I wanted to start a series of articles that depict my experience with the recruiting process (primarily the collegiate recruiting process). I have talked with many parents and young athletes who are unfamiliar with how the system works. I sure did not know how the process worked until after the fact. Therefore, I want to use my experience and my take-away that I hope will help others through this difficult but necessary process. This post will be focused on how to get recruiters’ attention.
The first and most important thing is to know your numbers, attributes, and differentiators. If you are a pitcher, it is absolutely critical to know your velocity, percentage of strikes, percentage of strikes with the off-speed, and what is your best pitch. As a hitter, this may mean what type of hitter you are (such as power vs average), what type of pitches you hit best, and whether defense and speed are part of your game. The key is that when someone comes up to you and asks what makes you different than the thousands of other athletes you need to be able to give them an attribute that makes them remember you. I strongly believe in what coach Ron Wolforth preaches about showcases. He states that showcases might be great if you are ahead of your peer group or if you would like see how you can handle the pressure-filled atmosphere. But without knowing your numbers, how are you going to know if you are ahead of your peer group? You have to be your own analyst. It is not being arrogant, it is being prepared.
The second thing I would like to talk about is “Travel Ball”. The trend today is to play Select or Travel ball in the summer and fall in an attempt to get recognized by scouts. But there are plenty of doctors and coaches criticizing this approach as increasing the chance of injury. So what should you believe? Here is my experience. I played for a 1A high school in Texas home to roughly 200 people in the whole school. Many people think that with a school that small there won’t be any athletes that are all that good, but I don’t look at that way. In my perspective though, it is just less likely that there will be a whole team of elite players. At least this was my experience. Each team in my district had one or two players that were really good. The rest of the team was either average or below average. This meant I was not facing the best competition, so I joined a select team called the “Texas Prospects”. I will tell you that this was the best decision my parents and I ever made. I fully believe that without playing for this team, I would have never received a full scholarship to play collegiate ball. Does this mean you should join a select team? Maybe not. If you need to work on developing certain aspects of your game then you should probably look at training more than playing. But if you are not facing the highest competition in the regular season, and your “stuff” is ahead of your peers, then you should look for a solid travel team to play with (but not one that is just a “pay to play”). The “Texas Prospects” gave me an opportunity to play against the best competition, and they were not quick to pull me when I faced adversity or didn’t have my best stuff. I gave up more hits, homeruns, and runs in one season with the Texas Prospects than my whole high school career combined, but I learned so much from the experience. You must determine your “NEEDS” before deciding whether or not to join a select team.
Last, you need a coach that will do everything in his power to get you noticed. Every coach knows someone at the next level, but the question is whether he is willing to reach out to those contacts on your behalf? I know that without Coach Ron Wolforth and Coach Jeff Casey, I would not have gotten the chance to play college ball. There is something to be said for someone willing to put their reputation on the line for a 17-18 year old athlete. I strongly believe you must have that high school coach, select team coach, or pitching instructor that is willing to do this on your behalf. They can open so many doors and provide guidance that you cannot obtain anywhere else. I encourage you to talk to your high school coach about your desire to play at the next level. More than likely he will be willing to do anything he can to help. If not, seek the coach that is.
So, my advice to all of you who want to be recruited to the next level is to know exactly what you bring to the table and think strategically about where you are showcasing your attributes and against what competition. And finally, you need to identify who your “guy” will be that will promote you and fight for you to make it to the next level. Critically thinking about these factors will significantly increase your odds of making it to the next level.
In my next installment, I will discuss the things that I learned when visiting colleges I was considering, and the questions I wished I would have asked then to gain a better understanding of where my development would take me in the future if I chose to go there.
An age old baseball tradition is for hitters to warm up in the on-deck circle with some type of heavier than normal bat. It could be that the hitter adds a donut to his bat or perhaps he swings with two bats in his hands. Below is what you often see on Major League on-deck circles.
But is a weighted bat (or other instrument) in the on-deck circle really a good idea? The research on this topic screams one answer: NO!
Let me back up for a second. I have often touted the benefits of the overload/underload training principle. The overload principle is defined as the application of any demand or resistance that is greater than those levels normally encountered in daily life. The body is amazing in that it has the ability to adjust to the demands of physical stress placed upon it. When you stress the body in a manner it's unaccustomed to, the body will react by causing physiological changes in order to handle the stress in a better way the next time it occurs.
For example, athletes have found great success in increasing their velocity by training with the TAP Extreme Duty Weighted Balls. The weight of these balls force your body to sync up and utilize the most efficient movement patterns in order to deal with the added weight. Similarly, utilizing the overload/underload principle when training an athlete’s swing can be effective if done properly. One problem though is that there are very few training implements that allow a hitter to train in the same plane and same movement as a baseball swing.
Oates Specialties specifically added the Speed Chains to its line of products a number of years ago because of its unique ability to train a baseball athlete in explosive rotational movements that are very similar to those required when swinging a bat during a game. The Speed Chains are unique in that they allow the athlete to rotate explosively while loaded with weight. Take a look at this post and the video below if you want to learn more about the Speed Chains.
One important concept to keep in mind though is that overload training slows down the body’s movements. The point of overload training is to place higher/heavier levels of stress on the body’s muscles which will force those muscles to adapt. This is a tremendous training program for the offseason. However, the overload principle is most effective when it is paired together with the underload principle. Underload training involves demands or resistance lighter than those levels normally encountered. The purpose of underload training is to accelerate the muscle firing in order to make fast twitch muscles work at top speed. While overload works on strengthening the movement/muscles, underload works on quickening the movement/muscles. Strength combined with speed is the key to athletic success.
Now let’s circle back to the on-deck activities of hitters. These hitters are loading up the weight of their bat mere seconds before stepping into the batter’s box. Most hitters do so because of the sensation that their regular bat will feel lighter after swinging the loaded bat. Unfortunately, this sensation does not translate into a faster bat speed. Swinging a heavier bat actually trains your body to move slower. Your arms, shoulders, and hip rotation are all moving at a slower speed because of the additional weight. We know this both intuitively (we are swinging a heavy implement so the speed necessarily decreases) and from studies on the topic. In fact, the Wall Street Journal recently published an article that shows the decrease in bat speed after practice swings with a heavier bat.
When trying to hit a 90+ mph fastball, we don’t want a slower bat speed. We want to have the maximum amount of time to identify the pitch and its trajectory before pulling the trigger and swinging. Plus, a batter’s bat speed correlates directly to the distance the ball travels. For example, studies show that an 85 mph fastball hit solidly on the sweet spot by a bat swung at 70 mph will travel 400 feet. But that same ball struck by the same bat at 80 mph will travel approximately 450 feet. So our objective at the plate should be to make solid contact with the fastest possible bat speed. Oates Specialties carries the Swing Speed Radar so that athletes can focus on improving their bat speed because we should all know by now that if you don’t measure it, you can’t accurately improve it.
Accordingly, contrary to common thinking and baseball tradition, warming up with a weighted bat is actually priming the athlete to move slower, not faster. Slower is not better when a fastball thrown at 90 mph can reach home plate in approximately 0.42 seconds and the batter must identify the pitch, the velocity, the trajectory, and whether to swing in an even shorter time frame. So I encourage you to stop warming up with weighted bats on the on-deck circle or pregame. Instead, your focus before an at bat should be to prepare your fast twitch muscles to be ready to fire at top speed. This is best accomplished by using a lighter than normal bat, as your body will actually be moving at a faster rate of speed than it does with your regular weighted bat.
So while it may blow your mind and go against traditional baseball thinking, the best thing you can do before stepping into the box is to leave that donut on the ground, grab a lighter bat than the one you will step up to the plate with, and let a few swings rip. This will wake up your fast twitch muscles and you will be ready to turn on that 90 mph fastball on the inner half of the plate.
Until next time,
Speaking of "on-deck"! If you are interested in transforming your field into one of the best looking facilities around, reach out to our friends at PYT SPORTS for your needs!
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.
OK, admittedly that subject line is a little extreme, I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.
It seems like every kid that comes in to see me – especially the ones who have had lots of pitching lessons – does one thing in almost EXACTLY the same way.
And frankly, it’s driving me crazy!!
What is it you ask?
It’s this wasteful, cookie cutter little side step windup. Or maybe I should call it a non-step. I mean it’s kind of a step without stepping.
Look I’m not against it totally. I mean, I see a bunch of MLB guys doing it too. But does it have to be done by EVERY SINGLE AMATEUR PITCHER WHO EVER TOOK A PITCHING LESSON?
Many of the guys that come to see me are looking for increased velocity. Yet when I start the video rolling, nearly all of them do the same thing.
Tiny step to the side.
Lift the leg.
Pause at the top.
Put the leg down.
Try desperately to come up with some sort of momentum to home plate.
And chuck it up there about 78 mph.
It’s mind numbing!
If they’re going to let us wind up, why not take advantage and gain some momentum toward the plate?
I’ve seen guys get 2-3 mph bumps by simply starting with a bit of a back step and increasing their tempo to get moving toward home plate with some intent.
Remember back in the day when big leaguers would take those awesome “I’m about to ram this white thing down your throat” massive windups?
So where did this ridiculous little robotic, cloned side step come from?
My guess is that it’s the result of well-meaning yet uninformed pitching coaches with incomplete understanding of motor learning attempting to achieve the ubiquitous yet ever elusive unicorn known as the “repeatable delivery”.
(How’s that for unnecessary flowery language?)
They’re trying to simplify the delivery to make it “repeatable.”
There is no such thing as a “repeatable delivery!”
Nikolai Bernstein killed that theory with his famous blacksmith experiment that first introduced what motor learning scientists call the degrees of freedom problem.
Every pitch is an individual snowflake and will result in its own set of deviations or errors. Instead of trying to become mechanical repeaters, we should be trying to create world-class in-flight adjusters to all of those deviations.
But in attempt to achieve the unachievable, pitching coaches across the country have fallen prey to the mistaken assumption that the key to consistency is to “simplify” a pitcher’s mechanics. “There’s too many moving parts in that delivery,” they say. So they start taking things away.
But many times, when you simplify the delivery, you suppress athleticism and you stifle adjustability.
One of the finest pitching coaches I’ve ever seen is Flint Wallace. He coached both of my older sons at Weatherford College, a JUCO outside of Ft. Worth, TX, where he churned out D1 and MLB drafted pitchers like butter from a milk cow. Flint is now the Director of Player Development at the Texas Baseball Ranch where hyper-individualization reigns. But there is one thing Flint would never let any of his pitchers do…
THEY WEREN’T ALLOWED TO STEP TO THE SIDE!
He always demanded that every pitcher’s first move in the windup was to step behind the rubber.
So what’s the potential problem with the side step?
Well, aside from robbing the athlete much needed freedom and tempo, it could promote a quad dominant first move toward home plate.
When you step 90 degrees to the side of the rubber, you move your center of mass weight distribution toward the heel of the foot. Then you reverse direction and head forward toward the arm side dugout. To stop your momentum from taking you too far forward, you have to shift your weight to the ball of the foot. Some guys are able to accomplish this and make it back to a more neutral position with their weight distributed across the entire foot. But many guys just keep on going. When you do this, the knee slides forward of the toe forcing your quads to become more dominant than your glutes and projecting you toward the on deck circle.
Now your body knows it can’t throw the ball to the on deck circle so you have 3 choices:
You can plant your lead foot across your body and throw hook shots toward home plate.
You can fight your way back to the center line, a move that presents itself as some sort of disconnection – most commonly a lead leg opening early, a glove side pull, or an abrupt postural change.
You can push with your quads and leap off the rubber, immediately stoping your trail hip rotation and forcing you onto your lead leg prematurely and into an early launch.
None of these are good options.
So here’s the deal.
I’m not saying you have to take a back step, but let’s at least take it for a spin. Be willing to be a little different for a change.
Step back, or maybe even at a 45-degree angle, gain some momentum and see what happens. It might be a little uncomfortable at first. And of course, if it hurts you should bag it and move on. But I’m guessing you might be surprised at the results.
We still have some spots available for our Elite Performer’s Boot Camp July 15/16.
Add some velo. We just had 185th 90 mph guy… you could be next.
Solve your arm pain. We literally just wrote the book on arm pain management. It’s call Start With The Pain
When you attend an Elite Performer’s Boot Camp, you’ll get a personalized plan to get you on track for greatness beyond your wildest imagination.
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.
I can't tell you how many times parents have told me, "My son gets lessons from X, he used to pitch for the [insert MLB team] organization." My first thought when I hear this is: Who cares, what is he teaching your son? Too often parents, players, and coaches allow themselves to be so wrapped up in an instructor's credentials or former glory on the diamond and don't critically analyze what that instructor's philosophies and training consist of.
For example, I heard Roger Clemens give a talk to a group full of kids where he told them that he pulls his glove toward his body as he rotates toward the catcher and nears his release point in order to help his arm speed up. Yet video and pictures of Clemens pitching demonstrates he actually has a firm glove side that he rotates into. This errant instruction is from a guy who won 7 Cy Young Awards. He knows HOW to pitch but not necessarily how to TEACH it. This is not a knock on Clemens, it's just that he doesn't fully understand mechanically what made him so great. I have also heard gifted hitters, like Chipper Jones, state that they don't have deep analytical thoughts about their swing, but instead that they just "see the ball and hit the ball." As great as these guys were at playing, they aren't going to be the best at teaching.
Perhaps the most recent example of a professional pitcher and Major League Organization that clearly do not get it is Stephen Strasburg and the Washington Nationals. Strasburg made some waves during spring training because he announced he would be pitching exclusively out of the stretch.
Last year Strasburg hit the disabled list three times, yet he chalks it up to injuries being a "part of the game." So in order to combat his struggle to stay healthy, Strasburg decided that pitching out of the stretch is the solution. He stated:
"I think guys who are healthy, they're very good at repeating their mechanics. There's no compensation, no variation in where they're landing, how their arm's working through their delivery, whether they're changing their arm slot or falling off too much or flying open. I think if I can continue to work on getting as consistent and efficient as possible with my deliver, I think it puts my arm in the best position to put less strain on it. That's my best chance of being durable."
Strasburg went on to say, "I'm a believer that it doesn't really matter what your mechanics look like. Everybody's going to nitpick, especially guys who do get the injury bug. It's like, oh, there's a mechanical flaw. But you watch guys out there who you can't teach the way they throw, and they manage to stay healthy. They're very unorthodox, but they're good at doing the same thing every time."
Poor guy. Clueless organization. I guess it should be no surprise, given that their solution to protecting Strasburg’s arm after Tommy John surgery was to adopt an inning limit and ultimately sat him out of the playoffs. But you would have hoped that they would have learned SOMETHING during the last several years.
Strasburg has failed to recognize that there are actual solutions out there to solve his mechanical issues. There is no such thing as an "injury bug", it is not like the flu that people inexplicably catch. No, Strasburg has endured numerous injuries because of major flaws in his delivery; notably, his main issue is the inverted "W" of his arm at foot strike, which places tremendous stress on the arm. Ironically, this issue can be corrected through the use of a product that costs under $10 (theConnection Ball). There are also other products and tools, such as the Baseball Training Sock, Extreme Duty Weighted Balls, Bell Clubs, and Wrist Weights that are phenomenal in teaching a more efficient arm pattern while also working to strengthen the arm (this picture demonstrates use of the Connection Ball, Baseball Training Sock, and Extreme Duty Weighted Balls, along with TAP Kneeling Blocks).
But Strasburg clearly lacks intellectual curiosity, as he insists on taking the position of "aw shucks there's nothing I can do to help staying healthy." Such a way of thinking is outdated and unsupported by the incredible programs and equipment available to pitchers for the exact purpose of keeping them healthy and injury free.
Now back to my point about playing credentials. I have heard people try to knock Coach Ron Wolforth at the Texas Baseball Ranch because he never played professional baseball. I find this hilarious. Coach Wolforth has been on the cutting edge of creating throwing programs designed specifically to keep guys healthy and to clean up mechanical inefficiencies. Similarly, Randy Sullivan at the Florida Baseball Ranch didn't play professional baseball, but he too is a thought leader in training baseball athletes to throw harder while staying healthier.
In sum, people who look at playing credentials to determine teaching ability are fooling themselves. It's like trying to judge a person's wealth by the clothes they are wearing--it may be tempting to do, and we may think that suit looks dapper, but perhaps it's rented, or the person is under water in debt, or, well you get the point. It is a very superficial and inaccurate way to make such a judgment.
Instead, players and parents should focus on the future and not the past. Specifically, the concern should be how that instructor proposes to make them (or their son) a better pitcher, what the instructor will do to keep them healthy, and the tools that the instructor has to effectuate this plan. If a player or parent is undertaking this critical inquiry prior to training with an instructor, you are on the right path to improving your game.
With season in full swing, you may have discovered a few things that you could improve on. One of these might be your off-speed pitches. Whether it is your curveball, slider, change-up, or split finger, I believe some of the tips I learned while playing could help you with your arsenal of off-speed pitches.
The first thing I tried to do with my curveball and change-up was to have the same or similar grip compared to my fastball. For me, I could throw my fastball and change-up with the exact same grip (I struggled mastering this with my curveball). This meant I spent less time fumbling with the ball in my glove to get the grip necessary for the pitch. I learned this from a former teammate who was drafted several times and ultimately pitched in the Big Leagues. He was able to throw his fastball(two seam and four seam), slider, and change-up with the exact same grip. It allowed him to focus only on his wrist placement and executing the pitch (not whether his grip for that pitch was just right). This made complete sense to me because it eliminated any concern about tipping pitches or getting that “perfect” feel for the pitch. Why wouldn’t you want to have less to worry about?
The second thing that helped me establish the most consistent spin with my curveball while keeping my arm healthy was “pre-setting” the pitch. This meant my curveball would be set into supination (palm facing toward the body) or for my change-up it would be set into pronation (palm facing away from the body). I would have that position set in my glove, and it would not change during the delivery. I did not try to manipulate spin by trying to snap the curveball or “break it off”. By presetting the position, it allowed me to get consistent spin which enabled me to better control the pitch, and there was not the added stress of late rotation of the wrist which would have put more force on the elbow.
In addition to the above, every time I threw an off-speed pitch my focus was to throw it as hard as I possibly could. This allowed me to get more spin for tighter later movement, and by throwing the pitch with the same arm speed the hitter could not recognize that it was an off-speed pitch. Too often pitchers slow their arm speed and/or delivery when throwing off-speed pitches which is a dead give a way to the hitter that something other than a fastball was coming. Ultimately, I wanted the same intent on a breaking ball or a change-up as I had with my fastball.
Last, I used tools to help me create additional spin and to learn how to use the spin to command the pitch. I specifically used two tools. The first were weighted balls. I would use the Extreme Duty Weighted Balls, which don't have seams, to try to create spin. I found that after creating spin on a NON-SEAMED ball, I was able to create a lot more spin with a seamed baseball. Also, the weight of the balls made it easier for me to simulate intent, but my arm speed was still slow enough to work on the release. The second implement I used was two baseballs taped together on top of each other. I would throw this to see the axis of the rotation. If you do not know what axis of rotation is on your pitch, it is incredibly hard to predict where it will end up. I knew if I had more of a 12-6 rotation that day, I would need to aim higher and directly above the mitt. If it was more of a 1-7 movement than I would adjust and aim above and to the left of the glove (I am left-handed). This was crucial for my control. Although it was not around when I played, I would have also implemented the Baseball Training Sock. The Baseball Training Sock allows you to throw your off-speed inside the sock. You cannot see where the ball would end up, so it would have promoted more feel of the release for me. I was a little inconsistent on the feel of my breaking ball from game to game, but I truly believe this implement would have made me much more consistent.
I hope you are able to take one or more of my experiences training for off-speed pitches and implement it into your training. At the end of the day, I tried to find the simplest way to train and improve my off-speed pitches, and I hope you do the same. There is so much importance put on the fastball for good reason, but having two or three plus pitches is better than one.
We all know Thomas Edison as the famed inventor of the light bulb. Many of us have heard the story of how Edison unsuccessfully attempted to invent the light bulb thousands of times. When he finally succeeded, a reporter asked him about his many failed attempts and Edison replied, "I have not failed, I just found 10,000 ways that won't work." Talk about a unique mindset.
Edison was a prolific inventor, ultimately holding more than a thousand patents. You would think that a man who created the lightbulb, among many other incredible inventions, would be satisfied with his achievements and success and simply call it quits. So why did he keep at it? Well I think another of Edison's quotes is telling:
"Show me a thoroughly satisfied man and I will show you a failure."
In today's politically correct and ultra-sensitive world, this may seem too harsh. We hand out participation trophies and tell kids they are all winners and so special. We preach that people should be satisfied and content in who they are and the abilities they possess. I can only imagine how Edison might scoff at this mindset. I think Edison's quote is how most successful people look at life and achievement.
Before I launch into my thoughts on this subject, I want to give credit for the subject of this post. I was in Tampa, Florida recently and had the opportunity to visit with Randy Sullivan at the Florida Baseball Ranch. Randy was explaining how he had just finished reading Frans Bosch's new book and how transformational it was for him. Randy was bursting with new ideas and thoughts on how to train athletes. It was incredible listening to Randy and how excited he was to have attained this new insight and knowledge. Randy is clearly a voracious learner. He wants to read, ingest, and analyze as much information as possible in order to apply what pieces of that information he can at the Florida Baseball Ranch.
Talking with Randy made me think of the Edison quote above. Randy has developed a reputation as a leading physical therapist and pitching instructor. But he isn't satisfied. He continually wants to learn and improve his knowledge base and understanding. Ron Wolforth at the Texas Baseball Ranch has been like this as long as I've known him. I used to always joke with Ron that I couldn't leave the Texas Baseball Ranch for even a day or else I'd come back and wouldn't recognize anything due to all the new concepts that would have been implemented in my absence.
Now back to my point re: Edison's quote: too many athletes and coaches are just "satisfied." How many coaches are still running practices and training their baseball athletes the same way they were 15 years ago? Too many. This is insane given the amount of information on training and coaching at the tips of your fingertips.
Athletes are just as guilty as coaches. I trained a few off-seasons with a pitcher who was a 10+ year MLB veteran. This individual was an All-Star who won several World Series and earned close to $100 million in his career. Yet, the running joke was that he was only good every other year. After a good season he would not work very hard during the off-season. He would gain weight and would be out of shape. He was too satisfied with his previous season. The following season he would be a disaster, he would battle injuries, have a bloated ERA, and would seriously underachieve. But the next off-season he was motivated, would work hard, and would have a great season. I watched that absurd cycle for several years.
Another example of this is based on my many years of training at the Texas Baseball Ranch. I witnessed so many guys come to the Ranch and increase their velocity to 90+ mph. This would result in them being highly scouted and placed on a pedestal in the baseball community. They were so satisfied with how good they had become, as demonstrated by the Division 1 scholarships and numerous scouts at their games, that they would quit coming to the Ranch and quit pushing the envelope in their training. They were quite satisfied! Fast forward a few years and they would unceremoniously return to the Ranch throwing low-to-mid 80's and were desperately trying to recapture the magic.
The bottom line is that satisfaction and complacency is the enemy for all great achievement and improvement. If you are happy with where you are currently you are not going to be motivated to move forward to a better you. This applies whether you are a baseball athlete or a businessman. We have never "arrived," and any achievement can be lost with complacency--especially athletic achievement. There is always more work to be done, more knowledge to gain, and more information to consume. As a pitcher, perhaps you have achieved your velocity goal of 90 mph. Congratulations! Now try to get to 91 mph. There is always additional velocity, improved command, sharper off-speed pitches, and a better mindset waiting somewhere on the road ahead of you. It is up to you to ensure that you are traveling forward on that road.
“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
Oates Specialties is a family owned and operated business. Since starting the company in 2003 with baseball as its primary focus, Robert and Gloria Oates, along with their son Brian, have worked diligently to develop a line of quality athletic conditioning tools that is unparalleled. We hope you enjoy our product line, videos, and blog. Contact us if we can help you in any way!