Home Posts tagged "Rotational Power" (Page 2)

15 Random Thoughts on Strength and Conditioning Programs

With this week's big sale on The High Performance Handbook, I figured it would be a good time to discuss some programming lessons I've learned over the years - as well as the strategies that have emerged from these learning experiences. As a coach, I always want to be evolving - and the HPH program is a pretty up-to-date reflection on some of my strength and conditioning philosophies.

That said, let's get to the random thoughts...

1. Coaches often highlight the importance of including single-leg work to help strength and conditioning programs "carry over" better to the real world of athletics, but rarely do you hear fitness professionals talking about the importance of unilateral upper body exercises, which offer some awesome functional carryover to performance, as well as a host of health benefits.

There's an increased challenge to rotary stability, and the athlete encounters weight shifts and extra thoracic rotation. These movements also teach protraction and retraction on rib cage, not just humeral movement. As perhaps the greatest benefit, less external loading is needed to create a training effect. So, don't just think that bent-over rows, inverted rows, and pull-ups cover everything you need!

2. If you want one more mobility option to help make your warm-ups more efficient, try this one. Adductor length and thoracic mobility: what's not to love?

3. A lot of people like to debate whether you should attack mobility or stability first. While I think the answer is generally "mobility," the truth is that it isn't such a black vs. white issue; there are a lot of gray areas. Think about breathing - and more specifically, a full exhalation. When you exhale fully, you get a deep muscular activation (stability) in your rectus abdominus, external obliques, and even your serratus anterior. Meanwhile, you'll likely actually see an increase of shoulder flexion, hip internal rotation, and ROM at other joints (mobility). With this in mind, the name of the game is attacking good movement, not just wasting time classifying things as "mobility" or "stability." 

4. Axially-loaded single-leg exercises can be a great substitute for squats in those who lack the hip mobility to squat deep, and those who have lower extremity or core issues that may not handle heavy bilateral loading well. Here's one of my favorites:

5. In spite of the point I made in #5, going really heavy on single-leg work for an extended period of time can definitely make your knees cranky, even in perfect technique. Just like anything else, they need to be cycled in and out. To that end, if you need a little break from them, but still want to preserve a training effect, try rotating in sled pushing and step-up variations. Both involve single-leg force production - but without a considerable eccentric component.

6. Speaking of single-leg work, bad things happen when people do a lot of lunging and sled pushing without shoes on. Usually, this means a really cranky big toe. I'm all for including barefoot work, but keep it to unloaded work in your warm-ups, or posterior chain oriented drills (deadlifts, good mornings, pull-throughs, hip thrusts, glute bridges, 1-leg RDLs, etc.).

7. There's a reason they put squats before deadlifts in powerlifting meets. I'd encourage you to just trust me on this one. If you're not willing to do so, go ahead and deadlift before you squat in your next lower body training session. You'll probably feel like garbage and have the mediocre training session to prove it.

8. I feel like folks pick on bodybuilders too much nowadays, but they actually have a ton to teach us. To me, the foremost of these lessons is, very simply, that you need plenty of volume and time under tension to get big. I learned this in a bit of a roundabout way: by trying to avoid gaining weight.

You see, early on in my powerlifting career, I was trying like crazy to stay in the 165-pound weight class. At my first meet in June of 2003, I was about 163 pounds. By the summer of 2006, I was about 185 pounds - and without any significant changes to my diet - and I was leaner. What gave?

My upper back. That's literally where 90% of the muscle mass went. I went from being a medium/large t-shirt, to being a guy who had to wear XL t-shirts just because my upper back wouldn't fit into a large.

What's unique about the upper back? Very simply, it gets the most volume and time under tension in any powerlifting program. You get it with all your normal horizontal and vertical pulling, obviously. However, you also train it when you bench correctly (especially powerlifting style), and it's crucial for bar positioning with heavy squatting. And, deadlifts can certainly do a little something for the "yoke." And this doesn't even include things like farmer's walks, walking lunges, and other comparable exercises where you're holding heavy weights at your sides.

The point is not that "Cressey thinks he has a big upper back," but rather that the bodybuilders have known that consistent volume and time under tension matter across an entire body. Want bigger quads? You're going to need to do extra work for them. It's not rocket science, but a lot of people are so focused on being "down on" traditional bodybuilding that they fail to recognize the great lessons to be learned from this population.

9. The 1-arm kettlebell front squat is, without a doubt, the single-most "functional" exercise in the history of parenting. I can't count how many times I've had to pick something up off the floor or table while holding one of our twins in one arm.

10. I'm often asked where we plug Turkish Get-ups into our programming. There are actually a few places we'll do it.

When done lighter and for technique, you can work them in at the end of a warm-up for practice on a daily basis.

When loaded up a bit more, I prefer to use them as a first exercise in place of pressing on an upper body day. And, we'll often pair it up with some kind of horizontal or vertical pulling exercise before moving on to more traditional pressing stuff.

So, I guess you could say that the answer to where we typically include it is "always early in the session."

11. Handstand push-ups are getting a lot of love these days as gymnastics movements are undergoing a revival in the strength training world. I'm all for athleticism, but we have to ask who is really prepared for going overhead - much less going overhead with the risk of falling! Here's a video I filmed for Wil Fleming a while back on the subject. While the topic is preparing for snatches, you can easily apply the point to handstand push-ups.

If you pass the back-to-wall shoulder flexion test with flying colors and have a decent foundation of strength, by all means, have at it with handstand push-ups. If you're just trying them out because you saw someone doing them on YouTube and they looked cool, they're probably not a good idea - at least not right away.

12. One equipment limitation many folks run into when training at commercial gyms is the lack of a medicine ball wall against which they can do rotational shotputs and scoop tosses. It's a huge bummer, as these exercises can be of tremendous value for not only training rotational power, but also part of conditioning medleys.

That said, it's not a perfect replacement, but I have found that a decent substitute is band-resisted heidens (or heiden variations without the bands). You at least get some of the same hip sequencing, even if the lower-to-upper body force transfer isn't quite the same.

13. Training athletes for performance is all about managing competing demands. It’s about knowing when to push, and when to hold back. It’s about taking a step back and determining where an athlete’s biggest window of adaptation is so that you can direct more focus to that area.

With all this in mind, coaches often overlook just how difficult it can be to manage this balancing act when you want them all to be priorities, but know that’s simply not possible.

14. If you want to improve your vertical jump, there are really only three ways to do so:

a) put more force into the ground
b) put that force into the ground quicker
c) be less fat

Most people focus entirely on "a" and "b" - and they're often the athletes with brutal diets. Drop a few percentage points in body fat while maintaining your peak power, and you'll jump through the roof.

15. This post is all about programming, but it'd be shortsighted to wrap up without reminding you that I'd rather see a mediocre program executed with outstanding intensity and adherence than an outstanding program executed with mediocre effort. You can't outprogram "soft," so be sure you're working hard in spite of the focus on continued education!

If you're interested in taking a glimpse into more of my programming philosophies - or get a comprehensive strength and conditioning plan all prepared for you - be sure to check out The High Performance Handbook while it's on sale this week!

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Exercise of the Week: Split-Stance Anti-Rotation Medicine Ball Scoop Toss

In this installment of "Exercise of the Week," I want to introduce you to one of my favorite "introduction" medicine ball exercises, the Split-Stance Anti-Rotation Medicine Ball Scoop Toss.

It's incredibly useful for two primary reasons:

First, it trains hip/trunk separation through good thoracic mobility (as opposed to excessive lower back motion). Effectively executing this "separation" is key for high-level performance in any rotational sport.

Second, it teaches athletes to have a firm front side for accepting force. One common problem both hitters and pitchers can encounter is that they lack sufficient appropriate timing and multi-directional strength to “stiffen up” on the front side lower extremity.

If they can’t get this right in a controlled environment like the weight room, they sure as heck won’t be able to do it in a chaotic, competitive environment when they’re trying to adjust to a 83mph slider right after a 95mph fastball. Compare the demonstration video from above (Andrew is not a rotational sport athlete) to the following video of one of our professional pitchers, and you'll appreciate how trainable (and beneficial) these proficiencies are.

One additional point about this exercise: because there isn't aggressive hip rotation taking place, it's one of the few medicine ball drills I'll actually continue to utilize during the season with some of our baseball players. That said, I think it's a fantastic exercise that can be used for athletes and general fitness clients alike. Who wouldn't want to be more powerful with better movement quality?

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Band-Resisted Training for Power

Chat with any powerlifter about how he utilizes bands in his training, and you'll likely hear that they’re used for accommodating resistances to build strength. In other words, you can set up the bands to make an exercise harder at the portions of the strength curve at which you’re strongest. And, this is certainly an awesome application that’s helped thousands of lifters (myself included) to build strength.

Being a former competitive powerlifter, until just a few years ago, I’d looked at bands as something that could only make an exercise harder. Over the years, though, I've come around and begun to look for ways to utilize them to make things easier with our beginners. And, obviously, using them for pull-up and push-up assistance can be extremely helpful with working with new clients.

band7

I did not, however, realize until just recently that there was also a middle ground between these two extremes (advanced lifter and novice client). In this capacity, more and more, we use bands with our athletes to be able to train power more aggressively, and more frequently. How do the bands fit in? They lower the landing stress on more horizontal and lateral power exercises.

Need proof? Let's imagine “Athlete A” does three sets of five broad jumps (standing long jumps). Then, he lets us know how his shins feel 36-48 hours later. The soreness is absurd.

Simultaneously, we have “Athlete B” do the same volume of broad jumps, but with band resistance, like this:

I guarantee you that Athlete B has dramatically less soreness in the post-training period than Athlete A. And, while I don’t have all kinds of force plate data to back up my assertions, it’s safe to assume that the addition of the band reduces ground reaction forces. It’s like a box jump; we go up, but don’t come down (very much).

We’ll also use this for band-resisted heidens to develop some power in the frontal plane:

I love these band-resisted jumping options for a number of reasons. First, they allow us to train power with a bit more external loading in planes of motion we’d previously been unable to load – and this shifts things to the left a bit on the Absolute Strength - Absolute Speed Continuum.

Second, the pull of the band actually teaches athletes to get back into their hips more. You’ll often find that athletes don’t really know how to pre-stretch the glutes prior to power work in these planes. When a band is added, they simply can’t “drift into the quads;” they have to get back into the hips.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, the reduced impact nature of these drills makes them a potentially useful addition to a return to action plan as an athlete is returning from an injury. It can also be a potentially useful application in older clients with whom we want to safely train power (because the loss of power is one of the biggest problems at we age). Full tilt sprinting and lots of plyometric work with loads of landing stress won’t necessarily fly, but these options (and band-resisted sprinting) can definitely lower the stress.

Fourth, with our pro baseball players, I like to use these in the early off-season as we get back to training power, but don’t want to beat up on the guys’ bodies with lots of stressful deceleration work. They jump out, but don’t come down as hard.

Bands are one of the best “take-it-anywhere” pieces of training equipment one can have, and it’s awesome that new uses for them are emerging on a regular basis. This is one such example – so I’d definitely encourage you to play around with these variations and see how you like them.

Looking for more innovative training strategies like these? Be sure to check out The High Performance Handbook, the most versatile strength and conditioning program on the market today.

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Hip Extension and Rotation in the Baseball Swing

Today's guest blog comes to us from Jeff Albert, one of the bright minds in the world of hitting instruction. I've enjoyed Jeff's stuff for years, and I think you'll like it, too.

Hip extension is a getting a lot of attention in the fitness world these days. Eric Cressey was asking us to get our butts in gear back in ’04, ESPN recently made a Call of Booty, and we now have our very own glute guy, Bret Contreras. Kettlebell swings, hip thrusts, deadlifts, and squats are staples of exercise programs for athletes for good reason: they make the posterior chain stronger and more explosive. This, in turn, makes it easier for athletes to do things athletes are supposed to do - like run faster and jump higher.

But how is this going to help with your actual skills? What is the role of hip extension in the baseball swing?

EMG studies in both baseball (Shaffer et al 1993) and golf (Belcher et al 1995) report highest muscle activity of the primary movers of the posterior chain – the hamstrings, glutes and low back – happens during the beginning of the forward swing. The exercises listed above are often programmed because they target the same muscles. Very conveniently, those muscles are also responsible for creating rotation in the swing.

Here’s the key point: good hip rotation has an element of hip extension!

This is what it looks like from the front and side in the swing:

Check out the belt line as the hitter transitions from landing with his stride foot to making contact. This is the actual unloading of the hips during the forward swing. You should be able to see how the hips (belt line) lower into flexion (load) and then actually come up a bit as the hips extend (unload).

Unfortunately, the baseball EMG study only measured muscle activity on the back leg. The golf EMG study, however, measured both legs. An interesting point from this golf study is that in the initial forward swing (from the loaded position to horizontal lag position), activity in the quads (vastus lateralis was measured) of the lead leg was higher than the posterior side (glutes, biceps femoris, semimembranosus). This makes sense because the front side is accepting some shifting weight during this time. But, when the club is being moved from the horizontal lag position to contact, the hip extenders again become more active. Baseball instruction commonly refers to having a “firm front side”, but we haven’t talked much about how that happens. This golf EMG suggests that extension at the hip, rather than knee, is more responsible for creating this effect.

Keep this in mind if and when you are working on the lower half in your swing. Very often players can show a nice, powerful hip rotation and extension pattern in the gym (throwing medicine balls, for example), but look much different when they pick up a bat in the cage. Differences in terminology that you’ll find between the gym and the batting cage can often be a cause of this, and sometimes players just don’t make the connection between their physical conditioning and their actual swing.

If you do struggle with rotation of your lower half, give some thought to the hip extension and rotational work that you do in the weight room and pay attention to the patterns that you’re developing there. First of all, make sure your hip extension and rotation are good in the first place, and then see if you can repeat the movement pattern when swinging the bat. The whole point in creating strong, explosive hip rotation in the weight room is so you can actually use it to create more power when you finally have the bat in your hands.

Happy Hacking!

About the Author

Jeff Albert is a CSCS with a MS in Exercise Science from Louisiana Tech University. Jeff is entering his 6th season as a coach in professional baseball, now serving as a hitting instructor in the Houston Astros organization. He works with players of all ages during the off-season in Palm Beach, Florida and can be contacted through his website, SwingTraining.net, or follow him on twitter (@swingtraining).

References

1. Bechler JR, Jobe FW, Pink M, Perry J, Ruwe PA. Electromyographic analysis of the hip and knee during the golf swing. Clin J Sport Med. 1995 Jul;5(3):162-6.

2. Shaffer B, Jobe FW, Pink M, Perry J. Baseball Batting: An Electromyographic study. Clin Orthop Relat Res. 1993 Jul;(292):285-93.

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Exercise of the Week: Heidens with External Rotation Stick

For this installment of exercise of the week, I have to give full credit to Cressey Sports Performance pitching coordinator, Matt Blake.  A few weeks ago, Matt and I were having a conversation about ways to expand our exercise selection with respect to developing power in the frontal and transverse planes.  We have medicine ball work and a host of variations of Heidens (also known as "skaters"), but you can never have enough.

As the conversation progressed, we got to talking about some of our young pitchers who struggle with finding the right timing to stiffen up on the front leg.  They either stomp down early because they aren't stable enough to ride the back hip out a bit longer, or they stiffen up late and "go to mush" on that front leg.  We want to train them to accept force on that front leg - and do so with the right position (a position of hip external rotation/abduction, where the athlete is decelerating internal rotation/adduction). 

So, Matt asked if it would be possible to simply open the front leg up to make this a more specific deceleration position.  So, the Heiden with External Rotation Stick was born.

One of the key coaching points on this exercise is that you want to jump a bit more "up" than "out," as compared to a traditional Heiden.  Very simply, this upward movement gives an athlete time to reposition the hip, knee, ankle, and foot correctly to accept this force.  If an athlete can't land in perfect technique (knee shouldn't cave in, and the torso shouldn't round over), he or she is jumping too far.  Simply reducing the distance of the jump is a great regression.  Find a distance that allows the athlete to land without these compensations (or coming up on the toes), and then gradually work to build this up.

This is just another option for developing power in rotational athletes, but certainly one that will add variety and challenge your athletes in new ways, so check it out!

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Troubleshooting Baseball Hitting: Timing is Not Always the Problem

Today's guest blog comes from current CP intern Jay Kolster, who has an extensive background in hitting instruction.

Great hitters are not born; they simply do things to put themselves in great positions to be successful. Hitting a baseball is one of the most difficult tasks to perform in sports, and with that in mind, experts have long-debated the biomechanics of hitting in baseball. Timing is agreed upon as being a crucial piece in being a successful hitter, but while it is crucial, it is not imperative!

Great hitters will be late on the fastball and out in front of sliders; they are human, too. With correct timing hitters are able to get themselves in the strongest position at the point of contact. The pitcher throwing off-speed is trying to pull the hitter out of position! A hitter is in the strongest position when the back elbow is tucked at a 90 degree angle into the back hip at contact.

Ideally, every hitter wants to be in Pujols’ position. However, even the great hitters have trouble getting to this position consistently. Further illustrating the difficulties of being on time, let’s consider the physics of baseball. A study performed by Yale professor, Dr. Robert Adair, detailed the amount of time from release point to the plate. A 90 mph pitch will arrive at the plate in 400 milliseconds. During that time a hitter must recognize the pitch type and location and get to a strong contact position.

According to Professor Adair’s illustration, it takes a hitter 150 milliseconds to complete a swing at 80 mph. This leaves the hitter roughly 250 milliseconds to locate the ball, process, decide, and start the swing. Professor Adair’s study helps piece together the physics and how difficult being on time is for a hitter. However, there are other variables that were not included in the study that can disrupt timing for the hitter. Let’s review some of these variables:

• Pitch velocity
• Pitch type (2-seam, 4-seam, change-up, slider, curveball, cutter, splitter, etc)
• Arm speed variability
• Arm angle and release point
• Pitcher’s method of delivery (windup, stretch, slide step, left hand pitcher hang and read, etc)
• Variability of the hitter’s bat velocity
• Situational hitting (hit and run, hitting behind runner at second, sac fly)

Professor Adair’s study does not include human variability. At any time, the pitcher can change his delivery and pitch velocity, which affects the timing aspect of the hitter. Professor Adair’s statistics are of one pitch! Each pitch thrown by a pitcher in a game is unique! It almost seems humanly impossible to be on time consistently. I can guarantee that the best hitters in the game aren’t always on time, yet they still manage to eclipse the .300 average mark. Hitting a baseball now becomes an equation of probability. After all, pitch recognition is a guess! It has been said that hitters lose track of the baseball within 5 feet of the plate….. so now what? Hitting a baseball now becomes an educated guess! You are starting your swing where you THINK the ball will be.

“Great hitters get the barrel on plane earlier and keep the barrel on plane longer than average hitters.”

Keeping the barrel in the bat plane is just as important as having great timing. I have already established that timing isn’t the be-all, end-all for becoming a great hitter. It’s the positions hitters put themselves in when their timing is off that allows for eclipsing the .300 average mark. Touching on a quick side note, I believe that contact percentage is a mark of a great hitter, not just overall batting average. In 1941, Joe DiMaggio set the hit streak record at 56 games, a record that may never be broken. Do you think that a contact percentage of 97% had anything to do with setting the record? I think so, as Joe only struck out 13 times!

Using Video Analysis to Determine Bat Plane

Cressey Performance pitching instructor, Matt Blake, utilizes the Right View Pro system when evaluating mechanics. For the purpose of discussing bat plane I have taken images from RVP to help illustrate the importance of the bat plane and how it relates to timing. The first image we will look at is MLB’s Triple Crown winner, Miguel Cabrera.

*Note: Red = pitch line/bat plane, Blue = distance knee traveled from start to contact, Green = Barrel from start to contact.

In this image, Cabrera is not in a great point of contact position, but he did great things during his swing to allow himself to stay on the plane. His contact position is out front and he is slightly early, which is why his back elbow is extended. Result? Line drive single to left field. Cabrera was able to maintain a good position to hit because of his ability to keep the barrel in the bat plane past his strongest point of contact. Cabrera’s success is not based off of having perfect timing, but instead putting himself in a position to be successful. So, how does he get the barrel to the plane early and stay through, even past the optimal point of contact? I think this is a question hitting coaches have been trying to figure out for decades. For the sake of keeping this short, let’s examine a few key components.

Early to the Bat Plane

Getting the barrel to the beginning of the bat plane is driven by the back elbow. Upon toe touch and heel plant, Cabrera’s first move is with the hips, which allows for the elbow to get clearance to move directly to the back hip. In being direct with the elbow, Cabrera avoids having an elongated swing.

Optimal Contact Position

A contact position with the back elbow flexed and tucked tightly to the body will allow for optimal power.

Consider the sport of boxing. Great knockout punches are not performed with full extension; rather, the punches land with flexion in the elbow because it is a stronger point of contact. This idea is evident in baseball, too!

Keeping the Barrel in the Bat Plane

Consider Cabrera’s lower body as the key ingredient in keeping the barrel in the bat plane. The distance his back knee travels allows him to keep his barrel in the bat plane, and in this case, past his ideal point of contact. If Cabrera “squishes the bug”, he either rolls over or his barrel is out of the bat plane by the time the ball reaches him. There are other factors that help Cabrera stay in plane, such as elbow extension. However, if we want optimal power, we do not want to have elbow extension to occur before contact. Cabrera’s ability to keep the barrel in the bat plane past the point of contact is what makes him a cut above most major leaguers and the reason he won a Triple Crown. On the flip side, if Cabrera were to be late with his timing, his barrel in this particular swing is in plane starting at the back of the plate; giving him an opportunity to be successful.

Timing is Only a Piece of the Puzzle

Timing is an important component of hitting, but raw hitting mechanics should take precedence over addressing uncontrollable variables against which players compete. In low levels of baseball, players can get away with not being in the bat plane like Cabrera is. Why? A majority of lower level pitchers have one or two pitches they can control, and a majority of strikes are thrown over the heart of the plate. The debate over linear, extension-based, and rotational hitting approaches can be saved for future discussions. Regardless of the hitting philosophy, keeping the barrel in the bat plane before and after optimal contact position increases the probability of making contact with the ball.

References: www.Baseball-Reference.com

About the Author

Jay Kolster, CSCS is serving as an intern at Cressey Performance. Prior to this internship, Jay was a teacher and head coach of baseball and softball in Lexington, MO. For more information or to reach Jay, please visit http://jaykolster.wordpress.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @RollerKolster.

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The Hips in Baseball Hitting

In just the past few days, I've had two separate conversations with some really knowledgeable CP "dads" who also happen to have a ton of experience with coaching youth baseball players, particularly hitters.  In both conversations, a (paraphrased) line that stood out was "improving as a hitter in the teenage years is largely about learning to use the hips."

In contrast, have the same hitting conversation with just about any professional baseball player, and he'll tell you "I hit with my hands."

So who is right?  Do professional players not use their hips?  Or, do kids not use their hands?

Actually, both parties are right.  You don't get to professional baseball in the first place if you don't use your hips well when hitting.  And, you don't succeed (and stick around) in professional baseball unless you use your hands efficiently and have remarkable hand-eye coordination.  It's just multiple levels of natural selection that set the best apart - and they may sometimes forgot about the early stages of progress.

Need proof?  Watch a little league batting practice session, and then go to a big-league game to watch their batting practice.  The young players all pull the ball on every pitch, whereas the big-leaguers usually spray the ball all over the field, moving from the opposite field to the pull side.  They do this with their hands and wrists, all the while taking the hips for granted.

batting-practice

Think about this: how many more TFCC (wrist) injuries and hamate (hand) fractures do we see in professionals when compared to teenagers?  There are a lot more - because this area gets used a ton more.  Kids, on the other hand, get stress fractures if they misuse their hips.  It's no surprise, given the crazy rotational velocities and ranges of motion we see in hitters (outlined in my old articles, Oblique Strains and Rotational Power and Oblique Strains in Baseball: A 2011 Update).

What is a surprise, though, is that nobody has caught on to the ramifications of what this means for the youth baseball player who is learning to hit.

If a kid wanted to be a NASCAR driver, would we start him with a few 200mph laps at the Speedway amongst dozens of other drivers?  Of course not.

kid_driving_car1252453542

Why, then, do we have kids playing 180-200 games per year between school teams, AAU, fall ball, and even winter ball?  Where is the opportunity to learn how to hit in a controlled environment (closed loop), as opposed to trying to learn how to hit in live situations off of kids with no control (open loop).  Don't get me wrong; many programs do a tremendous job with instruction and really do build outstanding technical hitters - but as much as I hate to say it, the occupation of "hitting coach" seems to be a dying profession.  Why?

1. Schools are starting to put batting cages on campus for year-round hitting, and some kids don't appreciate that they need to learn to hit.

2. Some people see more money in AAU programs than individual instruction.  If a hitting lesson is personal training, running a team practice is semi-private training: more money in less time (and it's usually cheaper for the players).  This strategy can work if it's executed properly with sufficient coaching on-hand and the right demographic in mind; I have seen some AAU programs that are run with outstanding organization and excellent individual instruction at crucial parts of the year.

kidbatting

What is the right demographic?  I can't say for sure - but I can tell you that we need to be really careful in dealing with kids in the 11-17 year-old range.  They're learning to use their hips in an incredibly technically precise motion while their bodies are changing rapidly thanks to growth spurts and the fact that they spend 20 hours a day on their cans, thanks to sleeping, sitting at school desks, and playing around on Facebook and Instant Messenger.  We're giving more physically demanding challenges to less physically prepared (and, many times, less motivated) kids.

Kids need good hitting instruction early.  They also need targeted mobility work, foam rolling, and appropriate resistance training.

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The Importance of Strength and Conditioning for High School Baseball Players

Yesterday, the Division 1 North Baseball Semi-final here in MA between Lincoln-Sudbury (20-2) and Lawrence (20-2) got rained out - and postponed to today.  As many of you know, we deal with over 30 players from the LS high school baseball program, plus several in middle school and multiple graduates who are now playing college baseball. With no game, local reports were left looking for something about which to write, so an interview with Coach Kirk Fredericks took place - and one of the topics that was brought up was the effect of strength and conditioning on the program.  Here's an excerpt from the article: Meanwhile, L-S has been on recent offensive tear, which includes putting up 10 and 16 runs in its first two tournament contests, respectively. As a team, the Warriors have 25 home runs this season and 62 (14, 11, 12, 25) in their last four seasons. In Fredericks' first five seasons with the team, L-S combined for 19 (5, 1, 5, 2, 6) home runs. "In the last four years, we've been working with Eric Cressey, our personal trainer, and he's really made a difference," said Fredericks. "We've also played at the same fields and the kids have been dedicated to getting stronger. The numbers don't lie."

anderson I moved to Boston in 2006, so this is the fourth season I've gone through with the L-S guys - and while I knew power numbers had increased, I didn't realize that they had virtually quadrupled.  I did, however, get my first hint of what was happening when we saw seven pitchers hit 80mph on the radar gun on the first day of tryouts this year.  This is a pretty big deal for any high school, and certainly one in Massachusetts that has to compete with nasty winter weather and the draw of lacrosse, track, tennis, golf, and volleyball during the spring season.  It's also significant because the competition in the area has improved quite a bit; L-S actually faces many of the players from other schools that we train - and they've gone 85-10 since the start of the 2007 season (when they won the state championship). Needless to say, it was pretty cool to be able to put some numbers with the trend we'd been observing.  And, it serves as a great reminder that - contrary to what a lot of "old school" coaches will try to tell you - a strength and conditioning program is absolutely essential for high school baseball players to not only perform at a higher level, but stay healthy in the process.  In this four-year period, LS baseball has had only one arm surgery, and it was in early 2008 on a player who had been misdiagnosed on ulnar nerve issues since middle school.  He's now playing Division 1 baseball.  The guys understand that arm care is about more than just some foo-foo rotator cuff exercises. This is what happens when the players in a program dedicate themselves to something and are consistent with it over the course of several years. Please enter your email below to sign up for our FREE newsletter.

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Oblique Strains and Rotational Power

On Monday night, Josh Hamilton put on an amazing show with 28 homeruns in the first round of the MLB Homerun Derby. While he went on to lose to Justin Morneau in the finals of the contest, Hamilton did smash four 500+ ft. shots - and stole the hearts of a lot of New York fans. It's an incredible story; Hamilton has bounced back from eight trips to rehabilitation for drugs and alcohol to get to where he is today.

Geek that I am, though, I spent much of the time focusing on the incredible hip rotation and power these guys display on every swing. According to previous research, the rotational position of the lead leg changes a ton from foot off to ball contact. After hitting a maximal external rotation of 28° during the foot off “coiling” that takes place, those hips go through some violent internal rotation as the front leg gets stiff to serve as a “block” over which crazy rotational velocities are applied.

How crazy are we talking? How about 714°/s at the hips? This research on minor leaguers also showed that stride length averaged 85cm - or roughly 380% of hip width. So, you need some pretty crazy abduction and internal rotation range-of-motion (ROM) to stay healthy. And, of course, you need some awesome deceleration strength – and plenty of ROM in which to apply it – to finish like this.

Meanwhile, players are dealing with a maximum shoulder and arm segment rotational velocities of 937°/s and 1160°/s, respectively. All of this happens within a matter of 0.57 seconds. Yes, about a half a second.

These numbers in themselves are pretty astounding – and probably rivaled only by the crazy stuff that pitchers encounter on each throw. All these athletes face comparable demands, though, in the sense that these motions take a tremendous timing to sequence optimally. In particular, in both the hitting and pitching motions, the hip segment begins counterclockwise (forward) movement before the shoulder segment (which is still in the cocking/coiling phase). Check out this photo of Tim Hudson (more on this later):

Many of you have probably heard about a “new” injury in major league baseball – oblique strains – which have left a lot of people looking for answers. In fact, the USA Today published a great article on this exact topic earlier this season. Guys like Hudson, Chris Young, Manny Ramirez, Albert Pujols, Chipper Jones and Carlos Beltran (among others) have dealt with this painful injury in recent years. You know the best line in this entire article? With respect to Hudson:

“After the 2005 season, he stopped doing core work and hasn't had a problem. Could that be the solution?”

I happen to agree with the mindset that some core work actually contributes to the dysfunction – and the answer (to me, at least) rests with where the injury is occurring: “always on the opposite side of their throwing arm and often with the muscle detaching from the 11th rib.” If I’m a right-handed pitcher (or hitter) and my left hip is already going into counter-clockwise movement as my upper body is still cocking/coiling in clockwise motion – both with some crazy rotational velocities – it makes sense that the area that is stretched the most is going to be affected if I’m lacking in ROM at the hips or thoracic spine.

I touched on the need for hip rotation ROM, but the thoracic spine component ties right into the “core work” issue. Think about it this way: if I do thousands of crunches and/or sit-ups over the course of my career – and the attachment points of the rectus abdominus (“abs”) are on the rib cage and pelvis – won’t I just be pulling that rib cage down with chronic shortening of the rectus, thus reducing my thoracic spine ROM in the process?

Go take another look at the picture of Tim Hudson above. If he lacks thoracic spine ROM, he’s either going to jack his lower back into lumbar hyperextension and rotation as he tries to “lay back” during the late cocking phase, or he’s just going to strain an oblique. It’s going to be even worse if he has poor hip mobility and poor rotary stability – or the ability to resist rotation where you don’t want it.

Now, I’m going to take another bold statement – but first some quick background information:

1. Approximately 50-55% of pitching velocity comes from the lower extremity.

2. Upper extremity EMG activity during the baseball swing is nothing compared to what goes on in the lower body. In fact, Shaffer et al. commented, “The relatively low level of activity in the four scapulohumeral muscles tested indicated that emphasis should be placed on the trunk and hip muscles for a batter's strengthening program.”

So, the legs are really important; that 714°/s at the hips has to come from somewhere. And, more importantly, it’s my firm belief that it has to stay within a reasonable range of the shoulder and arm segment rotational velocities of 937°/s and 1160°/s (respectively). So, what happens when we give a professional baseball player a foo-foo training program that does little to build or even maintain lower-body strength and power? And, what happens when we have that player run miles at a time to “build up leg strength?” How many marathoners do you know who throw 95mph and need those kind of rotational velocities or ranges of motion? Apparently, bigger contracts equate to weaker, tighter legs…

Meanwhile, guys receive elaborate throwing programs to condition their arms – and they obviously never miss an upper-body day (also known as a “beach workout"). However, the lower-body is never brought up to snuff – and it lags off even more in-season when lifting frequency is lower and guys do all sorts of running to “flush their muscles.” The end result is that the difference between 714°/s (hips) and 937°/s and 1160°/s (shoulders and arms) gets bigger and bigger. Guys also lose lead-leg hip internal rotation over the course of the season if they aren’t diligent with their hip mobility work.

So, in my opinion, here’s what we need to do avoid these issues:

1. Optimize hip mobility – particularly with respect to hip internal rotation and extension. It is also extremely important to realize the effect that poor ankle mobility has on hip mobility; you need to have both, so don’t just stretch your hip muscles and then walk around in giant high-tops with big heel-lifts all day.

2. Improve thoracic spine range of motion into extension and rotation.

3. Get rid of the conventional “ab training/core work” and any yoga or stretching positions that involve lumbar rotation or hyperextension and instead focus exclusively on optimizing rotary stability and the ability to isometrically resist lumbar hyperextension.

4. Get guys strong in the lower body, not just the upper body.

5. Don’t overlook the importance of reactive work both in the lower and upper-body. I’ve read estimates that approximately 25-30% of velocity comes from elastic energy. So, sprint, jump, and throw the medicine balls.

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