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:
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.”
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!!!
And here we go again. The long toss and weighted ball police are back at it.
I was perusing through twitter last week and saw this blast.
“Study. Max Distance Throwing Changes Mechanics and Puts More Stress On The Arm.”
It was accompanied by this infograph.
First of all… that study is not news. It came out in 2011.
But since we’re getting into it again, I guess I can engage.
The longstanding argument against long toss is as follows: 1)It increases joint stress in the elbow and the shoulder, and 2) throwing mechanics change with increased distance of throws.
Both are true…
And that is exactly why I like long toss… as a training tool.
Ok. So lets go through this again:
We’ll start with the “increases stress” argument.
People in the throwing universe tend to fall into one of 2 categories. You have the “there are only so many bullets in the gun so you should save them” crowd, and then there are those who believe you can load as many bullets as you need.
Here’s the deal. A physiologic principle known as Davis’s Law states that all connective tissue organizes itself to resist the stresses under which it is placed. Davis’s law applies to nearly ALL connective tissue — at least any tissue with a blood supply. Human tissue does not have a free will. It cannot decide not to participate. It can only respond to the stresses we put on it. Therefore, adding stress to a connective tissue will always force an adaptation that can make that tissue more resilient.
People in the “save your bullets” camp – some of them esteemed medical professionals – seem to believe that somehow, the UCL, the labrum, and the rotator cuff are “special” tissues not subject to the laws of nature and therefore cannot be made to become more robust. I would submit that you must add stress to those tissues if you plan to be a high level thrower. If you completely avoid stress you get weak, fragile connective tissue that could be vulnerable to injury. The key is to add stress incrementally over time, gradually increasing the tissue’s ability to resist. If you add stress too rapidly, the tissue fails. If you add it too often or for too long, the body begins to lay down the strongest tissue it knows (bone) and that becomes a calcification.
Opponents of long toss argue that increased stress on the elbow and shoulder makes it a dangerous practice. I would suggest that not “feeding the arm” with gradually increasing controlled stress as presented in Alan Jaeger’s well known long toss protocol could be even more dangerous.
Now let’s shift gears and tackle the second point of contention… “biomechanics change with increased distance”. You’ll get no objection from me on that one either. The biomechanics of long toss clearly change with every throw… and that’sthe beauty of it.
Let me explain.
In every human movement, there are components that must be stable and others that may vary. The stable components are known as “attractors”. The variable components of a movement are considered “fluctuators”. Attractors can be identified by The variable components of a movement are considered “fluctuators”. Attractors can be identified by finding patterns that are commonly demonstrated by performers across all levels and experience and ability. For example, ask a baby to throw a ball and he will usually lift his arm to about 90 degrees of shoulder abduction.
The same pattern is seen among the most elite and experienced throwers in baseball.
Movements with significant time pressures and those that put the athlete in “at risk” positions if not stable can also be attractors.
Three key attractors I have found in throwing are:
1) Isometric co-contraction of the trail hip musculature at the peak of lead leg lift. 2) Isometric co-contraction of the rotator cuff and peri-scapular musculature with the humerus abducted to about 90 degrees at lead leg weight bearing foot plant. And 3) Isometric co-contraction of the quads, hamstrings, calf, and hip musculature of the lead leg at weight bearing foot plant.
Fluxuators on the other hand are components of the movement that can vary between athletes and even between repetitions by a given athlete.
Examples of fluctuators might include differences in stride length, depth of back knee flexion, arm slot, lead leg action, tempo, or postural tilt. An adequate number or fluxuators are necessary, but having too many could be detrimental to performance and safety.
When movement attractors are stable, the body automatically begins to eliminates some fluxuators until only a few remain. With less options to choose from, the efficiency and effectiveness of the movement improves. However, if too many fluxuators are removed, the athlete loses adjustability. This can result in rigidity and lack or flow in his movement.
The “Anti-Long Toss” crowd apparently fails to recognize the neurophysiologic dynamics and variability demands of human movement. They’re hooked on the “SAID” principle. That’s an acronym for “Specific Adaptation To an Imposed Demand”. It’s a concept commonly referenced in gyms and physical therapy practices and it means that the body will adapt specifically to the exact demands placed on it. In other words, you don’t learn to putt golf balls by shooting baskets and you don’t strengthen your hamstrings by doing biceps curls. The SAID principle would suggest that the pitchers should only train with 5 oz baseball mound throws at 60’6”, because that represents the exact demand required in a game.
It seems logical until you understand the “degrees of freedom problem” as it relates to attractors and fluxuators.
Dr. Nikolai Bernstein first presented the degrees of freedom problem with his famous “blacksmith experiment”. In this investigation, he showed that the number of motor pattern options for performing any movement is virtually limitless and therefore rigidly repeating a movement is an impossibility.
The “repeatable delivery” does not exist.
Every single throw will present a unique set of subtle deviations or errors. Additionally a pitch doesn’t follow one specific pre-established motor pathway from start to finish. Instead, the neuromuscular system subconsciously adjusts that pattern’s pathway, intensity, timing and synergy throughout the throw. Instead of seeking a “repeatable delivery” we should be going after world-class, real time adjustability of movement.
To optimize movement efficiency you need some fluxuators (but not too many). If your training involves throwing only mound pitches from 60’ 6”, you engrain the attractors so deeply that all of the necessary fluxuators are eliminated and you have no adjustability. Now, when your arm begins to drift outside the rigid boundaries you’ve created, you have no pre-rehearsed motor plan to bring it back. With no capacity for adjustment, the arm could wander into areas beyond tissue failure thresholds, and injury could occur.
The key to safe and efficient throwing is to make sure your attractors are stable, but not too stable and to have just enough fluxuators available to allow sufficient choices for adjustment.
That is the beauty of long toss!
Every throw is a different distance with a different release point and a different coordinative demand. This variability allows you to practice the necessary adjustments subconsciously in a controlled environment, thereby becoming a more efficient and effective thrower.
This is also one reason weighted ball training can be an important tool – especially the way we use it at The Baseball Ranch®. A typical weighted ball protocol in our practice would involve performing 4 different deceleration/connection drills, 5-8 feet from a target pad while sequentially progressing downward in weight from a 2-pound ball, to a 21-ounce ball, to a 14-ounce ball, to a 7-ounce ball, to a 5-ounce baseball and finally to 3-ounce underload ball. Note: in our process, when making full arm action throws, we never go above a 7 ounce ball. In a recent study, Fleisig et al, noted that “pitching with slight variations in ball mass challenges the athlete’s neuromuscular awareness and coordination… and therefore seems like a reasonable variation for training pitchers.”
So does that mean I am encouraging every throwing athlete to go out today, purchase as set of weighted balls, find a football field and start chucking? Absolutely not! But once your delivery is connected, you are free from massive physical constraints, and you’ve have had an adequate ramp up period, then long toss and weighted ball throwing may be an essential addition to your overall training program.
The variable stimulus presented by long toss and weighted ball training could help you develop adaptable, adjustable movement patterns that add velo, improve command and decrease your risk of injury.
So actually, despite claims to the contrary by the long toss and weighted ball Gestapo, not using long toss and weighted balls could increase the likelihood of getting hurt.
@ me if you want.
Randy Sullivan, MPT, CSCS
CEO, Florida Baseball Ranch
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.
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.
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.”
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…
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?
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:
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.
See you at The Ranch
Randy Sullivan, MPT
CEO, Florida Baseball Ranch
We get banged on a lot on the internet about our TAP connection balls. If you aren’t familiar with the connection ball, it’s pretty simple. It’s a yellow inflatable ball that has a little texture to
the skin. We use it as a tool to create feel and feed the mistake on a few different arm action inefficiencies. We blend it into a series of drills designed to elicit more efficient, powerful, and durable movement patterns.
How did we start using them?
A couple of days ago, I got an email from a student named Andrew that really got me thinking.
“Hey Randy, I’ve started back throwing and I was looking for some help on the role of the glutes in the delivery. I understand a glute load allows for stabilization of the trunk and can create a bit more ground reaction force, but I’ve also seen the EMG study where they claim that GRF in the drive foot isn’t as crucial. I was wondering if you could point me to some literature or elaborate yourself on the role of the glutes. It’s very difficult for me to take full advantage of mechanical concepts unless I understand the “why” and what goal is attempting to be achieved. Thanks Randy!”
I had a pro client a couple of months ago with a familiar story.
He’s been through 2 Tommy John surgeries, an ulnar nerve decompression, a bone spur removal, and a labrum repair. In Ranch terms, you could say he had been “Rode hard and put away wet.”
That’s not the familiar part.
Early last Friday morning I was conducting a Precision Strike One-On-One Evaluation and Training Session with a 16 year-old righty complaining of severe biceps pain. He had scheduled the appointment after pitching in his first tournament travel ball season. For the sake of confidentiality, I’ll call him Wilson (that’s not his real name). In his second outing of the weekend, the pain reached a 10/10 tipping point threshold, his coach wisely shut him down and told him to call The Florida Baseball Ranch. Many coaches believe that pain in the muscle belly of the biceps is no big deal…
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