The 2020 Vandy commit from Boca Raton, FL was a low to mid 80s lefty when I met him on September 23, 2016. He and his father made the 3-hour drive to the Florida Baseball Ranch® for a Precision Strike One Day One-On-One Evaluation and Training session. We conducted a full head-to-toe physical assessment and a video analysis of his movement pattern. We noted a few mobility issues and a slightly elevated distal humerus and crafted a customized multi-dimensional training plan. Nelson “bought in” to the process completely and diligently executed his program. After a few tweaks, a little work on his mobility, and some power building, it wasn’t long before he was touching 88 mph.
Nelson and his Dad returned to the Ranch for a pre-season check up in December of 2016, upon which I noted that his mobility had improved significantly. His dad Ross Berkwich, a lifetime Yoga instructor, had seen to that! His video analysis showed that he was much more biomechanically efficient and essentially free from gross constraints. More importantly, he was pain free and ready to have a great year.
He entered his high school season with high hopes and even higher expectations. Things seemed to be progressing well. Nelson was his usual dominant self on the mound. But then one cool night in April, during a routine district game a couple of weeks before the high school playoffs were to begin, Nelson’s elbow started to hurt. The next day it was worse, and even after several days of rest, he still couldn’t muster up a full effort throw without experiencing pain. The location of the pain was right over his UCL. Fearing the worst, local coaches and medical acquaintances advised him to seek a MRI.
Instead, Nelson’s father called the Florida Baseball Ranch®.
After discussing the young lefty’s playing and training activities over the last 4 months, his father sent me video of Nelson making a sub-maximal flat-ground throw in an unidentified hotel parking lot. It wasn’t optimal but it was the best we could do since we needed to act quickly. Nelson’s high school playoffs, summer season and a tryout with Team USA were approaching rapidly.
When I reviewed the video, I noticed that during the past 4 months, which had consisted primarily of pitching in games, resting, and throwing bullpens, his former arm action disconnection — the elevated distal humerus — had returned. But, more importantly, he had become quad dominant in his first move, projecting him toward the first base on-deck circle. In an attempt to compensate, he opened his lead leg early but still found himself landing across his body. This prevented him from adequately rotating around his front hip, causing his deceleration pattern to become linear, which resulted in a valgus stress on the medial elbow when he reached full extension. Click here to read more about the dangers of a linear deceleration pattern. In my view, it wasn’t one thing causing his pain… it was probably a little of all of the above.
I felt certain we could help him if we could improve his arm action and his lower half efficiency. But, how were we going to change his movement pattern during the season, especially if he couldn’t throw a baseball without pain?
I texted Nelson and asked him if he had his sock with him. He said he did so I told him to go back outside to the parking and make a few throws with a 7-ounce ball in the sock and let me know how it felt. Within 5 minutes I received his reply: “No Pain!”
When I read Nelson’s text, I let out a loud, “Whoo hoo!!” followed by, “Yes!! We got this!!!”
In our Start With The Pain system Nelson would be classified as a Level 2 intervention. This would typically involve a 25-day return to throwing program that would include sock throws, a connection ball, and a series of corrective throwing drills. As his movement pattern improved and his pain subsided, we would gradually wean him from the sock and the connection ball and then ramp up to full intent baseball throws.
But, Nelson didn’t have 25 days. His high school playoffs were set to begin in less than 2 weeks and I knew he really wanted to be there for his team.
Since Nelson had trained with us extensively and had demonstrated heightened body awareness for a player his age, I felt he would be able to make the necessary changes more quickly than most. I immediately went to work and wrote a 10-day return to throwing plan. He would spend the first 3 days performing 8 different corrective throwing drills in the training sock at 5 reps each (no baseball throws). Then each day he continue with his drills, shifting the ratio of sock throws to baseball throws to 4:1, 3:2, 2:3, 1:4, and 0:5. He would also taper his use of the connection ball until it was no longer needed. As always, Nelson’s pain would be our guide. He was instructed to keep the intensity of his throws below the pain threshold and to check in with me every day with a report on his progress. By the 10th day, Nelson was pain free with all his drill throws, so we decided to try the mound. He threw a 15-pitch bullpen without pain, and by the time the playoffs rolled around, he was ready to answer the bell.
Nelson continued to have a fantastic year on the summer travel ball circuit. And then last week, I got a text from his dad who was elated to report that Nelson had touched 89 mph, made the final cut and been placed on the roster for 15u Team USA. At the time of the text Nelson was on a plane to Columbia with his teammates on a mission to claim the title of World Champions.
We couldn’t be happier for Nelson and his family. This young man exemplifies the qualities of integrity, passion for the game, perseverance and the relentless pursuit of excellence we espouse. He is truly a “Ranch Guy.”
Good luck in Columbia Nelson!
From fearing a Tommy John injury to representing his country on the world’s biggest stage… what a ride that must have been for Nelson and his family!
Proud of you dude!!!
Now go bring home the Gold!!!
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.
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.
“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
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