Home Posts tagged "Pro Baseball Pitcher Workout"

Elite Baseball Development Podcast with Miles Mikolas

We're excited to welcome St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Miles Mikolas to the podcast for Episode #13. A special thanks goes out to this show's sponsor, Versaclimber. It's my absolute favorite conditioning option, and they've got a great 10% off offer going for our podcast listeners at http://www.Versaclimber.com/Cressey.

Show Outline

  • Why Miles decided to stay close to home and attend Division 2 powerhouse Nova Southeastern in FL
  • How adding weight, gaining strength in the right places, and improving body awareness while in college allowed Miles to make a velocity jump and become an MLB draft pick
  • How Miles quickly ascended through the minor leagues, but realized the consistency needed to be a mainstay in MLB
  • How he worked to become a more consistent pitcher in all facets of his game as a result
  • How Miles transitioned from a reliever to a starter
  • Why Miles added a slider to his pitch arsenal as a starter and how this shorter, harder breaking ball complements his big, loopy curveball to challenge hitters in a different dimension
  • Why Miles chose to bet on himself and leave MLB after the 2014 season to play in the Nippon Professional Baseball League in Japan
  • How being exposed to the Japanese style of baseball taught Miles many invaluable lessons
  • How Miles refined his arm action in 2015 to 2016 to take unnecessary stress off his arm
  • Why Miles values first pitch strikes and works to play the percentages to efficiently get hitters out
  • How Miles models his throwing and lifting program in season on a 5-day rotation
  • What it is like for Miles to pitch to one of the greatest catchers of all-time, Yadier Molina, and what young catchers can take away from this legend’s unbelievable knowledge and skill set

You can follow Miles on Instagram at @magic_mikolas39 and Twitter at @lastoneformiles.

Sponsor Reminder

This episode is brought to you by Versaclimber. In addition to being a phenomenal option for training all across the energy systems continuum, the Versaclimber exposes individuals to important fundamental movement patterns: scapular upward rotation, hip extension, and a synced-up crawling pattern. It's also non-impact, and can therefore be used with a wider variety of clients than other conditioning modalities. They've set up a great discount of 10% for our listeners; you can learn more at http://www.Versaclimber.com/Cressey.

Podcast Feedback

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

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

Thank you for your continued support!

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5 Great Kettlebell Exercises for Baseball Players

Today's guest post comes from Seattle-based physical therapist, Dan Swinscoe. Enjoy! -EC

Kettlebells have come a long way since they were used as weights on scales in the open air markets of eastern Europe about two hundred years ago. For exercise purposes, they’ve been called everything from an ancient Russian tool against weakness to a cannonball with a handle. One thing is for sure, though: since Pavel Tsatsouline introduced them to the US about 20 years ago, they have become staples in most gyms and rehab centers, including my own.

Physical therapist Gray Cook once said, “Dumbbells will make you strong, but kettlebells will make you efficient.” It’s the shape that makes them great. Because of the offset handle, when gravity acts upon the bell, you are forced to control it in two planes of motion, not just one (as with a barbell or dumbbell). It’s for this reason that they are one of my favorite tools to rehabilitate and train baseball players.

Which exercises will be the best for you depends on your individual needs – which are determined by a good assessment. However, my list below should have you pretty well covered – even if many good exercises didn’t make the list. In particular, I’m leaving out the single arm and double arm swing on purpose because they are so well known. I think they are awesome and I recommend them, but with this article I am hoping to bring some lesser known but invaluable kettlebell exercises to light. The KB snatch is also a great and popular exercise, but I don’t teach it to my pitchers.

Based on research from OnBase University, no matter how they throw or what pitch they’re throwing, pitchers have to do five things well to be successful. They need to 1) control their upright posture, 2) stride 85% of their height, 3) interact with the ground, 4) control their core, and 5) control their arm. Not every pitch is perfect and no pitcher is perfect, but the more we improve those five things, the better the performance and the more protected they are against injury.

Because injuries to pitchers are more common than to position players, I am biasing my list to what pitchers need most. Here are my top five kettlebell exercises to help the pitcher.

1. Pivot Lunge/Pivot Clean.

This is a great drill for training leg strength and control over momentum (as needed for pitching). We speak in terms of the lead leg, but we have athletes go both directions. Master the skill with the pivot lunge before progressing to the pivot clean. Once the athlete knows how to do both, we usually program it so that they combine them in one set. As an example, for a set of 10, the first five reps are pivot lunges and the next five reps are pivot cleans – and then switch sides. This is a unique advantage to the kettlebell. Lunges are okay with a dumbbell, but once you begin cleaning, the KB is distinctly better.

Trains: stride, upright posture, ground interaction, core control, arm control):

2. Turkish Get-up with Screwdriver

This exercise has a lot going on. To help simplify things, we first teach them separately. When we isolate the screwdriver, we teach it first supine (face up), then progress to side-lying, and then into the side plank position. Each version is slightly more challenging than the previous one because each version adds another body segment to have to control. The TGU and the screwdriver each have value on their own. We will combine them once the fundamentals are mastered and the athlete has demonstrated the ability to handle the complexity of this challenge. More than anything else, this exercise trains the player to improve rotator cuff control of the ball on the socket. However, it also demands scapular control and challenges the cross body patterning connecting that shoulder to the opposite hip via the core. Oblique abdominals and serratus anterior are huge with this drill. Once the movement is mastered, the load can be progressively increased so strength can be gained.

Trains: upright posture, stride, interaction with ground, core control, arm control)

3. Offset Kettlebell Front Squat

With this exercise, we get a nice challenge to scapular stability on the side holding the kettlebell, especially as the bell gets heavy. However, the real benefit of this squat version is how we also get contralateral stability challenges in the frontal plane for both the core and hips (in addition to the usual sagittal plane challenges with other squats). I especially like this style of squat because the challenge is very high with weight that seems small compared to barbell squat variations. This way, I get high muscle stress with low joint stress. For this reason, it’s my #1 squat choice for players when training in season.

Trains: upright posture, interaction with ground, core control, arm control


 

4. Dynamic Rows

This exercise has the athlete in a hinge position, which challenges the posterior chain. However, while maintaining that hinge, rotation of the torso is accelerated and decelerated bilaterally. The dynamic nature is an additional challenge from standard rowing exercises. It also forces the rotator cuff and scapula stabilizers to work and work quickly.

Trains: upright posture, core control, arm control

5. Open Half-Kneeling Hip Mobility

Improving stride length is something a lot of pitchers need to do. Improving this mobility so that it sticks can sometimes be a challenge. I think the reason this drill works so well is because of the load of the kettlebell. The weight of the bell assist the player into “depth,” and because he’s doing this actively, the weight seems to give the nervous system more to feel. The gains seem to stick. Players also seem to universally like how it feels to them. Any exercise that is liked gets done more often. This one feels good.

Trains: upright posture, stride

I hope you find these kettlebell exercises useful. If this is your first exposure to kettlebell training I would recommend you seek professional coaching when you are able. Keep in mind some of these exercises take time to master. But like other investments they are worth the payout in the end.

A special thanks to Cardinals pitcher Ian Oxnevad (@ioxnevad) and University of Washington commit Cole Fontenelle (@cole.fontanelle) for their modeling services.

About the Author

Dan Swinscoe, MPT, CSCS is a physical therapist in Issaquah, WA. He practices at Peak Sports and Spine Physical Therapy and teaches his own class, Kettlebells for Clinicians. You can follow him on Instagram (@danswinscoe) and email him at baseballrehab@gmail.com.

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Assessments You Might Be Overlooking: Installment 6

It's been quite some time since I published an update to this series, but some recent professional baseball initial offseason evaluations have had me thinking more and more about how important it is to take a look at lateral flexion.

In the picture above, I'd say that the athlete is limited in lateral flexion bilaterally, but moreso to the left than right. You'll also notice how much more the right hip shifts out (adducts) as he side bends to the left; he's substituting hip fallout for true lateral flexion from the spine. The most likely culprit in this situation is quadratus lumborum on the opposite side (right QL limits left lateral flexion).

As you can see from the picture below, the triangle shaped QL connects the base of the rib cage to the top of the pelvis and spine.

Stretching out the QL isn't particularly challenging; I like the lean away lateral line stretch (held for five full exhales). This is a stretch that can be biased to target the lat, QL, or hip abductors.

That said, the bigger issue is understanding why a QL gets tight in the first place. As Shirley Sahrmann has written, whenever you see an overactive muscle, look for an underactive synergist. In this case, the right glutes (all of them) are likely culprits. If the gluteus maximus isn't helping with extending the hip, the QL will kick on to help substitute lumbar extension. And, if the gluteus medius and minimus aren't doing their job as abductors of the hip, the QL will kick in to "help out" in the frontal plane. This double whammy has been termed a Left AIC pattern by the good folks at the Postural Restoration Institute, and they've outlined many drills to not only address the apical expansion (which creates length through the QL), but also bring the pelvis back to neutral.

Taking this a step further, typically, those with very overactive QLs will also present with limited thoracic rotation (in light of the QL attachment on the inferior aspect of the ribs), so you'd be wise to follow up this stretch with some thoracic mobility work. The athlete in the example at the top of this article had the most limited thoracic rotation (both active and passive) that I've seen in any pitcher this offseason.

That said, here's a good rule of thumb:

If you have a flat thoracic spine athlete with limited thoracic rotation, look at pectoralis major, latissimus dorsi, and quadratus lumborum. If horizontal abduction (pec) and shoulder flexion (lat) both check out well, go right for QL tissue extensibility (as measured by lateral flexion). It will be absolute game changer - particularly in rotational sport athletes.

If you're looking to learn more about how we assess, program, and coach at the shoulder girdle, be sure to check out my new resource, Sturdy Shoulder Solutions.

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Are Pitching Mechanics Really That Repeatable?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s wrong with Beede?”

“Is Beede hurt?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapman (20 pitches): 6.5 to 7.2 feet

Kelly (9 pitches): 5.7 to 6.5 feet

Rosenthal (4 pitches); 5.5 to 5.9 feet

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

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

Chapman: 95.4-102.1 mph

Kelly: 96.0-102.0 mph

Rosenthal: 95.5-101.7 mph

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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6 Key Factors for Developing Pitchers

When you ask most people what makes an elite pitcher, you’ll usually get responses like “velocity,” “stuff,” and “durability.” And, certainly, none of these answers are incorrect. However, they all focus on outcomes.

When you dig a bit deeper, though, you’ll realize that these successful outcomes were likely heavily driven by a collection of processes. If you rely solely on what the radar gun says or how many runs one gives up as success measures, you don’t really learn much about development. Conversely, if you dig deeper with respect to the characteristics of an aspiring pitcher’s approach to development, you can quickly recognize where some of the limiting factors may be. Here are six characteristics of any successful pitching development approach:

1. Openmindedness

Very simply, the athlete has to be willing to try new approaches to further his development. What gets you from 80mph to 88mph will rarely be what takes you to 95mph. Openmindedness precedes buy-in, and you’ll never make progress if you aren’t fully bought in. Brandon Kintzler had a significant velocity drop from 2014 to 2015 - and that loss in velocity contributed to him spending most of 2015 in AAA instead of the big leagues. Fortunately, those struggles led him to being openminded - even at age 31 - to trying out Cressey Sports Performance programming, and he regained his previous velocity and then some. And, before 2016 was over, he was a big league closer.

Kintzler2

2. Prioritization

Good assessments identify the largest windows for improvement/adaptation, and excellent programs are structured to attack these growth areas. All too often, athletes simply want to do what they enjoy doing as opposed to what they really need to be doing. Of course, this relates back to the aforementioned “buy-in” described. Another MLB closer, Rangers pitcher Sam Dyson, saw an even bigger velocity jump after his first off-season (2013-14) with CSP.

samdysonvelo

A big chunk of that had to do with a greater focus on soft tissue work and mobility training to get that fresh, quick arm feeling back. Sam loves to lift and would tend to overdo it in that regard, so he actually improved by doing less volume. Effectively, he had to prioritize removing excessive fatigue - and implementing strategies to bounce back faster.

[bctt tweet="You can't take a fitness solution to a fatigue problem and expect positive results."]

3. Attention to Detail

Inattentive throwing, mindless stretching, and half hazard lifting techniques all come to mind here. It drives me bonkers to see athletes “give up” reps, and my experience has been that this is the most readily apparent thing you notice when you see high school athletes training alongside professional athletes. When it comes to throwing, athletes need to learn to throw with both intent and direction. Corey Kluber is among the best I've ever seen in this regard; whether it's in lifting or throwing, he never gives up a rep with wasted, distracted effort - and it's no surprise that he's become such a consistent high-level performer in the big leagues over the past four seasons.

eckluber

4. Diligence

A great program can be rendered relatively useless if it’s executed with mediocre efforts. The truth is that while many athletes Tweet about hard they work, the truth is that very few of them actually putting in the time, effort, and consistency needed to even come close to their potential. Another Cy Young award winner and CSP athlete, Max Scherzer, takes the cake on this one. Max is always looking for ways to make individual exercises and training sessions harder by adding competition.  He'll have other athletes jump in to chase him during sprint and agility drills, and he'll regularly reflect back on previous week numbers to verify that progress is always headed in the right direction.

scherzer

5. Continuity

I think this is one of the biggest struggles with developing arms in the college environment. The nature of the academic and athletic calendars – in combination with NCAA regulations – makes it very challenging to have continuity in pitchers’ throwing programs. As a result, there is a lot of ramping up and shutting down throughout the year. Athletes don’t get the consistency needed to optimally develop, and they don’t get the rest needed to optimally recharge. When you chase two rabbits, both get away.

6. Environment

The right training environment makes a good athlete great, and an average athlete good. It’s why we’ve gone to such great lengths to foster a “family” environment at both Cressey Sports Performance facilities. We want athletes to feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves, thereby increasing accountability to something more than just a workout sheet.

cspfamily-300x56

Interestingly, as you look at these six factors, points 1-4 are intrinsic (specific to the athlete), whereas points 5-6 are extrinsic (specific to the environment/circumstances). Points 5-6 have a massive impact on points 1-4, though.

In Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, authors Chip and Dan Heath note that while you will almost never effect quick change a person, you can always work to change the situation that governs how a person acts - and do so relatively transiently.

With that in mind, changing the situation by heavily emphasizing continuity and environment are outstanding avenues to enhancing the previous four factors. First, you’re more openminded if you see training partners getting great results with training approaches you haven’t tried before. Second, you also learn to prioritize when you look around and athletes are outperforming you in certain areas. Third, you pay more attention to detail when you’re surrounded by other athletes working toward the same goal. Fourth, your diligence is enhanced when there is a competitive environment that challenges you to be better each day. And, all these improvements are magnified further when continuity is in place; they happen consistently enough for positive habits to develop.

An appreciation for how these six factors are related is why we structure our Collegiate Elite Baseball Development summer program the way we did. The program is 10 weeks in length to ensure optimal continuity. It's for pitchers who are not playing summer baseball.

Each athlete begins with a thorough initial movement assessment that sets the stage for individualized strength and conditioning programming - which corresponds to six days a week of training.

There are individualized throwing progressions designed following initial assessment, and ongoing throwing training - weighted ball work, long toss, and bullpens (including video analysis) as part of the group.

thumb_DSC05232_1024 

All the athletes receive weekly manual therapy with our licensed massage therapist, and nutritional guidance throughout the program.

Last, but not least, we incorporate a weekly educational component (a presentation from our staff or FaceTime/Skype session with one of our pro athletes) to educate the athletes on the "why" behind their training.

The best part is that it takes place in a motivating environment where athletes can push each other to be the best they can be. By optimizing the situation, you can help change the person.

C5tZFH-XEAAa41J.jpg-large

Interested in learning more? Email cspmass@gmail.com.

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Less Sickness For Better Results

Back in 2011, Posner et al. published a descriptive study called “Epidemiology of Major League Baseball Injuries”. The researchers reviewed all the injuries reported in MLB from 2002 to 2008 and classified them based on anatomical region. As expected, there was a lot of disabled list time attributed to injuries to shoulders, elbows, hamstrings, low backs, hands, and wrists – and a host of other maladies.

elbows

Interestingly, “illness” accounted for 1.1% of all “injuries.” No big deal, right? Players get the flu, food poisoning, and the occasional migraine, so this is actually surprisingly low.

Actually, it’s a very misleading number. You see, as the study authors point out in their “methods” section, “We utilized data only for those injuries that resulted in a player being placed on the disabled list.”

In other words, “illness” was only counted if it landed a player on the 15-day disabled list. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been sick enough to miss 15 days at work. Even when I got sick as a kid, I was usually back in school within two days because I got sick of watching the same episode of Sportscenter 18 times per day.

Before I digress too much, let me get to my point:

[bctt tweet="Illness is actually remarkably underreported in professional sports."]

Just because a guy is sick doesn’t mean he goes on the disabled list. As an example, take A’s pitcher Sonny Gray’s food poisoning incident in 2015, where he missed a start in the middle of the summer. In 2015, as one of the best pitchers in baseball, Gray was 14-7 with a 2.73 ERA. In the 31 starts he made, he put up a 3.7 WAR (wins above replacement) number, which equates to a WAR of 0.12 per start. According to Fangraphs, each WAR was worth $7.7 million in 2015 – so Gray’s food poisoning cost the team $924,000 – but definitely didn’t count against any disabled list time. Additionally, he was scratched from his opening day start in 2016 for the same reason – and it still wasn’t included in the man games lost total.

Moreover, just because a guy is sick doesn’t mean he even misses a game. I’ve heard plenty of stories of MLB guys praying to the porcelain gods between innings – and games where an entire team gets ravaged by the flu, but still has to go out and play.

What’s the take-home point? The individuals who manage to not get sick are the ones who make better progress over the long haul. Avoiding those 3-4 periods of sickness each year is on par with avoiding tweaking your lower back and missing a month in the gym.

[bctt tweet="The goal is consistency, and injury/sickness are big roadblocks to a consistent training effect."]

Here’s where I’ll toot my own horn a little bit. My wife and I have twin daughters who were born in November of 2014. I’ve only been sick once since they were born. And, this is with co-owning two gyms in two states on top of my normal writing, consulting, and speaking responsibilities, which includes travel at least once a month. Staying healthy while managing a life’s craziness has somehow become right in my wheelhouse. With that in mind, I think you can break down your ability to stay healthy into three big categories:

1. Sleep Quality

I came across this Tweet a few months ago, and it became one of my all-time favorites:

 

The one time I got sick was when I was really pushing my luck on sleep deprivation and trying to make up for it with extra caffeine consumption. Doing so always saps your immunity in the long run.

Interestingly, I’ve been rocking a Fitbit since back in May. And, while I don’t think it’s perfectly accurate, it does give a pretty accurate measure of when you go to bed and when you wake up. Since September 1, I’ve gone out of my way to make sure that my weekly average sleep duration is always at least seven hours per night.

It’s had a massive impact on how I’ve felt in the gym. Normally, my training is terrible in December and January when our busiest seasons in the gym are upon us. This year, I felt strong – and without any aches and pains. Sleep tracking - no matter how basic it may be - can have a dramatic impact on your immunity and, in turn, your performance.

2. Overall Stress

"Stress" means something different to everyone. As an example, I could work 18-hour days for weeks on end without feeling stressed, yet if you ask me to stand on the 4th floor of a building and look over the edge, my cortisol levels would be off the charts. I'm terrified of heights, but not long hours. Other folks are the exact opposite.

One thing we can all agree on, though, is that training is a big stressor - regardless of whether it's higher volume endurance training or higher intensity weight training. If you want to stay healthy, you have to fluctuating that training stress so that you remain in overload and overreach mode without slipping into true overtraining scenarios. I cover this in much more detail in my e-book, The Art of the Deload.

e042e-art_of_the_deload2

3. Nutritional practices.

A discussion of proper nutrition and supplementation habits to optimize immunity has been the topic of entire books, so I won't even attempt to do the topic justice in a matter of a few sentences (although this article from over a decade ago tested the waters in that regard: Invincible Immunity). 

I can speak to personal experience when I say that I feel the best when I hydrate sufficiently, get in enough total calories, and eat plenty of healthy fats and vegetables. I'm also a huge advocate of Athletic Greens, which I take religiously every single day. I use it instead of a multivitamin, and also like the fact that it includes some digestive enzymes and probiotics for gut health. 

superfood-cocktail-bac-brown

It's not rocket science, but that's because it doesn't have to be complex. Getting sick is about your ability to fend off stress to your system. Two of these factors - sleep quality and nutrition - are about warding off the stress. The third factor is about managing the amount of stress actually imposed to the system. Critically examine these three broad realms if you want to find ways to stay healthy! 

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A Sneak Peek Inside Corey Kluber’s Off-Season Training at Cressey Sports Performance

Earlier this week, a crew from MLB.com visited Cressey Sports Performance in Massachusetts for a feature on former Cy Young winner Corey Kluber's offseason training.

kluberoffseason

Today, the article ran at MLB.com; check it out:

Indians Corey Kluber Training Hard for 2017

Some of the topics covered included:

  • Weighted ball training
  • How we've modified Corey's off-season after his big workload in the 2016 regular season and post-season
  • Transitioning from "rested" to "ready" each off-season
  • "Money-maker" exercises

Again, you can check it out HERE.

Have a great weekend!

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Specificity, Delayed Transmutation, and Long-Term Baseball Development

We had a great staff in-service on strength and conditioning programming yesterday, and it really got the wheels turning in my brain. The end result was this video, which is especially timely, given that many professional baseball players are about to begin their off-season training.

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How Can Pitchers Ever Be “Elite” If They Take Time Off from Throwing?

The other day, the following comment/question was posted as a reply to one of my articles:

"How does an elite pitcher take 2-3 months off from throwing and stay an elite pitcher? I can see shutting down for one month from any throwing, but any more than that and atrophy and loss of neuro patterns kick in."

The short answer is, "They just can - and have - for a long time." I absolutely appreciate the question, and think it's an excellent one. Unfortunately, high level throwers have shown time and time again that they can do it. I'll give you a few examples among Cressey Sports Performance guys from the 2014 season.

Corey Kluber (Indians) made his last appearance of 2013 on September 27, and he didn't start his off-season throwing program until December 9. According to FanGraphs, his average fastball velocity was up from 92.9mph in 2013 to 93.2mph in 2014 - in spite of the fact that he threw 235 innings in 2014, which was 47 more than he's ever thrown in his career. Corey's saw his average fastball velocity increase in each of his four seasons in the big leagues - and he took 2-3 months off from throwing in each of those off-seasons. Clearly, the time off didn't hurt him, as he won the American League Cy Young in 2014.

Sam Dyson (then Marlins, now Rangers) made his last appearance of 2013 on September 22, and also didn't start a throwing program until mid-December. Check out his FanGraphs velocity improvement from 2013 to 2014 "in spite of" his lengthy time off in the fall/winter.

dysonvelo

Corey and Sam are just a few examples, and I've got dozens more. Elite pitchers don't struggle to stay elite; in fact, time off from throwing allows them to recharge and get their strength and mobility back to prepare for becoming "more elite" in the subsequent season.

With that point made, there are three perspectives I think are important to consider on this front.

1. Health vs. Mechanics

As I've written previously in 7 Reasons Pitchers Shouldn't Do Year-Round Throwing Programs - Part 1 and Part 2, there are a lot of physical adaptations that simply can't happen (at least not optimally) when an athlete is still throwing. You can't regain passive stiffness of the anterior shoulder capsule or ulnar collateral ligament. You can't make significant improvements to elbow and shoulder range-of-motion. You can't get rotator cuff strength/timing up, or improve scapular control. Trying to fix these things when a guy is always in-season is like trying to teach a 16-year-old to drive in the middle of the Daytona 500; things might get a little better, but don't expect great results when stressful situations are still in play.

Conversely, we can't optimize mechanics if a pitcher isn't throwing; we know that. However, I'd argue that having a healthy, strong, powerful, and mobile athlete is an important prerequisite to learning correct mechanics. Most players are really tired at this time of year - even if they don't appreciate it (more on this later). Motor learning never happens optimally under conditions of fatigue. I'm all for aggressive throwing programs and meticulous video analysis, but if mechanics and throwing programs are the only tools you have in your toolbox, then you're like a carpenter who only has a hammer: everything looks like a nail. If you understand structure, function, and adaptation, though, you've got a many resources at your fingertips to make an athlete better - and do so safely.

ECCishek

2. The Psychological Component

An example likely best illustrates this point. I recently saw a minor league pitcher who had an outstanding season: an ERA under 3.00 and a career high of 170+ innings. You'd think a guy like that would be wildly enthusiastic about baseball after such an awesome season, and even want to continue playing in any way possible.

That wasn't the case, though. He told me that for the first five days after the season, he avoided everything baseball. In fact, he was so worn out on baseball that he didn't do anything except watch TV and relax for two days. Only after that did he even feel like going for walks with his girlfriend - and he just started up his off-season training three weeks later. This is not uncommon.

It might come as a surprise, but a lot of players are completely "over" baseball by this time of year, particularly if they played for a team that wasn't in a playoff race, or pitched a career high in innings. Forcing them to continue throwing is a quick way to make them really apathetic to baseball and your coaching. If you need proof, ask any minor leaguer how he feels about being sent to Instructional League. A lot of necessary work happens there, but that doesn't mean they enjoy it.

3. Athletes might not know the difference between feeling "good" and "bad."

I'd argue that there are a lot of pitchers who say they feel great at the end of the season, but actually present really poorly in their post-season evaluations. I think a big part of the problem is that we can't necessarily perceive the issues - mobility and stability deficits - that lead to baseball injuries on a daily basis, as most arm injuries involve mechanical pain. In other words, they usually don't hurt unless you're throwing. I've seen athletes who claim they feel awesome at the end of the season, but they actually have experienced big losses in range of motion, stability, and power.

To apply this to kids who play year-round baseball, I think it's safe to say that we have a generation of kids who legitimately have no idea what it's like to feel good/fresh. They've never thrown a baseball with excellent rotator cuff strength or full scapular upward rotation. They don't know how to effectively create separation because their hip and thoracic mobility is so subpar, and even if they actually had good mobility, their poor core control wouldn't allow them to make use of it. You could make the argument that it's a "subclinical epidemic;" we just have a lot of "unathletic athletes" who aren't willing to take a step back to set themselves up for many steps forward. Build a big foundation and stay healthy, and you'll always pick up the specific mechanics corrections much easier.

Wrap-up

This article was a long response that could have been summed up with the sentence, "Don't be afraid to take time off from throwing." The research is very much in support of it helping to keep pitchers healthy, but the anecdotal evidence also supports the notion that it supports the long-term baseball development process, too.

Are you an athlete looking to learn more about Cressey Sports Performance's services at our Hudson, MA or Jupiter, FL locations? Check out www.CresseySportsPerformance.com.

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Baseball Training: Are Shoulder Dislocates Appropriate?

I received the following email the other day, and thought my response would make for a good Q&A here:

Q: I recently heard a national level gymnastics coach speak on how he believed shoulder dislocates with a dowel rod (working up to weighted dislocates) are a panacea for shoulder health and strength. I was wondering if you use them with your clients/players, and why or why not?

OBroomstick1BDislocations2

A: Thanks for your question.  In short, the answer would be NO, I would never do shoulder dislocates with a throwing athlete.  I discussed why in a previous video that goes into great detail, so rather than reinvent the wheel, here it is!   Effectively, shoulder dislocates replicate some of the movements that I outline as problems here.

As a general rule of thumb, as a thrower, it's always better to be too tight than it is to be too loose.  WIth that in mind, you always need to ask why you're stretching an area out.  If the front of the shoulder feels "tight," it may be from a number of different causes:

1. Protective tension of the biceps tendon (secondary to rotator cuff weakness) - just stretching it out would remove what little anterior stability remains.

2. An injury to the anterior capsule, latissimus dorsi (humeral attachment point), subscapularis, supraspinatus, or biceps tendon - just stretching these areas out will likely exacerbate the injury.

3. Irritate of the nerves that run anterior to the humeral head - nerves don't like to be stretched.

Gray523

4. True muscular shortness of pectoralis major or another structure - Effectively, in doing shoulder dislocates, you're throwing all your eggs in this basket.

The only problem?  Most throwers already have an insane amount of horizontal abduction and external rotation range-of-motion on their throwing shoulders.  They aren't even close to having legitimate tissue shortness that would benefit from stretching.  This is something we work hard to drill home in our Elite Baseball Mentorships as one of the most important takeaways from the events.

Now, if we're talking about a regular ol' desk jockey who doesn't throw a baseball (or other sporting implement), play tennis, or swim, then dislocates might have some merit.  These individuals likely have some muscle/tendon stiffness that can be stretched out before they get to a point where they might crank on their joint capsule or nerves.  I would never use it as a "blanket" recommendation for everyone, though.  The only way to know is assess the individual and then plan accordingly.

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