Upper Body Elasticity – Part 2 – Customized Mechanics Series

This article is going to continue to look at how the human body was designed to take advantage of elastic energy and throw better than any other species on earth.  The previous article quickly touched on how this ability to throw played an important role in the evolution of the human species while going into great detail about one of three traits that allows humans to throw way harder than our closest relatives in the animal kingdom, the chimp.

The 3 traits are:

  1. Tall Mobile Waist – Long torso
  2. Less Humeral Torsion
  3. Laterally Orientated Glenohumeral Joint

#2 – Less Humeral Torsion

Humeral torsion is a term used to describe the twisted shape of the humeral shaft.  You have probably heard of the term “retroversion” which is used to describe the same thing as humeral torsion, the only difference is the angle that you are measuring.  Image result for humeral retroversion

 

We want more retro-version and less torsion to create bigger ranges of motion.  Compared to chimps humans have 10-20 degrees less humeral torsion which allows for bigger ranges of motion like we see on the right.Image result for shoulder external rotation range of motion

Having larger amounts of external rotation has been shown to distinguish “fast” from “slow” throwers in previous research.  In 2001, Matsuo et al. published a study that reported harder throwers had 179 degrees of external rotation while the slower throwers were only able to demonstrate 166 degrees.

Here we can see Billy Wagner getting approx 180 of external rotation or “layback”, but we also have to consider the fact that he is going down the mound which makes this 180 closer to 200 which is why he was throwing 100 mph when it wasn’t as common as it is today.  The hard throwers in the study were only throwing about 85 mph.

Image result for forearm layback pitching

Having more ROM when we go back into external rotation allows for more elastic energy to be stored and released as internal rotation during the acceleration phase.  When dealing with really fast movements, like throwing, elastic energy is what we want since it is made for speed whereas the power we get from muscles is designed more for moving heavy things at a slower rate.

The amount of torsion/retroversion that we have is determined partially by how much throwing that we do when we are young.  If we are able to keep our juvenile levels of torsion into adulthood we stand to benefit from this extra range of motion that naturally decreases as we age with what’s called anteversion.  To learn more read this great article by Eric Cressey called “Why Does President Obama Throw Like a Girl”

#3  – More Lateral Orientated Glenohumeral Joint

The glenohumeral joint (aka the shoulder) is classified as a ball and socket joint.  The “socket “portion is the glenoid fossa which is part of the scapula/shoulder blade while the “ball” is the head of the humerus.  In humans this socket is facing to the side (aka laterally) while in chimps it is facing more upwards.  This picture below shows us the difference with the human scapula on the left.

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This does is creates a better angle to both produce and transfer force which is displayed in the picture below.  Having the arm abducted at 90 degrees from the body allows for more energy to be transferred from the rotating torso creating torque.  The approx 135 degree angle shown on the right from the chimp doesn’t allow for as much energy transfer from the torso when throwing but it is better for climbing, which for chimps is pretty important.  That’s evolution for you.Image result for neil t roach throw

When the arm is at the 90 degree angle it puts the long axis of the humerus in-line with the axis of the pectoralis major which acts as an internal rotator.  On the right in the picture below we see the muscle fibers of the human pectoralis major and how they run almost straight across at that 90 degree angle.

pecs-1

This really illustrates why we need to be near that 90 degree angle of arm abduction when we throw no matter if you throw “over the top”, “three quarters”, “side arm” or even “submarine”.  Check out this article to learn more about this 90 degree rule and how throwing “over the top” increases velocity and stress on the arm.

Image result for submarine pitchers

Even if is knuckles are almost hitting the dirt he is still showing 90 degrees of arm abduction

So we know now that humans have more laterally orientated GH joints but there is some variation within the human spices as to how laterally orientated the shoulder joint is for each person. This is going to be another case where I go back to the analogy of getting a suit tailored to your body rather than going with the standard “off the rack”.

Image result for sloped shoulders vs. square shoulders

Having a shirt that fits the slope of our shoulders is going to feel and look better.  The same can be said about pitching mechanics.  Maybe this has something to do with finding one’s “natural arm slot” since there does seem to be a little bit if wiggle room with that 90 degree angle rule in that you can be plus or minus 10 degrees.

Some people will naturally have either sloped or square shoulders but we don’t want it to be exaggerated by either tight traps pulling our shoulders up closer to our ears nor do we want tight lats pulling our shoulders down towards our toes.  Either of these overactive muscles can increase the risk of injury while also decreasing performance.

Now that we know how these traits allow us as humans to take full advantage elastic energy we will learn exactly how this vital power source works in the shoulder and how it too will differ from person to person.

Graeme Lehman, MSc, CSCS

 

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Upper Body Elasticity – Part 1 – Customized Mechanics Series

This article is going to start exploring the important role that upper body elasticity contributes to throwing velocity and the evolution of the human species.  That last part might sound a bit weird but when I was gathering information for this article I came across some pretty interesting research.  It suggested that the elasticity of the upper body provided the human species with an unique and important advantage allowing us to hunt and kill prey which in turn provided the nutrients (proteins and fats) required to develop bigger and better brains.  This advantage is our ability to throw.

Charles Darwin himself noted that the unique throwing abilities of humans, which were made possible when bipedalism emancipated the arms, enabled foragers to hunt effectively using projectiles.

Image result for evolution of man

This means that once we didn’t walk on our hands we could use our upper bodies to do other things like throw.  This is great because compared to other carnivores humans are weak, slow and lack the natural weapons like claws and fangs used to hunt animal.  We had to rely on the one thing we can better than any other species which is to throw rocks and spears.  This is how scientists believe that our caveman ancestors were able to hunt since we have been eating meat for the last 2.6 million years and killing large pray for the last 1.9 million years both of which predate hunting tools like the bow and arrow.

The ability to throw fast and accurate in modern times is important if you want to be a successful pitcher but back a couple of million years ago it was important for survival which made it a trait that was improved due to generations of natural selection.  Here is a quote from a study by Dr Neil T. Roach who is an anthropologist from Harvard which confirms this idea.

“Throwing proficiency provided good throwing males an advantage over weaker throwers in gaining access to reproductive opportunities”

This quote contradicts the research done by Nike et al. (1996) that stated that “Chicks love the long ball”.

Image result for chicks dig the longball

Perhaps modern day females dig the long ball but cave woman were definitely more interested in throwing ability. Here’s a link to the awesome commercial starring Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine.

Human Throwing Traits

In the study I mentioned from Dr.  Neil T. Roach there are 3 distinct physical differences that separates humans from chimpanzees (our closest relative) which allows us to store and release more elastic energy.  Everyone has heard that chimps are much stronger than humans but throwing relies more on elastic energy in the upper body.  Check out this page and click on the video for more info from this study.

The three traits are:

  1. Tall Mobile Waist
  2. Less Humeral Torsion
  3. More laterally oriented glenohumeral joint

Now there are exceptions to every rule.  The chimp in the 1996 classic “Ed” co-starting Matt LeBlanc could throw absolute gas!!!

chimp-throw-ed

If you’re asking why should you care about these differences between chimps and humans its because it gives us a better idea of what to look for when developing hard throwers.  Knowing what allows humans to throw hard might give us some ideas of what to look for when trying to determine what allows certain humans to throw harder than others.

Let’s look at each of these traits in more details, today I am only going to cover #1 and the others for part two in this series.

#1 – Tall & Mobile Waist/Torso

You don’t need to pull out a ruler to see that the distance between the top of the hips and collar bone is much bigger on the left.  The relative distance would still be greater in humans if we took their overall height in consideration.  Notice the small gap between the hips and ribs on the left.

Image result for human vs chimp torso

This extra space is what allows for hip and shoulder separation.  This has been a buzz term in the pitching world for years and if anyone asks you what exactly “hip and shoulder separation” is and how it adds to throwing velocity repeat this quote from Dr Roach to make yourself sound super smart:

“tall, mobile waist of humans decouple the hips and thorax permitting more torsion rotation, in turn enabling high torque production over a large range of motion, which is needed to load the shoulders elastic elements.”

The elasticity we get from our trunk/core doesn’t come from a single muscle and its tendons but rather a series of muscles and tendons that run into one another which create a “sling” or “serape” shown here.

Image result for anterior serape
Let’s look at how these muscles work during the initial phases of the throwing delivery.

“wind up” position

Here we load up the posterior sling/serape from the right foot to the left shoulder.  The picture below shows what this looks like in a golf swing.

Image result for anterior sling

If you were to go golfing and pause at this point in your back swing for a second or two you would lose some serious distance.  The pause would eliminate a lot of the elastic energy stored in these muscles.

“cocking phase”

As the body moves forward the anterior sling/serape gets loaded from the right arm to the left leg as they are extended and abducted respectively like we see in the picture below.

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By extending the right arm and abducting the left leg these two body parts are moving in opposite direction which causes the muscles and tendons to be stretched.  This is why we want a good amount of stride length – which depends on a bunch of other factors so don’t try to get 125% of your height just yet!!

“acceleration”

When the left foot hits the ground the left hip decelerates while the right hip continues to move forward and rotate.  As the back/right hip rotates forward in a counter clockwise manner it unleashes the stored elastic energy between the hips and shoulders.  The stored energy in the posterior sling/serape from the “wind up” phase is also adding to rotational power by pulling the left shoulder in the same counter clockwise direction.

Image result for craig kimbrel pitching

See how Kimbrel still has his posterior sling/serape loaded this late into the delivery.

One of many reasons this guy throws really, really hard!!

Here is how it is described in a article by Santana, McGill and Brown.

“The core’s bigger mass “pulls” on the lighter right arm of the pitcher, much like a hand pulls on a whip”

Image result for Indiana jones whip

In order to get the most out of this whip these authors go onto say say that:

“The Key to the acceleration phase is a stiff core so that maximum power can be transferred between hips and shoulders.”

This highlights the dual role that the core plays in that it transitions from a force producer, when it is being stretched and separated during the “cocking phase”, to a force transmitter in the “acceleration” phase when the muscles contract and produce stiffness.  If you want to learn more about the importance of core “stiffness” check out this article I wrote about how grunting can help you throw 5% harder!!

Stiffness & Separation Balance

The terms “stiffness” and “separation” contradict one another but the balance and timing between the two is vital to our overall success.  Without a stiff core you can’t transfer energy efficiently but without the separation you don’t have any energy and speed to transfer in the first place.

If we artificially try to produce too much separation in hopes of creating a bigger ranges of motion we might see a decrease in velocity if it isn’t synced up with the rest of our mechanics.  But if we try to be too quick and stiff we slow ourselves down and cut down on ROM needed to reach high velocities.  We should be looking at an ideal range and if you are at the low or high end of this range depends on other parts of the profile like mobility, strength and limb length to name a few.  This is how Santana, McGill and Brown sum it up:

“core stiffness is tuned with the appropriate muscle activity to best enhance the storage and recovery of elastic energy”

This is obviously complicated and teaching it to someone is even harder.  So let’s find out what kind of separation ability we are dealing with so that we can at least aim our efforts on the mound and in the weight room to meet the individual needs to the athlete in front of you today.

How to Test

If we remember back to the traits that Dr Roach listed which allowed humans to throw hard it was our “tall & mobile” waist which was first of three distinct differences between humans and chimps.  So let’s test to see how “tall” and how “mobile” we are since everyone is going to be different.

How Tall?

By looking at the results of the seated vs standing height which we already discussed in the “antropometrics” article we can get a better idea of the distance from their hips to shoulders.

Image result for standing vs seated height measurement

The seated height goes to the top of the head so this could be made a lot better if we subtracted the neck and head height.  It would more like a tailor taking a measure for the length of a shirt like we see on the right.

Image result for tailored shirt length

Since this distance is something that can’t be change, unless you are dealing with young athletes, we have to work our mechanics around these results.

Mobile Waist?

Using a seated rotation test, which was listed in the “Mobility” article, is a simple way to get some great information.  Obviously if you don’t have much ROM here you shouldn’t focus your mechanics around this power source but there are lot mobility drills that you can use to improve this score, namely t-spine extension and rotation drills.

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The limitation of this test is that the athlete is producing this ROM by using only their muscles which is called active ROM.  Passive ROM on the other hand involves the therapist applying an external force to move the athlete through their range of motion that goes beyond what the muscles can produce when moving slowly in this type of testing situation.

The distance that a therapist can rotate you past your active ROM to the point where your ligaments or joint structure stop you can as give us some clues in regards to your elasticity.  Ligaments and joint structure are just a couple of the reasons why there might be a difference between the two types of ROM which is why it’s important that you have a professional therapist carry out these types of assessments.

Image result for TPI seated rotation

If the guy in the picture could push on the stick and cause more rotation this would be passive ROM.

Even more force is being applied when we pitch which is we should compare these clinical numbers to the ROM we see with a slow motion analysis of the pitcher throwing.

This extra bigger ROM that happens when we pitch is due to the linear power we create when you move down the hill.  The same thing happens when we do a depth jump compared to a standard vertical jump.  The extra height that we drop in from causes more of a stretch making it more “elastic” then the standard jump.

If I’ve got you confused here check out this sport science video where that explains why PGA golfer Padrig Harrington can get more  more separation and distance when he uses a “Happy Gilmore” approach.   Go to the 5:15 mark of the video for their description.

Image result for happy gilmore

Check out that extra “stretch”

This would be the case for long toss or Run n’ Gun type throws as well making it an appropriate drill for those who need to improve in this area.

Medicine Ball Testing/Training

Here are some tests that double as training exercises to help gain even more insight while providing a training stimulus to allow the athlete to improve their performance.

If we look at how fast or how far you can throw a medicine ball using a rotational motions we can see how efficient players are at storing and releasing elastic energy in a rotational fashion.

There are some pretty high-tech med balls out there that have sensors which tell you how much power you’re producing which is awesome because any time an athlete can have accurate and instant feed back you’re going to get better training effort when they try to beat their previous score.

Image result for ballistic medicine ball training

If you don’t have $500 for a really fancy medicine ball you might have to use distance as a marker or hope that your radar gun can pick up the med ball’s velocity.  Either way these tests require some practice in order to learn the skill so that you get better results.

These tests and their results will help us develop a better profile just like the various types of jumps did in the previous two articles with vertical and lateral jumping.

Med Ball Side Toss w/ Elastic Pre-Stretch
mb-side-toss-w-pre-stretchHere we promote the loading of the slings/serapes coupled with a rapid change of direction which emphasize the stretch shortening cycle

Static Med Ball Toss

Here we instruct the same as above but we make the athlete pause for a full 1 second before they rotate towards their target.  This method doesn’t use the stretch shortening cycle.

Image result for med ball rotational throw

Med Ball toss w/ Approach (aka Happy Gilmore)

The added approach speed seen below adds both momentum and stretch placing it further along the elastic end of the spectrum.

med-ball-with-approach

Please note that these are two different styles of med ball throws.  The first two are what I call a “scoop toss” while this last one is a “horizontal shot put”.  Be sure to compare the results using the same style of throw but use both during the training process.

Also take note of how heavy the ball is since the heavier it gets the more we have to rely on muscles only while lighter balls allow for higher speeds which can cause stretch shortening cycles to play a larger role.

So can get some useful information in two ways.  The first is to compare the scores and ratios between the pre-stretch, static and Happy Gilmore throws using the same weighted med ball.  The second would be to use the same type of throw and looking at the scores using say a 4, 8 and 12 lbs med ball just like we look at our velocity difference between 4,5 and 6 oz baseballs.

The best part is that med ball throws are great training exercises that specifically target the muscles and movements that pitchers need to be more successful.

How does this Play into Mechanics?

This subject could really takes us down a really deep rabbit hole and its worthy of its own 2500+ word article. But by determining how tall, how mobile and how good a player is at storing and releasing elastic energy could help you as a coach make a better game plan in regards to the following parts of throwing mechanics:

  • Should you rotate your shoulders towards second base during the wind up like Johnny Cueto or should you stay squared up towards 3rd base?
  • Should I stay closed with my front foot and hip for as long as possible as I make my way down the mound to deliver a quick powerful rotation.  Or should I open up early to allow more time for more separation to occur.

This a lot of information to digest but we have to remember that this is only  the first of three traits that allows humans to throw better than any other species out there.  Next up we will explore the traits #2 and #3

Graeme Lehman, MSc, CSCS

 

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.

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.

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?”

 

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.

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.