“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