Home Posts tagged "Pitching Mechanics"

5 Key Traits of Successful Pitchers

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance - Massachusetts pitching coordinator, Jordan Kraus.

As we prepare for the 6th annual summer program here at CSP-MA, I find myself reflecting on the principles and traits we prioritize with respect to pitching development. Narrowing the focus on the essential qualities provides clarity for planning and simplifies the process for enhancing these characteristics that successful pitchers possess at the higher levels. Individuality is incredibly important, but the commonalities that exist among elite pitchers deserve the greatest investment of time and resources. The five components of high level pitchers highlighted in this discussion are:

1. Movement Efficiency
2. Outlier Characteristics
3. A Process-Driven Approach
4. Strong Mental Preparation
5. Authenticity

1. Movement Efficiency

The barrier to entry at each level of the game continues to climb as player development progresses and the talent level rises. The result is a requirement for even higher outputs and consistency in order to compete, which places a greater demand on movement efficiency. Movement efficiency is a popular term discussed in the baseball realm, but what does it really mean? Our ability to quantify movement continues to improve and helps to shape the definition, but essentially it comes down to movement that produces high outputs with high levels of consistency. We all have our perceptions on what we think efficient movement is, but the reality is perfect does not exist. There are trends that are widely agreed upon among high performers; however, our current ability to quantify movement does not provide a complete picture. Plenty of outliers exist that do not fall into the bandwidth of “efficiency,” yet they are succeeding at the highest levels. These outliers typically possess other unique or outlier characteristics and often offset a lack of efficiency in one area by being efficient everywhere else.

[bctt tweet="Since perfect does not exist, optimal movement is what we strive to create. Finding optimal requires a thorough understanding of anatomy and preferred movement strategies, and this will vary for every athlete."]

Appreciating how each body is designed to move and how it prefers to move through key positions is a much more effective strategy than isolating certain positions themselves. When an intervention is needed, there are countless ways to refine and enhance these movement strategies and a variety of tools to do so. This process typically starts by establishing movement competency as a prerequisite before picking up a baseball. After the baseline movement is sufficient, there are countless ways it can be progressed and challenged. The movement can be progressed by adding a dynamic component, challenging with perturbations, manipulating the environment and task, changing time pressure, and many more. Additionally, the movement can be challenged with medicine balls, waterballs, different types and weights of balls and implements, and an infinite number of other tools. Creativity can be useful, but there has to be transfer into catch play and ultimately to the mound where the carryover to performance matters.

There are many variables at play and movement changes need to consider the implications for health, velocity, execution, sequencing, pitch characteristics, deception and more. An alteration to one piece may lead to improvement on a biomechanical report, but if there are negative consequences elsewhere, the potential trade off needs to be carefully evaluated. Finding the optimal movement solution for each athlete is critical for performance, and a holistic view and consideration to all variables at play needs to be appreciated.

2. Outlier Characteristics

The ability to make hitters uncomfortable is a distinct quality among successful pitchers. There are a number of ways to accomplish this and being unique with outlier characteristics is a significant advantage. Essentially, pitchers want to develop outlier traits that lead to swings and misses. There’s a reason the phrase “dead zone fastball” (a fastball with equal vertical and horizontal movement) has some merit, and it’s because hitters love seeing what they see often, and they hate facing "different."

The term, however, can be a bit overhyped, as there are plenty of pitchers having success with a fastball with a similar spin-axis and movement profile. However, the profile is typically paired with some other outlier characteristics, which can include a combination of velocity, spin, movement, release angles, approach angles, deception, execution, and elite secondary pitches. These are the critical desired traits that should be considered when evaluating a pitch and overall arsenal. Execution is included in this mix because there are pitchers having success at the big league level that may appear to have relatively average stuff, but their ability to execute is exceptional and becomes an outlier trait in itself. A reliance on sequencing and execution with relatively average stuff can work, but the margins for error are much smaller and highlights the distinct advantage that comes with outlier characteristics.

 

It’s important to note that considerations to health, previous performance, movement efficiency and all other variables need to be accounted for prior to the discussion of pitch characteristics. These variables, especially movement efficiency, have a strong influence on pitch characteristics and the resulting pitch shapes. In the previous example with an unremarkable fastball, if other unique traits with the pitch or complementary off-speed pitches aren’t present, there are a few avenues to consider.

As an obvious first, enhancing velocity will almost always improve the quality of the pitch. Velocity is a nuanced and lengthy discussion for another day, but it involves a combination of a number of variables, including adjustments to the throwing program, strength and conditioning program, recovery modalities, movement efficiency in the delivery, intent, and more.

A second potential solution to consider is adjusting the delivery to alter the release and spin-axis, but prior to considering this solution...

[bctt tweet="It’s important to appreciate that trunk tilt dictates arm slot, and any attempt to change spin-axis via arm slot needs to maintain integrity with respect to the trunk and plane of rotation of the shoulders."]

Another example, spin efficiency, is a common point of emphasis for players looking to improve the grade on their fastball, often chasing more induced vertical break. It could be as simple as grip and pressure change or cueing additional pronation, but it is often much more complex.

[bctt tweet="Timing within the delivery will have a significant impact on how the hand works through the ball at release, and as a result influence the spin efficiency, axis, and movement of the pitch."]

If timing within the delivery causes the arm and hand to carry in a linear fashion - rather than unwinding in a curvilinear nature that allows for proper timing of extension, internal rotation, and pronation - the result can be an increase in gyro degree.

Another example could be a pitcher with limited front hip internal rotation and a stride direction that carries them across their body. For some pitchers this could work, but with limited lead hip internal rotation there may be insufficient space to continue rotation around the front hip, which often results in a ball that is cut with lower spin efficiency.

To add further complexity, not all spin efficiency is created equal, and higher efficiency does not always result in a more effective pitch. Sometimes leaning into the gyro degree can create an outlier pitch potentially as a sinker using “seam shifted wake” or a fastball that has unique cut and ride. There are many causes to gyroscopic spin and many factors that influence all different pitch characteristics. These examples provide only a glimpse into the complexity that can be involved with designing an individual pitch and arsenal, and highlights the importance of maintaining a holistic approach that considers all variables.

3. A Process-Driven Approach

Time and energy are limited resources and appropriate allocation is important for long- term success. High-performers choose to invest them into the process, rather than wasting energy focusing on outcomes. Results matter, but they are inherently uncontrollable. The outcomes that we wish to control are the direct consequence of the processes and systems in place. A favorite quote of mine is, “We don’t rise to the level of our expectations; we fall to the level of our training.” Essentially, the level of preparation and the level of success will eventually meet. This especially holds truth in a game like baseball: a long season with plenty of time for things even out. This process will have some individual variance, but quality preparation requires attention to a few fundamental areas.

Continuity and alignment of these fundamental areas within the process are critical components that need to be appreciated. The end goal is to improve performance on the mound in a game environment, not to become a weight room or bullpen hero. To this end, we've always taken great pride at CSP in the synergy among the throwing program, strength and conditioning program, physical therapy, manual therapy, recovery modalities, and mental performance training.

Each of these elements should be used as tools to support performance and should be prioritized based on a thorough assessment. The assessment process is a key driver behind decisions made and typically includes a discussion on training history, routines, injury history, movement screens, video breakdown, and an assessment of pitch characteristic data and sequencing. Each component needs to consider the individual needs and goals obtained from the assessment from an integrated viewpoint, as well as the time of year. There are similarities, but an in-season program might look vastly different than during the off-season or our 10-week college development program. It’s important to also remember that even the best program can be derailed by outside variables such as sleep, nutrition, hydration, and other outside stressors. These variables have an enormous impact on the efficacy of a program and need to be considered as part of the overall process.

Each component of the process could be an entirely separate post, but it’s important to appreciate what a quality throwing session within a throwing program looks like. Whether it’s a physical movement adaptation or a change geared more toward approach, execution, or a pitch characteristic, there needs to be a goal for each session. Going through the motions of a throwing session with no real intention is a recipe for mediocrity. For example, if a certain movement adjustment is the goal, the warm-up and pre-throwing choices should help facilitate that specific adjustment. Again, the objective is to transfer the movement or feeling into catchplay with a baseball in hand, and then to the mound. The same adaptation can be layered through the other areas of development, which ties in the importance of collaboration between departments during the training process. These decisions need to also consider principles of skill-acquisition and individual learning styles in order to maximize the efficiency of each session.

The training environment is an often overlooked component of this process. It may seem obsolete, but it can have a considerable impact on the development process by enhancing intensity, motivation, accountability and consistency. Learning from peers can be just as impactful as a coach, maybe even more if you surround yourself with the right people. Plus, there's something different about training alongside other people on the same mission with similar goals, so being selective with the environment can be an added bonus to a training program.

4. Strong Mental Preparation

At each increasing level of the game, the gap in talent continues to narrow. The result is often a shift in priority and value from physical tools to intangibles. The mind becomes a key differentiator and it plays a pivotal role in success or failure on the field. Preparation - both physical and mental - is the foundation to building a strong mindset. This means adhering to the previous process driven approach and developing a physical and mental routine for pregame, pre-pitch, and mid-game adjustments. As with physical preparation, there is considerable variance and individuality when it comes to different mental strategies, routines, and characteristics. There isn’t a single solution; rather, the goal is to develop effective strategies that prepare you for each competition, each pitch, and a strategy for righting the ship when things go south. While appreciating individuality and variance within mental strategies is important, there are similar qualities among elite level pitchers.

[bctt tweet="Watching a MLB veteran and a high schooler play catch are very different things. The focus and attention to detail must improve with each increasing level of the game, and a pitcher’s mentality must progress to support these key habits."]

A few additional critical attributes for high performing pitchers are confidence, conviction and resiliency. The three of these are grouped together because there is a distinct relationship between them. Accountability to your own process and true belief in your preparation prior to stepping on the field is where confidence starts. It stems from an innate belief in yourself and a combination of previous success and preparation. If there is trust in the process and preparation, then stepping onto the field with confidence becomes automatic.

That same confidence in knowing that you are prepared leads to an increased belief in your stuff and your ability to execute. If there’s confidence in your stuff and ability to execute, then throwing a pitch with conviction becomes unconscious. Conviction is one of those things that’s essentially impossible to quantify, yet it plays a pivotal role to the success of a pitch. If you don’t believe you can compete, or believe the pitch you are throwing will succeed, more times than not, it won’t. The level of preparation and confidence lay the foundation for handling adversity. If you’ve overcome adversity and have proven to yourself and trust your ability to do so, toughness and resilience become second nature. Knowing and believing that you can and will overcome adversity feeds back into a further level of confidence and conviction, and it becomes a cycle. An unwavering mentality can be built through an effective process, and these intangibles are key to success at the highest level where the gap in talent is miniscule.

5. Authenticity

Every pitcher has an individual skill-set that comes with certain strengths and weaknesses. An understanding of what makes you successful and relentlessly adhering to those strengths is an overriding principle among high-performers. Being openminded and willing to try new things to improve is absolutely important to the process; however, it should be used as a complementary piece to enhance the core of what already makes you successful. A continuous cycle of too many new variables without a foundation to build around inhibits the establishment of a true identity. This principle of authenticity ties in the previous four components into one fundamental trait: be yourself.

To start, an understanding of your own delivery and physical limitations can help to understand how you move, where your delivery breaks down, and what your body needs to perform optimally. This knowledge accelerates readiness as well as your ability to make adjustments, both in game and between outings.

Next, a comprehensive understanding of your pitch arsenal and its strengths and weaknesses can simplify your approach and lead to higher execution. Simply put, use your unique traits and best pitches to create swings and misses and get outs, while avoiding getting beat with your worst pitches or by trying to get cute.

[bctt tweet="It’s easy to get caught up in scouting reports and relying only on attacking weaknesses. Finding holes in your opponent is a part of the process, but it’s equally or more important to double-down on your strengths and what you do well."]

Understanding your own process and what your body and mind need to prepare lead to confidence and conviction on the mound. Consistency in the routine facilitates a feeling of preparedness and allows for a shift into the appropriate mindset required for high performance. Taking ownership for this process and combining these components can help you find the best authentic version of yourself. A good coach will help guide players down a path of self-exploration, but the best pitchers are accountable for their own process, preparation and performance.

A couple of Cy Young Award winners and CSP athletes, Max Scherzer and Corey Kluber, both provide great examples of authenticity. Each has a unique delivery, different set of elite pitch characteristics, different processes to prepare, and are renowned for essentially opposite mentalities on the mound. Both are incredible talents, but if one tried to be like the other, the results would likely be different. At the end of the day, the pitchers who understand who they are and don’t try to be anybody but the best version of themselves have significantly more success.

While there are a number of important qualities to consider when it comes to successful pitchers, the previous five consistently emerge among the game’s top performers. The process of development requires a comprehensive approach that understands quality movement, effective pitch characteristics, efficient and synergistic processes and routines, and the mental capacity to support them. An integration of these qualities with a pitcher that remains authentic and true to himself is a dynamic recipe for success. The development process truly requires a holistic approach with clearly defined end goals to enhance the processes that facilitate improved performance on the mound.

If you're looking to experience how we work to develop all these traits, be sure to check out the CSP Elite Collegiate Summer Development Program. This will be our sixth summer of running the program, and the average velocity increase over the course of the ten-week program is >4mph. Previous participants have not only been draft picks, but are now pitching in the big leagues. You can learn more HERE.

About the Author

Jordan Kraus serves as a Pitching Coordinator at Cressey Sports Performance-MA. You can follow him on Twitter at @_JordanKraus_ or Instagram at @CSPPitching, or email him at JordanRKraus@gmail.com.

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CSP Elite Baseball Development Podcast: Triston McKenzie

We welcome Cleveland Guardians starting pitcher Triston McKenzie to this week’s podcast. I've known Triston since early in his high school years, and his developmental path has been a great model from which other players, parents, and coaches can learn. He speaks to how he's had to evolve as a pitcher, and what he does to embrace what's unique about his body and delivery.

A special thanks to this show's sponsor, Athletic Greens. Head to http://www.athleticgreens.com/cressey and you'll receive a free 10-pack of Athletic Greens travel packets with your first order.

 

You can follow Triston on Twitter at @T_Easy24 and on Instagram at @Triston.McKenzie.

Sponsor Reminder

This episode is brought to you by Athletic Greens. It’s a NSF-certified all-in-one superfood supplement with 75 whole-food sourced ingredients designed to support your body’s nutrition needs across 5 critical areas of health: 1) energy, 2) immunity, 3) gut health, 4) hormonal support, and 5) healthy aging. Head to www.AthleticGreens.com/cressey and claim my special offer today - 10 FREE travel packs - with your first purchase. I use this product daily myself and highly recommend it to our athletes as well. I'd encourage you to give it a shot, too - especially with this great offer.

Podcast Feedback

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

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

Thank you for your continued support!

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CSP Elite Baseball Development Podcast: Multifaceted Pitching Development with Matt Hinkley

We’re excited to welcome Cressey Sports Performance - Florida pitching coordinator Matt Hinkley to this week’s podcast for a discussion on a range of pitching topics, including:

  • How to connect the dots between pitching mechanics and strength and conditioning
  • How to employ high-speed cameras for pitch design
  • Why it's so important to plan the yearly competitive calendar
  • When to use subtle adjustments vs. broad overhauls
  • Why he's more of a "pitching manager" than a "pitching coach"
  • Why the mental side of pitching can never be overlooked

A special thanks to this show's sponsor, Athletic Greens. Head to http://www.athleticgreens.com/cressey and you'll receive a free 10-pack of Athletic Greens travel packets with your first order.


Sponsor Reminder

This episode is brought to you by Athletic Greens. It’s a NSF-certified all-in-one superfood supplement with 75 whole-food sourced ingredients designed to support your body’s nutrition needs across 5 critical areas of health: 1) energy, 2) immunity, 3) gut health, 4) hormonal support, and 5) healthy aging. Head to www.AthleticGreens.com/cressey and claim my special offer today - 10 FREE travel packs - with your first purchase. I use this product daily myself and highly recommend it to our athletes as well. I'd encourage you to give it a shot, too - especially with this great offer.

Podcast Feedback

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

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

Thank you for your continued support!

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

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Pitching Mechanics: Is Lead Leg Blocking Enough?

Much more attention has been paid in recent years to the concept of the front hip pull-back/lead leg blocking in pitchers.

However, what gets overlooked is that there are a lot of athletes who do it well, but still struggle to consistently impart adequate force to the baseball and with the right direction. This can happen because of limitations further up the chain that interfere with transferring force to allow for clean ball release.

Foremost among these issues are adequate thoracic flexion and scapular upward rotation. These two attributes allow you to stay on the baseball longer. Imagine a car that has an extra runway to accelerate. As violent as it appears in still-frame photos, Max Scherzer is one of the best illustrations in the game for this - and it's remarkably well "synced up: 

Notice how the distance between his uniform number and belt increases early in the delivery, then decreases just prior to ball release. It isn’t this extreme for most pitchers, but it speaks to the interaction between the anterior core, thoracic spine, and scapular upward rotation. Is it any surprise that most anterior core exercises - rollouts, fallouts, flutters, inchworms, bear crawls, and stir-the-pot - are also great serratus anterior drills?

You can also challenge it in various ways with the chops aspect of your core stability program.

I also like this adjustment to a half-kneeling cable lift...which actually make it into a chop, but whatever!

It also opens up a great discussion on the role of infrasternal angle for another day (although we did delve in on it a bit with this podcast with Bill Hartman:

Have a great week!

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CSP Elite Baseball Development Podcast: The Pitching Lifespan with Jordan Kraus

We're excited to welcome Cressey Sports Performance - Massachusetts pitching coordinator Jordan Kraus to the latest Elite Baseball Development Podcast. Jordan brings a wealth of knowledge surrounding the long-term development of pitchers, as he draws upon experience working with 12-year-olds all the way up to major leaguers. There's fantastic information for players, parents, and coaches alike in this episode.

A special thanks to this show’s sponsor, Athletic Greens. Head to http://www.athleticgreens.com/cressey and you’ll receive a free 10-pack of Athletic Greens travel packets with your first order.

Sponsor Reminder

This episode is brought to you by Athletic Greens. It’s an all-in-one superfood supplement with 75 whole-food sourced ingredients designed to support your body’s nutrition needs across 5 critical areas of health: 1) energy, 2) immunity, 3) gut health, 4) hormonal support, and 5) healthy aging. Head to www.AthleticGreens.com/cressey and claim my special offer today – 10 FREE travel packs – with your first purchase. I use this product daily myself and highly recommend it to our athletes as well. I’d encourage you to give it a shot, too – especially with this great offer.

Podcast Feedback

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

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

Thank you for your continued support!

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

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CSP Elite Baseball Development Podcast: Chi Chi Gonzalez

We're excited to welcome Colorado Rockies pitcher Chi Chi Gonzalez to the latest podcast. In this episode, Chi Chi talks about being a late bloomer, and how he developed in college to become a first-round pick in the MLB Draft. He discusses how he prepares as both a starter and reliever, and highlights the key differences in how he approaches the different pitches in his arsenal.

A special thanks to this show’s sponsor, Athletic Greens. Head to http://www.athleticgreens.com/cressey and you’ll receive a free 10-pack of Athletic Greens travel packets with your first order.

Sponsor Reminder

This episode is brought to you by Athletic Greens. It’s an all-in-one superfood supplement with 75 whole-food sourced ingredients designed to support your body’s nutrition needs across 5 critical areas of health: 1) energy, 2) immunity, 3) gut health, 4) hormonal support, and 5) healthy aging. Head to www.AthleticGreens.com/cressey and claim my special offer today – 10 FREE travel packs – with your first purchase. I use this product daily myself and highly recommend it to our athletes as well. I’d encourage you to give it a shot, too – especially with this great offer.

Podcast Feedback

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

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

Thank you for your continued support!

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

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CSP Elite Baseball Development Podcast: The Next Generation of Biomechanics with Scott Selbie

We're excited to welcome Dr. Scott Selbie, the CEO and co-founder of Theia Markerless, to the podcast. In this episode, Scott discusses the history of biomechanics as it relates to injury prevention and performance enhancement in the baseball world, and reflects on the benefits and shortcomings of the current technology being utilized in this regard. Scott is one of the brightest minds leading the charge to make sure that the data coaches use is of the highest quality and utility. We've started using Theia at Cressey Sports Performance - Florida and have been blown away at its potential, and are excited at how it's helping us help athletes to feel and perform better.

A special thanks to this show's sponsor, Athletic Greens. Head to http://www.athleticgreens.com/cressey and you'll receive a free 10-pack of Athletic Greens travel packets with your first order.

Sponsor Reminder

This episode is brought to you by Athletic Greens. It’s an all-in-one superfood supplement with 75 whole-food sourced ingredients designed to support your body’s nutrition needs across 5 critical areas of health: 1) energy, 2) immunity, 3) gut health, 4) hormonal support, and 5) healthy aging. Head to www.AthleticGreens.com/cressey and claim my special offer today - 10 FREE travel packs - with your first purchase. I use this product daily myself and highly recommend it to our athletes as well. I'd encourage you to give it a shot, too - especially with this great offer.

Podcast Feedback

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

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

Thank you for your continued support!

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

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CSP Elite Baseball Development Podcast: Daniel Bard

We're excited to welcome Colorado Rockies relief pitcher Daniel Bard to the podcast. In this episode, Daniel reflects on some of the potential causes of his command challenges, and the lessons he learned as came out of retirement to become the 2020 National League Comeback Player of the Year. There are outstanding lessons for players, coaches, and parents alike in this episode, as Daniel shares a truly unique perspective on the mental side of the game.

A special thanks to this show's sponsor, Athletic Greens. Head to http://www.athleticgreens.com/cressey and you'll receive a free 10-pack of Athletic Greens travel packets with your first order.

Sponsor Reminder

This episode is brought to you by Athletic Greens. It’s an all-in-one superfood supplement with 75 whole-food sourced ingredients designed to support your body’s nutrition needs across 5 critical areas of health: 1) energy, 2) immunity, 3) gut health, 4) hormonal support, and 5) healthy aging. Head to www.AthleticGreens.com/cressey and claim my special offer today - 10 FREE travel packs - with your first purchase. I use this product daily myself and highly recommend it to our athletes as well. I'd encourage you to give it a shot, too - especially with this great offer.

Podcast Feedback

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

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

Thank you for your continued support!

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

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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training – Installment 36

This edition random thoughts from around the field of health and human performance is long overdue. Fortunately, more of the world is online more than ever, so at least it'll have a good audience now!

1. Physical maturity and training experience impact pitching stress.

File this one under the "duh" category, but it's good to have a study supporting the concept nonetheless. In this study, Nicholson et al found that while pitching velocity was weakly related to shoulder distraction force, this relationship was only observed in high school (and not college) pitchers. The researchers noted, "These findings suggest that older pitchers may attenuate shoulder forces with increased pitch velocity due to physical maturity or increased pitching mechanical skill in comparison with younger pitchers."

Here's the position (ball release) to which they're referring:

I've seen research in the past that reported shoulder distraction forces were 1.5 times body weight at ball release, but those numbers never made sense to me in light of the kinetic chain concept. Wouldn't a pitcher with better front hip pull-back, core control, thoracic spine mobility, scapular control, and posterior cuff strength have a better chance of dissipating these forces over a longer deceleration arc than someone who wasn't as physically prepared? And, wouldn't different release points (as shown above) relate to different stresses? This study demonstrates that being physically prepared and mature goes a long way in reducing one potential injury mechanism in throwers.

2. "You can’t separate biomechanics from metabolism."

I remembered this quote from Charlie Weingroff years ago when I recently heard White Sox infielder Yoan Moncada discussing how he hasn't felt like himself ever since he came back to playing after having COVID-19. Obviously, this is a more extreme perspective, as we know some cases lead to myocarditis and other challenging complications. It's certainly not out of left field, though. Just think about it:

Your joints often ache when you have the flu.

Many people get neck pain when they're stressed.

And, as Charlie observed in that same presentation, the higher your free cortisol, the poorer neurogenesis is.

I don't think we have to just consider these challenges only when someone is sick or under crazy stress. Rather, we have to appreciate that optimizing our metabolic environment - whether it's building a robust aerobic system or eating well and exercising frequently to improve insulin sensitivity - likely has an impact on how our musculoskeletal and fascial systems feel and perform. And, the nice thing about a lot of these initiatives is that they aren't hard to chase: you can build your aerobic system with some low-key cardio or even mobility circuits.

3. Vary surfaces with plyometric activities.

The latest Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research featured a very intriguing study that compared outcomes of a plyometric program on grass-only versus one that was matched for volume, but spread over six different surfaces: grass, land-dirt, sand, wood, gym mat, and tartan-track. The group that performed the multi-surface program outperformed the grass-only group at post-testing even though the testing took place on grass (which means it was a better program to the point that it also outperformed pure specificity over eight weeks, a relatively short intervention).

This is great because training should always be about providing a rich proprioceptive environment for athletes while still providing specificity. The surfaces were stable and ranged in their ability to challenge the stretch-shortening cycle (i.e., it's harder to "turn over" a jump quickly in sand than it is on a track surface).

Intuitively, it makes sense: give athletes variability across similar exercises and you get better adaptation. And, you could even make the argument that it likely reduces the potential for overuse injuries. Just imagine if they'd also rotated types of footwear: barefoot, minimalist sneakers, cross-trainers, turf shoes, cleats, etc.

Suffice it to say that I'll be leveraging this knowledge heavily at our new Cressey Sports Performance - Florida facility. We've got outdoor turf, indoor turf, grass, and indoor gym flooring - and we could do all three either in shoes or barefoot. There's eight options right there, and it's not hard to get access to sand in South Florida!

4. Exercise selection is the most important acute programming variable.

When you're writing a program, the big rocks to consider are intensity (load), volume, rest, tempo, exercise order, and exercise selection.

You'll see a lot of debates about whether 4 sets of 6 reps works better than 6 sets of 4 reps, and whether you need to do one set or three sets to get optimal gains. People may argue about whether you have to train above 90% of 1RM to get strength gains. And, internet arguments are fierce over tempo prescriptions and whether you should squat before you deadlift, or vice versa.

You know what doesn't get debated? The simple question, "Does an exercise hurt?"

This is why exercise selection will always be the most important acute programming variable to consider. If it causes pain, all the other variables don't matter, because it's a harmful training stimulus. This is why it's tremendously important for coaches to not only understand progressions, but also regressions and "lateral moves."

Squatting hurts your hips? Let's try a reverse lunge with a front squat grip.

Deadlifting isn't agreeing with your low back? Let's try a hip thrust instead.

Bench press is making your shoulder cranky? Let's pivot to a landmine press instead.

These quick and easy adjustments can absolutely save a program - and make all the other programming variable important actually matter. This is a big reason why I included an Exercise Modifications Library in The High Performance Handbook; they enable an individual to keep the core benefits of the program intact even if they have to modify a few exercises along the way.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 9/1/20

Happy September! It's been a few weeks since I posted a recommended reading list. Here goes...

Intangibles: Unlocking the Science and Soul of Team Chemistry - This recent release from Joan Ryan is the best book I've read in 2020. If you're involved in strength and conditioning or team sports in any capacity, I'd call it a must-read.

The Most Important Coaching Responsibility - I wrote this last year, but in light of how many people are acting on social media these days, it seemed like a good time to reaffirm the importance of staying away from negative influences.

Why It's So Hard to Find Dumbbells in the US - This is an entertaining piece in light of the crazy times of 2020.

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I came across this picture of Josh Hader's delivery (via @brewers) the other day, and it was yet another reminder to always check the neck first when you see more distal (shoulder, elbow, etc.) symptoms in an overhead throwing population. When you consider the lateral flexion of his cervical spine in conjunction with the shoulder abduction and external rotation, elbow flexion, and wrist extension each throw is effectively an upper limb tension test on the nerves (and vascular structures) that run from the brachial plexus down to the fingertips. What exacerbates this tension? 👇 1. Increased cervical lateral flexion 2. Insufficient clavicular upward rotation 3. Insufficient scapular upward rotation and posterior tilt 4. Increased shoulder external rotation 5. Poor glenohumeral (ball on socket) control 6. "Gritty" tissue density from neck-to-hand that interferes with nerves gliding smoothly 7. Increased wrist extension (to a lesser degree, in my experience) Regardless of what you think might be in play, always start with the neck. I think the Selective Functional Movement Assessment four-part cervical screen (swipe left) is a great place to start. #cspfamily

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