Home Posts tagged "Pitching Mechanics"

Pitching Mechanics: What to Make of an Open Landing Position

After my recent presentation at Pitchapalooza in Nashville, I received the following question from a college coach who was in attendance:

Q: "My question revolves around pitchers landing with an open foot position. From your experience and from a biomechanical standpoint what have you seen regarding this landing/stride position in regards to why it occurs and how you have gone about correcting it? And, how have you seen it impact knee and back health. My experience has been that there is either some underlying knee or back history, or something is about to occur. In the recruiting process, I've spoken with several coaches and scouts who won’t consider someone who has this issue (open foot strike) regardless of velocity, due to concerns over long term health."

A: This answer can go in a lot of directions, so I decided to film a video:

In terms of a real-world example, take a look at Cressey Sports Performance athlete and Astros pitcher, Josh James. Josh has a slightly more retroverted hips presentation, and you can see that he lands a bit open. This is his normal alignment and he controls his body well, so it works for him (to the tune of consistent 100mph+ velocity).

More often that not, though, the pitchers who are winding up in this open foot position are getting there because of mechanical faults or physical limitations.

[bctt tweet="It's imperative to have a thorough assessment process for pitchers; you never want to try to take a mechanical fix to a movement problem."]

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The Best of 2018: Baseball Articles

With baseball athletes being the largest segment of the Cressey Sports Performance athletic clientele, it seems only fitting to devote a "Best of 2018" feature to the top baseball posts from last year. Check them out:

1. When Pitching Goes Poorly: 5 Strategies for Righting the Ship - Pitchers can struggle for many reasons beyond just mechanics. Here are five factors to take into account.

2. Is It Really Biceps "Tendonitis? - One of my biggest pet peeves is when all anterior shoulder pain is given a "blanket diagnosis" of biceps tendonitis. With that in mind, this webinar excerpt from my Sturdy Shoulder Solutions resource delves into the topic in greater detail.

3. How to Apply the Joint-by-Joint Approach to the Elbow - In this video blog, I discuss how we can apply the concept of regional interdependence to the elbow, particularly in the context of pitching injuries.

4. How to Win 99% of High School Baseball Games - I've haven't coached a high school baseball game in my life. I know a lot about adaptation to training in youth athletes, though, and that puts me in a unique position to comment on how to win high school baseball games.

5. Why Injuries are Highest Early in the Baseball Season (Video) - 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.

We've got one last "Best of 2018" list running tomorrow, so stay tuned for the closer!

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 7/6/18

I hope you all had a great holiday week. Here's some recommended reading and listening from around the 'net over the past week:

The Best Team Wins - This was an awesome recommendation from my buddy Josh Bonhothal. Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton provide some outstanding strategies for both sports team settings and businesses alike. The section on Baby Boomers vs. Generation Xers vs. Millenials was particularly fascinating.

Matej Hocevar on the Physical Preparation Podcast - Matej is an absolutely awesome guy with a wealth of information to share, and this podcast is an excellent example. He was also an amazing host to my wife and me when we visited Slovenia a few years ago.

7 Ways to Increase Your Training Density - I reincarnated this post from the archives earlier in the week and it was a hit, so I wanted to give it a mention here as well.

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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 a previous blog, 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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2018 Cressey Sports Performance Collegiate Elite Baseball Development Program

Registration is now open for the 2018 Cressey Sports Performance Collegiate Elite Baseball Development Program. This event takes place at our Hudson, MA facility, and runs from 6/4/18 through 8/11/18.

During last year's offering, we had pitchers move to Massachusetts from eleven different states (plus Australia!). This summer, we anticipate another awesome collection of motivated athletes who'll push each other to get better in conjunction with the same training opportunities and expertise we provide to our professional athletes.

This program is a good fit for pitchers who need to prioritize development over just getting innings or exposure. In other words, it's a suitable replacement for those who still need to throw, but also need to gain 20 pounds, learn a new pitch, sort out old aches and pains, or improve their mobility.

Each athlete will begin with a thorough initial movement and pitching assessment that will set the stage for individualized strength and conditioning and throwing programs, respectively. These programs correspond to six days a week of training. Generally, four of the six training days per week are double sessions, with throwing in the morning and strength and conditioning in the afternoons. A typical training week would look like the following:

Monday: AM throwing, PM Strength and Conditioning
Tuesday: AM throwing, PM Strength and Conditioning
Wednesday: Late AM throwing and movement training (at field)
Thursday: AM throwing, PM Strength and Conditioning
Friday: AM throwing, PM Strength and Conditioning
Saturday: Optional AM Kinstretch (mobility) class, followed by throwing and movement training
Sunday: Off

In our throwing programs, we integrate weighted ball work, long toss, and bullpens (including video analysis). We'll integrate Rapsodo and Motus sleeves in these bullpens as well.

All the athletes will receive manual therapy with our licensed massage therapist weekly, and nutritional guidance throughout the program. Also to help with recovery, athletes have access to Fatigue Science Readibands (to help monitor sleep quality and quantity), MarcPro, and Normatec.

Last, but not least, we'll incorporate a regular educational components to educate the athletes on the "why" behind their training. Last year, this consisted of not only staff presentations, but also conference calls with Alan Jaeger, Noah Syndergaard, Steve Cishek, Brandon Kintzler, and Oliver Drake.

The best part is that it'll take place in a motivating environment where athletes can push each other to be the best they can be. By optimizing the situation, you can help change the person.

Interested in learning more? Email cspmass@gmail.com - but don't delay, as spaces are limited; this offering sold out last year, and we'll be capping the group size.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 1/24/18

I hope your week is off to a great start. Just in case it isn't, though, here are some recommended reads to turn it around!

10 Nuggets, Tips, and Tricks on Energy Systems Development - Mike Robertson hit a bunch of nails on the head with this excellent article.

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing - I just finished up this new book from Daniel Pink, and it was outstanding. He covers everything from nutrition, to exercise, to career success, to economic ups and downs, to sleep quantity/timing. It was a really entertaining read with many applications to the strength and conditioning field.

Organic vs. "Forced" Lay Back in the Pitching Delivery - This mechanics discussion from CSP-MA pitching coordinator Christian Wonders is very important stuff to understand if you work with pitchers.

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The Best of 2017: Baseball Articles

With baseball athletes being the largest segment of the Cressey Sports Performance athletic clientele, it seems only fitting to devote a "Best of 2017" feature to the top baseball posts from last year. Check them out:

1. 6 Key Factors for Developing Pitchers - In this article, I look at some things I've learned from some of our peak performing pitchers at the MLB level - and how they can help up-and-coming players.

2. Are Pitching Mechanics Really That Repeatable? - We hear the phrase "repeat your mechanics" pretty often, but you'll be surprised at how hard (or impossible) that really is to do.

3. Sports Performance: Study the Majority, and Stop Cherrypicking Exceptions to the Rule - The baseball community loves to try to build theories off of small sample sizes when we all should be looking at the majority to see what works.

4. A Letter to This Year's MLB Draft Picks - There are lots of life lessons in here for more than just baseball players.

5. Overlooked Uses for a J-Band: Part 1 and Part 2 - Here are some innovative ways that we use this awesome piece of equipment.

We've got one last "Best of 2017" list running tomorrow, so stay tuned for the closer!

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 12/4/17

Happy Monday! It's been two weeks since my last recommended reading compilation, as I took a little blog hiatus last week in light of some travel and the chaos that is the professional baseball offseason. The good news is that it gave me time to stockpile some good content for you. Here goes...

Tinkering vs. Overhauling - and the Problem with Average - One of our interns asked me about my thoughts on the "average" range of motion at a particular joint, and it got me to thinking about this article I wrote last year. There are big problems with using averages in the world of health and human performances, so I'd encourage you to give it a read to learn more.

Core Control, Hamstrings Patterning, and Pitching Success - This was a whopper of an Instagram post from CSP-MA pitching coordinator, Christian Wonders. Be sure to check out all four parts.

Brett Bartholomew on the Art of Conscious Coaching - This was an excellent podcast from Mike Robertson, as Brett is a skilled coach and charismatic personality. It's definitely worth a listen.

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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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Progress Doesn’t Happen in Isolation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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