The competitive baseball universe is very akin in many ways to our Western Culture at large, trends and fads are always in motion. As we all know from life experience, trends and fads simply come and go. In 2018, ‘weighted balls’ and velocity enhancement programs are decidedly in vogue. Even as I travel around the world to places like Italy, The Netherlands and Australia, I see weighted ball programs coupled with their promises of fantastic jumps in velocity. If you are a relative newcomer to the world of competitive baseball, you may not be aware that this was certainly not always the case.
In 1993, I started my first instructional academy in Langley British Columbia, Canada. For nearly the next 10 years, the utilization of weighted balls was decidedly not mainstream. Although a couple of very unique places were utilizing over-weighted implements, the baseball universe at large was decidedly against the use of anything other than a regulation baseball for throwing. The process of throwing balls weighing more and/or less than a regulation baseball was almost universally thought of as risky, perilous, crazy, fraught with danger and an exponential increase in the risk of injury.
Today, 2018, weighted ball velocity enhancement programs are commonplace on the internet, at high schools, colleges and in instructional academies across the country. Today it seems everybody has a velocity enhancement process. That represents a significant change in the training culture in just 25 years. That’s great news, right?
The answer, yes and no. We’ve obviously come a long way in reducing our irrational fear of a simple tool. That’s a good thing.
On the flip side, hardly a week goes by that we don’t get an email or a phone call at the Texas Baseball Ranch® saying something along the lines of, “Our son has never had arm trouble before and this last offseason/month/week etc. his trainer/coach put him on this new weighted ball program… and now he is hurt/out and needs surgery. We heard you are the ‘supposed’ weighted ball/arm health people… why is this happening? Is this common? What do you suggest going forward?”
Randy Sullivan at the Florida Baseball Ranch also gets regular questions along these same lines. As we also know, typically, for every call or email you receive there are many, many more who have similar issues but are not calling or are calling someone else. Suffice to say, with all the new velocity enhancement programs out there today, arm injuries are on the increase and weighted balls are, in our opinion, often getting an unfair bad rap.
From Randy Sullivan- Florida Baseball Ranch,
“We field 3-5 calls per week from parents of players ranging in age from 12-24 who most often have tried a mail ordered, one-size-fits-all weighted ball program and are now experiencing arm pain. It’s sad really, for many it was their first attempt at improving their ability to throw and they often regret trying the cheapest, simplest route. One-size-fits-all anything often becomes a dangerous shortcut.”
Let me start by giving you a short history of the Ranch’s utilization of weighted balls and possibly assist people in understanding the role that a well-designed weighted ball program can play on arm health, durability and performance.
Weighted Balls Are Simply a Tool. They are NOT a Panacea or a Quick Fix for Anything. They Can Be Beneficial, or They Can Be Utilized Inappropriately and Have Deleterious Effects.
The Ranch History of Our Utilization of Weighted Balls
In 2002, inspired by the work and research on weighted bats by Dr. Coop DeRenne, we began in earnest using underload and overload principles in the training of our throwers. In other words, we began utilizing weighted balls. We started with 3 weights: a one-pound ball (16 oz),1/2-pound ball (8 oz) and an underload ball (4 oz). The balls we used were called ‘D-Balls’. They were a hollow yellow rubber ball and filled with a type of black graphite with a black cork stopper. I’m not even sure if they even make them anymore. The balls simply were not very functional for the punishment we were placing them through.
Eventually, Mr. Robert Oates of Oates Specialties began to work with us to customize the balls to withstand the rigor in which we took them through. That evolution and innovation between Oates Specialties and the Ranch remain constant even today.
It is important to point out that the baseball universe even in 2002 was much different than the one of today. In 2002 we were seen, of course, initially as heretics, crazy and dangerous in using weighted balls in any matter, shape or form. We were regularly excoriated publicly on websites, message boards and blog posts for our ‘reckless’ behavior and ‘placing the athletes in our care at unnecessary risk just to gain a few miles per hour’.
In hindsight, all this scrutiny was actually a blessing. Every day when we went to work we had no doubt that the world was watching, just waiting to pounce on our ‘dangerous’ and ‘ineffective’ training methods.
Several times I actually had rather influential baseball people get me in private and say, “Ron, just between you and me… off the record… how many TJ’s did you have at the Ranch?” Apparently, many people thought it impossible that we could do both… arm health/durability AND performance enhancement.The baseball universe at that time simply believed it impossible to thread the needle between those two outcomes.
Ah Ha #1. Prehab vs. Rehab
The first thing we did was make weighted balls initially the cornerstone of our Arm Care Program. We didn’t race to velocity enhancement initially because quite frankly we didn’t know what we were going to find, so we started slowly with arm care.
By that time (2002) I had attended for several years in a row the ASMI Injuries in Baseball Conference in Birmingham Alabama. The impetus of the conferences was not performance enhancement; however, I found the symposiums to be exceptional on the topic of rehabilitation. Strangely enough, in the area of ‘rehab’ there appeared to be widespread acceptance on the use of weighted poly balls and rebounders.
It occurred to me…THIS is exactly where we are going to begin with weighted implements. Weighted balls would be utilized first as a prehab/arm car process allowing our athlete’s soft tissue to first become accustomed to the stimulus/load and then… after a period of assessment… see where we go after that.
Ah Ha #2. The Reformation-The Engineer and Pushing the Performance Envelope.
In 2003, we invited a man by the name of Paul Nyman to speak at our Coaches Boot Camp. He was an engineer with a track background but a love of baseball. He gave two presentations that fundamentally and forever changed the way we trained at our facility. For several years we had been in search of a training process that rejected the conventional paradigms and antiquated, ineffective training methods. In Paul Nyman we found exactly that.
Paul Nyman gave us a new paradigm and a new perspective. We referred to our personal iteration of Nyman’s dynamic systems paradigms as “The Athletic Pitcher Program”. Even publicly, I have long described Nyman’s work as essentially the ‘Reformation’ in baseball training. Today, Nyman remains the single greatest outside influence upon the Ranch and its fundamental training processes in our history.
In 2003, Nyman proposed the unthinkable. He offered a structured, incremental weighted ball throwing program coupled with radar as objective feedback. To Nyman and his engineering/ track background, it was basic common sense. To the baseball elite, it was heresy.
Ah Ha #3. Deceleration Is as Important as Acceleration
Dr. Mike Marshall won the National League Cy Young Award in 1974 and set a Major League record for most appearances by a relief pitcher in 1974, appearing in a mind-blowing 106 games. He is the holder of two Major League records, both of which he set in the 1974 season: most appearances (games pitched) in a season (106), and most consecutive team games with a relief appearance (13). In his record-setting 1974 season, he pitched 208.3 innings, all of which came in relief appearances.
Those statistics alone should force any logical trainer/coach/athlete to sit up and take notice and to ask questions. Dr. Marshall endorses a very unique movement pattern that in many ways is the antithesis of the current orthodoxy. Many people simply could not grasp his nonconventional approach and/or Dr. Marshall’s often bombastic and acerbic manner.
We brought Dr. Mike Marshall in as a keynote presenter to our annual Coaches Symposium and just as advertised, he challenged the status quo and turned the preverbal instructional apple cart upside down, taking no prisoners with regard to his absolute disdain for contemporary methods of pitcher development. In our opinion, Dr. Marshall made a very compelling argument giving evidence that not only were the current standard training processes ineffective, in fact, they were complicit in the influx of injuries and surgical interventions.
While Dr. Marshall had very, very few complimentary things to say about our training or our approach, we in turn learned a great deal from him regarding the critical importance of systematically preparing soft tissue for the rigors of pitching in competition, as well as the often-overlooked nature of the efficiency of an athlete’s pattern of deceleration.
Dr. Marshall was the first person we ever heard articulate the connection between deceleration and acceleration, “The body and arm will only accelerate itself as efficiently as it can decelerate itself.”
So, from Dr. Marshal we took two very critical pieces to our current training protocols:
#1) That our process of preparing our athlete’s soft tissue for throwing needed to be far more robust than our previous methods.
#2) That the efficiency of our athlete’s patterns of deceleration not only matters with regards to health, durability and recovery but also are influential with regards to velocity enhancement.
In other words, if my soft tissue isn’t sufficiently prepared for the push or my pattern of dissipating energy and slowing down my arm is inefficient, a velocity enhancement program almost certainly needs to be postponed until those areas are adequately addressed, or injury will all too often be the result. At the very least, any efforts at velocity enhancements will be constrained or hampered if these areas are deficient.
Unfortunately, this description of inadequate preparation of soft tissue and/or inefficient patterns of deceleration is far more common than most people think. It’s yet another reason young men get injured while embarking on a velocity building program. In our opinion, weighted balls too often serve as a diversion to the root contributors of injury. Ah-Ha #3 is a classic case in point.
Ah Ha #4. Start with the Pain and Hyper-Personalize
Fresh off the presentations of Paul Nyman and Mike Marshall, we began to experiment with weighted balls as a velocity enhancement process. However, we did so with two crucially important caveats:
A. The athlete currently does not have arm/shoulder/elbow issues
B. The athlete had a minimum of 6 weeks throwing weighted balls in our arm care process
If the athlete passed out of that basic 2 step criteria, they were eligible for our initial velocity enhancement process. We referred to this process as “Starting with the Pain”.
As an important side note, every single session would end with an arm health self-re-assessment. In other words, when each athlete would finish a session, we would immediately check with them on the status of their arm. If they rated their discomfort as a 4 or higher, they would automatically be withheld from the next scheduled session until their arm health returns to normal. If, at any time during the session, their arm discomfort rises above a 4 on a 0-10 scale or anything feels odd or strange, they were to immediately suspend their training session.
This basic process remains standard operating procedure almost 15 years later.
First- always prepare the soft tissue for 4-6 weeks prior to our initial push.
Second- closely monitor every athlete’s arm health each session and adjust their processes based on the individual.
Third- never hesitate in delaying or suspending the process if the arm is not responding well. Learn to train your pitchers to be intimate with their arm and understand that some days it is simply time to shut it down and decide to fight another day. In other words, if you’re ‘not feeling it’today, many times the right call is to suspend your push for today and come at it again later in the week or the next week. Injury will certainly place a REAL delay in your development. It is never a good idea to push to the point you become injured.
Ah Ha #5. Mechanical Efficiency (Connection) Matters… A lot
In 2005, I watched a sports medicine TV program about an orthopedic doctor who specializes in treating world class elite long-distance running athletes. His comments regarding injuries in this very specific population of athletes really resonated with me.
He basically said that most doctors treat the injuries to elite long-distance runners from a faulty paradigm. This was the gist of his comments:
Of course, world-class distance runners have incredibly high workloads, that’s the very reason why they are world class, so if your instinct is to treat the injury primarily or exclusively by the simple reduction of their workload, you will be of little practical use to your athletes. They run, that’s what they do. They run a great deal and that’s why they are elite.
Instead, he urged the doctors to look deeper and closer, and not be so plastic in their perspective. Elite long-distance runners are far from normal. Therefore, he concluded a conventional approach to injury reduction for the general population will not typically be beneficial to the elite long-distance runner.
If, he argued, the elite runner has an inefficiency in his running form or their shoes do not fully support their feet, under any considerable workloads of course injury is eventually going to often be the result. Therefore, he proposed, in many cases, the workload was only a symptom or an ancillary contributor to injury and not the cause itself.
For example, if a runner actually ran on the side of his/her feet, would managing his/her workload be a sufficient solution? The obvious answer is absolutely not. Reducing his/ her workload may delay the final breakdown but would do NOTHING toward a solution. The only solution would be to improve the efficiency in which he runs.
That made absolutely perfect sense to me. Applying this orthopod’s logic to throwing athletes, it became obvious to us at the Ranch that mechanical efficiency also really matters when it came to deciding who was approved to take part in our velocity enhancement programs. Over the past 12 years, we have identified 12 primary movement pattern disconnections that have the potential to add stress to soft tissue.
So, when we initially assess athletes and find a significant level of one or more of the 12 disconnections, coupled with arm pain or difficulty recovering from throwing sessions, that indicates to us that we must first reduce the disconnection, reduce the discomfort of the arm and increase their ability to recover and bounce back before we throw them into a velocity enhancement program.
To us at the Ranch, this simply is common sense. If I have some arm discomfort on a regular basis currently and NOW I’m going to really ramp up the stress, load, and intensity, why should I be surprised when injury or shut down is the result?
Bottom line: In our opinion, this is one of the most common reasons so many young arms are injured from weighted ball programs and velocity enhancement programs. They are already on the edge of injury right now. The weighted ball just simply was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Ah Ha #6. Holism- Everything Matters. The Continual Search for the Simplicity on the Far Side of Complexity
Many players and their parents desperately want development and performance enhancement to be simple. They want their coaches or instructors/trainers to explain the incredible complexity of human performance with catchy phases, teaching cues and/or one-size-fits-all recipes to success.
In the privacy of quiet reflection, most of us would realize this type of process is simply fool’s gold.
Need velocity? Just get on the internet and obtain a good weighted ball program.
Need arm health? Just get on YouTube and watch a good arm care process.
Need command? Throw more frequent bullpens.
Need better secondary stuff? Ask your instructor/coach for a new grip. Maybe find out how Clayton Kershaw holds it.
In our estimation, these suggestions are not bad in and of themselves, they are simply endemic of a much bigger problem. Most people routinely underestimate the complexity and difficulty of consistently performing well at highest levels of competition. At the Texas Baseball Ranch®, we have run head first into that reality, again and again, ourselves over the past 15 years.
In 2010 to give our team at the Texas Baseball Ranch® a foundation to understand and deal with that complexity, I created a chart to guide us. It has since been edited and slightly improved upon, but the foundation remains unchanged in 8 years and is a fixture in our core philosophy.
This chart was my effort to remind myself and my staff to continually recognize and appreciate the complexity of high performance, to refrain from the constant lure of trying to explain the unexplainable to a client and yet create a sensible foundation from which we could make valid and sound decisions and judgments.
The 6 Primary Contributors to Substandard Performance
What is keeping you from having a healthy, durable, electric arm?
Why is this chart so important? What does it have to do with the efficacy of a weighted ball program? Simple…
For example, the belief at the Ranch consortium is:
If the athlete’s physical structure, alignment, strength, balance, mobility/flexibility or stability is considerably limited, constrained, compromised or deficient, a weighted ball velocity enhancement program is contraindicated and will have to wait until those issues are addressed.
If the athlete’s mechanical efficiency is questionable or marginal and has manifested abject pain or difficulties in recovery, then a weighted ball velocity enhancement program is contraindicated and will have to wait until those issues are addressed.
If the athlete hasn’t built a minimum of a 6-week foundation of preparation for their soft tissue, a weighted ball velocity enhancement program is contraindicated and will have to wait until those issues are addressed.
We have taken our share of criticism from some corners of the baseball universe that we overly hype pain and for our ‘overzealous need’ for multiple assessments before engaging on a velocity program. We truly don’t mind the criticism. Everyone should be free to come to their own conclusions. However, that doesn’t necessarily make the criticism cogent.
As I alluded to previously, we have been attempting to tread the needle between arm health/durability and performance for the past 16 years. In that time, we have found some really good news that we wish everybody in the baseball universe would understand and take advantage of, and that good news is this…
The Really Good News
#1. We have found that if we can simply assist each athlete in reducing or eliminating any regular discomfort of his elbow or shoulder and/or significantly improve his ability to recover/bounce back, that athlete will in fact nearly always (85% of the time) experience a slight but notable uptick of 1-3 mph in velocity in 4 weeks of his improvement in his arm health and durability.
This should only make sense. If the athlete’s arm feels better…he will naturally ‘step on the accelerator’.If his arm is more durable, he can throw more often and for longer stretches of time. Do those behaviors appear to support enhanced velocity? The answer is without question… yes!
#2. We have found that as the athlete improves his mechanical efficiency and builds his throwing foundation, any weighted ball program we place him under in the future will be far more effective.
The fact many people often forget is that ALL balls are ‘weighted’. Every ball ever created has weight. The common vernacular of ‘weighted balls’ infers that the balls they are utilizing are typically heavier than the 5 ¼ounce regulation baseballs. Coop DeRenne used the terms ‘overload’ and ‘underload’ to help further clarify his process. We of course are shaped by the works of DeRenne and Nyman and use similar language.
I do believe it is a rather foolish and antiquated position to take that a 5 ¼ounce ball is somehow a ‘safe’ weight but 3 ounces or 7 ounces are dangerous.
We suggest viewing the weight and size of the balls in your training as a specific type of stimulus, and just like dosage/time/frequency in medicine matters, so does the specific stimulus in training. Sometimes the individual is ready for and indeed should have ‘more’. Other times, ‘more’ would be dangerous.
It will take customization, communication, testing, assessment and constant monitoring to maximizes it’s affects and minimize its risks. One thing is for certain, the one-size-fits-all processes that I see firsthand out there now does none of those. They are simple, but they are often far from benign.
We have indeed come a long way from the 1990’s in terms of our perspective on weighted balls. That’s a great thing. However, in my opinion, until and unless we can move past the desire to obtain a universal, monolithic, catchall weighted ball throwing program, we as a baseball universe will keep running head first into the unintended consequences of inappropriate and misapplied training, with injury and surgical intervention as the much too frequent outcomes.
But of course, it’s not weighted balls that are the problem. The problem is how they are utilized. As my late father was frequent to remind me when I complained about my equipment, “It’s rarely the bow that’s the problem…it’s the skill of the Indian warrior using it that matters.”
A Steven Covey quote that I think is the perfect way to end our discussion of weighted ball training,
“If there is no gardener, there is no garden.”
Our advice at the Ranch Consortium, when it comes to weighted balls and velocity enhancement programs, become the gardener. It’s the difference maker.
At our baseball training programs camps, we work with players of every age and experience level. It’s not uncommon to have a major league client on site, but it’s also not unusual to see a cool 9 year-old running around .
Spring Training is beginning soon for major and minor league professionals, college and high school seasons are rolling and the young guys — middle schoolers and below — are launching into their rec and travel ball campaigns.
About this time of year, as the arm pain management division of the Baseball Ranch® consortium, I field a lot of questions about growth plate injuries.
So what are growth plate injuries, and how do they occur?
First let me tell you what they are not… usually they are not catastrophic. So when you find that your son or daughter, or one of your players has suffered a growth plate injury there is no need to panic. Most of the time, a simple period of rest is all they need to get back on track.
Think of growth plates as little factories, manufacturing bone cells and depositing them on the bone to make it longer. There are several growth plates in the shoulder and the elbow. When an athlete is fully grown, these growth plates fuse and the factory shuts down. At younger ages, growth plates are highly active and vulnerable to stress.
When exposed to abnormal stress, the body will usually break at its weakest link. In older athletes, the weak link is the connective tissue (rotator cuff, labrum, UCL). In the younger population the weak link is the growth plate.
Not all growth plate injuries are the same. In our baseball training camps and programs, we treat growth plate injuries very differently depending on the type of injury. If you’re dealing with a growth plate injury, it’s good to understand the classifications.
The Salter-Harris classification is a simple and easy to remember system to identify the nature and severity of a growth plate injury. It uses the name “Salter” as a pneumonic memory jogger. According to sketchymedicine.com, it goes like this:
Depending on the classification of the injury, treatment could range from simple rest, to casting, to surgery.
Most of the growth plate injuries we see are of the “S” variety — the growth plate becomes separated, and manifests itself in the form of pain. This type of injury may or may not be seen on x-ray. But, if a young athlete experiences persistent pain in the shoulder or the elbow, you should be suspicious of a growth plate injury.
The same variables that contribute to soft tissue injuries in the older athlete, also place the growth plates at risk. I discussed these factors at great length in my book, Start With The Pain: The Complete Guide To Managing Arm Pain In The Elite Throwing Athlete, but as a review, here they are again in order of significance:
Type 1 contributors: structural/physical related (tightness, weakness, asymmetries, imbalances, etc…)
Type 2 contributors: movement pattern related.
Type 3 contributors: tissue preparation and recovery.
Type 4 contributors: training related factors.
Type 5 contributors: workload (pitch counts, innings limits).
Type 6 contributors: nutrition, hydration, sleep, and psychological stress.
Coaches at our baseball training camps know that, when you have a soft tissue injury (UCL, labrum, rotor cuff) that doesn’t result in catastrophic failure, it’s very important during the rehab process that you provide controlled stress to organize the healing tissue along the line of resistance. It’s a concept known as Davis’s Law – a physiologic precept stating that all connective tissue in the human body organizes itself to resist the stresses under which it is placed. For this reason, in the case of soft tissue injuries to the throwing athlete, rest may be the worst thing you can do. If the tissue is not completely disrupted, it needs a mechanical signal to guide reorganization as it heals. This is when we recommend light throwing or throwing in the Durathro® Training Sock for players in our baseball training programs.
But when it comes to growth plate injuries, tissue reorganization is not the primary goal. Protecting the growth plate and preventing the injury from progressing to a more serious situation is the order at hand. In that regard, the growth plate injury is one of the few throwing disorders for which I would indeed prescribe total rest. An acceptable amount of rest could range from 2-8 weeks depending on the nature and severity of the injury. By “rest”, we mean avoidance of throwing, not complete cessation of all training activities.
When working with injured players in our baseball training camps, one of our mantras is, “Never let what you can’t do keep you from doing what you can.” While the athlete is waiting for his growth plate aggravation to subside, he should work to eliminate any possible constraints in stability and/or mobility that might be contributing to the problem. He may also be able to work on improving lower half power and efficiency – traits that will help him attenuate stress on the arm once he’s read to resume throwing. During this time, the young athlete can also learn a quality warm-up and recovery process that will serve him well when he eventually resumes throwing activities.
After the appropriate rest period has elapsed, it is extremely important to address all the movement pattern related variables that might have contributed to the injury. A video analysis of the throwing pattern should reveal any arm action of lower half inefficiencies that might have combined with structural, preparation, recovery, or training related factors that could have created an environment for his injury to occur. From this analysis, an individualized corrective throwing plan can be designed and executed.
Frequency, intensity and volume of throwing should always be ramped up gradually, monitoring the athlete for any report of pain.
If you are the parent or coach of a young thrower, awareness of the possibility of a growth plate injury could lead to early detection, intervention and avoidance of a more severe injury.
Do you need to get an x-ray or a MRI immediately if your adolescent thrower reports pain? Probably not.
Most growth plate injuries are relatively benign and respond well to brief rest. However, in the case of intense, intolerable pain, or if the pain persists even after a couple of weeks of rest, it may be helpful to seek out imaging to get a more clear picture of the situation and possible treatment options.
Are you having arm pain? If you are, I’m sure you’d like to get it settled. If you don’t take care of it now, at best it could nag you throughout the rest of the year and at worst it could evolve into something more serious.
We literally wrote the book on arm pain management. Learn more about how we eliminate arm pain. Then give us a call at 866-STRIKE3 (866-787-4533) and let us set you up with a Precision Strike One Day, One-on-One Evaluation and Training Plan.
We’ll do a total body physical exam and a video analysis to identify any variable that might be contributing to your pain. We’ll work with you to develop a training plan tailored to your specific need and we’ll help you return to pain free throwing quickly and safely.
We can’t wait to see you at The Ranch.
“Overhand throwing is an unnatural movement.”
The 2020 Vandy commit from Boca Raton, FL was a low to mid 80s lefty when I met him on September 23, 2016. He and his father made the 3-hour drive to the Florida Baseball Ranch® for a Precision Strike One Day One-On-One Evaluation and Training session. We conducted a full head-to-toe physical assessment and a video analysis of his movement pattern. We noted a few mobility issues and a slightly elevated distal humerus and crafted a customized multi-dimensional training plan. Nelson “bought in” to the process completely and diligently executed his program. After a few tweaks, a little work on his mobility, and some power building, it wasn’t long before he was touching 88 mph.
Nelson and his Dad returned to the Ranch for a pre-season check up in December of 2016, upon which I noted that his mobility had improved significantly. His dad Ross Berkwich, a lifetime Yoga instructor, had seen to that! His video analysis showed that he was much more biomechanically efficient and essentially free from gross constraints. More importantly, he was pain free and ready to have a great year.
He entered his high school season with high hopes and even higher expectations. Things seemed to be progressing well. Nelson was his usual dominant self on the mound. But then one cool night in April, during a routine district game a couple of weeks before the high school playoffs were to begin, Nelson’s elbow started to hurt. The next day it was worse, and even after several days of rest, he still couldn’t muster up a full effort throw without experiencing pain. The location of the pain was right over his UCL. Fearing the worst, local coaches and medical acquaintances advised him to seek a MRI.
Instead, Nelson’s father called the Florida Baseball Ranch®.
After discussing the young lefty’s playing and training activities over the last 4 months, his father sent me video of Nelson making a sub-maximal flat-ground throw in an unidentified hotel parking lot. It wasn’t optimal but it was the best we could do since we needed to act quickly. Nelson’s high school playoffs, summer season and a tryout with Team USA were approaching rapidly.
When I reviewed the video, I noticed that during the past 4 months, which had consisted primarily of pitching in games, resting, and throwing bullpens, his former arm action disconnection — the elevated distal humerus — had returned. But, more importantly, he had become quad dominant in his first move, projecting him toward the first base on-deck circle. In an attempt to compensate, he opened his lead leg early but still found himself landing across his body. This prevented him from adequately rotating around his front hip, causing his deceleration pattern to become linear, which resulted in a valgus stress on the medial elbow when he reached full extension. Click here to read more about the dangers of a linear deceleration pattern. In my view, it wasn’t one thing causing his pain… it was probably a little of all of the above.
I felt certain we could help him if we could improve his arm action and his lower half efficiency. But, how were we going to change his movement pattern during the season, especially if he couldn’t throw a baseball without pain?
I texted Nelson and asked him if he had his sock with him. He said he did so I told him to go back outside to the parking and make a few throws with a 7-ounce ball in the sock and let me know how it felt.
Within 5 minutes I received his reply:
In our Start With The Pain system Nelson would be classified as a Level 2 intervention. This would typically involve a 25-day return to throwing program that would include sock throws, a connection ball, and a series of corrective throwing drills. As his movement pattern improved and his pain subsided, we would gradually wean him from the sock and the connection ball and then ramp up to full intent baseball throws.
But, Nelson didn’t have 25 days. His high school playoffs were set to begin in less than 2 weeks and I knew he really wanted to be there for his team.
Since Nelson had trained with us extensively and had demonstrated heightened body awareness for a player his age, I felt he would be able to make the necessary changes more quickly than most. I immediately went to work and wrote a 10-day return to throwing plan. He would spend the first 3 days performing 8 different corrective throwing drills in the training sock at 5 reps each (no baseball throws). Then each day he continue with his drills, shifting the ratio of sock throws to baseball throws to 4:1, 3:2, 2:3, 1:4, and 0:5. He would also taper his use of the connection ball until it was no longer needed. As always, Nelson’s pain would be our guide. He was instructed to keep the intensity of his throws below the pain threshold and to check in with me every day with a report on his progress. By the 10th day, Nelson was pain free with all his drill throws, so we decided to try the mound. He threw a 15-pitch bullpen without pain, and by the time the playoffs rolled around, he was ready to answer the bell.
Nelson continued to have a fantastic year on the summer travel ball circuit. And then last week, I got a text from his dad who was elated to report that Nelson had touched 89 mph, made the final cut and been placed on the roster for 15u Team USA. At the time of the text Nelson was on a plane to Columbia with his teammates on a mission to claim the title of World Champions.
We couldn’t be happier for Nelson and his family. This young man exemplifies the qualities of integrity, passion for the game, perseverance and the relentless pursuit of excellence we espouse. He is truly a “Ranch Guy.”
From fearing a Tommy John injury to representing his country on the world’s biggest stage… what a ride that must have been for Nelson and his family!
Proud of you dude!!!
Now go bring home the Gold!!!
It’s a term I coined a long time ago.
Any time 3 or more of anything falls, I call it a “that thing” valanche.
This is an Avalanche…
This is a Ballvalanche…
And this thing…
This accident waiting to happen…
If you attempt to add to or take away from this chaotic cluster nut, the slightest perturbation of the equilibrium could begin a cascade of events resulting in a bona fide bowlvalanche.
How do you avoid this catastrophe? To paraphrase hall of fame pitching coach, Elmer Fudd, “Vewy carefully.”
Take away what you must.
Add what you need.
But be very cautious in doing so.
It’s like that when you work with pitchers too.
Imagine this Tupperware Jenga display represents the complexity and individuality of the throwing motion (and its probably not far off). One can easily visualize its precarious nature. When attempting to make mechanical adjustments, if you add too much or add it too quickly you could get a bowlvalanche. On the other hand if you take the opposite approach and start minimizing movement, taking things away… one wrong move and… you guessed it… bowlvalanche!!
My intent is not to disparage anyone, and by no means do I ever claim to have it all figured out. Every pitching coach I know truly has a heart for helping his players improve, but often our knowledge is incomplete. In our attempts to help, we do more harm than good. Sometimes we add too much, putting a disruptive personal stamp on the athlete, forcing movement patterns that inhibit the pitcher’s ability. What often follows is a cascade of disconnections and kinesthetic confusion that leads to an erosion of performance that can progress to pain or injury.
Sometimes we fall into the archaic 1980s approach of reductionism. We try to “minimize movement to maximize efficiency”.This represents a deep lack of understanding about injury and performance. It’s a failed model. For over 30 years pitching coaches at very high levels have taken a “less is more” approach while attempting to produce “a repeatable delivery”. We continually misunderstand the difference between simplification and efficiency. We “simplify” the pitcher’s mechanics to the point of robbing him of athleticism and more importantly, his adjustability.
The hardest thrower we’ve ever developed (99.7mph on our mound and 98 in a nationally televised Division 1 game) was
drafted in the 12th round by a MLB club. Over the next 12 months, they “coached him” down to 85 mph, then released him. Well done!
And here we go again. In pursuit of this elusive “repeatable delivery” the pitcher’s movement is pared down to it’s simplest form. The athlete loses athleticism and explosiveness, but more importantly he loses his adjustability.
So what does it mean to have an adjustable delivery?
To explain this we must address the fundamental flaw in reductionist thinking – that a repeatable delivery is even possible. Listen closely…
It does not exist.
You cannot repeat your mechanics.
Every pitch will present a unique set of subtle, yet important deviations or errors. Instead of repeatable mechanics, what we need to pursue is world-class, in-flight adjustability that gives the athlete pre-organized solutions to self-correct when his delivery begins to veer off course.
Dr. Nikolai Bernstein proved it with his famous Blacksmith experiment back in the 1920s. He
took some of Russia’s greatest blacksmiths, tagged them with lights at strategic places on their bodies (the first biomarkers) and used serial photography and rudimentary motion pictures to observe them performing the singular task of driving a nail into a log with one swing. What he found was revolutionary to the motor learning industry, yet many coaches still don’t get it. When he compared the movement patterns of these high level hammer swingers across all subjects, Bernstein noted that they all demonstrated slightly different swings. They all achieved the goal every time, but no two subjects displayed the same pattern. But, more importantly no single blacksmith was able to repeat the same movement pattern on any of his trials. The results were always the same – the nail was pounded into the log — but the path to get there was different every time. It created a problem in motor learning science known as “the degrees of freedom problem”. Top down, centrally controlled models frequently used to explain movement patterns do not account for the variability present in all human movement.
Instead of seeking repeatable mechanics what we’re really looking for are repeatable results.
If an athlete can’t make real time adjustments to his movement, he has no means to self-correct and he is left to the mercy of his connective tissue restraints (e.g. UCLs and labrums). Training subconsciously with variable stimulus (weighted balls, varied surfaces, multi-dimensional drills, and modulating goals) while permitting creativity allows for self-organization of patterns with built-in adjustability. When the athlete’s arm begins to stray off course he already has a pre-formatted solution to the error and his body automatically rights itself and returns to a mote efficient, powerful, accurate, and durable pattern.
As a matter of principle, I avoid making injury predictions. But in my humble opinion, Stephen Strasburg should not try to “simplify his mechanics.” Instead he should develop an efficient throwing pattern that minimizes his disconnections while maximizing his adjustability. Otherwise, he may be looking at another trip to the DL and ultimately a catastrophic… bowlvalanche.
Randy Sullivan, MPT, CSCS
P.S We’ve recently announce the dates for our Elite Performers Bootcamps for the rest of 2017… CLICK HERE!
P.P.S. Learn all about our incredible 2017 Ultimate Summer Training Program RIGHT HERE.
I want to provide some feedback and tips that I have learned from my time as a pitcher. To provide a little more information about myself, I was an undersized individual with the heart and will to do whatever it took to succeed. I cannot tell you how many times I was told that I was not big enough to accomplish my dreams. But through sheer determination, I became the ace of my high school pitching staff, topped out at 92mph off the mound, and received a college scholarship from a nationally ranked junior college. I would not have had any of this success without proper arm care. I never would have thrown as hard or been able to answer the bell and take the mound each time my coach called on me without it. Proper arm care allowed me to achieve success in my baseball career. Most people would probably agree that arm care is critical for success, but let me ask you one question. Do you have obstacles preventing you from your ideal arm care routine?
If you answered no to this question then, like Coach Ron Wolforth often says, “you did not understand the question.” We all face obstacles in the game of baseball, but there seems to be a lot more when it comes to things like arm care. I am convinced this is because arm care is not glorious or fancy. After a game, everybody wants to shower and eat, and family and friends want to talk to you, just to name a few of the post-game distractions. Another obstacle is that you often need special (expensive) equipment in order to implement proper warm-up and cool down protocols. I see on Instagram the craze with cryotherapy, deep tissue massage, electrical stimulation devices, and so on. I believe each one of these devices and techniques could have a place in health and recovery. But are these expensive, time-consuming recovery techniques applicable in the REAL WORLD or only in the IDEAL WORLD? I for one believe they realistically could only be used in the IDEAL setting. Perhaps some professional facilities or a fully equipped training room would have these options at your disposal. Realistically, the majority of people do not have the space, money, or expertise to use such equipment day in and day out.
So now what? A typical baseball player faces many obstacles such as a lack of time and equipment, so how does one overcome these? I would like to share the way I overcame these obstacles, and how I wish I would have overcome others in the past. I believe first and foremost it is critical to realize arm care is a MUST not just something you hope or strive to do. The next thing to combat is time. I remember times where we would be late arriving to games because of school, schedules, traffic, and other unavoidable things. So to overcome this, I would carry my glove and a weighted ball to class on game days. I felt like just holding and moving the weighted ball around would help me be loose for the game. I remember carrying my wrist weights to class, and I would perform exercises to loosen up. I would make sure that I had everything in my bag that I needed. I recommend never relying on someone else to bring something when it is this important. I would always find a quick 10 minute window to perform resistance tubing exercises. Finally, I would never pick-up a baseball without throwing weighted balls first, even if it was only a couple of throws, because it was critical for me and the health of my arm. When I look back, I wish the Baseball Training Sock would have been around for me to use because I could have performed weighted ball throws on the bus or in class.
All of the above occurred before the game, but after the game there are even more distractions. As I stated earlier, your teammates are ready to go eat or celebrate (if victorious) or people want to see you, which can pressure you to rush or even skip a proper cool down routine. I would do the same things I just mentioned above on the bus ride home. If we were home that day, I would perform my IDEAL cool down. I was and am a big proponent on doing what you did to warm-up to cool down as well. I do believe I would have greatly benefitted from the compression floss to enhance my recovery since I could perform it anywhere, and reap the rewards.
Now what about equipment? I whole-heartedly believe that some equipment is needed to have a great arm care routine. The equipment that I utilized on a daily basis was resistance tubing, weighted balls, wrist weights, and exercise bands. You would never find me without this equipment. If I was still playing, I would also include the baseball training sock and the compression floss as well. If you look at the cost of these items, they are relatively inexpensive, and certainly far less expensive than some of the items I mentioned previously. One of the reasons I know how blessed I am to work for Oates Specialties LLC is because I personally used the products. They helped me in more ways than I can describe, and it did not cost my parents a fortune. That does not mean to say they did not spend a lot elsewhere, but I remember my mom and dad would let me pick one item at a time. Slowly I began to accumulate everything (including first class instruction) I needed to succeed. Fortunately, you do not need expensive tools to have a good arm care protocol. I believe you only need a few pieces of equipment and the knowledge of how to incorporate them.
Am I saying there is not a place for the more expensive implements? Absolutely not. You can use all different types of equipment to enhance your arm care and recovery regimen. There are clearly reasons why professional teams spend a ton of money equipping their training rooms with such equipment. I just believe they are used in an IDEAL setting, which can be attainable sometimes, but not all the time.
In conclusion, there are numerous obstacles or hurdles that can get in the way of accomplishing your goal. To me, these obstacles were the most acute when dealing with arm care, and I just wanted to provide information on how I personally overcame them. We each have our own specific obstacles, so figure out what it is that may be preventing you from succeeding, and find a way to combat it!
Be Unique and #BeELITE!
Baseball holds a special place in our society and, because of this, there is often nostalgia associated with the game. We discuss the game's greatest players with such reverence. We talk about the game's unwritten rules, the beauty of a perfectly executed hit and run, and a knee buckling curve ball. Many of us have vivid memories connected to a certain game, team, or players. This is what makes baseball America's Pastime. But the nostalgia for the way the game was played yesteryear, has created generations of baseball people who have been unwilling to adapt--unable to see that certain things about the way baseball athletes train needed to be updated and brought to the 21st century.
Fortunately, over the last 15 years or so, there has been a titanic shift throughout the baseball world. The baseball community has slowly, but surely, began to change its mindset with regard to training. Oates Specialties has been proud to be a part of this movement.
Perhaps the greatest change has come with regard to the perspective of how pitchers should train and prepare to pitch. The most notable result of this paradigm shift is the proliferation of academies, coaches, and trainers who are using new training tools and movements in order to help pitchers build a bigger motor. In other words, these coaches and trainers understand that the number one way to increase velocity is to build athleticism and explosiveness in an athlete. The primary focus of this training--as applied to the throwing motion--is on the acceleration phase. This is important. We all know that a pitcher has zero shot of making it to the next level without adequate velocity. But if that pitcher can't stay healthy, it really doesn't matter how hard he throws.
To provide an illustrative example: say you drive a Honda Accord and one day I walk up to you and give you a Ferrari. I then tell you to go as fast as possible. What I don't tell you is that the Ferrari has faulty brakes. Those brakes may or may not stop the car. Would you want to see how fast that Ferrari could go? Not if you're sane.
The bottom line is that a Ferrari without good brakes isn't much good at all. It's a recipe for disaster. The same is true for an athlete who successfully improves the acceleration phase of his delivery without intentional and serious focus on the deceleration phase. At the end of the day, assisting an athlete in increasing his velocity isn't the most difficult task. If you help that athlete become a more explosive, athletic version of himself on the mound he will likely gain some MPHs (achieving increased velocity is more nuanced than this, but you get my point). Instead, the most difficult task is to help an athlete increase velocity AND decrease arm tenderness/soreness/pain while also improving recovery between outings. This is a very different task. Think about it: if you increase velocity you are increasing arm speed, which means your arm is having to endure a greater load and more stress placed on it. It also means your body has to bring to a stop an arm that has accelerated to a higher speed in the same amount of time/space.
Oates Specialties prides itself in carrying the tools every throwing athlete can use to strengthen and care for the arm and improve the deceleration phase of the throwing motion. It is of such importance to us, that we have a category of products on our website entitled "Arm Care" where you will find these tools--most notably, wrist weights, the TAP Baseball Training Sock, First Responder Resistance Tubing, TAP Bell Clubs, Extreme Duty Weighted Balls, Exercise Bands, Rocket Wrap Compression Floss, and the Shoulder Tube. An athlete can, and should, train to both strengthen the arm, but also to properly learn how to decelerate through proper pronation, including how to hold this pronation for as long as possible (short answer: continue rotating over the landing leg).
Without a healthy arm, a baseball athlete cannot take the field. And without taking the field that athlete cannot compete at his current level, much less make it to the next level. Plus, the longer it takes your arm to recover from an outing the longer it is before you can get back to training to become a better pitcher, regardless of whether the objective is to increase velocity, improve command, or sharpen your breaking ball.
So my recommendation for each and every one of you is to take some time to assess your arm care routine. How much time do you spend improving your arm's brakes compared to the amount of time you spend on your arm's engine? My guess is that most of you are obsessed with the super charger you are busy building on your engine and haven't really thought about the status of the brake pads. Such a perspective is nothing more than short term gain with long term problems.
Oates Specialties is here to help you with your arm care needs, so reach out to us if we can assist you in building your arm care and arm health routines.
Until next time,
Having on-the-field success is the ultimate goal for all athletes. But how is that achieved? The vast majority of people focus on (1) sport specific training and/or (2) athletic abilities, such as strength and speed. Yet, there are more factors that contribute to success than just those two. We all know people with tremendous physical abilities that never achieve success on the field. I think the following graphic is a great example of the building block components that make up a successful athletic performance.
Seems the rage these days is about these new weighted ball things and how they increase velocity.
When we started using weighted balls as part of our process in 2009, in my community you
would have thought I was Jack the Ripper! Naysayers unfairly blasted me privately, and publicly to the point that I finally gave in and stopped using them for a few months.
I soon came to the realization that critics will be critics and accepting their slings and arrows is simply the price I must pay for the privilege of working with all the fine young men in my care.
Sign up for our newsletter to get the latest product news and exclusive special offers!