Home Posts tagged "Pitching Injuries"

Making Movement Better: Duct Tape or WD-40?

It's often been said that anything can be fixed with duct tape and WD-40. And, as a guy with extremely limited handyman skills, I really like this flowchart.


Source: http://laughingateverydaylife.com/2016/07/duct-tape-vs-wd40/

While this might seem like a dramatic oversimplification with respect the human body, I think there are actually some noteworthy parallels. To prove this, let's take a look at a study my buddy, Mike Reinold, co-authored back in 2008. While they looked at range of motion changes in professional pitchers after an outing, the findings of the study that I always keep coming back to have more to do with the absolute range of motion numbers in the data set (moreso than the changes). Take a look:

Looking at the mean shoulder total motion pre-throwing, MLB pitchers averaged about 191 degrees. However, when you look at the standard deviation of 14.6 degrees, you'll see that there were guys down around 175 degrees (very hypomobile or "tight"), and others up around 206 degrees (very hypermobile or "loose").

Speaking very generally, the tight guys need more WD-40 (range of motion work), and the loose guys need more duct tape (stability training). Now, here's what you make your mark as a coach: identify the exceptions to this rule.

For example, when you have an otherwise "tight" guy who comes back from a long season in with a significant range of motion increase at a joint, it could mean that he's developed instability (e.g., blown out a ligament). Or, maybe you see an otherwise "loose" guy who has lost a considerable amount of range of motion, it could mean that he's really hanging out in a bad pattern, developing musculotendinous shortness/stiffness that "overpowers" his ligamentous laxity. Or, he might be really out of alignment, or have developed a bony block.

Identifying outliers - exceptions to the rules - is a crucial part of evaluation success and subsequent programming. As I've often said, don't just focus on average.

Speaking of lessons to be learned in managing overhead throwing athletes, this will actually be a topic I expand upon at the upcoming fall seminar at Cressey Sports Performance - Massachusetts. We've got a great lineup, and the early bird registration deadline is this Fridya, September 21. You can learn more HERE.

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How Physical Maturity Impacts Pitching Mechanics and Muscular Recruitment

For today's post, I wanted to share with you an excerpt from my new resource, Sturdy Shoulder Solutions.

In addition to the injury implications of this presentation, I think we also have to consider how much it ties into the concept of accelerating development of young pitchers by getting them strong in the right places. Early strength and conditioning can help to facilitate the proper muscular recruitment patterns (i.e., using lats more than the rotator cuff and biceps) to generate higher levels of velocity.

To learn more about why the minutia often matters so much when it comes to the shoulder girdle, be sure to check out www.SturdyShoulders.com.

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5 Reasons for the Increase in Lat Strains in Baseball Pitchers

There have been some noteworthy lat strains in MLB this year, and this trend isn't showing any signs of letting up. Here are a few reasons why they're occurring at such an alarming rate.

1. Better Diagnosis

Any time a diagnosis becomes more "accepted," doctors know to look for it more immediately. In 2011, Jake Peavy was the first player to actually tear the lat off the humerus and have surgery on it, but now we're actually seeing 1-2 of these each year in guys who come to Cressey Sports Performance for consultations (on top of guys who have lower grade lat strains). In the past, a lot of doctors would mistake lat strains for rotator cuff injuries or biceps tendon issues (because the lat attaches on the front of the humerus). Sometimes, lat injuries would be missed on MRIs because the attachment is far enough down the humerus that a regular shoulder MRI wouldn't cut wide enough. In short, better identification and subsequent diagnosis are always a big reason why a class of injuries "surges."

2. Harder Throwers

Lat recruitment during acceleration is substantially higher in high level throws than it is in amateur pitchers. In particular, as lot of elastic energy is put into lat during the lay-back phase of throwing while it works as an anterior stabilizer of the shoulder as it prepares to unleash that energy into powerful internal rotation and horizontal adduction.

Sprinters who run fast pull hamstrings more often. Basketball players who jump high increase their risk of Achilles ruptures. It shouldn't be a surprise that harder throwers have a higher incidence of lat strains.

3. Inappropriate Strength Training

With each passing day, weight training gets more and more "accepted" in baseball populations, and I absolutely love it. Unfortunately, that means a lot of inferior programs get implemented, and nothing is more inferior in a baseball strength and conditioning setting than programs that are way too lat dominant. If you're doing pull-ups, bench presses, heavy deadlifts, farmer's walks, walking dumbbell lunges - and then coaching all your rows and arm care exercises to be very lat dominant, you're really just exacerbating all the negative adaptations we see in throwers. If you look around your weight room and see a ton of guys with limited shoulder flexion, that should be a red flag.

4. Poorly Executed Arm Care Programs

Lats are sneaky, as they'll find a way to creep into a lot of arm care exercises. You'll see people "tug down" (extension/adduct) the humerus (upper arm) during external rotation exercises using the lat when it should be relaxing to allow the arm to externally rotate.

You'll see hands creeping toward the midline (shoulder internal rotation) during wall slide variations - when the lat should be relaxing to allow "clean" overhead motion to take place.

You'll see individuals lock the scapula down into depression during prone trap raises instead of allowing it to posterior tilt.

And, in the most commonly butchered exercise by every lat strain pitcher I've ever seen, you'll see the humerus tugged down during the prone horizontal abduction (when it should be at 90 degrees).

These examples should help to demonstrate that we've had a lot of success bringing lat strain injuries back to full function not only because of our quality manual therapy, but also because we know how to prescribe and meticulously coach the exercises that are so important for these individuals to master.

5. Weighted Balls

Weighted ball programs increase external rotation quickly (particularly in hypermobile throwers) and the lat - as one of the anterior stabilizers of the shoulder - is one structure that takes on the brunt of the load. When external rotation increases quickly and high speeds are involved, the lat at lay-back is analogous to the Achilles tendon of a basketball player that lands on a heavy dorsiflexed ankle; it just can't "give" any more. If you're a visual learner (and don't have a weak stomach), check out the 1:40 mark in this video to see what crazy eccentric stress at the end-range of a joint can do.

Now, imagine he's an untrained 14-year-old working at these speeds and you put a 100-pound weight vest on him; do you think it'll turn out well?

Weighted balls are awesome - when they're integrated at the right times, at the right loads, in the right dosages, with the right athletes who have earned the right to use them.

Closing Thoughts

If you look at these five contributing factors - and exclude the one (better diagnosis) that's actually a good thing - you'll realize that we have three that are completely in our control. Coach exercises correctly, prescribe strength and conditioning exercises appropriately, and integrate weighted baseball work the right way. If we do these three things correctly - and make sure to take care of tissue quality and length in our throwers - I firmly believe we can completely prevent lat strains, and that's been verified by our experience at Cressey Sports Performance.

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When Pitching Goes Poorly: 5 Strategies for Righting the Ship

Pitchers can struggle for a number of different reasons, whether it's command, velocity, "stuff," or actual pain/soreness. Historically, when players run into these tough patches, they've been conditioned to look to their mechanics first - and often unnecessary modifications are made on this front before looking deeper into the situation. With that in mind, I thought I'd use today's post as a quick look at some of the other "big picture" considerations.

1. Health

Very simply, if you hurt, it will alter movement patterns. It will change the way that you prepare and, in turn, execute pitches.

When it comes to optimizing pitching performance, the challenging thing (and this will sound crazy) about pain is that it can be covered up. Anti-inflammatories/pain killers can make symptoms and allow throwers to get away with bad patterns over an extended period of time.

2. Movement Quality

There are also instances where an athlete may have a significantly out-of-whack movement pattern, but without any symptoms. The goal with these individuals is obviously to optimize movement quality to get improvements without having to touch mechanics - and before pain kicks in.

3. Fatigue

Fatigue both acutely (within a game) and chronically (over the course of a season) can markedly impact a pitcher's consistency. It's a topic that also warrants much deeper digging, too, as it can be impacted by nutrition, initial work capacity, sleep quality, environmental conditions, and a host of other factors. We know that fatigue impacts not only mechanics, but also the motor learning we're trying to achieve in our preparation work.

4. Extrinsic Factors

Some guys pitch (and feel) terribly in cold weather. For others, really hot, humid days are the problem.

Pitching on a poorly maintained mound can minimize the effectiveness of even the most elite pitchers.

Throwing to an inferior catcher - or in front of a bad umpire - can have a dramatically negative impact on pitchers' success.

Only some of these factors can be modified, but the important thing is being able to recognize them so that you don't automatically assume that the struggles are coming from a different category from this list.

5. Feel

This is likely the most subjective and hard-to-describe issue. Some days, guys just don't have "feel" for a particular pitch on a given day, week, or month. At the younger levels, it is usually secondary to one of the first four factors I've outlined. At the more advanced levels, though, you almost have to chalk it up to a bit of random variation. Even the best pitchers on the planet have some considerable variation in their spin rates and extension numbers from pitch-to-pitch (as I outlined in this blog last year: Are Pitching Mechanics Really That Repeatable?)

I think this "feel" discussion reminds us that we don't want to throw the baby out with the bath water just because a guy struggles in one outing. When someone is struggling on the mound, look for trends and ask a lot of questions.

Wrap-up

These factors don't exist in isolation. For example, sometimes a physical issue (e.g., shoulder pain) can become a mechanical issue (e.g., lower arm slot). Moreover, thoracic outlet syndrome would qualify as a condition that spans the health, movement quality, feel, and fatigue realms.

There is a time and place for mechanical corrections, but before you go down that path, check these factors out first. We apply this sequential approach to development with all of our pitchers, aiming to identify "big rocks" early on that will deliver the most profound performance improvements.

This comprehensive approach to developing pitchers will be utilized heavily in our Elite Collegiate Baseball Development Summer Program. For more information, click here.

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Video: Why Injuries are Highest Early in the Baseball Season

I recently posted on Instagram in reference to how Major League Baseball Injuries are highest during spring training and early in the regular season. Surely, some of this has to do with the fact that some players had lingering issues from the previous season that never went away - but it definitely goes further than this. Check out today's video to learn more:

I'll be back with some more new baseball content later in the week.

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How Rib Cage Positioning Impacts the Pitching Delivery

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance - MA pitching coordinator, Christian Wonders.

While it’s good to know little adjustment of mechanics in a delivery, most pitchers struggle with a few bigger rocks that need to be addressed. One of them that needs attention is rib cage position throughout the throwing motion.

Next to the lower half, the rib cage is probably the most important part of a pitching delivery. It is at the center of the body, and serves as a platform for the shoulder blades to move upon, which in turn, dictates where the hand will be at ball release. 

If you take in a large breath, you’ll realize that your thorax expands, and the opposite occurs when you blow out all your air. For this article, we will call the expansion of your rib cage inhalation/ external rotation, and the opposite exhalation/ internal rotation.

Often, we will see pitchers stuck in a state of inhalation bilaterally, where you can see the bottom of the rib cage popping through the skin. Along with this postural presentation comes an anterior (forward) weight shift, poor anterior core control, scapular depression and downward rotation, and even the possibility of a flat/extended thoracic spine.

From a pitching standpoint, the thorax is the center of the body, and is responsible for transferring force, along with assisting the thoracic spine (upper back) in delivering the scapula. When a pitcher presents an extended posture with an inability to control rib cage and pelvic position, it’s hard to make an efficient rotation at front foot strike, while still holding his line to home plate. The outcome is usually misses up in the zone, along with an inability to throw a sharp breaking ball (hanging curveball/backup slider.)

Furthermore, the anterior weight shift can create a quad dominant loading pattern of the back leg, which will feed into a pitcher stepping more across his body, and ruining the pitcher’s direction to the plate. I’m not saying that a pitcher stepping across his body is the worst thing in the world, but they must possess enough core stability, lead leg internal rotation, and thoracic flexion in order to get to a good position at ball release.

So now, the question becomes: how do I stop this from happening?

- Flexion-bias breathing drills to decrease extensor tone

- Anterior core control exercises like prone bridges, rollouts, fallouts, etc.

- Soft tissue work on accessory breathing muscles, lats, intercostals, etc.

- Educating the athlete to not feed into the pattern by standing/sitting/training in bad patterns

- Drills to drive scapular upward rotation, particularly by prioritizing serratus anterior

- Coaching

Coaching is last on the above list, because it’s by far the most important, and the challenge of coaching is figuring out what an individual needs to be consistent on the mound. If you're looking for details on coaching positioning of the anterior core, I'd highly recommend Eric's Understanding and Coaching the Anterior Core presentation. It's a one hour presentation that hits on all the important points you need to understand on this front.

When it comes down to it, positioning of the ribcage can have a serious effect on arm action, extension at ball release, and even lower half mechanics. Therefore, I think it’s important to check the big boxes of pitching mechanics proximal (center) to the body, before moving distally (extremities) to drive the best results on consistency and performance.

About the Author

Christian Wonders (@CSP_Pitching) is the pitching coordinator coach at Cressey Sports Performance-MA. You can contact him by email at christian.wonders25@gmail.com and follow him on Instagram.

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In Defense of the Hip Thrust

I've been a fan of barbell hip thrust and supine bridges for approximately seven years now. I'd encourage you to give my What I Learned in 2012 article a read, as it describes how our usage of these drills came about (and does so in an entertaining manner) following a meeting I had with Bret Contreras in 2009. Suffice it to say that initially, I was not a fan of these drills, but in-the-trenches experimentation eventually brought me around.

Recently, there has been some controversy over the utility of hip thrusts, as some newer research publications (here and here) have demonstrated that hip thrust training does not improve sprinting speed. Bret Contreras, the man who popularized the hip thrust, has written a detailed response to these publications. For the record, I think he's handled the situation admirably, and I commend him for all his work adding to the body of knowledge so that we can all have these discussions in hopes of fine-tuning our strength training programs.

That said, not surprisingly, these research findings have created an opportunity for hip thrust critics to say "I told you so" - and several articles have emerged to highlight its lack of efficacy on this front. That said, I found Doug Kechijian's article, 'Science' and the Barbell Hip Thrust, to be the best of the articles that have recently emerged. Doug doesn't utilize the hip thrust, but used this current situation as a means of discussing how we view exercise selection on the whole. I'd strongly encourage you to give it a read.

While I must admit that I wasn't particularly surprised at the lack of carryover to sprinting performance, I don't think it's time to throw the baby out with the bath water just yet. Why? As I've often said:

[bctt tweet="Want to put an exercise in a program? You must be able to quickly and easily justify its inclusion."]

In this case, I still have plenty of justifications for including hip thrusts and supine bridges in our programs. I don't think they're ever a perfect replacement for a squat or deadlift, but I do see a role for them in special circumstances, and as assistance exercises. In today's post, I'll outline why I still find these drills to have great utility.

1. Zero Back Pain

Yes, you read that right. In close to a decade of using these drills with clients, athletes, and our coaching staff, I've never seen anyone injured during a hip thrust or supine bridge. For how many other exercises can you say that? Certainly squats, deadlifts, kettlebell swings, or even single-leg work. In hindsight, it's shocking that a drill that looks like it could be harmful (and this was my initial reluctance to include it) actually has such an excellent record on the safety front. Obviously, we're matching it to the individual and coaching technique, but this is still an impressive observation.

Moreover, I've sold more than 8,000 copies of my flagship product, The High Performance Handbook. It includes barbell supine bridges in phase 2, and barbell hip thrusts in phase 3. This is 8,000+ people who've performed these exercises without my supervision, and I've never had a single email from anyone about an injury. Conversely, I've answered a ton of emails over the years from customers who need modifications because squatting and/or deadlifting aren't drills they can perform pain-free. I think this is remarkably telling; hip thrusts have stood the test of time in terms of safety concerns.

Finally, I've actually seen quite a few individuals who couldn't squat or deadlift pain-free actually perform barbell hip thrusts and supine bridges with zero pain over the course of years. They've bolstered a training effect that otherwise would have been markedly attenuated.

2. Hip thrusts allow us to train the posterior chain without deadlifts in a population that may not do well with scapular depression and downward rotation.

One thing we know about throwing a baseball is that it makes you very lat dominant and tends to drive scapular downward rotation.

As I discuss in this video, scapular upward rotation is incredibly important for throwers.

Sometimes, we'll see athletes who sit in so much scapular depression or downward rotation that we choose to avoid lat dominant exercises and heavy carries/holds in their programs. So, drills like deadlifts, farmer's walks, KB swings, and dumbbell lunges are out of the mix. When you lose deadlifts from a program, you realize that you've lost a big bang exercise for training the posterior chain. Barbell hip thrusts have been a huge help to us in this regard, as they give us a bilateral option for training the posterior chain. Otherwise, it'd be just safety squat bar (SSB) squats and single-leg work, the goblet set-up, belt squats, and glute-ham raise (GHR) variations. And, a lot of people don't have a SSB, belt squat, or GHR!

Interestingly, I can actually think of several instances over the years where we dropped deadlifting from a pitcher's program - and replaced it with hip thrusts - and his shoulder pain went away. I don't think improvements like this happen in isolation, but I have no doubt that it contributed to the reduction in symptoms.

3. Hip thrusts prioritize terminal hip extension, which is actually far more important to baseball success.

I want you to watch these videos of the hips during the baseball swing (and while you're at it, check out Jeff Albert's great guest post for me: Hip Extension and Rotation in the Baseball Swing).

What I'm hoping you noticed is that while hip extension is incredibly important (for both the front and back legs), there is very little of it occurring in terms of actual range of motion. The same can be said of the pitching delivery; very rarely would a pitching come close to being a 90 degrees of hip flexion on the back hip.

Tim Collins early in his career was the most extreme hip flexion I've seen, and he's not even all the way down to 90 degrees:

In other words, hips thrusts and supine bridges reflect the shorter range of hip flexion/extension motion we see in hitting and pitching than they do for a higher amplitude movement like sprinting.


Source: Darren Wilkinson

To be clear, I'm not saying that squats and deadlifts don't train this range (especially when accommodating resistances like bands and chains are utilized); I'm just saying that hip thrusts and supine bridges train it exclusively and may provide some extra carryover.

4. Hip thrusts allow us to train the lower body without a grip challenge.

Load of gripping can also be an issue during the baseball season. Guys obviously get plenty of it from their upper body work, but when you add in the stress of throwing on the flexor tendons, more work on lower body days can push some pitchers over the edge in terms of forearm symptoms. This can also be an issue during post-operative elbow scenarios, as some surgeons can "beat up" the flexor tendon a bit more during Tommy John surgeries. With these athletes, we'll often plug hip thrusts in to replace deadlifts for 4-8 week spans.

5. The hip thrust helps to maintain a training effect in post-operative elbow and shoulder situations.

Building on my last point, we utilize barbell hip thrusts and supine bridges a lot with our post-op clients. If we are talking about a Tommy John surgery, you aren't using a safety squat bar until two months post-op, or deadlifting until closer to five months (and even then, the loading has to be severely restricted). Conversely, provided they have someone to load plates for them, these athletes can hip thrust as early as 4-6 weeks (assuming we aren't dealing with a lower extremity graft site), and loading appreciably by weeks 8-10. That's a huge deal.

Shoulder surgeries are a bit slower to come around, but you're definitely able to hip thrust well before you use the safety squat bar or integrate deadlifts. In short, if you want bilateral loading in a post-operative situation, hip thrusts below right up there in the discussion with glute-ham raises - and serve as a good complement to sled dragging with a belt/harness and various single-leg drills.

6. Hip thrusts don't create much delayed onset muscle soreness.

It's hard to really overload the eccentric (lowering) component of a hip thrust - and this may be one reason why it doesn't carry over to sprinting as much as a squat would. However, this non-soreness-inducing quality can actually be of benefit, as we often want to avoid it with in-season athletes or those trying to achieve a higher volume of work in their training programs. This is actually a perk of several deadlift variations, too.

7. Hip thrusts are a safe way to get in higher-rep sets.

In the quest to put on some muscle, high-rep squatting and deadlifting often wind up getting pretty ugly by the end of the sets unless they're regressed in some fashion (e.g., goblet squats). And, on a personal note, any time that I deadlift for more than eight reps, I get a massive headache that lasts about three days. I've found that higher rep barbell supine bridge (moreso than hip thrusts) are a good option for sets of 12-15 at the end of a session to kick in some extra volume safely. It's pretty darn hard to screw this up, you know?

Thoughts on Loading

On several occasions, I've heard folks criticize barbell hip thrusts and supine bridges because even seemingly untrained individuals can use so much weight. It's a valid assertion - but only to a point.

My experience has been that many individuals moving big weights are really short-changing themselves on the last 5-10 degrees of hip extension. They're either stopping short or getting lumbar extension (moving through the lower back). Often, when you fine-tune the technique and make them hold for a count at the top, they'll have to reduce the weight significantly. As a rule of thumb, though, I view the risk:benefit ratio with hip thrusts as being comparable to that of deadlifts in an athletic population; going heavier than 495 pounds probably isn't worth the risk or time involved. You're better off changing the tempo (longer pauses at the top) or switching to a different (and possibly more technically advanced) exercise that doesn't "come naturally" to the lifter. In short, find a different window of adaptation instead of just trying to move big weights through a short range-of-motion.

As an interesting aside to this, my deadlifts are actually significantly stronger than my hip thrusts. It's likely a function of "getting what you train," but I think it's an interesting argument against the idea that even weak people can automatically move big weights.

Last, but not least, remember that relatively untrained people can often push a lot of weight on sleds on turf, and rack pulls are usually substantially heavier than one's deadlift. Does that make them useless, too?

Closing Thoughts

New research is always warranted in any field, but particularly in strength and conditioning, a dynamic industry that has changed remarkably over the past few decades. In many cases, it takes a lot of time and experimentation to understand just how something fits (or doesn't fit) in our training approaches. Personally, I always come back to the "justifying the inclusion of a lift" question I noted earlier in this article. My experience has been that barbell hip thrusts and supine bridges have stood the test of time in this regard - and done so safely. I view them much more as an assistance exercise, as opposed to something that would ever replace squats or deadlifts. However, in the special circumstances I've outlined above, I think they will continue to fill in nicely.

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Should You Play Fall Baseball?

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance Director of Performance, John O'Neil.

We know that playing baseball year-round is a bad idea, but how do you determine if it’s a good idea for youth athletes to skip fall baseball and focus on developing themselves for the spring? Societal pressures – parents, coaches, scouts, recruiters - have dictated that if you’re a player and not doing as much total work as your competition is, you won’t keep up with the curve, but we know that’s not the case. Intelligent work will always trump total volume of work. The tough part lies in the action of identifying which athletes are better off sitting out a supplementary competitive season for the sake of success in the main season. Here are three questions to ask if you’re considering fall baseball and long-term baseball success is your goal:

1) How many innings did you throw during the spring and summer?
2) Are you playing another sport?
3) Are you adequately prepared for success within the fall season?

1) If you’re a pitcher and have thrown greater than 100 innings during the spring and summer seasons, fall baseball is highly contraindicated. A February 2011 study from Fleisig et al. provided the data for us that a youth pitcher, ages 9-14, is 3.5 times more likely to need an elbow or shoulder surgery down the road if they throw more than 100 innings in a calendar year. We can theorize and maybe think that a high school pitcher can afford slightly more innings, or, we could ask the question, what does a high school pitcher really gain out of throwing more than that? If they haven’t attracted recruiting attention in their first 100, you’re either not good enough to pitch at the next level OR have a very poor strategy for exposure. As CSP-FL co-founder Brian Kaplan has often said:

I’m in favor of shutting down pitchers at 100 innings, and I will provide more detail about when 100IP might not be the ideal number in point 3.

2) If you’re currently playing another sport, how does playing baseball as a secondary sport impact your long-term development? What is the goal of fall baseball? If the goal is skill acquisition and repeated exposure in a game environment, how does your commitment to the other sport detract or enhance from playing baseball?

Let’s take the high school soccer or football schedule. Most teams will have some type of organized activity six days per week, leaving one day a week where baseball can be the priority. From a skill standpoint, I would consider it more detrimental to both swing and throwing mechanics to be doing those in a fatigued state. Moreover, not providing the athlete with a true off day for the duration of the fall will lead to a much greater likelihood of an injury in the primary fall sport they’re playing. For position players, how much baseball skill work do you expect to get in only playing on weekends? A typical game might only involve a dozen swings and a handful of plays in the field, and that includes pre-game warm-ups.

If you’re not going to take a day off, maybe work on qualities in the gym that will ensure more long-term success. If you have the time given the constraints of the other sport, get to the cage/field multiple times per week if you feel the need to get more reps at the plate or in the field. Early specialization is not the answer for youth athletes. From a physical preparation standpoint, we know that specific physical preparation (SPP) is only as good as the general physical preparation (GPP) that underlies it. Even if baseball is the long-term primary goal, allow kids to develop GPP through other sports and specialize at the latest possible moment.

3) If fall ball is productive, what are the reasons? There are several: repeated  game exposure can ensure success on a baseball field from a perspective of tension and arousal, as we can’t simulate those in the cage.

However, if the competitive season is already close to six months long, when does the athlete have time to develop other athletic skills that will carry over to success within the competitive season? Fall ball may be a time where you gain exposure to scouts/recruiters, or great for the northeast athlete who only played 30 games in spring/summer. But, if you can’t set the athlete up for success in the short fall season, why bother? Specifically, how much skill work can the athlete get in to be set up for productive game play?

For pitchers, this means getting in multiple throwing sessions per week outside of competitive throwing days within the fall season. It also means that the pitcher needs to have been ramped up and be ready to throw in game situations in the weeks prior to the season, making it tricky when the gap between summer and fall baseball is anywhere from 2-6 weeks. For every week off of throwing, I’d like to see pitchers ramp up for at least an equal, if not a double amount of time prior to getting back out there (one week off = 1-2 weeks ramping, 2 = 2-4, etc.). It doesn’t matter if you’re only throwing a few innings every Sunday. Be prepared to be successful every time you toe the rubber. This is a case where even if the pitcher only threw 50-80 innings – far short of the 100 recommended in point 1 – it’s not a good idea to throw them into the fire if they can’t play catch, long toss, and throw bullpens during the week.

If you fall into the three categories I outlined above, I’d advise against playing fall baseball and instead working on physical qualities that will ensure success from a more long-term perspective. Get to the gym, get stronger, faster, more athletic, work on durability, take time off from throwing, and prepare yourself for a successful spring and summer season.

Who Definitely SHOULD Play Fall Baseball?

If you do not fall into the categories above, you may still be asking if playing fall baseball is right for you. There are two categories of high school players who need to be playing fall baseball if they expect to move on and play at the collegiate level. As outlined above, even these players need to prepare for the fall season as if it were their main competitive season. In other words, they need to be sure they are throwing, taking BP, and training regularly even if only playing on weekends.

1) High School Seniors who don’t yet have a collegiate commitment
2) Players who didn’t play much during the spring/summer seasons

1) If you have a chance to be recruited to play in college, but haven’t yet received the right opportunity for any multitude of reasons, fall baseball can be a last-ditch effort to get in front of coaches and scouts. Many Ivy League and D2/D3 schools recruit well into the fall. Make sure you are picking the right spots, though. Get out to showcases/tournaments/camps where these coaches will actually be in attendance, given that it is your last chance to play in front of them. This will require far more advanced than (definitely) the spring and (usually) the summer season will. You can’t just play in any local weekend fall ball league and expect coaches to come find you if they haven’t already. For senior pitchers, you can be a little more aggressive with your workload during this time because the summer after senior year of high school will most likely be a low workload or complete dead period. For underclassmen, stick more stringently to the guidelines given above.

2) If you are a player that missed significant time during your main competitive season, regardless of grade, fall baseball is a very good idea. This could be in the case of someone who was injured and had to sit out, or, someone who was buried on the bench and only got half the amount of action as some of his teammates. In this case, keeping up with what everyone else is doing in terms of yearly workload is a very important thing. This will make you better on a physical level, as repeated exposure to better pitching and facing better hitters will have carryover to the main competitive seasons. Additionally, your comfort level in a competitive game experience could make or break your ability to play at the varsity high school level in the spring, or your ability to be good enough to get recruited in the summer that follows. Identify the biggest areas of need that will drive your ability to be successful long-term and address them. If you haven’t played in real games very much, this could be the limiting factor.

As you can see, the decision on whether or not to play fall baseball is a very individual one. Be sure to consider all these factors as you make that decision.

About the Author

John O'Neil (@ONeilStrength) is Director of Performance at Cressey Sports Performance-MA. You can contact him by email at joh.oneil@gmail.com and follow him on Instagram.

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Sports Performance: Study the Majority, and Stop Cherrypicking Exceptions to the Rule

Last week, I Tweeted out the following statistic:  

As can pretty much be expected, this Tweet was met with a thumbs up from frustrated coaches and parents who know a skinny pitcher who could really benefit from weight gain, but still refused to crush calories. That was the 98% of interaction with these numbers.

The other 2% - as can also be expected, after years of social media "exposures" - was people who wanted to disagree. An example:

"Not true. My 6'0 180 pound son throws 93 and threw 90 when he was 5'10 165."

Another:

"So you're encouraging guys to just get fat and they'll throw harder? Why isn't Bartolo the hardest thrower in MLB then?"

In the research world, these exceptions to the rule are called outliers and are nixed from the data set. In the magical world of social media, they are liked, retweeted, celebrated, enshrined, put up on a pedestal - and ultimately almost become the rule. Unfortunately, those who try to replicate the exceptions wind up woefully inferior.

Remember the generation of kids who thought that they could a) abstain from lifting weights and b) go to really up-tempo, cross-body deliveries in hopes of becoming the next Tim Lincecum? With a few exceptions, they become the skinny guys who couldn't throw strikes - or convince anyone to be their catch partners because they were so erratic. And, they really didn't put themselves in great positions to throw hard, in most cases.

Lincecum himself faded as he approached 30 years old, due in part to hip surgery. After a short comeback attempt in 2016, he hasn't pitch in almost 1.5 years and currently sits at 1,682 career innings. Currently, 27 active pitchers have more career innings pitched than that - and only two weigh less than 195 pounds.

This isn't a vilification of Lincecum, either; he recognized he was an outlier and made it work for a successful career that included multiple Cy Youngs and world championships. That's a lot different than the 16-year-old with no track record of success insisting that he can throw 2,000 innings in the big leagues at 140 pounds. That's not backed by demonstrable results or even the slightest bit of logic. Need further proof that you're better off following the masses (pun intended)? 

1. The size of the average MLB player has increased from ~186 to ~210 now (really good analysis here). Not surprisingly, average fastball velocity in MLB has increased dramatically during that same period.

2. Go check out this list of active leaders in innings pitched. Take note of how few are under 200 pounds.

3. Go check out this list of active leaders in Wins Above Replacement (WAR). Take note of how few are under 200 pounds. This guy is eighth on that list (and rapidly climbing). He's 6-3 and 210-215 pounds, but not the "absurdly bulky" many naysayers insist will happen if a 16-year-old kid adds a few hundred calories per day. Max is just big enough to use gravity effectively while remaining athletic.

4. We have loads of studies demonstrating that heavier pitchers throw hard. If you want to pick just a few, use this one and this one. Hopefully, the N=1 Twitter researchers can appreciate that their studies don't have quite as much validity as the peer-reviewed research that is published in the Journal of Biomechanics and Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery.

5. This recent study reported that larger individuals signed professional contracts earlier and made it to the big leagues at a younger age. It also reaffirmed that bigger guys throw harder. Go figure.

6. Go to any powerlifting meet - or simply peruse some records online - and it won't take you long to realize that the heavier guys are the stronger guys. Strength is force. Power is work divided by time. Throwing a baseball is a sport-specific application of power.

Strength is also a foundation for stability: active control of joints. If you lack it, you'll rely more on passive restraints: ligaments, menisci, intervertebral discs, labrum, etc.

If you want to be successful in anything in life - sports, business, education, relationships, you name it - you are better off looking at what has worked for the majority of individuals who have previously been successful.

And, the research, anecdotal evidence, and logic is very much in support of gaining good weight being a wildly effective method for most pitchers to gain velocity, be more successful, and become more durable. You might be the exception to that rule, but chances are that you haven't actually tested the weight gain waters enough to know for sure. Eat up. 

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Arm Injuries, Sports Science, and Player Development

Earlier this week, I hopped on The Motus Global show with Will Carroll, and we covered a ton of ground in the 40 minutes we chatted. From arm injuries, to sports science, to player development, there's a lot of good stuff in this podcast. You can check it out at the links below:

Overcast: https://overcast.fm/+JRLCkbN08

or

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-motus-show/id1245348721?mt=2

Enjoy!

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