Body Weight : Customized Training and Mechanics Series

Body Weight, the last of the physical attributes that make up this profiling system that can be used to help customize training and mechanics.

I didn’t put body weight at the end because it’s not important.  In fact, I think its one of the most vital components of an athletes profile when it comes to throwing velocity.  It’s at the end because it gives me a quick visual to see what kind of foundation we are dealing with.

 

If an athlete profile doesn’t have a good foundation there’s not much point in sweating out the details in the other parts of the profile.  Check out this tweet from Ben Brewster to see the importance of body weight if your goal is to dominate on the mound.

This coupled with a ton research studies, including my own, that listed body weight at or near the top of the list of contributing factors to throwing velocity really highlights its importance.  The reason is that if we break it down to its simplest form pitching is really just about transferring momentum from your body to the baseball.  Those athletes with high levels of body weight have more POTENTIAL to transfer higher amounts of momentum to get that ball flying through the strike zone.

After all, we all know that “Mass = Gas”, right?  Yes, to an extent.

If it were completely true we’d be seeing way more 300 lbs pitchers on the mound other than CC Sabathia.  It’s not because there’s a shortage of 300 lbs people out there.  If you don’t believe me head to your local Wal-Mart.

Image result for heavy baseball pitcher

This guy is seriously Atheltic

The “Mass = Gas” equation is missing a vital part of the equation.  Acceleration.  How fast can we accelerate the baseball that starts from a stationary position in our hand when we come set to the point where it’s flying off our fingers at release point.

This equation is a lot more accurate and scientific but nearly as catchy and memorable.

Mass x Acceleration = Force (aka Gas)

So while being 300 lbs does give you more POTENTIAL to throw hard it isn’t always the case.  That’s because it takes a lot of athleticism to build up high levels of speed from a stationary position regardless of how much you weigh.  This is made even harder when you start tipping the scales north of 250 lbs.  Getting that much mass moving quickly is difficult.  Think of the 18 wheeler truck that you leave in the dust when the light turns green.

Even if you could get that amount of body mass accelerating fast enough towards home plate it takes just as much athleticism and skill to decelerate that mass in order to transfer that momentum up the kinetic chain.

In this case, being lighter is an advantage in that it takes less energy to accelerate and decelerate. The tough part here is that we have upper limits on how fast we can accelerate.  Like I mentioned before, we only have so much time before the ball has to be out of our hands. This is why a certain level of body weight is required to reach high levels of throwing velocity.  Everyone’s F=ma equation is going to have some “mass” and some “acceleration”, its just a matter of how much of each.  The really good guys have high levels of both.

In a follow up to Ben’s tweet about bodyweight he did mention the there were 3 outliers who weighed less than 185 and that still threw really hard.

These guys are obviously exceptions to the rule but that’s only because they make up for it in other areas.  They really stress the acceleration side of the equation with a lethal combination of athletic ability, elasticity, efficient mechanics and limb length in all the right places. This is the only way to explain it.

Image result for jacob degrom mechanics

One way that these 3 guys, or any light pitcher for that matter, can maximize the mass side of the equation is by having a higher percentage of lean body mass.  The amount of lean body mass would, in my opinion, be a better predictor of throwing velocity than overall body mass because we can make the assumption that more lean mass can help out with the acceleration part of the equation.  Whereas someone with lots of body mass but relatively low levels of lean body mass would be fighting an uphill battle in creating enough acceleration carrying excessive amounts of dead weight.

This is why if you were to dig deeper into the mass column of my profile you would find that its composite score and not merely a reflection the bodyweight that you’d get from a standard roster sheet.  The overall score would be comprised of lean body mass, overall body weight and the power scores of a couple of athletic tests (jumps, sprints) where body weight is taken into account.  Here’s an example:

  • Body mass
  • Lean body mass
  • Vertical jump power
  • 10-yard sprint kinetic energy

By combining the scores of these four different tests/assements we get a much better idea of what kind of mass we are dealing with and how well that athlete can accelerate their mass.

The power scores from the vertical jump, for example, are the result of their raw score combined with their body weight in formulas like this one called Harmen’s formula.

Peak power (W) = 61.9 · jump height (cm) + 36.0 · body mass (kg) + 1,822 

Even though I’ve used these power scores in different parts of the profile I don’t mind doubling up on them because they are that important.  Including vertical power under both the “Speed” and “Mass” lets me place more weight (pardon the pun) on this type of test that measures both mass and acceleration.

The importance of looking at how much power athletes can produce by simple plugging body weight into some pre-existing formulas was made evident when I first came across this study.

Anthropometric and performance comparisons in professional baseball players. Hoffman JR, Vazquez J, Pichardo N, Tenenbaum G.  Journal of Strength Cond Res. 2009 Nov;23(8):2173-8.

When the authors just looked at vertical jump height there was no significant difference between levels.  When they took body weight into consideration there was a clear distinction between lower and upper levels of pro-baseball.

Here’s a better-looking chart that Ben Brewster put together using some of this data along with some numbers that I published.

In conclusion, body-weight is important if your goal is to throw hard.  It should be within a range of about 175 to 250 lbs, in my opinion.

Those at the low end of the range really need to have high levels of acceleration in-order to maximize their force output while guys at the top end of the range don’t.  They still need to be fast but not as fast.

Pretty simple right?  It is simple but nobody said that simple was easy.  Gaining body weight is the easiest thing to do when it comes to improving the look of your profile and your potential to throw hard.   But remember that its no guarantee and this body-weight has to be accompanied by some favorable physical attributes and athletic abilities if you want your profile to look like that of other high-level pitchers.

That does it for this really long series about the different parts of this profile.  I am really excited to start trying to make some sense of the whole thing and seeing how everything fits together.

Until then thanks for reading.

Graeme Lehman, MSc, CSCS

 

 

Over-Speed: Customized Training and Mechanics Series – Long Toss

In the last article about Over-Speed training, I alluded to something I call a “Throwfile” and how it could be used to help gain more insight into athletes physical needs.

My “Throwfile”, as it stands today, is made up of two assessments using long toss and weighted balls.  Today I’m just going to focus on the long toss portion.  From here I am going to loosely adapt a concept from the sports science world that compares various types of vertical jumps to gain some clues that can be used to help tailor training to the needs of each athlete.

The sports science concept I’m referring to is called the reactive strength index (RSI).  This simple test tells how well we use elastic energy.  Throwing a baseball requires a ton of this type of energy to be successful, both upper and lower body elastic energy.

The traditional RSI has the athlete perform two jumps.  The first is a countermovement while the second test has the athlete drops from a step (6-18″) then immediately jump as high as possible. The drop from the step will cause more of a stretch reflex so, in theory, this jump should be higher than the countermovement jump.  And in most cases that’s true but the percentage difference between the two has been used to help guide and tailor the training programs for individual athletes.

The athlete that can jump a lot higher after falling off a step has a high RSI and is good at storing and releasing energy.  Whereas the athlete who jumps are fairly similar in height isn’t as good with elastic energy.  This athlete relies a lot on just their muscles to get off the ground.

This test has its limits for baseball since it doesn’t give us any information about the upper body.  That being said, I still like the traditional test as I just described to help determine strategies of how an athlete should load their drive leg into the mound during the initial stage of the delivery.  If an athlete has a high RSI then I think they would be better suited to implement a more elastic dominate approach to loading their back leg with what I call a  “Press n’ Pop” style.  Whereas an athlete with a low RSI would need more time to develop power with a muscle dominate approach to developing momentum towards home plate.  I call this style “Dig and Drive”.  Check out this article to learn about these styles and how I’ve tried to re-name the old “Tall & Fall” and “Drop n’ Drive” with these newer and more scientifically driven names.

If we can measure the speed and/or distance of two different types of long toss throws we can create our own “Long Toss RSI”.  The first throw would be a long toss but from a stationary position.  Spread your feet, lean back, and throw.  This is what I would consider being the equivalent of a countermovement jump.  The drop jump that creates more of a stretch would be a traditional long toss with a crow hop.

Here’s some data I presented in my last article about 3 pitchers who all threw 86mph from the mound.  What we see here are their long toss scores with a traditional long toss with a crow hop and with a stationary long toss.

The last column on the right is what I’m calling their long toss RSI which simply shows the percentage of one’s stationary long toss to their crow hop.

If you’re more of a visual kind of learner here’s what the slopes of each individual looks like when you plot the data.

The slope that’s the most vertical belongs to athlete “C” in green due to the big drop off between types of long toss throws.  This suggests, to me, that he relies on elastic energy the most.  In contrast to athlete “A”, the flattest slope, who doesn’t do as good of a job of storing and releasing elastic energy from the added momentum with a crow hop.

An easy way to remember the differences between the types of slopes is to think of a pitchers mound.  The athlete with a fairly flat slope would do well on a mound that is also flat.  Whereas the athlete with a more vertically orientated slope needs that steeper angle in order to help develop more momentum prior to loading and unloading the elastic energy in his arm.

In my opinion, this is a pretty simple assessment that can give us some insight plus, in my experience, athletes like doing this kind of testing.  It has its limitations since there are only two data points. If we can add in some more varieties of long toss with varying degrees of pre-throw momentum we can find out more about their elastic properties.

Here’s a list of 5 different variations of long toss each with more pre-throw momentum.

  1. Stationary: feet spread apart, shift your weight back and throw
  2. Step Behind: take one step and throw
  3. Trevor Bauer In-Game Long Toss
  4. Shuffle: gain some momentum like a shortstop making a solid throw with a slow runner
  5. Crow Hop: limit the approach to a max of 5 steps before throwing
  6. Javelin: get a run at it and let it fly!!!

Here’s what #3 looks like:

I got the idea of using a variety of throws when I was reading about Incremental Drop Jumps, a variation of the reactive strength index.

To execute incremental drop jumps, get the athlete to drop off of increasingly higher and higher boxes to find the point where they can’t increase their vertical jump.  Eventually, you get to a point where the muscles cannot handle the amount of force eccentrically from the drop to allow for the quick transition back up as try to jump.  If you and your muscles can’t handle these forces in a timely manner you lose the potential of the elastic energy stored in the tendons.

Here’s an example of what an incremental drop jump test assessment might look like with vertical jump scores on the vertical axis and the height of the box along the bottom.  Here we can see an obvious drop off when the athlete used the 30-inch box.  Sports scientists have used this information to find the optimal height that each athlete should be using during the training process.

For our purposes in baseball, instead of jumping off of higher and higher boxes we would use the long toss variations.  By adding more and more momentum prior to throwing as we go down my list of long toss variations we increase the amount of energy being stored in our tendons.  If we have the strength to handle these higher forces during the loading phase we should be able to produce more force during the unloading phase which would obviously result in longer throws.

If the throws don’t get longer as you go down the list you’ve got yourself a clue!!!

In this case, it would mean that the athlete cannot handle the added stretch to the shoulder internal rotators that caused by the added momentum.

My solution to this problem would be to perform a higher percentage of long toss throws with the type of throw where the distance decrease occurs.  By doing so we would be effectively training the athlete in an over-load fashion in regards to their stretch-shortening ability.  This coupled with a good overall strength & conditioning program should help this athlete improve their ability to handle to increased forces.

If an athlete can incrementally add distance between each type of throw, which is most often the case, then we need to look at the slope again which is beefed up with more data points.  I wish I could give you some actual numbers to look for in regards to the slope in order to classify pitchers but I just don’t have enough data to set these types of parameters. Sorry.

Now its time for a couple of disclaimers so that if you try and do this type of testing on your own please take into account everyone’s throwing mechanics and launch angle.

*mechanical disclaimer – watch the athlete as they perform these throws to ensure that their mechanics are somewhat similar.  If they can’t throw further due to some type of mechanical change then this information isn’t relevant.  They need to practice each of these throws in order to make this data relevant.  The good news is that most baseball players long toss on a regular basis so they can practice these different types of throws and minimize any mechanical discrepancies.

*trajectory disclaimer – if you have an athlete that can’t optimize their “Launch Angle” when they perform all of these types of throws then you can’t use this information.  This would be your clue that this pitcher really needs to work on other aspects of their game since finding an optimal trajectory is way easier than painting the outside corner of the plate.

Over-Speed: Customized Training and Mechanics Series

The athletic attribute of “over-speed” wasn’t even on the original profile that I first created over 3 years ago but I think it’s important enough to add it in.  So here we go!!  Check out the new and improved graphics.

It’s not that important where I put it on my profile but it is important that we know where “Over-speed” sits on the force-velocity curve.  Over-speed isn’t represented on many force-velocity curves but if it was it would be at the extreme bottom right-hand side of the graph.

Coaches in other sports might put any type of over-speed training into the “speed” category.  But in baseball I think it deserves its own category because we use it a lot with training tactics and tools like:

  • Long Toss
  • Run n’ Gun Throws
  • Underweight Throws

Over-speed training in other sports might consist of an athlete running downhill or, if you see an athlete using bands to jump higher and faster like you see below you’ve witnessed some over-speed training.

In golf, you might see some athletes doing their best impression of Happy Gilmore.

Basically, anything that allows you to go faster than you would during the actual sport is over-speed.  And while throwing a baseball is very fast there ways to go faster. Namely by reducing the weight of the ball and/or adding momentum prior to throwing.

Now we can focus on trying to figure out how much over-speed we need.  Obviously, we want to really high levels of this type of athleticism due to its specificity to pitching. This is the reason that throwing programs that included some or all these types of over-speed training have been so successful.  Programs built by Jager or Driveline come to mind.

Assessing an athlete’s over-speed abilities is simply a matter of measuring the speed and/or distance of some various throwing drills.  Once we’ve done that we can start to put together the athlete’s “throwfile”.

The “throwfile” is a mini-profile that sits inside this bigger and more comprehensive athletic profile that I’ve been building.  It focuses only on various types of throws and its high-level of specificity is the reason it gets its very own profile within a profile.

The word “throwfile” is not trademarked yet so feel free to use it all you want.  I will really dig into this concept in my next article but in the meantime here’s a simple example of what I am talking about.

Below you will see some numbers from 3 different pitchers from the College of Central Florida Patriots a couple of years ago when I worked with them remotely.  I picked these 3 athletes because they all threw 86 mph from the mound at the time of the testing.

Here we see their results from their long toss testing where we had them throw with a crow hop and the constraint of a stationary throw.  The goal with both was to throw the ball as far as possible.

The right-hand side of the table has their testing results with Run n’ Gun throws using a 4, 5 and 6-ounce baseball.  If you don’t know what a Run n’ Gun Throw is here is an example of a long time client of mine Isaac Greer hitting 109mph at Driveline with a  3oz ball.   Based on this assessment I told him he needed a hair cut.

Looking at athlete “A” right off the bat, I think that he needs to spend more time and effort getting faster.  He has the lowest long toss scores and he can barely throw harder than his mound velocity when he adds momentum and throws a lighter ball.

While athlete “C” looks like he needs to get stronger because of the fact that he has the biggest drop off’s when the momentum is restricted and when the weight of the ball goes up. Typically if you slow down when the weight goes up it means that you aren’t strong enough.  We saw this with the weighted jump research that I highlighted in this article.

Image result for disclaimer

*Mechanical Disclaimer: this information is only good if the pitcher has somewhat proficient mechanics both on the mound and while performing long toss.  If not the numbers are useless.*

By using this kind of simple data we can really make good use of this information by helping the individual get better. We’ve all seen the guy who can long toss the s*#t out of the ball during the pre-game but then can’t come close to reaching the same high level of velocity from the mound.  I call these guys “over-speed all-stars”.

My theory with “over-speed all-stars” is that the added momentum allows the athlete to take full advantage of their elasticity which they can’t fully exploit while on the mound.  This is similar to how if you perform a drop jump you should be able to jump higher since there’s added momentum during the loading phase to cause more of a stretch.  This augmented stretch during the eccentric loading causes an enhanced stretch-shortening cycle which plays a vital role in sporting actions that take place in short periods of time such as throwing and jumping.  In fact, 50% of the energy produced during a throw is thought to be contributed to the elastic properties in and around the shoulder (http://scholar.harvard.edu/files/ntroach/files/roach_et_al_2013.pdf).

The reason these guys can’t reproduce this effect when on the mound is that they don’t have enough strength and power.  Without the crow hop, they don’t have the ability to produce enough of a stretch to elicit a big-time stretch-shortening cycle allowing them to take advantage of their over-speed abilities.

Analogy time: It’s like if you had a Drag Racer that was really fast when it reaches the fifth gear but it took you almost the whole quarter mile long track to get through gears 1 to 4.

So, for example, if your long toss with a crow hop is way further than your long toss from a stationary position, you have a good 5th gear but your gears 1 through 4 need some work.  What I am trying to say here from a sports science point of view is that long toss with a crow hop is essentially a drop jump while a stationary long toss throw could be considered a countermovement jump.

If we can make these assumptions then we can steal a concept from the sports science world knows as the reactive strength index (RSI) which I’ve covered in the past.  Basically, you look at the difference between a drop jump and a countermovement jump to help determine how an athlete produces force and what adjustments should be made to their training program as a result of this information.

This is something that I will explore in my next article.

Graeme Lehman, MSc, CSCS

 

 

Do Radar Guns Help Us Throw Harder?? Scientific Research Says “Yes!!”

Here’s an article that falls under the category of “studies you should know about”.  In the past, I’ve written a bunch of these and in essence, is the foundation of this website.  Check out a couple of them like this one about how long distance running inhibits power or this one about 3 mechanical factors that positively influence velocity.

For a lot of you out this one might also fall under the category of “I Already Knew That”.

Image result for i already knew that

If you’re one of these coaches then here’s some scientific proof to back you up.  If you didn’t, then keep reading about this study.

Frequent Immediate Knowledge of Results Enhances the Increase of Throwing Velocity in Overarm Handball Performance (Stim and Pori 2017)J Hum Kinet. 2017 Feb; 56: 197–205.

Although this study did not use baseball players I still think that this information is very relevant.  Plus, some of the best information we can get come from other sports, check out this article I wrote about what we can learn from track & field sport of shot putt.  In this case, the sport that this study focused on was handball which obviously isn’t very popular in North America but if you check out the video clip below I think that you will gain some appreciation for the sport.  And if you’re a college coach or a scout it might make for a good excuse to go oversea’s for a recruiting trip to Europe.  Ironically I am writing this article while in Europe but I haven’t seen any handball yet, only soccer. Lots and lots of soccer.

Image result for fastest handball shot

Ironically I am writing this article while in Europe but I haven’t seen any handball yet, only soccer. Lots and lots of soccer.

The Design of the Study

Both groups of subjects performed 2 sets of 10 throws at max effort two times a week for 6 weeks in addition to their normal handball training.  The only difference was that one group got feedback in the form of velocity for each throw while the other group did not get any feedback at all.

So why is feedback so important in throwing?

Feedback lets you know how you did and when we throw its hard to get accurate and objective feedback in regards to velocity.  If you shoot a basketball, too steal an example from Lantz Wheeler, you get feedback on every shot and therefore you quickly learn if what you’re doing is getting you closer to your goal.  We get this kind of feedback when we throw with respect to accuracy but not velocity.  Of course, we get some subjective feedback from our throwing partner but that’s not very accurate and as a result, we can’t make any positive adjustments.

Image result for feedback loop

Here are a couple of quotes from this study that explains why we can’t get the type of feedback we need when we throw:

Due to its ballistic nature, an overarm throw is performed in a short space of time and is controlled based on an open-loop system, which is a feed forward process and has no feedback (Magill, 2011).

Due to a time limitation, the motor program controlling the involved effectors (muscles) containing all the information needed to carry out the throw is generated in the brain prior to the throw; there is no time to continually register, evaluate and implement the information to control the movement while it is in the process.

Every time we throw we do get what’s called “task-intrinsic” feedback from our sensory and perceptual systems.  An example of this would be those throws that felt effortless and the ball just jumped out of your hand.  But if we don’t know for sure that this throw was any faster or slower than other throws how are we supposed to make positive changes?

This is where augmented feedback comes in.  This is information that we can’t perceive on our own and in our case, and the case of this study, that’s knowing the velocity of each throw.  The radar gun gives us augmented and extrinsic feedback, compared to the intrinsic, that’s both quantitative and subjective.  This type of knowledge has been shown to outperform qualitative feedback for learning. (Bennett and Simmons, 1984Magill and Wood, 1986Reeve et al., 1990Salmoni et al., 1983).

Does it work?

In this study, each group increased their throwing velocity but the group who were told the velocity of each throw improved to a greater extent.  This study cited another study using tennis players who increased their serving velocity when they were given augmented feedback as well.  So, yes it does work!!

Image result for tennis serve speed

Here are some other points from the study that are worth talking about.

Frequency

In this study, every single throw in the 2 sets of 10 throws was measured, for the feedback group.  Would the results have been as good if they were only told the velocity of every second throw?

That’s tough to say and it might be worth doing a research project to find the optimal amount of frequency feedback.

There has been some research in this area done by Wulf et al. (1998) who studied the influence of the KR (knowledge of results (aka feedback)) frequency on learning the complex skill of skiing slalom.  They observed that the group with 100% of KR achieved higher performance than the group provided with 50% KR.

This could carry over to baseball since it too is a complex movement. To steal another idea from Lantz Wheeler, every throw is different.  He uses the example of how it’s impossible to sign your name the exact same way every time so how can we expect to repeat our mechanics on each throw?

The point I am trying to bring up is that the frequency of feedback is important.  If you were only told every tenth throw how hard you threw it would be difficult for you to put the pieces together because by the time you threw another ten baseballs you might be doing things differently.

Just to be clear, I don’t think that we have to have a radar gun with us every time we play catch.  But on the days that you’re trying to improve your velocity, it might be a good idea to have some type of accurate feedback.

Timing of Feedback

If you don’t get feedback right away it’s really hard for you to figure out what you did right or wrong.

Let’s say that you came out of a game and found out that you were throwing harder than ever.  That’s great news but its really hard to think back to what exactly you were doing (or not doing) that enabled you to light up the radar gun.

Image result for it's too late meme

So if you are going to use feedback from a radar gun you should find out the results after each throw.

Bonus Info: Weighted Ball Information!!!!

One of the pre & post test’s that were performed in this study was a velocity test using a heavy handball.  A normal handball is 375 grams (about 13 oz) and the heavy ball that they used during the testing was 800 grams (about 28 oz).  The sizes, diameter wise, were the same.

The results were interesting in that both groups improved their heavy ball velocity despite the fact that they did not use them during the training process.

However, the group that got feedback improved to a greater extent.  The improvements were lower compared to the normal handball due to specificity but it does prove that there is some carry over from using balls that weigh more.

And no, there was no mention of any of the subjects needing Tommy John surgery after throwing a heavy ball.

Image result for no surgery

This is interesting, to me anyway, because of the huge difference in weights.  The heavy ball, in this case, is more than double and I’m sure if they analyzed the mechanics of the two they would see a big difference.  But at the end of the day, they are similar enough to one another to show some positive carry over between the two.

To explain how this might work the authors offered up this great quote that I will end the article with:

Perhaps this finding can support the generalized motor programme theory of motor learning, which states that a pattern of movement rather than specific movement is programmed and can, therefore, be flexible to meet some altered environmental demands .

 

Different Arm Slots = Different Mechanics???

Categorizing pitchers based on their arm slot is easy.  You can see it with your naked eye and the language within baseball already exists.

But is arm slot the only mechanical difference between these types of deliveries?  And if they are different doesn’t this mean that we as coaches should have some cues and training methods that vary across the arm slot spectrum?

These are the questions that I am interested in and I am going to my best to answer the first question of mechanical differences with some information from some recent research.  This type of knowledge is useful because when we do go and categorize pitchers based off of their arm slot it will provide a deeper base of knowledge.

“Categorization is the process in which ideas and objects are recognized, differentiated, and understood”. The primary task of categorization is to “provide maximum information with the least cognitive effort”.  Rosch, 1978 – Principles of Categorization

I am all about this quote, especially that last part about the most information with the least effort.  This might be the new motto that I use when trying to write an article.

Here’s the research paper that I am using for this article.

Differences Among Overhead, 3-Quarter, and Sidearm Pitching Biomechanics in Professional Baseball Players (Escamilla & Fleisig – 2018)

I highly suggest you take a look at it because their main findings of which arm slot is at a higher risk for sustaining either a UCL or SLAP tear is interesting and very important.

What I am going to do is look at differences between these arm slots:

  • Overhand – Less than 40 degrees
  • Three-quarters – Between 50 & 60 degrees)
  • Side Arm – More than 70 degrees

When it comes to vital aspects of pitching mechanics when it comes to producing velocity like:

  • Amount of External Rotation
  • Hip and Shoulder Separation
  • Front Leg Action
  • Back Leg Action
  • Forward Trunk Tilt at Ball Release

**They didn’t include any pitchers that threw with arm angles that were in the 40-50 & 60-70 degree range in order to make the distinctions more clear cut**

Before we get into the small variations between the mechanics of pitchers with different arm slots at these critical points let’s look at the obvious differences.  Shoulder abduction and contralateral tilt are two factors that play the biggest role in determining where that arm is in relation to the body.

Shoulder Abduction

One trait that separated all three groups from each other is the amount of shoulder abduction at ball release.  All three groups had fairly similar angles of abduction when the front foot first hit the ground (89-OH, 89-3/4, 84-SA) but by the time the ball was being released the difference were significant.  The OH group ended up with the most at 94 degrees while the ¾ group stayed nearly the same while the Sidearm group dropped their elbow slightly down to 81 degrees.

This is in-line with other research that states that in order to produce the most power the shoulder needs to be in and around the 90-degree mark of shoulder abduction since this is the strongest angle.

Contralateral Tilt

The biggest contributing factor to arm slot is the amount of contralateral tilt.  In the past, I’ve written about contralateral tilt here and here.  Its basically describes how far your upper body is tilting to the side in order to allow your arm to be in its desired arm slot while staying near that magic 90-degree mark.  The contralateral tilt for this skinny guy below is the difference between his sternum (aka breast bone) and the vertical line labeled “Z”

 

The numbers for this group were as follows

These are significantly different from one another but again was obvious.  Although it is nice to put some hard numbers to these traits in order to add some depth to our categorization system.

Now that we got that out of the way with let’s dig into the smaller differences so that we can add more intel into our already existing categorization scheme.

The Details

I picked these parameters based on other research like this which I wrote about here.

Hip and Shoulder Separation

This study did not tell us how much hip an shoulder separation occurred but one thing that I found to be interesting was the timing between peak pelvic and shoulder rotations.  Each group displayed a delay and separation between the hip’s and shoulder’s each reaching top rotational speeds towards home plate but the timing was different for each arm slot.

The really cool and high tech graphic below is a visual representation of the timing between the hips (triangles) and the shoulders (lightning bolts) and when they reached their peak velocity in the delivery.  The timing values that we see are in the form of a percentage between 0%, the point when your front foot hits the ground, and 100%, when the ball is released.

 

One might think that the group who reached peak rotation of the hips the soonest would also be the first group to have their shoulders reach top speed.  That is not the case.

The sidearm group in yellow rotated their hips later but their shoulders sooner while the Overhead group had the biggest amount of time between these two events.  When we look at exactly how fast the hips are rotating in degrees per second the sidearm group was significantly faster than either of the other two arm slot groups.  Maybe this groups uses the added time to build up more hip rotation velocity?  Maybe they rely more on a “rotational” type of delivery versus a linear??  These are just some of the many follow up questions that happen every time I learn something new.

It should be noted that the Sidearm group also landed with their foot in a closed position which means that their hips didn’t have to rotate as much.  We don’t know exactly how much rotation is occurring since it isn’t reported but we can make this assumption.

Another interesting point is that the Overhead group reached their peak hip rotation the earliest while their shoulders reached their peaked the latest.  This, in essence, would provide more time to created hip and shoulder separation.  More time can lead to the POTENTIAL of creating more force but not always.

Here are the speeds that the hips and shoulders rotated

Max External Rotation

Another key piece of information is that the Sidearm group has significantly more external rotation at the shoulder joint than either of the other two arm slots.  The Sidearm throwers average 169 degrees of external rotation whereas the Overhead and 3/4’s displayed 162 & 163 respectively.  

More ER allows for added time to have force applied to the baseball which is good but some pitchers may be able to reach elite levels by internally rotating faster with less ER.  This is tough to coach but its still good info.

Wikipedia’s Picture for the term “Lay Back”

It should be noted that upper back mobility (t-spine) can add to external rotation of the shoulder for that overall “lay back” position of the forearm.  Maybe the other two arm slots allow for more T-Spine Extension and Rotation which make up for the lack ER at the shoulder.

Front Leg Action

The action of the front leg is vital.  Harder throwers extend their front leg between the time that the front foot hits the ground to the time when the ball is released.  Or at least stays the same angle.  

All three groups displayed this critical mechanical principal in varying degrees.  The Sidearm pitchers landed at front foot contact (FFC) taller with the leg being the straightest at 39 degrees but only extended a little bit to 37 degrees at ball release (BR).   This isn’t a lot of movement and would look more like landing on a stiff leg.  The ¾’s group had the greatest amount of extension with 8 degrees going from 43 at FFC to 35 at BR.  The overhead group displays the most amount of knee bend at FFC (44) upon landing and extends to 39 degrees.  Keep in mind that the front leg will keep extending after the ball is release which gives these kinds of images of pitchers really getting aggressive with that front leg so that they can catapult baseballs out of their hands at incredible speeds. Like we see here with Otani.

Back Leg Action

The information that we get about the back leg is minimal.  No force plates were used to see how much energy is being produced and when it’s being applied and in which direction.

We do get the max height of their front knee when they pick that leg up during the windup which can tell us a bit about how they are using their bag leg.  We also get to see how much “pelvic drift” occurs when they are at max knee height.  This term “pelvic drift” is how much the front hip is leading towards home plate.

What we see is that the Sidearm group is significantly different than the 3/4 and Overhead groups who were almost identical to one another.

The sidearm group of pitchers didn’t lift their knee as high but lead with their hips more than the other groups.  Here’s a famous sidearmer displaying some “pelvic hip drift”.  His knee lift looks high but when you look at it relative to his standing height, like they did in this study, its pretty low.

Image result for randy johnson mechanics

Its a far stretch but you could try to build an idea in your head about how a pitcher uses their back leg with these pieces of information.  Lifting your front knee higher does give you more opportunity to apply force into the ground since the left leg (for righties) has more time and distance to build up speed as it comes back down towards the ground helping to add to the overall amount of force going into the ground.  The more you put in the more you can get out.  In theory.  But it works for jumping with aggressive arm actions downwards prior to take-off.  Just watch the NFL combine this year and you will see crazy arms actions prior to take-off in both the vertical and broad jumps.

I remember hearing a story that Nolan Ryan simply told Tom House to “put that into your computer” when described how he felt about the relationship of lifting his leg higher and throwing harder.

Image result for nolan ryan mechanics

The info about the amount of hip drift can be massaged into getting an idea about the direction that they are applying force into the ground.

We know that we need to get force back from the earth going in the direction of where you want to throw the ball.  But if our lead hip has been pushed out front we’ve created the opportunity push into the ground with your back leg in a bit more of a horizontal angle rather than pushing straight down into the ground like you would when testing your vertical jump.

Teaching someone about to maximize the exchange of energy between how much we put into the ground and how we get back is vital.  Its easier to explain with something simple like the vertical jump since the energy is being exchanged in opposite directions.  One of the many, many reasons that pitching is complicated is that you have to master exchanging this energy going in different directions.  We have to go from applying force into the ground vertically and getting it back horizontally towards home plate.  The degree of just how vertically we are applying force into the ground can vary from pitchers to pitcher.  If we look at the guys in the previous two pictures, who happen to be number 1 and 2 in all-time strikeout in the MLB, we can see that Mr. Johnson is must be applying force into the ground more horizontally than Mr. Ryan.  Here’s another high tech graph to show you what I mean.

Here we see how they have both altered the shin angle of the back leg during this exchange of putting energy into the ground and then getting as much of it as we can, in a controlled yet powerful manner, back towards our target.

Image result for nolan ryan mechanics

Image result for randy johnson mechanics

Just to clarify, I am stretching this information that I’m getting from a real study into these ideas.  But I think that they make a little bit of sense otherwise I wouldn’t have spent so much time writing about them.  Sounds like something that I need to explore and elaborate on more in a future article.

Forward Trunk Tilt

The amount of forward trunk tilt at ball release is another biomechanical point that has been shown to correlate with velocity.  This study had the “fast throwers” with trunk tilt of 36 degrees while the “slow thrower” was more upright at 28 degrees.  All three of the various arm slot group were within this range.

This piece of information is interesting as well.  Not only does forward trunk tilt provide an advantage from an effective velocity point of view since the release point is closer to home plate.  We can also think of forward trunk tilt as providing more time to create more power as well.

Wrap Up

There will obviously be variations within each arm slot itself and some of this information might not apply to every pitcher.  The aim here was to at the very least add this information into an already existing categorization scheme of pitchers based on their arm slot.  The goal would then be to take this information and formulate ideas of how we should adjust our training and coaching to these athletes with different approaches to a common goal of throwing hard, safe and accurate.

That’s the tough part but I hope this is a step in the right direction.

Graeme Lehman, MSc, CSCS

Speed : Customized Training & Mechancis Series

Today’s focus will be on that speed portion of the force-velocity (F-V) curve.  This is exciting, to me at least, because throwing a baseball over 90mph requires a healthy does of speed.

For all of the articles that I’ve written about the F-V curve in this series about Customized Training and Mechanics I’ve used the picture that you see below which looks like it was created with sprinting being the sports specific action in mind.

So far I’ve gotten away with copying the exercises listed on the chart because we were talking about parts of the curve like strength, strength-speed, power and speed-strength that are pretty far away from where throwing a baseball would be located on the curve. In other words they are general and not specific. But now that we are getting closer to where pitching sits on the F-V curve we need to be more specific and that means we need to be throwing things and see how fast and/or far they go.

So to customize this F-V curve for pitching I would replace resisted sprints and sprinting with different types of throws.  Don’t get me wrong I like to get pitchers to sprint but throwing is a lot more specific and as a result we can use it to assess our pitchers to see where they are deficient.  If we were to test their sprinting ability it wouldn’t have much carry over.  This was the case in my thesis where none of the running tests (60 Yard Dash, 10 Yard Dash, Pro-Agility) had any correlation to throwing velocity.

Here are a couple types of throws that are fast (not as fast as pitching) that I would put on our baseball F-V curve just to the left of where pitching would be:

  • Throwing a Football
  • Flat Ground Throwing – stationary

I make a point of adding in the description of “stationary & flat ground” because we can’t generate the same kind of speed under these constraints that we get from throwing a baseball off of a mound.  So things like the Run n’ Gun throws or long tossing with a crow hop are actually faster than throwing off a mound and as a result would fall further to the right on the curve and are considered to be “over-speed”.  I’ll write about over-speed in a future article.

But for now I wanted to give some insight behind both throwing a football and flat ground pitching (next article) since they can be effective tools to improving Speed.

Tossing the Old Pig Skin

Throwing a football is the old school form of weighted ball throwing. While I don’t have any studies showing that training with football throws increases your mound velocity I will point out that 100% of all pitchers in MLB history with more that 5000 strikeouts have been known to throw a football with regularity.  That’s enough evidence for me.

Obviously throwing a football is different than throwing a baseball.  This is a good thing because we only need it to be “specific” and not exactly the same as throwing a baseball.

Here are some highlights of a study that shows how the two types of throws compare to one another based on research by Doctor’s Glenn Flesig and James Andrews where they looked at the “Kinematic and Kinetic Comparison Between Baseball Pitching and Football Passing”

“maximum angular velocity of pelvis rotation, upper torso rotation, elbow extension, and shoulder internal rotation occurred earlier and achieved greater magnitude for pitchers.”

Pitching is just a lot faster.  The lighter ball, sloped mound and the downward aim makes your arm move a lot faster which is caused by the faster pelvic and torso rotation.  These factors makes the elbow extend a lot quicker along with more internal rotation caused speed and magnitude of the external rotation

How much faster is the arm moving you ask?

“Maximum Shoulder Internal Velocity for pitching averaged 7550 degrees per second while the football throws came in at average of 4950 deg/sec.”

That is a huge difference between speeds!!  What’s interesting is that the amount of external rotation between the two is very similar.

“The amount of external rotation with the baseball and football were 173 and 164 degrees respectively”

The weight of the football (14-15 oz) is what causes the arm to layback into that amount of external rotation whereas with baseball its caused more by speed.  When the shoulders rotate towards home plate the arm is slammed back into this layback position.  Hopefully it can “bounce” back into internal rotation without much delay allowing for those speeds that were already mentioned.  This would be the stretch shortening cycle at its finest which has been predicted to contribute to upwards of 50% of the energy needed to throw.

“Maximum shoulder external rotation occurred earlier for quarterbacks”

Since the ball is heavier it will take more time to go from eccentric to concentric actions with a longer isometric contraction in between.  This longer isometric phase is a result of having to stop the external rotation of the loading phase which tougher due to the extra weight.  This delay will kill a lot of the elastic energy from the stretch shortening cycle.  Quarterbacks do still rely of elastic energy but just not as heavily as a pitcher does.

“During arm cocking, quarterbacks demonstrated greater elbow flexion and shoulder horizontal adduction.”

Their elbow is more bent (aka flexed) and the elbow is closer to your side (aka adducted).  This is generally what happens when you hold onto heavier objects.

Training with a Football

The take aways here are that we can get the same amount of external rotation without as much speed.  The weight of the football also provides an overload stimulus for our eccentric and isometric strength when the arm goes from external to internal rotation.

So essentially we can use it to “stretch” the arm out while strengthening it.  Stretching and Strength!!!  Sounds good to me.

Throwing a football isn’t just about training your arm.  By dropping back into the pocket with a 3, 5 or 7 step drop back followed by a throw we are able to train the legs too.  The action of dropping back will create a significant about of momentum that must be decelerated then accelerated in the opposite direction in order to launch the ball down field.  The back leg is responsible for this action and the added drop back movement creates overload stimulus as well.   I also like how the shin angle created with the drop back is something that we like to see on the mound again making it somewhat specific.

Here we see Big Ben having to stop A LOT of momentum going towards his own end zone before changing directions and throwing a bullet.

Start off with the 3 step drop and you can eventually add more steps and speed to this drill as the legs get stronger.

If you do throw a football around at practice be sure to use a football that is age appropriate.  If the ball is too big for their hand they really can’t throw with enough intent because their attention and focus is on balancing the ball.  Even though everyone uses the same 5 ounce baseball it might be a bit much to ask a young pitcher to throw a 15 ounce football.  Here are the different footballs and their weight that you can gradually make your way through.

  • Pee-Wee: Ages 6-9 – 10 oz
  • Junior: Ages 9-12 – 11 oz
  • Youth: Ages 12-14 – 12.5 oz

Assessing with Football Throwing

The whole theme of this series is to assess different areas of an athletic profile to see where a pitcher needs to focus their time and effort.  Ideally I would give you some standards of how far or fast someone should be able to throw a football to see if they score well in this “speed” column.

I don’t really have set distances or velocities for football throwing to give you since they don’t really exist in any type of literature that I’ve seen.  This doesn’t mean there isn’t some type of relationship between the two types of throws it just means it hasn’t been tested.

Here’s a link of Patrick Mahomes throwing a football 62 mph (go to the 3:05 mark) and he was reported to sit around 93mph when he pitched in high school.  Here’s he is pitching.

Assuming that a pitcher knows how to throw a spiral I would think that there is a strong relationship between pitching performance in the form of velocity and football throwing whether it is velocity or distance.  At the very least it would be a stronger relationship than max squat or deadlift due to specificity.  In my opinion the strength of this relationship would vary depending on the type of pitcher we are talking about.  Your “power” pitcher with big strong legs like the Nolan Ryan’s of the world would have a better correlation since their body and mechanics are suited for throwing heavier objects.  While a weaker pitcher that uses a combination of long limbs, mobility and elastic energy might not be able to throw bombs down field.

So I am sorry that I don’t have any actionable items or data to share but I still think that throwing a football is great for training purposes.  If I had to suggest something based off my own anecdotal evidence that would be easy to implement and test I would like to see a pitcher be able to throw a football from home plate to second base.  I like this because its scalable for younger players on smaller diamonds with age appropriate footballs as well.  For the big boys the throw from home plate to second is about 42 yards.  If you can’t throw a football this far with a bit of an approach like a shuffle then I would suggest that you can benefit from time and effort training with a football to improve your strength which in turn can help increase your pitching velocity.

Hopefully this information is useful and if there is anyone out there that has played around with these two types of throws I would love to hear from you.

Graeme Lehman, MSc, CSCS

 

 

 

Customized Mechanics: Speed-Strength

Only a couple of more articles to go until I have finished this whole series on to customize pitching mechanics and training  to a specific pitcher based on their unique profile.  If you don’t know about this profile check out the graph below to see what I am talking about.

pitching chart 2.003

 

Here are links to the other parts of the profile for you to check out.  They are long and in-depth but I’ve been getting some tremendous response to this whole series which to me means that I am onto something big and hopefully it can help out a lot of people.

And here are a couple of extra posts that complimented this whole series:

Over all that’s a total of 16 articles and almost 30,000 words and there’s still at least 3 articles to go including this one which will focus on the role that speed-strength plays in the athletic action of pitching a baseball.

Speed-Strength is defined as “speed in conditions of strength”.  This means that speed is the first priority and strength is secondary.  So we will be using a light weight and we are moving it quickly.  How fast you ask? In the range of 1.0 to 1.3 m/s if we were to measure bar speed.

 

I’ve spoken before how the pitching delivery from start to finish looks a lot like the force-velocity curve going from left to right.  We start at a complete standstill (low velocity) and have to get our entire body (high force) moving and we end with our arm moving very fast (high velocity) with the goal of throwing a baseball (low force) as fast as possible.

To test a pitchers speed-strength abilities I would like to plead my case for some good old fashion medicine ball throws like we see on the force curve above as an example of what kind of training fits each part of the curve.

The fact that we are throwing something is huge since at the end of the day that’s we are doing on the mound which makes it specific to a certain extent. The act of throwing and letting go of the med ball is what allows us to achieve the kinds of speeds that we need in order to hit this part of the curve.  In the section on strength-speed I mentioned how when we lift a barbell a good portion of each lift is spent decelerating the bar even if our intent it to accelerate and the weight on the bar is low.

Which Type of Medicine Ball Throw Should We Test?

The type of medicine ball throw that I personally like is the scoop toss which I’ve also called the keg toss or backwards medicine ball throw for distance.  It looks like this:

The reason I like is that it is:

  1. safe
  2. easy to learn quickly
  3. easy to measure
  4. decent predictor of throwing velocity

1 – Obviously it being safe is the first and most important aspect of any test/assessment.  In the case of the medicine ball throw it doesn’t have any eccentric components so we won’t make our athletes sore from performing this movement.  The speeds that you can create throwing a medicine ball aren’t nearly as fast as throwing a baseball so their safe plus you’re using both arms and the elbow joint stays the same.  No Tommy John’s will be caused by performing this assessment.  The only way I can see someone getting hurt is if they throw it straight up in the air and having it land on themselves

2 – This brings me to point number two, its easy to learn.  After a couple of attempts most players will figure out their release point so that it maximizes distance, think launch angle.  I have seen a couple of a powerful athletes not score too well due to either pop ups or line drives but given time they figure it out.

And if they haven’t figured it out after a couple of weeks you can of this as a skills assessment because if they can’t figure out this release point good luck getting them to throw a breaking ball or change up for a strike.

3 – The scoop throw can be measured in a very objective manner with a simple tape measure.  Sure there are plenty of rotational medicine ball throws that are even more specific but they can’t be measured unless you have a really expensive medicine ball with an internal accelerometer.  I’ve seen research where radar guns have been used but I know that a lot of radar guns don’t do a great job of picking up slower speeds.   Plus not everyone has access to radar gun but a tape measure is pretty easy to get your hands on.

4 – In my thesis the strongest predictor to throwing velocity were the lateral jumps however the next best was the scoop toss.  Specifically with right handed subjects and their throwing velocity with a shuffle.  When combined with the lateral jump they scored an R2 value of 0.34.

Here is a scatter plot of med ball scoop throwing distance and pitching velocity with the College of Central Florida Patriots from 2017 when I was consulting with them.

Its a pretty strong correlation here but a couple of things are different from this data compared to the numbers I gathered for my thesis. The first is that this is just the data from the pitchers throwing from a mound whereas the data I had in my thesis had both position players and pitchers throwing from flat ground.

This team tested with a 6 lbs med ball and the average throw was just under 60 ft while the mound velocity for this pitching staff was 85.7 mph.  But as you can see from the graph there was one big outlier in terms of the throwing velocity and that is Nate Pearson who was only throwing 94 mph here.  I say only because he has been known to hit triple digits but this was in the fall of his first and only year at College of Central Florida.  He also ranked #1 in med ball throwing distance with a monstrous 73.5 ft throw.

Why is it a Strong Predictor?

Why does this test do a good job of predicting throwing velocity?  I can think of three major factors come into play that I think cause a relativly high correlation for throwing both a 6 pound medicine ball and a 5 ounce baseball.

The first is a that both require an athlete to produce high levels of speed-strenght. The other two are body weight and arm length.

Having longer arms essentially turns you into a human catapult so assuming you have the same level of speed-strength as your T-Rex teammate you should out perform them for this test.

Image result for trex hates pushups

T-Rex Hates Med Ball Throws Too

Being heavier has almost always been shown in the literature as a strong predictor for throwing velocity in baseball since the name of the game is transferring momentum to the baseball.  So more weight means you have the POTENTIAL to transfer more momentum to the ball no matter if it weighs 5 ounces or 6 pounds.

Since not everyone is going to be able to throw the med ball very far due to a potential lack in  speed-strength, arm length or body weight I wanted to end with an idea of how to test and train with the scoop toss.

Find a lighter med ball that you can throw at least 30 ft and stick with it until you can get beyond 60’6″.   This distance was selected for obvious reasons.  For young athletes use their age appropriate mound distance.

Once you’ve accomplished this goal you would then grab the next heaviest med ball and repeat the process.  Pretty simple, but not easy.

If you’ve made your way all the up a 60’6″ foot with a ten pound ball and you’re still aren’t throwing a baseball from a mound at 90mph or higher then you need to look else where for improvements because you have tapped out what you, as a pitcher, can get from the speed-strength column.

Graeme Lehman