Home Posts tagged "Pitching Mechanics" (Page 2)

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.

Note from EC: Christian is one of the presenters in our Elite Baseball Mentorships. We'll be offering our first one of 2019 on June 23-25 at Cressey Sports Performance - Massachusetts. For more information, head HERE.

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

A post shared by Eric Cressey (@ericcressey) on

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.

If you're looking to learn more about the controversial link between posture and performance, I'd encourage you to check out my popular resource, Sturdy Shoulder Solutions. I delve into this subject - along with many others - in great detail.

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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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Are Pitching Mechanics Really That Repeatable?

The 2011 Major League Baseball Draft class was pretty ridiculous. As I recall, it was ranked as the deepest draft since 1986, and the top 20 picks alone produced established big leaguers like Gerrit Cole, Trevor Bauer, Dylan Bundy, Anthony Rendon, Archie Bradley, Francisco Lindor, Javy Baez, George Springer, Jose Fernandez, Sonny Gray, Matt Barnes, and Tyler Anderson. Even just looking a few picks later, you see names like Joe Panik, Jackie Bradley, Jr., Michael Fulmer, and Trevor Story – and these are really only the tip of the iceberg. Mookie Betts was a 5th rounder, Blake Treinen was a 7th rounder, Kyle Hendricks was an 8th rounder, Travis Shaw was a 9th rounder, Cody Allen was a 23rd rounder, and Kevin Pillar was a 32nd rounder.

Interestingly, Massachusetts was ranked as the #5 state in country that year, so Cressey Sports Performance was right in the thick of things. As a result, the spring of 2011 was a big lesson for me in managing highly touted prospects – and it set the stage for our draft classes to grow with each passing year thereafter.

Foremost among these prospects was CSP athlete Tyler Beede, who was committed to Vanderbilt and ultimately wound up turning down a large signing bonus from the Toronto Blue Jays as the 21st overall pick. Three years and a Vanderbilt national championship later, he was a first round pick again, and has since made his MLB debut with the San Francisco Giants.

This isn’t an article about that draft class, though; it’s about a lesson I learned during the spring of 2011 that applies to every single pitcher on the planet, regardless of age and ability level – and whether they were even close to being drafted in 2011 (or any year).

Ask any Northeast scout, and they’ll tell you that evaluating any New England prospect is incredibly challenging. Talent is very spread out, so it’s difficult for scouts to even geographically get to all the prospects they want to see. Additionally, it’s hard to consistently see good pitchers match up with good hitters to see how they compete on higher stages. Northeast players are also far more likely to be multi-sport athletes than prospects in other parts of the country, so you’re evaluating athleticism and “projectability” more than just baseball competencies.

Moreover, because of weather restrictions, the season can be very short, so a starting pitcher might only have 7-8 starts prior to the draft. Also on the weather front, pitchers peak later as the temperatures warm up. The first 3-4 games of the season are usually played in 40-something-degree weather, and rain (or snow!) might actually push games back a day or two last-minute, throwing off both the players’ and scouts’ schedules.

Getting back to Tyler, he started his season well, pitching at 91-94mph for the first several starts. Typically, the lines were complete games with 14-18 strikeouts, 0-1 walk, and no earned runs. To give you a frame of reference, between his junior and senior years, Ty went 14-1 with a 0.80 ERA with 189 strikeouts in 96.1 innings – pretty much what you’d “expect” from a eventual first-rounder.

Roughly five weeks into the season, Ty had a Wednesday outing on the road. It was early May and probably about 50 degrees. I was a few minutes late getting to the game, and actually arrived right as he was hitting in the top of the 1st. The parking lot was out past center field, and as I was walking in, Ty drilled a ball to the gap and legged out a triple. A batter or two later, the inning ending and he went right out to the mound.

As I settled in on the left field line, I saw a crew of people get out of the car and all set up not far to my left. Like everyone else at the field that day, I quickly recognized one of them as Theo Epstein, who was still with the Red Sox at the time. He seemed to have so many Red Sox scouts with him that I actually joked to my wife that they must have borrowed the magical car from Coolio’s “Fantastic Voyage” video to get them all to the park. They fit in nicely with the 40 scouts and front office guys who were standing behind the plate.

As I recall, that day, Ty threw six innings, struck out 12, and gave up no runs and no walks, with just two hits. One was a double on a ground ball that hit the first base bag, and the other was an infield single. He pitched at 89-90mph most of the game. I might have seen one 91mph fastball. Ty still absolutely dominated overmatched hitters and showed what many people called the best high school changeup in the country, but it was a pretty “blah” outing by his standards. The team won, and we even joked around post-game with Ty and his teammates.

Within a day or two, I had gotten a few texts from scouts. Paraphrasing, they ran the gamut:

“What’s wrong with Beede?”

“Is Beede hurt?”

“Has Beede lost his fire and gotten too comfortable?”

My response was pretty simple: “He’s fine. He’s also 17 years old.”

That Sunday, Ty was in for an in-season lift at the facility. I can distinctly remember our conversation about how – as unfair as it might seem – he would always be held to a different standard than just about everyone else. Expectations of consistency would always be unreasonable, so it was always important to focus on the process and not the outcome. Even Cy Young award winners don’t have their best stuff every time out, but you can’t deviate from the plan for every little hiccup. The secret was to never get too up, and never get too down.

It was in that moment that I think I truly realized that Ty would someday be a big leaguer. Absolutely nothing I said to him came out of left field; he got it.

The next time out, he was back to his old self. A week or two later, in his last start before the draft, he was 93-96mph. He even walked to lead off the game - and then stole 2nd and 3rd as dozens of scouts gasped in terror that a kid with millions of dollars on the line would risk injury. What they didn't seem to realize is that this was all part of being process-driven (competing hard to help the team win) instead of outcome-driven (impressing scouts and getting drafted). Go figure: he led his team to an undefeated season and league championship.

[bctt tweet="Expecting a teenager to consistently perform at a high level each and every week is unrealistic."]

Every geographic climate is different. Every mound is different. Hitting in a week when you’ve had four exams and are sleep deprived won’t be nearly as easy as it is during vacation week. And having the general manager of your favorite MLB team show up to watch you pitch might even impact your performance a bit.

Teenage athletes are still developing physically, emotionally, neurologically, and socially. It’s why I absolutely abhor mock drafts that shuffle players up and down from week to week based on results and – in many cases – feedback from folks who don’t have the knowledge of physiological and psychological variability to even make valid estimations in this regard. 

And, don’t even get me started on companies that are ranking eighth graders ahead of their peers just because puberty kicked in early and their parents are misinformed enough to shuttle them around to showcases all across the country when they should be preparing their bodies for what’s ahead – and enjoying their childhood. 

This entire experience and the countless erratic performances we see from players of all levels - from high school kids who walk the bases loaded to big leaguers who develop "the yips" - has given me a lot of time to think about just how unrealistic some coaches, parents, and fans are in demanding incredible consistency in performance from throwers. If one of the best high school arms in one of the best draft classes in history had up-and-down performances, you can be sure these struggles are going to extend 100-fold to less prepared pitchers.

To further illustrate this point, I did a little digging last week. As I type this, the three hardest throwers in MLB in 2017 have been Aroldis Chapman, Joe Kelly, and Trevor Rosenthal. Modern technology like Trackman can give us a lot more information than just velocity, though. Pitching release point (extension) is one such piece of information that fits in nicely with this discussion. According to a quick look at Statcast reports on the 50 hardest pitches in baseball this year, here is the variance in extension for those three:

Chapman (20 pitches): 6.5 to 7.2 feet

Kelly (9 pitches): 5.7 to 6.5 feet

Rosenthal (4 pitches); 5.5 to 5.9 feet

With a larger sample size - particularly for Kelly and Rosenthal - we'd likely see even bigger gaps. That said, it's important to recognize that a lot of factors can play into this variability. One MLB front office friend of mine commented to me, "There are a lot of park to park variances, so we have to calibrate raw data." Additionally, pitches may be different from the stretch and wind-up, weather factors may impact extension, and accumulated fatigue plays into it as well. And, extension will be different for different pitches - although that likely doesn't factor in here because we're comparing apples (fastballs) with apples (fastballs). The point isn't that any of this data is absolutely, 100% perfectly accurate. Rather, the message that any way you slice it, the three hardest throwers on the planet - some of the guys who theoretically put themselves in the best possible positions to throw the crap out of a baseball - actually deviate a little bit from their "norm" on a very regular basis. "Repeatable" mechanics aren't perfectly repeatable.

Looking further, check out the 2017 Pitch/Fx fastball velocity ranges for these three guys, as per Fangraphs:

Chapman: 95.4-102.1 mph

Kelly: 96.0-102.0 mph

Rosenthal: 95.5-101.7 mph

(we can bank on these "interpretations" of pitches being accurate, as nobody is ripping off 95-96 mph sliders or changeups)

What do these numbers this tell us? Even in the hardest throwers on the planet, there are actually considerably larger variations in pitch-to-pitch mechanics and performance than most folks realize. Every year, the media becomes convinced that a few dozen pitchers in MLB have "lost it"- and invariably, they all figure it out at some point and it all evens out over the course of a season. Remember a few years ago when everyone told us that Justin Verlander was washed up? Yep, he wasn't.

If we were to extend my aforementioned three-pitcher "study" out even further - particularly to a collection of minor league pitchers who haven't had success on par with these three - I'd be willing to bet that we'd see even more considerable variation. And, it'd be huge if we looked at college pitchers, and massive in high school guys (and younger). 

Anyone who has spent time reviewing data from Motus sleeve measurements can attest to this. Even as the accuracy of the readings has improved dramatically and the sleeves have become an incredibly useful tool, the variability from pitch-to-pitch has remained intriguingly high. You'll see different ranges of motion and joint stresses for two of the same pitch thrown 30 seconds apart. 

Where does all this leave us? Well, above all else, I think we can at least appreciate that even in a very specific closed-loop (predictable) action like pitching, there is still at least subtle variance - and this variance becomes even more dramatic as you go from the professional down to the amateur ranks. Sorry, Dad, but your 11-year-old doesn't have "pristine mechanics;" he is just less inconsistent - and likely more physically prepared - than his peers.

Expanding the discussion to higher levels, a thought process that has recently surged among those "in the know" on social media is that velocity and "stuff" are probably even more important than consistently outstanding command (which would theoretically relate to optimally repeating mechanics). This highlight reel of CSP athlete Max Scherzer during his 20-strikeout game last year shows just how many times he missed his spots.

I'm not saying that command isn't important; professional pitchers definitely miss spots a lot less than amateur ones. I'm just saying that all these factors fluctuate more than we appreciate and it's part of that discussion. Interestingly, command is the one of these three factors most impacted by outside factors: umpire interpretation, catcher's receiving, sweaty palms, pretty girls in the stands, and whether Mom is yelling "super job, kiddo!" from the stands.

Expecting teenagers to consistently repeat their mechanics at a high level - particularly during a period of time when their bodies (and brains) are constantly changing - is absolutely absurd. Far more important is preparing their bodies for all the chaos that sports throws at them. This is done with exposure to a wide variety of athletic endeavors in the youth levels, comprehensive strength and conditioning and arm care, and a broad spectrum of throwing challenges (not just mound work!).

That doesn't mean that it will work to just throw a bunch of poop on the wall to see what sticks. This has become a larger issue of late, as countless kids have assumed "throwing with intent" to be "just try to throw hard."

Very simply, here is the most important message I can deliver to any young pitcher:

[bctt tweet="Every throw is a chance to get better or worse."]

Treat every throw like you're playing catch with a Cy Young award winner and want to leave a favorable impression in terms of your attention to detail. Don't give up any throws. Even as a teenager - and regardless of who his throwing partner was - Tyler Beede tuned out the world every time he picked up a ball. He was always working on improving or refining something. It's almost like he understood that inconsistency could always sneak up on a pitcher in the blink of an eye, and he wanted to stay ahead of it. Ty didn't become a two-time first rounder or #1 organization prospect by accident. 

Really, more importantly, the take-home message is to be patient with young athletes and pitching success. Practice consistently and train to handle all everything the sport might throw at them. Still, though, remember that some of the best in the world struggle to consistently repeat their mechanics, so you can probably cut that 17-year-old some slack when he throws a 97 mph fastball to the backstop in an All-American game. And, your 11-year-olds can still have post-game ice cream even if they walk seven batters in three innings of work. Being consistent with anything in athletics is challenging, but if you focus on processes instead of outcomes, you'll never be disappointed.

To learn more about our comprehensive approach to developing high school and college age pitchers, please check out our Elite Collegiate Baseball Development Summer Program. For more information, click here.

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