball content on this website for any length of time, you've surely noticed that I'm a firm believer that no two pitchers are built exactly the same.  Rather, they all develop velocity via different combinations of athletic qualities - or miss out on velocity gains because they don't possess some of these qualities.

To that end, a while back, I gave a presentation down in Texas to a group of a few hundred pitching coaches on this very topic, and it's now being released.  Check it out:

Pitching Whip: What it is and How to Get it

Both electronic versions and DVDs are available, but only for a short time - and at the current 75% off discount. So, don't delay; check it out here now.

Also, on a related note, for those who don't know that I publish a free baseball-specific newsletter, you can subscribe to it in the opt-in box below (you'll receive a free copy of the Cressey Performance Post-Throwing Stretches, too):

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11 Random Thoughts on Baseball Strength and Conditioning

With the off-season at hand, I thought I'd type up some random thoughts that have come up in conversations with professional, college, and high school players over the past few weeks as they've wrapped up their seasons and transitioned to off-season mode.

1. Arm care drills don't really provide arm care when you do the exercises incorrectly. When you do eight exercises for three sets of 15 reps each every single day, but you do all the exercises incorrectly, you’re really just turning yourself into 360 reps worth of suck.

2. Piggybacking on #1, if you think you need 360 reps of arm care exercises per day, you really need to educate yourself on how the arm actually works. Also, when you eventually realize that you probably don’t even need ¼ of that volume to keep your arm healthy, you should definitely pick up a new hobby with all that newly discovered free time. Maybe you’ll even wind up kissing a girl for the first time.

3. In the battle to increase pitching velocity, all anyone seems to talk about is how to increase arm speed, which is a function of how much force can be produced and how quickly it can be applied.  So, we focus heavily on long toss, weighted ball programs, and mound work to try to produce more force.  The inherent problem with this strategy is that it ignores the importance of accepting force.  I'll give you an example.

Imagine two people side-by-side holding slingshots, each of which has the same thickness rubber band.  They both pull the band back with the right hand and hold the other end with the left. One guy has a limp left hand and his left forearm "gives" as he pulls the band back, and the other guy keeps the left side firm.  They both shoot the rock; which one goes farther?  Obviously, it's the one with the firm front side; that stiffness enables the arm to accept force.

This is a common problem with many young pitchers who haven't built a foundation of strength, as well as advanced pitchers whose velocity dips over the course of a season, usually when they lose body weight. If your lower-body strength and power diminishes, you'll collapse on that front side and leak energy.  And, you'll commonly miss up and arm side. 

Basically, you need to be strong eccentrically into hip flexion, adduction, and internal rotation - which is why the glutes are so important for pitching (check out this post from a while back for more information on the functional anatomy side of things).  Think of pitching with a weak landing leg as throwing like a guy with a slight hamstrings strain; in order to protect yourself, you flop instead of planting.

4. Has an accomplished marathoner every thrown 95mph? Actually, has an accomplished marathoner ever done anything athletic other than running?

5. We definitely need to get John Clayton to cover MLB instead of the NFL.

Baseball hasn’t seen this kind of talent in a non-player since this Fenway Park security guard put the Terry Tate on this deserving schmuck:

6. It amazes me how many baseball players don’t take care of their eyes. They are your livelihood, people! Yearly check-ups are a good start, but if you’ve heard some of the stories I’ve heard about how terrible guys are with taking care of their contact lenses, you’d be astounded. Example: I once had an athlete come in with terribly red eyes, so I sent him to see my wife, Anna, who is (conveniently) an optometrist. He informed her that he’d been putting his contacts in the same solution at night for two weeks. That’s like reusing the same bath water for 14 days – except the eyes are worse because they’re more prone to infection.

7. Why do professional teams spend anywhere from $484,000 to $30,000,000 per year on a single player, yet try to save money by letting clubbies feed all their minor leaguers pizza, fried chicken, PB&J, and salami sandwiches on white bread?

8. This kid has a full scholarship to train at Cressey Performance whenever he opts to pursue it.

See what I just did there? It wasn’t baseball-related at all, but I just tied it in.

9. Strength and conditioning has “changed the game” with respect to early sports specialization as it relates to baseball development. Kids can get away with specializing earlier if they’re involved in a well-rounded strength and conditioning program because these programs afford as much and, sometimes, more variety than playing a traditional sport. This approach to development does, however, depend heavily on the self-restraint of players, parents, and coaches to get kids 2-3 months per year without a ball in their hands. And, they need to seek out opportunities to play pick-up basketball, ultimate Frisbee, and other random games.

10. If you’re already taking 150 ground balls per day during the season, do you really need to do extra agility work? This is like a NASCAR champ hitting up the go-karts on the way home from the race track.

11. The other day, I read a review in the International Journal of Athletic Training that focused on the different biomechanics and pathology of various pitching styles.  The authors (Truedson et al) made a strong case for modifications to training programs - particularly with respect to core stability - based on trunk tilt angles at ball release.  Overhand and three-quarters guys tilt away from the throwing arm, sidearm guys stand upright, and submarine guys tilt toward the throwing arm. Folks have long discussed the concept of posture from a mechanics standpoint, but I haven't seen anyone who has utilized this information to modify an intended training outcome from a strength and conditioning standpoint.  Obviously, you could easily make the case that submarine pitchers need more rotary and lateral core stability than all other pitchers.

Lateral core stability exercises teach you how to resist lateral flexion; in other words, your goal is to avoid tipping over. These drills may start with basic side bridging drills and progress all the way up through more advanced TRX drills and 1-arm carrying variations. Rotary core stability exercises educate folks on how to resist excessive rotation through the lumbar spine. Examples include drills like landmines, lifts, and chops.

Sidearm pitchers are much more upright with the torso, so they likely need more anterior core than rotary/lateral core stability.  Of course, you're still going to train all three.

Anterior core stability exercises teach the body to resist excessive lumbar spine extension, and encompass a variety of drills, starting with dead bug, curl-up, and prone bridging activities. In prepared individuals, they progress all the way up through more advanced exercises like reverse crunches, stability ball rollouts, and TRX flutters and fallouts.

Finally, the overhand and 3/4 guys - which are obviously the largest segment - likely just need an equal dose of the three approaches.

For more thoughts on core stability training for health and performance, I'd encourage you to check out our Functional Stability Training DVD set.

That concludes this little glimpse into my mind as we enter the off-season.  I'll probably wind up doing this again every 4-6 weeks as I have discussions on various topics with our pro guys as they return.

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Body Weight, Throwing Velocity, and Pitching Injuries: Interesting Parallels

This morning, my good friend (and fellow baseball aficionado) Lou Schuler posted the link to an article that compared mortality rates in football players and baseball players. If you'd like to check it out, you can do so HERE.

One thing the article showed that I found very interesting was the rapid physical development of the average MLB player.  In 1960, the average player was 72.6 inches and 186 pounds, which is actually surprisingly comparable to what one might expect of the prototype male model for a magazine (I'd call this a weighted average of the skinny Abercrombie types and the more athletically-built Men's Health guys).  In 2010, however, those numbers had shifted to 73.7 inches and 208.9 pounds.  For those curious about what it looks like in a jersey, this was right about the height/weight of CP athlete and Orioles utility man Ryan Flaherty when he got to spring training this year:

Height had increased relatively linearly over the course of the 40 years, presumably as teams scouted and selected taller players and the game increased in popularity, drawing better athletes to the sport. Weight, on the other hand, made a rapid surge (+18.5 pounds) in the fifteen years between 1995 and 2010 (and +20.9 pounds between 1990 and 2010).  You'd expect a small increase alongside average height improvements, but this jump can only be explained by the increased emphasis on strength and conditioning (which was obviously aided by the steroid era for quite some time).

I don't think the results of this study are all that awe-inspiring - that is, until you look at them alongside some other numbers in baseball over the past decade.  As Jayson Stark discussed in his outstanding article, The Age of the Pitcher and How We Got Here, pitchers have dominated more and more over the past ten years. Check out these 2000 vs. 2011 changes Stark highlighted in his article:

Runs Scored: 24,971 vs. 20,808
Home runs: 5,693 vs. 4,552
 
Then, between 2006 and 2011:

Average ERA: 4.53 vs. 3.94
Strikeouts Per 9 Innings: 6.6 vs. 7.1

Perhaps most telling is the fact that between 2007 and 2011, the number of MLB pitchers with an average fastball velocity of 95mph or higher increased from 11 to 35.  When velocities are jumping like that, it's hard to say that the improved pitching performances are just due to the fact that guys are introducing better secondary pitches (most notably cutters), or that hitters are falling off because they're off the sauce.  Pitchers are getting more dominant.

I understand Stark's point that hitting has declined considerably in recent years as strikeout totals have piled up and batting averages have plummeted. However, I'm not really interested in debating whether offense is falling off because pitchers are getting better or because hitters are getting worse, because it's obviously a combination of the two.  However, what I think is a hugely valuable takeaway from this is that increased body weight is once again associated with increased pitching velocity.

Can you throw hard without being heavy?  Absolutely; many guys do it.  Would many of these already-elite slighter-framed MLB pitchers benefit from increases in body weight?  In many cases, yes - assuming the changes in body weight are gradual, accompanied by strength/power gains, and properly integrated with their existing mechanics.  While a gain of ten pounds seems like a huge deal to most pitchers, the truth is that it's actually a trivial amount of muscle mass over an entire body.  Have a look at this picture of 5lbs of muscle vs. 5lbs of fat that's floated around the internet for a while now:

Now, imagine spreading two of the red masses on the right over the course of an entire body; you would barely notice they're there, especially on the average MLB player, who is almost 6-2.  I guarantee you that if you hide one of those in each glute, you're going to see some big velocity gains, regardless of who you are.

Of course, every action has a reaction.  While you'll be more successful if you throw harder, you'll also be more predisposed to arm injuries. It should come as no surprise that the number of Tommy John surgeries has gone sky-high as more and more guys have blown up radar guns (and scales). Run fast and you're more likely to pull a hamstring.  Drive your car fast and you're more likely to crash.

Lots of people are quick to hop on board the "all injuries are due to bad mechanics" bandwagon, but the truth is that a lot of injuries are due in large part to the fact that a lot of guys are throwing really, really hard nowadays.  And, taking it a step further, they were usually throwing pretty hard at a young age - and on five different teams, in front of 150 radar guns at each game, with absurd pitch counts, while jumping from showcase to showcase, while playing year-round without a quality baseball strength and conditioning program and arm care routine in place. The truth is that all injuries are multi-factorial, and we have to control what we can control with an athlete, especially when we first interact with that player after years of mismanagement.

 

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Developing Baseball Power: What the Latest Research Says

Back in my What I Learned in 2010 feature, I made the following observation:

Babe Ruth hit a ton of homeruns in spite of being a seemingly out-of-shape fat guy. I've seen more than dozen pitchers throw well above 90 mph without even being able to vertical jump 23 inches.

What gives? Well, these athletes are just incredibly efficient – and powerful – in the transverse and frontal planes. Would being an elite sprinter make one a successful hitter or pitcher? Of course not, yet most strength and conditioning coaches train their rotational sport athletes as if they were trying to elevate them to elite status in a sagittal-plane dominant sport. They assume that general exercises like squats, deadlifts, and Olympic lifts will simply carry over once an athlete starts throwing or hitting.

And, to some degree, they do carry over because of the involved structures and systemic training effect, but I think that there's a way to tighten up the learning loop.

People think I'm crazy when I say that we don't Olympic lift our baseball players. We also don't do much vertical jumping. At the end of the day, jumping high doesn't really matter that much. Rotating fast and moving laterally quickly does, though, so we focus our power-oriented work on rotational medicine ball drills and lots of laterally-directed jumping/landing, and supplement it with lifting and sprinting.

I reiterated these thoughts a few weeks ago with my post, Why Baseball Players Shouldn't Olympic Lift.  This kicked off some heated debates, so I thought I'd contact Graeme Lehman for an interview on the topic.  As a brief background, back in 2010 - just a few months after I had the aforementioned article published - Graeme informed me that he was actually in the process of researching this very topic for his master's thesis.  Today, we're fortunate to have him here to discuss his findings and their practical applications.

EC: Thanks for agreeing to do this interview, Graeme. Can you start off by telling me a bit about both your baseball and educational backgrounds?

GL: First of all, thank you for asking me to do this interview; it is an honor to be a guest on your site, which I have used as an educational resource for years.

Baseball has always been my sport of choice despite growing up in Edmonton, Alberta during the 80s with the best hockey team ever assembled playing in my back yard (five Stanley Cups in seven years). I was fortunate enough to secure a scholarship to play baseball in North Dakota, but the school I attended didn’t have a kinesiology program, so I chose the major that I thought would afford me the best chance of getting a job, a degree in business administration. Ironically, and perhaps fatefully, my business degree got me a job as the manager of a small personal training studio. One day a trainer didn’t show up and I was thrown into the fire.

This first experience in a strength coach setting fueled a new found desire to educate myself about the world of exercise science. I read everything I could get my hands on including all of the articles that guys like you, Mike Robertson, Chad Waterbury, Mike Boyle wrote for T-Nation. I was hooked, and in 2006, I became a CSCS, and just one year later I was enrolled in a graduate school at the Memorial University of Newfoundland in Dr. David Behm’s Kinesiology program.

Since my collegiate days in ND, I have been both a baseball coach and strength coach for various individuals and teams including two years as the S&C for the UBC Thunderbirds. I have also continued playing in various men’s leagues in order to test out my own theories and keep chasing the dream hoping to become the next Jim Morris.

In case you’re trying to follow along with the various places I lived, they were:

1- Edmonton, Alberta (cold)
2- Jamestown, North Dakota (cold & windy)
3- St. John’s, Newfoundland (cold, windy and wet)
4- Vancouver, British Columbia (wet)

Living in these less than ideal climates has really made me excited about the work you do and the results you get in snowy Hudson, Massachusetts.

EC: How did you wind up deciding to pursue this research study, and what was the hypothesis that you were testing?

GL: My initial reasoning was quite simple: I wanted to help baseball players throw harder. As a strength coach, I thought that improving lower body power would be one of the best ways to achieve this goal. This led me to question: “what kind of lower body power can be improved in order to have a better chance of carrying over from the weight room to the baseball diamond?”

In the past, scores from traditional tests like vertical jump, broad jump and 60-yard dash times have not had any significant correlation to throwing velocity (Spaniol 1997). This made some sense because I have known some guys that I wouldn’t call “athletic” but could still throw gas. Mechanics obviously play a huge roll, but there is some research that stress’ the importance of lower body power in creating throwing velocity.

MacWilllams et al. (1998) showed that higher levels of force production by the back leg in the direction towards the plate led to higher wrist/ball velocity. While Matsuo et al. (2001) showed that what happens to a pitchers front knee between the time the front foot hits the ground and the time the ball is released is the key differentiator between “low” and “high” velocity throwing groups. Those that had the ability to extend their knee rather than going into further flexion threw harder.

So, it’s pretty easy to see that each leg is performing independent actions in a number of planes which don’t carry over to traditional bi-lateral sagittal. Thus, the principal of specificity was not taken into account and I know from your research, Eric, that you hate it when this principal is ignored.

It became obvious that we should be including tests which look at independent leg action, different planes of motion along with different kinds of strength (concentric, isometric, isometric).

EC: What kind of subjects did you have participating in the study, and what challenges did you face in dealing with them?

GL: My subjects were all male college level baseball players from two different teams. In total, I had 42 subjects who were approximately 19.8 years old and 183.3 cm tall and weighed 83.1 kg.

The biggest challenge was to create a list of tests which covered a wide spectrum of lower body power qualities to complement traditional running and jumping tests, which I also included. Each test also had to be easily reproduced by any strength or baseball coach in order to make this information user-friendly.

EC: Please describe your methods and the results you attained.

GL: We split up the athletes into left and right handed subjects and we measured throwing velocity was in two ways:

(1) Stationary throwing - similar to a pitcher throwing from the stretch.
(2) Shuffle approach - similar to a third basemen making a strong throw across the diamond.

This gave us four different groups. The throwing velocities from each group were correlated against the results of each lower body power test along with height and weight, looking for any significance. While there were was some correlation to body weight and med ball throws in one or two of the groups, only one test batted 1.000: the lateral to medial jump. This was the only test that was performed in the frontal plane.

Here is what this test looks likes. Stand on one leg then jump towards your midline in the frontal plane. Land with both feet together at the same time and take the measurement from the closest body part (lateral edge of the inside foot) to the starting line.

Since the lateral to medial jump score of the same side leg to the throwing arm (right leg for righties) went 4 for 4 in showing a positive correlation in each group, we made the conclusion that power is plane specific.

This was one of these “duh” moments because it makes obvious sense. If I can have more energy going towards my target, I have a better chance to transferring more energy up the kinetic chain to my throwing arm. If the rules didn’t stop me I would crow hop every time I pitched (like a Trevor Bauer warm-up) pitch trying to get as much as energy as I can going towards my target.

The pitching coach in me wants to warn against the young pitcher reading this and going out and trying jump towards the plate in order to boost their fastball. While it is important to initiate energy towards your target you need to be strong enough to capture and transfer that energy towards. If you aren’t strong enough on the front side you will exhibit what we in the business call an energy leak, just like the “low throwing velocity group from Matsuo’s study.

[Note from EC: for more reading on this front, check out my series, Increasing Pitching Velocity: What Stride Length Means and How to Improve It - Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.]

EC: Okay, these are all well and good, but let’s talk practical applications. What can coaches take away from your research to immediately make their baseball strength and conditioning programs better?

GL: I think this helps us make smarter decisions in what we need to add/emphasize in our programs, and what we can subtract/deemphasize. Basically, we need to add more exercises that will improve frontal plane power and subtract some of the exercises that don’t. For example, hang cleans and drop jumps might help increase vertical jumping ability, but if goal is to throw 90mph these might not be the best use of our limited amount of time and energy.

The hard part about training the frontal plane is that your options are limited by traditional weight training. We need to think outside of the box like Bret Contreras did with his hip thrust in trying to improve running speed. Exercises that I would say to add or emphasis would be band resisted lateral jumps and lateral sled dragging since they are both performed in the frontal plane.

On the flip side, if we spend time working on creating more energy, we also have to think about how we can absorb it and ultimately transfer it to the baseball. This makes me think that single-leg training is very important, so we need to emphasize qualities like concentric strength for the back leg and eccentric strength for the lead leg.

EC: How about future research? What do we need to study next in order to build on these findings to continue to improve our understanding of long-term management of overhead throwing athletes, particularly pitchers?

GL: The next step would be to create a long-term study where a group of experienced baseball players train for 4-8 weeks. One group would include some frontal plane movements and the other wouldn’t. Test both pre and post throwing velocity and you’ve got another study. I wish I had the resources to do this, but I also don’t feel very ethical having some young baseball players not using these any frontal plane movements.

I think that these results also point to the fact that throwing a baseball is a full body movement. If we can get our pitchers throwing more like athletes and harness the power created by the lower body, we can eliminate some stress from the throwing arm keeping more baseball players in the game.

EC: Thank you very much for your great insights. Where can my readers find more from you?

GL: Thank you again for having me. I have a blog where I translate some of the geeky exercise science research related to baseball into Layman’s terms (cheesy use of my last name but it works). My goal there is to cover the gaps between the research lab, weight room and baseball field so that more players and coaches can benefit from all the information that is available.

You can also find me at Inside Performance, which is an awesome indoor baseball training facility in North Vancouver (possibly the rainiest place in the world) where I work as a S&C coach.

References

MacWilliams, B, Choi, T, Perezous, M, Chao, E, and McFarland, E. Characteristic ground reaction forces in baseball pitches. Am J Sports Med 26: 66-71, 1998.

Matsuo, T, Escamilla, R, Fleisig, G, Barrentine, S, and Andrews, J. Comparison of kinematic and temporal parameters between different pitch velocity groups. J Appl Biomech 17: 1-13, 2001.

Spaniol, FJ. Predicting throwing velocity in college baseball players. J Strength Cond Res 11: 286, 1997.

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