Archive for the ‘Baseball’ Category

A traditional thought process in baseball that has been taught for years is the necessity to be able to balance on the push leg during the leg kick. A drill has been utilized where the pitcher is instructed to go through his motion until his leg lift and pause with the knee in the air, like the position in the picture below.

Dan Haren (pictured above) is the one pitcher that comes to mind when you think about a pause at the top of his leg kick. I do not know for certain why he does that, but I’m sure he has a good reason.
I won’t beat around the bush, I am not a fan of the drill and actually believe it to be counterproductive. Here is the logical and biomechanical argument against the balance drill.
Let’s start with the fact that this is very similar to the field sobriety test used for a DUI, so unless you’ve been drinking, it should not be challenging.
For me, the dislike for the drill comes from the thought process behind it which seems to be “I’m going to use this with the kids I coach because this is what I did when I was growing up.” This is a huge problem in the coaching and strength and conditioning field. We should know the reason behind everything we implement instead of just doing it because that’s the way it has previously been done.
I also do not see how it transfers over to the actual pitching motion. When you study the pitching motion, you will see that very few pitchers that ever come to that position. Most pitchers have their hips moving down the slope when their leg kick reaches the peak. If you look at this slow motion video of Trevor Bauer, you will see as his lead leg lifts, his body slowly begins to generate motion down the slope. If you were to draw a vertical line from his push foot, it would not go through the back hip (1:18-1:21 of the video).
The argument against creating momentum in this manner is the pitcher’s body would get ahead of his arm, resulting in poor accuracy (usually missing high and arm side) and increasing the chance of injury. I would politely disagree with this argument. If you were to take a large sample size of professional pitchers, you would see a majority of them do not line up in the vertical position the balance drill teaches. Rather, they tend to be more similar to Bauer.
aroldis_chapman_windup
It is easy to see in this picture of Arnoldis Chapman. He is at the peak of his leg kick, and his body has already started to work its way down the slope. And Chapman throws really hard.
An easy way to check to see if the body is getting too far ahead of the arm is to check the position the pitcher is in when his front foot makes contact with the ground. The wrist and ball should be above the throwing shoulder, while the elbow is slightly below. If the ball is below the shoulder at this point in the deliver, then the arm will be late. This could also be a result of breaking the hands late so make sure you are looking at the entire picture.
Notice the elbow and wrist position as his lead foot makes contact

Notice the elbow and wrist position as his lead foot makes contact

Instead of focusing on balancing on the push leg, concentrate on what the foot does during the leg kick. A common problem is for the foot to supinate (rotate towards the rubber) which results in an energy leak. For the glute to be properly loaded, the pitcher must push off of the ball of his foot. This allows energy to be efficiently transferred from the ground up the kinetic chain, through the hip and thoracic spine, into the shoulder and throwing arm. If the foot supinates, the glute does not properly load and there will be more stress placed on another part of the kinetic chain, most likely the arm, to make up for the lost energy.
Foot is flat, but pressure is on the ball of the foot

Correct: Foot is flat, pushing through the ball of the foot

Foot supinated, weight on outside of the foot, glute not loaded

Incorrect: Foot supinated, weight on outside of the foot, glute not loaded

The balance drill is usually used with younger pitchers up to the high school level. This is the time in development where there should be an emphasis on using the lower body since kids of this age usually struggle with full body movements. If you are able to improve athleticism at this time, the pitching mechanics will smooth out on their own and the athlete will become much more efficient in all of his movements, not just pitching. From my experience with working with high schoolers, very few of them use their lower body and hips as much as they should. Some kind of lateral plyometric would be much more beneficial.
A movement such as the Lateral Lunge Shuffle teaches lateral explosion by pushing off the inside of the foot. By adding a weight and a reach, you also work on deceleration through the posterior x factor (opposite hip connected to opposite shoulder) into the landing leg with internal rotation of the hip. This is the same movement used to decelerate the body after a pitch.
The point of this was not to bash a single drill or the people that use the drill, but to show the merit of examining each drill or exercise we use. As demonstrated here, a simple modification to a traditional drill can be very beneficial.
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While resting your arm is an important part of the offseason, it is just one of the many pieces to the puzzle. Professional and amateur players alike should have a progression they go through so they are ready at the beginning of their respective season. Wondering aimlessly through the gym for 4 months doing random exercises, reps, and sets is basically lying to yourself that you worked hard this off season. And while work ethic might not have been the issue, there is someone out there who is working just as hard…and smarter.

Since this topic is rather broad and I could write a book on it, let’s break it down and start with the moneymaker: The arm.

I recently decided (within the last 15 minutes) that I hate the term “arm care”. Care is a word that is associated with physical weakness. I’m not going to use a word that goes completely against the goal and mindset I am trying to accomplish. For that reason, I will now refer to it as arm training or strengthening. Creative, right? Go ahead and jump on the bandwagon now. You heard it here first.

In all seriousness, you will never hear me say “arm” and “care” in succession again. Here is a very basic overview of what a pitcher’s offseason should look like for arm strengthening specific work ONLY. I will get to the other parts of the body in the near future.

Professional Pitchers 

Weeks 1-2: Completely off.

Weeks 3-4: General adaptation aka get back into the routine of lifting. Normal upper body exercises

Weeks 5-6: Light manual/weighted/band rotator cuff work, scapular mobility work

Weeks 7-8: Shoulder stabilization (overhead carries, lateral core extensions w/ med ball, o’head oblique extensions, turkish get-ups), wall dribbles

Week 9-10: Overhead med ball throws, arm motion w/ weight 

Somewhere around this time throwing will start back. Schedule the arm strengthening around your throwing. Throwing should be done before the workout or on off days.

Week 11-14: Overhead med ball throws decrease in frequency and weight as throwing increases. Shoulder stability, scapular mobility, arm motion with weight, and rotator cuff continue

Week 15-16: Throwing distance should be increasing, flat grounds start, weighted ball throws from 90/90 position to release,

Week 17-18: Bullpens begin, long toss intensity increases, Overhead med ball throws cut down to once a week, weighted ball throws from power position

Week 19-20: Bullpen intensity increases, weighted ball volume decreases

Week 21-22: Ready for spring training. Bullpens and long toss at 100%. Normal in-season arm maintenance

Final Thoughts

For weighted ball throws, I would stay in the 6-11 oz range. My rule of thumb on weighted throws is decrease weight as range of motion increases. Weighted balls should be thrown into a net, not to another person. I would also not recommend using weighted balls without the instruction and supervision of someone in the strength and conditioning field that knows what they are doing. They could possibly cause injury if misused, or if you are not physically developed enough to use them. It is important to have a solid base of strength before using weighted balls.

This article was meant to serve as an overview of an offseason arm strengthening program. Obviously, there is a lot of detail left out. Hopefully it can serve as a general guide as you shape your offseason program.

This summer, my sister pulled some strings and had Charles throw out the first pitch at the Augusta Greenjackets game, a local Single A baseball team. Needless to say, Charles was very excited when he heard the news. We didn’t realize for about a day or so that he didn’t really understand what was meant by throwing out the first pitch. For those of you who don’t follow baseball, throwing out the first pitch is kind of ceremonial thing done in baseball where someone, usually a hometown sports figure or celebrity, throws the ball to the catcher before the game starts. He was talking about it non stop and mentioned something about striking someone out. My dad and I were confused before we realized he thought that throwing out the first pitch meant he was actually going to face a hitter.

We had to explain to him that there would be no hitter and he would just simply be throwing the pitch to the catcher, in which he responded, “Ahhhh man”.

Charles’ First Pitch

Apologies for having to risk pulling something to view the video. It’s my sister’s fault.

You could pawn this off as just a case of a child being naive, but I believe it’s a kid having extreme confidence in his abilities. I lean towards the latter because of the way Charles acts and the fact he is used to playing against grown men (My dad and I. Yes, I know neither of us are professional hitters, but to him we are and I certainly don’t discourage this idea.)

The reason of why Charles believes he can compete and succeed against professional baseball players at age 5 really is NOT important. What is important is that he truly believes he has the ability to play at that level, and he isn’t scared of the idea at all.

I am shocked with how kids doubt themselves these days. You would think that the overprotective parents that baby their children would produce a kid that is confident from mommy and daddy telling him he’s the world’s greatest when he’s terrible. Instead, it has produced kids that do not believe they can get the job done. How is a coach supposed to expect an athlete to produce when they don’t expect it themselves?

Also, many times the athlete won’t succeed simple because they don’t have the confidence that they will out perform their opponent. I can speak from experience on this. When I struggled pitching in college, I started feeling like every pitch I threw had to be perfect to perform the way I thought I should. This caused me to pitch “tight” and my performance only got worse. In the summer between my freshman and sophomore year of college, I felt great physically and was very confident and pitched the best I ever have in my life.

Whatever sport you play, take a lesson from Charles and truly believe you are the best person on the field or court. You will never be able to reach a level that you do not see as obtainable for yourself.

Resting Your Arm

Posted: November 25, 2012 in Baseball
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As winter is approaching and temperatures finally start to dip here in the south, it is important to remember (or learn) that it is not bad to take some time totally off from baseball. No matter your age or skill level, this should be included in your yearly training schedule. When I say off, I don’t mean zero physical activity, but I would suggest not picking up a bat or ball for a little while.

With throwing, the general agreement is 6-8 weeks (in succession) is an appropriate and necessary time to take off. That doesn’t mean no bullpens or long toss for 6-8 weeks, that means no throwing at all. Like don’t touch a baseball. I would also suggest staying away from specific shoulder work (bands, light dumbbells, rotator cuff exercises). This will give the shoulder and elbow time to recover from the repetitive stress placed on it during the previous 10 months of use. Start back with very basic, light exercises and increase volume and intensity like you would with any training program. You can also put more emphasis on your strength program and include exercises like explosive med ball throws a that are more taxing and shouldn’t be implemented while you are throwing on a regular basis.

I do not believe as much time off is needed for hitting. Somewhere between 2-4 weeks would be more appropriate. I would also suggest taking swings from your non dominant side whether you switch hit or not (unless you have back or hip problems in which case you probably shouldn’t be swinging at all). This will help even out muscle imbalances built up from the thousands of swings you take during the season from one side. Most kids also enjoy the challenge and it’s something different.

Besides the physiological benefits from the time off, I always felt like it recharged me mentally. After any break, the “daily grind” feeling was gone and I was ready to get after it. My focused improved and I was much more driven.

This concept holds true with any sport. Year round teams can lead to burn out for a younger kid and the risk of injury increases greatly. College and professional athletes will tell you they have to have some kind of break and get away from it all. Take some time off. It will be much more beneficial to you in the long run.

Because of the spike of arm injuries over the past 2 decades, arm care has been a focus of many overhead athletes. There are many different programs that aim to properly train the rotator cuff and other smaller muscles involved in an overhead movement. For the purpose of this article, we will focus on pitching as the overhead movement.

While rotator cuff and other isolated arm care work is important, it should be viewed as auxiliary work when we think about preventing arm injuries. In Anatomy Trains 2nd Edition, Thomas Myers illustrates how the fascial system connects our whole body. One of the main points he tries to convey is how one area of a fascial line can affect the entire line, not just the immediate area around the effected area. One statement Meyers made really stuck out to me when discussing the functional lines:

 “While remedial work on these muscles or their antagonists may be helpful, long-term relief depends on reinforcing the strength and precise timing of the Back Functional Line  (BFL) in throwing, rather than asking the small muscles of the shoulder joint to bear the entire burden.”

 Note: The Back Functional Line is the fascial system that runs from the distal attachment of the latissimus dorsi through the sacrolumbar junction to connect with the lower fibers of the gluteus maximus on the opposite side.

Hopefully by now you know I am a huge proponent of training the entire body together as much as possible. There is certainly merit to isolation work, but the body needs to be taught how to work together. This idea is emphasized throughout Anatomy Trains, especially in the above quote. While there are many other applications to this idea, let’s concentrate on back during a pitch.

This goes beyond pull ups, DB rows, reverse flys, and keeping the golden 2:1 pull:push ratio. While those exercises are important, they are isolated strengthening exercises. They don’t do much for the timing of the BFL. We want to try and get the entire back to work on decelerating the arm and body.

So how is this accomplished?

The simplest way to do this is hold on to the ball, preferably a weighted ball. The thought behind this is if your body can slow down say a 2 lb ball, it can certainly slow down itself after it releases a 5 oz object. Also, your body will not let your arm accelerate any faster than your deceleration muscles can slow it down. If you want to increase velocity, start by improving your deceleration muscles (infraspinatus, teres minor, biceps), along with the integrating the rest of the musculature of the back.

Drill: Start in the “early cocking” position where the arm is going to start accelerating forwards, and the lead shoulder is still pointing at the target, front in the position it would be in if you just landed.

Take your arm through your normal  throwing motion at a slow speed. Finish like you would normally finish a pitch, except keep your back foot down. Keeping the back foot down places more of the deceleration on the back. Once you finish your follow through, rewind the motion taking your arm back through the exact path it traveled when going forward. Return to starting position and repeat. I usually start with just a baseball and 2 sets of 6 and work up to using a 21 oz ball and 3 sets of 10 depending on the athlete.

It all goes back to the idea of training the body as 1 unit. There are several other drills that teach us how to utilize a larger section of the body or the entire body during a specific sports movement. I will cover some of the other exercises I use at another time. It is also important to note that mechanics play a major role in the precise timing involved in a skill like pitching. Your back can be really strong and it won’t help at all if your mechanics suck. Try out this exercise and let me know what you think.

It amazes me how we can make ginormous technological advances over the past 40+ years, but do not change the exercises or training methods used. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not bashing every old school exercise that doesn’t use the fanciest and latest equipment we have today. The pushup is in my top 3 favorite exercises. It is very discouraging, though, that with all the research we have available to us in this day and age people still prescribe the same things they did when they were growing up for no other reason then that’s what they did when they were growing up. Women used to smoke when they were pregnant, too.

So what’s so terrible about crunches or sit ups?

Dr. Stuart McGill, world renown back specialist, has conducted research that shows repeated bending of the spine can, overtime, contribute to damaging spinal discs. Not one of my goals of working out.

Tie the idea of Long and Strong into the rectus abdominis. The abs are not different from any other muscle group. If shortened through improper training, performance will be inhibited and chance of injury will increase. Is there any movement in every day life where we start with our back in a neutral position and contract our abs, rolling our shoulders forward towards the ground? NO! There is always some kind of extension of the abs before the contraction (think stretch-shortening cycle). Let’s look at a pitcher throwing a baseball and a tennis player serving.

In both cases, the lengthening of the abs is clear immediately before the transition from loading to acceleration occurs. Even if you know nothing about exercise physiology or biomechanics, it doesn’t make sense logically to train your abs in a way where you start with your rectus abdominis in a neutral position and shorten it when this motion doesn’t happen in sports or life really. Most of America spends 8 hours of their day slouched over in a chair. 8 hours of muscle conditioning a day is a lot to overcome.

Extreme kyphosis. The spine should be more “S” shaped, not “C” shaped.

Give your body a chance and train in a way that combats poor back health instead of encouraging it. For the average person, this will help align the rib cage in its proper position and thus put the lower back in a more favorable position as well.

As related to sports, specifically baseball, it is much more beneficial to train the lumbopelvic control (lumbar=lower back). Research has shown that pitchers with better lumbopelvic control had a lower WHIP (walks+hits per innings pitched) and more innings pitched in a year.

What should I do instead of crunches? 

Planks: Make sure your lower back does not sink, but maintains its proper curvature while holding the plank. This might mean holding it for a short period. I like doing a plank for 15 seconds followed by a 5 second break and repeating instead of holding it for 45 seconds or a minute. You can also progress to 1 leg and/or 1 arm planks which will really challenge the lumbopelvic control as you try to keep your hips level.

Bird dog: Kick one leg back with your toes pointed down while extending 1 arm until your body is completely extended like a hunting dog. Again, make sure your hips are not rotating, but your butt is remaining flat throughout the whole ROM.

Rollouts: This is an advanced exercise that I probably wouldn’t prescribe to many non athletes. Start on your knees with your arms on a ab wheel or barbell. Roll forwards keeping your back in a neutral position as far as you can go. When you hit your end point, pull the bar or wheel back towards you and return to an upright position.

 

 

 

These are only 3 of countless exercises you could do instead of traditional crunches. For additional information, you can check out Mike Robertson’s blog or this article with Dr. Stuart McGill. Try these exercises out and let me know what you think.

“Bro, when you tack on mass, you sacrifice flexibility. That’s just a straight up fact.” -Mac, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

This is one of my favorite quotes from the show, and one of the bigger myths in the fitness industry today. I also thought it was appropriate after the Strength for Athleticism series that hopefully gave you a better idea of what I mean when I talk about functional strength.

We’ve all seen guys in the gym or pictures of Ronnie Coleman or Arnold Schwarzenegger that are huge and basically waddle when they walk. While they might be strong in the sense of the numbers they can put up in the gym, but I don’t see them being able to do much in any athletic setting.

Unfortunately, many athletes train in a similar fashion to body builders. They want to see how much weight they can put on a bar and sacrifice technique and range of motion (ROM) to do so. In this case, Mac would probably be right. You would add mass at the cost of your flexibility. This causes the muscle to shorten over time, which would put you at greater risk for injury.

When performing a high-speed movement, think of your muscle as a car. You want to speed the car up to go as fast as possible, but at some point the car has to slow down. Your ROM is the distance the car has to slow down. If you have a greater ROM, then you have a greater distance to decelerate the muscle. If the muscle is short, you have to slam on the brakes, putting more stress on the muscle fibers during an eccentric motion. Chuck Wolf mentions this in part 3 when he is talking about a pitcher’s biceps. The biceps contribute to the deceleration of the arm after release of the baseball. If the biceps is shortened, the window for slowing the arm down becomes smaller and the chance of an injury (probably biceps tendonitis) increases. The same idea applies to the legs for running or jumping. Long and strong is much preferred over short and tight.

So how do you lift weights and not decrease flexibility?

There are several answers to this question, but I believe the most important factor is concentrating on going through the full ROM while completing your lift. This might require you to lower the weight. No one is impressed with your 400 lb quarter squat anyways, or half biceps curls. Get your butt down to parallel so you are working your hamstrings and glutes instead of just your quads, and try extending the elbows all the way instead of keeping them at 90 degrees and swinging your shoulders.

Another suggestion would be modifying exercises to create a larger possible ROM. An example of this would be to take a reverse lunge and turn it into an elevated reverse lunge. Start by standing on a stable, elevated surface (only needs to be a 3-6 inches high) and proceed to step backwards in a lunge while your front foot remains on the box. Your knee will have a further distance to travel which will increase the difficulty and should get a better stretch in the hip flexor/ quad of the leg stepping back. Make sure to keep your chest tall or that stretch will be negated.

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Whether you are a weekend warrior or a professional athlete, train in a manner that will give you the best results and keep you healthy. Try out these tips and let me know what you think.