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Tag Archives: weighted balls

  • Is Baseball’s Current Instructional Pop Culture Giving Weighted Balls A Bad Name? BY: RON WOLFORTH

    The competitive baseball universe is very akin in many ways to our Western Culture at large, trends and fads are always in motion. As we all know from life experience, trends and fads simply come and go. In 2018, ‘weighted balls’ and velocity enhancement programs are decidedly in vogue. Even as I travel around the world to places like Italy, The Netherlands and Australia, I see weighted ball programs coupled with their promises of fantastic jumps in velocity. If you are a relative newcomer to the world of competitive baseball, you may not be aware that this was certainly not always the case.

    In 1993, I started my first instructional academy in Langley British Columbia, Canada. For nearly the next 10 years, the utilization of weighted balls was decidedly not mainstream. Although a couple of very unique places were utilizing over-weighted implements, the baseball universe at large was decidedly against the use of anything other than a regulation baseball for throwing. The process of throwing balls weighing more and/or less than a regulation baseball was almost universally thought of as risky, perilous, crazy, fraught with danger and an exponential increase in the risk of injury.

    Today, 2018, weighted ball velocity enhancement programs are commonplace on the internet, at high schools, colleges and in instructional academies across the country. Today it seems everybody has a velocity enhancement process. That represents a significant change in the training culture in just 25 years. That’s great news, right?

    The answer, yes and no. We’ve obviously come a long way in reducing our irrational fear of a simple tool. That’s a good thing.

    On the flip side, hardly a week goes by that we don’t get an email or a phone call at the Texas Baseball Ranch® saying something along the lines of, “Our son has never had arm trouble before and this last offseason/month/week etc. his trainer/coach put him on this new weighted ball program… and now he is hurt/out and needs surgery. We heard you are the ‘supposed’ weighted ball/arm health people… why is this happening? Is this common? What do you suggest going forward?”

    Randy Sullivan at the Florida Baseball Ranch also gets regular questions along these same lines. As we also know, typically, for every call or email you receive there are many, many more who have similar issues but are not calling or are calling someone else. Suffice to say, with all the new velocity enhancement programs out there today, arm injuries are on the increase and weighted balls are, in our opinion, often getting an unfair bad rap.

    From Randy Sullivan- Florida Baseball Ranch,

    “We field 3-5 calls per week from parents of players ranging in age from 12-24 who most often have tried a mail ordered, one-size-fits-all weighted ball program and are now experiencing arm pain. It’s sad really, for many it was their first attempt at improving their ability to throw and they often regret trying the cheapest, simplest route. One-size-fits-all anything often becomes a dangerous shortcut.”

    Let me start by giving you a short history of the Ranch’s utilization of weighted balls and possibly assist people in understanding the role that a well-designed weighted ball program can play on arm health, durability and performance.

    Weighted Balls Are Simply a Tool. They are NOT a Panacea or a Quick Fix for Anything. They Can Be Beneficial, or They Can Be Utilized Inappropriately and Have Deleterious Effects.

    The Ranch History of Our Utilization of Weighted Balls

    The Beginning

    In 2002, inspired by the work and research on weighted bats by Dr. Coop DeRenne, we began in earnest using underload and overload principles in the training of our throwers. In other words, we began utilizing weighted balls. We started with 3 weights: a one-pound ball (16 oz),1/2-pound ball (8 oz) and an underload ball (4 oz). The balls we used were called ‘D-Balls’. They were a hollow yellow rubber ball and filled with a type of black graphite with a black cork stopper. I’m not even sure if they even make them anymore. The balls simply were not very functional for the punishment we were placing them through.

    Eventually, Mr. Robert Oates of Oates Specialties began to work with us to customize the balls to withstand the rigor in which we took them through. That evolution and innovation between Oates Specialties and the Ranch remain constant even today.

    It is important to point out that the baseball universe even in 2002 was much different than the one of today. In 2002 we were seen, of course, initially as heretics, crazy and dangerous in using weighted balls in any matter, shape or form. We were regularly excoriated publicly on websites, message boards and blog posts for our ‘reckless’ behavior and ‘placing the athletes in our care at unnecessary risk just to gain a few miles per hour’.

    In hindsight, all this scrutiny was actually a blessing. Every day when we went to work we had no doubt that the world was watching, just waiting to pounce on our ‘dangerous’ and ‘ineffective’ training methods.

    Several times I actually had rather influential baseball people get me in private and say, “Ron, just between you and me… off the record… how many TJ’s did you have at the Ranch?” Apparently, many people thought it impossible that we could do both… arm health/durability AND performance enhancement.The baseball universe at that time simply believed it impossible to thread the needle between those two outcomes.

    Ah Ha #1. Prehab vs. Rehab

    The first thing we did was make weighted balls initially the cornerstone of our Arm Care Program. We didn’t race to velocity enhancement initially because quite frankly we didn’t know what we were going to find, so we started slowly with arm care.

    By that time (2002) I had attended for several years in a row the ASMI Injuries in Baseball Conference in Birmingham Alabama. The impetus of the conferences was not performance enhancement; however, I found the symposiums to be exceptional on the topic of rehabilitation. Strangely enough, in the area of ‘rehab’ there appeared to be widespread acceptance on the use of weighted poly balls and rebounders.

    It occurred to me…THIS is exactly where we are going to begin with weighted implements. Weighted balls would be utilized first as a prehab/arm car process allowing our athlete’s soft tissue to first become accustomed to the stimulus/load and then… after a period of assessment… see where we go after that.

    Ah Ha #2. The Reformation-The Engineer and Pushing the Performance Envelope.

    In 2003, we invited a man by the name of Paul Nyman to speak at our Coaches Boot Camp. He was an engineer with a track background but a love of baseball. He gave two presentations that fundamentally and forever changed the way we trained at our facility. For several years we had been in search of a training process that rejected the conventional paradigms and antiquated, ineffective training methods. In Paul Nyman we found exactly that.

    Paul Nyman gave us a new paradigm and a new perspective. We referred to our personal iteration of Nyman’s dynamic systems paradigms as “The Athletic Pitcher Program”. Even publicly, I have long described Nyman’s work as essentially the ‘Reformation’ in baseball training. Today, Nyman remains the single greatest outside influence upon the Ranch and its fundamental training processes in our history.

    In 2003, Nyman proposed the unthinkable. He offered a structured, incremental weighted ball throwing program coupled with radar as objective feedback. To Nyman and his engineering/ track background, it was basic common sense. To the baseball elite, it was heresy.

    Ah Ha #3. Deceleration Is as Important as Acceleration

    Dr. Mike Marshall won the National League Cy Young Award in 1974 and set a Major League record for most appearances by a relief pitcher in 1974, appearing in a mind-blowing 106 games. He is the holder of two Major League records, both of which he set in the 1974 season: most appearances (games pitched) in a season (106), and most consecutive team games with a relief appearance (13). In his record-setting 1974 season, he pitched 208.3 innings, all of which came in relief appearances.

    Those statistics alone should force any logical trainer/coach/athlete to sit up and take notice and to ask questions. Dr. Marshall endorses a very unique movement pattern that in many ways is the antithesis of the current orthodoxy. Many people simply could not grasp his nonconventional approach and/or Dr. Marshall’s often bombastic and acerbic manner.

    We brought Dr. Mike Marshall in as a keynote presenter to our annual Coaches Symposium and just as advertised, he challenged the status quo and turned the preverbal instructional apple cart upside down, taking no prisoners with regard to his absolute disdain for contemporary methods of pitcher development. In our opinion, Dr. Marshall made a very compelling argument giving evidence that not only were the current standard training processes ineffective, in fact, they were complicit in the influx of injuries and surgical interventions.

    While Dr. Marshall had very, very few complimentary things to say about our training or our approach, we in turn learned a great deal from him regarding the critical importance of systematically preparing soft tissue for the rigors of pitching in competition, as well as the often-overlooked nature of the efficiency of an athlete’s pattern of deceleration.

    Dr. Marshall was the first person we ever heard articulate the connection between deceleration and acceleration, “The body and arm will only accelerate itself as efficiently as it can decelerate itself.”

    So, from Dr. Marshal we took two very critical pieces to our current training protocols:

    #1) That our process of preparing our athlete’s soft tissue for throwing needed to be far more robust than our previous methods.

    #2) That the efficiency of our athlete’s patterns of deceleration not only matters with regards to health, durability and recovery but also are influential with regards to velocity enhancement.

    In other words, if my soft tissue isn’t sufficiently prepared for the push or my pattern of dissipating energy and slowing down my arm is inefficient, a velocity enhancement program almost certainly needs to be postponed until those areas are adequately addressed, or injury will all too often be the result. At the very least, any efforts at velocity enhancements will be constrained or hampered if these areas are deficient.

    Unfortunately, this description of inadequate preparation of soft tissue and/or inefficient patterns of deceleration is far more common than most people think. It’s yet another reason young men get injured while embarking on a velocity building program. In our opinion, weighted balls too often serve as a diversion to the root contributors of injury. Ah-Ha #3 is a classic case in point.

    Ah Ha #4. Start with the Pain and Hyper-Personalize

    Fresh off the presentations of Paul Nyman and Mike Marshall, we began to experiment with weighted balls as a velocity enhancement process. However, we did so with two crucially important caveats:

    A. The athlete currently does not have arm/shoulder/elbow issues

    B. The athlete had a minimum of 6 weeks throwing weighted balls in our arm care process

    If the athlete passed out of that basic 2 step criteria, they were eligible for our initial velocity enhancement process. We referred to this process as “Starting with the Pain”.

    As an important side note, every single session would end with an arm health self-re-assessment. In other words, when each athlete would finish a session, we would immediately check with them on the status of their arm. If they rated their discomfort as a 4 or higher, they would automatically be withheld from the next scheduled session until their arm health returns to normal. If, at any time during the session, their arm discomfort rises above a 4 on a 0-10 scale or anything feels odd or strange, they were to immediately suspend their training session.

    This basic process remains standard operating procedure almost 15 years later.

    First- always prepare the soft tissue for 4-6 weeks prior to our initial push.

    Second- closely monitor every athlete’s arm health each session and adjust their processes based on the individual.

    Third- never hesitate in delaying or suspending the process if the arm is not responding well. Learn to train your pitchers to be intimate with their arm and understand that some days it is simply time to shut it down and decide to fight another day. In other words, if you’re ‘not feeling it’today, many times the right call is to suspend your push for today and come at it again later in the week or the next week. Injury will certainly place a REAL delay in your development. It is never a good idea to push to the point you become injured.

    Ah Ha #5. Mechanical Efficiency (Connection) Matters… A lot

    In 2005, I watched a sports medicine TV program about an orthopedic doctor who specializes in treating world class elite long-distance running athletes. His comments regarding injuries in this very specific population of athletes really resonated with me.

    He basically said that most doctors treat the injuries to elite long-distance runners from a faulty paradigm. This was the gist of his comments:

    Of course, world-class distance runners have incredibly high workloads, that’s the very reason why they are world class, so if your instinct is to treat the injury primarily or exclusively by the simple reduction of their workload, you will be of little practical use to your athletes. They run, that’s what they do. They run a great deal and that’s why they are elite.

    Instead, he urged the doctors to look deeper and closer, and not be so plastic in their perspective. Elite long-distance runners are far from normal. Therefore, he concluded a conventional approach to injury reduction for the general population will not typically be beneficial to the elite long-distance runner.

    If, he argued, the elite runner has an inefficiency in his running form or their shoes do not fully support their feet, under any considerable workloads of course injury is eventually going to often be the result. Therefore, he proposed, in many cases, the workload was only a symptom or an ancillary contributor to injury and not the cause itself.

    For example, if a runner actually ran on the side of his/her feet, would managing his/her workload be a sufficient solution? The obvious answer is absolutely not. Reducing his/ her workload may delay the final breakdown but would do NOTHING toward a solution. The only solution would be to improve the efficiency in which he runs.

    That made absolutely perfect sense to me. Applying this orthopod’s logic to throwing athletes, it became obvious to us at the Ranch that mechanical efficiency also really matters when it came to deciding who was approved to take part in our velocity enhancement programs. Over the past 12 years, we have identified 12 primary movement pattern disconnections that have the potential to add stress to soft tissue.

    So, when we initially assess athletes and find a significant level of one or more of the 12 disconnections, coupled with arm pain or difficulty recovering from throwing sessions, that indicates to us that we must first reduce the disconnection, reduce the discomfort of the arm and increase their ability to recover and bounce back before we throw them into a velocity enhancement program.

    To us at the Ranch, this simply is common sense. If I have some arm discomfort on a regular basis currently and NOW I’m going to really ramp up the stress, load, and intensity, why should I be surprised when injury or shut down is the result?

    Bottom line: In our opinion, this is one of the most common reasons so many young arms are injured from weighted ball programs and velocity enhancement programs. They are already on the edge of injury right now. The weighted ball just simply was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

    Ah Ha #6. Holism- Everything Matters. The Continual Search for the Simplicity on the Far Side of Complexity

    Many players and their parents desperately want development and performance enhancement to be simple. They want their coaches or instructors/trainers to explain the incredible complexity of human performance with catchy phases, teaching cues and/or one-size-fits-all recipes to success.

    In the privacy of quiet reflection, most of us would realize this type of process is simply fool’s gold.

    Need velocity? Just get on the internet and obtain a good weighted ball program.

    Need arm health? Just get on YouTube and watch a good arm care process.

    Need command? Throw more frequent bullpens.

    Need better secondary stuff? Ask your instructor/coach for a new grip. Maybe find out how Clayton Kershaw holds it.

    In our estimation, these suggestions are not bad in and of themselves, they are simply endemic of a much bigger problem. Most people routinely underestimate the complexity and difficulty of consistently performing well at highest levels of competition. At the Texas Baseball Ranch®, we have run head first into that reality, again and again, ourselves over the past 15 years.

    In 2010 to give our team at the Texas Baseball Ranch® a foundation to understand and deal with that complexity, I created a chart to guide us. It has since been edited and slightly improved upon, but the foundation remains unchanged in 8 years and is a fixture in our core philosophy.

    This chart was my effort to remind myself and my staff to continually recognize and appreciate the complexity of high performance, to refrain from the constant lure of trying to explain the unexplainable to a client and yet create a sensible foundation from which we could make valid and sound decisions and judgments.

    The 6 Primary Contributors to Substandard Performance

    What is keeping you from having a healthy, durable, electric arm?

    • Type I Contributors- Structural Related
        Physical misalignments, asymmetries, strength imbalances, constraints in                mobility/flexibility and/or strength/stability
    • Type II Contributors- Movement Pattern Related
       The movements related to actually throwing the ball; the mechanical efficiency of   the athlete’s movement pattern
    • Type III Contributors– Preparation Related
       Wake-Up warm-up, pretraining, pregame, postgame, ramp up to season or to     session/game
    • Type IV Contributors- Training Related
       How your training processes affect your abilities (strength program,   mobility/flexibility program, conditioning program, throwing program)
    • Type V Contributors-Workload/Recovery Related
       How much, how long, how often, how many per inning, how quickly you return to   full speed.
    • Type VI Contributors- Internal Systemic Related                                                                            Sleep, nutrition, hydration

     

    Why is this chart so important? What does it have to do with the efficacy of a weighted ball program? Simple…

    Everything matters.

    For example, the belief at the Ranch consortium is:

    If the athlete’s physical structure, alignment, strength, balance, mobility/flexibility or stability is considerably limited, constrained, compromised or deficient, a weighted ball velocity enhancement program is contraindicated and will have to wait until those issues are addressed.

    If the athlete’s mechanical efficiency is questionable or marginal and has manifested abject pain or difficulties in recovery, then a weighted ball velocity enhancement program is contraindicated and will have to wait until those issues are addressed.

    If the athlete hasn’t built a minimum of a 6-week foundation of preparation for their soft tissue, a weighted ball velocity enhancement program is contraindicated and will have to wait until those issues are addressed.

    We have taken our share of criticism from some corners of the baseball universe that we overly hype pain and for our ‘overzealous need’ for multiple assessments before engaging on a velocity program. We truly don’t mind the criticism. Everyone should be free to come to their own conclusions. However, that doesn’t necessarily make the criticism cogent.

    As I alluded to previously, we have been attempting to tread the needle between arm health/durability and performance for the past 16 years. In that time, we have found some really good news that we wish everybody in the baseball universe would understand and take advantage of, and that good news is this…

    The Really Good News

    #1. We have found that if we can simply assist each athlete in reducing or eliminating any regular discomfort of his elbow or shoulder and/or significantly improve his ability to recover/bounce back, that athlete will in fact nearly always (85% of the time) experience a slight but notable uptick of 1-3 mph in velocity in 4 weeks of his improvement in his arm health and durability.

    This should only make sense. If the athlete’s arm feels better…he will naturally ‘step on the accelerator’.If his arm is more durable, he can throw more often and for longer stretches of time. Do those behaviors appear to support enhanced velocity? The answer is without question… yes!

    #2. We have found that as the athlete improves his mechanical efficiency and builds his throwing foundation, any weighted ball program we place him under in the future will be far more effective.

    Final Comments

    The fact many people often forget is that ALL balls are ‘weighted’. Every ball ever created has weight. The common vernacular of ‘weighted balls’ infers that the balls they are utilizing are typically heavier than the 5 ¼ounce regulation baseballs. Coop DeRenne used the terms ‘overload’ and ‘underload’ to help further clarify his process. We of course are shaped by the works of DeRenne and Nyman and use similar language.

    I do believe it is a rather foolish and antiquated position to take that a 5 ¼ounce ball is somehow a ‘safe’ weight but 3 ounces or 7 ounces are dangerous.

    We suggest viewing the weight and size of the balls in your training as a specific type of stimulus, and just like dosage/time/frequency in medicine matters, so does the specific stimulus in training. Sometimes the individual is ready for and indeed should have ‘more’. Other times, ‘more’ would be dangerous.

    It will take customization, communication, testing, assessment and constant monitoring to maximizes it’s affects and minimize its risks. One thing is for certain, the one-size-fits-all processes that I see firsthand out there now does none of those. They are simple, but they are often far from benign.

    We have indeed come a long way from the 1990’s in terms of our perspective on weighted balls. That’s a great thing. However, in my opinion, until and unless we can move past the desire to obtain a universal, monolithic, catchall weighted ball throwing program, we as a baseball universe will keep running head first into the unintended consequences of inappropriate and misapplied training, with injury and surgical intervention as the much too frequent outcomes.

    But of course, it’s not weighted balls that are the problem. The problem is how they are utilized. As my late father was frequent to remind me when I complained about my equipment, “It’s rarely the bow that’s the problem…it’s the skill of the Indian warrior using it that matters.”

    Indeed.

    A Steven Covey quote that I think is the perfect way to end our discussion of weighted ball training,

    “If there is no gardener, there is no garden.”

    Our advice at the Ranch Consortium, when it comes to weighted balls and velocity enhancement programs, become the gardener. It’s the difference maker.

  • Being Successful With Your Off-Speed Pitches - By: Gunnar Thompson, NASM-CPT, PES, CPPS

    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.

    Be Unique and #BeELITE

  • Bowlvalanche! Should Strasburg “Simplify” His Mechanics? by Randy Sullivan, MPT, CSCS

    Bowlvalanche… That’s what I call it.

    It’s a term I coined a long time ago.

    Any time 3 or more of anything falls, I call it a “that thing” valanche.

    This is an Avalanche…

    This is a Ballvalanche…

    A Toothpickvalanche

    And this thing…

    This accident waiting to happen…

    If you attempt to add to or take away from this chaotic cluster nut, the slightest perturbation of the equilibrium could begin a cascade of events resulting in a bona fide bowlvalanche.

    How do you avoid this catastrophe? To paraphrase hall of fame pitching coach, Elmer Fudd, “Vewy carefully.”

    Take away what you must.

    Add what you need.

    But be very cautious in doing so.

    It’s like that when you work with pitchers too.

    Imagine this Tupperware Jenga display represents the complexity and individuality of the throwing motion (and its probably not far off). One can easily visualize its precarious nature. When attempting to make mechanical adjustments, if you add too much or add it too quickly you could get a bowlvalanche. On the other hand if you take the opposite approach and start minimizing movement, taking things away… one wrong move and… you guessed it… bowlvalanche!!

    When you’re adding or subtracting from a pitcher’s mechanics, to have to tread very lightly. It’s the message Coach Ron Wolforth gave me a few weeks ago when he referred our shared client, Justin Verlander.

    “Do what you need to do, but leave as little fingerprints as possible.”

    My intent is not to disparage anyone, and by no means do I ever claim to have it all figured out. Every pitching coach I know truly has a heart for helping his players improve, but often our knowledge is incomplete.  In our attempts to help, we do more harm than good. Sometimes we add too much, putting a disruptive personal stamp on the athlete, forcing movement patterns that inhibit the pitcher’s ability. What often follows is a cascade of disconnections and kinesthetic confusion that leads to an erosion of performance that can progress to pain or injury.

    Sometimes we fall into the archaic 1980s approach of reductionism. We try to “minimize movement to maximize efficiency”.This represents a deep lack of understanding about injury and performance.  It’s a failed model. For over 30 years pitching coaches at very high levels have taken a “less is more” approach while attempting to produce “a repeatable delivery”. We continually misunderstand the difference between simplification and efficiency. We “simplify” the pitcher’s mechanics to the point of robbing him of athleticism and more importantly, his adjustability.

    The hardest thrower we’ve ever developed (99.7mph on our mound and 98 in a nationally televised Division 1 game) was

    drafted in the 12th round by a MLB club. Over the next 12 months, they “coached him” down to 85 mph, then released him. Well done!

    A recent AP article suggested that injury-plagued pitcher, Stephen Strasburg might ditch the windup and pitch only from the stretch this season. “I’m not trying to reinvent myself, but just trying to simplify things as much as I can and be able to repeat my mechanics.”

    And here we go again. In pursuit of this elusive “repeatable delivery” the pitcher’s movement is pared down to it’s simplest form. The athlete loses athleticism and explosiveness, but more importantly he loses his adjustability.

    So what does it mean to have an adjustable delivery?

    To explain this we must address the fundamental flaw in reductionist thinking – that a repeatable delivery is even possible. Listen closely…

    The repeatable delivery is a unicorn!

    It does not exist.

    You cannot repeat your mechanics.

    Every pitch will present a unique set of subtle, yet important deviations or errors. Instead of repeatable mechanics, what we need to pursue is world-class, in-flight adjustability that gives the athlete pre-organized solutions to self-correct when his delivery begins to veer off course.

    Dr. Nikolai Bernstein proved it with his famous Blacksmith experiment back in the 1920s. He
    took some of Russia’s greatest blacksmiths, tagged them with lights at strategic places on their bodies (the first biomarkers) and used serial photography and rudimentary motion pictures to observe them performing the singular task of driving a nail into a log with one swing. What he found was revolutionary to the motor learning industry, yet many coaches still don’t get it. When he compared the movement patterns of these high level hammer swingers across all subjects, Bernstein noted that they all demonstrated slightly different swings. They all achieved the goal every time, but no two subjects displayed the same pattern. But, more importantly no single blacksmith was able to repeat the same movement pattern on any of his trials. The results were always the same – the nail was pounded into the log — but the path to get there was different every time. It created a problem in motor learning science known as “the degrees of freedom problem”. Top down, centrally controlled models frequently used to explain movement patterns do not account for the variability present in all human movement.

    Instead of seeking repeatable mechanics what we’re really looking for are repeatable results.

    Many times when you eliminate complexity, you remove the margins for adjustability.

    If an athlete can’t make real time adjustments to his movement, he has no means to self-correct and he is left to the mercy of his connective tissue restraints (e.g. UCLs and labrums). Training subconsciously with variable stimulus (weighted balls, varied surfaces, multi-dimensional drills, and modulating goals) while permitting creativity allows for self-organization of patterns with built-in adjustability. When the athlete’s arm begins to stray off course he already has a pre-formatted solution to the error and his body automatically rights itself and returns to a mote efficient, powerful, accurate, and durable pattern.

    As a matter of principle, I avoid making injury predictions. But in my humble opinion, Stephen Strasburg should not try to “simplify his mechanics.” Instead he should develop an efficient throwing pattern that minimizes his disconnections while maximizing his adjustability. Otherwise, he may be looking at another trip to the DL and ultimately a catastrophic…  bowlvalanche.

    Randy Sullivan, MPT, CSCS

     

    P.S We’ve recently announce the dates for our Elite Performers Bootcamps for the rest of 2017… CLICK HERE!

    P.P.S. Learn all about our incredible 2017 Ultimate Summer Training Program RIGHT HERE.

  • Ways to Improve Your Preseason Training By: Gunnar Thompson, NASM-CPT, PES, CPPS

    I want to start off by stating that I sincerely believe in hyper-personalization when it comes to athletes' training, nutrition, and recovery. While everyone has their own specific needs to improve their performance and health, it is possible to provide a general outline of what the best coaches and trainers are doing to prepare their athletes for the upcoming season. The four propositions mentioned below reflect principles I have learned from the great minds of Ron Wolforth, Randy Sullivan, Flint Wallace, Eric Cressey, Jim Smith, Joe Defranco, and Cameron Josse that should be universally utilized by all athletes.

    First, athletes should work on improving their tissue quality.  This is an immediate way to boost durability and performance. For some time, we have utilized Foam Rollers, Massage Rollers, Lacrosse Balls, and other tools to provide a Self-Myofascial Release (SMR). While there is some debate about what is actually happening when SMR is performed, it is accepted by the majority of coaches and trainers as a critical component to improving tissue quality. If you or your team do not have a foam roller, it is an inexpensive tool that will pay off immediately.

    Second, the ramp-up of workload is still something that most players and coaches miss in their preparation. I feel like this is absolutely necessary to mention as baseball season is drawing near and scrimmages/preseason games are about to be played. Randy Sullivan explains this concept well when he talks about athletes' ligaments and tendons, the places where athletes normally break down.  Randy explains that ligaments and tendons are slow to adapt to stress since the blood supply in these areas is very limited.  This is why starting small and building up is critical for athletes, and even more so for athletes who must perform overhead movements, such as throwing.  I have heard Randy recommend throwing into the Baseball Training Sock to start off a progression, as it is the least stressful way to get throws in, and it helps to develop a less stressful adaptation to build upon.

    The next thing that comes to my mind as it correlates to ramp-up is something that comes from Ron Wolforth. He believes that the MLB has it right when they start their pitchers throwing one or two innings in the first outing, and adding an inning to each appearance to create a gradual increase in workload. From these points, it easy to see why an athletes' preparation should not start with scrimmage/game number 1. It should be started well in advance and gradually built upon until the first scrimmage/game.

    Third, developing multiple warm-up routines is imperative to keep players healthy and alert for the entire season. I took this thought from Flint Wallace, who stated his athletes would have a different warm-up for every day of practice, and on game day they got to choose their warm-up. This concept also comes from the “Certified Physical Preparation Specialist” certification that was taught by Jim Smith, Joe Defranco, and Cameron Josse. During this certification, they mentioned that every athlete will show up every day with different needs.  An athlete will never be the same from day to day, hour to hour, or minute to minute. As a player or coach, it is your responsibility to progress or regress the training as needed by the individual that day, hour, and minute. This may seem like an impossible task, but if there is variability in a warm-up program the athlete has the freedom to do this without even thinking about it. Therefore, athletes and coaches should create variety in their warm-ups. Ladders, hurdles, resistance tubing, weighted balls, hip mobility, and the Shoulder Tube are all great warm up options for players. This will not only keep them healthy, but they will stay alert throughout the season. Baseball is known for repetitiveness and extended length. When you combine the two you create boredom. Do everything you can do to prevent this mental struggle that boredom creates.

    Finally, recovery is the single most overlooked portion of preparation. The majority of people still believe that when the game or practice is finished, your training for the day is over.  But the elite coaches and trainers I mentioned above actually view it as the START of preparing for tomorrow! Without recovery, it is impossible to come back the following day better prepared to train or compete. There are various methods in building a recovery protocol. I have seen the tools mentioned in the “warm-up” portion also used in recovery along with others such as the Rocket Wrap Compression Floss, Electrical Stimulation, contrast baths, and diaphragmatic breathing, to name a few.  These are all great ways to increase blood flow, and to better prepare the athlete physically and mentally for the next day's work.

    As I mentioned previously, this post is not meant to tell you exactly how and what to do. That is highly dependent on each individual and their specific needs, and a proper program should never be a one size fits all. Instead, the items listed above are things I believe players and coaches should be aware of when preparing for this season and every season. Use the concepts mentioned by the coaches and trainers above and make them your own. Develop a proper preparation protocol for you or your players and it will pay dividends.

    Be unique and #BeELITE!

  • Throwing Weighted Dogs Can Increase Velocity! Wait… What? - by Randy Sullivan

    Seems the rage these days is about these new weighted ball things and how they increase velocity.

    Funny…

    When we started using weighted balls as part of our process in 2009, in my community you
    would have thought I was Jack the Ripper! Naysayers unfairly blasted me privately, and publicly to the point that I finally gave in and stopped using them for a few months.

    I soon came to the realization that critics will be critics and accepting their slings and arrows is simply the price I must pay for the privilege of working with all the fine young men in my care.

    Continue reading

  • Why Do Plateaus Occur?- Part II by Ron Wolforth

    A reminder of key points of Part I:

    • 1) Plateaus are natural parts of EVERYONE's growth.
    • 2) Very frequently I see solid and steady incremental growth being categorized and labeled by athletes and parents as 'disappointing' and 'discouraging' simply because the gains were 'so small'.
    • 3) To truly be exceptional you must first learn to become discouragement proof... or at the very least... discouragement resistant.
    • 4) At the Ranch we say... “To become great, you first must learn to enjoy the plateaus.”

    Continue reading

  • 3 Questions About Weighted Ball Training - By Randy Sullivan

    Not a day goes by that I don’t get a flurry of questions about the “latest rage”… weighted baseballs (ironic that the “latest rage” began nearly 30 years ago).

    With process development and advocacy from a cadre of progressive thinking instructors and coaches, and support from several high level programs, a  a throwing modality once considered radical is rapidly becoming mainstream.

    Last winter the Tampa Bay Rays approached me for advice on implementing an off-season weighted ball velocity enhancement program.

    I was intrigued.

    Continue reading

  • Teaching a "Good" Arm Action

    One of the most commonly discussed topics in pitching is a pitcher's arm action. Is a long or short arm action better? Isn't a smooth arm action best? Does a pitcher with a fluid arm action have a better chance to stay healthy? Doesn't that guy’s arm action seem jerky? Should you break from the glove with the ball or the elbow? How much "scap load" should a pitcher have and how does he get into that position? Should the ball be facing 2nd base during the "cocked" phase of the arm action? How do you keep pitchers from having an inverted "W" during delivery? Etc, etc., etc.

    Continue reading

  • Overload Training

    My last article focused on weighted balls and the benefits in which they can have for a throwing athlete. Since weighted balls are a type of overload training I thought that my focus this week should involve the overload principle.

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  • Increase Velocity with Weighted Balls

    There always seems to be a whirlwind which accompanies the subject of throwing weighted balls. People are often divided in terms of how they feel about using them. Many coaches dismiss weighted balls with the notion that they can lead to injury. Well if that is the case then these coaches better not let their players throw a baseball either. The truth is that every baseball player throws a weighted ball each day. A baseball is a 5 ounce weighted instrument that has caused more injuries than any other weighted ball in the world.

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