Home Posts tagged "Pro Baseball Pitcher Workout" (Page 3)

Off-Season Baseball Training at Cressey Performance

It's been a few months in the making, but we just finished up a promo video about how we attack off-season baseball training at Cressey Performance for our professional, collegiate, and high school baseball players.

We'd love to hear what you think - and hopefully you'll like it enough to help spread the word on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks! A big shoutout goes out to Jamie and Matt at Lasting Memories Videotaping; these guys do an awesome job, and we can't recommend them highly enough! 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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How to Develop Your Fitness Niche

Five months ago, I wrote an article called How to Find Your Fitness Niche – and it was one of the more popular posts in my site’s history.  I realized after writing it, though, that I never bothered to talk about how I developed the niche I was in once I discovered it. If you didn’t read the original installment, definitely check it out now.  However, as a brief background, about 80-85% of our clients at Cressey Performance are baseball players.  This past off-season, we had 44 professional players travel from all over the country to train in snowy Hudson, MA.  So, you could say that my dream “niche” came true. Here are some of the strategies we employed along the way. 1. Don’t go for the big fish right away. People are always blown away when I tell them that I started out with training high school baseball players, not big leaguers.  That’s the truth, though; a few younger guys got great results, won a state championship, earned D1 scholarships, and – in the case of one – received state player of the year honors.  My phone started ringing off the hook when some of those results were featured in the Boston Globe. Eventually, the high school clientele grew to include more college guys and, in turn, pro guys.  Once you have a few pro guys and you get results with them, they tell their buddies – and their agents and teams also have more guys to send your way.  Then, all the younger athletes see professional athletes training at our facility and it reaffirms in their mind that Cressey Performance is the place to be.  If a professional baseball player travels all the way across the country to train here, why wouldn’t they be willing to travel ten minutes?  You wind up with a big circle that continuously grows. What doesn’t work is just shooting for the “red carpet” clients right off the bat.  Don’t expect to just be able to call your local professional sports team or some big time agent and “wow” them with a 15-second elevator pitch to get their best players to train with you.  The truth is that you probably won’t even get a call back.  It’s not my niche, but it works the same with celebrities, TV personalities, politicians, or anyone else who lives their lives knowing that everyone wants a piece of them.  Be patient and fish in the river for a bit before you head out to catch the big fish in open waters. 2. Start locally. Before you can be a national expert, you have to be a local expert.  Training my local guys got me motivated to research and write more in the baseball realm.  That gave rise to more guys traveling from out of state to train with us. 3. Remember that expertise is perceived differently. Some perceive expertise as telling them what to do so that all the guesswork is taken out of the equation.  They might think you are annoying or clueless if you try to tell them the “why” behind everything you do. Others perceive expertise as your ability to justify everything that you do.  They might think you’re incompetent if you tell them to “just trust you” because you “know” the program will work, or if you’re simply at a loss for words when they ask you to explain the “why” behind your training approach. Some want to see you coach athletes to be confident in your abilities, and others just want to sit down with you and ask questions to verify your competence.  Others might want to see you present at a seminar.  Some want to read your writing, and others want to ask current clients about their experiences with you. The point is that you have to be versatile and multi-faceted in the way that you present your expertise.  I can rattle off research and tell guys why we’re doing stuff, or I can skip the science mumbo-jumbo and replace it with loud music and attitude.  People are welcome to watch me coach, ask me questions, read my writing (online and the stuff that is framed in the office), view seminars I’ve given, check out flyers in the office, and speak to our clients.  We make “perceiving expertise” easier for them. 4. Good will doesn’t run out – and costs nothing to give.  Cultivate relationships. At the end of the day, success in your niche isn’t about making up flyers or some other advertising tactic; it’s about overdelivering relative to clients’ expectations and creating genuinely positive relationships with people.  We haven’t spent a penny on advertising since we opened in 2007 – but we’ve made a lot of friends along the way. 5. Remember that impressionable young minds ultimately become opinion leaders. This is a cool year for us because it’s the first class of guys that we’ve seen all the way through high school.  In other words, some kids I started training when they were in eighth grade are now seniors in high school with college baseball scholarships.  They might not have been big referral sources when they were 14 years old, but as more accomplished 17-18 year-olds to whom underclassmen look up, they are huge opinion leaders who refer us a lot of business.  Likewise, we’ve gotten to know their families well over the years, so the referrals don’t just come from the kids; they also come from the parents. Tim Collins was the second professional baseball player I ever trained.  He was a free agent signing out of high school in 2007 – and at the time, he was 18 years old, 5-5, 130 pounds soaking wet, and topping out at 82-83mph.  Tim just wrapped up his fourth off-season with us and stands an outstanding chance of making the opening day roster for the Kansas City Royals after putting up some of the best numbers in minor league baseball over the past few years.  He’s now 170 pounds, throws in the mid-90s, and has a ~39-inch vertical jump.

In the fall of 2007, Tim was as much of a longshot in professional baseball as you could have possibly imagined: undersized, underpaid, and undrafted.  Now, he’s on the big league radar screen – and along that journey, he’s generated an enormous amount of publicity for Cressey Performance and referred several of his teammates our way. 6. Research like crazy. If you are going to be the expert, it’s your job to know everything you possibly can about your niche.  Being smart is never a bad thing; you need to be on the cutting-edge. 7. Adapt. Whether you are training fat loss clients, pregnant women, senior citizens, or MMA fighters, we are in a dynamic field where things change daily.  New research comes out and better ways of doing things are constantly being discovered.  If you’re going to be the “go-to” expert, it’s not just good enough to learn new things; you have to be able to effectively integrate them in your existing philosophy.  It’s no good learning something if you aren’t going to use it – and let’s face it: change is hard.   Find a way to make it easy. 8. Don’t try to replicate yourself; complement yourself. The single-worst thing I could have done in developing my baseball niche was hiring someone to be like me.  Conversely, the best thing I can do is surround myself with people who have skill sets that complement mine so that we can together offer a more comprehensive product to our niche. With that in mind, at CP, we have a pitching coordinator, nutrition director, massage therapist, and chiropractor on hand.  My business partner handles all the billing, scheduling, and other office tasks.  We have a cafeteria in the building to help out with nutrition needs.  All these people do their thing so that I can leverage my abilities, which allows us to best serve our niche. 9. Don’t force it. This one will be brief: you have to enjoy what you’re doing in order to be good at it. I don’t care what sounds profitable or what your spouse or buddies tell you you’d be good at; it has to appeal to you on a level far more important than financial gain. 10. Success is about what you’re doing right, not what others are doing wrong. Because we’re so focused on our niche, I have never really paid any attention to what surrounding training facilities are doing simply because I don’t view them as competition.  However, that doesn’t mean that I’m not asked about them all the time – almost as if people are trying to bait me into talking poorly about industry colleagues.  My policy is strict and straightforward: stay positive and never speak poorly of your competition. I will gladly talk about what I feel we do well and how this distinguishes us from the industry “norm,” but it’s not my place to comment on what others are doing.  Speaking poorly about others only makes you look jealous and petty.  And, frankly, this time and effort is much better spent looking in the mirror to determine how you can make your own offerings better. Closing Thoughts Surely, these are just a few of the many factors involved in turning a fitness niche from a dream into a reality.  And, I’m sure we can all learn from one another.  In the comments section, I’d love to hear what your fitness niche is and what strategies you’ve employed to get to where you are. Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter and receive a deadlift technique tutorial!
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Helping High School Athletes: A Sweet Deal on the IYCA High School Strength Coach Certification

A lot of people know me as the guy whose products and articles have helped strength training enthusiasts prevent and correct movement inefficiencies that ultimately lead to injuries. Others know me because we train about four dozen professional baseball players each winter.

The truth, though, is that the majority of our clientele at Cressey Performance is high school athletes.  In the class of 2011 alone, we’ve had 17 athletes sign letters of intent to play Division 1 baseball.  Still, that doesn’t tell the most important story. For every kid who gets drafted into professional baseball or commits to play a college sport, we have 3-4 young athletes who train with us simply to build confidence, stay healthy while they play their sports, and foster fitness habits that will hopefully carry over to the rest of their lives.  I take that job extremely seriously not only because I genuinely care about each teenage and enjoy my job, but because it is a huge deal for parents to trust me with part of their kids’ physical and mental well-being during a crucial developmental time in an adolescent’s life. And, it’s also why I’m psyched about tonight’s announcement: the IYCA High School Strength Coach Certification is now available.

Along with Brian Grasso, Mike Robertson, Pat Rigsby, Wil Fleming, and Dr. Toby Brooks, I contributed to this new certification, which features both a textbook and accompanying DVD set.  Among the topics covered are: Strength Training Technique, Functionality and Programming Speed and Agility Mechanics or Sport Specificity Mobility: Isolate and Integrate Coaching the High School Athlete Administration for the High School Strength Coach Sample Programming for football, baseball, and basketball The certification alone is something that, in our eyes, can not only dramatically help a high school strength coach’s career, but also help all the young athletes he/she encounters.  I’m going to sweeten the deal, though. The early bird price runs now through Friday (1/28) at midnight.  If you purchase the product (HERE) before midnight on Friday and forward me your receipt, I’m going to send you an upper extremity assessment tutorial video that I am filming this week as an in-service for my staff and interns.  This feature will teach you how to assess and manage the upper body in athletes – with a particular focus on overhead athletes. All you need to do is sign up for the certification and then forward your receipt to ec@ericcressey.com.  Then, next weekend, I’ll send out the video to everyone who contacts me. There are a whole lot of high school kids out there learning some really bad habits in the weight room, and you’re in a position to change that – and the IYCA High School Strength Coach Certification can help you do it.  Whether you’re in a high school or the private sector, there is a tremendous amount to be gained by checking this out.
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Lose Fat, Gain Muscle, Get Strong: Eric Cressey’s Best Articles of 2010

Show and Go: High Performance Training to Look, Feel, and Move Better - This was obviously my biggest project of 2010.  I actually began writing the strength and conditioning programs and filming the exercise demonstration videos in 2009, and put all the "guinea pigs" through the four-month program beginning in February.  When they completed it as the start of the summer rolled around, I made some modifications based on their feedback and then got cracking on writing up all the tag along resources.  Finally, in September, Show and Go was ready to roll.  So, in effect, it took 10-11 months to take this product from start to finish - a lot of hard work, to say the least.  My reward has been well worth it, though, as the feedback has been awesome.  Thanks so much to everyone who has picked up a copy.

Optimal Shoulder Performance - This was a seminar that Mike Reinold and I filmed in November of 2009, and our goal was to create a resource that brought together concepts from both the shoulder rehabilitation and shoulder performance training fields to effectively bridge the gap for those looking to prevent and/or treat shoulder pain.  In the process, I learned a lot from Mike, and I think that together, we brought rehabilitation specialists and fitness professionals closer to being on the same page.

Why President Obama Throws Like a Girl - A lot of people took this as a political commentary, but to be honest, it was really just me talking about the concept of retroversion as it applies to a throwing shoulder - with a little humor thrown in, of course!

Overbearing Dads and Kids Who Throw Cheddar - This one was remarkably easy to write because I've received a lot of emails from overbearing Dads asking about increasing throwing velocity in their kids.

What I Learned in 2009 - I wrote this article for T-Nation back at the beginning of the year, and always enjoy these yearly pieces.  In fact, I'm working on my 2010 one for them now!

What a Stressed Out Bride Can Teach You About Training Success - I wrote this less than a month out from my wedding, so you could say that I had a good frame of reference.

Baseball Showcases: A Great Way to Waste Money and Get Injured - In case the title didn't tip you off, I'm not much of a fan of baseball showcases.

Cueing: Just One Piece of Semi-Private Training Success - Part 1 and Part 2 - These articles were featured at fitbusinessinsider.com.  I enjoy writing about not only the training side of things, but some of the things we've done well to build up our business.

Three Years of Cressey Performance: The Right Reasons and the Right Way - This might have been the top post of the year, in my eyes. My job is very cool.

How to Attack Continuing Education in the Fitness Industry - Here's another fitness business post.

Want to Be a Personal Trainer or Strength Coach?  Start Here. - And another!

The Skinny on Strasburg's Injury - I hate to make blog content out of someone else's misfortune, but it was a good opportunity to make some points that I think are very valid to the discussion of not only Stephen Strasburg's elbow injury, but a lot of the pitching injuries we see in youth baseball.

Surely, there are many more to list, but I don't want this to run too long!  Have a safe and happy new year, and keep an eye out for the first content of 2011, which is coming very soon!

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Weight Training For Baseball: Best Videos of 2010

I made an effort to get more videos up on the site this year, as I know a lot of folks are visual learners and/or just enjoy being able to listen to a blog, as opposed to reading it.  Here are some highlights from the past year: The Absolute Speed to Absolute Strength Continuum - Regardless of your sport, there are valuable take-home messages.  I just used throwing velocity in baseball pitchers as an example, as it's my frame of reference.

Should Pitchers Overhead Press? - This was an excerpt from Mike Reinold and my Optimal Shoulder Performance seminar (which became a popular DVD set for the year).

Shoulder Impingement vs. Rotator Cuff Tears - Speaking of Mike, here's a bit from the man himself from that seminar DVD set.

Thoracic and Glenohumeral Joint Mobility Drills - The folks at Men's Health tracked me down in the lobby at Perform Better in Providence and asked if I could take them through a few shoulder mobility drills we commonly use - and this was the result.

Cressey West - This kicks off the funny videos from the past year. A few pro baseball players that I program for in a distance-based format created this spoof video as a way of saying thank you.

Tank Nap - My puppy taking a nap in a provocative position.  What's more cute?

Matt Blake Draft Tracker - CP's resident court jester and pitching instructor airs his frustrations on draft day.

1RM Cable Horizontal Abduction - More from the man, the myth, the legend.

You can find a lot more videos on my YouTube page HERE and the Cressey Performance YouTube page HERE.

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Weight Training for Baseball: Featured Articles

I really enjoy writing multi-part features here at EricCressey.com because it really affords me more time to dig deep into a topic of interest to both my readers and me.  In many ways, it's like writing a book.  Here were three noteworthy features I published in 2010: Understanding Elbow Pain - Whether you were a baseball pitcher trying to prevent a Tommy John surgery or recreational weightlifter with "tennis elbow," this series had something for you. Part 1: Functional Anatomy Part 2: Pathology Part 3: Throwing Injuries Part 4: Protecting Pitchers Part 5: The Truth About Tennis Elbow Part 6: Elbow Pain in Lifters

Strategies for Correcting Bad Posture - This series was published more recently, and was extremely well received.  It's a combination of both quick programming tips and long-term modifications you can use to eliminate poor posture. Strategies for Correcting Bad Posture: Part 1 Strategies for Correcting Bad Posture: Part 2 Strategies for Correcting Bad Posture: Part 3 Strategies for Correcting Bad Posture: Part 4

A New Paradigm for Performance Testing - This two-part feature was actually an interview with Bioletic founder, Dr. Rick Cohen.  In it, we discuss the importance of testing athletes for deficiencies and strategically correcting them.  We've begun to use Bioletics more and more with our athletes, and I highly recommend their thorough and forward thinking services. A New Paradigm for Performance Testing: Part 1 A New Paradigm for Performance Testing: Part 2 I already have a few series planned for 2011, so keep an eye out for them!  In the meantime, we have two more "Best of 2010" features in store before Friday at midnight. Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter:
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The Cressey Performance Elite Baseball Development Program

A few weeks ago, Kevin Gray from The Union Leader and Baseball America came down to check out our pro baseball training crew.  The result was a feature on Kevin Youkilis and his training at Cressey Performance: Youk Flipping Back to Third
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Review of Rehab=Training, Training=Rehab: Top 10 Takeaways – Part 2

Today, we've got a follow-up of my blog from late last week, Rehab=Training, Training=Rehab: Top 10 Takeaways - Part 1.  This mini-series highlights some of the key takeaways from Charlie Weingroff's great new DVD set, which is on sale at an introductory price through midnight tonight only.  We pick up today with #6. 6. I’ve written a lot in the past about why a hip internal rotation deficit (HIRD) is a huge problem in both athletes and the general population.  Weingroff raises an interesting point in discussing the “Hip Internal Rotation Paradox” that I’d never really considered – probably because nowadays, I really don’t train as many female athletes where we see valgus-initiated knee and lower leg injuries.  In this population, we see lower extremity pathologies largely because a lot of females can’t control femoral/tibial internal rotation and pronation at the subtalar joint (left side in the photo below).

The casual observer to kinesiology might say that a good way to prevent these injuries would be to make sure that athletes have insufficient internal rotation and pronation; if you can’t hit a dangerous end-range, then you can’t tear anything nearly as easily.  Hooray for HIRD then, right?  Wrong. The problem with this thought process, though, is that it doesn’t appreciate that the hip DOES need full internal rotation for proprioception.  As Charlie puts it, the hip “needs to know it to prevent it.”  If we don’t have adequate proprioception, we can’t get the hip external rotators to turn on to prevent it from becoming excessive.  This is really true of all joints; we must have full mobility so that the mechanoreceptors can tell the brain that a joint can go from point A to point B.  Otherwise, we can’t stabilize naturally and reflexively. 7. Weingroff reaffirmed a great assertion that I remember Bill Hartman making a year or two ago: you only need stability in the presence of mobility.  In other words, “functional” mobility is not just about being capable of adequate stability in wild excursions of joint range of motion – unless that’s what your functional demands are.  In other words, a powerlifter, gymnast, and baseball pitcher would all have different “optimal mobility” schemes, and even within these populations, you’d see different needs for different folks based on body type and the specific activity in question. This also can influence our training programs.  While exactly simulating the sporting movement will only lead to overuse without enhancing functional mobility, working to improve stability in similar joint alignments and ranges of motion can still have a favorable carryover.  This came to mind the other day when Kansas City Royals prospect Tim Collins was doing some core work at the facility; you just have to consider the movement alongside his functional demands.

8. Charlie also cited some more up-to-date research that shows that problem with lateral knee pain is usually too much femoral internal rotation during closed chain movements (e.g., squatting, lunging), not too much lateral patellar tracking.  So, you think the hundreds of thousands of lateral release surgeries that have been performed in the last decade were a good idea?  A lot of people could have gotten their issues under control the right way by getting the hip under control – because the patella was already where it was supposed to be. 9. I liked the way that Weingroff broke corrective exercise down into three categories: isolated, integrated, and functional movement.

Isolated work might include manual therapy (massage or joint mobilizations) or stretching.  Essentially, this category consists of interventions where the client/patient has little to no active participation (foam rolling would technically be a mild exception, as the client has to actively reposition his/her body for this soft tissue work).  Effectively, these modalities get the ball rolling on undoing a dysfunction that won’t clear up with gross movement because the individual with the problem will simply go to the path of least resistance and feed into that dysfunction. Integrated work is aimed at tying this new mobility with the core – whether it’s with a more comprehensive mobility drill or stabilization exercise.  Many people can benefit from going directly to integrated work; examples include someone who has always trained on machines, or someone who sits at a desk all day; they simply need to move). Functional movement is the third piece of the puzzle and involves tying the upper and/or lower extremity to the core.  This is the fun stuff. 10. There is a difference between functional movement and functional exercise.  This might seem like wordplay, but in reality, it’s an important differentiation to make. Charlie cited the example of a baby going into lumbar flexion when squatting down.  It’s a range-of-motion that a child should have and utilize in normal development and day-to-day living.  That doesn’t, however, mean that it’s a good idea to put 405 on your back and squat through lumbar flexion. That wraps up my not-so-quick recap of Rehab=Training, Training=Rehab.  To be honest, I could have written another dozen blog posts just like this on all the other stuff – both “big picture” points and finer subtleties – that I picked up from Charlie’s presentation.  That, however, is best left to Charlie – which is why I’d strongly encourage you to pick up a copy of the DVD set yourself, especially since it is on sale at the introductory price ($50 off) through Monday 12/20 at midnight.  You won’t regret it: Rehab=Training, Training=Rehab

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Throwing Programs: The Top 4 Long Toss Mistakes

In part 1, I made the case for long toss as an effective addition to a throwing program.  Today, we answer the question, “Why don’t some pitchers respond well to long toss?”  Let’s look at the top four reasons why someone may not be approaching long toss optimally.

1. They structure it incorrectly.

By far, the biggest mistake I see from pitchers when they’re long tossing is that they don’t utilize compression/pull-down throws at the end of the session.  These throws teach the pitcher to get on top of the ball and bring the release point down to where it should be with pitching – but they do all this with the increased arm speed you get from long tossing.  Effectively, you use compression throws to transition from your longest throwing distance to a flat ground session (this is a practice you’ll see from a LOT of MLB starting pitchers in pre-game warm-ups before they ever step foot on a mound).

Typically, our guys use a compression throw every 45-60 feet on the way back in (it almost amounts to a brisk walk back in).  So, if a pitcher went out to 300 feet with his long toss, he’d take compression throws at about 250, 200, 150, 100, and 60 feet.  I joke with guys that the last throw at 60 feet should pretty much scare the crap out of their throwing partners.  If you've seen Trevor Bauer crow-hopping downthe mound for his last warm-up pitch prior to every inning, you know what I mean.  Not surprisingly, Bauer is an Alan Jaeger/Ron Wolforth long toss disciple.  Here’s what Baseball America had to say about it: “[Bauer] starts behind the rubber, runs over the mound and throws as hard as he can to the plate, from about 54 feet. I've heard reports that those throws have registered 100 mph…”

Some guys – particularly those with a history of control issues and the guys who are trying to tinker with their mechanics – are wise to go into a brief flat-ground (or regular) bullpen right after these compression throws.  It’s a good chance to transfer the arm speed and athleticism of long toss into a little more of a sport-specific action.  I’ve also seen quite a few pitchers who have improved their change-ups considerably by long tossing for part of the session with their change-up grip, and then integrating it into one of these post-long-toss flat ground or bullpen sessions.  It helps with keeping the arm speed up in pitchers who tend to slow down the arm for change-ups.

2. They become good throwers and not good pitchers.

I’ll be straightforward with this one.

If you can long toss 350 feet, but pitch at 80-82mph, you can definitely stand to cut back a bit on your long tossing to spend more time focusing on mound work to sync things up and use that general motor potential to your advantage.

If you can long toss 350 feet, but have a 1:6 strikeout:walk ratio and have pitches hitting the backstop, you can definitely stand to cut back a bit on your long tossing to spend more time focusing on mound work to sync things up and actually throw strikes.

If you can long toss 350 feet, but are getting shelled because you just throw a very straight 93mph and don’t have any secondary pitches, you can definitely stand to cut back a bit on your long tossing to spend more time focusing on mound work to sync things up and learn some other pitches.  The average fastball velocity is higher in low-A than it is in the big leagues, you know…

3. They think long toss covers all their needs.

There are a ton of different factors that contribute to pitching success and longevity.  Once you can throw a ball a long way, there is a tendency to think that you’ve done what you need to be successful, but in reality, there are a lot more things to address to prepare your body and long toss is still pretty specific, in the grand scheme of things.  As is often the case, the greatest benefits are usually derived from doing the things that you don’t do particularly well (yet).  Bartolo Colon, for instance, might be able to long toss 330 feet, but he might have a heart attack on the light jog to the outfield to partake in that long tossing session.

4. They don’t long toss on a straight line.

It seems like a no-brainer, but you should throw on a straight line.  If the guy 250 feet away is 20-feet to the left of “center,” you’re teaching yourself to either stay closed or fly open with your delivery.  Stand on the foul line or line yourself up between foul poles, if you’re looking for a quick and easy way to “get aligned.”

As you probably appreciate now, while long toss is usually a tremendously valuable inclusion in most throwing programs, it isn’t a perfect fit for everyone – and that’s why each unique case must be considered individually.

Don't forget that long toss guru Alan Jaeger has put his popular Thrive on Throwing DVD on sale for 25% off for my readers for a limited time only.  Click here to learn more.

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Making the Case for Long Toss in a Throwing Program

Long toss may have been scorned by quite a few baseball traditionalists, but I am a big fan of it – and our guys have responded outstandingly to the way we’ve used it.  Perhaps it’s just my “1+1=2” logic at work, but I just feel like if you can build up the arm speed to throw the ball a loooonngggg way, then you’ll be able to carry that over to the mound as soon as you get your pitching mechanics dialed in.  And, this has certainly been validated with our athletes, as we have loads of professional pitchers who absolutely swear by long toss (both off- and in-season).

So, you can understand why I got excited when my good buddy, Alan Jaeger – a man who has devoted a big chunk of his life to getting long toss “accepted” in the baseball community – was featured in this article at MLB.com about what a difference it makes - including for the Texas Rangers on their road to the World Series a few years ago.

I was, however, not a fan of this paragraph in the article:

“Former Red Sox pitcher Dick Mills has a business built around teaching mechanics and maximizing velocity, and he is a staunch opponent of long tossing. He has released countless YouTube videos angrily decrying this practice. In his latest, ‘How Long Toss Can Ruin Your Pitching Mechanics and Your Arm,’ he says, ‘Why would you practice mechanics that are totally different and will not help a pitcher during a game? And why would you practice throwing mechanics that are clearly more stressful where the arm does most of the work?’"

Taking it a step further, here’s a Dick Mills quote I came across a few years ago:

“Training will not teach you how to apply more force…only mechanics can do that. And pitching is not about applying more effort into a pitch but is about producing more skilled movements from better timing of all the parts. That will help produce more force. No matter how hard you try, you will not get that from your strength training program…no matter who designed it, how much they have promised you it would or your hope that it will be the secret for you.”

While I agree (obviously) on the importance of mechanics and timing, effectively, we’re still being told that long toss, strength training, and weighted balls are all ineffective modalities for developing the pitcher – which leaves us with what, bullpens and stretching? It sounds like every youth baseball practice in the country nowadays – and all we’re getting now are injured shoulders and elbows at astronomical rates.  Something isn’t right – and the message is very clear: specificity is a very slippery slope.

On one hand, when it comes to mechanics, you need to throw off the mound to get things fine-tuned to achieve efficiency.

On the other hand, research has shown that arm stress is higher when you’re on the mound (there is less external rotation at stride foot contact with flat ground throwing).  Additionally, every pitch that’s thrown is really a step in the direction of sports specialization for a youth baseball player – and something needs to balance that out.  Why?

Well, specializing at a young age is destroying kids.  As a great study from Olsen et al. showed, young pitchers who require surgery pitched “significantly more months per year, games per year, innings per game, pitches per game, pitches per year, and warm-up pitches before a game. These pitchers were more frequently starting pitchers, pitched in more showcases, pitched with higher velocity, and pitched more often with arm pain and fatigue.”  And people think that kid need more work on the mound?  What they need are more structured throwing sessions (practice, not competition) and a comprehensive throwing and strength and conditioning program to prepare them for the demands they’ll face.

But those aren’t specific enough, are they?!?!?!  Well, let’s talk about specificity a bit more.  Actually, let’s read – from renowned physical therapist Gray Cook, a guy who certainly knows a thing or two about why people get injured:

The physical presentation of differently trained bodies often provides a signature of the type and style of activity that developed it. Those who are exclusive in their activities seem more often be molded to their activities, and sometimes actually over-molded. These individuals can actually lose movements and muscles that would make alternate activities much easier.

Specialization can rob us of our innate ability to express all of our movement potential. This is why I encourage highly specialized athletes to balance their functional movement patterns. They don’t so much need to train all movement patterns, they just need to maintain them. When a functional movement pattern is lost, it forecasts a fundamental crack in a foundation designed to be balanced. The point is not that specialization is bad—it only presents a problem when the singular activity over-molds to the point of losing balance.

While there are probably 15-20 awesome messages we can take home from the previous two paragraphs, here’s the big one I want to highlight: it’s our job as coaches to find the biggest window of adaptation a pitcher has and bring it up to speed – while simultaneously keeping other qualities in mind.

If he’s stiff, we work on mobility.  If he’s weak, we get him strong.  If he’s a mechanical train wreck, we get him more bullpens.  If his arm speed isn’t good, we work more on weighted balls and long toss.  If you just take a 5-10, 120-pound 9th grader and have him throw bullpens exclusively, he’ll get better for a little bit, and then plateau hard unless you get him bigger and stronger.

How does this work?  It’s a little principle called Delayed Transmutation that Vladimir Zatsiorsky highlighted in Science and Practice of Strength Training.  Zatsiorsky defines delayed transmutation as “the time period needed to transform acquired motor potential into athletic performance.”  In other words, expand and improve your “motor pool” in the off-season, and it’ll be transformed into specific athletic performance when the time is right.

And, as I wrote in The Ultimate Off-Season Training Manual, “the more experienced you are in a given sport, the less time it will take for you to transform this newfound strength and power [and mobility] into sporting contexts.”  This is why professional pitchers can find their groove each year MUCH easier than high school pitchers in spite of the fact that they probably take more time off each year (2-3 months from throwing) than the typical overused kid who plays on 17 different AAU teams.

That said, there’s a somewhat interesting exception to this rule: really untrained kids.  I’ll give you two examples from the past week alone at Cressey Performance.

We had a high school senior and a high school junior who both just started up their winter throwing programs to prepare for the season.

The first told me that he was sore in his legs after throwing for the first time in his life.  Effectively, without throwing a single pitch or really doing any lesson work (or even throwing off a mound), this kid has managed to change the neuromuscular recruitment patterns he uses to throw the baseball.  Strength, power, and mobility took care of themselves: delayed transmutation.

The second told me that his arm feels electric.  Ask any experienced pitcher, and they’ll tell you that your arm is supposed to feel like absolute crap the first 4-5 days after an extended layoff, but it always gets better.  However, when you’re a kid who has gotten more flexible and packed on a bunch of muscle mass, it’s like all of a sudden driving a Ferrari when you’re used to sharing a minivan with Mom: delayed transmutation.

Specificity is important in any sport, but a it really is just the work as far to the right as you can go on the general to specific continuum.  Elite sprinters do squats, lunges, Olympic lifts, jump squats, and body weight plyos as they work from left to right on the general-to-specific continuum to get faster.  So, why do so many pitching coaches insist that pitchers stay as far to the right as possible?    Symbolically, long toss is to pitchers what plyos are to sprinters: specific, but just general enough to make a profound difference.

In a very roundabout way, I’ve made a case for long toss as something that can be classified as beneficial in much the same way that we recognize (well, most of us, at least) that mobility drills, foam rolling, strength training, movement training, and medicine ball drills to be excellent adjuncts to bullpens. In the process of learning to throw the baseball farther, we:

1. push arm speed up

2. train in a generally-specific fashion

3. improve contribution of the lower half

4. realize another specific, quantifiable marker (distance) of progress

5. keep throwing fun

6. train the arm with just enough LESS specificity to help keep pitchers healthy, as compared with mound work

The question then becomes, “Why don’t some pitchers respond well to long toss?”  In part 2, I’ll outline the most common mistakes I’ve seen:

When I told Alan Jaeger that I was sending this article out, he graciously offered to set up a 25% off discount code on his Thrive on Throwing DVD set for my readers. This outstanding DVD set thoroughly teaches players and coaches how to approach long tossing, and Alan has also applied a discount to his J-Bands and his Getting Focused, Staying Focused book for pitchers. Here's a link to the discount page.

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