Customized Mechanics – Deceleration

Sorry about the lengthy delay in getting this piece out to everyone but hopefully you will enjoy it!!

The time that I normally spend writing has been dedicated to my consulting work with the College of Central Florida Patriots who just finished their season at the FCASS tournament.  After finishing third in arguably the toughest conference in the NJCAA behind the #1 and #9 ranked teams in the entire country, the Patriots beat out Miami-Dade in a one game playoff to punch their ticket to the state tournament. I wanted to take this opportunity to thank them for all their hard work and giving me the opportunity to help them out despite the fact that I live about 3000 miles away.  Stay tuned for a blog post in the near future where I will go into detail about how I worked with the Patriots this year as their remote strength coach.

 

Deceleration (aka Eccentric Strength)

The next physical trait that I want to explore in order to help customize mechanics is deceleration.  Deceleration is what I am considering to be eccentric strength.  Not everyone knows what eccentric means so I find this term is easy to understand and the simple car analogy of “hitting the brakes” in order to decelerate can help people grasp this idea.  pitching chart 2.004

The eccentric phase of a muscle contraction is critical but it often gets overlooked by the more popular concentric phase which would be associated with acceleration.   Eccentric strength and an athletes ability to decelerate is so important because our capacity to hit the gas pedal to go as fast as possible is going to be limited by the capability of our brakes.  You wouldn’t want to drive a car that could go really fast but wasn’t very good at stopping would you?  Luckily the human body and brain are designed this way too.

Eccentric strength is a topic that I have explored in the past especially when I write about the front leg upon landing.  This is where we need a high amount of eccentric strength in order to stabilize that front leg and ultimately transfer that energy up the kinetic chain.  Check this post out for more.

The front leg is just one example of eccentric strength in the pitching motion but there are countless others because any time you move any parts of your body your will muscles will go through all three phases of a muscle contraction (eccentric, isometric & concentric).  Look at this picture below for a quick refresher about these 3 phases.

My goal here is to explain what an eccentric contraction is and how it plays into mechanics and training.

Eccentric/Deceleration

The race car analogy I am going to use this time is a windup race car that you might of had when you were young.  You pulled  the car back as you loaded (aka eccentric) up the spring before unloading (aka concentric) the spring by releasing the car to see how fast and far it could go.

windup car

Because the car can go further and faster the more you pull it back makes it an ideal analogy since muscles work this way too.

The use of the term “windup” makes this an even better analogy to pitchers since this is the same term we use to describe how we deliver the ball when there aren’t any runners on base,

Here are some examples of body parts and muscles during their specific phase of the “Windup” and the eccentric contractions that go with them.

“Windup” of the back leg

All three of these guys (Chapman, Ryan and Scherzer) throw really hard and they all load the back leg with their own combination of sitting back into their hip and bending their knee.  I’ve cut each video off right before they start to unload and I really like the older video of Mr. Ryan because it is paused which really gives you an appreciation for the amount that he loads that that back leg.

loading up the back leg winding up the back leg 1 winding up the back leg 2

 

 

 

 

“Winding up” the hips

Here we see Sonny Gray, Tim Linsecum and Johnny Cueto all “windup” their hips to varying degrees.  The amount that you load the hips and how long you keep them loaded as you make your way down the mound will play a huge role in determining how much rotational power you develop from the lower half.  It also adds style and deception, right Mr. Cueto??

winding up the hips winding up the hips 1 winding up the hips cueto

 

 

 

 

“Winding up” of the chest

Here I just have Mr.Chapman displaying a nice stretch across his chest which can be achieved actively using a scap load.  By contracting the back muscles to produce a scap load you automatically make the muscles that oppose it, in the case the chest, to stretch.

winding up the upper body

“Winding up” the internal rotators

Here I have Zack Grienke showing us how he winds up his internal rotators of his throwing arm by having his forearm “lay-back” into external rotation.  This eccentric load is a bit more passive in the sense that it is caused by the whole body moving the arm so fast that it cause the hand and forearm to fly backwards before “bouncing” back and unloading.

winding up the Internal rotation

Loading Speed:

While I really love the “Windup Car” analogy I do feel the need to clear up one real key point that differs between how you load a toy race car with a metal spring versus a live human muscle.

In the toy car example it is understood that pulling the car back further is a good thing.  But if you pull the car back quickly would it go faster compared to slowly bringing it back to the same distance before releasing? While I haven’t done this actual research project I think it is safe say that there isn’t much different between to the two loading speeds for this metal spring.

When we look at real human muscles however it is important to know that the speed muscles are loaded is very important in regards to the speed they are unloaded. The importance lies in the fact that athletic movements like jumping, sprinting, kicking and throwing are all very fast actions that happen in less than 250 milliseconds.  If it takes you too long to load your muscles you will miss this small window and lose out to players that can produce force at a faster rate.  This is an important concept in exercise science called rate of force development or RFD.

Producing force quickly is easy to understand but the rate of force acceptance (RFA) is equally important from a performance perceptive and even more important from an injury prevention perspective.

To get a visual on this I am going reference the cover of coach Cal Dietz’s book called “Triphasic Training”.  Coach Dietz works at the University of Minnesota and literally wrote the book on eccentric training.

The “Tri”refers to the three phases (eccentric, isometric and concentric) that each athlete goes through in every sport.  The “V” you see on the cover is the what you get when you graph the amount force an athlete can produce (vertical axis) over time (horizontal axis).  The line going down on the left side is eccentric portion while the line on the right coming back up is the concentric phase.  The bottom part of the “V” where the two lines meet would be the isometric phase. Ideally you want to have a steep angle coming in as well as going back up with a sharp peak at the bottom.

 

In his book Coach Dietz talks about two athlete’s, Ben and Tommy, who can both produce the same amount of force in the weight room yet on the field (track and field throwers) Ben outperforms Tommy every time.  The reason for which is because Ben’s “V” is much sharper which means that he can accept and then produces force at a faster rate than Tommy.

Some players might not go down as far but the steepness of their “V” is what saves them because that is what represents speed.  Think back to the way I described Aaron Sanchez and his loading of his back leg.  While other have a deeper “V” but the angle isn’t as sharp, this time think of Stroman.  Every player has to develop their own recipe for how far and how fast they load their muscles.

This is where we need to individualize mechanics based on their eccentric strength levels.  We can make the athlete stronger so they can handle higher forces but that doesn’t happen over night so in the mean time we have to adapt to the athlete we have in front of use today.  It’s been noted that taller and heavier young pitchers are more likely to get injured then their smaller teammates and I think a lot of this could be a result of not being strong enough eccentrically to handle these higher forces that the extra length and mass creates.  Maybe a less aggressive stride length would suit these young pitchers as they grow  into their bodies and eventually their mechanics.

I’ve learnt in dealing with younger pitchers that getting them to glide into their front foot hitting the ground with what I call “landing like a jet” allows them to hit the ground with less force and increase the chance of their front leg being able to stabilize and maybe extend rather and continue to flex as gravity takes over.  This is something that I said in my free webinar about how to “Use Your Legs” when you pitch.

As a result of this video I was called by a MiLB pitching coach to talk shop and during this conversation I began to realize that with high level throwers it is a completely different ball game, pardon the pun.  With some high level throwers this might be different because they are strong enough to handle “landing like a helicopter” and then benefiting from these higher forces that can allow them have a sharper and deeper “V”.

How to test

Really any test we put an athlete through has some eccentric information for us to record and observe.  Popular tests which we use to see how much force an athlete can produce like the 60 yard dash or the vertical jump first require force absorption with eccentric strength.

By closely watching the eccentric portion of a vertical jump when athlete load their knees, hips and ankles before getting off the ground can provide some clues.  Do they load and unload quickly?  Is there wasted movement?

When they run each time their foot hits the ground they are absorbing a lot of force which they need to accept then quickly unload in order to keep going.  Watch everyone run and watch for breakdowns in their posture to see if they are  “sitting down” when they run which means that they are losing energy.

There are however some tests that emphasize eccentric strength and here are some of my favorite for the lower body.

  • Hop and Stop:  this is a test that was developed to help provide some insight into when an athlete was ready to return to play after injuring their knee which again points out how important eccentric strength is in regards to injury prevention.  It requires the athlete to jump off of one leg as far as possible then come to a COMPLETE stop in under a second while only landing on their other leg.
  • Pro-agility:  watching how athletes go into and out of the changes of direction can tell you a lot about the eccentric strength that an athlete possess.  Ideally you want to run as fast as you can then SLAM on the brakes before changing direction and re-accelerating.  If you see an athlete “gliding” into the turns then this could be that they inherently know that they don’t have the strength needed to stop effectively.  Or you might see players that do go hard into the turns but look really sloppy and can’t maintain athletic postures.  Check out this video posted by Cal Dietz to see what I am talking about.

  • Triple Broad Jump: this one requires huge amounts of eccentric strength to handle the forces between jumps.  By looking at the ratio of between the 3 jump average on this test and the athletes score on the standard broad jump can be provide some valuable insight.

triple jump

How to train for it:

I won’t get into this too much here since it is worthy of an entire book and if you are interested I would suggest Cal Dietz’s book.  Again you get eccentric training every time you perform a rep in the gym when you lower a weight.  And by the way this is the most important phase in regards to getting bigger (aka hypertrophy) so if this is a goal then be sure to control the weight down rather than letting gravity do all the work.

If you’ve ever seen anyone train with eccentrics in the gym it was probably something like this with guys doing “negatives” with high amounts of weight.  These super heavy weights are possible since we are stronger eccentrically then we are concentrically.

bench negatives

But if your goal is to be really fast and athletic then lowering these super heavy loads slowly isn’t very specific to your sport and thus shouldn’t be your main form of eccentric training.

To create these specific speeds to reap the on-field benefits of our training we need to think outside the traditional box of weight training.  Here is a very expensive way to help increase your eccentric strength.

eccentric kbox

Exxentics created this piece of a equipment called the K-box that uses a Fly Wheel to pull you back down to earth with more force that you put into the ground thus causing the overload we need to increase performance.  This machine is becoming more popular with pro teams because they see the value and they have the budget.  In fact the only I have seen a K-box was in an MLB spring training facility.

A much cheaper way that might not get the exact same benefits would be a kettlebell and a band.  If you know how to swing a kettlebell this can be a great way to get some over-speed eccentric training.

eccentric swing

I can’t stress enough that you need to know how to swing a kettlebell.  Get some professional help and they can even provide the overload once you have mastered this movement.

eccentric coach swing

I’ve also introduced some jumps that place an emphasis on the specific types of eccentric strength that we need from each one of our legs when we throw.

Back Leg 

Lateral Overload Eccentric Jump

 

Front Leg

plyo - single leg brake (2)

**The first guy is a right handed while the bottom guy is a lefty which is why they are both landing on their right leg.

These are just a few examples of some training methods for the lower body that can help if you have an athlete in need of eccentric strength.

Next we will explore elastic energy while touching on isometric strength to see how well athletes transition from eccentric to concentric.

Thanks for your time and attention!!

Graeme Lehman, MSc, CSCS

P.S

The gym where I work puts on a great seminar and this year we have Cal Dietz presenting along with Dr. Rob Butler who played a major role in helping rehab Marcus Stroman at Duke and is now the Director for Sports Performance with the St. Louis Cardinals.  Check it out here and if you are interested in coming up to Kelowna BC let me know.

2 Random Thoughts That You Can Use to Increase Velocity

Today’s post is going to look at a couple of random thoughts that I wanted to share. These two thoughts are a result of my research for the next article  in my customized mechanics series which will focus on deceleration/eccentric strength. Generating these kinds of thoughts and ideas about how to improve training and performance is the reason that I spend the time writing these articles.

Both thoughts are geared around the idea of being able to load up our muscles with more energy so that we can unload them with more force and speed which can result in faster throws.  Recently I had a conversation with an MiLB pitching coach who told me that he teaches his guys that pitching is nothing more than a sequence of loading and unloading muscles and their corresponding body parts.  Very simple idea that I wish I would have thought about sooner myself.  But just because something is simple doesn’t mean it is easy.  Loading and unloading muscle groups in a time specific sequence is very difficult.

While I am sure that I am not the first person to think of either of these things I can’t remember seeing or hearing them before so I figured they were worth sharing.

#1 – Arm Action and Ground Reaction Forces: 

The NFL draft just happened this week which means that another combine has come and gone.  Watching these world class athletes’ jump both really high and really far is a lot of fun.   The amount of power these guys produce is simply amazing.  But in order to produce/unload that much force you must first be able to load up their muscles with even more potential energy.

broad jump arm action

In order to jump higher or further they are taught to use their arms by “throwing” their hands towards the ground. This aggressive arm action allows the athlete to load up with more potential energy into the ground increasing their ground reaction force which they use to produce these simply amazing jump scores.

vertical jump arm action

This year I started to think about how we, pitchers, could use our arms to put more force into the ground like these guys do with their arms.

Sure I was taught that the arms come up and down in sync with my knee lift but I was never told to think of the arm action as adding additional force into the ground.  I’ve since been playing around with the idea and you can definitely use your throwing arm especially to add some extra loading force into the ground as it makes its way up to a throwing position.  As always this extra energy only gives you the POTENTIAL  to throw harder and in order to realize this potential your mechanics must be able to accept this extra energy and efficiently send up the chain towards the ball.

Some guys load up their arm aggressively with the “plunger” which is a term that I think I heard from Brent Strom during one of his talks at Ron Wolforth’s Baseball Ranch.

arm action plunger agressive

I don’t think that everyone can handle this type level of aggressive loading it obviously works for some guys like Ubaldo Jimenez (above) and Tim Lincecum to name a  few.  Most have more of a smooth arm action.

This good throwing arm action towards the ground is actually what really promotes the highly important trait of shoulder tilt.   If you teach and cue shoulder tilt I think it is better to teach this motion with the throwing arm because it will automatically produce shoulder tilt.

This means that you have one less thing you have to say and more importantly the pitcher has one less thing to think about.  Ideally we want to use a cue that kills at least two birds with one stone so to speak because this is a case where less is more.

Start playing around with the aggressiveness of your arm action but remember to think about the direction that you load as well.

If you watch those jumping videos again you can see a slight difference between the arm actions of the broad jump compared to the vertical jump.  The vertical jump requires energy going down and straight up so as a result this is how the arms work.  During the broad jump, Julio Jones throws his hands down and more importantly back since he needs to produce most of his force in a horizontal fashion since distance is the goal.  Pitching requires this down and back action like the board jump as well as rotation which gives us all three planes of motion.  Watch Chapman aggressively load his arm in all 3 planes before unloading the fastest pitch every recorded.

arm action - fastest pitch ever

#2 – The hidden benefit of Run n’ Gun throws:

These types of throws are designed to overload the arm with intensities that are greater than what they experience on the mound.  Here is Casey Weathers demonstrating a world class Run n’ Gun throw at Kyle Boddy’s Driveline Facility in Seattle.

run n' gun

Overload is a good thing when combined with recovery because the combination of the two will allow you to get better. The overload in this drill is due to the increased arm speed you can generate with the running approach.  This extra power from the lower body is where I want to point out some additional benefits of this drill.  The benefit lies in the fact that the lower body is also overloaded during each throw.

The front leg has to capture and decelerate a tremendous amount of energy when you run n’ gun causing an overload in the from of force.  When combined with recovery this drill should give you a stronger front leg.  We know that the front leg already has to deal with a high amount of force when we throw off a mound but this doesn’t even come close to the force created when you are allowed to get a running start.   This is why there is no way that you can come to a complete stop on the front leg like David Price uses when he pitches.

price finish

It is going to look more like a javelin thrower trying to decelerate in time to not cross the foul line.  Watch the best javelin thrower of all time Jan Zelezny demonstrate what I am talking about which looks more like Casey Weathers than it does David Price.

javelin throw release

 

Just as a training consideration you might want to start your pitchers approaching slower and then progressing to faster more aggressive approach speeds.  Using either speed (ideal) or distance as a measuring stick with different approach speeds might be a good way to see where your player needs to start.  What I mean by this is that it is assumed that the faster I approach the harder/further I should be able to throw, in theory.  If however an athlete can throw harder/further at a slower approach velocity this would represent a limiting factor that can be improved upon with customized training.

Again just a thought but I hope that it gets you thinking about how and when to use these types of drills.

Hopefully a lot of this will make even more sense when I publish the “deceleration” article in the near future.

Graeme Lehman, MSc, CSCS

Customized Mechanics: Lateral Power

Today we are going to start talking about assessing what kind of engine each pitcher has under the hood and how it plays a role in customizing mechanics.  Going back to my race car analogy that I’ve used in previous articles in this series we can think of the first two traits, limb length and mobility, as the car frame and model.  These give us an idea of what kind of car we have to work with while the rest of the profile lets us know what kind of engine we are dealing with how much horse power it can produce.

 

pitching chart 2.004

The rest of the traits on the physical profile not only tells us how much force they can produce but more importantly how they produce it!!

We saw evidence of this when we looked at two very different pitchers, Stroman and Sanchez, in part 1 who produce 95 mph worth of horsepower but they go about it very differently relying on their strengths as an athlete.  The goal here is to tailor mechanics to suit the athlete and the kind of force they can produce rather than forcing the athlete to adapt to cookie cutter mechanics.

What’s more exciting is that the engine an athlete currently has can be improved through proper training to enhance their areas of strength’s while also addressing areas of weakness.  This means that the engine building process is adaptable.  The secret is getting each athlete to adapt to the right kind of training.

The number of physical traits on the profile makes it easy to see how there are thousands of different options when it comes to designing a training program for each player with their own unique profile.  For example, some guys need to stretch their muscles to create a larger range of motion while playing long toss and performing a well-designed plyometric training program to develop speed.

While others would benefit more from doing specific drills to learn how to control their entire range of motion and placing more emphasis on traditional weight room exercises to gain both size and strength. The secret is finding the most effective and efficient way through the 1000’s of options which is the exact reason we need to test and assess each athlete in a variety of tests that give us a broader sense of their muscular system.

So lets get started and explore the physical trait of “Lateral Power”

Lateral Power

The ability to produce power in a lateral direction is a key performance indicator (KPI).  Sure I am might be a little biased since this was the topic of my thesis but I just merely backed up what smart people in the baseball performance industry already knew to be true anecdotally.  If you want to learn more about this read my interview with Eric Cressey who was one of those smart people I was talking about.

In business KPI’s are described as quantifiable measurements that help track success.  If you are in the business of throwing hard then its in your best interest to track and measure your ability to jump laterally off of your right leg towards your left (switch if you’re a south paw).    The reason that you want to do this is because it is the best test that you can use without any equipment other than a tape measure to help determine your ability to throw hard.

The lateral jump out performed all of these common and not so common tests that I ran 40+ college baseball players through for my study.

  • 60 yard dash
  • 10 yard dash
  • Medicine ball squat & throw
  • medicine ball scoop & throw
  • vertical jump
  • single leg vertical jump R&L
  • Hop & Stop
  • Broad jump
  • triple broad jump
  • ten yard hop test

The goal of the study was to simply see if any of them correlated to higher throwing velocities and the lateral jump was the hands down winner.  It’s not to say that all of these other tests aren’t useful because most of them are valuable.  A lot of them will be discussed in the next couple of articles because of the information that they provide in developing a better picture of other of muscular traits and the type of engine an athlete has to work with.

What’s the Test?

Stand on your right leg and mark the inside of that foot as the starting point.  Load up on the right leg and jump as far as you can to your left while landing on both of your feet.  Both feet have to land at the same time and can be no further than a couple of inches apart.  Mark the outside of your right foot and measure the distance to the starting point.

Here is a video

How Far is Good?

Here are the results from the my study.  I have some more number from other athletes I’ve tested in the past but this one was obviously the most accurate in regards to the testing conditions and repeat-ability.  I encourage you to play around with this test yourself but lets use these numbers to start.

Right Handed (n=33)
Velocity
Stretch 79 mph
Shuffle 82
Lateral Jump Distance
Right Leg 74.5 inches
Left Leg 73.5 inches

Left Handed (n=9)
Velocity
Stretch 80 mph
Shuffle 80 mph
Lateral Jump Distance
Right Leg 70 inches
Left Leg 72 inches

How to Use This Information?

The simple way of looking at it is if someone can jump out beyond 74 inches but can’t throw harder than 80 mph then that guy needs to work other parts of his mechanics because his throwing velocity isn’t reaching its potential based on the amount of force he can produce from the back leg.  There’s lots of power coming in but not much coming out which means that there is a leak somewhere up the chain!!!

In a study back in 1998 by MacWilliams et al. they found that while there was a high correlation in the amount of force that the back leg produced and throwing velocity that there were cases where more force resulted in slower velocity.   Not everyone is going to be able to handle the forces like Carter Capps’ does with his mechanics that produce high 90’s stuff.

lateral jump

We also know that the front leg produces the highest forces making it the limiting factor.  If your front leg (aka the brakes) aren’t strong enough to handle the amount of force that the back leg  (aka the gas pedal) can produce then bad things are going to happen.  You should only drive as fast as your brakes can handle for pure safety reasons.  We will talk in depth about the brakes when I discussed deceleration and eccentric strength.

The ability to laterally jump far only means that you have a lot of “motor potential” for throwing hard.  Motor Potential is term that in his book “Special Strength Training Manual for Coaches”  Dr. Verkoshansky, one of the best sport scientist in history, describes as :

The muscular capacity to produce the greatest quantity of mechanical energy per unit of time

Throwing a baseball hard requires producing a lot of energy in a very short amount of time but Dr. Verkoshansky goes onto to talk about the importance of what he calls “technical mastery” which he describes as

The athlete’s skill to effectively express his motor-potential in competition

This brings us to the situation where an athlete can throw harder than 80 mph while not being able to jump further than 72 inches.  This athlete can be considered to have a high level of “technical mastery” This athlete is transferring a high amount of force from the back leg all the up to the ball but when there isn’t enough force to start with there isn’t much you can do.  Spending more time developing lateral power and increasing motor potential with this athlete would be a better use of time and resources, namely time and energy.  Increasing ones lateral jump is a subject that I will touch on when we explore the other traits of the physical profile.

New and Improved Test!!

While the lateral jump test is great I have been trying to find ways to make it better.  Here are a couple of ways that I have adapted how I test and record the Lateral Jump as I’ve continued to learn myself.

Add POWER?

If all we did was look at the distance each player could jump we would be missing out on half of the equation that makes up the kind of power than we are interested in measuring.  Looking at the distance gives us an idea of how fast an athlete is because of the fact that jumping requires muscles to produce as much force in the shortest amount of time possible, think back to the motor potential description above.

The other half of the equation for power is force which is the mass/body weight of the pitcher.  I’ve spoken at length about how important it is to look at vertical jump POWER by taking body weight into consideration by using formulas that sport scientists have produced since not many of us have access to expensive force plates.

Body weight is always a contributing factor to throwing velocity and in fact it was right up there with lateral jump distance as being the best predictor of throwing velocity.  So it would be obvious to combine these two tests into one super test!

The problem is there isn’t one to my knowledge and I haven’t had much success when I try to use the formula for vertical jump since the two types of jumping are very different.  I have however came across a formula designed for the broad jump in a conversation I had with Dr. Bryan Mann who is another name you will hear me talk about in the near future because he is the world’s top expert on velocity based training.  If you haven’t heard of him it’s because the velocity we are talking about is barbell speed rather than ball speed.

Since this new formula is designed for a horizontal jump it does a lot better job of giving us an idea of how much POWER a player can produce going laterally and horizontally.  It’s not perfect but better and if anyone does know of another formula or has access to a really expensive force plate that can measure force in every vector let me know.  I’ll talk more about this formula and my spread sheet that I have been building to help build these profiles when I sum up this series.

It’s All in the Hips!!

To take this test a step further and make it even better I am going to steal a concept I learnt from Kevin Neeld.  Kevin is one of the world’s top authority in training hockey players and since I live in Canada I deal with a lot of hockey players and I have really found Kevin’s blog to be a top resource, check it out here.  Hockey is another sport that is seeing the value of the lateral jump since it shares many more traits to the skating motion than either the vertical or broad jump making it the most specific to the sport.

Kevin is a very smart guy and he took this test to a whole new level by taking into consideration other factors that could affect the test result of a lateral jump.  He highlights these three areas:

  1. limb length
  2. flexibility
  3. hip structure

I will quickly go over these but check out his blog post about the subject to get a better understanding.

  1. Limb length: It’s easy to see how having longer legs would make it easier just to step rather than jump side ways which doesn’t do a good job of seeing how athletic that player is. So by taking this distance into consideration we can get a better idea of how far each player can jump relatively to their leg length.
  2. Flexibility: It also makes sense to see if maybe someone has really tight groin muscles and can’t even spread their legs apart making this test difficult for them because of a mobility issue.
  3. Hip Structure: What was really interesting is how Kevin goes even deeper to think about hip structure because they aren’t all built the same and some are designed to move laterally than others. Check out the different pelvic types as well as femurs to see how the hip joint can be very different from one person to the next.

While it isn’t really feasible to see exactly what kind of hip structure each player has it is an interesting topic.  Check out this quick preview of a lecture from Dr. Stuart McGill where he highlights how different people from different areas of the world have different types of hip structure and how some hips are made for squatting while others are better designed for sprinting.  Take the 4 minutes to watch video to see the importance of this kind of information

The Neeld Hip Factor Test

The test is simple – how far can you can each athlete spread their feet apart while not having their hands on the ground?  Check out Kevin’s blog for how he puts this number into an equation to get an adapted score.  The beauty is that your score here will be the result of which out of these three factors limits you most.

Seeing how wide a player can stand with their feet apart I think is a great idea for pitching coaches to do with all of their players.  This number can be considered their max distance for their stride length unless you employ the jumping style that Carter Capps showed us before.  If someone can’t spread their legs out because of a limitation of limb length, flexibility or hip structure you might not want to tell them to stride 90% of their height.  Maybe their hips are more suited for rotation and by striding out further you are restricting this ability to twist and rotate.

Bonus: Injury Screening!!

The fact that comparing left and right lateral jump score has the potential to help screen athletes for preventable injuries should actually be considered the main reason why we perform this test in the first place rather than a bonus.

Large discrepancies between left and right could mean that you are more at risk for injuries.  Think about a car that can produces more force on one side versus the other.  Over time the car frame will begin to break down because of torque from the uneven power production.  Sure we will see that most pitchers can jump further from their pitching back leg since they have practiced this movement so much more but if we start to see anything greater than 20% it might set off some red flags.

Conclusion

This test is so easy to perform and gives us a lot of information that makes it a no brainer.  While it is a good test on its own we are starting to see how things can be improved when we look deeper and take into consideration other parts of the profile and how they interact with one another.  We will touch on it again as we make our way through the rest of the profile.  Next up – deceleration and eccentric strength which should be another good one.  I will try to keep it shorter than this one but thank you for making it to the end!!!

Graeme Lehman, MSc, CSCS

Customized Mechanics: Mobility

In part two we covered the role that antropometrics can play in creating customized mechanics.  The next logical piece is to look at mobility because having long bones is great but if we don’t have enough mobility we lose out on any leverage that the skeletal system can generate.

Mobility/flexability/range of motion should be measured anyways since it useful in screening athletes from future injury.  Pre-season range of motion (ROM) testing along with other screens like Functional Movement System (FMS) are the norm when you get to higher levels of baseball with medical staff personal (i.e athletic trainers).  The sad thing is that the information gathered here doesn’t get shared and discussed with the skill and/or strength coach which means that a lot of great information is lost since most organizations don’t bridge these gaps. Connecting these dots and creating a means of communication would be the role of a sport scientist but unfortunately this role isn’t very common in the baseball world.

There is no question that you need a great deal of mobility to throw hard which is why baseball gets more than its fair share of “flexible” athletes.  Look at some of the positions these professionals get themselves into in order to generate power.

Lots of mobility in the adductors/groin in the above picture and tons of shoulder external rotation and t-spine extension in the picture below.

We will find however that more isn’t always better like we did when we spoke about limb length.  Having a ton of mobility is great because it gives you the POTENTIAL to throw harder but every pitcher must be able to control this range of motion.  If fact there is #controlyourself on Twitter started by Dr. Andreo Spina who created the Functional Movement Seminars which have caught on like wild fire in the MLB.  Many teams have invited either Dr. Spinea or his top instructor Dr. Micheal Chivers from Baseball Performance Group to educate their entire medical staff on this system to help create healthy and powerful athletes.  This is at the top of my continuing education wish list!!

Mobility – How Much Do We Need?

The amount of mobility that each pitcher needs will depend on other parts of their physical profile.  If you have a really big and strong pitcher they might not need to display yoga like flexibility to throw really hard.

To help explain this idea a bit better here is a quote I’ve used in the past.

“The longest possible acceleration should be employed, but the coach should always take into consideration the athlete’s mobility and strength.  The range should be that through which the athlete can reach maximum release speed, which is not always the greatest range.”

This quote came from the track and field world who are the best at developing customized mechanics and training.  So maybe a really long stride or trying to get a ton of hip and shoulder separation might not be the universal answer for everyone.

Here is another great quote that will help explain this idea.  It is from the same article I wrote back in 2013 about what we can learn from Shot Put athletes.  Check it out HERE.

“A world class thrower will exert his strength and speed (FORCE) over a great a range as possible (DISTANCE) in order to achieve a good throw (WORK).  He must ensure that his force is applied for the longest period possible and therefore:  FORCE  X  TIME  = IMPULSE”

The impulse can then be increased in one of two ways:

1) lengthen the TIME that we can apply force (long levers, increase mobility, proper mechanics)

2) apply more FORCE for the same amount of time (get stronger and more explosive)

In knowing this we can look at each of our pitchers to see where they stand to benefit the most from the time and energy they have to dedicate to their training.  If someone is already pretty flexible then maybe they should go lift some weights.  While the pitchers who are “strong as an ox” might need to use a foam roller and stretch.

Athletes don’t like to do what they aren’t good at which is why strong but tight guys don’t like to stretch while flexible but weak guys don’t like to hit the weight room.  Our job as a coach is to identify these weaknesses and address them by ensuring that the athlete does what will make them better.

How Do You Measure Mobility?

Below are some things that I would measure.  Please take note that some of them require skill and expertise and might not be in your “tool box” as a coach.

  • Shoulder Internal and External Rotation
  • Hip Rotation: External and Internal
  • T-Spine Rotation
  • Thomas Test
  • Ober Test
  • Ankle Dorisflexion
  • Shoulder Flexion
  • Functional Movement Screen
  • Beighton Scale

Again this is not an exhaustive list but I can justify taking the time and energy to run players through this list of tests.  As I continue to learn I am sure that this list will change.

The good thing about mobility however is that it is trainable, unlike limb length.  Spending time with foam roller and a yoga mat can do wonders for some guys.  We won’t go into the specifics about exactly what kind of scores you want to find in each test and how to gain mobility, if you need it, here since that is worthy of numerous blog posts.

Too Much of a Good Thing?

When we test our athletes for mobility we are looking for their Range of Motion.  The word “Range” leads to the idea that there are numbers that fall out of this “range” because they are either too small or too big big.  If you follow Eric Cressey at all, he has gone on record many times saying that stretching isn’t for everyone and in fact you might be doing some players a disservice.

In the best paper that I have come across this subject Dr. Andrew Robb conducted a research study where they looked at the relationship between hip mobility and the biomechanics and throwing velocity of professional baseball pitchers.

In this study he makes the following remark which really sums up the point I am trying to get across.

“Previous research has indicated that there are both upper and lower limits to each bio-mechanical angle measurement that correlate to optimum performance and safety.” (1)

Dr. Robb then gives the following example of how too much or too little hip rotation can lead to a decrease in performance while increasing the chance of injury.

“If an excessive amount of rotation occurs at the hips, then the pelvis and foot are in a more open position, thereby prematurely initiating the arm-cocking phase and the resulting in the loss of kinetic energy from the lower extremity.  This would result in greater torque being generated at the shoulder with less energy from the lower extremity” (2)

And in regards to not having enough mobility:

“if hip rotation is smaller, closed positions at the foot and pelvis occur and the pitcher is forced to pitch across the body, which would limit the kinetic energy transfer from the lower extremity to the arm.”(2)

In another study looking at cricket throwers researchers looked at both the role of rotational mobility and power on throwing velocity and wrote this at the end of the abstract.

“It was conclude that greater ROM at proximal segments, such as the hips and thoracic, may not increase throwing velocity in cricket as reduced ROM at proximal segments can be useful in transferring the momentum from the lower extremity in an explosive task such as throwing.” (3)

This was a study using cricket players however the style of throwing that they used was more of a “baseball” type of throw that you would see during fielding rather than the locked elbow you see from the bowlers.

 

Conclusion

Mobility is vital for both health and performance.  Baseball requires a minimum level of mobility for both performance and injury prevention which is why the idea of stretching is a staple at any level of baseball.  The idea that I really wanted to get across is that in order to succeed your mobility must fall within an acceptable range.  Where each player needs to be in within that acceptable range is the big question that can only be answered when we look at other parts of the physical profile.

Graeme Lehman, MSc, CSCS

References:

  1. The Relationship between age and baseball pitching kinematics in professional baseball pitchers – Dun et al (2007)
  2. Passive Ranges of Motion of the Hips and Their Relationship with Pitching Biomechanics and Ball Velocity in Professional Baseball Pitchers- Robb et al. (2010)
  3. The Role of Rotational Mobility and Power on Throwing Velocity – Talukdar et al. (2015)

Chris Sale’s Mechanics & Training

Ironically a couple of days after I published my latest article about building customized mechanics and the vitally important role that antropometrics play I came across a video that I wanted to share.

The video is an interview with Chris Sale who I used as an example in my last article due to his unique and extreme antropometrics and overall physical profile.

In it he discuss’ how he made the change from a more over the top thrower to what he is today, a sidearm flame thrower.

 

Later in the video he also mentions how his off-season program isn’t about “Power Lifting” and more about be “agile” and “flexible” as he describes what is important to him.  This is something that I will get into when I start to talk about other parts of the physical profiles like mobility/flexibility, strength, elastic energy.

From this interview we can start to imagine what Chris Sale’s profile looks like and how you can generate a lot of power with long limbs and high levels of mobility and elastic energy.  Thus making it possible for a guy who won’t impress you at all in the weight room to generate world class velocity.

Check out the video here

Looks like we are the right track here!!

Graeme Lehman, MSc, CSCS

Customized Mechanics: Antropometrics

To start off this article I wanted to share a quote from the medical world.  It sums up the idea that I am trying to get across in this series about building customized mechanics and training programs for each individual pitcher.

As pitching coaches we often times do this to our pitcher’s who are suffering from the all too common disease of “sub-optimal mechanics”.  We see something wrong and then we prescribe “medicine” in the form of standard drills, cues and exercises.  This will help some of our athletes throw harder but we will miss mark for the majority of our athletes who don’t fit the standard model.  If however we get to know our athletes on a deeper level we can then start to understand exactly what it is they need thereby increasing the odds of success .  That last sentence pretty much sums up our job title as a coach.

This article is going to start exploring the idea of getting to know your athletes physically by building profiles which I introduced in part one, which you can check out here.  To be a successful coach you also have also take into consideration the mental and emotional side of each athlete so that you can communicate and motivate effectively.  This goes well beyond the scope of this article so for now we are going to stick with the physical side of things.

Building these physical profiles is the first step that we need to take in order to build customized mechanics that take advantage of each athlete’s strengths and weaknesses.  It’s these strengths and weaknesses that make up a physical profile.   Here is an example of a hypothetical profile that I put together for Marcus Stroman in part 1.

pitching chart 2.004

These profiles are composed of different attributes that make up the physical side of the athlete which we will go through one by one in this series.

The physical attributes that I’ve included cover a lot (but not all) of the athletic qualities that I feel are important to measure in order to get a better idea of what kind of athlete you dealing with in the gym and on the mound.

Let’s get started by working our way down from the top.

Limb Length

This is where we want to get an idea of what kind of “frame” this athlete has and how we can use it to our advantage.  In sport science world this is called antropometrics.

In the vast majority of cases the tracking and measurement of antropometry starts and ends with standing height.  If this is all that we are looking at then we are missing out on a ton of useful information. I want to know things like how much of that height is torso compared to the legs as well as how this height compares to their arm span.

When you put the word “antropometry” and “throwing velocity” into Pub Med you don’t get a whole lot but there are a couple nuggets of information.  This one for example looked at how the antropometric measurements of elite level female water polo athletes differed between positions (goalie, winger, center) as well as the common attributes of players that threw harder.  Obviously there are a lot of differences between water polo and baseball throwing, having your feet on the ground is the biggest on I can think of.  They do however share commonalities like the intent of throwing as hard as possible which means that there is something we can learn from this throwing sports.  They found that along with being taller and having more muscle mass physical traits like wider shoulders, longer arm span and wider arms all contributed to throwing velocity.

Image result for female waterpolo throw

This type of knowledge is great when we are talking about scouting/recruiting/talent identification but there isn’t a whole we can do to change these attributes when we are talking about the athlete you have in front of you today.

Since this trait is the least “trainable” it becomes the most important in my opinion to base everything around when developing an overall strategy both in the weight room and on the mound.

**Obviously this trait can change a lot when you are dealing with younger athletes.  To learn more about this check out this article**

We can’t even start to talk about biomechanics if we don’t know what kind of limb length we are dealing with since its the foundation of the subject.  The bones of the body are the levers of this human baseball throwing machine that we are trying to engineer while the muscles, tendons and nervous system are what move these levers to develop the kind of power we need to light up a radar gun.

Once you know what kind of frame and levers you have you can then start to build the best strategies to take advantage of strengths while minimizing weaknesses.

Here is a list of the other measurements that I would recommend which shouldn’t take more than 2 minutes.

  • Standing Height
  • Seated height
  • Arm span
  • Arm length
  • Hand length
  • Shoulder width
  • Forearm length
  • Torso length
  • Shin length

Going through these measurements looks a lot like a tailor gathering the information they need to build you a customized suit rather than buying one off the rack.

Much like a suit you need mechanics that fit your body so you don’t look like the guy on the left.

How to use this information

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realize how long arms and wide shoulders can help generate more velocity yet we rarely measure these attributes.  On second thought I guess we are kind of “rocket scientist’s”!!!

How exactly do we take advantage of these attributes or compensate for any short comings is a complicated question and would in fact take a “rocket scientist” to solve for each player.  The answer from my perspective, and I am still very much in the learning process, will include a combination of customized mechanical cues along with a training program that allows each athlete to maximize their strengths while minimizing their weaknesses.  A lot of this will be discussed in future parts of this series when we explore the other physical attributes that make up a complete profile and how they relate back to the athletes antropometrics.

For now let’s look at an extreme example at how limb length plays into customized mechanics.

If you told everyone that they need a longer stride, throw more “over top” and lean really far forward at ball release to create forward trunk tilt you would only be right part of the time.  In some cases you might be completely wrong.

Related image

If you are dealing with taller pitchers with long limbs this type of advise might make things worse.  When you have long limbs there is more POTENTIAL for throwing velocity but because of the complicated nature of throwing it makes controlling and sequencing these long limbs more difficult.

This can even be seen in the MLB since 93% of pitchers are taller than 6’0″ yet only 14% are taller than 6’4″, more isn’t always better.

**These numbers were from 1990 and 2000 so they have obviously changed a little but it is still a glaring stat**

Let’s look at Chris Sale for example.  From reading Ben Brewster’s e-book “Building the 95 mph Body” I learnt that Chris Sale has an 84 inch wing span despite the fact that he is 6’6″.  He is already on the tall end of the spectrum for pitchers then you add in that he has 6’8″ wing span makes him even longer.

Judging by his mechanics he can rely more on a “rotational” and “upright” throwing style that allows him to take advantage of these long levers from a velocity and a deception point of view.  This also let’s him break some “rules” like not having to stride out his entire body length or having a lot of forward trunk tilt at ball release which we both know can contribute to more throwing velocity.

If we look at another famous pitcher with an even bigger 6’10’ wing span, Randy Johnson, we can see a similar “upright” and “side arm delivery” that takes advantage of long limbs.  I don’t know if his wing span was 6’10” but you get the point.

In part one we looked at the differences between the 6’4″ long limbed Aaron Sanchez and the shorter (5’8″) yet powerful Marcus Stroman.

It is clear that both pitchers have different degrees of forward trunk tilt along with the angle of their legs going into the ground which would make their stride length based on a percentage of their height very different from one another.

If you get someone with these long levers and the freakish athletic ability to control this long limbs then you get this:

The strength and conditioning coach part of me also needs to take into consideration these physical differences.  I don’t expect longer players to display the same type of strength that I would like to see from a shorter athlete.

It always comes back to the fact that POWER is the product of FORCE x VELOCITY.  Athletes with longer limbs can rely more on the velocity side of the equation to produce their power due to their long levers.  This means that I don’t need them to squat the same kind of loads that a shorter player needs to produce in order to compensate for their limited ability to create velocity and thus lean more heavily on force end of the spectrum.  Not to mention the fact that the biomechanics of a longer player doesn’t provide any advantages compared to their shorter limbed counterparts .  Long limbs are great at lighter loads like a 5 oz baseball really fast.  Squatting calls for moving a heavy load really slow, about 1 mph.

Conclusion

This is a subject that needs to be explored more in-depth.  In future I will keep my eyes posted for new research and write about its implications as I learn more.  The next parts of this series that explore the other physical attributes that make up this profile will all be related back to the athlete’s athropometrics since it is the attribute that is the least adaptable thus must be accounted for before anything else.

Graeme Lehman, MSc, CSCS

 

 

Webinar – Use Your Legs!!!

For the last month I’ve been hard at work putting together the next part of my Customized Mechanics Series and it is taking on a life of it own.  It will be at least be a 3 part series and I can see it becoming part of my e-book that I mentioned here about testing baseball players and how to use the results to make players better.

In the mean time I wanted to send out a webinar that I put together for a group of coaches about how to use the lower half.

This webinar is called “Use Your Legs” which was a something that I heard from coaches my whole life but never really knew what it meant.

Some research is discussed but mostly I wanted to talk about the practical application side of things since I wanted to make this useful for coaches.  In it I discuss some ideas of what you say to pitchers and what kind of on-field drills/exercises can be done to improve lower half mechanics and force production.

Hopefully you like it and find it to useful.

 

Graeme Lehman, MSc, CSCS