Home Posts tagged "Weighted Balls"

Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 12/19/16

It's been a quiet week on the blog, as my wife and I traveled up to Massachusetts for a long-time client's wedding and the last Elite Baseball Mentorship of the year.

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I'll have some new content for you later in the week, but in the meantime, here's some great stuff to cover:

30 Days of Arm Care - I wrapped this up a few days ago. You can view all the videos on Twitter and Instagram using the #30DaysOfArmCare hashtag.

Are Weighted Baseballs a Wave of the Future? - Lindsay Berra wrote this article for MLB.com and interviewed me about our work with pro guys with weighted balls.

The Fitness Entrepreneur's Handbook - Pat Rigsby is one of the brightest business minds I've ever met - and certainly among the top guys in the business of fitness. I was thrilled when he asked me to write the foreword to this new book. This is a must read if you're in the fitness industry. 

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5 Lessons on Coaching - I published this guest blog from former Cressey Sports Performance intern John O'Neil one year ago, and it was a huge hit. There are definitely some great coaching lessons in here. 

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Today is Day 28 of #30DaysOfArmCare. My two-year-old daughter Addison is my special guest. Key takeaways: 1. As I noted in day 12 of this series, a more retroverted humerus (upper arm) gives rise to more lay-back during the throwing motion. It is theorized that this adaptation can protect both the shoulder and elbow. 2. We are all born with retroverted humerii (plural of humerus?), but over the course of our lives, we become more anteverted. 3. Throwing at a young age actually help to preserve this retroversion. It's why you will see more laid-back on a throwing shoulder than on a non-dominant shoulder. It's also why you will probably never see someone pick up baseball in their 20s and become a superstar pitcher. Basically, you need to warp bones to throw gas. 4. The secret is to do just enough throwing to preserve this positioning, but not so much as to create growth plate injuries. 5. "Throwing like a girl" is actually related to the amount of retroversion in place. If you don't have a retroverted humerus, you won't lay the arm back, and will instead just lead with the elbow. To that end, lots of dudes who never played overhead throwing sports actually "throw like girls." See first pitches from President Obama, 50 Cent, Carl Lewis, etc. 6. My kids are going to throw cheddar. Follow #30DaysOfArmCare and @cresseysportsperformance for more tips to keep throwing arms healthy. #cspfamily #armcare #baseball #mlb

A video posted by Eric Cressey (@ericcressey) on

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Strength and Conditioning Programs: Methods vs. Applications

Each week, invariably, I get a few email inquiries that go something like this:

What do you think of <insert training device or method here>?

The "training device or method" seems to come in waves. In training, for a while, it was kettlebells. Then it was Crossfit. In the rehab world, platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections are a hotter topic these days, and I'd expect stem cell therapy for musculoskeletal issues to be the next wave.

In the baseball world, people then asked about J-Bands. Then it was long toss. Now, it always seems to be weighted balls. 

Most of the time, people are asking the wrong question. 

[bctt tweet="You can't truly evaluate a method or device without considering its application."]

Using the weighted balls example, I love them and have used them in various capacities since 2007. I've used them with teenage athletes and I've used them with a Cy Young Award winner. I've used them with 1st round draft picks and 50th round draft picks.

You know what else? There were a lot of pitching coaches using them before I even started. And, they were well established in the track and field throwing community long before the baseball world adopted them. And, we now have plenty of studies in scholarly journals supporting their use. However, that doesn't mean they're right for every single application.

If you throw weighted balls a week after you have shoulder surgery - and then blow out the shoulder again - is the problem the weighted balls? Or, is the problem that you were an idiot in your application of this device/method?

If your 8-year-old does an aggressive weighted ball program and winds up with a growth plate fracture, is it the fault of the weighted balls or the program? Or, are you just a misdirected father who put the carriage way in front of the horse?

The weighted balls are the device/method. The programming volume, implement load, throwing technique, time of year, and athlete preparedness are some of the variables that constitute the broader "application" category.

My High Performance Handbook has been really popular across a number of training populations, but it's a horrible fit for you if you had spine surgery last week.  

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A lot of people have great fitness success with Crossfit programs, but many wind up banged up because their application of these principles is wrong. They may not adhere to solid technique, or they may have pre-existing structural pathologies and movement impairments that should lead to contraindicating certain exercises.

Front squats can be an awesome exercise. They aren't going to feel so good if you have a degenerative hip or acromioclavicular joint injury, though.

J-Bands are a huge training asset to your arm care routine when used correctly. If you're going to use them incorrectly, though, you're better off leaving them in your equipment bag.

Stop contraindicating methods and devices, and instead start improving your ability to critically think and evaluate applications. The best coaches that I know aren't just the guys with the most tools in their toolbox; they're the carpenters that know which tool is the best fit for the job at hand.

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Aggressive Throwing Programs: Are You Asking the Right Questions?

Today's guest post comes from former Cressey Sports Performance intern, James Cerbie. In this post, James builds on a point I'd made a few weeks ago in an installment of Random Thoughts on Sports Performance. Enjoy! -EC

Everyone wants to throw gas.

If you throw 80mph, you want to throw 85mph. If you throw 85,mph you want to throw 90mph. If you throw 90, you want to throw 95mph…and so on and so forth.

For a pitcher, it’s the ultimate attention grabber. The radar gun doesn’t lie, and lighting one up is the quickest way to turn heads.

Assuming you have any semblance of control, throwing hard helps you get a college scholarship, helps you get drafted, and helps you toward the big leagues.

Sorry, but they aren’t handing out many signing bonuses for an 85mph fastball.

Think of it like the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine—everyone is looking for that 4.3 speed because it’s a game changer.

Due to the high premium baseball places on velocity, and the paychecks that can come along with it, weighted ball programs have gained a tremendous amount of popularity over the past several years. Not only that, they can deliver great results. By playing with the force velocity curve, you can see some pretty impressive jumps in velocity over a relatively short period of time.

Eric has written about weighted ball programs in the past, and I’ll just refer you here if you want to read more on the subject.

Unfortunately, a lot of high school and college athletes are jumping into aggressive weighted ball programs without asking the right questions—they end up chasing short-term gains as opposed to setting themselves up for long-term success.

Building a Pyramid

If I asked you to build a pyramid, how would you do it?

Would you start with the base of the pyramid, also known as your foundation, and gradually work your way up? Slowly adding on a layer at a time until you arrive at the top?


 

Or, would you skimp on the base and spend the majority of your time building the top of the pyramid?

I’m no expert in building pyramids, but I think we can all agree that the first example wins out: a pyramid without a base may get up in the beginning, but it’ll lose out over the long haul.

General vs. Specific Training

The above example illustrates the difference between general and specific training.

The base of pyramid represents general fitness qualities, while the top of the pyramid represents specific fitness qualities (specific in relation to your sport of choice):

For example, a deadlift represents a general fitness quality for a baseball player because we’re developing strength and stability in the sagittal plane while working on the ability to “hip hinge.” None of those qualities are necessarily specific to throwing a baseball, but they lay the foundation for higher-level performance.

A weighted ball program, on the other hand, is about as specific as you can get: you’re performing the exact skill from your sport and doing so with heavier and lighter implements.

This is why so much effort goes into the assessment process before an athlete starts a training program. It gives us a good feel for where they are on the pyramid:

  • How’s their baseline movement capacity?
  • Are they lacking scapular upward rotation?

  • Can they get their hands overhead without driving into extension?
  • Are they strong and stable in the sagittal plane?
  • Can they get “in” and “out” of both hips sufficiently?
  • Do they have appropriate amounts of “core” control?
  • Do they have the capacity to control movement in multiple planes of motion?
  • Can they stand on one leg?
  • Do they have symmetrical total shoulder motion and shoulder flexion?

These represent only a few of the questions we want answers to, but they are all important because it tells us what an athlete is prepared to do at this moment in time, and what they need to work on to progress further up the pyramid.

What can happen in the world of performance training, however, is the inverted pyramid:


This is what it looks like when people rush straight for the weighted ball program. They skip over the all-important base of pyramid and go straight to the top because that’s what’s sexy. Although this structure will produce results in the short run, it doesn’t bode well for long-term success.

General Expresses Specific

If you walk away from this article remembering one thing, please let it be this: your general fitness qualities (the base of your pyramid) puts you in a position to express your sport specific skill.

In other words, they put you in a position to be successful—they give you the ability to get your body in the best position to throw a baseball.

For a baseball player, building up those qualities usually happens off the baseball field. It’s the free play you engaged in and the multiple sports you enjoyed growing up. And, it’s what you do in the weight room. It means doing deadlifts, lunges, push-ups, prone trap raises, and a host of other exercises because it builds your body up towards the ultimate goal: throwing a baseball to best of your ability.

If you skip over that stage and rush straight towards the top of the pyramid, then you’re not only setting yourself up for injury, you’re also leaving gobs of untapped performance on the table.

Tying it All Together

It’s incredibly tempting to jump into the latest and greatest program on the market that’s boasting to add 8mph to your fastball in two months. Before jumping into that program, you have to ask yourself if you’re physically prepared to do so.

Aggressive throwing programs are not bad. In fact, they are one of the more exciting developments in baseball over the past several years. But, it’s vital to remember where they fall with regards to development.

If you’ve put in the time and built yourself a solid foundation, then by all means get on a well-managed weighted ball program. If you haven’t put in the time building yourself a foundation, then start there and work your way up. Your performance and arm will thank you down the road.

About the Author

James Cerbie (@JamesCerbie) is certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association, Precision Nutrition, USA Weightlifting, and Crossfit, and is the owner ofRebel Performance. He has worked with athletes at all levels, and currently coaches in Charlotte, North Carolina. You can also find him on him on Facebook.

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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training – Installment 5

This week, I've been working my way through Mike Robertson and Joe Kenn's new resource, The Elite Athletic Development Seminar. It got the wheels turning in my brain, and the end result was a new installment of Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training. Here goes...

1. Experiences are more important than stuff.

I had a good text message exchange with one of our pro athletes yesterday where we discussed how long-term happiness was really much more about the experiences you have than it is about the stuff you possess. When you're on your death bed, you'll look back a lot more fondly on time with family, lives you've positively impacted, and things you've accomplished. You won't be thinking about the nice car you drove, or overpriced watch that you wore.

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I wish that this is a mentality that more young athletes would apply to their long-term athletic development.  An amazing coach and great camp can literally change a young athlete's life. As an example, I'm always psyched to see our young athletes getting the opportunity to "rub elbows" with our pro and college athletes, who have a ton of wisdom they can impart.

On the flip side, I can't say that I've ever seen an athlete's life change dramatically when he bought an expensive new bat or glove. Don't get me wrong; appropriate equipment and apparel are super important for athletic success. However, does a 12-year-old kid need a new glove and bat every single year? It's not like he grows out of them like he would a pair of cleats, and those funds could surely be better devoted elsewhere.

It goes without saying that many young athletes (and their parents) have limited financial resources. I wonder if they'd be in a better position to succeed if they applied the stuff vs. experiences logic to how they managed these resources in the context of long-term athletic development.

2. The process is often more of a reward than the destination.

This is an awesome video that does more justice to this point than anything I can write. These kids will take away important life lessons even though they might not have won their last game. Kudos to the head coach for a job well done.

3. People are asking the wrong questions about weighted baseball throwing programs.

At least 3-4 times per week, someone asks me what I think about weighted balls. I've written about this subject in the past (here), and while my approaches have evolved substantially over the years, I'm still a fan of weighted ball programs - as long as they're implemented with the right athlete, at the right time.

There is actually a ton of research supporting the efficacy of weighted ball programs; they've been around for a long time now, but only caught on in popularity in recent years. What's different about the ones out there now, though, are that they are much higher volume (number of throws) and performed with significantly heavier and lighter balls than ever before. If you crank up volume and use more extreme intensities, you'll get more extreme results - both in terms of fantastic improvements and in throwers who actually get hurt.

So, the question shouldn't be "do weighted balls work?" Rather, the question(s) should be, "Am I physically prepared enough to take on an aggressive weighted ball program, and how can I best fit it into my developmental calendar?"

If you're a 16-year old kid who just finished a 120-inning competitive year and your rotator cuff strength is terrible, weighted baseballs aren't what you need; rather, you need rest from throwing, and quality strength training work.

If you're a professional player with a perfect 14-16 week throwing progression spanning the course of the off-season, you have a great 8-12 week block with which you can work to "get after it." Using Indians pitcher Corey Kluber as an example, we started his 2013-14 off-season throwing program on December 9, and then integrated more aggressive weighted ball work in weeks 5-9 of his off-season throwing program. The big league off-season is so short that you can't get a ton of quality work in without compromising rest after the season or mound work going into the season.

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Conversely, many of our minor league guys will started throwing November 25, and got in about eight weeks of weighted ball work (as part of comprehensive throwing programs that also worked in long toss, flat grounds, and bullpens) before heading off to spring training. Each case is unique, so each program needs to be individualized to the player.

4. Postural Restoration Institute (PRI) drills are an "equalizer" for strength and conditioning professionals.

You've likely heard me allude to the Postural Restoration Institute here on the blog in the past - and with good reason: incorporating PRI drills into our training has been the biggest game-changer in our approach over the past 4-5 years. One of the key principles of PRI is "resetting" individuals to a neutral posture prior to training. We're all asymmetrical, but many folks take this asymmetry (and/or heavily extended posture) to an extreme, and we have to get their alignment back closer to "normal" before we squat, deadlift, sprint, jump, or take on any of a number of other athletic endeavors.

Historically, when folks were deemed to be "out of neutral," we'd need a manual therapist to do soft tissue work, joint manipulation/mobilization, or various hands-on stretching techniques. As Robertson noted in his first presentation of the EAD Seminar DVD set, PRI changed the game for strength and conditioning professionals by enabling them to re-establish neutral in clients and athletes with non-manual techniques, specifically positional breathing drills. Effectively, these drills provide for "self realignment."

Sure, PRI is just one of a few tools in the toolbox nowadays that can be used to accomplish this goal, but it's the one where I've seen the quickest changes.

5. Avoid movement redundancy within the training session.

One point I've made a lot in the past - and Robertson reiterated in one of his presentations - is the fact that many young athletes have a "narrow functional movement base." Basically, they've specialized in a particular sport so early that they've missed out on gross movement competencies (or lost ones they already had from early childhood development).

While we might not be able to change the tendency toward specialization, we can change how we manage athletes who do choose to specialize. In particular, we need to expose them to a broad range of activities that create a rich proprioceptive environment when they come in to train. Key to success on this front is making sure that there aren't redundancies within the training session in terms of movement challenges. For instance, you wouldn't want to have a half-kneeling overhead medicine ball stomp, then a half-kneeling landmine press, then a half-kneeling cable row, then a half-kneeling cable chop, and a half-kneeling cable external rotation. Rather, you'd be better off mixing and matching with tall kneeling, split-stance, standing (bilateral), and even single-leg.

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The same "redundancies" should be avoided throughout the training week, too, but I've found that if you do a good job of making sure there isn't this kind of overlap in each specific training day, the longer training periods seem to take care of themselves. If you look at how Joe Kenn structures his tier system style of training, you see that redundancies just don't happen because he rotates among total-upper-lower exercises in each of his training days. I'm a firm believer that exercise selection is the single most important programming variable, and this illustrates one more reason why that's the case.

Speaking of Kenn and Robertson, their Elite Athletic Development Seminar DVD set is on sale for $150 off through tonight (Friday) at midnight. I've really enjoyed watching them, and would consider them an outstanding investment for any strength and conditioning professional. It's an experience, not just stuff! Check it out HERE.

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25 Questions to Ask During the College Baseball Recruiting Process

When I got into the strength and conditioning field, I always assumed my job would just be about getting athletes bigger, stronger, faster, leaner, and healthier.  And, I was right that those would be constituents of my job, but I failed to realize that there was actually a lot more to consider if I wanted to be successful in the private sector and working with up-and-coming baseball players.

Those unexpected responsibilities included learning about the Major League Baseball Collective Bargaining Agreement, interacting with advisors/agents, helping kids plan out their competitive year, creating a solid physician and physical therapist network, and even jumping in to catch some bullpens.

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However, none of these tasks could possibly be more important than the interactions I have with a lot of high school baseball players as they work to select the right college/university for them.  While there are a lot of college advisory services out there, very few of them truly understand the athletic side of things; they're more heavily focused on the academic and social components, as there is no way they could ever possibly keep track of what each college baseball (or football, hockey, basketball, or whatever) program is doing. Coaching staffs change, universities move to different conferences, new facilities/fields are added, and new training methods are established.  With that in mind, here are 25 questions I ask of all our kids who approach me about the college recruiting process:

1. Will you have an opportunity to play right away?  If not, are you comfortable waiting?

It's very easy to fall in love with a campus and the thought of playing in front of thousands of fans, but "s**t gets real" when you've been riding the pine for your first two years of college.  Find out who is on the team who'll be playing ahead of you, as well as who else they are recruiting in your class at your position.

This, for me, is also a roundabout way of asking a kid if he is really good enough to play at a school.  If you didn't even pitch for your high school team, chances are that you aren't going to be able to pitch for a College World Series team.  In this instance, you'd be better off going to a team that will provide the innings you need to develop.

2. Do you have aspirations of playing baseball after college?

Will this program facilitate that objective? If it's going to do so, you need to see a history of players drafted.

3. Have you spoken to alumni who have played at these colleges (or for these coaches at different schools)?

Do they speak highly of their experiences, or do they rip on the coaches?  Do they go back to their college town to visit often?

4. How would the coaching staff describe their approach to coaching to you?

Some guys do well with the "in your face" coaching style, and others struggle with the regular confrontation.

5. What is the program's track record of success with developing players like you?

What do they do that will make you a better left-handed pitcher, second baseman, or catcher?  Do they have examples?

6. What (if any) scholarship or financial aid amount are you being offered?

College isn't cheap.  While full rides are rare in college baseball, the difference between a 25% scholarship and 50% scholarship can work out to $60,000 over the course of four years.  Don't forget transportation costs to and from campus several times per year, too.

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7. How tenured are the coaches, and do they see themselves leaving the school in the next few years?

At the Division 1 level, while you have some wiggle room (usually) in leaving a school if the head coach that recruited you leaves, you don't get that luxury with pitching and hitting coaches.

8. How tenured is the team athletic trainer, and what is his/her approach to treatment?  

Does he/she just fill Gatorade buckets and stay out of the way, or get involved with manual therapy and individualized rehab programs?

9. How tenured is the team strength and conditioning coach, and what is his/her approach to training both in-season and off-season?

Do guys get bigger and stronger over their four years, or do they just run poles and waste away?  Observe a lift: is he/she a respected figure in the players' lives? Also, is he/she considered a true part of the coaching staff to allow for maximum synergy, or does the head coach never interact with him/her?  Are players on unique programs based on their positions and injury history, or does everyone do the same?

Hint: if the answer to every question is "clean, squat, bench," run away.  Quickly.

10. How successful are the coaches in placing players with competitive, well-managed summer teams?

Sadly, summer baseball becomes less and less developmental every year.  Fortunately, there are still some good summer coaches out there; is your coach placing you with those coaches?

11. How are the facilities, and will there be any construction going on during your college experience?

If they're building a new field, you might be playing elsewhere for your home games.  New weight room?  You might be pushing cars in the parking lot in the middle of winter (although that may be a good thing for some of you).

12. What is a program's track record in terms of injury rates?

Are they blowing arms out left and right?  Or, are guys avoiding surgery while pitching more effectively than ever?

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13. What were starting pitchers' pitch counts over the past year?

Are they consistently sending guys out there for over 120 pitches? While it's not exhaustive, this is a cool pitch count page that looked at D1 programs across the country back in 2014, but it hasn't been updated in recent years.

14. How tough of an adjustment socially will it be for you?

If you're a New Englander headed to the Deep South, expect it to be an adjustment.  The adjustment is similarly challenging if you're a Southerner headed North. Are you prepared for that? A new social scene at the same time as a new coaching staff can overwhelm some guys.

15. Do they have the academic programs you want?

Sorry to burst your bubble, but only 2% of guys drafted actually make it to the big leagues.  That essentially works out to one guy per team pear year.  And, among the guys who make it to the big leagues, very few play there long enough to be financially set for life.  In other words, there is a 99.99% chance you'll be employed in some capacity after baseball, so you need to prepare for it.  Regardless of what our guys opt to study, I encourage them to take some finance courses, as everyone needs to understand money management.

16. Do they have a solid academic support staff in place if you need it?

Do you have a learning disability that warrants special assistance? Do you need organized study halls to help with getting your work done?  Or, do you just want people to stay out of your way?

17. What is the alumni network like?  

Will it help you to get internships or employment after graduation? Or, will you have to head to the local prison to interview them?

18. Does the coaching staff get out and attend different conferences to improve at their craft?

Are they teaching the same things they taught in 1978, or are you being introduced to more forward-thinking concepts?  "New" isn't always better, though, so that's why you ask the questions: it gives them a chance to provide rationale for their methods.

19. Are the hitting/pitching coaches more hands-off, or do they want to start tinkering with mechanics to solve problems they already see with your swing/delivery?

College coaches always see more things that need to be addressed than high school coaches ever can.  They get more hours with you, and they see you against better competition that may expose your weaknesses.  These weaknesses obviously need to be addressed.  However, how much will you be abandoning the horse that got you there in the first place?  Is it going to be tinkering or overhauling, and which are you willing to commit to?

20. How is the food on campus?

The food always tastes good...for the first month.  Then, most people get sick of it.  Don't become one of those people.

21. Who is the team doctor, and what is his background and accessibility?

If you're there four years, chances are that you'll roll an ankle or get hit by a pitch at some point.  Is the team doctor readily accessible, or do you have to book an appointment and then wait three weeks to see him?  Also, does he have a solid understanding of the management of overhead throwing athletes? Many doctors don't.

22. How competitive is the conference in which you play?

If you can go out and hit .500 or have a 0.00 ERA as a freshman, you probably aren't being challenged.

23. Have you watched this team play a game and practice?

Does the team go through a thorough warm-up, or do they just roll in, do ten seconds of arm circles, and then get to it?

Do players look coaches in the eye when they're being coached?

Do players cheer in the dugout, or is it completely silent?

I had one college kid tell me that his head coach didn't show up for a single fall practice; the assistant coach ran the entire thing.  Unbelievable!

24. What kind of throwing programs and pitch selection does a team use?

If you're a long toss guy, go somewhere that does long toss.  If you've thrived with weighted baseballs, go somewhere that integrates them in the throwing programs.  If you like to chuck ninja stars, go somewhere that you can fight crime.

If you're a guy with a history of elbow pain, don't go to a school where all pitchers learn sliders and are forced to throw them 60% of the time.

25. What is the team's graduation rate?

Graduation rate can definitely be impacted by a number of factors, including how many guys are drafted, but don't return right away to complete their degrees. As an interesting (and scary) fact, only 4.3% of those who have played in the big leagues this year have a college degree.  Still, graduation rates are something about which you should ask because it's a question that gives a coach a chance to show you what emphasis he places on academics.

In typing this up, I rattled all these questions off in under five minutes, and the truth is that there are a lot more.  The set of questions one asks will always be unique to one's situation.  The only commonality is that kids should ask questions - and lots of them, as this is going to be 3-4 years of your life.

As an important addendum, it's important to realize that there isn't a single program in the country that is going to give you the exact perfect answer you want on all these questions.  Your goal is to find the best fit, not the perfect fit.  With that said, though, you are committing to the program as a whole, not just the parts of which you approve.  To that end, you'll need to prioritize certain things depending on your circumstances:

If money is tight in your family, the scholarship/financial aid question might be most important.

If you have a history of injuries, the athletic trainer/strength and conditioning coach/team doctor questions might be the most pertinent.

If you want to play baseball in college, but not beyond, the questions about graduation rates and alumni networks will be significant.

If you have a very funky delivery that's worked well for you and are afraid a pitching coach will change it, you need to ask those pitching coaches if they are open to that arrangement.  This scenario was made famous when Tim Lincecum headed to the University of Washington with his unique delivery.

There really are no right or wrong answers - but there are definitely a lot of questions that should be asked along the way. One friendly suggestion I make to players is to make sure that these questions come from you and not just your parents. Parents will have questions of their own, but they should never dominate the conversation; young athletes need to take a proactive role in learning about what could be their lives for four years.  It not only shows maturity to the recruiting coaches, but also makes sure that you get the answers to the questions that are most important to you.

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5 Things that Might Surprise You about our Baseball Strength and Conditioning Programs

We have quite a few baseball coaches, athletic trainers, physical therapists, and strength and conditioning coaches who stop by Cressey Sports Performance to observe our training.  While they are the ones visiting to learn, I actually learn quite a bit about the "norms" in the baseball strength and conditioning field by listening to them tell me about what surprises them about what they observe at CSP.  Here are some of the areas that seem to surprise quite a few people:

1. They're surprised we don't do more sprint work and change-of-direction training.

The competitive baseball season essentially runs from mid-February all the way through early September, and during that time, guys are sprinting, diving, and changing directions constantly during fielding practice.  They're also on their feet in cleats for an absurd number of hours each day.  To that end, when the off-season rolls around, most guys want a few weeks away from aggressive sprinting and change-of-direction work.  Once they get their rest, we typically go to 2-3 movement training sessions for October through December, usually on off-days from strength training.  I prefer to break them up so that we can get more quality work in with our strength training program, and also so that the sessions don't run too long.  Once January 1 rolls around, the volume and intensity of sprinting increases, while the strength training program volume is reduced.  

Summarily, because we often separate our sprint/agility work from our resistance training, many folks get the impression that we don't do much movement training - but that couldn't be further from the truth.  It's a big part of our comprehensive approach to baseball development; we just fit it in a bit differently than most coaches, and emphasize or de-emphasize it at different point in the year.

2. They're surprised how much medicine ball work we do.

One of the reasons there is a bit less movement training than you might see in other strength and conditioning programs is that we do a ton of medicine ball work, particularly during the months of October through January (for our pro guys).  

Medicine ball drills are great for not only training power outside the sagittal plane, but also because it helps to iron out excessive asymmetries while maintaining pitching- and hitting-specific mobility.  Our guys may do 240-360 medicine ball throws per week during their highest volume phases.

You can learn more about the medicine ball exercises we incorporate in our program by checking out Functional Stability Training of the Core.

3. They're surprised that we don't Olympic lift our baseball guys.

On multiple occasions, I've written at length about why I don't like overhead pressing and Olympic lifts in light of the unique demands of throwing and the crazy adaptations we see in throwers.

While the Olympic lifts might have great power development carryover to the sprinting one encounters on a baseball field, the carryover to power in the frontal and transverse planes just isn't as pronounced.  In other words, power development is extremely plane-specific.  I'll take medicine ball work and non-sagittal plane jumping exercises over O-lifts for baseball players in a heartbeat.

4. They're surprised we don't do more band work.

It's not that I think bands are useless; I just think most guys use them incorrectly, and even when used correctly, they just don't really offer that much advantage other than convenience.

The fundamental issue with bands is that the resistance is generally so light that guys can quickly develop bad habits - poor humeral head control, lumbar hyperextension, etc. - while doing them.  They'd be much more effective if guys would just slow down and use them correctly.  I am also not a fan at all of using the bands to get the arms into all sorts of extreme positions; you're just using a passive implement to create more laxity in an already unstable shoulder.  If you want (and need) to stretch a shoulder, do so with the scapula stabilized.  

Additionally, I'll take cables over bands whenever possible simply because the resistance is heavier and it matches the strength curve for external rotations better.  Throwers are generally weakest at full external rotation, yet the band has the highest tension in this position; meanwhile, the cable's resistance remains constant.  Obviously, manual resistance is ideal, but bands are a distance third.

5. They're surprised how "aggressive" our throwing programs are.

The overwhelming majority of our guys long toss, and most of them throw weighted baseballs at certain points of the year as well.  They pitch less and throw more.  They all still get their 2-3 months off from throwing each year, but when they are throwing, they work hard.

This is in stark contrast to some of the throwing models I've seen in professional baseball, where many organizations limit players to 90-120 feet with their long tossing, and the only time a baseball is "weighted" is when it gets wet on a rainy day.  Guys take so much time off that they never have any time in the off-season to actually develop.  I firmly believe that while you have to have strict limits on how you manage pitchers, you also have to stop short of completely coddling them.

These are surely just five areas in which we deviate from the norm with respect to baseball development, but important ones nonetheless.

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115 Ways to Improve Pitching Velocity

Everyone wants to improve pitching velocity, but unfortunately, the answer to the question of "how" is different for everyone.  To that end, I pulled together a quick list of 101 strategies you can use to improve pitching velocity.  They aren't the same for everyone, but chances are that at least a few of these will help you.  I'd encourage you to print this off and highlight the areas in which you think you can improve.

1. Optimize mechanics (this could be 100 more ways in itself; I will leave it alone for now).

2. Gain weight (if skinny).

3. Lose weight (if fat).

4. Get taller (shorter throwers can’t create as much separation, and are further away from homeplate)

5. Get shorter (taller throwers have more energy leaks).

6. Long toss.

7. Throw weighted baseballs.

8. Throw underweighted balls.

9. Improve thoracic spine mobility.

10. Improve scapular stability.

11. Improve glenohumeral joint stability (rotator cuff strength and timing).

12. Improve glenohumeral joint range of motion.

13. Regain lost elbow extension.

14. Improve hip abduction mobility.

15. Improve hip rotation mobility.

16. Improve hip extension mobility.

17. Improve ankle mobility.

18. Activate the deep neck flexors.

19. Extend your pre-game warm-up.

20. Shorten your pre-game warm-up.

21. Increase lower body strength.

22. Increase lower body power.

23. Train power outside the sagittal plane (more medicine ball throws and plyos in the frontal/transverse plane).

24. Speed up your tempo.

25. Slow down your tempo.

26. Get angrier.

27. Get calmer.

28. Get more aggressive with your leg kick.

29. Get less aggressive with your leg kick.

29. Don’t grip the ball as firm.

30. Throw a 4-seam instead of a 2-seam.

31. Get through the ball instead of around it.

32. Improve balancing proficiency.

33. Throw out all your participation trophies.

34. Do more unilateral upper body training.


 

35. Recover better (shout-out to my buddy Lee Fiocchi’s Accelerated Arm Recovery DVD set on this front; it’s good stuff).

36. Throw in warmer weather.

37. Wear warmer clothing under your jersey.

38. Change footwear (guys usually throw harder in cleats).

39. Throw less.

40. Throw more.

41. Pitch less.

42. Pitch more.

43. Politely ask your mom to stop yelling, “Super job, kiddo!” after every pitch you throw.

44. Do strength exercises outside the sagittal plane.

45. Take all the money you were going to blow on fall/winter showcases and instead devote it to books, DVDs, training, food, and charitable donations.  If there is anything left over, blow it on lottery tickets and sketchy real estate ventures, both of which have a higher return-on-investment than showcases in the fall and winter.

46. Switch from a turf mound indoors to a dirt/clay mound outdoors.

47. Get a batter in the box.

48. Get more sleep.

49. Sleep more hours before midnight.

50. Stop distance running.

51. Improve glute activation so that you can fully extend your hip in your delivery.

52. Stop thinking that the exact workout a big league pitcher uses is exactly what you need to do.

53. Subcategory of #52: Remove the phrase "But Tim Lincecum does it" from your vocabulary. You aren't Tim Lincecum, and you probably never will be.  Heck, Tim Lincecum isn't Tim Lincecum anymore, either. You can learn from his delivery, but 99.9999% of people who try to copy his delivery fail miserably.

54. Read more.  This applies to personal development in a general sense, and baseball is certainly no exception.  The guys who have the longest, most successful careers are usually the ones who dedicate themselves to learning about their craft.

55. Stay away from alcohol.  It kills tissue quality, negatively affects protein synthesis, messes with sleep quality, and screws with hormonal status.

56. Incorporate more single-leg landings with your plyos; you land on one leg when you throw, don't you?

57. Be a good teammate.  If you aren't a tool, they'll be more likely to help you when you get into a funk with your mechanics or need someone to light a fire under your butt.

58. Respect the game.  Pitchers who don't respect the game invariably end up getting plunked the first time they wind up going up to bat.  Getting hit by a lot of pitches isn't going to help your velocity.

59. Train the glutes in all three planes (read more HERE).

60. Remember your roots and always be loyal.  You never know when you'll need to go back to ask your little league, middle school, high school, or AAU coach for advice to help you right the ship.

61. Get focal manual therapy like Active Release.

62. Get diffuse manual therapy like instrument-assisted modalities or general massage.

63. Make sweet love to a foam roller.

64. Throw a jacket on between innings to keep your body temperature up.

65. Pitch from the wind-up.

66. Drink magical velocity-increasing snake oil (just making sure you were still reading and paying attention).

67. Pick a better walkout song.

68. Get on a steeper mound (expect this to also increase arm stress).

69. Train hip mobility and core stability simultaneously.

70. Get around successful people in the pitching world and learn from them.  Find a way to chat with someone who has accomplished something you want to accomplish.  If you hang around schleps who complain about their genes and have never thrown above 75mph, though, expect to be a schlep who throws 75mph, too.

71. Pick the right parents (sorry, genes do play a role).

72. Recognize and get rid of pain.

73. Throw strikes (more balls = higher pitch count = lower average velocity)

74. Get 8-12 weeks off completely from throwing per year.  Read more about why HERE and HERE.

75. Be candid with yourself about how hard you’re really working (most guys talk about working hard when they should actually be working hard).

76. Take the stupid sticker off your hat.

77. Stop thinking so much.

78. Think more.

79. Stop stretching your throwing shoulder into external rotation (read more on that HERE).

80. Get in a better training environment.

81. Surround yourself with unconditionally positive and supportive people.

82. Talk to a different pitching coach to get a new perspective.

83. Stop talking to so many pitching coaches because too many cooks are spoiling the broth.

84. Lengthen your stride (learn more HERE, HERE, and HERE).

85. Shorten your stride.

86. Get your ego crushed when you realize that no matter how strong you think you are, there is a girl somewhere warming up with your max. And, my wife might even be able to do more pull-ups than you!

87. Stop trying to learn a cutter, knuckle-curve, slider, and “invisiball” when you can’t even throw a four-seam where you want it to go.

88. Play multiple sports (excluding cross-country).

89. Stay healthy when other pitchers are getting hurt.

90. Stop pitching for five different teams in the same season.

91. Pre-game routine: dynamic warm-up, sprinting progressions, long toss, pull-down throws, flat-ground, bullpen. Post-game routine: make out with prom queen after complete game shutout.

92. Do rhythmic stabilizations before you throw (if you’re a congenitally lax/”loose” guy) to "wake up" the rotator cuff.

93. Hydrate sufficiently.

94. Quit worrying about the damn radar guns.

95. Wear a posture jacket/shirt.

96. Drink coffee or green tea (you get antioxidants and a decent caffeine content without all the garbage in energy drinks).

97. Get in front of a big crowd.

98. Find a better catcher.

99. Throw more to and get comfortable with the same catcher.

100. Tinker with your pre-throwing nutrition to ensure consistent energy levels.

101. Tinker with your during game nutrition to sustain your energy better.

102. Tinker with your post-game nutrition to recover better.

103. Improve core stability (more specifically, anti-extension and anti-rotation core stability).

104. Breath better (less shoulder shrug and more diaphragm).

105. Train the rotator cuff less.

106. Change the day on which you throw your bullpen.

107. For relievers, stay loose and warm throughout the game (read more about that HERE). Staying entertained is also important, as CP athlete Joe Van Meter demonstrates.

108. Here and there, between starts, skip your bullpen and throw a flat-ground instead to give your arm a chance to bounce back.

109. Consider creatine (the most researched strength and power supplement in history, yet surprisingly few people in baseball use it)

110. Work faster (the fielders behind you will love you).

111. Work slower (recover better between pitches and self-correct).

112. Stop ignoring your low right shoulder and adducted right hip.

113. Pick a college program where you’ll have an opportunity to play right away and get innings.

114. Move from a 5-day rotation to a 7-day rotation.

115. Decide to wake up in the morning and piss excellence!

These are really just the tip of the iceberg, so by all means, feel free to share your own strategies and ask questions in the comments section below.

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Making the Case for Long Toss in a Throwing Program

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. push arm speed up

2. train in a generally-specific fashion

3. improve contribution of the lower half

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

5. keep throwing fun

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

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

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

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Weighted Baseballs: Safe and Effective, or Stupid and Dangerous?

I get asked relatively frequently whether we use weighted baseballs with our pitchers, and if so, how they are incorporated.  I figured it'd be worth a post to outline my thoughts.  To answer these questions: Do you use weighted baseballs? Yes, with some of our pitchers.  The asterisk that follows this statement is that they're only implemented with those who have built a decent foundation of strength and mastered the fundamental mechanics of throwing a regular (5oz) baseball.  So, the athletes we have that may be utilizing weighted baseballs are some of our pro guys, college guys, and more advanced high school guys.  It is NOT something I think coaches should just implement on a gross scale with unprepared 13-year-old kids.

weightedballs

But aren't weighted baseballs dangerous? The first response that comes to mind is "Who decided a baseball should be 50z?"  It's actually a very arbitrary number. Quarterbacks throw 14-16oz footballs (140z is the dry weight; balls actually become heavier as they're used more).  And, you could say that a lot of quarterbacks throw every day - and potentially even more than pitchers throw.  Yet, they have far fewer elbow and shoulder problems than pitchers - and usually far less coaching on the mechanics of throwing than pitchers.

drew-brees-5

Granted, there are differences in the way that footballs are thrown, as compared to baseballs, but you have to consider that tripling the weight of the ball would increase arm stress, right?  Wrong! If you increase the weight of the implement, you slow down the arm action.  In other words, you move further to the right on the absolute speed>>>>absolute strength continuum.  In other words, weighted baseballs comprise a medium between traditional throwing drills (bullpens, long toss, flat ground drills) and what one encounters with medicine ball work and resistance training.  If you slow down the arm action a bit, the deceleration demands drop - and it appears to be more arm-friendly. How are weighted baseballs incorporated? First, let me make two things abundantly clear: 1. You should never throw a weighted baseball off a mound (arm stress is higher when elevated) or with long-toss.  We do all our weighted ball drills into a tarp/net from about 6-8 feet away. 2. You don't play catch with weighted baseballs.  Someone will get hurt if you try.  Throw the ball, then walk to pick it up. We don't start throwing weighted baseballs until we've built guys up on their long tossing and the arm is 100% ready.  In other words, weighted ball work starts up right around the time that bullpens start.  As an example, most of our guys start throwing right after Thanksgiving, and pick up bullpens around January 10 after about 5-6 weeks of long-tossing and flat-ground drill work with the 5oz ball.  The entire throwing program for them encompasses about 14 weeks (sometimes a bit longer or shorter, depending on the individual). As an example, as I wrote previously, we used weighted balls with Oakland A's minor league prospect Shawn Haviland last off-season, and he made a nice velocity jump from 87-88 to 90-94 in a single off-season.  Looking back at Shawn's program, his first session with weighted baseballs was January 11, and his last one was February 18th - so it wasn't something he was doing year-round or in-season.

ap-shawn-haviland-action

We have, however, had scenarios where guys have used weighted baseballs to get ready for fall throwing appearances (for example, the World Wood Bat Tournament in Jupiter, FL every October).  These guys push their winter throwing programs back because they accumulated mileage on their arms in the fall (one reason I don't love fall baseball, but it's part of the game as it's played nowadays). When the time comes to implement the weighted baseball drills, they are either done as after long toss, after a bullpen, or as a stand-alone training session.  They are never done before a bullpen, which comprises complete specificity with which you don't want to interfere. All of our weighted baseball drills generally take place in the 7-11oz range.  I do, however, know some very bright minds in the field who will go heavier. We always bring the athlete back to the normal 5oz ball at the end of each set.  So, it might be three throws at 7oz, three throws at 9oz, and then three throws at 5oz, then rest.  Other coaches may build all the way up (five at 7oz, five at 9oz, and five at 11oz) and then work their way back down to 5oz at the end of the session.  Personally, I prefer to keep the learning loop short and keep the athlete cognizant of the 5oz feel with repeated sets as opposed to one big one. Matching the drill to the weight of the ball is absolutely imperative, too.  As a general rule of thumb, I do not go above 8oz for any drill that has a considerable lay-back (as pictured below) component, as the stress on the elbow is already pretty high in this position.

wagner

We can go considerably heavier with drills that are more focused on what's happening out in front of the body, though.

inman

Which weighted baseballs do you use?

We use this set from BaseballExpress.com; it includes 7-12oz balls, which is sufficient for most individuals.

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