Home Posts tagged "Pitching Coach" (Page 2)

The Curious Case of the Yips: Both Psychological and Physical for Pitchers?

There may not be more perplexing phenomenon in the baseball world than a pitcher with a case of the yips.  For those of you who aren't "down with the lingo," this term refers to an extended period of time when a pitcher simply can't throw the ball where he wants to throw it.  And, the yips can certainly extend to position players, as there are countless instances of catchers mysteriously struggling to throw the ball back to the pitcher, and infielders who can't make clean throws to first base - in spite of years of doing these things successfully. Perhaps the two most noteworthy cases of the past few decades were Rick Ankiel and Chuck Knoblauch, who were both forced to change positions because they couldn't overcome the issue.

Clearly there is a heavy psychological component to this issue - and that's a big part of how the yips have historically been managed.  Whether it's visiting with sports psychologists or chatting with pitching coaches, the powers that be aim to modify the thoughts that go through the pitcher's head prior to throwing.  And, there's certainly nothing wrong with that approach, as it's clearly part of the problem.  However, in today's article, I want to view the yips through a bit of a different paradigm.

One thing that nobody ever seems to mention is that the yips don't happen in high school players. Why?  It's because the frame of reference is different.  You see, high school kids don't throw enough strikes normally for us to even perceive when something is out of whack.  I've spoken with a ton of professional pitchers and they universally agree that they weren't able to repeat their mechanics consistently until they were in the 18-20 age range.  Until that point, their bodies were changing dramatically and they hadn't had sufficient throws under their belt to master the pattern and consistently repeat it.  Plus, they were pitching off different mounds each time out, and the quality of the mound can have a dramatic impact on one's delivery.  With these factors in mind, I think we can all agree that the yips are a problem confined to the college and professional ranks.  If a high school kid or pop star is missing wildly, we just chalk it up to poor skill or inexperience.

Drawing parallels in other sports proves to be difficult, though.  Among athletes who need to accurately project an object from a consistent release point, you just don't see the yips outside of baseball players.  Quarterbacks don't get it, and I've never seen a track and field thrower accidentally fire an implement into a terrified crowd.  Olympic archers and biathlon competitors don't miss targets by large margins, and I've never heard of a tennis player whose career ended from double faulting over and over again.  Certainly, if all these issues were purely psychological, we would have found cases of the yips across other sporting disciplines, right?  There simply have to be examples of other professional athletes' minds being so jumbled that tens of thousands of reps worth of motor control and precision would be seemingly wiped clean from the slate, right? 

Nope. It doesn't seem to work that way. So what is so unique about pitching, then? 

Stress and adaptation to that stress.

You see, throwing a baseball is the single fastest motion in all of sports - and that means serious stress on not just the arm, but also the rest of the body.  Additionally, the Major League Baseball season is among the longest in professional sports - lasting from mid-February to some point in October (depending on post-season play) - and eight months is plenty of time for things to go in the wrong direction as players may get more and more detrained.

Rotator cuff strength drops over the course of the season. Scapular upward rotation diminishes.  Tissue quality gets "gunkier" with each throwing session. Some players lose hip, shoulder, and elbow range of motion. Others acquire more ligamentous laxity and become increasingly unstable. Body weight may drop, and lower body strength and core stability fall off.  And when these issues collectively build, elbows, shoulders, lower backs, and any of a number of other areas may even become symptomatic. 

To be clear, what I'm saying is that guys don't magically forget how to throw strikes after tens of thousands of reps.  Rather, their bodies often let them down and don't enable them to physically get to the positions needed to repeat the mechanics to which they've grown accustomed.  They're like the teenagers who are growing into their bodies all over again.

If you need further proof, check out this great study from Kibler et al. Researchers noted that in the tennis serve, a 20% decrease in kinetic energy from the hip and trunk means the shoulder must generate 34% more velocity to get same force to the racket. It's safe to assume that the stress of pitching in this context is even higher because arm speed must be greater.  If you're 10-15 pounds lighter and have lost a bunch of your lower body strength, how can we know if your issues are purely psychological and not physical? In attempting to maintain velocity and compete, you have to compensate in any of a number of ways - and that's how physical problems quickly become mechanical and psychological ones.

As another example, it's not uncommon to see pitchers get hurt when they've been quickly transitioned from relieving to starting roles without adequate time to build up their pitch counts.  And, I wouldn't be surprised if the incidence of the yips is much higher among those who don't get hurt.  When you throw fatigue in the mix, altered mechanics (whether they appreciate it or not) are the only way guys can continue to try to compete.  This is one reason why it's so important to bring guys along slowly and methodically with this transition.

When we see a guy who is struggling with his command or velocity, the first thing we ask is, "Is he hurt?"  Yet, when he responds "No," nobody ever asks if he feels fatigued or weak.  So, maybe it's a paradigm that needs to shift?  I can remember chatting with a major league pitcher a while back roughly 2/3 of the way through his season.  He told me he'd had outings when he had absolutely no idea where the ball was going, and had actually developed a new pitch by accident because his mechanics were so off. Not surprisingly, the evaluation I then performed revealed a lot of things he needed to address physically - and he was clearly fatigued.  Nobody had even touched them, though, because his velocity, command, and numbers were good. This is like refusing to change the oil and tires on your car proactively because it seems to be running fine. Maybe the yips are just the equivalent of breaking down on the side of the road after ignoring those routine service appointments?

With all these factors in mind, I think it's safe to say that there is a definite role for physical shortcomings and both acute and chronic fatigue in the development of the yips.  It just may not be easily "diagnosed" because a) symptoms may be absent and b) many athletes aren't assessed appropriately when they're doing well, so there isn't a standard against which to compare.

Here is where I think so many players have struggled to overcome the problem.  They think that throwing more to "re-master" their mechanics is the way to fix the problem.  In throwing more, two things happen:

1. If each throw isn't right on the money mechanically, they're simply re-engraining those problems.

2. With each passing throw, they're imposing more fatigue - especially when those throws are off the mound (and if you want to re-master your mechanics, you want this level of true specificity).

Conversely, my first suggestion to athletes with the yips is always to simply take the ball out of their hands for 7-10 days.  I think it's important not only because it's a chance to acutely avoid reaffirming bad habits, but more because it's a chance to temporarily remove fatigue so that one can build up strength and stability in the right places, improve tissue quality, and normalize body weight. When that happens, "muscle memory" can kick in. 

Imagine driving your car after someone has adjusted all the mirrors, moved the seat up, lowered the steering wheel, messed with the alignment, and changed all the pre-set radio stations. It feels brutally awkward in spite of the fact that it's the same car you've had for years, and you might even be a danger on the road.  This is what pitchers often feel and look like at the end of a long season if they haven't been managed correctly on the physical side.  If you fix all these issues with the car, it goes back to feeling normal; you don't just forget all those years of safe and "natural" driving.  You wouldn't just call your driver's education instructor for a pep talk and then hop back into the funky new version of your car, would you?  The only differences are that you can easily recognize everything that's out of whack with a car, and a quick tune-up at the mechanic only takes a few minutes. Conversely, it's hard to self-assess physically, very few people truly understand how pitchers should move, and physical adaptation takes time.

This isn't a knock on sports psychologists or pitching coaches, as they are absolutely, positively a huge part of the process with getting a pitcher with the yips back on track.  However, it'd be extremely ignorant to overlook the pronounced physical adaptations and detraining that often take place with pitchers - and how this might interfere with one's ability to repeat mechanics that until that point had become second nature.

Wrap-up

A lot of you will read this article and think that it doesn't apply to you.  And, while you may not have experienced the yips yourself or in one of the players you coach, my hope is that this article effectively served as a call for you to establish baseline evaluations of movement quality.  If there isn't a thorough preliminary assessment against which to compare when things go south, you're really just guessing about how much is physical, psychological, and mechanical. If you're not assessing, you're assuming - and if assuming worked, this wouldn't be a problem that had shaved years off a lot of careers.

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I’m Having a Black Friday/Cyber Monday Sale (Just Like Everyone Else on the Planet)

I guess I'm joining in the discount madness this holiday season, even if I didn't have to do any planning!  Here are some options for your holiday shopping at EricCressey.com:

1. Whip: What it is and How You Get it - This was a presentation I did a while back at Ron Wolforth's Pitching Coaches Bootcamp, and it's now available for sale individually. In the presentation, I talk about factors the influence whether you increase throwing velocity and how strength and conditioning programs can have a dramatic impact - either positive or negative - on whether one develops the whip needed to throw harder.  You can either watch this online or get it as a DVD.

2. 20% off all Physical Products at MikeReinold.com - This sale includes Functional Stability Training and Optimal Shoulder Performance, along with many of Mike Reinold's other products.  Just enter the coupon code BLACKFRIDAY2012 at checkout to get the discount.

3. 15% of all Products at RobertsonTrainingSystems.com - This sale includes Assess and Correct, Building the Efficient Athlete, and Magnificent Mobility, along with many other products from Mike Robertson. The discount will automatically be applied at checkout.

We don't put products on sale very often, so be sure to take advantage of these offers before they expire at the end of the day on Monday!

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Should Pitching Coaches Understand Research Methods and Functional Anatomy?

Quite some time ago, I met a pitching coach who made a bold statement to me:

"Most Major League pitchers have terrible mechanics."

I don't know if he meant that they were mechanics that could lead to injuries, or simply mechanics that would interfere with control and velocity development, but either way, I shrugged it off.  Why?

Their mechanics are so terrible that they're in the top 0.0001% of people on the planet who play their sport.  And, they're paid extremely well to be terrible, I suppose.

Kidding aside, this comment got me to thinking about something that's been "festering" for years now, and I wanted to run it by all of you today to get your impressions on it.  In other words, this post won't be about me ranting and raving about how things should be, but rather me starting a dialogue on one potential way to get the baseball development industry to where it needs to be, as it clearly isn't there yet (as evidenced by the fact that more pitchers are getting hurt nowadays than ever before).

The way I see it, mechanics are typically labeled as "terrible" when a pitcher has:

1. Trouble throwing strikes

2. Pitching velocity considerably below what one would expect, given that pitcher's athleticism

3. Pain when throwing

4. Mechanical issues that theoretically will predispose him to injury 

In the first three cases, anyone can really make these observations.  You don't need to be trained in anything to watch the walk totals pile up, read a radar gun, or listen when a pitcher says, "It hurts."  Moreover, these issues are easier to coach because they are very measurable; pitchers cut down on their walks, throw harder, and stop having pain.

Issue #4 is the conundrum that has lead to thousands of pissing matches among pitching coaches.  When a pitcher gets hurt, everyone becomes an armchair quarterback.  The two biggest examples that come to mind are Mark Prior and Stephen Strasburg.

Prior was supposed to be one of the best of all-time before shoulder surgeries derailed his career.  After the fact, everyone was quick to pin all the issues on his mechanics.  What nobody has ever brought to light is that over the course of nine years, his injuries looked like the following (via Wikipedia):

1. Hamstrings strain (out for 2002 season)
2. Shoulder injury (on-field collision - missed three starts in 2003)
3. Achilles injury (missed two months in 2004)
4. Elbow strain (missed 15 days in 2004)
5. Elbow injury (missed one month in 2005 after being hit by line drive)
6. Rotator cuff strain (missed three months in 2006)
7. Oblique strain (missed two starts in 2006)
8. Rotator cuff strain (ended 2006 season on disabled list)
9. Shoulder surgery (missed entire 2007 season, and first half of 2008)
10. Shoulder capsule tear (out for season after May 2008)
11. Groin injury (missed last two months of 2011 season)

By my count, that is eleven injuries - but four of them were non-arm-related.  And, two of them (both early in his career) were contact injuries.  Who is to say that he isn't just a guy with a tendency toward degenerative changes on a systemic level?  How do we know one of the previous injuries didn't contribute to his arm issues later on?  How do we know what he did for preventative arm care, rehabilitation, throwing, and strength and conditioning programs? We don't have his medical records from earlier years to know if there were predisposing factors in place, either.  I could go on and on.

The issue is that our sample size is one (Mark Prior) because you'll never see this exact collection of issues in any other player again.  It's impossible to separate out all these factors because all issues are unique.  And, it's one reason why you'll never see me sitting in the peanut gallery criticizing some teams for having injured players; we don't have sufficient information to know exactly why a player got hurt - and chances are, the medical staff on those teams don't even have all the information they'd like to have, either.

Strasburg has been labeled the best prospect of all-time by many, and rightfully so; his stuff is filthy and he's had the success to back it up.  Of course, the second he had Tommy John surgery, all the mechanics nazis came out of their caves and started berating the entire Washington Nationals organization for not fixing the issue (an Inverted W) proactively to try to prevent the injury.  Everybody is Johnny Brassballs on the internet.

To that end, I'll just propose the following questions:

1. Did Strasburg not do just fine with respect to issues 1-3 in my list above?

2. Would you want to be the one to screw with the best prospect of all-time and potentially ruin exactly what makes him effective?

3. Do we really know what the health of his elbow was when the Nationals drafted him?

4. Do we know what his arm care, throwing, and strength and conditioning programs were like before and after being drafted?

There are simply too many questions one can ask with any injury, and simply calling mechanics the only contributing factor does a complex issue a disservice - especially since young athletes are growing up with more and more physical dysfunction even before they have mastered their "mature" mechanics.

The Inverted W theory is incredibly sound; Chris O'Leary did a tremendous job of making his case - and we certainly work to coach throwers out of this flaw - but two undeniable facts remain.  First, a lot of guys still throw with the Inverted W and don't have significant arm issues (or any whatsoever).  They may have adequate mobility and stability in the right places (more on this below) to get by, or perhaps they have just managed their pitch counts and innings appropriately to avoid reaching threshold.  I suspect that you might also find that many of these throwers can make up for this "presumed fault" with a quick arm combined with a little extra congenital ligamentous laxity, or subtle tinkering with some other component of their timing.

Second, a lot of guys who don't have an Inverted W still wind up with elbow or shoulder injuries. Good research studies bring issues like these to light, and nobody has really gotten a crew of inverted W guys and non-inverted W guys together to follow injury rates over an extended period of time while accounting for variables such as training programs, pitch counts, and pitch selection (e.g., sliders vs. curveballs). We don't know if some of these other factors are actually more problematic than the mechanics themselves, as it's impossible to control all these factors simultaneously in a research format.

As such, here we have my first set of questions:

Don't you think that pitching coaches need to make a dedicated effort to understand research methods so that they can truly appreciate the multifactorial nature of injuries?  And, more importantly, wouldn't learning to read research help them to understand which mechanical issues are the true problem?  

The Inverted W is certainly an issue, but there are many more to keep in mind. Just my opinion: I think the baseball industry would be much better off if pitching coaches read a lot more research.

Now, let's move on to my second question.  First, though, I want to return to the Inverted W example again. I have not met more than a few pitching coaches who can explain exactly what structures are affected by this mechanical flaw because they don't understand what functionally is taking place at the shoulder and elbow.  They don't understand that excessive glenohumeral (shoulder) horizontal abduction, extension, and external rotation can all lead to anterior glide of the humerus, creating more anterior instability and leading to injuries to the anterior glenohumeral ligaments and labrum.  Meanwhile, the biceps tendon picks up the slack as a crucial anterior stabilizer.  They also don't appreciate how these issues are exacerbated by poor rotator cuff function and faulty scapular stabilization patterns.  And, they don't appreciate that these issues are commonly present even in throwers who don't demonstrate an Inverted W pattern.

At the elbow, they also can't explain why, specifically, the Inverted W can lead to problems. They don't understand that the timing issue created by the "deep" set-up leads to greater valgus stress at lay-back because the arm lags.  They can't explain why some players have medial issues (UCL injuries, ulnar nerve irritation, flexor/pronator strains, and medial epicondyle stress fractures) while other players have lateral issues (little league elbow, osteochondritis dissecans of radial capitellum) from the same mechanical flaws.  They can't explain why a slider thrown from an Inverted W position would be more harmful than a curveball.

I can explain it to you - and I can explain it to my athletes so that they understand, too. I've also met a lot of medical professionals who can clearly outline how and why these structures are injured, but we aren't the ones coaching the pitchers on the mounds.  The pitching coaches are the ones in those trenches.

To that end, I propose my second set of questions:

Don't you think pitching coaches ought to make an effort to learn functional anatomy in order to understand not just what gets injured, but how those injuries occur?  Wouldn't it give them a more thorough understanding of how to manage their pitchers, from mechanical tinkering, to pitch selection, to throwing volume?  And, wouldn't it give them a more valid perspective from which to contribute to pitchers' arm care programs in conjunction with rehabilitation professionals and strength and conditioning coaches? 

The problem with just saying "his mechanics suck" is that it amounts to applying a theory to a sample size of one.  That's not good research.  Additionally, this assertion is almost always taking place without a fundamental understanding of that pitcher's functional anatomy.  It amounts to coaching blind.

To reiterate, this was not a post intended to belittle anyone, but rather to bring to light two areas in which motivated pitching coaches could study extensively in order to really separate themselves from the pack.  Additionally, I believe wholeheartedly in what Chris O'Leary put forth with his Inverted W writings; I just used it as one example of a mechanical flaw that must be considered as part of a comprehensive approach to managing pitchers.

With that said, I'd love to hear your opinions on these two sets of questions in the comments section below. Thanks in advance for your contributions.

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Throwing Programs: The Top 4 Long Toss Mistakes

In part 1, I made the case for long toss as an effective addition to a throwing program.  Today, we answer the question, “Why don’t some pitchers respond well to long toss?”  Let’s look at the top four reasons why someone may not be approaching long toss optimally.

1. They structure it incorrectly.

By far, the biggest mistake I see from pitchers when they’re long tossing is that they don’t utilize compression/pull-down throws at the end of the session.  These throws teach the pitcher to get on top of the ball and bring the release point down to where it should be with pitching – but they do all this with the increased arm speed you get from long tossing.  Effectively, you use compression throws to transition from your longest throwing distance to a flat ground session (this is a practice you’ll see from a LOT of MLB starting pitchers in pre-game warm-ups before they ever step foot on a mound).

Typically, our guys use a compression throw every 45-60 feet on the way back in (it almost amounts to a brisk walk back in).  So, if a pitcher went out to 300 feet with his long toss, he’d take compression throws at about 250, 200, 150, 100, and 60 feet.  I joke with guys that the last throw at 60 feet should pretty much scare the crap out of their throwing partners.  If you've seen Trevor Bauer crow-hopping downthe mound for his last warm-up pitch prior to every inning, you know what I mean.  Not surprisingly, Bauer is an Alan Jaeger/Ron Wolforth long toss disciple.  Here’s what Baseball America had to say about it: “[Bauer] starts behind the rubber, runs over the mound and throws as hard as he can to the plate, from about 54 feet. I've heard reports that those throws have registered 100 mph…”

Some guys – particularly those with a history of control issues and the guys who are trying to tinker with their mechanics – are wise to go into a brief flat-ground (or regular) bullpen right after these compression throws.  It’s a good chance to transfer the arm speed and athleticism of long toss into a little more of a sport-specific action.  I’ve also seen quite a few pitchers who have improved their change-ups considerably by long tossing for part of the session with their change-up grip, and then integrating it into one of these post-long-toss flat ground or bullpen sessions.  It helps with keeping the arm speed up in pitchers who tend to slow down the arm for change-ups.

2. They become good throwers and not good pitchers.

I’ll be straightforward with this one.

If you can long toss 350 feet, but pitch at 80-82mph, you can definitely stand to cut back a bit on your long tossing to spend more time focusing on mound work to sync things up and use that general motor potential to your advantage.

If you can long toss 350 feet, but have a 1:6 strikeout:walk ratio and have pitches hitting the backstop, you can definitely stand to cut back a bit on your long tossing to spend more time focusing on mound work to sync things up and actually throw strikes.

If you can long toss 350 feet, but are getting shelled because you just throw a very straight 93mph and don’t have any secondary pitches, you can definitely stand to cut back a bit on your long tossing to spend more time focusing on mound work to sync things up and learn some other pitches.  The average fastball velocity is higher in low-A than it is in the big leagues, you know…

3. They think long toss covers all their needs.

There are a ton of different factors that contribute to pitching success and longevity.  Once you can throw a ball a long way, there is a tendency to think that you’ve done what you need to be successful, but in reality, there are a lot more things to address to prepare your body and long toss is still pretty specific, in the grand scheme of things.  As is often the case, the greatest benefits are usually derived from doing the things that you don’t do particularly well (yet).  Bartolo Colon, for instance, might be able to long toss 330 feet, but he might have a heart attack on the light jog to the outfield to partake in that long tossing session.

4. They don’t long toss on a straight line.

It seems like a no-brainer, but you should throw on a straight line.  If the guy 250 feet away is 20-feet to the left of “center,” you’re teaching yourself to either stay closed or fly open with your delivery.  Stand on the foul line or line yourself up between foul poles, if you’re looking for a quick and easy way to “get aligned.”

As you probably appreciate now, while long toss is usually a tremendously valuable inclusion in most throwing programs, it isn’t a perfect fit for everyone – and that’s why each unique case must be considered individually.

Don't forget that long toss guru Alan Jaeger has put his popular Thrive on Throwing DVD on sale for 25% off for my readers for a limited time only.  Click here to learn more.

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Making the Case for Long Toss in a Throwing Program

Long toss may have been scorned by quite a few baseball traditionalists, but I am a big fan of it – and our guys have responded outstandingly to the way we’ve used it.  Perhaps it’s just my “1+1=2” logic at work, but I just feel like if you can build up the arm speed to throw the ball a loooonngggg way, then you’ll be able to carry that over to the mound as soon as you get your pitching mechanics dialed in.  And, this has certainly been validated with our athletes, as we have loads of professional pitchers who absolutely swear by long toss (both off- and in-season).

So, you can understand why I got excited when my good buddy, Alan Jaeger – a man who has devoted a big chunk of his life to getting long toss “accepted” in the baseball community – was featured in this article at MLB.com about what a difference it makes - including for the Texas Rangers on their road to the World Series a few years ago.

I was, however, not a fan of this paragraph in the article:

“Former Red Sox pitcher Dick Mills has a business built around teaching mechanics and maximizing velocity, and he is a staunch opponent of long tossing. He has released countless YouTube videos angrily decrying this practice. In his latest, ‘How Long Toss Can Ruin Your Pitching Mechanics and Your Arm,’ he says, ‘Why would you practice mechanics that are totally different and will not help a pitcher during a game? And why would you practice throwing mechanics that are clearly more stressful where the arm does most of the work?’"

Taking it a step further, here’s a Dick Mills quote I came across a few years ago:

“Training will not teach you how to apply more force…only mechanics can do that. And pitching is not about applying more effort into a pitch but is about producing more skilled movements from better timing of all the parts. That will help produce more force. No matter how hard you try, you will not get that from your strength training program…no matter who designed it, how much they have promised you it would or your hope that it will be the secret for you.”

While I agree (obviously) on the importance of mechanics and timing, effectively, we’re still being told that long toss, strength training, and weighted balls are all ineffective modalities for developing the pitcher – which leaves us with what, bullpens and stretching? It sounds like every youth baseball practice in the country nowadays – and all we’re getting now are injured shoulders and elbows at astronomical rates.  Something isn’t right – and the message is very clear: specificity is a very slippery slope.


On one hand, when it comes to mechanics, you need to throw off the mound to get things fine-tuned to achieve efficiency.

On the other hand, research has shown that arm stress is higher when you’re on the mound (there is less external rotation at stride foot contact with flat ground throwing).  Additionally, every pitch that’s thrown is really a step in the direction of sports specialization for a youth baseball player – and something needs to balance that out.  Why?

Well, specializing at a young age is destroying kids.  As a great study from Olsen et al. showed, young pitchers who require surgery pitched “significantly more months per year, games per year, innings per game, pitches per game, pitches per year, and warm-up pitches before a game. These pitchers were more frequently starting pitchers, pitched in more showcases, pitched with higher velocity, and pitched more often with arm pain and fatigue.”  And people think that kid need more work on the mound?  What they need are more structured throwing sessions (practice, not competition) and a comprehensive throwing and strength and conditioning program to prepare them for the demands they’ll face.

But those aren’t specific enough, are they?!?!?!  Well, let’s talk about specificity a bit more.  Actually, let’s read – from renowned physical therapist Gray Cook, a guy who certainly knows a thing or two about why people get injured:

The physical presentation of differently trained bodies often provides a signature of the type and style of activity that developed it. Those who are exclusive in their activities seem more often be molded to their activities, and sometimes actually over-molded. These individuals can actually lose movements and muscles that would make alternate activities much easier.

Specialization can rob us of our innate ability to express all of our movement potential. This is why I encourage highly specialized athletes to balance their functional movement patterns. They don’t so much need to train all movement patterns, they just need to maintain them. When a functional movement pattern is lost, it forecasts a fundamental crack in a foundation designed to be balanced. The point is not that specialization is bad—it only presents a problem when the singular activity over-molds to the point of losing balance.

While there are probably 15-20 awesome messages we can take home from the previous two paragraphs, here’s the big one I want to highlight: it’s our job as coaches to find the biggest window of adaptation a pitcher has and bring it up to speed – while simultaneously keeping other qualities in mind.

If he’s stiff, we work on mobility.  If he’s weak, we get him strong.  If he’s a mechanical train wreck, we get him more bullpens.  If his arm speed isn’t good, we work more on weighted balls and long toss.  If you just take a 5-10, 120-pound 9th grader and have him throw bullpens exclusively, he’ll get better for a little bit, and then plateau hard unless you get him bigger and stronger.

How does this work?  It’s a little principle called Delayed Transmutation that Vladimir Zatsiorsky highlighted in Science and Practice of Strength Training.  Zatsiorsky defines delayed transmutation as “the time period needed to transform acquired motor potential into athletic performance.”  In other words, expand and improve your “motor pool” in the off-season, and it’ll be transformed into specific athletic performance when the time is right.

And, as I wrote in The Ultimate Off-Season Training Manual, “the more experienced you are in a given sport, the less time it will take for you to transform this newfound strength and power [and mobility] into sporting contexts.”  This is why professional pitchers can find their groove each year MUCH easier than high school pitchers in spite of the fact that they probably take more time off each year (2-3 months from throwing) than the typical overused kid who plays on 17 different AAU teams.

That said, there’s a somewhat interesting exception to this rule: really untrained kids.  I’ll give you two examples from the past week alone at Cressey Performance.

We had a high school senior and a high school junior who both just started up their winter throwing programs to prepare for the season.

The first told me that he was sore in his legs after throwing for the first time in his life.  Effectively, without throwing a single pitch or really doing any lesson work (or even throwing off a mound), this kid has managed to change the neuromuscular recruitment patterns he uses to throw the baseball.  Strength, power, and mobility took care of themselves: delayed transmutation.

The second told me that his arm feels electric.  Ask any experienced pitcher, and they’ll tell you that your arm is supposed to feel like absolute crap the first 4-5 days after an extended layoff, but it always gets better.  However, when you’re a kid who has gotten more flexible and packed on a bunch of muscle mass, it’s like all of a sudden driving a Ferrari when you’re used to sharing a minivan with Mom: delayed transmutation.

Specificity is important in any sport, but a it really is just the work as far to the right as you can go on the general to specific continuum.  Elite sprinters do squats, lunges, Olympic lifts, jump squats, and body weight plyos as they work from left to right on the general-to-specific continuum to get faster.  So, why do so many pitching coaches insist that pitchers stay as far to the right as possible?    Symbolically, long toss is to pitchers what plyos are to sprinters: specific, but just general enough to make a profound difference.

In a very roundabout way, I’ve made a case for long toss as something that can be classified as beneficial in much the same way that we recognize (well, most of us, at least) that mobility drills, foam rolling, strength training, movement training, and medicine ball drills to be excellent adjuncts to bullpens. In the process of learning to throw the baseball farther, we:

1. push arm speed up

2. train in a generally-specific fashion

3. improve contribution of the lower half

4. realize another specific, quantifiable marker (distance) of progress

5. keep throwing fun

6. train the arm with just enough LESS specificity to help keep pitchers healthy, as compared with mound work

The question then becomes, “Why don’t some pitchers respond well to long toss?”  In part 2, I’ll outline the most common mistakes I’ve seen:

When I told Alan Jaeger that I was sending this article out, he graciously offered to set up a 25% off discount code on his Thrive on Throwing DVD set for my readers. This outstanding DVD set thoroughly teaches players and coaches how to approach long tossing, and Alan has also applied a discount to his J-Bands and his Getting Focused, Staying Focused book for pitchers. Here's a link to the discount page.

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Overbearing Dads and Kids Who Throw Cheddar

Q: I run into a TON of Fathers who want their son to gain throwing velocity.  What are your keys to gaining velocity?

A: To be blunt, Step 1 is getting away from your crazy overbearing father and realizing that if you're going to throw the baseball harder, it's because YOU want to do it, and are willing to put in the hard work.  There are millions of American fathers who want their sons to throw 95+mph, but only about eight guys in the big leagues who consistently throw that hard.

Taking it a step further, the average fastball velocity is actually higher in A-ball than it is in professional baseball, so while throwing hard is important, it's just one piece of the puzzle.  I'd love to hear more fathers talking about learning to command the fastball and master a change-up.  And, most importantly, I'd like to see more fathers who are interested first and foremost in keeping their kids healthy so that they can have the continuity necessary to realize their potential.

Next, you have to consider what kind of velocity we're actually discussing.  Is it what the radar gun reads: actual velocity?  That's really just one of three kinds of velocity.

You also have perceived velocity - which is higher in a pitcher who gets down the mound further than his counterparts and therefore gives the hitter less time to react. Chris Young (at 6-11) gets the benefit of perceived velocity in spite of the fact that his average fastball velocity doesn't even approach 90mph.

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Perceived velocity also explains the success of many pitchers with deceptive deliveries where the ball seems to just jump up on hitters.  Often, these pitchers stay closed and throw across their bodies.  While it may not be healthy, correcting it could take away their effectiveness.

Lastly, back in 2008, Perry Husband introduced me to the concept of effective velocity, which is a bit more complex.  The effective velocity a hitter appreciates is actually impacted by:

1.     pitch location (high and inside are faster, and low and away are slower)

2.     previous pitch location, type, and velocity (coming up and in with a fastball makes it seem harder if it follows a low and away change-up)

3.     the count (when behind in the count, the hitter must cover a larger strikezone, and therefore a larger effective velocity range)

If you need any proof of the value of effective velocity, just watch Jamie Moyer or Tom Glavine.  They nibble away over and over again, and then they come back inside on a guy and he looks blown away by the velocity even though it may only be low-80s.

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That said, getting down to the nuts and bolts of throwing the ball hard (actual velocity) mandates that you understand that there are tons of factors that contribute to velocity, but they aren't the same for everyone.  Very simply, there isn't just one mechanical model that allows one to throw harder than others.

Some guys have congenital laxity that allows them to contort their bodies all over the place.  Others "muscle up" and shotput the ball to the plate.  Most pitchers are somewhere in the middle and rely on a balance of elastic energy and mobility to make things happy.  With that in mind, having mechanical efficiency and thousands of perfect throwing reps in this efficient model is what every pitcher should strive to achieve - just as a golfer would practice his swing or an Olympic lifter would practice the clean and jerk or snatch.

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Second, it's imperative to prepare young pitchers' bodies for the rigors of throwing a baseball.  I've written extensively about the overwhelming extremes the throwing arm faces, and while it's important to improve arm strength, flexibility, and soft tissue quality, the rest of the body cannot be ignored.  Improving function of the scapular stabilizers, core musculature, and lower half is essential for taking stress of the throwing arm.  We encourage kids to get started with foam rolling, targeted flexibility work, and resistance training as soon as their attention span allows.  As I have written previously, the "stunting growth" argument doesn't hold water.

Third (and this piggybacks on my last point about resistance training), it's important to understand how to manage a young pitcher throughout the year. Contrary to popular belief, playing year-round is not a good idea.  In fact, it isn't even good enough to qualify as a "bad" idea; it is an atrocious idea.

If you want my ideal competitive season for a youth baseball player, it's to pick up a ball and start tossing around Thanksgiving, progressing to bullpen wok in early January after long-tossing distance has been progressed.  Then, the athlete throws up through his competitive high school season (late March- early June) and summer ball (through early August).  That's about 8-8.5 months of throwing throughout the course of the year - and it's plenty.

You'll see that this competitive year fits quite nicely with participation in a fall sport - whether it's football, soccer, or something else.  And, athletes can still "get away" with playing winter sports as long as they're willing to commit to a throwing program, even if they have to start playing a bit late.  If I had to give my ideal scenario, I'd say play football or soccer, and then play pick-up/intramural basketball in the winter alongside a throwing and lifting program.

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Within this year, you have several crucial blocks during which to increase resistance training volume.  One, there is the entire winter break, obviously.  Two, there is generally a decent break between spring and summer baseball (late May-early June), and another during the month of August.  Three, kids can (and should) still train in-season, regardless of the sport.

This, of course, speaks to the high school athletes who have practice/games just about every day.  Managing a 10-year-old is a lot easier.  His sport practice may only be 2-3 days per week - meaning that he can participate in different activities throughout the week.  However, he can't do that if Dad thinks that playing on four different AAU teams at once is the secret to getting him to the big leagues.  He has to play multiple sports at a young age.

little-league

So, if I had to give the synopsis of my thoughts on how to get a kid to throw hard, it would go something like this:

1. Appreciate that throwing hard is just one piece of the "being a successful pitcher" puzzle - and that there are different types of velocity (actual, perceived, and effective).

2. Clearly outline his competitive season and stick to that outline.  Don't add showcases, camps, and additional teams.

3. Let him play for two teams: one spring (school) and one summer (AAU, Legion, etc.).

4. Find a skilled pitching instructor to work with him to optimize mechanical efficiency.  Before you start working with this instructor, have him explain his approach to managing your son both during a typical lesson and throughout the competitive season.  Then, go and observe him as he works with other pitchers.  Do they just "show and go," or do they warm-up before even picking up a ball?  Does he ask kids how they feel prior to each session, and does he pace them throughout the session?  Or, does he just grunt and spit dip juice all over the place.

5. Get him involved in a comprehensive strength and conditioning program that incorporates resistance training, medicine ball work, flexibility training, and movement training that all take into account the unique demands of baseball.  The strength and conditioning coach should provide a thorough evaluation that screens for all the mobility deficits and stability issues we commonly see in throwers.

6. Make sure that the pitching coach and strength and conditioning specialist communicate and collaborate. The CP staff is fortunate to have this kind of productive collaboration with Matt Blake all the time:

 

Kidding aside, very rarely will a pitching coach know about strength and conditioning, and very rarely will a strength and conditioning coach know about pitching.  It's unfortunate, but true.

7. Have him play multiple sports.  The younger the pitcher, the more sports he should play.  Specialization shouldn't come until age 17 at the earliest.

8. Make sure he continues to take care of his resistance training and mobility work in-season.

I could go on and on about all the subtle details of what we do with pitchers on a daily basis, but the truth is that I envision this blog as something that will be most popular with the Dads in the crowd who really just want to help their kids realize their potential and remain injury-free.  So, I'm keeping it more general - and referring you to the Baseball Content page for the more "geeky" stuff.

I do have one more closing thought, though.  We deal with a lot of very talented young pitchers who throw the ball very hard.  One anecdotal observation has been that their fathers are the ones who "get it."  These are the guys who are concerned about the important things: staying healthy, enjoying baseball, finding the right college, etc.  They don't boast about how many guys their sons struck out in little league. They are genuinely humble and respect the game - and this carries over to their kids, who work hard and carry themselves the right way.

Conversely, the kids who are always told that they're the best and get raved about by their fathers are the ones who invariably struggle to succeed long-term.  It may be because they're overworked, over-pressured, or just overrated in the first place.  It may be because coaches get frustrated with having to deal with an overbearing father, and the kid gets punished for it.  It may be that the kid doesn't think he needs to work as hard because he's already the best - because Dad told him so. Or, maybe he misses out on crucial development because he spends all his time playing in baseball games when he should be practicing, training, or participating in other sports - or just having fun and being a normal kid. Worst of all, a kid may just flat-out start to dislike the game because all the fun has been taken out of it because of Dad's hype and excessive pressure.

Is velocity important? Sure.  Can it sometimes be the trees that prevent us from seeing the forest?  Absolutely.

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Talking Pitching: A Recap of the 2010 ABCA Pitching “Hot Stove” Discussion

Today, we've got another great guest post from Matt Blake. "If I embark on a voyage of exploration, and I set as my goals the willingness to follow any lead, pursue any interesting observation, overcome any difficulties, and I end up in some exotic locale that might be very different from my predictions before setting out, have I changed my destination in any way? I would say not; the sine qua non of science is not the conclusions we reach but the process we use to arrive at them, and that is the polestar by which we navigate." -PZ Myers, Biologist, University of Minnesota One might ask why the heck a pitching coach is leading off his article on a fitness expert's blog with a quote from a biologist, and how it would have any relevance to the topic at hand. Where could this possibly be going? Well, I recently attended the American Baseball Coaches Association "Hot Stove" Pitching Discussion in Dallas, Texas on January 10th with about 200-300 coaches from all over the country.  And, I would say that this notion was the overriding theme to take away from the event. This "Hot Stove" pitching discussion was part of the bigger national convention that takes place every year. This event provided an outstanding forum for people to hear some leading thinkers in baseball discuss pitching in an informal public setting. Some of the notable attendees of this event were Tom House, Alan Jaeger, Brent Strom, and Derek Johnson.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with these names, I'll give you a brief description of each. Tom House is a former major leaguer, former major league pitching coach, and is regarded as one of the great modern day pitching gurus and currently coaches at the University of Southern California. Alan Jaeger runs Jaegersports.com and has an outstanding understanding of long toss, arm care and how it should be applied to your player's development.

jaeger

Brent Strom is a former major leaguer, is an instructor in the St. Louis Cardinals system, and teams up with Ron Wolforth to run the Ultimate Pitching Coaches Bootcamp every year. They also run some outstanding Elite Pitcher Bootcamps during the summer. These two presented early in the weekend and are proponents of the "Blending" and "Chunking" theories and advocate for training pitchers through the use of athletic and aggressive throwing drills. Derek Johnson is currently the Pitching Coach at Vanderbilt University and is regarded as one of the premier pitching coaches in the country. Producing ten drafted pitchers (including three first-rounders) over the last three years will usually do that. Honestly, this is just a handful of people in a room that included dozens of D1/D2/D3 pitching coaches, as well as numerous outstanding high school coaches, but these guys really stand out with their contributions to the pitching community's knowledge base. Tom House did his part by speaking to the crowd about the importance of being able to accept new ideas that run counter to your current train of thought. He brought up an interesting point regarding the need to be strong enough to change your positions and adapt your training methods as the information presented to you deems necessary. This is not too far from what you see happening on the strength and conditioning front every day. If I remember correctly, it wasn't too long ago that Mike Boyle questioned the value of the almighty squat. Who would have thunk it?  This is a great example of a man following a process of logical thought to create his own philosophy even if it runs counter to much of the traditional thought. You don't need to agree with him on this, as we still use a lot of squatting variations at Cressey Performance, but based on his interpretation of the research, this is what he thought gave him the best value in the risk/reward category for his athletes. On the baseball side, this idea was none more evident than when Tom House was challenged about the effectiveness of the towel drill and admitted he was wrong about this drill in its original form. This drill has been a staple in many pitching coaches' dry work for years. In coming to understand where the towel drill was lacking, Tom has recently changed the weight of the implement in the drill from 2 oz to 5/6/7oz depending on the training intentions. This essentially changed the deceleration demands to be more similar to a baseball and worked to counter the argument at hand, by letting everyone know, that as science has progressed he has needed to adapt his training methods.

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One of the other important topics that House brought up was the need to understand the science behind the overhead throw. If we expect to train players at the highest level, we need to know what is actually happening in the body. By incorporating information relating to a player's "Kinematic Sequence," one is more apt to see where players are either efficient or inefficient in creating energy and delivering force to the ball. Understanding the sequencing of the body's rotations is essential to getting the timing of the delivery right and avoiding stressful mechanic flaws.

chapman

The way he phrased it may or may not have gone over a lot of coaches' heads and split the camp into science-based vs. common sense/feel coaches.  But, I obviously believe Tom is right on this point or I wouldn't spend my waking life in Eric's facility. On the flip side, I can also understand where coaches who do not naturally gravitate to the analytical style would find other ways to communicate this information than the technical jargon House used. At the end of the day, your players either understand what you're saying or they don't.  If they don't, you need to come back to their level of thought before they tune you out. Along these lines, one of the points I strongly agree with Tom on is the need to look at the golf industry and how advanced their level of instruction is in the private sector. Greg Rose and the people of the Titleist Performance Institute are doing some great things on the technology front, as far as analyzing swings and doing physical assessments to improve golf technique. Obviously, this is a different beast with the way their market dynamics have been established, but there is enough money within the baseball industry to start dedicating some of our resources to making sure we have the best information available to the general public. The rate at which players are getting injured because people are simply uninformed is not okay in this supposed "Information Age."

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One of the refreshing things to see is that people are at least beginning to recognize that we can't be so rigid in our approach to training pitchers. We are just now leaving an era where we thought we had all the answers and we could box up our pitchers to 90 degree angles and call it a day. Funny that injuries are up at nearly every level of the game from little league to the Pros, so obviously something isn't working. With that said, I'll leave you with one last short story that Tom House provided us at the convention. It has do with a time when he was coaching Nolan Ryan on the Texas Rangers. Nolan credits a lot of his success later on in his career due to the physical shape Coach House got him in.  Obviously, this is a second-hand retelling of a story, so I'll leave it up to Tom to come over to Ericcressey.com and correct me in the comments section, but I think you'll get the gist. As many of you know, Coach House is famous for really being a pioneer on the biomechanical analysis front. One day, House was attempting to talk to Nolan Ryan about his famously high leg kick, by letting him know that it might make more sense to bring his leg kick down a bit and get himself a little more under control. In Nolan Ryan's Texan drawl, he calmly responded, "Tom, with all due respect sir... I understand you know a lot about the game, but if there's one thing I know.... It's that the higher I lift my leg here, the harder I'm gonna throw this baseball. So you can go ahead and stick that in your computer of yours." And if that doesn't bring this discussion full circle, I'm not quite sure what will.

nolan-ryan

In the end, I think as important as it is to follow the research, it is just as important to let the common sense/feel aspects drive the questions being researched. Obviously, science is continuously digging deeper, but if we don't listen to our athletes, we may be digging in the wrong places. Like I've said before, the athlete throws the baseball, so giving them the necessary information and letting them find their own signature style with it is essential to their development. Matt Blake can be reached at mablak07@gmail.com. Related Posts A New Model for Training Between Starts: Part 1 Philosophizing from Goliath's Shoulders A Baseball Training Interview with Eric Cressey Sign-up Today for our FREE Baseball Newsletter and Receive a Copy of the Exact Stretches used by Cressey Performance Pitchers after they Throw!
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The Figure 8 Drill for Pitchers

Another great guest post from Matt Blake today.  A quick thanks go out to Chad Rodgers, Shawn Haviland, and Tim Collins for their help in demonstrating the drill for this blog. I hope you all have been able to get through the holiday madness and kick off your 2010 with all sorts of new resolutions that will be forgotten by the third week in January (kidding, but not really).  Seriously, though, there's no time better than the present to start making yourself a better human and if tying it to 1/14/10 helps the cause, then I'm all for it. With that being said, here's my attempt at contributing to a healthier 2010 for the amateur pitching community. Here is one drill in particular that I like to use in our lead-up drill progression. It is called the "Figure 8" and it is based off the staple of everyone's flat-ground work, the stride drill.  Typically, I place this as the 2nd or 3rd drill in a progression depending on how many pieces we want to isolate before incorporating some rhythm into what is normally a static drill.

As you can see, this drill is looking to iron out multiple pieces of a player's delivery, while we still have them in a rather stationary position.  When this drill is introduced to the player, I like to channel their focus toward the importance of having a consistent rhythm and tempo while developing hand speed during their throw. There should be coordination between the upper and lower body as they make horizontal figure 8's with their hands, and this should coincide with them shifting their weight from the front leg to the back leg. Typically, I have them make three figure 8s before they throw, and eventually manipulate the amount of time spent developing rhythm as deemed fit over the course of their progression. As they finish their third figure 8 with their lower half weight shift going to the back leg, they should begin to break their hands and load up to throw. Typically, at this point in the lead-up drill progression, they are finishing their throw and allowing their back leg to come through, whereas we might cue them to focus on the timing and completion of their back hip rotation by keeping their feet on the ground in preceding drills. Some players can be a little rigid through this drill the first few times. I think this is mostly because they can't believe I'm actually asking them to make silly figure 8s with their hands and display their lack of rhythm in front of their friends. Once they get over this anxiety, they tend to gravitate towards using variations of this drill on their own, because it provides a lot of feedback for them while getting loose.

In the early going, I think it's important to avoid too much cueing of the player into certain positions and more about allowing the pitcher to find a rhythm that he is comfortable with. I also typically allow the player to interpret how the actual figure 8 is made with the hands, because the drill is really more about understanding how the upper and lower body work in coordination than it is about us arguing over the shape of an hourglass. This is apparent in the videos themselves, where you can plainly see that each player interprets the drill slightly different and uses his signature style in creating the 8s.

As a coach, this allows me to get a better feel for a player's ability to shift his weight, his sense of posture and balance, and his understanding of extension at release, among other things. Several of these features will usually be covered up front by the stride drill, which I skipped over discussing today, but I could certainly address at a later time if people are interested. By adding in the extra movement to the otherwise static stride drill, we are able to flush out a player's natural movement patterns a lot better and I can begin to see which pieces of their overall delivery may be easier to address. This information will continue to build into the next drill, which we call "balance and break," and is really a blend of the traditional balance drills with a little more movement and repetition tied in with the timing of the hand break and arm action. For the most part, all of the lead-up drills I choose to put in before I get a player on the mound are designed to incorporate certain principles of throwing that have been demonstrated in the research of elite level throwers over the years. This may include anything from hip/shoulder separation, degrees of external/internal shoulder rotation, degrees of trunk extension, etc. With that being said, I don't necessarily have one mechanical model in my head, but more of a host of models that fit each particular body type and level of coordination.  This is especially true concerning their current mobility and flexibility limitations. This idea that each player has a mechanical model that is unique to them is the key component, and in order to flush this model out, the player has to be able to breathe while working through his drills. If you suffocate a player with too much technical talk, it takes away from what they want to do naturally and forces them into something that you think they should do, rather than what is right for the player. The other challenge in all of this is that you may have the ultimate mechanical model in your head of how every pitcher should pitch, but until that player understands what mechanical model best fits his genetic traits, your model is irrelevant. The only way to get a player to understand this information is for him to feel it for himself. Yes, we have a lot of science out now that describes what positions elite throwers are in at certain points in their delivery. The problem rests with the fact that there is a lot of gray area for how these players are getting to each of these positions in coordination with the end result of throwing to a target. I've seen some of the ASMI motion analysis reports of players, which are very comprehensive in nature, but even so, these leave room for interpretation.  As has been seen over the years (and is currently being demonstrated, and will continue to be displayed down the road), there is more than one way to throw a ball 90+ mph hour. If I were to tell a 5'7" 165lb pitcher and 6'4" 245 lb pitcher to throw the baseball the same way, I wouldn't be doing either of them justice. We obviously advise players away from certain motor patterns that have demonstrated more stress than others, but ultimately this is the challenge in training baseball players. There is so much going on inside the body of a baseball player - not just creating velocity, but also command and deception (and with multiple pitches) - that I'm going to trust the player when he tells me what feels right and what doesn't. To create unnecessary tension in a player because my eyes think they interpret a better position would be absurd. Don't get me wrong, we address a lot of mechanical issues with the use of slow-motion video analysis, but I always listen to the player over what a playback device tells me.

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At the end of the day, we know there are inherent risks with throwing a baseball 95 mph. Do we say you can't throw that hard anymore because it is not a healthy behavior for your body? Do we limit a player to one particular model that someone thinks is the be-all end-all cure for arm injuries? Well, some do - but Eric and I disagree with that pigeonholing wholeheartedly. Why would we narrow our pitching thoughts down to one exact voice that indicates there is only one way to pitch to stay healthy? This just doesn't seem logical to me. I am not going to dismiss their voice, but I want to see proof that what they're talking about works. I want to see positive results on a big stage. If there are no results that suggest it has the most consistent performance tied to it, then I can't say I'm done looking for more information. I think you have to acknowledge the notion that effective pitching may not be healthy at all, and by doing so, embrace this idea in the way you prepare a player's arm to handle the stress. This ultimately starts with giving the player room to breathe so they can foster a rhythm and tempo that allows them the best chance to create and disperse energy in the coordinated act of throwing a baseball. Matt Blake can be reached at mablak07@gmail.com. Related Posts Developing Young Pitchers the Safe Way The Best Baseball Resource Out There Recap: Testing, Treating, and Training the Shoulder: From Rehab to High Performance

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The Best of 2009: Guest Submissions

This week, I've already featured our top articles, product reviews, and videos of 2009.  I was also really lucky to have some bright minds as guest contributors this year, and today I'll feature a few of their submissions. The Rocker Inferior Capsule Stretch - This excellent submission from physical therapist Tim DiFrancesco shows a shoulder mobility exercises we've used with some of our guys with excellent results.  It includes some great videos like this:

So What Does a Pitching Coach Do, Anyway? - I love this guest blog from Matt Blake, a great pitching guy with whom I get to work daily.  It just goes to show you that there is a lot more to understand than mechanics when it comes to developing elite pitchers.

21st Century Nutrition: Talking Shop with Dr. John Berardi - This was more of an interview than a guest submission, but let's be honest: JB provided most of the content here!  He discusses the future of nutrition and the success of Precision Nutrition.

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The Be-All, End-All Throwing Program from Your Favorite Snake Oil Salesman - Here's another post from Matt Blake.  I like this one because it's entertaining thanks to the cynical tone that kicks it off, but educational because of the justification for that cynicism.  It's classic "info-tainment."

Real Activation: Modifying a Classic Core Movement - Jim Smith is perhaps best known for being a true innovator when it comes to exercise selection, and this post was an excellent one for that very reason.

Interval Training: HIIT or Miss? - A great guest submission from Mike Boyle; enough said!

Building Vibrant Health Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 - Eric Talmant presented a comprehensive look at his involvement with Metabolic Typing(R).

Thanks to everyone for the time they spent on creating these pieces, and the expertise they shared!

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So What Does a Pitching Coach Do, Anyway?

EC's Note: Today marks the first of what I hope will be many guest blog posts from Matt Blake, an absolutely fantastic pitching coach who works out of the cage at Cressey Performance.  Matt is way ahead of the curve with what he's doing, and the results he's gotten with a lot of our athletes - from high school all the way up to the professional ranks - are nothing short of fantastic.  I consider myself tremendously lucky to have him as a resource with whom I can interact every day. Today's post from him is a bit of an introduction and preview of what's in store from us in the months to come. Since Eric mentioned to me a couple of weeks ago that he would like me to start contributing some articles to his blog, I have been debating about how to introduce myself to the EricCressey.com crowd and what his audience might want to hear. All sorts of thoughts had run through my head on whether it should be oriented toward pitching mechanics, maybe talking about what Eric and I are doing together that separates us from other Elite Baseball Development programs, or maybe even a tidy little piece about who I am. Lucky for us, though, we have Eric's business partner Pete around, and he conveniently gave me my first blog topic on Saturday. As everyone on this blog probably knows, Mike Boyle recently released a new product called Functional Strength Coach 3.0 last week. So, on Friday, Eric loaned me his copy to take home to view. I did my part and watched 6 of the 8 DVDs that night (for those of you counting at home that was about 5-6 hours of material straight to the dome on Friday Night; I promise I'm not that big of a geek normally). Upon return on Saturday morning, and much to Eric's shock, I gave him back the six DVDs that I had already watched and told him I would only need the other two for the afternoon.

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Here is where the crew of pro baseball guys from Pete's office chimes in. "Why would you spend six hours of your Friday night watching DVDs that have nothing to do with your field?" At first, I was kind of tongue tied, like, "Yeah, I guess that was pretty foolish, I teach pitching, so why would I want to know how to train people for functional strength?" And, to be honest, I continued to think about this most of Saturday, trying to justify why I just did that.  As I came to my contemplative answer, I realized the very exact same reason I am working with Eric at all, is why I'm watching these DVDs on Friday night. When it comes down to it, I believe to be the best at anything, you need to understand the inherent depth of complexities for what you're dealing with and this more often than not may involve pursuing multiple fields of knowledge to truly grasp your own discipline. In some sense, I believe the leaders in any field are polymaths of sort and this is something Eric clearly demonstrates in his own regard. With that said, for me to provide the most knowledge and best service to an individual, a team, or camp of baseball players, I should understand why we are using foam rolling before we static stretch. Why would SMR of this nature would make sense before stretching and then proceeding into a dynamic warm-up?

I should understand what flexibility deficits are and why they are affecting a player's performance.  I need to know why mobilizing the hips and thoracic spine while stabilizing the lumbar spine is allowing us to create more torque and whip for a pitcher. All of these things have huge ramifications for both player and coach, and if I want to optimize my players' talent, then I need to be able to convey to them the importance of our drills and Eric's exercises. There is a reason for all of it, we're not just throwing darts at the wall and hoping it works out for the player.  I'm also not going to claim to have all the answers for this, and that is why I am constantly searching for the next piece to add to my arsenal. It could be a psychological book about focus, or even an Eastern Martial arts book about how Tai Chi helps you find your center. Not any one of these books would have all of the answers on how to be a great pitcher, and they may even have none...but, at the end of the day, if I can take one thing away from Mike Boyle and add it to my knowledge of pitching in any way, then I just made myself better as a "Pitching Coach," whatever that may be loosely defined as. So I guess to answer their question: I was really watching Functional Strength Coach 3.0 because I plan on helping Eric turn out a large number of pitchers in Hudson, MA who are capable of throwing a baseball freakishly hard and stay healthy while doing so.

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Obviously, there is a lot more to pitching and what we are working on together than that, but I think that should get the ball rolling. Over the next few months, I will be contributing more substantive articles that will cover a lot of the biomechanical aspects of a pitcher's delivery that Eric and I see daily and how best to activate and optimize awareness for each piece of the puzzle. We'll talk about what a flexibility deficit looks like in a pitcher and what its ramifications are in a player's mechanics. We'll discuss how we attack something of this nature with soft tissue/mobility/strength work and then how we teach the player to incorporate this back into his personal mechanics through progressive drill work. The end goal is obviously to remove the limitation, and in turn, raising a pitcher's velocity ceiling and keep him healthy. This could include anything from hip mobility, to thoracic spine mobility, to glenohumeral internal rotation deficit (GIRD), to a host of other issues. All of these issues could be holding a player back from optimal performance and maybe even putting a pitcher at a serious risk for injury. Well, that is more than enough for one blog, and I want apologize for ransacking your daily allowance of blog reading time if you made it this far with me. I tried to get a word count limitation on my post from Eric, but he told me to just let it rip. I guess this was my definition of letting it rip... Matt Blake can be reached at mablak07@gmail.com. Please enter your email below to sign up for our FREE newsletter.
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