Home Posts tagged "Pitching Velocity" (Page 3)

The Best of 2012: Strength and Conditioning Features

I love writing features with multiple installments because it really allows me to dig deep into a topic of interest. It's like writing a short book, with each blog being a different chapter. That said, here were a few of my favorite features from 2012 at EricCressey.com:

1. Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better - This weekly series was largely put forth by Cressey Performance coach Greg Robins, and it includes five tips for taking your nutrition and strength and conditioning programs to the next level. I contribute here and there, but the majority of the praise goes fully to Greg. Here are the five most popular posts from this series in 2012:

Installment 3
Installment 14
Installment 12
Installment 10
Installment 1

Here's a little sample of the kind of content Greg kicks out each week:

2. Coaching Cues to Make Your Strength and Conditioning Programs More Effective - I started this (ongoing) feature in early 2012, and it was a huge hit.  Apparently, people love the idea of having some cues they can use in place of having a qualified coach right there with them.  Here were the ones we ran this year:

Installment 1
Installment 2
Installment 3 (Deadlift Edition)
Installment 4 (Shoulder Edition)

3. Increasing Pitching Velocity: What Stride Length Means and How to Improve It - This three-part series was very popular with my baseball audience, as preparing the body for an appropriate stride is key to pitching success.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Hopefully you enjoyed these features during 2012!  I'll be back later this week to wrap up the Best of 2012. In the meantime, happy new year!

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How Each Pitcher Creates (or Loses) Velocity Differently

If you've read my baseball content on this website for any length of time, you've surely noticed that I'm a firm believer that no two pitchers are built exactly the same.  Rather, they all develop velocity via different combinations of athletic qualities - or miss out on velocity gains because they don't possess some of these qualities.

To that end, a while back, I gave a presentation down in Texas to a group of a few hundred pitching coaches on this very topic, and it's now being released.  Check it out:

Pitching Whip: What it is and How to Get it

Both electronic versions and DVDs are available, but only for a short time - and at the current 75% off discount. So, don't delay; check it out here now.

Also, on a related note, for those who don't know that I publish a free baseball-specific newsletter, you can subscribe to it in the opt-in box below (you'll receive a free copy of the Cressey Performance Post-Throwing Stretches, too):

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11 Random Thoughts on Baseball Strength and Conditioning

With the off-season at hand, I thought I'd type up some random thoughts that have come up in conversations with professional, college, and high school players over the past few weeks as they've wrapped up their seasons and transitioned to off-season mode.

1. Arm care drills don't really provide arm care when you do the exercises incorrectly. When you do eight exercises for three sets of 15 reps each every single day, but you do all the exercises incorrectly, you’re really just turning yourself into 360 reps worth of suck.

2. Piggybacking on #1, if you think you need 360 reps of arm care exercises per day, you really need to educate yourself on how the arm actually works. Also, when you eventually realize that you probably don’t even need ¼ of that volume to keep your arm healthy, you should definitely pick up a new hobby with all that newly discovered free time. Maybe you’ll even wind up kissing a girl for the first time.

3. In the battle to increase pitching velocity, all anyone seems to talk about is how to increase arm speed, which is a function of how much force can be produced and how quickly it can be applied.  So, we focus heavily on long toss, weighted ball programs, and mound work to try to produce more force.  The inherent problem with this strategy is that it ignores the importance of accepting force.  I'll give you an example.

Imagine two people side-by-side holding slingshots, each of which has the same thickness rubber band.  They both pull the band back with the right hand and hold the other end with the left. One guy has a limp left hand and his left forearm "gives" as he pulls the band back, and the other guy keeps the left side firm.  They both shoot the rock; which one goes farther?  Obviously, it's the one with the firm front side; that stiffness enables the arm to accept force.

This is a common problem with many young pitchers who haven't built a foundation of strength, as well as advanced pitchers whose velocity dips over the course of a season, usually when they lose body weight. If your lower-body strength and power diminishes, you'll collapse on that front side and leak energy.  And, you'll commonly miss up and arm side. 

Basically, you need to be strong eccentrically into hip flexion, adduction, and internal rotation - which is why the glutes are so important for pitching (check out this post from a while back for more information on the functional anatomy side of things).  Think of pitching with a weak landing leg as throwing like a guy with a slight hamstrings strain; in order to protect yourself, you flop instead of planting.

4. Has an accomplished marathoner every thrown 95mph? Actually, has an accomplished marathoner ever done anything athletic other than running?

5. We definitely need to get John Clayton to cover MLB instead of the NFL.

Baseball hasn’t seen this kind of talent in a non-player since this Fenway Park security guard put the Terry Tate on this deserving schmuck:

6. It amazes me how many baseball players don’t take care of their eyes. They are your livelihood, people! Yearly check-ups are a good start, but if you’ve heard some of the stories I’ve heard about how terrible guys are with taking care of their contact lenses, you’d be astounded. Example: I once had an athlete come in with terribly red eyes, so I sent him to see my wife, Anna, who is (conveniently) an optometrist. He informed her that he’d been putting his contacts in the same solution at night for two weeks. That’s like reusing the same bath water for 14 days – except the eyes are worse because they’re more prone to infection.

7. Why do professional teams spend anywhere from $484,000 to $30,000,000 per year on a single player, yet try to save money by letting clubbies feed all their minor leaguers pizza, fried chicken, PB&J, and salami sandwiches on white bread?

8. This kid has a full scholarship to train at Cressey Performance whenever he opts to pursue it.

See what I just did there? It wasn’t baseball-related at all, but I just tied it in.

9. Strength and conditioning has “changed the game” with respect to early sports specialization as it relates to baseball development. Kids can get away with specializing earlier if they’re involved in a well-rounded strength and conditioning program because these programs afford as much and, sometimes, more variety than playing a traditional sport. This approach to development does, however, depend heavily on the self-restraint of players, parents, and coaches to get kids 2-3 months per year without a ball in their hands. And, they need to seek out opportunities to play pick-up basketball, ultimate Frisbee, and other random games.

10. If you’re already taking 150 ground balls per day during the season, do you really need to do extra agility work? This is like a NASCAR champ hitting up the go-karts on the way home from the race track.

11. The other day, I read a review in the International Journal of Athletic Training that focused on the different biomechanics and pathology of various pitching styles.  The authors (Truedson et al) made a strong case for modifications to training programs - particularly with respect to core stability - based on trunk tilt angles at ball release.  Overhand and three-quarters guys tilt away from the throwing arm, sidearm guys stand upright, and submarine guys tilt toward the throwing arm. Folks have long discussed the concept of posture from a mechanics standpoint, but I haven't seen anyone who has utilized this information to modify an intended training outcome from a strength and conditioning standpoint.  Obviously, you could easily make the case that submarine pitchers need more rotary and lateral core stability than all other pitchers.

Lateral core stability exercises teach you how to resist lateral flexion; in other words, your goal is to avoid tipping over. These drills may start with basic side bridging drills and progress all the way up through more advanced TRX drills and 1-arm carrying variations. Rotary core stability exercises educate folks on how to resist excessive rotation through the lumbar spine. Examples include drills like landmines, lifts, and chops.

Sidearm pitchers are much more upright with the torso, so they likely need more anterior core than rotary/lateral core stability.  Of course, you're still going to train all three.

Anterior core stability exercises teach the body to resist excessive lumbar spine extension, and encompass a variety of drills, starting with dead bug, curl-up, and prone bridging activities. In prepared individuals, they progress all the way up through more advanced exercises like reverse crunches, stability ball rollouts, and TRX flutters and fallouts.

Finally, the overhand and 3/4 guys - which are obviously the largest segment - likely just need an equal dose of the three approaches.

For more thoughts on core stability training for health and performance, I'd encourage you to check out our Functional Stability Training DVD set.

That concludes this little glimpse into my mind as we enter the off-season.  I'll probably wind up doing this again every 4-6 weeks as I have discussions on various topics with our pro guys as they return.

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Body Weight, Throwing Velocity, and Pitching Injuries: Interesting Parallels

This morning, my good friend (and fellow baseball aficionado) Lou Schuler posted the link to an article that compared mortality rates in football players and baseball players. If you'd like to check it out, you can do so HERE.

One thing the article showed that I found very interesting was the rapid physical development of the average MLB player.  In 1960, the average player was 72.6 inches and 186 pounds, which is actually surprisingly comparable to what one might expect of the prototype male model for a magazine (I'd call this a weighted average of the skinny Abercrombie types and the more athletically-built Men's Health guys).  In 2010, however, those numbers had shifted to 73.7 inches and 208.9 pounds.  For those curious about what it looks like in a jersey, this was right about the height/weight of CP athlete and Orioles utility man Ryan Flaherty when he got to spring training this year:

Height had increased relatively linearly over the course of the 40 years, presumably as teams scouted and selected taller players and the game increased in popularity, drawing better athletes to the sport. Weight, on the other hand, made a rapid surge (+18.5 pounds) in the fifteen years between 1995 and 2010 (and +20.9 pounds between 1990 and 2010).  You'd expect a small increase alongside average height improvements, but this jump can only be explained by the increased emphasis on strength and conditioning (which was obviously aided by the steroid era for quite some time).

I don't think the results of this study are all that awe-inspiring - that is, until you look at them alongside some other numbers in baseball over the past decade.  As Jayson Stark discussed in his outstanding article, The Age of the Pitcher and How We Got Here, pitchers have dominated more and more over the past ten years. Check out these 2000 vs. 2011 changes Stark highlighted in his article:

Runs Scored: 24,971 vs. 20,808
Home runs: 5,693 vs. 4,552
Then, between 2006 and 2011:

Average ERA: 4.53 vs. 3.94
Strikeouts Per 9 Innings: 6.6 vs. 7.1

Perhaps most telling is the fact that between 2007 and 2011, the number of MLB pitchers with an average fastball velocity of 95mph or higher increased from 11 to 35.  When velocities are jumping like that, it's hard to say that the improved pitching performances are just due to the fact that guys are introducing better secondary pitches (most notably cutters), or that hitters are falling off because they're off the sauce.  Pitchers are getting more dominant.

I understand Stark's point that hitting has declined considerably in recent years as strikeout totals have piled up and batting averages have plummeted. However, I'm not really interested in debating whether offense is falling off because pitchers are getting better or because hitters are getting worse, because it's obviously a combination of the two.  However, what I think is a hugely valuable takeaway from this is that increased body weight is once again associated with increased pitching velocity.

Can you throw hard without being heavy?  Absolutely; many guys do it.  Would many of these already-elite slighter-framed MLB pitchers benefit from increases in body weight?  In many cases, yes - assuming the changes in body weight are gradual, accompanied by strength/power gains, and properly integrated with their existing mechanics.  While a gain of ten pounds seems like a huge deal to most pitchers, the truth is that it's actually a trivial amount of muscle mass over an entire body.  Have a look at this picture of 5lbs of muscle vs. 5lbs of fat that's floated around the internet for a while now:

Now, imagine spreading two of the red masses on the right over the course of an entire body; you would barely notice they're there, especially on the average MLB player, who is almost 6-2.  I guarantee you that if you hide one of those in each glute, you're going to see some big velocity gains, regardless of who you are.

Of course, every action has a reaction.  While you'll be more successful if you throw harder, you'll also be more predisposed to arm injuries. It should come as no surprise that the number of Tommy John surgeries has gone sky-high as more and more guys have blown up radar guns (and scales). Run fast and you're more likely to pull a hamstring.  Drive your car fast and you're more likely to crash.

Lots of people are quick to hop on board the "all injuries are due to bad mechanics" bandwagon, but the truth is that a lot of injuries are due in large part to the fact that a lot of guys are throwing really, really hard nowadays.  And, taking it a step further, they were usually throwing pretty hard at a young age - and on five different teams, in front of 150 radar guns at each game, with absurd pitch counts, while jumping from showcase to showcase, while playing year-round without a quality baseball strength and conditioning program and arm care routine in place. The truth is that all injuries are multi-factorial, and we have to control what we can control with an athlete, especially when we first interact with that player after years of mismanagement.


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Should Pitching Coaches Understand Research Methods and Functional Anatomy?

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

"Most Major League pitchers have terrible mechanics."

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

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

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

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

1. Trouble throwing strikes

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

3. Pain when throwing

4. Mechanical issues that theoretically will predispose him to injury 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 6/20/12

Here's this week's list of recommended strength and conditioning reading:

Increasing Dorsiflexion: Cuboid Mobilization - With yesterday's post on ankle mobility, I thought I'd highlight another great "complementary" perspective on the topic from Bill Hartman.

Managing Structural and Functional Asymmetries in Ice Hockey: Part 1 and Part 2 - I've talked a lot about how much becoming familiar with the Postural Restoration Institute philosophy has helped me in the way I manage baseball players.  In these two blog posts, Kevin Neeld talks about how they've helped him with hockey - from assessment to corrective exercise.

The Age of the Pitcher and How We Got Here - This might be the single-best article I've ever read at ESPN.com.  Jayson Stark did an awesome job of reviewing all the factors that may have contributed to why pitchers are thriving and hitters are struggling compared to previous years - and it's a trend that has lasted 12 years.  I'll definitely echo the sentiment about pitchers being better than ever, particularly with respect to the number of power arms coming out of the high school ranks.  Years ago, throwing 92mph out of high school made you an extremely noteworthy prospect; now, it just makes you another guy that *might* get drafted - even as a lefty!

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14 Reasons Pitching Velocity Decreases Over the Course of a Season

In the first half of this two-part installment on why pitching velocity changes during the course of a season, I outlined 9 Reasons Pitching Velocity Increases Over the Course of a Season.  As you'll appreciate after reading today's post, there are actually a lot more ways by which pitching velocity can decrease over the course of a season. Let's examine them individually:

1. Body weight reductions 

This is far and away the most prominent reason pitchers lose velocity as a season goes on.  In fact, it's so big a problem that I devoted an entire blog to it: The #1 Cause of Inconsistent Pitching Velocity.

2. Strength loss

As I discussed in my first book, The Ultimate Off-Season Training Manual, strength is an important foundation for power.  And, taking it a step further, power is certainly an important part of pitching.  As the season goes on, many guys just don't get in the quality weight room work they need to maintain strength, and power on the mound tails off.

3. Injury

It goes without saying that if you're hurt, you won't throw as hard. This isn't just a shoulder or elbow thing, either; sprained ankles, sore hips, tight lower backs, oblique strains, and stiff necks can all wreak havoc on velocity. If something is bothering you, get it fixed before it causes you to develop bad habits.

4. Loss of mobility

When people hear the word "mobility," they typically just of tissue length.  However, mobility is simply one's ability to get into a desired position or posture.  In other words, it's a complex interaction of not just actual tissue length, but also strength/stability, tissue quality, and kinesthetic awareness.  If you don't continue working on mobility drills, static stretching (when appropriate), foam rolling, and your strength training program, one of the components of this equation can suffer.  

Obviously, as I wrote previously What Stride Length Means and How to Improve It: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, stride length is the best example of this phenomenon.  However, what happens at the shoulder is another great example, too.  One who loses thoracic mobility or scapular stability may stiffen up at the glenohumeral (ball-and-socket) joint; it's possible to gain range of motion without even stretching at the "stiff" joint!


5. Excessive workload

This is the time of year when a lot of guys start hitting all-time highs for innings in a season.  And, with the games getting more important at the end of the high school and college seasons, pitch counts often rise when the innings really matter.  It's very simple:

Fatigue masks fitness.

If you're dragging and the velocity is down, a short-term reduction in throwing volume is often the quickest path to getting velocity back - particularly in pitchers who are throwing more innings than ever before.  Throwing an easy flat-ground instead of a bullpen between starts is one way to stay fresh, or you may opt to alternating higher pitch counts with shorter outings.  If I hear about one of our high school pitchers who has an exceptionally high pitch count (105+), I usually tell him to make sure the next one is in the ballpark of 80 pitches.  At that age, arms always seem to be dragging if kids go over 100 pitches in back-to-back outings.

6. Cumulative effect of bad throwing programs

This is best illustrated by a "hypothetical" example that actually happens far too often.

a. Pitcher makes great velocity gains in an off-season with comprehensive throwing program that includes long toss.

b. Pitcher goes in-season and encounters pitching coach that doesn't believe in long toss as part of a throwing program.

c. Pitcher has a velocity loss.

This scenario doesn't just happen because a specific modality (long toss) is removed, but also because of the effect it has on a pitching routine.  This, for me, is why it's so important to have conversations with pitchers on what throwing programs they've done in the past.  What's worked?  What hasn't? It's all about tinkering, and rarely about overhauling.

7. Cumulative effect of distance running

This 2008 study might be the greatest research that has ever been performed on baseball players - mostly because it reaffirmed my awesomeness by proving me right: Noncompatibility of power and endurance training among college baseball players.

These researchers divided a collegiate pitching staff into two groups of eight pitchers over the course of a season, and each group did everything identically – except the running portion of their strength and conditioning programs. Three days per week, the “sprint” group did 10-30 sprints of 15-60m with 10-60s rest between bouts. The endurance group performed moderate-to-high intensity jogging or cycling 3-4 days per week for anywhere from 20-60 minutes.

Over the course of the season, the endurance group’s peak power output dropped by an average of 39.5 watts while the sprinting group increased by an average of 210.6 watts.  You still want to distance run?

Of course, there are still the tired old arguments of "it flushes out my arm" (much better ways to do that), it clears my head (go see a psychologist), "it keeps my weight down" (eat less crap, and do more lifting and sprinting), and "it helps me bounce back better between starts" (then why are so many players in MLB living on anti-inflammatories?).  The system is broke, but instead of fixing it based on logic, many coaches continue to change the oil on a car with no wheels.


8. Insufficient warm-ups

While there are definitely some outstanding opportunities out there to develop in the summer, the truth is that summer baseball is notorious for sloppy organization.  Guys are allowed to show up ten minutes before game time, do a few arm circles, and then go right to it.  If you're walking directly from your car to the mound, don't expect your velocity to be too good in the first few innings.

9. Cumulative effect of altered sleep patterns

Early in my training career, I realized that missing sleep the night before a training session really didn't have any effect on my next training session.  However, if I had consecutive nights of little to no sleep, it crushed me.  I know of a lot of people who are the same way.

Now, imagine an entire season of red-eye flights, 3AM bus departures, and going to bed at 1am every night.  Beyond just the sleep deprivation component, you have the dramatic change in circadian rhythms that takes place.  Just head over to Pubmed and look at the hundreds of studies examining the health impact of working night shifts (shift work disorder); you'll see preliminary research linking it to increased risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and a host of other issues. I firmly believe it's one of many reasons injuries in baseball are on the rise - and certainly one potential culprit when velocity declines as a season progress. 

10. Pitching off a crappy mound

Many players wind up pitching off terrible mounds during summer ball, and when the mound isn't groomed nicely, you get into "oh crap, I don't want to get hurt" mode with your landing leg. If you aren't comfortable landing, you shorten your stride, or reach for a "safe" part of the mound, messing with your mechanics in the process. Additionally, velocity is going to be lower when the mound height isn't as elevated; it's just how gravity works.

11. Mechanical tinkering for the bad

In part 1, I noted that mechanics changes in the summertime can be a source of velocity improvements.  They can also, however, be a reason for guys losing velocity.  Not all changes are new changes, and it's important to be careful about overhauling things on the advice of each new coach you encounter. Repetition is important, and it's hard to get it if you're always tinkering with something.

12. Dehydration

Dehydration can have a dramatically negative effect on strength and power.  Most athletes are chronically dehydrated at rest, and certainly during pitching outings in the summer heat.  Hydration status is an important thing to monitor if you want to throw gas.

13. Throwing to a new catcher

Being comfortable with the guy who is catching your pitches is a big part of success on the mound.  When the catcher is constantly changing, there is more hesitation - especially if his pitch-calling tendencies are different from those of your previous catcher.  If you're constantly shaking him off, it'll mess with your pace on the mound and slow you down.

14. More erratic throwing schedule

One of the biggest adjustments a pitcher will ever have to make is switching from starting to relieving or vice versa.  While going to the bullpen can often lead to an increase in velocity, it can make other guys erratic with their delivery, as they've learned to rely on the pre-game period to get everything "synced up."

Meanwhile, thanks to an increased pitch count, guys who go from the bullpen to the starting rotation sometimes see a drop in velocity.  As examples, just compare John Smoltz or Daniel Bard out of the bullpen to what they have done in the starting rotation.

The only thing tougher than making that switch is to constantly bounce back and forth between the two, as it really hurts your between-outings preparation.  How you prepare to throw seven innings is considerably different than what you do if you're just going to go out and throw 10-15 pitches.

These are only 14 reasons velocity may dip, and their are surely many more.  Maybe your girlfriend cheated on you with the bat boy and you got distracted, or you decided to just throw knuckleballs.  The point is that - as if the case with many things in life - it's a lot easier to screw up (lose velocity) than it is to thrive (gain velocity). Plan accordingly!


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Baseball Strength and Conditioning: What to Do With an Extra Day Between Pitching Starts

Q: I read your series, A New Model for Training Between Starts, and love the ideas you introduced.  Since eliminating distance running between outings, I've noticed a big difference in how I feel and how I pitch.  I did have one question about the weekly rotations you outlined in Part 2.  What happens if I have an extra day between starts due to erratic scheduling or just a rain out? A: This is a great question - and one I have received several times - so I'm glad I'm finally getting around to answering it here on the blog! I usually look for guys to do a "bridge" training session.  Basically, these sessions are all about leaving the gym feeling refreshed; you work, but not so hard that you're exhausted.

In the typical in-season baseball strength and conditioning program we use with professional pitchers on a five-day rotation, here's how we'd schedule it: Day 0: pitch Day 1: challenging lower body lift, push-up variation (light), horizontal pulling (light), cuff work Day 2: movement training only Day 3: Single-leg work, challenging upper body lift (less vertical pulling in-season), cuff work Day 4: low-intensity dynamic flexibility circuits only Day 5: next pitching outing However, if the next outing isn't until Day 6, we will integrate one of two options: The first option would be to simply split the Day 3 training session into two shorter sessions: one upper, one lower.  These sessions might only be 10-12 sets in all. Then, Day 5 would be the low-intensity dynamic flexibility circuits.

The second option would be to keep the strength training component as-is, but perform some medicine ball circuits on Day 4, then use Day 5 for the low-intensity dynamic flexibility circuits. Both options keep you training hard without interfering with the subsequent pitching outing.  Particularly in professional baseball, there are more days off early in the season, so it's important to be able to roll with the punches like this. At the college and high school levels, the 7-day rotation is usually implemented.  If a pitcher starts on Day 0, I like to see him strength training on Day 1, Day 3, and Day 5, with Day 5 being a lower-intensity lift (Days 2 and 4 are movement training, and Day 6 is low-intensity dynamic flexibility).  If there is an extra day on the end, we simply treat our Day 5 lift like we did the Day 3 option in the 5-day template from above; it can either be split into upper and lower body sessions, or we can do it as-is, and add medicine ball circuits on Day 6, taking Day 7 for dynamic flexibility before starting again on Day 8.

That said, as in my experience, guys rarely get that extra day in high school and college; they're more likely to have their starts pushed up.  In this case, we just drop the Day 5 lift. Getting training sessions in between starts is incredibly important, but that doesn't mean that one must be rigid in the scheduling of these sessions.  In fact, one must be very flexible in tinkering with that scheduling on a week-to-week basis to make sure that guys are getting in their lifts, but not at the expense of their performance on the mound. Hopefully this blog provided some strategies you can employ when weather or scheduling throws you a curveball! Sign-up Today for our FREE Baseball Newsletter and Receive a Copy of the Exact Stretches used by Cressey Performance Pitchers after they Throw!
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Increasing Pitching Velocity: What Stride Length Means and How to Improve It – Part 2

In part 1 of this series, I discussed the fact that – all other factors held constant – increasing stride length will improve pitching velocity.  Unfortunately, when you simply tell a pitcher to stride further down the mound, there are usually some unfavorable mechanical consequences that actually hinder pitching velocity.  So, be sure to read that piece before continuing on here. That said, sometimes, physical limitations can make it difficult to acquire a longer stride.  To that end, I wanted to use this second installment to begin to outline the top five limiting factors for those looking to get down the mound and throw harder. 1. Hip Mobility If you’re going to really get down the mound, you need outstanding adductor length on both the lead and trailing legs.  That goes without saying.  While we outline several options on our Assess and Correct DVD set, the split-stance kneeling adductor mobilization is definitely my favorite, as it improves adductor length in both hip flexion and extension:

 Just as important, players need to stop “hanging out” in adduction in sitting and standing.  I wrote about this in a bit more detail in my What I Learned in 2010 article (point #3).  This is incredibly common in right-handed throwers, in particular.  If your resting hip posture looks like this, fix it!

We use a variety of drills from the Postural Restoration Institute to help address the issue, but suffice it to say that you’ll be swimming upstream unless you learn to stop standing/sitting like this! Additionally, you need adequate length of the trailing leg hip flexors – particularly rectus femoris – to ensure that you don’t cut off hip rotation prematurely.  I like the wall hip flexor mobilization for this purpose.  Keep in mind that we perform the exercises on both the front and trailing leg, as many pitchers will have substantial knee flexion deficit on the front leg secondary to the stress of landing/deceleration.

Third, you need adequate hip internal and external rotation on both sides.  Hip external rotation range-of-motion on the trailing leg is particularly important to allow force to be applied over a longer distance.  Additionally, hip internal rotation is key on the front side, as enables a thrower to utilize the lower half more efficiently in deceleration.  Those without adequate internal rotation on the front side often cut their arm paths short and miss high with pitches – and put much more stress on their arm because the deceleration “arc” is shorter. External rotation is best gained through glute activation drills (supine bridges, side-lying clams, x-band walks) in conjunction with simply externally rotating the femur during the split-stance kneeling adductor mobilization I featured earlier.  For internal rotation, I like a gentle knee-t0-knee stretch/mobs (assuming no medial knee issues) , and bowler squats as a follow-up to get comfortable with the pattern.

 Of course, all these mobility drills must be complemented by quality soft tissue work: foam rolling and, ideally, manual therapy with a qualified practitioner. So, as you can see, adequate hip mobility for optimizing pitching velocity must take place in a number of planes.  Additionally, you need to remember that mobility is always influenced by musculo-tendinous. capsular, ligamentous, and osseous (bony) restrictions, so no two pitchers will be the same in their needs.  And, some pitchers simply may not have the bone structures to get into certain positions that are easy for other pitchers to achieve. 2. Lower-Body Strength/Power You can’t discuss lower-body mobility without appreciating the interaction it has with lower-body strength and power.

You see, mobility is simply your ability to get into a certain position or posture.  Flexibility is simply the excursion through which a joint can move.   What’s the problem? Flexibility doesn’t take into account stability.  Just because you can get your joints to a certain position in a non-weight-bearing scenario doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to achieve that same position when you’re in a weight-bearing position, trying to throw 95mph as you move downhill.  So, I’ll put my point in big, bold letters:

Pitchers need strength to have mobility.

Truth be told, building lower body strength in throwers isn’t tough.  You use all the basics – single-leg work, deadlift variations, squat variations (when appropriate), sled work, pull-throughs, glute-ham raise, hip thrusts, glute bridges, etc. – but just work to make sure that they are safe for throwers (e.g., use the front squat grip instead of the back squat grip).

Strength isn’t just a foundation for mobility, though; it’s also a foundation for power.  You can’t apply force quickly if you don’t have force!  So, once players have an adequate foundation of strength, they can benefit more from rotational medicine ball exercises and plyos in the frontal/transverse planes to learn to better apply force outside the sagittal plane. Make no mistake about it; having adequate strength/power to push off and rotate aggressively – not to mention decelerate the body on the front leg – is essential to outstanding pitching velocity. I’ll be back soon with Part 3 of this series.  In the meantime, if you’re looking for more hip mobility ideas for baseball players, check out Assess and Correct: Breaking Barriers to Unlock Performance.

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Increasing Pitching Velocity: What Stride Length Means and How to Improve It – Part 1

Ask almost any pitcher, and he'd tell you that he'd love to increase his stride length on the mound in hopes of increasing pitching velocity.  And, this is certainly an association that has been verified by both anecdotal and research evidence for years.  Look back to the best pitchers of former generations, and they figured this out even without the benefit of radar guns.

On the anecdotal side of things, hitters often comment on how pitches "get on them faster" with a guy who strides further down the mound.  This is a no brainer: a pitcher who releases the ball closer to the plate has a competitive advantage.  That's perceived pitching velocity.  However, what about actual velocity - meaning what the radar gun says? The truth is that it's somewhat tricky to prove specifically that a longer stride directly equates to better actual velocity, as it really depends on how the pitcher gets to that point.  You see, a pitcher can effectively delay his weight shift to create better "separation;" in fact, keeping the head behind the hips longer correlates highly with pitching velocity.  This separation is the name of the game - and he'd throw harder.

Or, that same pitcher could simply jump out - letting his body weight leak forward prematurely - and completely rob himself of separation and, in turn, velocity.  So, that's the first asterisk to keep in mind: it's not just where you stride, but also how you stride there. Additionally, in that second scenario, this modification may cause a pitcher to shift his weight forward excessively and wind up landing too much on his toes.  While the point on the foot at which the weight should be centered is certainly a point of debate among pitching coaches, it's safe to say that they all agree that you shouldn't be tip-toeing down the mound! Lastly, even if the weight shift is delayed perfectly, a pitcher still has to time up the rest of his delivery - when the ball comes out of the glove, how high the leg kick is, etc - to match up with it in "slightly" new mechanics.  These adjustments can take time, so the velocity improvements with a long stride may not come right away because other factors are influenced. Of course, keep in mind that not every hard thrower has a huge stride.  Justin Verlander doesn't get too far down the mound, but he's still done okay for himself!  Verlander seems to make up the difference with a ridiculously quick arm, great downward plane at ball release, and outstanding hip rotation power.  There's no sense screwing with someone who is a reigning Cy Young and MVP - and has two career no-hitters under his belt.  However, YOU have to find what works best for YOU.

So, without even getting to my list, you can say that mechanical proficiency is the #1 factor that influences whether a long stride will improve your pitching velocity.  Dial in what needs to be dialed in, and it could work wonders for you - if your body is prepared.

To that end, in part 2 of this series, I'll outline five physical factors that will help you improve your stride length and increase pitching velocity.

Interested in learning more about the throwing shoulder? Check out Optimal Shoulder Performance: From Rehabilitation to High Performance!

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