Archive for the ‘Baseball’ Category

Resting Your Arm

Posted: November 25, 2012 in Baseball
Tags:

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.

Image

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.

Chuck goes into a brief explanation of the kinetic chain in pitching in this video

 

“Conditioning” for Pitchers

Posted: August 26, 2012 in Baseball

No need to beat around the bush, DISTANCE RUNNING IS COUNTERPRODUCTIVE FOR PITCHERS. We will start with the logical reasoning and work our way to the science behind this novel concept. This article piggybacks on many of the same concepts as the “Conditioning” for Baseball Position Players article, so it would be helpful to read that one first.

1. Would you rather have your pitcher look like a marathon runner or a sprinter? Especially in the lower body…

I don’t think anyone would want their pitching staff to look malnourished, scrawny, and weak, which are the words that come to mind when I glance at our Finnish friend. His body certainly doesn’t scream power or explosiveness. If you don’t want to have the same physique as someone, then why would you train like them? I still can’t figure out why anyone would think that “endurance” for a pitcher was achieved by doing that same motion continuously at a very slow pace. Last time I watched a baseball game the pitcher did not continually repeat his delivery for 20 minutes straight without ever pausing. Instead, let’s try to look like a sprinter by training like a sprinter.

2. Most of the time, distance running (or any long distance conditioning) is prescribed to pitchers after they finish throwing off a mound, like after a game or bullpen. The thought here is to flush the system of the lactic acid to prevent it from building up and causing soreness. This actually makes some sense: get the blood pumping to remove the waste. The only problem is its completely wrong on two levels. 1. Soreness is not caused by lactic acid. It is caused by delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). DOMS occurs from eccentric (stretching of the muscle) stress causing micro fractures in our muscles. 2. Lactic acid is produced, but is cleared by the our body while we’re still pitching. I was fortunate to be part of the follow up study for Between Inning Recovery Methods for Pitchers. The discovery that I found most interesting was that the blood lactate levels with our group of pitchers was close to pre-activity levels after the game simulation. To summarize, our body flushes itself.

3. Condition within the sports specific energy system. See “Conditioning” for Baseball Position Players.

4. Distance running trains the slow twitch fibers. Two types of muscle fibers exist in our body. Type I fibers (slow twitch) produce energy through aerobic pathways and have slow contractile speeds. Type II fibers are broken down into three subdivisions: type IIa, type IIb, and type IIx. Type IIb and IIx are more anaerobic and explosive, while type IIa is kind of a mix between type I and type IIb and IIx. As of right now, the exercise physiology world believes you are born with a certain number of type I and type II fibers and cannot convert one to the other. The type of physical training you do, however, can change the characteristics of the fiber (mainly type IIa) to behave more like the opposing fiber. So if we train to be explosive, our type I and type IIa fibers become more explosive and less aerobic. TRAIN FAST TO BE FAST!

5. Last but certainly not least, distance running decreases power production and strength. This occurs because of the fiber characteristic changes noted in the paragraph above. A loss of power would, theoretically, result in the loss of velocity. Matt DiLallo explains in his article that it is more important to focus on the velocity aspect (Displacement x Time) of the power equation since force is not a major issue in baseball due to the weight of the baseball and bat.

If you aren’t convinced yet, just google long distance running for pitchers. Every link on the first two pages is against it as well. Hopefully this is one baseball tradition that will change sooner than later.

Pitching Kinetics pt 1

Posted: August 20, 2012 in Baseball

A lot of time has been spent on researching and writing about strengthening the arm for pitchers, and deservedly so. With players getting $140 million deals, it is clearly a valuable topic. “How to add Velocity” has become the holy grail of sports with people claiming to have found the secret to adding however many mph to your fastball in 4 weeks! I even saw one contraption that claimed to add 10 mph in 12 minutes. I wish I was making that up.

While no one has found a formula that worked for everyone, there are some basic principles that will help with arm health, control, and might even add a few mph on the radar gun.

First and foremost, every athletic movement starts from the ground. The scientific term used when discussing the sequence of events of any body movement is kinetic chain. Because every athletic movement starts for the ground, the kinetic chain begins with the feet. Think of the kinetic chain as the cord for the energy to flow through to, in this case, the arm. If something is wrong anywhere in the kinetic chain, the maximum amount of energy will not get to the arm. This topic could be developed into a book so let’s stick to the bottom of the chain for now. One of the things I like to do with a pitcher when I first work with him is see how he is on one leg. In pitching, you are on both legs for a split second and it is a very awkward position. As you can see from your’s truly, the lead leg is about to land on the ground as the back leg may possibly still be down for a millisecond.

Point being it is a single leg activity. Have the pitcher jump forward and laterally on one foot, noticing the ability to push off and create power from each foot and the ability to control the landing. Also focus on asymmetries, like which foot creates greater power (greater distance) and which one is more stable in the landing. More to come later….

When most of us hear the word “conditioning”, we  think of either long distance running or repeated sprints with extremely short rest breaks. After all, if you aren’t gasping for air then what’s the point in doing it, right? In some sports this might be the proper conditioning. In a basketball game, for instance, there will be circumstances where there are 3 or 4 fast-breaks in row. Repeated sprints are very sports specific and necessary. It is common for you to sprint, stop, and have to sprint again with little to no rest.

How many times does this happen in a baseball game? If you want to play devil’s advocate you could say in a run down (or pickle) which would be accurate. The natural response here is how many run downs happen in a season and the answer is very few. So why train an athlete for something that might happen twice in a season?

Baseball is all about being explosive, followed by a rest period. Would’t it make the most sense to train like this then?

Try to get the old school definition of conditioning out of your head and replace it with the idea of being conditioned within the energy system (ATP-PC, Glycolytic, Aerobic) used primarily in the sport. For baseball, it would be the ATP-PC system which is used for short burst of energy of up to 10-15 seconds.

For a professional baseball game, the average time between pitches is 20 seconds. That means that after a sprint, swing, or pitch, the athlete will have at least 20 seconds of rest before another explosive movement occurs. And yet these athletes are “conditioned” by running 30 yards at maybe 75% of their max speed, line back up, and repeat.

I would go as far as to say that conditioning for position players isn’t an effective use of time. I would much rather spend the time working on sprint technique, crossover starts, and agility (this is assuming the athlete is in good general physical shape and not a total slob).

In a team setting it is much harder to work on an individual’s sprinting technique and conditioning (new definition) might be the best alternative. By implementing a work to rest ratio of 1:3 or 1:4, the athlete should be able to come close to full recovery. This will allow every sprint to be close to 100% of their top speed as opposed to just running not to pass out.

Train fast to be fast. Train slow if you want to be slow. Give your “conditioning” program some thought before implementing it instead of just regurgitating the same drills your coach put you through.

The distance aspect and pitchers conditioning will be addressed in the next post.

What kind of drills or conditioning principles do you like when working with baseball position players?