Home Posts tagged "Pitching Coach"

Exercise of the week: Rear Foot Elevated 1-arm Low Cable Row

This week's exercise of the week features a new spin on an old favorite of ours. By elevating the rear foot, you can get more weight shift into the front hip on split-stance low cable rows.

In both pitchers and hitters athletes, we're constantly seeking better ways to teach front hip pull-back - and this is an awesome exercise for feeling the involved musculature. If you want to see this in action, check out the 29-30 second mark in this video of Zach Greinke:

I was surprised at how heavy we've been able to go on this exercise, as I expected a big drop off in resistance utilized because of the balancing component that's involved. In athletes with some single-leg proficiency, though, the rear-foot elevated 1-arm low cable row is an awesome progression.

If you're looking to learn more about how we assess, program, and coach at the shoulder girdle, be sure to check out my popular resource, Sturdy Shoulder Solutions.

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Elite Baseball Development Podcast with Brandon Kintzler

We're excited to welcome Chicago Cubs reliever Brandon Kintzler to this week's podcast. A special thanks to this show's sponsor, Athletic Greens. Head to http://www.athleticgreens.com/cressey and you'll receive a free 20-pack of Athletic Greens travel packets with your first order.

Show Outline

  • How Brandon progressed from being a two-time 40th round draft pick out of Dixie State University to an MLB All-Star (while being released and going to Independent ball along the way)
  • How training to be healthy and durable allowed him to become a student of the game, recover from his injuries, and find success in pro ball
  • How Brandon has learned to effectively throw a sinker
  • Why having good direction in your delivery and mastering your lower half mechanics is essential to be able to stay behind the baseball, create late arm speed, and power through a two-seam fastball
  • Why Brandon chooses to stick to his strengths and hold firm in his belief in the effectiveness of his two-seam even while so many MLB pitchers shift toward 4-seamers
  • How Brandon’s velocity has steadily increased since coming back from injury and why he chooses to live in his sweet spot for velocity rather than throwing as hard as he possibly can
  • Why Brandon is throwing more off-speed pitches in recent years and how simplifying his mechanics have allowed him to have more consistent, repeatable stuff
  • Why Brandon struggled in the 2018 season and how straying from his game plan to chase more strikeouts turned out to be detrimental to his game
  • Where Brandon is most misunderstood by the public and why he has chosen to spend his energy being his genuine self rather than worrying about his image portrayed by the media
  • How beating Steve Cishek in a round of golf has led to a hilarious prank war between the two teammates
  • How Brandon has developed a relationship with Cy Young Award winner, Max Scherzer, and how the two challenge each other to be better pitchers year in and year out

Sponsor Reminder

This episode is brought to you by Athletic Greens. It’s an all-in-one superfood supplement with 75 whole-food sourced ingredients designed to support your body’s nutrition needs across 5 critical areas of health: 1) energy, 2) immunity, 3) gut health, 4) hormonal support, and 5) healthy aging. Head to www.AthleticGreens.com/cressey and claim my special offer today - 20 FREE travel packs (valued at $79) - with your first purchase. I use this product daily myself and highly recommend it to our athletes as well. I'd encourage you to give it a shot, too - especially with this great offer.

Podcast Feedback

If you like what you hear, we'd be thrilled if you'd consider subscribing to the podcast and leaving us an iTunes review. You can do so HERE.

And, we welcome your suggestions for future guests and questions. Just email elitebaseballpodcast@gmail.com.

Thank you for your continued support!

Sign-up Today for our FREE Baseball Newsletter and Receive Instant Access to a 47-minute Presentation from Eric Cressey on Individualizing the Management of Overhead Athletes!

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Elite Baseball Development Podcast with Miles Mikolas

We're excited to welcome St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Miles Mikolas to the podcast for Episode #13. A special thanks goes out to this show's sponsor, Versaclimber. It's my absolute favorite conditioning option, and they've got a great 10% off offer going for our podcast listeners at http://www.Versaclimber.com/Cressey.

Show Outline

  • Why Miles decided to stay close to home and attend Division 2 powerhouse Nova Southeastern in FL
  • How adding weight, gaining strength in the right places, and improving body awareness while in college allowed Miles to make a velocity jump and become an MLB draft pick
  • How Miles quickly ascended through the minor leagues, but realized the consistency needed to be a mainstay in MLB
  • How he worked to become a more consistent pitcher in all facets of his game as a result
  • How Miles transitioned from a reliever to a starter
  • Why Miles added a slider to his pitch arsenal as a starter and how this shorter, harder breaking ball complements his big, loopy curveball to challenge hitters in a different dimension
  • Why Miles chose to bet on himself and leave MLB after the 2014 season to play in the Nippon Professional Baseball League in Japan
  • How being exposed to the Japanese style of baseball taught Miles many invaluable lessons
  • How Miles refined his arm action in 2015 to 2016 to take unnecessary stress off his arm
  • Why Miles values first pitch strikes and works to play the percentages to efficiently get hitters out
  • How Miles models his throwing and lifting program in season on a 5-day rotation
  • What it is like for Miles to pitch to one of the greatest catchers of all-time, Yadier Molina, and what young catchers can take away from this legend’s unbelievable knowledge and skill set

You can follow Miles on Instagram at @magic_mikolas39 and Twitter at @lastoneformiles.

Sponsor Reminder

This episode is brought to you by Versaclimber. In addition to being a phenomenal option for training all across the energy systems continuum, the Versaclimber exposes individuals to important fundamental movement patterns: scapular upward rotation, hip extension, and a synced-up crawling pattern. It's also non-impact, and can therefore be used with a wider variety of clients than other conditioning modalities. They've set up a great discount of 10% for our listeners; you can learn more at http://www.Versaclimber.com/Cressey.

Podcast Feedback

If you like what you hear, we'd be thrilled if you'd consider subscribing to the podcast and leaving us an iTunes review. You can do so HERE.

And, we welcome your suggestions for future guests and questions. Just email elitebaseballpodcast@gmail.com.

Thank you for your continued support!

Sign-up Today for our FREE Baseball Newsletter and Receive Instant Access to a 47-minute Presentation from Eric Cressey on Individualizing the Management of Overhead Athletes!

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Elite Baseball Development Podcast with Scott Oberg

We're excited to welcome Colorado Rockies relief pitcher Scott Oberg to the podcast. A special thanks to this show's sponsor, Athletic Greens. Head to http://www.athleticgreens.com/cressey and you'll receive a free 20-pack of Athletic Greens travel packets with your first order.

Show Outline

  • What Scott’s college recruiting process was like as a late-blooming pitcher from the Northeast and why he chose to attend the University of Connecticut
  • How Scott persevered to overcome multiple injuries/conditions over his college baseball career
  • How Scott advanced quickly through the ranks of pro ball
  • How Scott’s journey through adversity has molded his mindset and what his advice is to young players looking to remain resilient through obstacles in their baseball career
  • Why Scott favored a two-seam fastball in college and how reintroducing a four-seam fastball back into his repertoire improved his game in pro ball
  • How becoming more self-aware and instilling confidence improved Scott’s command and transformed him from a fringe big leaguer to a mainstay in a big league bullpen
  • How controlling the count and competing from 0-0 makes pitching easier and allows pitchers to play the games within the game of baseball
  • How Scott developed a relationship with Texas Rangers minor league pitcher Tyler Phillips and what lessons Scott passes on to the aspiring big leaguer in their offseason training.

You can follow Scott on Instagram at @scottoberg45.

Sponsor Reminder

This episode is brought to you by Athletic Greens. It’s an all-in-one superfood supplement with 75 whole-food sourced ingredients designed to support your body’s nutrition needs across 5 critical areas of health: 1) energy, 2) immunity, 3) gut health, 4) hormonal support, and 5) healthy aging. Head to www.AthleticGreens.com/cressey and claim my special offer today - 20 FREE travel packs (valued at $79) - with your first purchase. I use this product daily myself and highly recommend it to our athletes as well. I'd encourage you to give it a shot, too - especially with this great offer.

Podcast Feedback

If you like what you hear, we'd be thrilled if you'd consider subscribing to the podcast and leaving us an iTunes review. You can do so HERE.

And, we welcome your suggestions for future guests and questions. Just email elitebaseballpodcast@gmail.com.

Thank you for your continued support!

Sign-up Today for our FREE Baseball Newsletter and Receive Instant Access to a 47-minute Presentation from Eric Cressey on Individualizing the Management of Overhead Athletes!

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The Best of 2015: Baseball Articles

With baseball athletes being the largest segment of the Cressey Sports Performance athletic clientele, it seems only fitting to devote a "Best of 2015" feature to the top baseball posts from last year. Check them out:

1. Common Arm Care Mistakes - Installment 6 - In this article, I talk about how important it is to select arm care exercises that truly appreciate the functional demands placed on the shoulder and elbow during throwing.

2. Changing Baseball Culture: A Call to Action - Physical therapist Eric Schoenberg makes a call to action to step away from four baseball traditions so that we can more easily prevent baseball injuries.

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3. What is a "Big League Body?" - Big leaguers come in all shapes and sizes. Your baseball strength and conditioning programs need to appreciate that.

4. 6 Physical Attributes of Elite Hitters - Here are six physical characteristics that elite hitters seem to share.

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5. Projecting the Development of High School Pitchers -  Cressey Sports Performance Pitching Coordinator Matt Blake shows what a difference a year can make in projecting high school pitchers for college baseball success.

If you're interested in learning more about how we assess, program for, and train baseball players, I'd encourage you to check out one of our Elite Baseball Mentorships. The next course will take place January 17-19, 2016 at our Hudson, MA facility. You can learn more HERE.

Sign-up Today for our FREE Baseball Newsletter and Receive Instant Access to a 47-minute Presentation from Eric Cressey on Individualizing the Management of Overhead Athletes!

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Projecting the Development of High School Pitchers: Training Habits Matter

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance pitching coordinator, Matt Blake. Matt is a key part of the Elite Baseball Mentorships team.

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It happens every year. Inevitably, I talk to college coaches about players with whom I work, and without fail, the conversation always comes back to the question: "what type of kid is he and how hard does he work?"

These are two loaded questions and they’re becoming incredibly important in the evaluation process for college coaches. Because the recruiting timeline is getting faster paced every year, coaches are dipping into increasingly younger talent pools to get commitments. This process is forcing coaches to become more reliant on their ability to project what a 15 or 16 year old pitcher is going to look like three years down the road and project what that player might become at ages 18-22 in a new environment. If this is the case, then it becomes essential for coaches to be able to balance who the teenage boy is that he is currently watching, with the man he’s inherently going to become in a few years under his watch.

In order to do this, you need to have the ability to look at the individual’s actions and behaviors, as movement patterns that you think indicate potential for continued growth as this player moves forward. This topic could expand into a entire book, but I’m going to simplify this thought and condense the discussion down to one athlete to help demonstrate the point I’m trying to make.

In this instance, I want to highlight an athlete I've coached over the last few years and show what a drastic difference a year can do in the context of mechanical development. I think it will bring to the forefront how important it is to allow a player to grow into himself and not force the process for these athletes. While doing that, I want to flush out some of the character traits that are involved in refining this process on a larger scale.

Here’s a video of the same athlete one year apart (we’ll break it down in detail later in the article):


To give you some context, you have a 5’9 150lb sophomore on the right and a 5’10” 170lb junior on the left. The 150lb sophomore version of this pitcher pitched around 78-82mph with an above-average change-up and above-average command. This allowed him to develop into a consistent high-level performer on the 16U summer circuit playing in national travel tournaments, but yet the phone isn’t ringing off the hook for this type of 16U player unless he shows “projection” in the body or above average velocity now (neither of which apply to him).

I can understand how it would be very easy to write this type of player off as "average," because every high school RHP in America throws 78-82mph. As such, how could you possibly see this player and offer him a scholarship to play in college? Well, if you’re paying attention, and look at this pitcher one year later with an additional 20lbs on his frame and see that the delivery has continued to refine itself, you’re going to begin to gather a positive sense of direction for this athlete and realize that this RHP is going to conservatively throw 84-87mph this year with a very good chance to throw harder.

Now, 84-87mph still may not get a lot of people excited in this day and age, but I would go out on a limb and say that by the time this athlete is physically maturing in college, you’ll be looking at an 88-90mph RHP with three pitches, who knows how to compete in the strike zone at a high level because he wasn’t blessed with velocity from an early age. There’s a spot for that type of pitcher on any college staff; I don’t care who you are.

One could also certainly say that’s a large leap to make in projecting a 5’10” 170lb pitcher, but it all comes back to knowing what type of person they are and how hard they work. That’s why I think intimate knowledge of their overall training activity is crucial, because you can find out if this player is willing to go away from the “fun” part of developing their skills and identify that they’re willing to buy into a much larger process to make themselves a more technically proficient player on the field.

This is important, in my eyes, because there are only so many reps you can expect a thrower to execute, due to the stressful nature of the activity. So, in order to maximize the efficiency of their development, they have to be able to handle concepts that transcend the actual throwing process itself to be able to refine their throwing motion. If they can grasp why learning how to create stability is important, or why learning to manage their tissue quality on a daily basis will increase their training capacity, then you can give them larger and larger windows to create adaptation as an athlete on the field.

Take the athlete in the video, for example. He’s becoming one of the most consistent performers on the field, and it’s no surprise, because he’s learning to become one of the most consistent athletes in the weight room as well. If you are familiar with the pitching delivery, you’ll notice that he has upgraded at least four critical components of the throwing motion:

  • Postural control of his leg lift/gather phase
  • Rhythm/timing of his hands and legs working together during his descent into the stride phase
  • Lead leg stability and postural control from landing to release
  • Ability to maintain integrity and directional control of his deceleration phase

The interesting piece of these four components is that three of these are reliant on the athlete improving his overall ability to create stability in the delivery. At Cressey Sports Performance, I talk with our athletes all the time about understanding if their adjustments are mobility, stability or awareness issues. In this instance, we probably had both stability and awareness issues to resolve. The thing is, once you’re aware of the issues, it still takes deliberate work to iron out a stability problem in the delivery, which is why the athlete’s training habits are so important. Simply throwing the baseball over and over again may help you with your timing and repeatability, but we need to actively attack the strength training if we expect to impact an athlete’s pattern of stability in the throw.

In order to examine this a bit further, let’s walk through each of these components and identify a couple key things in video form:

Postural Control during Leg Lift/Gather Phase

Rhythm of Descent into Stride Phase

Stability from Landing to Release

Control of Deceleration

Now, don’t get me wrong: there’s obviously a long way to go for this athlete to get to 90mph. However, when you look at the development of this individual in the last 365 days, and you consider that there are over 730 more days before this athlete will even play his first college baseball game as a freshman, it becomes that much more important to know who the athlete is. Will the player you’re recruiting be comfortable with who they are, and become stagnant in their development, or will he use his time efficiently to keep improving both on and off the baseball field?

In the short time that I’ve been doing this, I’ve found that there’s usually a progression for athletes that involves learning how strength training can benefit them. It usually starts with showing up to the weight room from time to time thinking that’s good enough. Once they start plateauing there, they realize they actually need to be consistent in showing up to the weight room to make gains. The problem is, they eventually start plateauing there as well, and if they decide they really want to be good, they proceed to make the all-important psychological jump, and realize it’s not good enough to just show up to the training environment anymore. They realize they need to make positive decisions in their daily routines in order to make the most of every training session, whether it’s on the field or in the weight room. If they’re not willing to do that, there’s always someone else who is, and it doesn’t take long before these athletes are passing them by and they’re left wondering what happened?

When the athlete makes the jump from simply showing up to giving a consistent effort to make positive decisions for themselves inside and outside of the training environment, it becomes real easy to tell a college coach, "This is a guy you want, not only on the field or in the weight room, but in your locker room as well."

If you're interested in learning more about our approaches to long-term baseball development, be sure to check out our Elite Baseball Mentorships; the next course will take place in January.

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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training – Installment 8

It's time for the December edition of my musings on the performance world. Our twin daughters were born on November 28, so this will be a "baby theme" sports performance post.

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1. Sleep might be the great equalizer in the sports performance equation.

For obvious reasons, I've been thinking a lot about sleep quality and quantity since the girls were born. Obviously, how well you sleep is a huge factor in both short- and long-term performance improvements (or drop-offs). I think everyone knows that, but unfortunately, not everyone acts on it.

Additionally, I'm not sure folks realize that sleep is probably the only factor in the performance training equation that isn't impacted by socioeconomic status. Good coaching, gym access, massage therapy, and quality nutrition and supplementation all cost money and can be hard to find in certain areas. Getting quality sleep really won't cost you a penny (unless you're forgoing sleep to try to earn a living), and it's easily accessible. tweetSure, you can buy a better mattress or pillow, turn the air conditioning up, or get reinforced blinds to make your room darker, but the truth is that these aren't limiting factors for most people. Usually, the problems come from using phones/tablets/TVs on too close to bedtime, or simply not making time to get to bed at a reasonable hour. That might be why this Tweet I posted a few days ago was well-received.

I think the lesson here is that if you're struggling to make progress, begin by controlling what you can control. Sleep is usually a good place to start.

2. You need a team, but not an army.

Without exception, everyone who has ever had a child is willing to offer advice. Unfortunately, while it's always incredible well-intentioned, it isn't always useful. We've found this to be particularly true because we have twins, which is a total game changer as compared to a single baby. It's like getting a pitching lesson from a golf professional; he might "get" efficient rotation, but have no idea how to apply it to a new sport.

With that in mind, as an athlete, you have to have a filter when you create your team. Too many cooks can spoil the broth, and having too many coaches (and related professionals) in your ear can lead to confusion from over-coaching and mixed messages.

Taking it a step further, as a facility owner, this is why I love to hire from our Cressey Sports Performance internship program. We get a great opportunity to determine if folks can seamlessly integrate with our team while still providing unique expertise and value to our clients. It's also why we don't ever have independent contractor trainers come in to coach under our roof; the "team" becomes an "army"and the messages get diluted.

Speaking of internships...

Mastery_Cover3. Apprenticeships are tremendously important for athletes and coaches alike.

The current audiobook on my iPhone is Mastery, by Robert Greene. Greene goes to great lengths to describe the commonalities of success for many of history's great "masters:" Benjamin Franklin, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, and many others. One experience they all seem to have in common is a tremendous track record of apprenticeship (or internship) under a bright individual who has gone before them.

It goes without saying that we know this is the best way to learn in the fitness industry. If you need proof, just look at the loads of successful trainers out there who have never opened an exercise physiology textbook, but have logged countless hours "in the trenches" - much of it under the tutelage of a seasoned fitness professional - to hone their skills. As Greene notes, however, not all mentors are created equal, and you have to be very picky in selecting one that is a good match for you.

For us, that meant listening to parents of multiple babies, as well as the nurses at the hospital who had experience caring for twins. As strange as it sounds, it was a blessing that one of our babies needed supplemental oxygen for a few days after birth, as my wife and I effectively got a bunch of one-on-one tutoring from some incredibly helpful nurses in the neonatal intensive care unit. I could have tried to learn it from a book, but there's no way it would have come around as quickly as it did from performing various tasks under the watchful eye of a seasoned pro.

4. Don't take advanced solutions to a simple problem.

I'll admit it: screaming babies terrified me about three weeks ago. While I kept my normally calm demeanor on the outside, every time one of the girls cried, on the inside, I was actually as flustered as a pimple-faced teenager who is about to ask the captain of the cheerleading team to prom. I'd suggest to my wife that we play some music for them, try a different seat/swing, let them cuddle with one another, or play Monopoly (kidding). Not surprisingly, none of it worked.

In reality, the answer is a lot more simple: 99% of the time, they want to eat, get a diaper change, or be held. Seriously, that's it. Who wants to listen to sit in a nice swing, listening to Today's Country radio on Pandora when they're wallowing in their own turd?

Basically, the athletes needed to squat, press, deadlift, and lunge - yet I kept trying to program 1-arm, 1-leg dumbbell RDLs off an unstable surface while wearing a weight vest on a 12-6-9-4 tempo. This is a stark contrast to they way I live my life and how I carry myself as a coach. Lack of familiarity - and the stress it can cause - was the culprit.

Extending this to a coaching context, when you're working with a new athlete or in a new situation (i.e., sport with which you aren't familiar), always look to simplify. Remember that good movement is good movement, regardless of the sporting demands in question.

5. Different athletes need different cues.

Here are our two little angels:

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Even after only three weeks, they couldn't be any more different. Lydia, on the left, can be a little monster. Even the slightest disturbance throws her into a fit, and she wants to eat just about every hour. On the other hand, Addison, on the right, is as mellow as can be. In fact, as I type this, she's quietly sleeping next to my desk - while her sister is in the other room doing her best to wake my wife up from much needed sleep. While the goal is to get them on the same schedule, doing so requires much different approaches for each girl.

In applying this to athletes, you'll have different kinds of learners. Kinesthetic learners will need to be put in a position to appreciate it. Auditory learners can be told to do something and usually pick it up instantly. Visual learners just need to see you demonstrate it, and they'll make it happen shortly thereafter. Your goal as a coach is to determine an athlete's predominant learning style in the first 20-30 minutes of working with him. Most athletes will require a little bit of all three (depending on the exercise you're coaching), but determining which approach predominates makes your coaching more efficient; you can get more done in less time, and fewer words.

Wrap-up

This will be my last post before Christmas, so I just wanted to take a moment to wish you all a very happy holiday season. Thanks so much for your support of EricCressey.com in 2014!

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Long-Term Baseball Development: Part 2

Today is the second part of Cressey Performance Pitching Coordinator Matt Blake's article on long-term athletic development for baseball players. In case you missed it, check out Part 1.

blakeindexIn the first installment of this two-part article, I outlined the problem with respect to youth baseball injuries, discussed some of the causes, and emphasized the need for age-appropriate, individualized training programs over the course of the "baseball lifespan." Today, I want to look closer at this step-by-step developmental process.

I think it’s paramount to first teach young pitchers about rhythm, tempo and direction in the throw, before they learn how to just “air it out.” If they understand how to play catch with intent and focus for every throw on a daily basis, the velocity will usually take care of itself. One way to do that is to use drill constraints to create feel for these qualities, such as in this stride drill progression below:

If the velocity doesn’t begin to develop as you matriculate into your adolescent and teenage years, you have to begin to ask why? Is it a problem with athleticism, strength, delivery issues, or something else? Typically speaking, it will be a little bit of all these, but it’s not usually because the kid isn’t trying to throw the ball hard enough. More often than not, the players that I see getting hurt at a young age have an excessive amount of effort in a poorly sequenced throw, and no awareness for how to take care of their body or how to explain to an adult/coach what they’re feeling when they throw. They need a larger framework to understand movement, so they can understand what feels good and what doesn’t outside of simply throwing to get better.

If you can teach these kids simple concepts regarding core control, how to do a proper lunge, or how to do a proper un-weighted shoulder external rotation, you’ll go a long way towards opening up pathways to throw the ball harder. A great example of this is the exercise demonstration below, which you could certainly use to help educate your athletes:

They don’t need to know what joint centration is, or why adhering to certain muscular length/tension relationships are essential in creating force and resisting fatigue, but they’ll be able to feel it and move towards these positions more frequently on their own. To be honest, we very rarely even use a radar gun at our facility, and without trying to sound conceited, we have some of the hardest throwers in the country at every level of development. It all starts with a foundation that adheres to movement quality over quantity. Owning a routine that allows you take care of your body on a daily basis by taking inventory of tissue quality and adhering to a thorough warm-up and recovery process every time we throw is essential at every level of baseball. Something as simple as implementing the use of a foam roller on a day-to-day basis could go a long way in aiding this process.

Once the athlete understands movement quality, then we can begin to layer on force production, whether it be through a more general application like strength training or a more ballistic action like throwing a baseball. They need to understand how the force is generated, and where it’s dissipated; if they can’t decelerate or disperse what they’re producing, it’s unusable. There’s a laundry list of athletes in every town who threw harder than their peers, but couldn’t use it because they couldn’t throw strikes or couldn’t avoid pain. And, it’s not unusual to see the guys who don’t throw strikes to be more likely to end up in pain, because it’s a byproduct of having reckless motor control, which creates more stress by hitting joint end ranges more frequently, and in turn, creates more tissue damage than you’d see with a strike-thrower with a higher level of coordination.

As the athlete continues to advance through the high school and college years, there only comes more societal pressure to perform at a high level, so, if you don’t have a sound base of movement, you better bear down now. This 16-20 age group is probably the most at-risk population because of how strength really begins to come into the mix, how the wear and tear of poor deliveries and overuse in the youth development systems start to reach threshold, and the increased level of exposure at year round events fuels the fire. This is usually when the majority of players begin to realize that they want to be baseball players and start to specialize in the sport at a higher rate, and with that comes an even more detrimental aspect: not clearly identifying your developmental calendar.

If baseball is the only sport you play in the HS/college years, it’s essential that you understand what the year-long developmental calendar looks like. If you don’t, and you live in a warm weather region, you could theoretically start playing “spring season” games in January for your HS or college team and play into May/June. Once that season’s done, you would naturally transition right into your summer season, whether it be travel ball or a collegiate summer league and play another 45-60 games through July/August.

Once that season is over, the HS players who would normally shut it down and play another sport are now inundated with showcases and camps from every different angle, as well as fall leagues that run into November. The college athlete has his fall season, which is usually another six weeks of competitive baseball activity somewhere between September and November, and that leaves us with the window of November to January. This is where we’d normally be dormant, but now we have showcases and tournaments to attend to make sure the scouts and schools know who we are. And, college coaches are reluctant to shut pitchers down less than 10-12 weeks out from the start of a season.

Is it really a surprise that pitchers are getting hurt?

If you don’t step back and be sensible about this developmental process, your train will get derailed somewhere, so you have to set some clear boundaries.

For all of our athletes, it starts by encouraging them to get the ball totally out of their hand for 8-12 weeks of no-throwing each year. Now, this might sound excessive to some, but it still leaves you approximately 300 days of the year to work on your throwing. If you can’t get better in the other 300 days, you’re probably misusing this other 8-12 weeks anyways!

Aside from that, we typically try to adhere to keeping our high school pitchers under 100 competitive innings on the mound, and hopefully more like 80. So, as a HS athlete, if you compete from Feb/March until July/August as your two main competitive seasons, that allows you to shape your September-Feb/March in a multitude of ways. If college camps/showcases are an important aspect of your development so you can reach the next level, then make sure you give yourself adequate time to prepare for them. Going 0-60mph in these events is a recipe for injury, as we know the kids who attend more showcases end up getting hurt at a higher rate. If you’re aware of this and use the lead-up time and structure your throwing schedule properly, and understand the drastically different warm-up component at these events, you can likely head off some of these issues.

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If you’re a college athlete, you have to consider where your most important development is going to come. Obviously, the spring is a constant, but depending on how many innings you throw, and what level of development your college team offers, the fall season may be more important than simply adding another 60 innings in a summer league. So, you have to weigh out what makes more sense. Take the summer months and work on your strength base, while allowing your body to recover from a heavy workload, so you can be ready to continue developing in the fall; Or, play competitively in the summer for increased exposure and in-game development in a competitive summer league and then take the fall off from throwing. Too many times guys will throw 80+ innings for their college team in the spring and then another 50+ in the summer and now you’re carrying 130+ innings into the fall, which is a crucial time for your college pitching coach to develop your throwing ability or work on pitching skills in a controlled environment unlike the spring schedule or even the consolidated winter build-up.

The pro side might be the most cut and dry schedule wise, because you’re typically starting spring training in Mid-Feb/March and playing until September/October. It only becomes a little murky when you consider that some prospects have to attend instructional leagues in September/Oct or play in the Arizona Fall league, leaving a smaller window of off-season development. They may also need to pay bills so a winter league becomes more attractive. With that said, they have a nice window of time from September through February, which is crucial for them to get the ball out of their hand for an extended period of time and get their cuff strength back, while working on a general foundation of movement before they start the slow build-up back towards the season.

Obviously, there are some different concerns in the world of professional development where you’re constantly weighing the risk/reward for implementing certain training stimuli on both the strength training front and throwing program design side of things since these guys are generally already very successful at their craft. But, with how long their season is, and how quick they ramp up bullpens in spring training, it becomes essential they make good use of their window from September through February to avoid being a victim of the early season wrath we see unfold every year, as depicted by the charts below (click to expand):

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Sources: Epidemiology of Major League Baseball Injuries and
Incidence of Injuries in High School Softball and Baseball Players, respectively.

We could obviously go on and on here and not cover all of our bases on specific developmental concerns, so it’s important we reiterate the main driver behind all of this.

We’re going to continue to have arm issues in the sport of baseball if we insist on pushing the boundaries of the human species to see how much performance we can get out of these players. The money in the game is so large, and velocity has become such a huge component of success for these players and organizations, that the industry of baseball from top to bottom will constantly be looking to develop more of it.

The only problem is that the means for attaining this beloved velocity needs to be individualized and it’s such a complex recipe that goes beyond what you’re looking at in the present moment. It keeps every outing on short rest or poor warm-up before a cold rainy start on file, so you need to follow the body of work as best as you can to know where the next step needs to be for each athlete. Too many people are treating this like it’s a sprint from one MPH checkpoint to the next.

Slow down, be sensible about the developmental process, and just realize that this day and age, if you want to throw hard, there’s enough information out there to point you in the right direction. The key to all of this though, isn’t necessarily who can simply throw hard anymore, it’s who can stay on the field the most consistently while doing it, and for some reason, people don’t seem to be as willing to listen to that information.

In the meantime, if you're looking for more detailed information on long-term management of throwing athletes, be sure to check out our Elite Baseball Mentorships. The early-bird price for our June mentorship is May 15.

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Long-Term Baseball Development: Part 1

Today's guest post is the first half of a two-part article from Cressey Performance Pitching Coordinator, Matt Blake.  Matt is a key part of the Elite Baseball Mentorships team.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, I assume you’ve heard that there seem to be a lot of pitchers getting hurt lately. Well, in light of the media spotlight recently shining on the injury epidemic we’ve been watching evolve over the last few years, I figured there’s no better time to contribute to this discussion.

This media attention has discussed a plethora of incredible information regarding some of the most relevant research and statistics pertaining to these arm injury rates. You can see experts call into question usage rates among amateur pitchers, pitch selection among youth/amateurs, recovery rates, mobility deficits, too much or too little strength, length of season, delivery flaws, and a host of other factors. In short, there’s clearly no one right answer in solving this issue, as there are just so many variables in this multi-factorial problem, and as a result, it is quickly making Tommy John the most famous pitcher of all time for all the wrong reasons.

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This is probably exacerbated by the fact that I can almost guarantee you every single MLB pitcher whoever existed would fall into one of the categories deemed “detrimental” to healthy development at one point or another during their career. I’m sure they’ve been at risk of throwing too much, pitching on short rest, having a red flag in their delivery, lacking necessary range of motion, etc. It’s all part of the game, unfortunately. Beautiful game, isn’t it?

So, if this is the case – and I’m sorry to sound so negative about the future of this game and the problem that we’re currently experiencing – but this injury issue has way more to do with our society at large and the values we’re pushing into the game of baseball than simply little Johnny throwing too many pitches in his Babe Ruth game or throwing 95mph when he’s 17.

It’s not too dissimilar from the global climate discussion we’re having (apologies in advance if you don’t believe in global warming), where we seem to understand what the problem is and potentially what some of the solutions are. However, because these issues have huge monetary implications and there are large organizations and cultures set in their ways behind a lot of this, it’s very hard to change the direction of this tsunami that’s been building out at sea and is now crashing onto our shores.

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Percentage Growth of ASMI Youth/High School UCL Reconstruction Surgeries (Original Article)

In order to narrow the discussion, though, I’m going to try to pick a couple key points out to help give the general population something to chew on and digest without burying them in a sea of research, stats and mechanical jargon. In my mind, there are two main social factors that are fueling this:

1) the burning desire as a culture to see and reach for more velocity at every level of development

2) the digital age giving us enough information to be dangerous in so many different ways

I can promise you neither of these will be going away, so we better learn how to manage them effectively.

When I talk about this insatiable desire for velocity at every level of development and this information age, I’m encompassing a lot of different thoughts. It could be Johnny Rocket throwing 70mph in the Little League World Series at 12yrs old while being broadcasted to the world on ESPN, or it could be the fact that we have a generation of fathers armed with a Pocket Radar at the backstop, and an Ipad in the dugout with up-to-the-minute strike % rates at all of Little Billy’s games.

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Once these players get out on the travel ball circuit, online scouting resources do their fair share to rank every single player/team that comes through their tournaments and showcases, so every kid knows where he stands against his peers. Like it or not, this encourages them to make it to as many events as they can, regardless of the time of year, which we know from the research carries a larger injury risk as well. These issues are a microcosm of this media blitz, and are simultaneously creating our greatest strength and becoming our biggest weakness.

Now, don’t get me wrong, these same reasons can also be tremendous developmental qualities, by allowing for more information to be processed, we can speed up the developmental curve. We know that fastball velocity is an important predictor of strikeout rate and success at any level of baseball. If that’s the case, why wouldn’t we want to speed up the developmental curve in an attempt to throw harder?

With that said, I’m sure there are people out there who point the injury bug finger at me in thinking I offer “Pitching Lessons” all year round, or point it at Eric Cressey for developing these athletes into physical monsters too soon, which allows them to throw the ball harder than the human species is supposed to do so. So, if we’re going to frame the discussion, we need to look at the process for how these athletes are being developed, because I think this becomes the crucial determinant.

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We have to have a big picture look at how we get Johnny Rocket to sustain his standard deviation of dominance at each level or how we get little Billy to have enough fastball so he can move from level to level and stay in the game he loves to play. But, if everything is causing problems, and you can’t play too much because you’ll get hurt, and if you don’t throw enough, you won’t be any good…How do we shepherd these athletes from level to level until they reach the promised land of the Big Leagues? Ultimately, it comes down to a few main principles for me.

At CP, we’ve had a lot of tremendous athletes and baseball players come through our doors ranging from Little Johnny Rocket at 10yrs old all the way to Curt Schilling on his last go round in the Big Leagues and everything in between. The three qualities that have resonated through all of the successful athletes regardless of level are – general athleticism, competitive instinct and an above average fastball that they can command.

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I’d also include a caveat that the ability to be consistent and adhere to a plan is the glue to these qualities. We’ve had good athletes who were great competitors who sucked at simply showing up, or following the program as it was written, etc…and, it’s ultimately what keeps them from being reliable performers. It’s what can separate a guy who doesn’t have natural athleticism from a guy who doesn’t make the most of his athletic talents. Our most diligent and successful athletes don’t just randomly disappear for three weeks, or skip their warm-up for the heck of it. This can be a major separator if you’re willing to show up day in and day out and be diligent about executing your process.

Now, this may sound overly generic, but I think it’s important to consider what falls in each bucket and how it affects each developmental stage.

If you’re looking at the youth level – say 10-14 year-olds – who ends up pitching the most? Typically, your best athletes (because they’re coordinated enough at that age to throw strikes), or the kids who throw the hardest (because they generally miss more bats). Often, these two categories occur in the same kids, too, so they’re extra likely to throw every inning of every game. I don’t think anyone would question that.

youthpitcher

The same begins to take shape when you look at who gets recognized at the high school and college level. The best pitchers again end up being the guys who throw the hardest and strike the most guys out, and ultimately, end up with the college scholarships and are drafted the highest.

At the minor league level, there’s less of an emphasis on winning games, but there is definitely a premium placed on competing in the strike zone with an above average fastball in order to advance at each level through the system, regardless of organization. Finally, you have your big leaguers, who have made it to where everyone wants to go, and in this day and age, its few and far between the guys that don’t have premium stuff or aren’t voracious competitors with at least “average” stuff. Mark Buerhle and Jamie Moyer are the 0.01% of professional pitchers who were able to compete with below average fastball velocities, but they were able to compete at every level – including the big leagues – by relying on good movement, changing speeds, and impeccable command. So how does this factor into our greater discussion? You have to find what each athlete does well and find a way to maintain those strengths while filling in the weaknesses. You’d be foolish to give guys on opposite ends of the spectrum - say, Aroldis Chapman and Jamie Moyer - the same developmental plan.

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If you bring that thought further down the developmental chain, and have a 12yr old who throws hard, but doesn’t have a “sound delivery” or isn’t a good athlete, he probably needs to work really hard on his general athleticism first to provide a sound movement base for him to repeat his delivery. This can mean playing another sport, such as basketball or soccer, or simply riding his bike or playing at the park with his friends. It doesn’t mean he needs to engage in the 10,000 hours theory and practice pitching more. Could this help? Sure, but is it the best long-term solution or does it attack the greatest window of adaptation? I doubt it. If anything, he just needs to keep playing catch with his dad, brother, or a buddy and continue throwing a lot on his own to learn more about himself, but pitching in more games is just going to exacerbate the problem. Games are fun, and obviously one of the principles of long term success is developing that competitive spirit, but with what we know about the stress of throwing a baseball and what happens to kids who throw hard at an early age, this kid is seriously at risk for hurting himself down the road, if he doesn’t find other ways to develop.

bball

Too often, we see parents who think that the best way to get Johnny to become Nolan Ryan is to bring him to the local pitching instructor and get him signed up on the local travel ball team. Also, obviously, he still has to play with his town buddies, so now he’s on multiple teams, etc. This is not the answer. Let Johnny figure out a world of movement and compete with different people in different venues and you’ll be surprised what that does for his confidence and motor control. Having the ability to relate to other social environments, and physically move through different patterns will drastically shape Johnny’s ability to repeat his delivery and create force in the throw in healthier ways. With that said, below, I’ve provided a “Developmental Lifespan” for how successful athletes have generally progressed in their athletic focus:

Up to Age 10 – Complete fun, wide variety of activities
Ages 11-15 – Multiple (3+) organized sports with “seasons,” integration of strength and conditioning
Age 16-17 – Hone in on 1-2 sports
Age 18+ - Specialization

When they do play baseball, let’s not worry so much about velocity just yet, but let’s focus on establishing good daily routines - sound warm-ups, arm-care processes, and movement patterns – as well as focusing on the yearly calendar. These will have long-term implications for the athlete’s health and continued progress – and I’ll focus specifically on these things in Part 2, so stay tuned!

In the meantime, if you're looking for more detailed information on long-term management of throwing athletes, be sure to check out our Elite Baseball Mentorships.  The early-bird price for our June mentorship is May 15.

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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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