Home Posts tagged "Weighted Baseballs" (Page 2)

Weight Training for Baseball: Featured Articles

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

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

A New Paradigm for Performance Testing - This two-part feature was actually an interview with Bioletic founder, Dr. Rick Cohen.  In it, we discuss the importance of testing athletes for deficiencies and strategically correcting them.  We've begun to use Bioletics more and more with our athletes, and I highly recommend their thorough and forward thinking services. A New Paradigm for Performance Testing: Part 1 A New Paradigm for Performance Testing: Part 2 I already have a few series planned for 2011, so keep an eye out for them!  In the meantime, we have two more "Best of 2010" features in store before Friday at midnight. Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter:
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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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Throwing Programs: Not One-Size-Fits-All

I received a few separate emails this week from folks wondering how I plan our guys' off-season throwing programs to include everything from long toss, to weighted baseballs, to mound work.

Most people expect to be handed a simple throwing program - as one might receive with an interval throwing program following rehabilitation.  The truth is that there isn't a single throwing program that I give to all our guys; rather, each is designed with the athlete's unique needs and circumstances taken into consideration.

With that in mind, I thought I'd outline some of the factors we consider when creating a throwing program for our professional baseball pitchers (many of these principles can also be applied to younger throwers):

1. Where they struggle on the mound (poor control, poor velocity, lack of athleticism, etc.)

2. Whether I want them using weighted balls in addition to long toss and bullpens or not

3. How many innings they threw the previous year (the more they throw, the later they start)

4. Whether they are going to big league or minor league spring training (we have minor league guys an additional 2-3 weeks)

5. How much "risk" we're willing to take with their throwing program (we'd be more aggressive with a 40th rounder than a big leaguer or first rounder; here is a detailed write-up on that front)

6. Whether they are a starter or reliever (relievers can start earlier because they've had fewer innings in the previous year)

7. What organization they are in (certain teams expect a LOT when guys show up, whereas others assume guys did very little throwing in the off-season and then hold them back when they arrive in spring training)

8. Whether guys play winter ball, Arizona Fall League, Team USA/Pan-American games, or go to instructionals

9. Whether they are big leaguers (season ends the last week in September, at the earliest) or minor leaguers (ends the first week in September)

10. What each guy tells you about his throwing history and how his arm feels.  Any pitcher can always tell you more than you can ever accurately assume - so you just have to be willing to listen to him.

Here are a few general rules of thumb:

1. Most throwing programs from professional organizations don't have their pitchers playing catch until January 1 - and I think this is WAY too late to give pitchers adequate time to develop arm speed and durability in the off-season.

2. Relievers start earlier than starters (we are starting our relief pitchers three weeks ahead of our starters this year, on average).

3. Medicine ball volume comes down and throwing volume goes up.

4. Most of our guys who don't go to instructionals, winter ball, the fall league, or Team USA start in November.  Starters are generally right around Thanksgiving among minor leaguers, with some relievers a bit earlier.  Big league guys don't start throwing until mid- to late-December or even January 1.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, but hopefully it gives you some insight into some of what goes through my mind as we work to increase throwing velocity and arm health.

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Ulnar Collateral Ligament Injuries in Quarterbacks vs. Pitchers

Here's an interesting study on the incidence of ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) injuries in professional football quarterbacks.  With only ten reported cases between 1994 and 2008, it's obviously (and not surprisingly) much lower than the rates we see in professional baseball players.  This is right in line with what I discussed in Weighted Baseballs: Safe and Effective or Stupid and Dangerous?

Bengals Seahawks Football However, what is very interesting to me is that 9/10 cases were treated non-operatively; in other words, Tommy John surgery is much less prescribed in football quarterbacks than baseball pitchers - meaning that the quarterbacks respond better to conservative treatment. What's up with that?  They are the same injuries - and presumably the same rehabilitation programs. In my eyes, it's due to the sheer nature of the stress we see in a baseball pitch in comparison to a football throw.  As a quarterback, you can probably "get by" with a slightly insufficient UCL if you have adequate muscular strength, flexibility, and tissue quality.  While this is still the case in some baseball pitchers, the stresses on the passive structure (UCL) are still markedly higher on each throw, meaning that your chances of getting by conservatively are probably slightly poorer.

elbow

I'm sure that the nature of the sporting year plays into this as well.  Football quarterbacks never attempt to throw year-round, so there isn't a rush to return to throwing.  There are, however, a lot of stupid baseball pitchers who think that they can pitch year-round, so kids often "jump the gun" on their throwing programs and make things worse before they can heal completely. That said, we've still worked with a lot of pitchers who have been able to come back and throw completely pain-free after being diagnosed with a partial UCL tear and undergoing conservative treatment (physical therapy).  It's an individual thing. Related Posts Understanding Elbow Pain - Part 3: Throwing Injuries Understanding Elbow Pain - Part 4: Protecting Pitchers Please enter your email below to sign up for our FREE newsletter.
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Stuff You Should Read: 4/4/10

I'm about to head out to go to Fenway Park for the season-opening Red Sox vs. Yankees game.  So, with the baseball season officially underway, I thought it'd be good to kick this week off with a collection of baseball-related recommended reading material.  Of course, you can certainly always find plenty of great stuff on the Baseball Content Page here at EricCressey.com.  That said, here are just a few personal favorite articles that I've written (it was tough to just pick a few, as I love writing about this stuff!): Crossfit for Baseball Developing Young Pitchers the Safe Way Risk-Reward in Training Pitchers Weighted Baseballs: Safe and Effective or Stupid and Dangerous? And a few baseball books that I'd highly recommend: License to Deal (great look at the sports agent/representation industry)

license-to-deal

Moneyball

moneyball

And some favorite baseball-related DVDs:

The 2009 Ultimate Pitching Coaches Bootcamp DVD Set

Optimal Shoulder Performance (just released last week, and only around at the introductory price for a bit longer)

shoulder-performance-dvdcover

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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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