Customized Pitching Mechanics – Elasticity of the Back Leg & Hip

In this article we are going to dig deep into how elasticity plays a role in throwing velocity.  You might want to do a quick review of the previous article that explains how elasticity works since it has been over a month since I published it.  This has everything to do with me watching a lot of playoff baseball but at least it has provided me with some big league examples of elasticity that you will see later in this article.

Elastic energy is vital to throwing a baseball and without it we wouldn’t be able to throw very hard at all. Every body part involved in throwing a baseball, which is pretty much all of them, uses elastic energy but I am going to focus on only four of the major ones:

  1. Loading of the back leg
  2. Landing on the front leg
  3. Rotation of the  hips and shoulder
  4. Rotation of the shoulder joint

Each one could be explored in-depth and be their own article.  In fact this article will just cover the back leg.  I am dedicating the next couple thousand words to the elasticity of the back leg for a couple of reasons:

  • It’s the initial power source for pitching – if we don’t get enough power here we sometimes try to make up for it further up the chain and this is a recipe for disaster (aka injury)
  • It is the one that we can consciously make the most changes with since it happens first and at much slower rate than the other body parts.
  • It’s the one I know the most about.

Elasticity  – The Back Leg

The power generated from the back leg in the direction towards home plate is important.  But how this power is optimally generated is going to be different from player to player based on their athletic profile.

In the previous article I discussed how this idea applies to high jumpers.  These athletes can be classified as “fast” jumpers if they use more elastic energy or “slow” jumper if they rely on the muscular strength.

The same classification can apply to pitchers when they load up their back leg.   Pitchers that are “fast” will quickly “stretch” their tendons and other connective tissues in order to maximize their ability to harness elastic energy.  Whereas “slow” pitchers will deliberately “wind up” the muscles of their back leg and hip to maximize the power they get from these muscles contracting.  Again everyone uses both elasticity and muscular power but you can lean on one more than the other.

I wanted to highlight the terms “stretch” and “wind up” because we already use them in the baseball world and I think that it’s ironic that they are common place because of the accurate way they are used to describe the action of the back the leg.

When runners on base we have to be quicker to home plate so we pitch from the “stretch” which ironically allows our body to rely on the stretch reflex when we quickly load and unload our back leg.

When nobody is on base we can pitch from the “windup” and take as long as we want to load up the muscles of the back leg and hip.  If you remember from the article on eccentric strength I used the analogy of a wind up race car to describe the action of loading up a muscle and how if we can wind up it more we will have more strength and power when it unloads.

Maybe someone a long time ago had a great understanding of muscle physiology and came up with these terms!!

If I’ve got you confused here is a reference table describing the two ends of the spectrum when it comes to loading up the back leg and hip.

Sport Sci Term Baseball Term Primary Energy Source Time Range of Motion*
“slow” “wind up” muscles > 250ms Big
“fast” “stretch” elastic <250ms Small*

The last column titled Range of Motion (ROM) looks at how much movement at the joint actually occurs.  Bigger movements generally require more time since they have to move further which places them in the “slow” category which rely’s more of muscle contractions.  This however is not always the case which is why I put an asterisk in this column.  The reason for this is that time is more of a factor.  If the ROM that the athlete uses can fit in that short amount of time they stands to benefit from elastic energy.  This is true of all of our internal rotator muscles and their respective connective tissues around our throwing shoulder as we go through a huge amounts of external rotation range.  But since this still happens in a very short period of time the amount of elastic energy is the primary driver of this fast action.  This is why bench press and throwing velocity don’t correlate very well.

The best example of this in regards to the back leg came from watching the playoffs this year in the Rangers and Blue Jays series.  The Rangers Tony Barnette has a ton of leg movement in his back leg but the speed that he drops and loads his back leg puts him into the fast/stretch category.

barennet-strethc

This clip above has him pitching with runners on base.  He gets a fast but deep leg bend allowing him to be quick to the plate in order to not let runners steal base’s but more importantly maximizing his ability to store and release elastic energy.

The clip below is what his mechanics look like when there isn’t anybody of base.  He adds some deception by coming to a pause at the top of his leg lift.  This may distribute the timing of the hitter while also increasing the amount of stretch that he gets by dropping in from a higher height.  barnette-windupThis extra height increases the eccentric load which in turn enhances the amount and rate of stretch that the connective tissues receives which can create more POTENTIAL power to be produced.  He can harness this POTENTIAL power because he has the strength to absorb and then redirect this extra energy.  If he didn’t you would see a longer pause at the bottom which would result in a less power being produced.  If you remember from the previous article I had a video clip from Dr. Behm talking about the stretch reflex and how sometimes if load up our muscles with too much force we can’t benefit from the elastic energy because it takes us too long to accept that force before trying to redirect it.  Here is the link to that video if you need a refresher – go to the 4:50 mark.

As a comparison let’s look at another member of the Ranger’s bullpen Matt Bush who has one the best “slow” back leg loading and unloading patterns in the game.

He is a clip of Matt Bush smoothly but powerfully loading his back leg before unloading his back leg and ultimately this fastball into Jose Bautista’s ribs.

bush-back-leg

You can only “stretch” so much

Before you go and start doing plyometrics everyday to build up your elasticity I wanted to touch on its limiting factor when it comes to pitching which is having to start from a static and stationary position. The lack of a running start means that you can only apply so much of a stretch to really maximize the amount of the elastic energy you can use to power your fastball.

Here are some examples to help illustrate my point.

The only time you ever see a pitcher get a running start is when Trevor Bauer is warming up with one his famous crow hop throws.  What I want you to look at is how quick his back leg loads and unloads compared to the second clip.

bauer-back-leg-crow-hop-pitchbauer-wind-up

Trevor’s back leg loading method is definitely on the fast end of the spectrum even when he is pitching from the full wind up.  The amount of back leg bend is noticeably greater in the second clip.  He doesn’t need the bigger ROM when he crow hops because he has an approach which let’s get the same if not more elastic energy wihtou having to load up as deep.

Here are a couple of examples from the outfield.  Here we have two Cuban outfielders who have more than enough leg strength to throw the ball a mile even from a stationary position but when you can get a running start you’re best served to use the stretch reflex.

Here we see Yasil Puig throw a bullet with a quick and short punch of power from his back leg and hip.

puig-stretch-throw

He is able to throw the ball this hard with minimal amount of range of motion in the trail leg and hip because of a long and fast approach he had from playing back and charging this ground ball.  This momentum really allows him to load up that hip with a short but quick motion.

puig-running-start

Next we have an example that doesn’t have much of a running start.  This bomb of a throw from Yoenis Cespedes uses more knee bend which results in a longer application of power from his back leg and hip muscles into his throw.

cespedes-muscle-throw

Because he booted the ball into the corner he is pretty much at a standstill but he is still able to get a little bit of stretch reflex with his right foot crossing behind his left before starting his throw.

cespedes-muscle-throw-appraoch

Without much of a stretch reflex he is relying heavily on the strength of his muscles to get the job done.  Luckily for him he has some pretty strong legs.  Here’s proof of that strength in his famous “recruiting” video that his cousin/agent/trainer made of him during his days in Cuba.

cespedes-leg-press

Since throwing off the mound doesn’t allow you to get a running start this means that we need to have some baseline of good old fashion strength in the back leg to initiate the throw.  That being said we don’t need to turn everyone into power lifters since we don’t need really, really high levels of strength in order to utilize the fast stretch methods.  I will elaborate on this when I get into strength part of the athletic profile.

Testing Your Pitchers

This is where we start trying to figure out which way a pitcher should try to load their back leg in order to maximize the amount of energy that can potentially be transferred all the way up the kinetic chain to the baseball.

Lateral Jump Tests

In the last article I went over a series of vertical jumps that you can put an athlete through in order to determine if they are a “fast” or “slow” jumpers.  Each test placed an emphasis on either elasticity or muscular power.  When we look at the results and the ratio’s between the different jumps it can help give us a more accurate and larger profile of each athlete.

We can use this same thought process and make it a bit more sport specific by jumping laterally.  Which ever method allows you to jump the furthest should offer up some clues to how you might want to load up your back leg and hip.  All of these jumps require some practice to perfect the skill so play around with them 2-3 time per week for two weeks before testing in order to get a more accurate profile.

Static Start Lateral Jump – This one let’s us know what kind of strength you have by eliminating the elastic energy.  Load up on your back leg then pause for 1 second.  It is harder to get a pause here because of the balance component and without that control at the bottom there is no way to harness all of the power that you body could produce.  Practice first!!

static-start-lateral-jump-gif

What you can’t tell from this GIF is that he is waiting for my cue of “GO!” in order to start the jump.  This one needs the most control as a coach to get accurate numbers.  You can’t yell “GO!” until they are completely still for at least a full second.  The longer you wait the more the stretch reflex goes away leaving only the muscle to provide the power.  Don’t wait more than 5 seconds.  You also need to ensure that they don’t use any pre-stretch in their leg back watching them closely.  Our bodies know that we can get power for ourelastic connective tissues and because of that we will naturally want to cheat the test by getting a quick pre-stretch load by going down before up.

Play around with stopping at different joint angles to see which one suits you best.

Pre-Stretch Lateral Jump – This test falls into the same category as the depth jump because they both stress the ability to produce elastic energy.  This one however looks at how well you can apply force into the ground in a more lateral/horizontal fashion then send it back out to get the most lateral distance. Here you jump back laterally off your right leg onto your left leg before jumping out as far as you can.  It almost looks like a pitcher throwing from the stretch.

load-n-go-lateral-jump-1

By jumping back you’re over loading the stretch of the connective tissues.  Each player can play around with the speed and distance they jump backwards during the loading phase.  Too fast and/or too far will result in a worse result because you need the strength to stop and redirect the loading of the muscles and tissues.

Counter Movement Lateral Jump – this is the cousin of the popular standard vertical jump which looks at a combination of muscular and elastic energy .  This jump allows for both types of power sources to be displayed.  As a coach watch the speed and depth each player natrually uses to get a general idea if they are “fast” or “slow” jumpers.

lateral-jump-counter-movement

Here again we can play around with the speed and depth of the counter movement as we load into the back leg.  Try going fast and slow along with different ROM’s.

The results we can get from these tests are great and they get even better when you look at them collectively and build ratio’s.  This then becomes very useful information about how to build mechanics and training strategies.

Throwing Tests

Looking at the distances a player can long toss with and without a crow hop can be useful too.  The crow hop allows for an over-speed type of training effect which in turn means that elasticity will play a more prominent role just like we saw with the throws from the outfield.

We’ve all seen the guys that can bomb it out there during long-toss but can’t reproduce those same high levels of speed when they are throwing from a mound without an approach.  If when your athlete throws long toss without an approach and can only get 80% or less of their long toss distance with a crow hop then you can ecpect this athlete to be “springy”.  If the athlete can achieve 92% or more of their max long tosss distance without using an apprach then this athlete is more on the “strength/slw/windup” end of the spectrum.  These numbers didnt’ come from a fancy study but rather just my own observations.  Anicdoetal evidnce.

Finally I think we can just get our pitchers to play around with different loading patterns during bullpens.  It’s a good thing in my opinion to play around with mechanics and add variety and variability so that each pitcher can learn to adapt to different ways of throwing.  Obviously it will take time to sync up all the mechanics so don’t expect to see higher  velocities the first time out with any new loading pattern.

Graeme Lehman, MSc, CSCS

Customized Mechanics – Elasticity

Next up in this series I am going to look at elasticity and the role it plays in customizing mechanics and training.   Elasticity plays a huge role in throwing hard so this is going to end up the first of a couple of articles about how it contribute to throwing velocity.

First off we need to clear up what I am talking about when I refer to “elasticity”.  This is the body’s ability to store and release elastic energy from connective tissues, namely the tendons.  Elastic energy is one of two sources of energy that our bodies can use to produce power.  The other being energy produced from our muscles contracting which I will cover in the near future.

Athletes that can produce a lot of elastic energy are what I would call “springy” and to show you what I mean we are going to look at the athletes with the best “springs” in the world, high jumpers.

Image result for derek drouin high jump

2016 High Jump Olympic Gold Medalist Derek Drouin

These athletes launch their entire body nearly 8 feet in the air.  Yet when you look at the typically high jumper they don’t look like they have a ton of muscle mass that allows them to produce the type of power needed to achieve these crazy feats of athleticism.

So how do they do it ?  The answer is a combination elastic energy and great mechanics.  This is a similar recipe that a lot “skinny” pitchers use to throw hard.

The best example of elasticity in the world is Stefan Holm who won the 2004 Olympic gold medal.  Below is a GIF from one of my favorite YouTube videos of all time where he effortlessly clears consecutive hurdles that are almost as tall as he is at 5’11”.

holm-hurdle

 

This is crazy!!  What makes it even crazier is that he is reported to only having a standing vertical jump of around 24 inches which isn’t very good.  And when you consider that he can get his entire body over top of a bar 94 inches tall it really makes you wonder what’s going on.

This huge discrepancy in jump heights are exactly what makes him the “springiest” athlete in the world.  The standing vertical jump off two feet with no running start places a lot more emphasis on muscular strength which isn’t his strong point, pardon the pun.  But if you give this guy a running start and let him jump off one leg you allow him to get the most out of his ability to produce elastic energy from his tendons while not having to rely on having big strong leg muscles to get off the ground.

Tendons are what connects muscles to the bones they are trying to move, hence the term “connective tissue”.  Tendons aren’t the only structure that produce elastic energy but they are the most dominant which is why I am going to focus on them during this article.

Image result for tendon muscle

Anytime you eccentrically load up a muscle you’re also stretching the tendon which then stores elastic energy.  When this happens the tendon has a built reflex to act like a spring and send that energy back, this is known as the stretch shortening cycle (SSC).  To get the most out of this energy source you want to have a fast stretch with a minimal delay between loading and unloading, this is what you’re doing when you perform plyometric exercises.  For a complete refresher on the SSC watch this short video of Dr. David Behm who is one of the world’s foremost experts in this area.  He also happened to be my supervisor for my thesis and overall great guy.

Every athlete has the ability to use elastic energy but some are just better at it than others.  To really illustrate what I mean check out this amazing video by Joel Smith of Just Fly Sports.  It really hits home with the message that I have been trying to get across in this whole series about customizing mechanics and training around the athletes natural abilities.  In this video Coach Smith shows how two different world class high jumpers produce similar results with different jump techniques (fast & slow) based off their naturally physiology.

In the past I have alluded to this kind of “fast” vs. “slow” loading in the back leg for pitchers.  My big league examples of Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez demonstrate this “slow” and “fast” loading of the back leg respectively.  Stroman and his strong legs can build up more power if they are given the time with a deeper and longer loading phase at the hip and knee.

storman highlights

While Sanchez gets his center of gravity moving towards home plate then delivers a quick punch of power into the ground that gets him moving in the right direction.

sanchez side gif

Both these SSC movements are are pretty fast but Sanchez’s is definitely faster.  In exercise science they classify SSC movements into fast and slow categories.  Slow SSC’s last longer than 250 milliseconds (ms) and can be seen with more joint movement. This increased time and joint movements gives the athlete more time to develop muscular force and if you have a lot of muscular strength then this type of SSC allows you to develop more overall force.  The fast SSC take less than 250 ms to go from loading to unloading and reply less on muscular strength and more on elasticity and as a result you don’t see as much movement at any of the joints.

Are you Fast or Slow?

There are a series of tests that you can run any athlete through to see what there best strategy is for producing power.  In the video from Dr. Behm he went over some of these but here they are all together.

Counter-movement Jump – allows for both elastic and muscular strength.

countermovement-vertical-jump

 Static Start Jump – eliminate almost all elastic strength by pausing at the bottom for a 2 second stop.  The potential stored energy dissipates as heat.  This only really allows the force from your muscles contracting to produce the jump.

static-start-vertical-jump

Depth Jump – allows for more elastic strength due to eccentric overload from stepping off a 12-24 inch box.

depth-jump

 

Reaction test (4 jumps) -here the athlete jumps up 4 times in a row trying to go for maximum height.  This continuous jumping really places an emphasis on elastic strength.

vertical-jump-reaction

 

Each one of these tests gives you some clues about the kind of athlete you are dealing with slow or a fast jumper.  When you look at the ratio’s between these test you can then really get a good sense of how this athlete likes to produce force.

If you perform these test be sure that arm placement is the same for each.  Either allow the arms to swing or keep the hands on the hips so that you are able to compare these tests more accurately.  You don’t need a expensive contact mat, force plate or even a Vertec to test this either.  Check out the MyJump app which has been scientifically proven to be just as accurate and it is only $7.

Based on the results we can then tailor both mechanics and training to match the needs of the athlete.  Those athletes that are “springy” would benefit from more classic strength training while those less “springy” could benefit from plyometrics.  In regards to their mechanics, specifically their back leg, the “springy” athletes would do better with a “tall and fall” while stronger guys can produce more power with a “drop n’ drive”.  While I am not a fan of either one of these cues I used them here because everyone knows what I am talking about.

How does this apply to pitching?

I’ve only briefly touched on how this applies to pitching during this article.  The truth is that there are a whole lot of SSC’s happening throughout the entire body when you throw a baseball and I will be diving into them during the next couple of articles.

Graeme Lehman, MSc, CSCS

“Taylor” made mechanics & the MLB Draft

This blog post is going to serve two purposes.

#1 – Congratulate Curtis Taylor on getting drafted this year in the 4th round by the Arizona Diamondbacks.  I’ve been lucky enough to see firsthand just how Curtis developed into the pitcher that he is today with his hard work on the mound and in the weight room.

#2- Highlight how customized or should I say “Taylor” made mechanics that suit his athletic profile allow him to throw 95+ mph.

Curtis has worked hard to build his own mechanics that suit his strengths and weakness’. He is an extremely coach-able kid that has been exposed to some great coaches at the following training facilities and baseball organizations:

  • Coquitlam Reds
  • UBC Thunderbirds
  • Inside Performance
  • Driveline Baseball

Curtis Taylor’s Physical Profile

Throughout this series I have been using  Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman as examples because of their obvious differences which made it easy to build them mock physical profiles based off of what I can see from watching video.

Today’s post will allow me to build a more accurate profile since I’ve had the opportunity to see and work with Curtis in person.  When I last worked with Curtis last summer I didn’t have this entire concept complete so I am missing some parts but this is meant just to demonstrate how we can build a physical profile.  Remember that the goal here is to get a better idea about what kind of athlete we have in front of us today so that we can build mechanics and training programs to get them to where they want to be in future.

My history with Curtis is that we trained together in his grade 11 year before I moved to Kelowna where I was lucky enough to work with him last summer along with Alex Webb (9th rd, Reds) and Tyler Gillies (UBC) when he came up here to play summer ball with the Falcons in the West Coast League.

Here is a rough profile of what Curtis looks like on paper.  I’ve scored each part of profile out of 10 and while the actual scoring system is a bit more complicated that this it will do for now and serve its purpose as a case study.  When I wrap up this series I will go into the scoring system and how to read the profile.

curtis profile

Antropometrics (aka Limb Length)

The first thing that notice is that he is a tall kid.  At 6’6” this puts him at the tall end of pitchers and while I don’t have the exact numbers with me anymore I do remember him having a longer wingspan than his standing height making him even longer.

These long limbs provide POTENTIAL but they don’t always mean that it guarantees velocity.  Check back to Part 2 for more details..

This picture below gives you a good idea about how long he is.

curtis 5

 

To take full advantage of these levers he does require mobility and muscular power so lets continue to the next part of the profile.

Mobility

This is another area that Curtis scores well in.  Being long and loose is a common recipe for throwing velocity and one that teams really like.  But yet again having a lot of mobility isn’t always going to translate into success it only means you have POTENTIAL to produce large ranges of motion which gives you more time to build up speed.  Check out Part 3 for more details.

Here are a couple of GIF’s from an assessment we did.  I had these guys film themselves so the angles and quality aren’t the greatest and if you know how to perform these tests then you might be able to nit pick at how exactly they were done but they give us a pretty good idea nonetheless.

ASLR

This is the active straight leg raise (ASLR) from the functional movement screen (FMS).  This is classified as a mobility test since the athlete is lying on the ground which minimizes any need for stability.  He scored the max of a 3 on each side and he does look like he gets more on the left side.  But lets move on.

standing rotation

This is a standing rotation taken again from the FMS people which looks for how well someone can rotate.  Curtis again passes this test easily by being able to rotate enough to see his far shoulder from this view.

What really gives Curtis a high score in this apart of the profile is that we scored a 4 out of 4 on a modified Beighton scale to looks for hyper-mobility. This hyper-mobility means that he can get his body into crazy positions like you see below to throw really hard.

This picture above is not of Curtis Taylor but this is something that he can do along with a couple of other tests from the Beighton Scale.  The picture below however is of Curtis and you can see some of this mobility playing to his advantage by laying back his long forearm which creates a pretty big range of motion.  curtis 8

But with lots of mobility comes the need to harness it with stability.  To look for stability I ran him through had him some other tests. Watch him perform the push-up test from the FMS that requires full body stability to score a perfect 3 if the entire body to comes off the ground at the same time.  I scored this a 2.

pushup screen

Another test that I had him complete was a single leg squat and while I don’t have the video my notes indicate that he had “poor depth” and “poor control”.  This test looks at lower body stability specifically.

The final test that I looked at was the overhead squat which he only scored a “2” out of 3.  The overhead squat does require lot of mobility but based on what we already know this is an area that he excels in so I would think that it’s his lack of stability that is not allowing to get low enough and keep the arms directly overhead to score a 3.

Lateral Power

When you look at his scores from a full set of athletic tests this is the one where he would rank highest compared to his peers.  Even last summer when I  had those three pitchers the only test that Curtis had the top score was the lateral jump off his right foot showing again the importance of this athletic ability. To learn more read part 4 article and if you are the academic type here is a link to my research thesis on the topic.

His score was 77 inches which is pretty good and I would image is even better now.

Here we can watch him from the side on a clip from a recruiting video when he was in high school to see how he uses his this physical trait to move towards home plate.  If I remember correctly he was throwing mid to upper 80’s during this time.

curtis side view

Check out the whole video here and if you like the editing call his father, Wes, at Inside Performance in North Vancouver.

Deceleration

This is an area that I didn’t have a specific test when I worked with him last.  However it is something that we worked on improving because it is an area that he as a tall & lanky pitcher can always stand to improve.

You saw this video of Curtis that I used in Part 5 about deceleration and how it can help improve this specific physical attribute for his right leg as a right handed pitcher.  The goal here is if he can increase his ability to accept more force then he should be able to produce more force.

This drill also doubles as a stability drill that Curtis and his lanky 6’6″ frame needs to spend more time and attention developing.  Despite me saying “nice” in the background I would like to see him come to a complete stop in a shorter amount of time.  Once he can do that then we add more speed by coming in faster.

This picture of him below shows that he can decelerate himself with his stride leg allowing him to really extend and get closer to the plate with those long arms making him look even faster.

curtis extension

Elasticity

This is another area that Curtis does well in and allows himself to make the most out of his strength.  The elasticity in his shoulder is obvious from the kind of velocity that he can reach on the radar gun.

If you look back at the GIF from the side angle you will see that he doesn’t have a ton of movement in his back leg but the movement he does create is quick suggesting that he can store and release energy quickly.

He has since added more movement in the hip and knee but that is because he has continued to get stronger which means he can still use his ability to quickly store and release energy but now he has a larger range of motion to create more power.

The GIF below shows you what it looks like from the front.

curtis front view

I should have taken him through a couple of other tests to really determine how well he uses the stretch shortening cycle by comparing different types of jumps.  Regardless this is an area that he can improve upon but the only way it is going to get better is by improving his strength levels which leads us to the next part of the profile.

Strength (aka Absolute Strength)

If on my first day with Curtis in the weight room you would have told me that he was going to get drafted I would not have believed you.  Here he is in grade 11 struggling with what look to be 30-40lbs DB’s for a set of 8 reps.

reverse lunge curtis

Even last summer when he was already hitting velocities like 93 mph he still wasn’t going to impress many people when you watched him in the weight room.  And while we never tested specifically with one rep max for bench, dead or bench it is still obvious that this is an area of weakness for Curtis.  When you look at his antropometrics you realize that he isn’t built for lifting a lot of weight slowly (>0.5m/s) but he can still benefit from working at this part of the profile.

The exciting part is that this type of strength as the most potential for growth as he continues to mature.

Strength-Speed

Unfortunately I didn’t run him through any specific tests for strength-speed but it was an area that we worked on because I know that it is an area that he doesn’t excel.  One particular exercise we did to fill this gap was to work on band resisted deadlifts.  These are great because they allow to lift a fairly heavy weight with some velocity (0.75-1.0 meters/second) which is the exact definition of strength-speed.

band resisted deadlift

Speed-Strength

Again I didn’t I didn’t run him through any specifics test to determine his level of speed-strength.  If I did it would include things like vertical jumps with load or med ball throws for distance.  We did however train this athletic quality in the gym with things like band resisted lateral jumps and various med ball throws.

If you want a copy of his program for that summer as a starting pitcher in a summer college league shoot me an email and I will send it your way.  graeme.lehman@gmail.com

Speed

For this I would look at his jumping ability. We already saw that he can jump well laterally but when we look at his vertical jump compared to his peers he scores much lower.  His vertical jump score that I measured using MyJump app was 19.4 inches.  When you compare him to the 27.5 from pro players aged 20-22 or the 26.3 from players 16-19 years old it isn’t very good.  These numbers are from a 2013 study by Margine et al.  This study looked at pitchers at various age groups in 4 different MLB organizations for 5 years.  To learn more check out this article I wrote called “You Wanna Get Drafted Out of College?”

 

curtis jump 4

 

Clearly Curtis doesn’t have the kind of lower body speed and strength that coaches and scouts would be looking for when compared to previous athletes.  Maybe he makes up for it since he is 225 lbs and the pitchers from the study only average 208 lbs.  If you have read any of my article you know how important it is to take body weight into considerations when we look at power.

Here is how he compares with his 8554 watts of power compared to the younger and older group who scored on average 10342 and 10714 respectively.

curtis power 3

 

Again he doesn’t compared well which can be viewed as a positive since he can still develop a ton of velocity despite the fact that he isn’t that powerful when we look at this test.  If he continues to get bigger and stronger these numbers will improve and if he can incorporate this additional horsepower into his delivery then only good things can happen.

Body Weight

Curtis is currently listed at 225lbs which is great but at 6’6″ he has some room to grow.  According to a chart that I saw on an article by Ben Brewster he should be able to get as heavy as 245lbs while staying at around 12% body fat.

Over the last couple of years he has steadily gone up which is a testament to his work ethic outside of the gym and field. The recruiting video that I used above had him listed at 205lbs and last summer my notes show that he was 215-220lbs.  If he can keep this up and climb into the 235lbs range and beyond he can stand to benefit from some additional momentum because we all know that the equation below works really well.

MASS = GAS

This is assuming that the vast majority of that MASS is in the form of muscle which we need to look at by testing for body fat.

When I tested him last summer I had him listed at 19.5% body fat which is higher than the 13.2% that the 20-22 year old pitchers averaged in the Margine study.  We did use a different body fat calculation which doesn’t allow us to compare accurately not to mention the fact that how trained individuals grab and measure fat with calipers can vary highly.

Despite this he can improve in this area as well since he has bigger idea to add more lean body mass and try to get up to higher end of acceptable overall body weight.

Conclusion

You can see that Curtis isn’t most “athletic” guy if you use the standard definition of athletic.  He is however very athletic to put all these moving parts together while maximizing his “athletic” ability to take advantage of his long and mobile levers.

His real upside is that the areas where he can improve the most (strength and size) are capable of being developed.  Adding size and strength is something that that human body can continue to do as the years go on while other parts of the profile like antropometrics, mobility can’t be altered as much or at all.  If he can stay healthy and train properly then his upside is huge.

It’s because of this that I am excited about him going to the Diamondbacks because their medical, training and strength staff led by Ken Crenshaw are top notch which can been seen by the number of their staff going onto bigger roles with other organizations.

Hopefully you enjoyed this case study of how a physical profile can be developed.  It doesn’t require that much extra scouting and the benefits of finding more non-traditional athletes is huge and can help any team that knows how to develop athletes succeed.

 

Remote Coaching – What is it and Will it Work for You?

Over the last 11 months I’ve had the pleasure of working remotely with a JUCO baseball team 3000 miles away.  Having just completed the 2nd phase of the summer portion of the year round program that I built for this team and their players I wanted to share my experiences with being a remote strength coach for a college baseball team in a quick 3 part series.

Part 1 – what is remote training and will it work for me?

Part 2 – what exactly did I do this year as their strength & conditioning coach 3000 miles away

Part 3 – what I am going to do next year by expanding my role into more of a sport science position to cover the gap between the weight room and the field.

But before we get into this I wanted to share a bit of information about the College of Central Florida men’s baseball team who I had the honor of working with and it is primarily their efforts that have contributed to any of the success this past year.

The Patriots finished third in arguably the toughest conference in the country behind the #1 and #9 ranked teams in the entire country in the year end NJCAA ranking.  Couple this with the fact that they started out their conference season with a 1-7 record makes their birth into the FCSAA tournament even more impressive.

It’s that kind of attitude that made their efforts in the gym pay off on the field.  The hard working attitude was already there and all I had to do was point them in the right direction which is the only way that remote coaching can work.

Part 1 – What is Remote Coaching and will it work for me?

As a remote coach I design baseball specific programs based off of the information that you send me in the form of pictures, videos and questionnaires.  More on this in Part 2.  Once I gather and study all of these vital pieces of information I then build a program based on your specific needs and goals.

I like to think that these programs were pretty good and they are backed by some scientific principals but they are only worth the piece of paper that their printed on if the program isn’t executed properly.  All I do is supply players and coaches with the WHAT, HOW and WHEN while trying to do my best of explaining WHY.  Its then up to the coaches and players to execute the program by giving it the time and effort it needs to work.

If you need you a trainer with you in the gym to make sure that you show up and work hard then this type of training will NOT work for you.

If you have the discipline to show up to the gym and put in the effort then this type of coaching will work for you.  If you supply the TIME & EFFORT while being able to COMMUNICATE and LEARN then there is no reason why remote coaching shouldn’t work for you.

TIME & EFFORT

In the case of the Patriots there was plenty of effort and time supplied by the players and coaches to allow these programs to work.  The “buy in” from top of the program with the coaching staff made this success a possibility by communicating to the players the importance of working hard in the weight room.

The “buy in” from the coaching staff was most evident when you looked at how much time they devoted to this program.  A lot of the time baseball coaches will only dedicate a bit of time at the beginning of practice during the warm up and some time at the end when the players are already physically and mentally drained from practice.   Since every human being has a limited supply of both time and effort we need to make sure that we use our time and effort wisely.

In the case of the Patriots this was seen with doing some extended warm ups which ended with what I call “Power Circuits” which consist of things like med ball throws, jumps and sprints along with arm care and mobility/stability drills.  These could add 10-20 minutes onto the warm up and out of the coaches practice plan but since they took the time to do these when the players were fresh it really paid off with enhanced levels of speed and power.  We even went so far as to working on sprinting during the practice which you can read about here.  This is a great example of merging the strength and skill sides of the game so that we can bridge that gap between the weight room and the field.  I will go over this kind of stuff in part 3 when I discuss the sport science role that I hope to continue with.

COMMUNICATION

Putting in the time and effort in the weight room is great but if you don’t know how to do the exercises and can’t perform them properly then you will not see any improvements and in a lot of cases you will get hurt.  The only way we can avoid this is to communicate.

In the case of the Patriots there was a lot of communication.   I talked to the coaches on a regular basis to teach them what to look for and what to say.  I also put together webinars to show players and coaches what I wanted to see like this video below that went over the lifting program that we used over the Winter holiday.

The players and coaches communicated back to me with videos that allowed me to see first-hand each players technique on critical exercises so that I could determine if they are ready and able to proceed.  Getting the athlete to communicate by “checking in” with these videos or filling out questionnaires about how they feel is vital information that I need to ensure they are on the right path.   Everyone is already taking videos of themselves in the gym to update their Instagram account so we might as well jump on board but do it for a completely different reason.

LEARN

The role of a strength and conditioning includes educating and monitoring athletes for the time they spend outside of training.  The goal is to give athletes the information and tools they need to get the most out of their training by fueling and recovering between sessions.  This is a role that I can do as a remote coach just as effectively as a strength coach that you see in person and because of that I really try to excel in this area.  The result is a growing library of resources like articles and videos that I publish on a private website with the information of what they need to be doing along with what they shouldn’t be doing outside of the weight room and playing field in order to allow for the best opportunity possible to get bigger, faster and stronger.

How well you absorb and implement this information is up to the individual player. We can however track and monitor players through weekly questionnaires and checklists.  If these simple tools are answers honestly and consistently they can provide a ton of useful information that I can see on my end and help make positive changes.

Is it for you or your team?

If you can put the time and effort while also be committed to communicating and learning then this type of training is for you.  The fact that it costs a fraction of what a coach in person would cost you per hour who is not likely to have the same level of expertise makes it a no brainer.

If you are interested read along and learn exactly what I did with the Patriots in part 2.

If you can’t wait and want to get started shoot me an e-mail (graeme.lehman@gmail.com) and we can start talking.  For the next 3 weeks however I am going to have limited internet access since my wife and I are heading to Africa for a vacation.  It doesn’t get much more remote than that!!

Graeme Lehman, MSc, CSCS

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

 

“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