Hey guys! I wanted to start a series of blogs digging a little deeper into the human anatomy. Do not freak out though! I will make it easy for anyone to understand and be able to get something out of it.
First I want to tell you real quickly why I am doing this. Here lately the numbers of studies on baseball and sports have dramatically increased, and while I have no problem with studies, I just am not sure if all of these are really helping you get better. I wanted to present things from an anatomical or body perspective. We have a good grasp on the muscles in the body and how they work. This hasn’t really changed much in the last few years if not longer. I wanted to present something to you that would be simple enough that you can implement today to improve your performance! Do not get me wrong, the body is not simple by any means, but there are some ways to start and advance from there.
Now let’s talk about the Gluteus Medius. It can be found lateral aspect of the upper buttock. It is responsible for abduction and medial rotation of the hip. Hip rotation is critical in creating power in rotational athletes and also serves as a way to stabilize during other activities or sports.
Here are a few examples on how coaches train this with their athletes:
Exercise Band Activation: Band just above the knee. Knees are forced outward in order to gain tension in the gluteus medius. Wes Johnson presented this at the ABCA where he stated he tried to implement this with as many drills as he could like wall ball series, squats, hip bridges, clams, and etc…
Donley Hip Spin: This is different than most products because it actually places the tension on hip and not the waist. It also works unilaterally so the athlete is not able to compensate.
Pummel Ball Throws: This incorporates and integrates the full body while still keeping the primary focus on hip rotation. The ball tosses are commonly referred to by Eric Cressey, Lee Fiocci, and others as a great way work on full body rotation and power transfer. The pummel ball is ideal for this as it was made to be slammed into walls or the ground and is very durable.
These are just a few exercises that can be used to activate and strengthen the Gluteus Medius. It may be important to stretch or work on tissue quality in this area as well. This is why you should consult with your instructor or therapist to make sure you are getting the right balance of strengthening, stretching, and tissue maintenance.
Hopefully this gave you an insight to a powerful muscle utilized in rotational activities, and showed you how some of the greatest strength conditioning coaches train this in a holistic approach. As I stated before, one muscle is not everything, but it provides and good basis to start with and advance further. Make sure to tune in for the next video for another look into the anatomy of the human body.
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 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:
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)
Fracture ABOVE the growth plate
Fracture LOWER than (below) the growth plate – fracture extends to the articular surface
Fracture THROUGH the growth plate
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.
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.
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’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.
Randy Sullivan, MPT, CSCS
CEO, Florida Baseball Ranch
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
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 toostable 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.
In my last blog, I discussed several things a baseball player can learn from powerlifters and Olympic weightlifters. As with anything, there are pros and cons to consider before implementing programs effectively. In this article, I will outline some of the cons with both of these training modalities as it applies to baseball players (more specifically pitchers). I do not mean to make a blanket statement that powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting is a bad form of training. Instead, I simply take into account specific considerations that affect the baseball population.
Before we get into the specifics of the two programs, let us look at the things to consider when training overhead throwing athletes. The first common issue in overhead throwing athletes is laxity in the shoulder. Laxity is a term describing looseness of connective tissue around a joint. This is important to have when throwing a baseball, as the shoulder externally and internally rotates at extreme ranges of motion and high speeds. However, laxity also means the shoulder lacks stability, which makes it harder to protect the joint under high stress. The next common issue amongst pitchers is a valgus carry in their throwing elbow. This puts extra stress on the structure of the athletes’ arms. Lastly, you will find that most pitcher’s have scapula winging. This means the base level of strength in the athlete’s upper back is not present. With this in mind, Olympic lifting requires a tremendous amount of stability when performing a lift, the precise stability that much of the baseball population does not have. Powerlifting requires a larger than normal amount of muscularity in the upper back. Most people would be surprised that the two key areas that work in the bench press is the triceps and upper back. Given the above, it would be much riskier than any resulting reward to have the athlete performing these two programs. That does not mean that all baseball athletes have these issues, or that they should never work up to this type of training, but it is certain something to consider before an athlete jumps into such a program.
Let’s also take a deeper look into the programs. There is a common misconception that Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting increases explosive power. This is not an accurate statement. If you are performing a squat, and you are doing 60% or more of your one rep max, you will not be moving at a speed that will build explosive power or plyometric power. Instead, you are building strength-speed which is not “specific” to the demands of throwing a baseball. Now take a snatch or power clean. You are still using a weight of 60% or more of one rep max, and you are building the same strength-speed. The velocity of the bar will not change as the percentage will be the same. What Olympic weightlifting does train is quick deceleration, as the athlete tries to quickly dive under the bar to catch it. Again, this is not specific to baseball pitchers, since they are accelerating at a quicker rate. Professor Yuri Verkhoshansky devised the formula to build plyometric explosiveness. This formula requires that the load be around 20% or less. This is extremely tough to do with powerlifting or weightlifting since the bar already weighs 45lbs. It would be hard to find an athlete who can snatch 225lbs which would make the bar the appropriate weight to train for explosiveness. Take one look on Instagram, and you will be hard pressed to find someone doing just the bar. I mean it is just not cool!
Lastly, these programs work in the sagittal and frontal planes. Delivering a pitch or swinging a bat works in the transverse plane. It would only make sense to train in the same plane that the competition is performed in. This does not mean that there is not a time and place for anti-rotation, anti-flexion, or anti-extension. It just means there is a better chance for carry-over to the game when performing activities as similar as possible to the activities in the game. This is why medicine ball throws, slams, and tosses are key in training rotational athletes. And this is why Oates Specialties carries several implements that when used properly increases the likelihood of power transfer.
In conclusion, implementing any type of training is a risk verses reward analysis. One must consider the adaptations that each athletic population deals with, and also the specific demands of the sport. Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting programs can sometimes add too much risk while not adding enough reward. Remember that regardless of which of these training programs you are looking at, it is geared toward strength and not explosiveness. You must ask yourself which do you need more of to be a successful baseball player?
Let me start off by saying that I will not be debating on whether or not baseball athletes should use powerlifting or Olympic weightlifting programs. Instead, in this two part series, I will identify the things that one can take away from each and apply to their own program to make them better, as well as mentioning the negative effects each one has on baseball specific activities. For the first part of my series, I will stick with the benefits each ideology can have on creating a well-rounded program.
Let’s start with powerlifting. You will not find ordinary Olympic size weight plates, dumbbells, or rigs on Oates Specialties' website because we believe in providing you with specialty items that are unique, different, and highly functional. This does not mean that we are anti-weight room. Instead, we believe people spend too much time under the barbell. Which brings me to the first thing we can learn from powerlifters: Louie Simmons, owner of Westside Barbell, trains the strongest powerlifters in the world, yet he adheres to the belief that his lifters should only be doing barbell training 20% of the time. That’s right, the strongest lifters on the planet, whose sport is lifting barbells, are only under the bar 20% of the time. This is telling, considering lifting heavy barbells isn’t required for the sport of baseball, but a lot of programs are centered around the weight room. The other 80% of the time he has his athletes performing accessory movements which focus on their weaknesses. Most people would attempt to fix weaknesses through stretching or isolated muscle building, but this often doesn't solve the problem. What if a baseball pitcher had trouble with the speed and power of their hip rotation? It is important to train weak movements as well as weak body parts.
Powerlifters also use a wide stance on squats and push their feet out like they are tearing a piece of paper from the floor so that they can increase tension in their abductors and glute medius. The glute medius is crucial for hip rotation. If you will watch a powerlifter, they do not jump from side to side. They simply use the abductors to hold tension but not provide movement. Elite baseball pitchers and hitters do very similar things. They are not creating a push off the mound, but they are instead creating tension through the entire leg so they can rotate faster. While on the subject of creating and keeping tension, think about what a powerlifter does immediately before lifting a heavy barbell. They take a big breath to fill their stomach and chest with air. This increases the intraabdominal pressure (increasing pressure around the spine in the stomach) which acts like a brace on the spine protecting it from damage. This pressure build up is critical for keeping the spine healthy during maximum effort attempts. For those of you that have read Brian Oates’ blog “ “Max Effort” Pitchers “ you already know that to throw a pitch in the mid 90’s, it takes a max effort delivery. If this bracing is important for the health of the spine during maximum effort lifts, it only makes sense that it be important during a maximum effort pitch or swing. The other benefit of bracing the core is to provide stability in a joint that is supposed to be stable, thereby unlocking mobility in the hips and thoracic spine. If you look at an elite athlete pitching or swinging a bat, the movement requires an incredible amount of mobility in their movement pattern.
Now moving on to what we can learn from weightlifting programs. The soviet, Bulgarian, and Chinese weightlifting programs change loads and exercises every workout to keep the body adapting to new stress. The Law of Accommodation states that by handling the same load and same exercises consistently, the body adapts then stops progressing. In fact it can even regress. Now what can baseball players take away from this law? That the load and exercises they perform should be ever changing. This is not a new concept. Frans Bosch, a world renowned exercise physiologist from the Netherlands who works with Olympic javelin throwers, stated as much during his speech at Ron Wolforth’s Ultimate Pitching Coaches Boot Camp a couple years ago. We adhere to this philosophy through the use of weighted balls, weighted bats, differing drills, uneven training implements like water based tools, and the use of uneven surfaces so that we can efficiently keep adding stimulus to the body so it never stops progressing. Most opponents of weighted implements do not understand this principle.
Next, the use of bands and chains is very common in powerlifting and foreign weightlifting programs. Why do they use bands and chains for added tension? It prolongs the amount of time the athlete has to accelerate. They cannot use momentum which would stop the acceleration and would actually force them to decelerate sooner. Again, in the baseball world, weighted implements, as well as tubing, can be used to extend the acceleration phase which would increase the amount of total force put out. Resistance tubing is often thought to be great for shoulder warm-ups or arm specific movements, but we develop our tubing so that they can be used through a dynamic full range of motion which includes emulating the pitching motion.
The last thing I will discuss in this post is how strength is actually gained in powerlifting and weightlifting programs. The answer is simple, concise, and easy to understand. VOLUME. Total volume is what really determines strength. Louie Simmons focuses on total volume during dynamic effort or speed-strength days. It is crucial that his athletes meet the minimum volume for that day. In the baseball community, we look at volume in a bad way. How many pitches has Johnny thrown today? This week? This Season? We seem to go back to normal when it comes to batting. How many swings did Johnny take today? It doesn't make sense to think of volume as a good thing in every movement except for pitching/throwing. I place throwing in there because coaches are even concerned how many warm-up throws, bullpen pitches, or training throws they make each day. Why is volume bad? It increases stress. Why is Volume good? It increases stress. Do you believe too much stress is bad? Of course! Do you think too little stress will prevent gains? Absolutely! We should stop looking at volume as a bad thing, and we should take a point from Louise in that we should train optimally. There is an optimum amount of volume/stress for each athlete, and each person will require a different amount because of their own unique make-up.
In concluding, you can see simple things that we can take away from a community that is not necessarily in close relation to what the game of baseball requires of its athletes. Why did I choose weightlifting and powerlifting? They are some of the oldest competitive sports in the world. Almost everything has been tried and tested, and only the successful parts are still in use today. The next time you watch these sports, do not focus on the fact that the athletes are under a bar. Instead, I challenge you to watch them as they perform their accessory work, prepare for the lift, and recover from the lift. You can see pieces that can help you in your search to become an elite baseball athlete. In the second part of this blog, I will detail a few negative aspects of these sports, and why baseball athletes should not be necessarily too eager to jump into doing the same lifts.
“Man! My trainer crushed me today! My legs are toast! I’m gonna be sore tomorrow for sure! That was a great workout!”
I hear it all the time, and it’s a common flaw in thinking and in training.
Any moron can make you sore.
All we need to do to make you sore is to require you to something different than what your body is used to. Or, we can take you to muscle fatigue outside the ATP/CP system, entering the glycolytic system that kicks out lactic acid as a byproduct, and you will be sore…
Sore does not equal good!
Let’s start this discussion by asking the simple question, “What is the purpose of the weight room?”
TO MAKE YOU PLAY BETTER… PERIOD!
If the training doesn’t transfer to improved performance, it is nothing more than a circus act or a parlor trick.
Many strength and conditioning specialists, personal trainers, and coaches claim to have workouts and exercises that transfer strength and power training to improved on-the-field performance. Often they provide anecdotal evidence or testimonials about player X who “added 20 lbs of muscle in the off-season” and then had a great year.
However, as Dr. Frans Bosch points out, there are no good studies available that clearly demonstrate the transfer of classical
strength training to improved performance. That’s understandable. Such a study would be very difficult if not impossible to perform, and I don’t know how one would begin to measure or quantify the contribution of strength training to overall performance.
Over the last 12 months as I’ve studied for my Certified Strength And Conditioning Specialist exam, a flurry of ideas on training have bombarded my brain. Let me start by saying, I don’t have all the answers and I know I never will. But, I recently finished reading Dr. Bosch’s book Strength Training and Coordination: An Integrative Approach (for the third time) and now a few important, formerly hazy points have come into clear view.
One thing I am sure of is that simply grinding through the same workouts or crushing heavier and heavier weights will not get it done. Bigger and stronger won’t necessarily make you throw harder. It’s far more complicated than that.
Social media has been abuzz with videos of Aroldis Chapman crushing it in the weight room. People are marveling at the intensity of his high load workouts. The inference is, “Lift heavy things and you’ll throw harder.”
Well, as long as we’re talking anecdotes with no scientific backing, let me share something with you. At the beginning of spring training this year two 10-year high level major leaguers came into The Ranch for their preseason evaluations. Both guys have thrown fastballs in MLB games greater than 100 mph.
When they removed their shirts for the precursory scapular evaluation, it became clear that they were in incredible shape… if
you consider “pear” a shape.
Many other upper 90s guys, one very popular on the internet, don’t have rocked up bodies either.
My point is this: for every sculpted Adonis, Calvin Kline model-looking MLB flamethrower, there are a dozen or more guys with bad bodies who do just fine. So, is the work in the weight room really responsible for their success?
but maybe not.
For starters we have to understand how a dynamic system learns/adapts. According to Dr. Bosch, “Dynamic systems must be panicked into adaptation. The human body is not interested in what it knows or with what is familiar. It only wants what is new or different from the norm.” So, if you just keep hammering the same exercises and adding load, it won’t be long until your body will begin to accommodate to the stress and no further adaptation will occur.
Furthermore, if your workout rep scheme consists of 8-12 reps to muscle fatigue, your muscles will hypertrophy (they’ll get
bigger), and that isn’t always a good thing. Even if you’re able to maintain your mobility while you add mass, every time you create hypertrophy, you change the orientation of your muscle fibers, and that requires a new motor program to control it. For all the anthropology majors out there, that means if you jack up your bi’s and tri’s and kill a lot of bench press, you’re going to have to learn a new throwing pattern. Sure, you might be able to pull it off… or it might have significant negative consequences.
Let’s say you’re not working for hypertrophy, but instead you’re pounding out pure, unbridled strength. If you’re in the gym doing dead lifts and squats at less than 5 reps per exercise and close to your 1 or 3-rep max, you’re working in the strength zone. But, the problem with lifts like that can be found in a concept known as rate of force development (RFD). When you perform a slow, heavy lift you reach your maximum force production at about 2 seconds into the movement. Compare that to a pitch that from start to finish which takes about 1-1.5 seconds, and you’re training your body to be about ½ second late.
Some would argue that Olympic lifts like power cleans, high pulls and snatches would solve the RFD problem. Athletes
performing these lifts do reach their maximum force development within the time demands of a pitch, but in my opinion, they are not similar enough to the throwing movement to produce the intended adaptation.
What we’re talking about here is an exercise and therapy tenet known as the SAID principle. That’s an acronym for a “Specific Adaption To An Imposed Demand.” Your body will adapt specifically and predictably to the exact demands you place on it. It has to. It has no choice, because human tissue has no free will. It cannot decide not to participate. It must respond to the stresses we force it to endure. That means you had better be sure the stresses you are placing on your tissue are specific to the activity you are trying to improve. And, if you closely examine classical strength training, most programs fall woefully short in many ways.
According to Dr. Bosch, there are some huge flaws in the current approach to training as it relates to transfer and specificity. “Strength training,” he says, “should be coordination training with resistance.” Strength training must be specific to the motor control and coordination demands of throwing.
That sounds like the only appropriate training for a throwing athlete is… throwing.
But, you can’t just stand and throw 5 oz baseballs at 60’ 6” all day. That would indeed be specific, but the more specific an activity becomes, the less you will be able to shock the body into adaptation by adding load. Obviously, one can’t imagine standing on the mound and hurling 20 lb dumbbells, but it goes deeper than that. Clearly that would not be safe. However, throwing only 5 oz baseballs off the mound, avoiding variable weighted balls or not changing the distances of throws (as in long toss) might even have dire negative consequences.
Let me explain.
When it comes to coordination and specificity, you have to remember that the unicorn known as a “repeatable delivery” does not exist. You cannot repeat your mechanics. As early as the 1920’s, Dr. Nikolai Bernstein, the father of motor learning, and the guy who coined the term “biomechanics,” proved it with his famous Blacksmith Experiment. He took some of Russia’s greatest blacksmith, fitted them with lights at key places on their arms (the first wearable biomarkers) and used serial photography and motion pictures to track the path of their arms as they performed the singular task of pounding a nail into a log. Remarkably, none of the subjects in the study were able to repeat their arm path on any of the trials.
Similarly, every throw you make will result in a subtle deviation or error. You will not be able to make the exact same throw twice. Instead of searching for a repeatable delivery, you should be working on becoming a world class, real time, in flight adjuster to all the errors you make. To do that you must practice making the adjustment and you must do so subconsciously. There is not enough time for the neuromuscular system to make any meaningful adjustments to a throw by way of a cognitive or conscious input. You must use variable stimulus to train that adjustment.
That brings us to a perplexing training problem. You have to load the system to elicit an adaptation and at the same time you have to make that load specific to the throwing movement. But, specificity and load are often opposed. The more you load an activity, the less specific it becomes.
To solve this problem we must investigate the nature of specificity. As Dr. Bosch admits, “There is no proper research or summation as to how the specificity matrix is structured, only a set of vague assumptions.” In his book, Dr. Bosch asks us to consider five categories of specificity when making training exercises similar to the targeted movement.
Similarity in muscular coordination. He breaks this down into:
intramuscular coordination – the activity must target the muscle or muscles needed to perform the movement and
intermuscular coordination – it must simulate the required cooperation (timing and synergy) between recruited muscles.
Similarity in outer structure of the movement. That is, similar excursion of the joints (planes of movement).
Similarity in energy production. For example, long distance running requires a different energy system than throwing a baseball (see my previous blog called “Why We Don’t Run Long Distances”).
Similarity in sensory pattern (as it relates to environmental stimulus and/or internal proprioception). An example of this would be flat ground versus mound throwing.
Similarity in the intention of the movement. Training done at 100% intent will require a vastly different coordination pattern than ½ speed or slow motion drills.
Specificity and load characteristics can be divided into 3 categories:
Type 1: High specificity, low/no load
Type 2: Moderate specificity, moderate load
Type 3: Low specificity, heavy load
For a training program to be effective it must include exercise doses that span the spectrum of the specificity/load continuum.
Based on our experience at The Florida Baseball Ranch we recommend the following ratios:
15% Type 1: high specificity, no/low load
70% Type 2: moderate specificity, moderate load
15% Type 3: low specificity, heavy load
Type 1 exercises: Some examples of Type 1 exercises would include bullpens, live batting practice, weighted ballS, wrist weights, long toss, elastic bands and the Durathro Training Sock. These are all highly specific to the throwing motion, but the load and variability are low.
Type 2 exercises would include many of the plyometric activities we use in our power building circuit training. These exercises use various implements like medicine balls, slam nets, plyo boxes etc., to add moderate resistance to exercises that offer moderate similarity to the throwing movement. We program these workouts so they are specific to the ATP/CP energy system and we try to ensure that 80% of the time they are performed under one or more of the types of movements we call “the four pillars”. Our four pillars are the result of an in-house pseudo-study we did back in 2011-2013.
When we opened our doors in 2009, we assembled a toolbox of over 500 different exercises using a wide array of apparatus. We worked hard within the ATP/CP system, but I knew that not all of the exercises were transferring to increased power on the mound. So, I hired a computer guy to design a customized software program we called our “training manager.” It allowed us to collect in real time, the number of reps per second our athletes could perform on each of the exercises. We used clips of 5, 8, 10
and 12 seconds. After 2 ½ years we grouped the exercises into 6 categories: frontal (coronal) plane exercises (exercises moving from side- to-side), transverse plane exercises (exercises rotating around a vertical axis), sagittal plane exercises (exercises moving forward and backwards), diagonal plane exercises, exercises done predominantly on two legs (bilateral), and those done on one leg (unilateral).
At the time of the study, we had 16 guys throwing 90 mph. We compared those 16 guys’ performances to those of a group of similar size, age, and experience who were throwing in the low to mid 80’s. When we analyzed our information, it became clear that the 90 mph guys were way better than the 80 mph guys at 4 types of exercises. They were better at frontal plane exercises, transverse plane exercises, diagonal plane exercises and exercises done on one leg. We named those types of exercises “The Fab Four Pillars.” The two groups showed no difference on exercises done in the sagittal plane or on exercises done on two legs.
We could not draw any definitive conclusions from the research. There were too many variables we could not control. The primary lack of control was evident in the technique, during the performance of the exercises. While striving to break personal records on every trial, many of our athletes began cheating or shorting the range of motion excursion to achieve more and more reps.
Even though we knew our investigation was not completely scientific, we decided to take action any way. After all, it seemed to make sense since pitching definitely involves a side-to-side plane, a rotational component, diagonal movement and the pitching movement is essentially a one-legged maneuver. We concluded our study in March of 2013 and reorganized our power workouts so that 80% of our exercises were performed in one or more of the 4 pillars. By August of that year we had seen an additional 42 pitchers eclipse the 90-mph threshold. The types of exercises we do in our power circuits are representative of moderate specificity and moderate load.
Type 3 exercises are would include traditional lifts such as deadlifts and squats. Slow/heavy lifts are very low in specificity but very high in load.
THIS IS NOT SPECIFIC
No matter how you program your workload, all three types of exercises must be laced with some degree of specificity. When we are working on Type 3 exercises, we try to weave in some specificity by integrating movements in the 4 pillars. For example, instead of performing traditional deadlifts or bilateral squats, we employ single leg squats, Bulgarian split squats or single leg RDLs. Throwing a baseball is essentially a one-legged maneuver. You have to be able to control and accelerate your center of mass while moving down the mound on one leg. Then you must absorb the forces you create after you shift to a strong, stable front leg.
Dr. Bosch, referencing his work with Olympic level high jumpers says, “I have a lot of experience with people who do a lot of double leg squatting and they’re very poor on one leg.” This would imply that perhaps a heavy dose of double leg squats and dead lifts might have a negative transfer effect on throwers who must operate largely on one leg.
You also need to introduce some degree of overload into the Type 1 exercises you employ. It’s important to note that “load” doesn’t necessarily have to mean adding weight or resistance. When it comes to stimulating adaptation, “load” can also mean variability. Variability alerts the system and elicits adaptations in coordination and motor control similar to the manner in which overload with heavy weights produces hypertrophy and strength gains.
Variability can be achieved in one of 3 ways. 1) You can change the athlete. 2) You can change the task or 3) You can change the environment
Changing The Athlete:
In Dr. Bosch’s book he refers to fatigue-induced adaptation. As an example, you could have the athlete perform one arm biceps curls to fatigue, then have him throw. That seems a little sketchy to me from the standpoint of safety and I’m not yet ready to climb out on that limb. A more reasonable approach to variability within the athlete might be to have him throw in various states of overall fatigue. My high school basketball coach used to have us shoot free throws at various times during practice so we would learn to perform in different states of fatigue. Performing your conditioning prior to your throwing routine is a reasonable method for producing fatigue and for learning to throw with an elevated heart rate (which might simulate the psychological stresses of a competitive game).
Changing The Task:
This can be achieved in a variety of ways. Our series of graduated weighted balls alters the task between each throw. Long toss alters the task. The Durathro Training Sock alters the task, as do the wide array of drills we utilize to correct mechanical inefficiencies. Variability in drill work can be vital to the development of adjustability in a throwing athlete.
Changing The Environment:
At The Florida Baseball Ranch, we strive to constantly challenge the sensory and motor control demands on our athletes. We tilt mounds toward the glove side, away from the glove side, uphill and downhill. We throw off of flat ground and we throw off of BOSU balls. We perform a combination of running throws, stationary throws and mound pitches. Our purpose is to add as much variety (load) to the specific throwing movement as we can.
One more note of importance about adding variability: Variability added by manipulating the athlete, the task or the environment must be treated just like adding resistance during classical strength training. Variability must be on-ramped and increased gradually. The idea is to alert the neuromuscular system with an ever-changing novel stimulus without overwhelming it.
Attractors and Fluxuators:
If you’re going to find most efficient and effective way to train, another extremely important concept to understand is the presence of what Dr. Bosch calls “Attractors and Fluxuators.” Understanding the difference can guide you toward workouts that emphasize the most stable parts of a movement while allowing freedom and adjustability to a variable environment.
In all human movement there are an infinite number of ways to accomplish the same goal. In motor learning, researchers call this “degrees of freedom.” But, there are also a few characteristics of every movement that serve to stabilize the entire pattern. These are known as attractors.
Bosch notes, “Attractors can be identified by searching for common movements, time pressures and at-risk positions.” All other components of the movement are known as “fluxuators.” Fluxuators are necessary to allow the athlete to adapt the movement to dynamic stimuli, such as environmental changes or movement deviations. For a movement to be as efficient as possible, the attractors must be stable and the number of fluxuators must be limited. Identifying the attractors must be the starting point for any movement analysis.
Here’s my take on the attractors in pitching. I’m not completely settled on these, but hopefully this will be the foundation for further discussion.
1) Inverted iron pyramid weight distribution at the peak of leg lift on the back leg with co-
contraction of all the muscles around the back hip.
2) Double crow hop depth of knee flexion on the back leg during the glute load — butt behind heel, knee not forward of toe indicating glute dominance, not quad dominance.
3) Stable foot foot plan from above at weight bearing foot plant on lead leg. Lead foot lands from above (as opposed to sliding in) as a result of back hip rotation and lead hip extension prior to foot strike.
4) Co-contraction around the knee at weight bearing foot plant of the lead leg (no forward leakage or lateral instability of the front leg).
5) Arm at or near 90 degrees of abduction, elbow flexed 90 degrees or less with co-contraction of entire rotator cuff, and scapular musculature at final connection (weight bearing foot plant of lead leg).
6) Late launch by way of proper hip/torso rotation at ball release.
In my experience, all other disconnections are either coached into a pitcher’s delivery or they’re a compensatory move for instability in one of the attractors.
Unfortunately, the current traditional coaching paradigm often fails to understand that if you get the attractors right, the fluxuators will usually minimize themselves. Trying to force unnatural compliance of the fluxuators into a mythical “ideal model” through verbal cuing or cognitive input goes against the natural flow of motor learning. Examples of fluctuators in the pitching movement would include: postural tilt, timing of hand break, and activity of lead leg while it’s in the air. Nothing corrupts a movement faster than training the fluxuators while ignoring the attractors.
In the gym, our focus is to force co-contraction of musculature around the attractors. How do we do that? By adding instability/variability. When attractors are faced with perturbations or instability, they automatically go into cocontraction, allowing the fluxuators to adjust to the environment and accomplish the task.
Aqua bags, Khaos balls, plates dangling from elastic bands with a bar across upper traps are great tools for adding variability (load) and forcing co-contraction of atttractors. Adding these to task specific exercises like single leg RDLs, Bulgarian split squats, pistol squats and other innovative exercises in the frontal, transverse and diagonal planes, can improve both load and specificity.
The FBR Summer Training Program will adhere to the principles set forth in this article. We’ll be collecting data on the performance of all students. We can’t wait to share the results with you.
For more information about our world class summer training program, CLICK HERE. If you’re interested in joining us for 2-10 weeks of life-changing work, call us at 866-787-4533 before April 22nd and receive a huge discount.
Last summer, Jordan Conti from Gaenton, Michigan spent a couple of weeks with us. Here’s how it worked out for him.
“I came to the ranch in August for two weeks, best decision of my baseball life thus far. (jumped from 83-89 off the mound with no arm pain)!!!
Add rocket level velo, improve your secondary stuff, turbo-boost your command and eliminate your arm pain!
We’ll see you at the Ranch!
Randy Sullivan, MPT, CSCS
Bosch F, Strength Training and Coordination: An Integrative Approach, 2010 Publishers, 2015.
Boone, Jerry. 2016. Coach Your Best Podcast. Strength Training and Coordination pt 1,2,3. www.athletebydesign.com/bosch
Burke,Robby.2016/Podcast All Things Strength and Wellness. Episode 100:Interview with Frans Bosch – Strength Training and Coordination. www.upmentorship.com
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.
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.
“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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