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Mobility and Flexibility

  • What Is a Growth Plate Injury? What Do Our Baseball Training Programs Do To Fix Them? by Randy Sullivan, MPT, CSCS

    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.
    eliminating arm pain with baseball training camps
    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 Nature Of Different Growth Plate Injuries

    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:

    1. SEPARATED (the bone and the growth plate have come apart) – but it actually looks normal on x-ray (you can only tell on physical exam)
    2. Fracture ABOVE the growth plate
    3. Fracture LOWER than (below) the growth plate – fracture extends to the articular surface
    4. Fracture THROUGH the growth plate
    5. Fracture ERASING/compressing/squashing the growth plate – this is the worst kind because with disruption of the growth plate comes disruption of growth. Type “ER” injuries are usually caused by rare occurrences such as frostbite, electric shock and irradiation. They’re hard to see on x-rays but show up on MRIs.

    baseball training programs to eliminate arm pain

    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.

    What We Do For Growth Plate Injuries

    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.

    What To Do While Healing

    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 Rest Period

    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.

    Baseball training programs that eliminate arm pain
    Randy Sullivan, MPT, CSCS
    CEO, Florida Baseball Ranch

  • The Top 4 Ways Pitchers Become Disconnected - By Randy Sullivan, MPT, CSCS

    “Overhand throwing is an unnatural movement.”

    That’s what “they” say.
    Who says that?
    You know, the ubiquitous yet ever-elusive “they” who reign supreme as the self-appointed authority on just about everything.

    Well… not surprisingly, “they” are wrong again.

    According to a June 2013 report published in the journal Nature, throwing has been “natural” since our Homo Erectus ancestors began chucking rocks and sticks at large prey about 1.9 million years ago.

    Humans are born to throw.It’s in our DNA. And when left to our own devices, most throwers learn to do so without the need for any coaching or guidance. Yet, despite the natural nature (that’s redundant and repetitive) of throwing, injury rates continue to climb and although most players desire to throw at a high level, many never achieve it.

    How can this be?

    As I reflect on this question, I am guided toward yet another stroke of brilliance from Coach Ron Wolforth of The Texas Baseball Ranch. Sometime around 2015, Coach Wolforth presented a list of 11 of the most common “disconnections” that limit a player’s ability to throw hard, demonstrate elite level command, developed high caliber secondary stuff and/or recover on schedule. At the risk of sounding like a slobbering lap dog, I am frequently impressed by Ron’s ability to see through complex problems and pare them down to comprehensible, manageable categories. Hyper-individualization of training plans across multiple dimensions is the hallmark and the desired endpoint of the TBR/FBR consortium but without categorization there can be no systemized path to customization.

    Categorize, then customize.
    That’s the formula and in my opinion it’s brilliant.

    Throwing at a superior level is about being “connected”. When a delivery is connected all the body parts are acting in timing and synergy with one another. Every part is playing its proper role and performing in concert with all the other body parts and those parts are operating around a stable spine.
    Disconnections are defined as instances when a body part acts independently, away from the natural synergy of the rest of the body or apart from a stable spine. Disconnections add stress to connective tissue that can result in injury, premature fatigue and/or difficulty with recovery. Disconnections can also limit an athlete’s ability to summate the forces in the kinetic chain, thereby limiting the ability to achieve optimal velocity. And finally, disconnections can lead to early unraveling of the movement pattern, resulting in command issues and substandard secondary stuff
    Being connected is natural. Disconnections are unnatural.

    So, why do some throwing athletes become disconnected?

    In my experience there are 4 reasons a throwing athlete develops disconnections (and these are listed in order from the most common to the least common).

    • Their disconnections are taught. Through the years, I’ve studied throwing more than most and I’ve screwed some things up along the way. Frankly, many of the concepts I espoused as a young coach probably did more harm than good. There are about 1000 kids I should find and offer my apologies. I taught what I knew… and I was wrong. Like me, there are many well-meaning coaches who unfortunately possess incomplete or in correct information. I’ve never met a coach who intentionally made a player worse, or chose to put him at risk for injury. Nonetheless, many of the standard teaching points in traditional pitching instruction are simply wrong and they encourage disconnections. “Get your elbow up”. “Point the ball to second base.” “Tall and fall.” “Push off the rubber.” All of these well intentioned commands can lead to disconnections that add stress to connective tissue, rob a pitcher of velocity and negatively impact command and secondary stuff. Yes, indeed… many times disconnections are taught.
    • They are desperately seeking energy in the wrong places. When inefficiencies present themselves, they tend to disrupt the kinetic chain such that a player attempting to maximize production subconsciously searches for motor patterns that might be counterproductive or might even put him at risk for injury. This is most commonly demonstrated in the disconnection that is the highly debated inverted W. Defined as any time the throwing athlete moves one or both elbows into extreme abduction with internal rotation of the shoulder. Typically, athletes who demonstrate this disconnection also exhibit poor lower half efficiency. Lacking support from the ground, they look to their upper bodies to produce the energy needed to approach elite level throwing. In my experience, many times if you can improve the lower half movement pattern, this upper half problem goes away.
    • They have mobility or stability constraints that force them to adopt a particular movement pattern. I say this quite often. Mobility and stability constraints are intimately interwoven. Often one will spawn the other. For example, if you have tight quads or you have poor ankle mobility, you’ll probably have a hard time getting into a glute load. Your mobility restrictions will force you to shift your weight toward the ball of your foot and you’ll become quad dominant. This will project the direction of your load toward the on deck circle on your arm side. From this point, unless you have crazy hip internal rotation mobility and motor control, you’ll either land across your body and throw hook shots toward home plate (significantly stressing your connective tissue in the process), or you’ll disconnect with a lead leg opening early, premature torso rotation, leaning hard to the glove side with your posture, you’ll push or leap with your back leg, instead of rotating, in a move that will cause you to release the ball with your back foot in the air – effectively eliminating any further contribution from your lower half. Mobility and/or stability constraint are often major contributors to disconnection and they’re frequently ignored. If you hope to change a pitchers biomechanical patter, you must assess for contributory physical constraints concurrently with a high-speed video analysis.
    • Their body randomly selects an inefficient pathway as they are learning their movement pattern. One of the fundamental principles in motor learning is known as Bernstein Principle #1 and it states, “The body will organize itself in accordance to the overall goal of the activity.” If given a clear goal, the body will find a way to accomplish the task. Note, however that we said the body will find “a way.” That doesn’t necessarily mean it will always choose the safest or the most efficient way. That’s where master teaching/coaching can play the most significant role in player development. As players begin to self-organize new movements we can use motor learning strategies to maximize efficiency and safety, increase the rate of learning for the student and improve transfer to game performance.

    As a master teacher or coach, it is our responsibility to design and execute training protocols that take advantage of all the available motor learning science principle to suppress, improve or eliminate disconnections. And, it seems to me that it would be a whole lot easier to catch them before they became a problem. Get your athlete connected first. Then add energy. That is the Ranch formula and so far it’s going pretty well… and getting better all the time.

    If you’re a throwing athlete who needs to get connected, here’s how you can connect with us, here are 3 links to get you there:

    • Come spend a week or two with us at our incredible Complete Game Winter Training Program. Stay anywhere from 1-6 weeks and train up to 5 hours per day, 5 days per week. Get connected and ramped up for the best season of your life. Click Here to learn more.
    • Schedule a Precision Strike, One-day, One-on-One evaluation and training session. We’ll spend up to 5 hours in a one-on-one experience assessing you for inefficiencies and physical constrain. Then we’ll take that information and design a custom-made training plan that will leave no stone unturned and you’ll leave not only with a world-class comprehensive training plan but you’ll also be offered a process to stay connected with us so we can help you continue your improvement. Click Here to learn more or call us a 866-787-4533 (866-STRIKE3) to schedule an appointment.
    • Come to a weekend Elite Performance Boot Camp. In what can only be considered 2 days of amazing, we’ll conduct a full court press assessment, teach you all the drills and exercises necessary to correct your inefficiencies. You’ll learn about our leading edge motor learning approach and we’ll teach you all you need to know about strength and conditioning, tissue preparation and recovery. You’ll leave with a plan that will make the complex subject of elite thrower training simple and easy to implement.

    We can’t wait to see you at The Ranch®.

    Randy Sullivan, MPT, CSCS
    CEO, Florida Baseball Ranch

  • How NOT Long Tossing or Throwing Weighted Balls Could Get You Hurt. -Randy Sullivan, MPT, CSCS

    Wait… What?

    And here we go again. The long toss and weighted ball police are back at it.

    I was perusing through twitter last week and saw this blast.

    “Study. Max Distance Throwing Changes Mechanics and Puts More Stress On The Arm.”

    It was accompanied by this infograph.

    First of all… that study is not news. It came out in 2011.

    But since we’re getting into it again,  I guess I can engage.

    The longstanding argument against long toss is as follows: 1)It increases joint stress in the elbow and the shoulder, and 2) throwing mechanics change with increased distance of throws.

    Both are true…

    And that is exactly why I like long toss… as a training tool.


    Ok. So lets go through this again:

    We’ll start with the “increases stress” argument.

    People in the throwing universe tend to fall into one of 2 categories. You have the “there are only so many bullets in the gun so you should save them” crowd, and then there are those who believe you can load as many bullets as you need.

    Here’s the deal. A physiologic principle known as Davis’s Law states that all connective tissue organizes itself to resist the stresses under which it is placed. Davis’s law applies to nearly ALL connective tissue — at least any tissue with a blood supply. Human tissue does not have a free will. It cannot decide not to participate. It can only respond to the stresses we put on it. Therefore, adding stress to a connective tissue will always force an adaptation that can make that tissue more resilient.

    People in the “save your bullets” camp – some of them esteemed medical professionals – seem to believe that somehow, the UCL, the labrum, and the rotator cuff are “special” tissues not subject to the laws of nature and therefore cannot be made to become more robust. I would submit that you must add stress to those tissues if you plan to be a high level thrower. If you completely avoid stress you get weak, fragile connective tissue that could be vulnerable to injury. The key is to add stress incrementally over time, gradually increasing the tissue’s ability to resist. If you add stress too rapidly, the tissue fails. If you add it too often or for too long, the body begins to lay down the strongest tissue it knows (bone) and that becomes a calcification.

    Opponents of long toss argue that increased stress on the elbow and shoulder makes it a dangerous practice. I would suggest that not “feeding the arm” with gradually increasing controlled stress as presented in Alan Jaeger’s well known long toss protocol could be even more dangerous.


    Now let’s shift gears and tackle the second point of contention… “biomechanics change with increased distance”. You’ll get no objection from me on that one either. The biomechanics of long toss clearly change with every throw… and that’sthe beauty of it.

    Let me explain.

    In every human movement, there are components that must be stable and others that may vary. The stable components are known as “attractors”. The variable components of a movement are considered “fluctuators”. Attractors can be identified by The variable components of a movement are considered “fluctuators”. Attractors can be identified by finding patterns that are commonly demonstrated by performers across all levels and experience and ability. For example, ask a baby to throw a ball and he will usually lift his arm to about 90 degrees of shoulder abduction.

    The same pattern is seen among the most elite and experienced throwers in baseball.

    Movements with significant time pressures and those that put the athlete in “at risk” positions if not stable can also be attractors.

    Three key attractors I have found in throwing are:

    1) Isometric co-contraction of the trail hip musculature at the peak of lead leg lift. 2) Isometric co-contraction of the rotator cuff and peri-scapular musculature with the humerus abducted to about 90 degrees at lead leg weight bearing foot plant. And 3) Isometric co-contraction of the quads, hamstrings, calf, and hip musculature of the lead leg at weight bearing foot plant.


    Fluxuators on the other hand are components of the movement that can vary between athletes and even between repetitions by a given athlete.

    Examples of fluctuators might include differences in stride length, depth of back knee flexion, arm slot, lead leg action, tempo, or postural tilt. An adequate number or fluxuators are necessary, but having too many could be detrimental to performance and safety.

    When movement attractors are stable, the body automatically begins to eliminates some fluxuators until only a few remain. With less options to choose from, the efficiency and effectiveness of the movement improves. However, if too many fluxuators are removed, the athlete loses adjustability. This can result in rigidity and lack or flow in his movement.

    The “Anti-Long Toss” crowd apparently fails to recognize the neurophysiologic dynamics and variability demands of human movement. They’re hooked on the “SAID” principle. That’s an acronym for “Specific Adaptation To an Imposed Demand”. It’s a concept commonly referenced in gyms and physical therapy practices and it means that the body will adapt specifically to the exact demands placed on it. In other words, you don’t learn to putt golf balls by shooting baskets and you don’t strengthen your hamstrings by doing biceps curls. The SAID principle would suggest that the pitchers should only train with 5 oz baseball mound throws at 60’6”, because that represents the exact demand required in a game.

    It seems logical until you understand the “degrees of freedom problem” as it relates to attractors and fluxuators.

    Dr. Nikolai Bernstein first presented the degrees of freedom problem with his famous “blacksmith experiment”.  In this investigation, he showed that the number of motor pattern options for performing any movement is virtually limitless and therefore rigidly repeating a movement is an impossibility.

    The “repeatable delivery” does not exist.

    Every single throw will present a unique set of subtle deviations or errors. Additionally a pitch doesn’t follow one specific pre-established motor pathway from start to finish. Instead, the neuromuscular system subconsciously adjusts that pattern’s pathway, intensity, timing and synergy throughout the throw. Instead of seeking a “repeatable delivery” we should be going after world-class, real time adjustability of movement.

    To optimize movement efficiency you need some fluxuators (but not too many). If your training involves throwing only mound pitches from 60’ 6”, you engrain the attractors so deeply that all of the necessary fluxuators are eliminated and you have no adjustability. Now, when your arm begins to drift outside the rigid boundaries you’ve created, you have no pre-rehearsed motor plan to bring it back. With no capacity for adjustment, the arm could wander into areas beyond tissue failure thresholds, and injury could occur.

    The key to safe and efficient throwing is to make sure your attractors are stable, but not too stable and to have just enough fluxuators available to allow sufficient choices for adjustment.

    That is the beauty of long toss!

    Every throw is a different distance with a different release point and a different coordinative demand. This variability allows you to practice the necessary adjustments subconsciously in a controlled environment, thereby becoming a more efficient and effective thrower.

    This is also one reason weighted ball training can be an important tool – especially the way we use it at The Baseball Ranch®. A typical weighted ball protocol in our practice would involve performing 4 different deceleration/connection drills, 5-8 feet from a target pad while sequentially progressing downward in weight from a 2-pound ball, to a 21-ounce ball, to a 14-ounce ball, to a 7-ounce ball, to a 5-ounce baseball and finally to 3-ounce underload ball. Note: in our process, when making full arm action throws, we never go above a 7 ounce ball. In a recent study, Fleisig et al, noted that “pitching with slight variations in ball mass challenges the athlete’s neuromuscular awareness and coordination… and therefore seems like a reasonable variation for training pitchers.”

    My sentiments exactly!

    So does that mean I am encouraging every throwing athlete to go out today, purchase as set of weighted balls, find a football field and start chucking? Absolutely not! But once your delivery is connected, you are free from massive physical constraints, and you’ve have had an adequate ramp up period, then long toss and weighted ball throwing may be an essential addition to your overall training program.

    The variable stimulus presented by long toss and weighted ball training could help you develop adaptable, adjustable movement patterns that add velo, improve command and decrease your risk of injury.

    So actually, despite claims to the contrary by the long toss and weighted ball Gestapo, not using long toss and weighted balls could increase the likelihood of getting hurt.

    @ me if you want.

    Let's Discuss!

    Randy Sullivan, MPT, CSCS

    CEO, Florida Baseball Ranch

  • Athletes' Performance Pyramid

    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.

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  • How to Implement Khaos Training in Your Program By: Gunnar Thompson, NASM-CPT, PES

    By now you know that unpredictable training is the missing link in the majority of performance training programs, and you know some of the tools that can help you train using this potent method which will result in a greater transfer to on the field performance. If you have not read the first and second part in this series of blogs about “Khaos Training,” I recommend you start with those first ("Khaos" Training Old But Becoming New Again, and "Khaotic Equipment" - Unpredictable Training Equipment, Part Two). For those that have read these blogs, it has probably left a question in your mind: “How can I implement this into my programs?”  These are the questions that I will answer in this post.

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  • "Khaotic Equipment" - Unpredictable Training Equipment Part Two, by Gunnar Thompson

    “Khaos Training,” or unpredictable training, is a key component that is often missing when developing a training program for athletes. The demand for players to adapt and make adjustments in their sport is critical for success. It is really easy for coaches to say “make an adjustment,” but the words are meaningless unless athletes have trained to thrive in a chaotic environment.

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  • A Different Type of Core Exercise

    Every athlete has experience with core exercises. We have all sat on a dirty gym floor and hammered out abdominal crunches. But have you ever thought about the usefulness of those crunches? I sure hope so (hint: they are worthless). In fact, studies show they don’t even help burn off fat, but I digress.

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  • New Product: TAP Khaos Ball

    Oates Specialties has a number of new products that I plan on featuring in the coming posts.  One of our newest additions is a line of products that will share the name “Khaos.”  Our line of Khaos products are uneven and/or unstable training products designed to challenge athletes during their workouts, often taking routine exercises and making them much more difficult.  And for those of you who know anything about Greek Mythology, Khaos (or Chaos) was the name of one of the Greek gods at the beginning of the universe.  Khaos was the lower atmosphere which surrounded the earth—comprised of invisible air and gloomy mist, which seems apt to name such a line of products.

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  • Let’s Get Physical — Changing Pitching Mechanics is Serious Business - by Randy Sullivan

    Recently, I had a minor leaguer in for a Precision Strike, One Day, One-On-One Evaluation and Training Session. Since he’s currently in extended spring training with a pro team, he had to come in under the radar on a Sunday morning. So to maintain confidentiality, I’ll just call him “Lefty”.

    As I always do with minor leaguers, I asked Lefty what he thought were the biggest constraints keeping him out of the big leagues.
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  • Rocket Wrap Compression Floss

    It has been a while since I have written a post dedicated to one of Oates Specialties’ new products. But we have been receiving overwhelmingly positive feedback about one of our newest products, and I wanted to focus on that product in case there are those of you that are not familiar with it. The product is called the Rocket Wrap Compression Floss.

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