Home Posts tagged "Pro Baseball Pitcher Workout" (Page 2)

7 Reasons Baseball Pitchers Shouldn’t Do Year-Round Throwing Programs – Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, I outlined the first three reasons that I'm opposed to baseball pitchers using year-round throwing programs.  Here are the next four:

4. They need to get their shoulder and elbow range of motion back.

As I noted in Part 1, throwing a baseball is the single-fastest motion in sports.  With the crazy arm speeds one encounters, you have to keep in mind not only the muscles trying to accelerate the arm, but also the ones trying to slow it down.  This "braking" challenge is called eccentric stress - and I'll talk more about it in a second.

What you need to know now, though, is that when left unchecked, significant eccentric stress can lead to tissue shortening.  If you need further proof, Reinold et al. reported that immediately after a pitching outing, pitchers lose an average of 9.5° of shoulder internal rotation and 3.2° of elbow extension - and that these losses persisted at 24 hours post-throwing.

Now, imagine these acute range of motion losses being left unchecked for an entire season - or a season that simply never ends because pitchers are always throwing.  That's how elbows wind up looking like this:

(For more information, I'd encourage you to check out my Everything Elbow In-Service Video.)

Fortunately, we can prevent losses in range of motion during the season with appropriate mobility exercises, manual therapy, and breathing exercises - but the truth is that not everyone has access to these initiatives in terms of expertise, finances, or convenience.  So, while we work to educate the masses on arm care, emphasizing time off from throwing programs is also a key component of an overall strategy to reduce injury risk.

One last thing on this topic: it is a nightmare to try to improve shoulder or elbow range of motion in a pitcher during a season, as the very nature of throwing works against everything you're trying to achieve.  The off-season is "where it's at" in terms of optimizing range of motion in throwers.

5. They need to “dissipate” eccentric stress.

Okay, here's where I take #4 and geek out a bit.  I apologize in advance.

Sometimes, you have to get away from the baseball world in order to learn about the baseball world.  To that end, I need to think Mike Reinold for bringing this great 2004 study from Tomiya et al to my attention.

These researchers created eccentric stress in muscle tissue of mice using an electrical stimulation model, and monitored blood markers of muscle damage for a period of time thereafter.  What you'll see in the graph below is that myofiber disruption really peaks at three-days post-exercise, then start to return down to baseline, yet they still aren't even there at seven days post-intervention.

Source: Tomiya A, et al. Myofibers express IL-6 after eccentric exercise. Am J Sports Med. 2004 Mar;32(2):503-8.

Now, let's apply this to the world of pitching.  Every single pitcher who throws more than once every 7-10 days is surely pitching with some degree of muscle damage.  And, I can tell you that the two toughest challenges pitchers have reported to me are:

a) moving from starting to relieving

b) going from a 7-day high school or college rotation to a 5-day professional rotation

I'm firmly believe that pitchers need to throw in-season to stay strong, but I also know that we can't trump physiology.  Sure, we need to have optimal nutrition and regeneration strategies in place, as we can't just baby guys and expect them to get better.  However, make no mistake about it: high-level pitchers simply have to get good at pitching at 90% capacity (at best) if they are going to succeed.

If I already have a guy whose arm is working at a deficit for 8-9 months of throwing, the last thing I want to do is beat him up for the other three months with the same kind of volume and stress.

manual_therapy_page

6. They need to allow any undetected low-grade injuries to heal.

As I discussed in an old blog, Pitching Injuries: It's Not Just What You're Doing; It's What You've Already Done, most injuries (especially ulnar collateral ligament tears) come from the accumulation of chronic, low-level stress.  Maybe you get some calcification on your ulnar collateral ligament or a low-level rotator cuff tendinosis, and it takes a few years and hundreds of innings before something finally "goes."

Old, low-level injuries are less likely to reach threshold if you give them some downtime and work on redistributing training stress.  By strengthening the rest of your body in the off-season, you're dramatically reducing the demands on your rotator cuff with throwing.

You can't teach other joints to share the burden if the burden is never removed temporarily.

7.  They need a chance to prioritize other competing demands.

Throwing is a good 20-30 minute endeavor each time you do it - and possibly even more.  When I think about all the things that pitchers can be doing to get better in the off-season from a strength and conditioning standpoint, I have a really hard time justifying giving away that much time and recovery capability.  There are other things that need to be prioritized at this time - and year-round throwing is an especially tough pill to swallow when you know that throwing is working against many of the very qualities - rotator cuff strength, scapular stability, mobility, and tissue quality - that you're trying to establish.

Closing Thoughts

The lack of downtime from throwing is especially problematic in younger populations, as they are skeletally immature and weaker.  I’d argue that a really weak 15-year-old kid throwing 74-76 mph does far more damage to his body on each throw than a moderately strong professional player throwing 90-92 mph, especially given that the pro pitcher’s mechanics are more optimized to protect the arm.  This underscores the importance of "syncing up" mechanics, throwing programs, and the overall baseball strength and conditioning program.

Last, but certainly not least, remember that two weeks doesn't constitute "time off."  Rather, I firmly believe that pitchers need the ball completely out of their hands for at least two month per year, preferably continuously.  In other words, eight one-week breaks throughout the year is far from ideal, as it doesn't really allow for positive adaptations to occur.

If you're interested in learning more about managing the throwing shoulder, I'd encourage you to check out our DVD set, Functional Stability Training of the Upper Body.

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Cressey Performance Featured on MLB.com

Today is just a quick blog, as I wanted to give you a heads-up on an article at MLB.com about off-season training for professional baseball players, as Cressey Performance was featured.  Check it out: Players Turning to Group Offseason Workouts 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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7 Reasons Baseball Pitchers Shouldn’t Do Year-Round Throwing Programs – Part 1

When Thanksgiving rolls around, many of our professional baseball players at Cressey Sports Performance will start up their winter throwing programs after a full 10-12 week break from throwing.  They're always a bit rusty in the first week of tossing after the layoff, but every single one of them always "figures it out" in a matter of a few weeks - and still has plenty of time to get in a solid throwing program prior to heading off to spring training.  And, because they've been working hard in the gym on their strength, mobility, and soft tissue quality, they're always better off in the end.

Still, there are those who insist that baseball pitchers don't need time off from throwing.

I couldn't disagree more.

I'm sure this will rub some folks the wrong way, but I can't say that I really care, as most of those individuals can't rationalize their perspectives outside of "guys need to work on stuff."  I, on the other hand, have seven reasons why baseball pitchers need time off from throwing:

1.  They need to lose external rotation to gain anterior stability.

Having external rotation - or "lay back" - when is important for throwing hard, and research has demonstrated that simply throwing will increase shoulder external rotation range-of-motion over the course of a season.  This does not mean, however, that it's a good idea to just have someone stretch your shoulder into external rotation, as I wrote previously: Shoulder Mobility Drills: How to Improve External Rotation (if you even need it).

You see, when you externally rotate the humerus (ball) on the glenoid (socket), the humeral head has a tendency to also translate anteriorly (forward).  In a well-functioning shoulder girdle, the rotator cuff musculature should prevent anterior instability, and it's assisted by adequate function of the scapular stabilizers, which offer the dynamic stability to reposition the scapula in the right place to "accommodate" the humeral head's positioning.  For the athletic trainers and physical therapists out there, this is really what you're testing with an apprehension/relocation test.

The apprehension comes about because of either anterior instability or actual structural pathology (SLAP tear, rotator cuff impingement, or biceps tendinosis).  The relocation component is just the clinician posteriorly directing the humeral head to create the stability that should otherwise be created by the rotator cuff and scapular stabilizers.

The take-home message is that while just going on year-round throwing programs in hopes of increasing external rotation seems like a good idea on paper, it's actually a terrible idea in the context of injury prevention.  Pitchers should actually lose a few degrees of external rotation each off-season intentionally, as it affords them an opportunity to improve their stability.  This leads us to...

2. They need a chance to get their cuff strength and scapular stability up.

Baseball pitching is the single-fastest motion in all of sports, as the humerus internally rotates at velocities in excess of 7,000°/second.  So, it should come as no surprise that at the end of a season, the strength of the rotator cuff and scapular stabilizers is significantly reduced.  Having dealt with many of our players for up to five off-seasons now, I have a unique appreciation for how they each respond differently to not only the stress of the season, but also to arm care programs that we initiate at season's end.

It's important to remember that improving rotator cuff strength is no different in terms of adaptation than improving a bench press or squat.  Adding 10% to a guy's bench press might take three months in an intermediate population, or 12 months in a high-level lifter!  Adaptation of the rotator cuff and scapular stabilizers is comparable.  I need every minutes of those three months without throwing to get guys back to at least baseline, and hopefully a bit above it.

Can you imagine if some clown trying to improve his bench press went out and benched an additional 4-5 times a week on top of his regular strength and conditioning program?

His progress would be minimal, at best, and he'd be at a dramatically increased risk of injury.  Throwing during a dedicated, appropriate structured early off-season arm care program is no different.

3. They need an opportunity to do dedicated manual resistance rotator cuff exercises.

Ask anyone who has worked with throwers for any length of time, and they'll always tell you that manual resistance exercises are the single-best option for improving rotator cuff strength.  This rotator cuff exercise approach allows you to emphasis eccentric strength better than bands, cables, and dumbbells allow.  It also keeps athletes more strict, as the one providing the resistance can ensure that the athlete isn't just powering through the exercise with scapular stabilizers or lower back.

 The only downside to manual resistance rotator cuff exercises, though, is that because they generally prioritize eccentric strength, they will create more soreness.  With that in mind, we use them much more in the off-season than in the in-season, as we don't want a pitcher throwing with added soreness.  They're a great initiative in a comprehensive off-season baseball strength and conditioning program, but guys just don't seem to like them as much in-season, presumably because both throwing and manual resistance rotator cuff exercises can be too much eccentric stress when combined.  As such, we used them a lot during the September-November periods, and then hold back in this area the rest of the year.

Of course, if you throw year-round, then you can forget about getting these benefits, as the last thing you want is to be sore while you're "working on stuff" in the off-season.  That was sarcasm, in case you weren't picking up on it.

In Part 2, I'll be back with four more reasons baseball pitchers shouldn't throw year-round.

In the meantime, to learn more about the management of throwers, I'd encourage you to check out Functional Stability Training of the Upper Body.

fstupper

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Experience Doesn’t Come Easily When It Comes to Strength and Conditioning Programs

As I sat down to write this blog, I recalled a quote I heard some time ago, but only with a quick Google search did I discover that it came from Pete Seeger: "Do you know the difference between education and experience? Education is when you read the fine print; experience is what you get when you don't." Seeger might be in his 90s and done singing, this quote definitely still resounds - and will continue to do so - in the field of strength and conditioning, even if that wasn't his intention. I think one of the reasons it gets us thinking so much is that there really isn't a lot of fine print to read; the strength and conditioning field is still in its infancy, especially since there was very little research in this area before the 1980s.  And, just when we think we learn something and publish it in the textbook, we discover that it's completely false (the lactic acid debacle was a great example).   Moreover, we're dealing with constantly changing demographics; as examples, obesity is rising dramatically, and early youth sports specialization is destroying kids' bodies and fundamentally changing the way that they develop (examples here and here).

So, it's hard to learn how to do things the right way (or at least head in that direction) when the information wasn't available - and the population to which it applies is constantly changing.  It's like trying to change the tire on a moving car - and doing so without having instructions on how to use the jack in the first place. Moreover, even when the information is out there, we appreciate that no two people respond to the same stimulus in the same way - and my experiences with baseball players with elbow pain serves as a great example.  I've seen dozens of post Tommy John surgery athletes in my career.  Some start throwing before the three-month mark, and others aren't throwing until six months post-op.  Everyone heals differently - and even once they get back to throwing, every guy is unique.  Some have more shoulder stiffness than elbow stiffness after the long layoff, where it might be vice versa for other guys.  Additionally, many post ulnar nerve transposition pitchers have a lot of elbow stiffness when they return to throwing at 6-12 weeks post-op, while others have absolutely zero complications with their return-to-throwing progression.

If the game is changing, and we never really knew what the game was in the first place - and each person is unique, what do we do?

The only thing we can do is draw on personal experience and the lessons that it's provided to us.

To that end, if you're an up-and-comer in the field, you have to look at continuing education as a multi-pronged approach.  You've got to read the textbooks and stay on top of the most up-to-date research, but you also have to be "in the trenches" to test-drive concepts and see how they work. If you're not in the industry - but want to make sure that you're getting the best possible strength and conditioning programs - you need to seek out expert advice from someone who has "been there, done that."  Honestly would you want to be on the table for a surgeon's first surgery? I know I wouldn't. A final option, at the very least, is to educate yourself fully on how to write your own workout routines. That's one reason why I created two free webinars for you: The #1 Reason You Are Not Making Progress and How to Create a Real Strength and Conditioning Program. You can check them both out HERE at absolutely no charge.  I'd just ask that you help spread the word with a Facebook "like" or comment or "Tweet" if you enjoyed what you saw.

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Baseball Strength and Conditioning: Early Off-Season Priorities 1-5

We've got over 100 professional baseball players scheduled to be at Cressey Performance for their off-season training, so it goes without saying that I've been doing a lot of evaluations over the past two weeks - and writing the individualized strength and conditioning programs in accordance with those assessment results.  To that end, I thought I'd use a two-part series to highlight the top 10 "general" things I find myself addressing with guys coming in after the long season.

1. Planning the off-season schedule - Each player is 100% unique in this regard.  As examples, a guy who threw 50 innings would be able to start a throwing program sooner this off-season than a guy who racked up 150 innings.  Some guys goes to instructional league in Florida or Arizona, and others play winter ball.  Guys headed to minor league spring training report later than those headed to big league spring training.  In short, everyone has different timetables with which to work, so it's important to get an appreciation for it well in advance for the sake of long-term planning.

2.Discussing role/status within the organization - This priority aligns with #1.  You manage a first-round draft pick who may be a guaranteed big leaguer if he stays healthy somewhat differently than you'd manage someone who was drafted in the 48th round and paid a $1,000 signing bonus.  The former has the world on a silver platter for him, whereas the latter really needs to improve with dramatic improvements in order to stick around in pro ball. In this situation, you have to be willing to get a bit more aggressive with the programming of the "underdog." I wrote about this two years ago in a feature on CP athlete and Oakland A's prospect Shawn Haviland.

3. Mastering the sagittal plane - When the season ends, it seems like a lot of strength and conditioning coaches are super anxious to start up loads of aggressive medicine ball drills and change of direction work.  I'm a firm believer that guys need to master the sagittal plane before they head out and spend a lot of time in the frontal plane - especially when it comes after a long season of aggressive rotational activity.  In some guys, we omit medicine ball work altogether for the first month of the off-season while we work to enhance anti-rotation and anti-extension core stability.  You'd be amazed at how many athletes can't do a decent prone bridge, rollout, or reverse crunch on their first day back because their anterior pelvic tilt is so excessive that their anterior core strength is virtually absent.

Other athletes need to spend a lot of time simply working on single-leg exercises.  While these exercises are performed in the sagittal plane, the athletes are still stabilizing in the frontal and transverse planes.  The "sexy" work in these planes comes in subsequent months.

Of course, some athletes do a great job of taking care of themselves during the season and come back with complete control in the sagittal plane.  As long as they aren't too banged up, we'll certainly get them right back in to medicine ball exercises.

4. Regaining rotator cuff strength - It's a huge struggle to improve cuff strength when an athlete is constantly throwing - especially when we're talking about a pitcher who is racking up 100+ pitches - and the eccentric stress that accompanies them - every fifth day.  Since most professional pitchers get about 10-16 weeks off from throwing each fall, those 2-4 months become absolutely crucial for regaining cuff strength at an optimal rate.  It's one reason why it drives me absolutely bonkers when a guy takes a full month off after the season ends.

I discussed our general approach to improving rotator cuff function in Clearing Up the Rotator Cuff Controversy.  Of course, all this work is accompanied by loads of work on thoracic mobility, scapular stabilization, breathing exercises, and soft tissue work.

5. Normalizing diet and, in turn, vitamin/mineral status - There are a ton of guys who want to stick with healthy food options during the season.  Unfortunately, that can be very challenging on a minor league salary, less-than-stellar clubhouse food, and extensive travel.  All our professional players complete three-day diet records at the start of the off-season, and when reviewing those, we tinker with food selection, meal frequency, and supplementation.

If a guy is overweight, we don't try to take 30 pounds off him in two weeks; rather, we focus on improving food quality and allow the increased training volume to take care of the rest.  Most guys will undergo a pretty dramatic body composition shift in the first 6-8 weeks of the off-season, anyway, so there is no need to get "aggressive" with caloric reductions at this point when they should be all about regeneration and feeling good.

Of course, if they're skinny, we'll get them crushing more food right away!

These are just the first of many key areas of focus for early in the off-season.  Check back soon for Part 2!

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Tim Collins Featured on ESPNBoston.com

Cressey Performance athlete and Kansas City Royals pitcher Tim Collins was featured in an article yesterday on ESPNBoston.com, in light of his Fenway Park debut.

They talk a bit about his training at Cressey Performance as well.  You can check it out at the link below: Kansas City Royals Lefty Tim Collins Coming Up Big Despite Small Stature Also, keep an eye on my blog for a sweet announcement about an awesome free opportunity to watch me speak live on Saturday. 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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Four Years of Cressey Performance: Time Flies When You’re Having Fun

When I woke up this morning, it seemed just like any other Wednesday morning. I didn't even realize that it had been four years since July 13, 2007: the day we opened the doors at Cressey Performance.  I would have blown right through today if my business partner, Pete, hadn't reminded me of July 13's significance when I came in to the office today.

On our first anniversary in 2008, I was absolutely swamped, as we'd just moved into a larger facility.  I was 100% aware of the significance of the day, but literally didn't have time to enjoy it. On the second anniversary, things had settled down a bit, and I wrote up a blog to celebrate the day: The Two Year Mark. Last year, on the third anniversary, I went "all in" and wrote up this bad boy: Three Years of Cressey Performance: The Right Reasons and the Right Way. This year, I celebrating by simply forgetting. Is this my first "over 30" moment, or is there something to be said for the fact that I forgot? This has been, unarguably, our best year on a variety of fronts.  Some highlights: Tim Collins - one of our first pro guys and longest tenured clients - went to the big leagues this year.  The same goes for guys like Cory Gearrin, Steve Cishek, and Trystan Magnuson.  We also saw more professional athletes (and clients overall) than any other year before. Tyler Beede - also a long-time Cressey Performer - was drafted in the first round of the 2011 MLB Draft...and we celebrated in my living room.

Tyler was one of 12 players with CP ties taken in this year's draft.

Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School won the Division 1 State Championship, and they epitomize everything that effective strength and conditioning can do to help keep a high school team healthy and performing at high levels.

Over 30 CP athletes in the Class of 2011 signed letters of intent to play Division 1 baseball.

We expanded our staff to include some great people who complemented our existing skill sets and program offerings nicely.

We added about 1,000 square feet more office space and polished up our look with some new paint and more framed/autographed jerseys on the walls.  I even got my own office - which is shared with our new mascot, Tank, of course:

Most importantly, though, we continued to have an absolute blast each and every day we came to "work" - and that, to me, is what it's all about.  We made new friends and further developed already-existing friendships.  The CP family grew, and we offered a service to people that helped them get to where they wanted to be.

You'll notice I didn't mention financial gain - and the reason is pretty simple; I view it as secondary.  It's the destination, and I'm a lot more concerned about the process.  Cultivate relationships, deliver a quality service, and genuinely care, and the money will take care of itself.  Before the business gurus out there start crapping on me, I'll add that our business has grown by more than 30% over the past year in spite of the fact that I usually forget that I'm supposed to receive a paycheck at month's end.  Pete just surprises me with it.

Don't get me wrong; you need effective business systems to make things work.  If you're an organizational disaster and can't make your rent, it's going to be pretty hard to put on a happy face and make someone's day with your smile.  However, the overwhelming majority of "savvy business decisions" are actually a combination of common sense, courtesy, and a genuine desire to help someone.

Most of the people that ask us business questions want to know how much we charge, how much our rent is, how we schedule, what our hours are, who painted Tony's t-shirt on him, what our start-up costs were, and why we don't use electronic funds transfer (EFT).  What they should be asking us:

1. How do you remember so many people's names?

2. How can you possibly know everyone's health history who walks through your door?

3. How do you write individual strength and conditioning programs for everyone?

4. What do you do to build relationships?

5. How do you find time to get to so many baseball games?

6. How do you do to educate and retain staff?

7. How is it that all of your clients seem to be friends with each other? (As a little aside to this point, Tim Collins was at the facility the past two days while home for the all-star break, and he greeted every person who walked through the office door.  He even answered the phone for us twice.  That's big-league customer service.)

There are some brilliant business consultants out there.  Pat Rigsby and Alwyn Cosgrove, for instance, are super bright guys and great friends who have helped loads of fitness professionals increase their incomes and improve their quality of life.  They are also the first guys to tell you that if you don't know how to cultivate relationships and treat people right, then you're studying for the wrong test by looking for the perfect business plan.

Spend more time focusing on the process, and worry less about the destination.  Four years from now, you'll probably enjoy your "job" a lot more - both psychologically and monetarily - and have a lot more friends and experiences that make you smile each time you think of them.  You'll probably even forget it's your business' anniversary!

Thank you, as always, to everyone for all your support.

As a mini-celebration of this day, I'll do a little promo: if you purchase a CP hat HERE before Friday (July 15) at midnight, I'll send along a video of a 37-minute staff in-service I did on shoulder assessment that's uploaded to the 'web.

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Cressey Performance Pro Guys’ Locations

I just wanted to put out this quick note for my readers out there who may be baseball fans located near a professional baseball park. It's a listing of where the participants in this season's off-season program will begin the year.  Please comment if you're located near one of these teams and plan on heading out to support our guys, as it's awesome to know when our players have a good audience cheering them on. This list progresses from East to West, American to National League (by organizational affiliation): Chad Jenkins – Dunedin, FL (Blue Jays High A) Matt Abraham – Dunedin, FL (GCL Blue Jays) Kevin Youkilis – Boston, MA (Boston Red Sox) Jeremy Hazelbaker – Salem, VA (Red Sox High A) Jeremiah Bayer – Salem, VA (Red Sox High A) Matt Kramer – Ft. Myers, FL (GCL Red Sox) Craig Albernaz – Montgomery, AL (Rays AA) Kevin Moran – Kannapolis, NC (White Sox Low A) Phil Negus – Kannapolis, NC (White Sox Low A) Corey Kluber – Columbus, OH (Indians AAA) Tim Collins – Kansas City, MO (Kansas City Royals) Anthony Seratelli – Northwest Arkansas (Royals AA) Kevin Pucetas – Omaha, NE (Royals AAA) Crawford Simmons – Kane County, IL (Royals Low A) Matt Perry – Lakeland, FL (GCL Tigers) Ryan O’Rourke – Beloit, WI (Twins Low A) Tim Kiely – Little Rock, AK (Angels AA) Trystan Magnuson – Sacramento, CA (A’s AAA) Shawn Haviland – Midland, TX (A’s AA) Jeff Bercume – Phoenix, AZ (AZL Athletics) Nick McBride – Hickory, NC (Rangers Low A) Ryan Rodebaugh – Hickory, NC (Rangers Low A) Chad Rodgers – Lynchburg, VA (Braves High A) Cory Gearrin – Gwinnett (Braves AAA) Tim Gustafson – Pearl, MS (Braves AA) Steve Cishek – New Orleans, LA (Marlins AAA) Matt Bouchard – St. Lucie, FL (Mets High A) Chris McKenzie – Hagerstown, MD (Nationals Low A) Bryan LaHair – Des Moines, IA (Cubs AAA) Steffan Wilson – Huntsville, AL (Brewers AA) Cory Riordan – Tulsa, OK (Rockies AA) Dan Houston – Modesto, CA (Rockies High A) Will Inman – Tuscon, AZ (Padres AAA) Kyle Vazquez – Scottsdale, AZ (AZL Giants) Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter and receive a deadlift technique tutorial!
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Tim Collins: Why Everyone Should be a Kansas City Royals Fan (at least for a day)

Professional baseball really is an enigma. On one hand, some professional players are bad-bodied one-trick ponies who aren’t athletic enough to train their way out of a wet paper bag. And, many of them are okay with it. On the other hand, you’ve got players getting arrested for crimes so stupid that you wonder if they even appreciate the fact that they get to play a game for millions of dollars each year. They’re just so anxious to take it for granted that they let waste it away. It would be a really depressing picture if it wasn’t for optimism and enthusiasm of the millions of up-and-coming baseball players around the globe who dream of one day playing in the big leagues. And, we DO have some diamonds in the rough in professional baseball who stand out as fantastic role models for these aspiring players with their efforts both on and off the field.

I’m thrilled to say that the major leagues gained another Ambassador of Awesomeness today when the Kansas City Royals announced that Cressey Performance Athlete Tim Collins would be on their opening day roster - and that's why I'm probably on a plane to Kansas City as you read this. While hundreds of young athletes (and our staff and adult clients) in the Cressey Performance circle alone already appreciate Tim as a tremendously positive influence in our community, with this promotion, a lot more people are going to appreciate just how special Tim’s story is.

If you’ve read this blog at all in the past, you’ve probably come across Tim’s story as the ultimate longshot. In case you missed it, check out this article. The long story short is that Tim was overlooked by every single Division 1 school in the country in spite of being the ace of a high school team that compiled a record of 91-5 over Tim’s four years of school. His high school numbers were absolutely video-game-like, but he was overlooked because he was only 5-5, 130 pounds. Former Toronto Blue Jays general manager JP Ricciardi came across Tim by accident in the summer of 2007 when scouting an American Legion game – where Tim struck out all 12 batters he faced with a low 80s fastball, but an absolute “Kaboom” curveball. Two days later, JP and the Blue Jays took a leap of faith, and in the single greatest baseball scouting story I’ve come across, signed Tim – who, at age 17, had never left the Northeast – and sent him to rookie ball…the next day! This is where Cressey Performance entered the equation. Tim had been committed to play at the Community College of Rhode Island on a baseball scholarship – and he was going to be roommates with another one of my athletes. The two had played against one another in high school extensively and stayed in touch – and when Tim got back from his first few months in minor league baseball, this “roommate that never was” encouraged me to reach out to Tim because he thought I could really help Tim. I made the call, and the next day, here’s what walked in to CP on October 12, 2007: That, folks, is what 5-5, 131 pounds looks like. And, that’s a body that was lucky to touch 82-83 on the radar gun. That’s only the tip of the iceberg, though. That first week, my business partner, Tony, and I took Tim to the track with us to do some movement training. I figured, “Hey, this is a professional athlete; he’ll be able to move pretty well.” I couldn’t have been more wrong. Tony and I whipped him all over the track. He got beaten by a good 8-10 yards on every single sprint, and spent more time wheezing than he did training. He had the fuzzy dice (curveball), but no horse power in the engine. His vertical jump was 25.0 inches (a peak power of 4497 watts, considering the body weight of 131). It would have been very easy for Tim to tap out that morning at the track. He could have just resigned himself to being a slug in the off-season like so many professional baseball players. Pitchers aren’t athletes, right? Well, this one committed himself to becoming one. Over the next three off-seasons, the entire Cressey Performance community watched Tim transform. Each year, his weight and athleticism shot up – and he’s now about 172 pounds with a vertical jump of 38.7 inches (7453 watts - or a 66% improvement in 3.5 years). More importantly, this athleticism directly carried over to increased throwing velocity and pitching performance. In 2008, he jumped up to 87-89mph. In 2009, it was 90-92, and 2010, he was 92-94 – while reportedly touching a 97 on the stadium gun. Oh, and entering the 2011 season, Tim had a career ERA of 2.26 in 223 professional innings, - with 329 strikeouts (13.3 per 9 innings). And, he just turned 21 in September. That’s the tip of the iceberg, though. We’ve had lots of guys get more athletic and perform better in their chosen sports. There are a few things that make Tim’s story even more special. First, of course, is the simple fact that he defied the odds and has made it to the big leagues as a long-shot – when only 3% of players ever drafted ever make it this far in their career. And, he did it as an undrafted free agent signing. Nobody ever crunches the numbers on these guys because, frankly, it almost never happens; they are scouting “afterthoughts.” So, it’s an awesome story because it meant that every time Tim went out and “shoved” against opposing hitters on his way through the minor leaguers, he also “shoved” against baseball traditionalism. He showed that pitchers need to be athletes, that strength and conditioning really can change a career significantly, and that there are some situations where scouts really don’t know a stud from a dud. And, he has shown – and will continue to show – loads of impressionable young athletes that working hard really does pay off, even while other professional athletes are being lazy and destroying their bodies and careers, or being unethical and taking the easy way out.

Second, and more interestingly to me, I’ve watched Tim mature exponentially as a person – far moreso than anyone else his age who went to college. He was thrown into the real world quickly, and he matured and thrived, coming out of his shell and becoming a wildly popular part of Cressey Performance. The kid who used to barely talk when he came in to train now spends about eight hours a day at CP – between training and just hanging out in the office chatting with other clients and our staff. In perhaps my favorite story, last spring, we watched Tim sell over 90 boxes of Girl Scout cookies for one of our adult client’s daughter. He literally set up a makeshift desk in our office and met everyone at the door. And, even against the objections of CP nutrition expert, Brian St. Pierre, just about everyone obliged because, well, it was Tim – and he makes people smile.

Simply, changing his body and surrounding himself with the right people in the right environment played a big part in shaping Tim as a person. While quantifiable results are certainly very important, these more subjective changes are ones that every fitness professional and strength and conditioning coach hopes for with their clients and athletes. As I see Tim signing autographs, doing charity work, and taking younger players under his wing, I’m thrilled that he’s “paying it forward.”

The Kansas City Royals might not be a favorite to win the American League Central, but there’s still something to be excited about in Kansas City right now: a great guy getting to live a dream to which he has dedicated himself relentlessly to achieve. Congratulations, Tim. I know I can speak for all the Cressey Performance staff and clients when I say that we couldn’t be more proud of you and happy for you. Thanks for having us all along for the ride!

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In-Season Baseball Strength and Conditioning: Part 1

Over the past few weeks, I’ve received literally dozens of emails, Facebook posts/messages, Tweets, and phone calls on the topic of in-season strength and conditioning for baseball players.  While it was a daunting task to try to organize my thoughts on the subject, I was glad to do so, as all these inquiries mean that people are finally starting to “get it:” in-season strength and conditioning is extremely important!

To that end, over the next four days, I’ll outline my general strength and conditioning approach to dealing with position players and pitchers during the season.  Every athlete and every schedule is different, so it might take some tinkering to make this work for you.

First, though, I want to throw out a few quick FYIs, as some of what I “omit” will actually surprise you.  In terms of my in-season strength and conditioning beliefs, I’m different from many people in that:

1. I’m not big on lots of band stuff at the field – I discussed my thoughts on rotator cuff exercises frequency and overall scheduling in Clearing Up the Rotator Cuff Controversy.  In a nutshell, I tend to stick with 2x/week “conventional” rotator cuff exercises (mostly external rotations) and 2x/week rhythmic stabilization drills.  In conjunction with the rest of our overall program – which includes compound upper body strength exercises ( horizontal and vertical pulling exercises, in particular), deceleration catches, core stability drills, lower half strength exercises, soft tissue work, mobility work, etc – we cover all our needs for keeping an arm healthy.  Why on earth would I add more rotator cuff exercises to my program when I’m already increasing throwing volume, intensity, and frequency?  The cuff is already getting abused – so there is no need to crush it any more with daily tubing circuits unless they are incredibly light and just aimed at improving blood flow.

I firmly believe that many pitchers (and position players alike) overuse their arms during a season simply because they add, add, and add more to their program without fully understanding the outrageous eccentric stress that’s placed on the arm during throwing.  And, for those who insist that doing lots of in-season rotator cuff exercises has kept them healthy, I’d argue that this is probably the case because they weren’t that prepared at the end of the off-season.

2. I don’t do much medicine ball work in-season – If you haven’t already watched my video, the Absolute Strength to Absolute Speed Continuum, watch it now:

During the season, players are about as far to the “absolute speed” end of the continuum as they can be, as they’re hitting, throwing, and sprinting.  With the overwhelming amount of “accidental” power training taking place, I feel that it’s best to stay at the other end of the spectrum.  You can spend more time in the middle during the off-season.

That said, we do utilize a small amount of medicine ball work during the season.  Usually, it’s predominantly done in the opposite direction of a player’s swing/throw; in other words, a right-handed hitter would perform left handed medicine ball throws.  We might also do a small amount of overhead work just to maintain power within this range of motion (as well as the thoracic spine and shoulder flexion mobility that goes with it).

3. I don’t do any distance running for my guys – There’s no need to reinvent the wheel here, as I already barbequed this sacred cow in A New Model for Training Between Starts.  So, this time around, I’ll just be abrasive: coaches who have their baseball players run long distances are either lazy or flat-out stupid (or both).

4. I am a big believer in “less is more” and “quality over quantity” for in-season training – Rarely will an in-season strength training program session last more than 35-40 minutes.  It’s usually roughly 10-14 sets worth of work.  A guy might be in the gym longer than that for foam rolling and targeted mobility drills, though.

5. Volume and intensity should be lower in week 1, but higher for the remaining weeks with in-season strength training programs – I usually keep the volume and intensity lower in the first week of the program to minimize initial soreness.  Then, once the familiarity with the exercises is in place, we can load up a bit more in weeks 2-4 (or 2-6, if you opt to extend the program a bit longer).

6. Strength exercise selection changes a bit in-season, but the basics still apply – We’re still using a lot  of compound, multi-joint strength exercises, but there are a few modifications.

In-season, I tend to utilize more horizontal pulling (rows) than vertical pulling (pull-ups/chin-ups).  We use a lot of vertical pulling throughout the year, but never really go above once a week during the season, as some guys can get a bit cranky in the elbow with the amount of weight it takes to make them challenging.  If you want some of the benefits without the elbow issues, you can always plug in the crossover reverse fly.

This doesn’t mean, however, that I think chin-ups and pull-ups are bad for pitchers.  Far too many coaches have (unsuccessfully) tried to beat that dead horse; let it go, fellas.

Especially with pitchers, I utilize more push-up variations than dumbbell bench pressing during the season.  If we wind up doing three days of horizontal pushing, two will be push-ups and one will be dumbbell pressing.  If we do two days, it’s one of each.  If it’s only one, it’s a push-up.  We have several different variations (as I wrote here and here) from which to choose, so athletes are actually far less likely to get bored with them than with dumbbell pressing, anyway.

7. Don’t overlook maintaining mobility – It’s called “Strength and Conditioning,” but the truth is that we could probably scrap the conditioning part with respect to baseball and replace it with “mobility.”  Guys don’t just get hurt in-season because they lose strength; they get hurt because they lose mobility.  All the eccentric stress leads to significant losses in mobility, as does all the standing around leads athletes to miss out on basic functional movement patterns like squatting and lunging.  Don’t just be a “weights coach;” there are other things to address!  This is probably the primary reason why Assess and Correct has gotten such great reviews among baseball coaches; it's one piece that they were missing!

It took me over a thousand words, but it would appear that I’ve gotten all my prerequisites out of the way.  Tomorrow, we’ll talk about in-season training for the high school baseball player.

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