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Written on May 19, 2013 at 7:43 am, by Eric Cressey
Today’s guest post comes from my friend and colleague, physical therapist Eric Schoenberg. Eric is an integral part of our Elite Baseball Mentorships.
One of the topics that came up most commonly in the course evaluations and feedback from our first Phase 1 Elite Baseball Mentorship in January was “how lucky” Eric, Matt, and I are to have such a great facility (CP) to work in and “how nice it must be” to have strength and conditioning, pitching instruction, and physical therapy all under one roof (or in very close proximity to each other).
The truth is, professional relationships do not just happen unless you make them happen. Coaches, business owners, medical professionals, and athletes themselves don’t let just anyone into their circle. People are skeptical by nature and need to know that you care and are not a threat to their goals, reputation, or career. However, once trust is established, then the foundation for success in any partnership (i.e. coach/player, strength coach/physical therapist) can be built.
At the center of every great performance team must always be the athlete. I suggest making this the first criteria you look for when building a great network of performance coaches, medical professionals, and athletic coaches.
The success of any coach or medical professional is measured by the success of the athletes or teams with whom they work.
It is important to surround yourself with people that understand and follow this very simple concept. High level athletes have had people trying to latch onto them from a very young age. They are very skilled at seeing right through people with egos who don’t have their best interest at hand. This is the quickest way to lose credibility in our field.
In response to the feedback from our last mentorship, I've outlined five principles (non-clinical) below that you can use to help build a strong network to ensure better results for your athletes.
1. Communication: Be clear and concise. Don’t leave anything to chance or assume that everyone is on the same page. I have seen countless examples of athletes failing in physical therapy, training, or following a throwing program because any combination of the doctor, PT, strength coach, skill coach, or parent were unclear with their communication. In addition, it is a simple courtesy to keep referral sources current with the progress of their athletes. Failure to communicate is a sure way to end a professional relationship.
3. Understand and respect each person’s role: Don’t try to be all things to all people. Be good at what you do and don’t try or claim to be an “expert” at everything. Surround yourself with people that challenge you and know more than you in certain areas (but make sure you know more than them about something or you will be phased out!) Understand the strengths and weaknesses of yourself and the people in your immediate network. Observe often and learn as much as you can about each person’s role. Eric Cressey and Matt Blake know more about physical therapy and human movement than the vast majority of licensed physical therapists on the planet. However, they don’t claim to be a PT, they understand ethical boundaries, and they respect scope of practice.
4. Know your role (really well!): Never stop learning. Stay open minded on things you have yet to learn. You owe it to your athletes and your network to be an authority and trusted resource in your field. However, it’s critical to have the confidence to know when to refer out. You don’t need to be the hero all the time. At the end of the day, if the athlete succeeds because you had the humility to refer them to someone that could help them more than you, then you did your job. Remember, you will gain respect if your athletes get better, regardless of who gets the credit at the end.
5. Swing for the fences: Once all your hard work and patience finally pays off and you “get your shot” to work together with a particular coach, PT, or athlete, knock it out of the park. In our fields, we have moments (successes or failures) that allow us to either gain or lose the confidence of the people that we are trying to impress. Be prepared for the situation and get results. Remember to always be confident and overdeliver.
A founding mission of the Elite Baseball Mentorships is to develop a national network of qualified professionals in the baseball community that share a similar philosophy in managing baseball players. This is pivotal in keeping athletes healthy and allowing them the best opportunity for success in their careers.
If you would like more information regarding the mentorships, please visit our website, www.EliteBaseballMentorships.com. The early bird registration deadline for the June 23-25th Phase 1 Mentorship is: May 23, 2013. Click here to register.
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Written on April 30, 2013 at 8:48 am, by Eric Cressey
Thanks to Greg Robins, here are five tips for the week, with a focus on postural awareness.
1. Monitor head positioning during supine bridge and hip thrust variations.
2. Consider this routine to taking your breath before lifts.
Breathing is a big part of postural awareness. Check out this video for ensuring that you’re locking things in correctly before big lifts:
3-5. Avoid parafunctional habits.
The following three points will be based on a common theme: “Parafunctional Habits.”
A parafunctional habit is a habitual movement, or positioning that differs from the most common, or ideal movement and / or positioning of the body. It can also be a habitual positioning or movement of the body that’s continuous exposure (repetitive practice of) leads to certain asymmetries or dysfunctions.
When I think about how to attack posture changes both with my clients and myself, I look for the most efficient ways to change daily habits. In other words, I look at how we can disrupt parafunctional habits.
“Posture is a composite of the positions of the positions of all the joints of the body at any given moment. If a position is habitual, there will be a correlation between alignment and muscle test findings.” – Florence Kendall (Adapted from PRI’s Postural Respiration)
Many of us tend to default to the same habitual movements and positions. Here are three examples, and three quick fixes. Making a point to apply these corrections will have a tremendously positive outcome in helping you “feel and move better.”
3. Don’t stand on the same leg all the time.
For a variety of reasons, many of us will tend to shift onto one leg when standing in place for a period of time. Our body is always looking for the most efficient way to “survive.” Shifting onto one leg is any easy way to gain passive stability, via our positioning.
Many of us will tend to shift onto the right leg. Why? In short, it’s easier for us to pull air into our left side, in light of the normal structural asymmetries you see with human anatomy. Breathing is kind of important. It’s also not fun to rob ourselves of air. Enter the “right stance,” an aberrant posture you’ll see all too often.
Start paying attention to how you stand at rest. Additionally, look around and notice how others stand at rest. I bet it looks a lot like the picture above. This is something we see on extreme levels in some of our right-handed throwing athletes; they’re right handed people, in a unilateral sport, in a right-handed world!
Now, let’s make a change. For now on, use the picture below as a guide for how to stand when you shift onto one leg. Place the right leg in front of the left, and shift your weight into the left hip. If you are doing it correctly, your left hip will sit just below the right. Give it a try!
4. Cross your right leg over the left, and cross your right arm over your left.
In a similar fashion to your default standing position, those who tend to cross their legs will generally go left over right. Why? Same reason: it’s easier to sit into the right hip, and breathe into the left side. Instead, start doing the opposite. From now on cross the right over the left, and feel the left hip dig into your seat.
Do the same with your arms. Instead of crossing left over right, cross right over left. Close down the left side, and open up the right.
5. Change the way you sit while driving.
Driving is a GREAT place to work on positioning. Notice that your default is to slump over to the right side, opening the left leg and possibly resting it against the door. Instead, try this:
As you sit reading this, pretend like you’re in your car. First, even up your thighs and feet. Keep a space about the size of your fist between your two knees. At this point, your knees and feet should be even, or you might find the right slightly behind the left. Move the right foot into a position as if it was working the gas and brake pedal. You should look like this:
Now, pull your left hip back and push your right hip forward. This will leave the left knee behind the right.
You will notice the upper, inner thigh of your left leg “turning on.” Reach for the steering wheel with both hands. Consider this your new driving position. If you tend to drive with one arm, start making it your right arm. Leave the left arm hanging down to the side, causing a slight side bend to the left.
All of these positions will seem uncomfortable at first. That’s okay! Use them as much as possible, but allow yourself to just “chill” sometimes. Making these small changes is a fantastic way to better your posture and change your habits. Working on them will pay off in the long run, and you may even find your nagging aches and pains disappearing.
For more information on these postural approaches, check out www.PosturalRestoration.com.
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Written on April 24, 2013 at 3:24 pm, by Eric Cressey
The words “baseball” and “summer” have traditionally been virtually synonymous. While the phrase “The Boys of Summer” initially referred to the Brooklyn Dodgers, it’s now a term that is applied to all baseball players. If you play baseball, you do so in the summer; that’s just how it’s always been.
However, as you may have noticed, the game has changed dramatically since the Brooklyn Dodgers took the field. Arm injury rates are sky-high at all levels of baseball. Average fastball velocities are at all-time high, too. Pitchers don’t just throw fastball/curveball/change-up anymore; we’re also seeing cutters, sliders, and splitters now. And, perhaps most significantly, baseball players are specializing in this one sport alone earlier and earlier – meaning they’re showing up to college with more accumulated wear and tear on their bodies, even if that wear and tear is only a blip on a MRI or x-ray, as opposed to actual symptoms.
These factors all build to the question: is it time for a paradigm shift with respect to the baseball calendar?
Both professional and high school baseball players align well with respect to high school ball, as neither of them play fall baseball. The minor league season runs March-September, with the big league season extended by a few weeks on both ends. The high school season generally begins in February/March (with warm weather high school teams starting in January) and wraps up in August. The college season, however, is an incredible challenge. Why? I think this email I received last year from a well respected college pitching coach sums it up their unique scheduling challenges extremely well.
College training schedules and NCAA limitations make it very hard to develop kids properly:
-We have roughly 6 weeks of fall practice – team building, evaluation, some scrimmage
-After that, we have roughly 6-7 more weeks of training time before Thanksgiving and Christmas. We are limited to 2 hours of skill instruction per week: hardly enough time to make good adjustments.
-A 4-week break for Christmas – usually training takes a back seat to holidays, travel, and general laziness.
-We have a 2-week period once school starts to get back into the flow, followed by a 4 week period of practice before 1st game. Biggest goal here is to build a pitch count/base.
-We play 4-5 games per week from February to hopefully June
-Summer ball, for those who need it: this is where it would be great to take time off, get back into the weight room, skill building. BUT, it costs money for summer school AND the NCAA does not allow us to work with our players (skill-wise) during summer school. Plus, we are usually out working hard on recruiting.
Essentially, I am saying that the rules and demands of HS, college, and pro ball are all quite different, yet coaches at each level strive to develop their players. It’s hard to know, based on the unique qualities of each level, what is right and wrong [in terms of time off from throwing].
If it is complete shutdown, then let’s use a hypothetical situation. If I have a pitcher for 4 years and give him 3 months off from throwing per year, I have lost 1 full year of developing his pitching. That seems like a lot of time off…
Here, we realize the challenges that college pitching coaches and their pitchers face:
When does a college pitcher get time off?
The fall is a crucial developmental period for all pitchers, but particularly for incoming freshmen. Most of these freshmen pitchers are coming off “career” highs in innings from their senior years (and subsequent summer ball, in many cases). This is one of many reasons that you see so many schools encouraging freshmen to arrive early; it’s not just so that they can take summer courses, but also so that they can’t get overused in summer leagues. With the premier prospects who are drafted, there used to be incentive to pitch in the summer to “raise their price tag,” but with Major League Baseball’s new collective bargaining agreement moving the signing deadline up to approximately July 15 (from August 15) and players signing much more quickly as a result, there really isn’t much benefit to playing summer ball, if you’re an incoming freshman stud.
This is a particularly important decision to make, as many freshmen struggle during fall ball. I’ve had lengthy conversations with two of the best college pitching coaches in the country about how they absolutely expect all their freshmen pitchers to see significant velocity drops during the fall. They’re adjusting to the increased throwing workload, as well as life on a new campus and a more rigorous academic schedule. Effectively, they take a step back in order to take two steps forward when the winter/spring rolls around. It’s important that freshmen show up to campus expecting this drop-off, so it helps to show up fresh rather than dragging before the challenges begin.
What about the summers between freshman/sophomore, sophomore/junior, and junior/senior years, though? I think it goes without saying that there are a number of factors that must be considered:
1. How many innings did a pitcher throw during the spring?
Tyler Beede has been a Cressey Performance athlete since his early high school years, and one of the many reasons he was a first-round draft pick in 2011 was the fact that he’d never thrown more than 80 innings in a year. In his first season at Vanderbilt, he threw 71.2 innings – but he also put in a lot of work in the fall season to prepare for that season. He long tossed, threw bullpens, and worked on a curveball at a time of year when he would have normally been playing football or just training. This was “necessary volume” that helped him develop as a pitcher, but it also dictated that some innings probably ought to be subtracted off the tail end of his competitive year, so he opted not to play at the Cape.
Instead, he put in a great summer of training at CP, gaining 18 pounds of good weight and lots of usable strength. He started his fall throwing program in mid-August and had a great velocity jump during fall ball. Thus far this season, he’s 10-0 with a 1.51 ERA, compared to last season’s 4.52 ERA. There are a ton of factors that contributed to these improvements – fantastic pitching coaches, unique throwing programs, an additional year of experience in the SEC, adjustments to living on campus, etc – but the work he put in last summer was definitely a big contributing factor.
Had Tyler sat on the bench for most of the spring season of 2012, though, he would have been a great fit for summer ball, as the spring season would have effectively constituted “time off.” Everyone is different.
2. What is the development potential at the summer ball option?
This is the big white elephant in the room that no college coaches will ever talk about publicly. While there are some outstanding opportunities to improve at summer baseball options, there are also a lot of places that are just a field and a bunch of players and coaches. In other words, players sometimes don’t exactly thrive. One prominent pitching coach told me last spring, “Summer ball is getting less and less developmental every year. We’re sending guys out for it less and less.”
Think about it: you have a combination of new coaches, new (host) families, new geographic regions, new teammates, and long bus rides. There are rarely athletic trainers on hand for games, and only a select few teams carry strength and conditioning coaches. Even still, players may want to execute their strength and conditioning programs, but have no gym access in a remote geographic region where they don’t have their own transportation. Roughly half of their meals will be pre-game PB&J sandwiches and post-game pizza while on the bus. In short, I’d argue that it’s a lot easier for things to go wrong than it is for them to go right.
What’s actually somewhat comical is that most college coaches will tell recruits who are drafted that they’ll develop better in a college program than they would in minor league baseball if they decide to sign. Yet, that previous paragraph essentially describes minor league baseball to a T, and players are sent in that direction all the time!
Long story short, if you’re going to ship off to play in a league and location unfamiliar to you, you and your coach better do your homework. All that said, please don’t take the preceding paragraphs as a gross stereotype; there are a lot of fantastic summer ball coaches and experiences out there. You just have to find them and make sure they’re in the right system and matched up to the right kids if you’re going to call it a great developmental option.
3. What is a player’s risk tolerance?
Mark Appel was selected eighth overall in the 2012 draft, but opted to return to Stanford for his senior season. While he’d played summer ball after his freshman and sophomore seasons, Appel opted not to after his junior year. Why not? His risk tolerance changed. He only threw 69 innings as a freshman in 2010 and needed to pitch in the summer that followed to continue to improve. In 2011, he got more innings, but also needed to demonstrate he could be effective against the best college hitters in the country that summer to improve his draft stock. Once you’ve already been a top 10 overall pick and the NCBWA National Pitcher of the Year, though, there isn’t much more to prove in the college game, so summer ball would pose an unnecessary risk.
Obviously, this is a unique case, as very few throwers will reach this level of success. However, it is a great perspective from which we can appreciate it’s not always appropriate to just “ride the horse that got you here.” Baseball development is an exception. Summer ball might be a great option for a pitcher with a clean injury history, but not someone with a partial ulnar collateral ligament injury in his recent history. A lot of smart baseball people believe you only have a certain number of pitches in your arm, so you should use them wisely.
4. What are a player’s long-term aspirations with baseball: experience or outcome?
Not everyone is going to be a Mark Appel or Tyler Beede. In other words, college baseball may be the end of organized, non-beer-league baseball for a lot of pitchers. In these cases, summer ball is about having fun and enjoying the game before you run out of time to do so. I’m all for it for these individuals. One has to decide whether it’s about experience (having fun playing summer ball) or outcome (becoming a better player). These aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, though.
5. Does a player need to pitch or throw?
Some pitchers need in-game pitching experience to develop, while others simply need to build up arm speed. There is a big difference. The former dictates the summer ball is likely a necessity, while the latter can be accomplished via a number of different means. Building arm speed might be a function of long toss, weighted balls, or just taking time off from throwing to build up strength, power, and mobility.
6. Does a player have adequate size and strength?
Taking the summer off from baseball is becoming an increasingly population option for players who are undersized or weak, but more polished on the baseball skill side of things. If you’re bigger and stronger, you can withstand a longer season. If you’re not, you need to work to address your biggest window of adaptation. More and more coaches seem to be moving in this direction in recent years, as we have dozens of players who move to Massachusetts for the summer just to train, and the numbers grow considerably each year.
7. What’s a player’s mental state at the end of the college season?
It might surprise some of you to hear that regardless of talent level, most college and professional players are essentially sick of baseball by the time the last few weeks of the season roll around (assuming they aren’t in a playoff scenario). You never want a player to burn out on baseball, so college players need to ask themselves whether they’d rather be on buses in the middle of nowhere in mid-July with their arms dragging, or at home with their families and friends, training and possibly even pursuing an internship. What seems like a great idea in May often winds up being a miserable reality two months later. It all depends on the player and his frame of reference.
Increasing Your Options
In their book, Decisive, authors Chip and Dan Heath discuss how we often make bad decisions because we try to turn each one we encounter into “this OR that.” Instead, they argue, we should be trying to determine how to have “this AND that.” I think this same logic can be applied to summer baseball.
Coaches and players can dramatically improve the likelihood of a summer ball experience being productive by making players are placed on teams where they can thrive. There needs to be good coaching and access to gyms to keep training during the summer season. And, they need to monitor innings and pitch counts, and educate players on staying out of trouble and on task. Showing up in the fall unprepared is not an option. And, just as importantly, it may mean these players need to start a bit more slowly with fall ball after taking the month of August off from throwing.
Players can also play a portion of the season, or opt to find a league where they might only pitch 3-4 innings once a week. The rest of the week can be planned around training to prepare for the fall season. This is a very popular option among those players who have moved to Massachusetts to train at Cressey Performance during the summer, as the Boston area has a lot of summer baseball leagues in which pitchers can get innings. The days are free for training, and all the games are at night; it’s a great developmental set-up.
Players might also opt to simply take the summer off altogether, giving themselves two months off from late May or early June (depending on post-season play) through the middle of August. They’d then start a throwing program to be ready for the start of fall ball, effectively making their “throwing year” September-May/June. The summer months would effectively be an off-season devoted to strength and conditioning that would prepare them for the 8-10 months of throwing that would follow. This option affords two significant, but often overlooked benefits:
a. The overwhelming majority of throwing would be done with the college pitching coach, so players wouldn’t be as likely to learn bad habits in the summer while on their own.
b. The most intensive strength and conditioning work would take place when a pitcher isn’t throwing. This would ensure that mobility, rotator cuff strength, and scapular control would improve as fast as possible. Improving in these three regards is generally always going to be at odds with throwing.
This final option seems to have some statistical backing, too. Of the college first round draft picks (including supplemental rounds) from 2010-2012, only 68% (50/73) played summer ball (typically Cape Cod League or Team USA) in the previous summer.* And, I suspect that we may have even had some players who would have been first rounders, but slipped in the draft after an injury that may have been exacerbated during summer ball. Conversely, I’m sure there are guys (particularly hitters) who helped their draft stocks by playing summer ball the year before they were draft eligible, as well as ones who benefited greatly from playing in previous years. There is no one right way to approach the decision, and deciding to play likely affords greater benefits to hitters than pitchers.
We really don’t know the answers, but these numbers certainly lead us to wondering if we’ve been asking the right questions. The big one is clearly, “If you’re already throwing from September through June, is there really much to gain from continuing to throw in July and August?” When I hear it phrased that way, the answer is a big fat “NO,” but I also realize that not all throwing during that September-June window is created equal.
Managing the college pitcher is one of the more challenging responsibilities in the baseball world, as the competitive season is a series of hills and valleys in the life of a student athlete. Additionally, there are numerous NCAA regulations and traditions to keep in mind. As examples, Cape Cod League Baseball might be the single-best example of what baseball really should be like, and many players have always dreamed of playing for Team USA in the summertime. So, we have decisions that must be made on not just physiological factors, but also emotional ones as well.
The truth is that I’ve seen players make dramatic improvements via each of these three proposed avenues, and I’ve seen them select these courses of actions based on a number of factors, from burnout, to injuries, to family issues, to academic endeavors.
This article proposed some answers, but more importantly, I hope it introduced some questions that need to be asked to arrive at the right answers for each player.
*A big thanks to CP intern Rob Sutton for helping to pull together these numbers for me
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Written on April 24, 2013 at 7:20 am, by Eric Cressey
Just wanted to offer a quick heads-up that we just updated the website for Cressey Performance. If you’re interested in checking it out, you can do so HERE.
We’d love to hear your feedback; thanks!
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Written on April 8, 2013 at 7:12 am, by Eric Cressey
In today’s guest video blog, Cressey Performance Pitching Coordinator Matt Blake talks about stride foot alignment and its effect on the pitching delivery. Matt is an important contributor on the Elite Baseball Mentorships team, and in this post, he breaks down how Kansas City Royals pitcher Tim Collins’ stride foot alignment changed over the course of the past few years as he dramatically improved his K:BB ratio in the big leagues.
Click here to learn more about Elite Baseball Mentorships; we’d love to have you at one of our future events.
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Written on April 2, 2013 at 5:34 am, by Eric Cressey
Today’s guest post comes from my friend and college, physical therapist Eric Schoenberg. Eric is an integral part of our Elite Baseball Mentorships, and will be contributing more and more regularly here to outline some of the topics we’ll cover in these mentorships.
As this great article from Tom Verducci at Sports Illustrated pointed out a few years ago, injuries cost MLB clubs $500 million dollars (an average of $16+ million/team) in 2011. In addition, over 50% of starting pitchers in MLB will go on the disabled list each year. Although there are many factors that contribute to these staggering numbers, an overwhelming majority of these injuries are due to five simple words:
“You Get What You Train.”
This saying was made popular by the great physical therapist Shirley Sahrmann in her work at Washington University in St. Louis. This premise (in baseball terms) covers almost every issue that we encounter in the areas of injury prevention and performance enhancement. Here are some examples to illustrate the point:
This point is illustrated in the videos below. In the first video, the only instruction given to the athlete was to hold the top of a pushup on the elevated surface. As you can see, there is clear dyskinesia in the scapulae which if repeated without correction would result in reinforcement of the faulty movement pattern. Without actually seeing the shoulder blades (shirt off) or at the least putting your hands on the athlete, this faulty pattern is missed and the athlete will get worse.
In the next video, the athlete is instructed to get into the same position, however the athlete is cued to “engage the shoulder blade muscles and don’t let the shoulder blades come off your ribcage”. This simple cue can be coupled with some manual correction to activate the proper muscles to achieve a proper movement pattern.
In summary, both of these videos can be called a “pushup hold” or “elevated plank,” but only one achieves the desired movement and activation pattern.
This concept of “you get what you train” becomes a bigger problem when you realize that baseball players rarely play for the same coach or in the same “system” for more than a year or two (different leagues/levels, coaching changes, etc.). In addition, it takes a while before faulty movements and overuse reach the threshold where an athlete becomes symptomatic. As a result, there is no direct cause and effect and no “blame” to assign. A coach that overuses a kid in his 13 year-old season is never identified to be the actual cause of that same kid’s UCL tear in his 16 year-old season. This lack of accountability is a huge factor in the injury epidemic across all levels of baseball.
The goal of the Elite Baseball Mentorships is to bring together leaders in the baseball and medical communities in an effort to be proactive and share ideas to help improve the overall health of the game of baseball and its players. We’d love it if you’d join us for one of these events; please visit www.EliteBaseballMentorships.com for more information.
Written on March 29, 2013 at 7:53 am, by Eric Cressey
As many of you know, my colleagues Matt Blake, Eric Schoenberg, and I introduced our Elite Baseball Mentorships program back in the fall, and the first phase 1 event in early January was a big success. Attendees included strength and conditioning coaches, baseball coaches, physical therapists, athletic trainers, massage therapists, and chiropractors – and the feedback was fantastic.
With that in mind, today, I’m excited to announce the debut of our mentorships website, www.EliteBaseballMentorships.com.
On this page, you’ll be able to find information on the agendas and dates for upcoming courses, see testimonials from previous attendees, and register to take part in the fun. Our next two events will be June 23-25 (Phase 1) and August 18-20 (Phase 2).
As a participant, you’ll attend lectures, review case studies, observe training, and interact with hundreds of high school, college, and professional baseball players. We feel strongly that these events provide the premier baseball education experience in the industry, and we’d love an opportunity to show you why.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be featuring some guest blogs from CP pitching coordinator Matt Blake and physical therapist Eric Schoenberg to complement my own writing so that you can get a feel for how this provides a unique, multi-disciplinary educational opportunity. In the meantime, be sure to check out www.EliteBaseballMentorships.com to learn more and sign up, as we expect these to sell out quickly.
All the Best,
Written on March 16, 2013 at 6:25 am, by Eric Cressey
Today, my good friend Joey Wolfe has a great guest post on the topic of training baseball catchers. Joey’s a really bright guy with a lot of experience on this front; I think you’ll enjoy this. – EC
One of the biggest challenges for young players is being able to make adjustments to their swing, throwing mechanics, running mechanics, etc. Sometimes mental barriers get in the way of making the adjustment, yet often times it is a physical limitation; more specifically a mobility, stability or sequencing issue. As a coach it can be very frustrating trying to get a player to make an adjustment to their mechanics that their body is simply unable to make. A good coach will try to figure out another way to communicate the adjustment to the player. A great coach will figure out where the problem lies. This is where the strength & conditioning coaches come in. Although most of us may not know what it means to beat the ball to the spot, all of us should have a good understanding of how to improve the mobility of our athletes. It is this skill set that will directly affect the performance of our athletes.
The main responsibility of any catcher is to catch the ball. If a catcher cannot consistently catch the ball he will quickly find himself playing in the outfield. A catcher has many responsibilities; handling the pitching staff, calling pitches, receiving, blocking, throwing; the list goes on. In order for a catcher to be successful they must first and foremost be comfortable. Without the proper mobility the catching duties can quickly go from hard to impossible. Here are the three areas that stand out as the limiting factors in regards to mobility for catchers.
1. Limited ankle mobility: It is imperative that a catcher has mobile ankles. Having mobile ankles allows the catcher to comfortably get in a squatting position. With nobody on base (primary stance) a catcher is generally going to sit into a deep, comfortable squat with the ankles slightly everted. Stiff ankles have a tendency to put more stress on the hips. Also, without ankle mobility a catcher’s ankle sway will be limited. Ankle swaying is extremely important for catchers, especially at the lower levels because pitchers tend to lack command of their pitches. Ankle swaying allows the catcher to get their nose and body in front of the ball without moving the receiving arm too much. When there is a lot of movement with the receiving arm the pitch doesn’t look as good from the umpire’s vantage point. Finally, if an ankle is locked up it will limit the catcher’s ability to get in the proper throwing position to deliver the ball to second base. Although the movement may start at the hip, the ankle needs to have the appropriate amount of mobility to allow the ankle to externally rotate so the back foot can get in the correct position. Here are some of our favorite ankle mobility exercises.
Multiplanar Wall Ankle Mobilizations (previously described by EC here)
Ankle Inversion with Band
Sit with the band attached to your inside foot with a pad under calf so heel is off the ground. Use only your ankle, pull toes to stretch the band shin and return to the starting position for prescribed number of repetitions. Do not allow any movement throughout your leg or hip during the exercise. There should be less motion moving your foot out than in. This exercise will work the muscles in your lower leg and challenge the coordination in your ankle.
Ankle Eversion with Band
Sit perpendicular to a band that is attached to the outside of your foot. Place a pad under your calf so the heel is off the ground. Move your ankle away, stretching the band for the prescribed number of repetitions. Do not allow any movement throughout your leg or hip during exercise. There will be less motion moving your foot out than in. Working the muscles in your low leg and challenging the coordination in your ankle.
2. Poor thoracic mobility: It has been pretty well documented that limited shoulder mobility and/or thoracic extension will impede one’s ability to get into the correct squatting position. Well imagine trying to catch an Aroldis Chapman fastball or a Tim Collins curveball if you can’t get down in a comfortable squatting position; not fun! Remember, the key to being a successful catcher is being comfortable. The absence of thoracic mobility is highlighted when a catcher has to get down into their secondary stance (two strikes on the batter and/or a runner on base). What you’ll find is a rounded upper back and shoulders that roll forward. This creates three problems.
First, it makes for a smaller target for the pitcher. Pitchers want a big target to throw to, not a small one. Therefore, generally speaking, it is the catcher’s job to make himself look as big as possible.
Second, it limits the catcher’s ability to receive the ball comfortably from the pitcher. Often times the catcher will feel “locked up” when they are unable to move freely through their t-spine. A low and away curveball from a right-handed pitcher will give them fits and you can forget about a good right-handed two-seam fastball or filthy left-handed slider. Basically any pitches that require the catcher to go get the ball will create challenges for a catcher that is tight in their t-spine.
Third, when a mobility issue is present the lengthened muscles will serve to dissipate the force transfer from the ground and lead to slower feet. This will make it near impossible to do anything quickly. Whether it is going down to block a ball, throw a runner out or back up first base, being tight up top will effect what is going on down below. Here are a few great exercises to help improve mobility in the t-spine.
Thoracic Spine Mobility – Double Tennis Ball
Tape two tennis balls together to for a “peanut” shape. Lie on your back with the balls under your spine just above your lower back and your hands behind your head. Perform 5 crunches. Then raise your arms over your chest and alternately reach over your head for 5 repetitions with each arm. Move the balls up your spine 1 to 2 inches and repeat the crunches and arm reaches. Continue moving the balls up your spine until they are just above your shoulder blades and below the base of your neck. During the crunches, try and “hinge” on the ball rather than rolling over it. Think about keeping your ribs pushed down to the ground during the arm reaches, as if you were getting a deep massage in your mid to upper back.
3. Bad hip mobility: Last, but certainly not least, on the list of mobility restrictions is bad hip mobility. Of the three limitations I have mentioned, this one may be the biggest culprit in young catchers today. Given the number of hours kids spend sitting in class, watching T.V. and playing video games, it comes as no surprise that their hip mobility is negatively affected. We often find that the catchers we work with lack internal rotation (internal rotation deficit), and are short/tight in their hip flexors and adductors.
Two of our favorite stretches to address an internal rotation deficit are the knee-to-knee stretch and the supine dynamic hip internal rotation stretch. Allowing for more rotation in the hips is going to free the catcher to better perform the ankle sway, which really starts at the head of the femur. That internal hip rotation gives the ankles and the rest of the body a better chance to get in front of the ball when receiving a pitch and also allows the feet to get in the proper position when throwing the ball.
Lying Knee-to-Knee Mobilization
As Eric mentioned a few weeks ago in his epic post 15 Static Stretching Mistakes, the lying knee-to-knee stretch can impose some valgus stress at the knees if it isn’t coached/cued properly. So, instead of thinking of letting the knees fall in, tell the athlete to actively internally rotate the femurs. The stretch should occur at the hips, not the knees.
Supine Dynamic Hip Internal Rotation
When addressing the adductors (groin), we are advocates of doing as much soft tissue work as one can stand. It’s not easy to get in to all of these areas with a foam roll, so we’ll often we’ll have our clients use a tennis ball or lacrosse ball (if they can handle it). After hammering these areas with some soft tissue work, we’ll have our catchers do a few lengthening exercises. A couple of our favorites are the Split-Stance Kneeling Adductor Mobs and the Half-Kneeling Hip Stretch. When done right, both of these exercises emphasize the importance of hip mobility while maintaining core stability. Here’s a look at some of these exercises.
Split-Stance Kneeling Adductor Mobs
Half-Kneeling Hip Stretch
Simple and easy way to stretch some of the tightest muscles in the body. Squeeze the glutes of the knee that is on the ground, then push the hips forward. To progress, raise your arms overhead.
Typically, catchers are big guys who – for their size – move free and easy, especially in the aforementioned areas. Being a good catcher is more than just being big and strong. It is about being big and strong while maintaining your mobility and flexibility. Anyone can add size and strength, but if your movement is compromised in the process, then it is almost certain that you will see a decrease in performance. Spend some time doing these mobility exercises before, during (preferable) or after your workouts for the next few weeks and see how much better your body feels. Good luck!
About the Author
Joey Wolfe is the owner and founder of Paradigm Sport, a Santa Cruz based training business that specializes in performance training for athletes. Before his career as a strength & conditioning coach, Joey played baseball professionally in the Toronto Blue Jays organization. He now works with dozens of youth, high school, college and professional baseball baseball players. Joey’s aptitude in the specific skill sets as well as the strength and conditioning aspects of the game provide him with a unique perspective from which to work with his clients on multiple levels. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written on February 6, 2013 at 4:59 am, by Eric Cressey
At Cressey Performance, we manage a ton of baseball players throughout the year. In doing so, we often notice trends – both good and bad – that emerge in the things they start applying on their own. Here are three warm-up mistakes I commonly see players making before they pick up a ball to throw:
Written on February 4, 2013 at 6:10 am, by Eric Cressey
We all know that folks don’t tend to do well in terms of health, movement quality, or performance when they spend their entire lives in the sagittal plane. They aren’t as well prepared for life’s surprises (e.g., slipping on the ice) or life’s challenges (beer league softball fly balls to the gap). They often lack adductor length and have poor hip rotation, and compensate with injurious movement compensation strategies at the knee and lower back. This knowledge gave rise to a central tenet of the functional training era: multi-planar training.
Unfortunately, it’s just just as simple as telling folks to train in all three planes, as there is a progression one must go through to stay healthy while reaping the benefits of these new exercises. I thought I’d outline my start-to-finish progression strategy.
1. Single-leg Exercises
To the naked eye, lunges, split squats, and step-ups are sagittal plane exercises. However, what you have to appreciate is that while you’re training in the sagittal plane, you’re actually doing a lot of stabilization in the frontal and transverse planes. It’s important that you master these drills in the sagittal plane before you start experimenting with strength work in the frontal and transverse planes.
Progressions from basic dumbbell-at-the-side movements would be to raise the center of mass by using barbells or holding weights overhead. You could also wrap a band around the lower thigh and pull the knee into adduction and internal rotation to increase the challenge in the frontal and transverse planes.
2. Alternating Lateral Lunge with Overhead Reach
At the most basic level, you can work unloaded lateral lunge variations into your warm-up. They might be in place, or alternating. As soon as folks can handle them, though, I like to progress to including an overhead reach in order to challenge anterior core stability and raise the center of mass up away from the base of support a bit. This also gives folks a chance to work on their shoulder mobility and scapulohumeral rhythm.
For more variety on the warm-up front, check out the Assess and Correct DVD set; there are over 75 drills in there to take your mobility to a new level.
3. Plate-Loaded Slideboard Lateral Lunge
I like this as a starter progression because the plate out in front serves as a great counterbalance to allow folks to work on their hip hinge. Plus, there isn’t a big deceleration challenge on the leg that’s going through the most abduction range of motion; rather, the load is predominantly on the fixed leg, which is resisting excessive adduction (knee in).
Worthy of note: I never load this beyond 10 pounds, as folks tend to become kyphotic if the counterbalance is too heavy. You’re better off loading with #3…
3. Dumbbell or Kettlebell Goblet Slideboard Lateral Lunge
By keeping the weight closer to the axis of rotation (hips) and minimizing the load the arms have to take on, we can load this up a bit without unfavorable compensations.
4. 1-arm Kettlebell Slideboard Lateral Lunges
This exercise builds on our previous example by adding an element of rotary stability. You’d hold it in the rack position (or go bottoms-up, if you want variety and an increased stability challenge at the shoulder girdle). I’ve tried this with the KB held on both sides, and it’s a trivial difference in terms of the challenge created – so you can just use rotate them for variety.
5. Dumbbell (or Kettlebell) Goblet Lateral Lunge
You can load this sucker up pretty well once you’re good at it. Just be cognizant of not getting too rounded over at the upper back.
6. In-Place Lateral Lunge with Band Overload
This is variation that we’ve just started implementing. The band increases eccentric overload in the frontal (and, to a lesser degree, transverse) plane, effectively pulling you “into” the hip. You have to fight against excessive adduction and internal rotation, and then “get out” of the hip against resistance. This is something every athlete encounters, whether it’s in rotational power development or basic change-of-direction work.
As an added bonus, using a band actually provides an accommodating resistance scenario. Assuming the partner stays in the same position throughout the drill, the tension on the band is lightest when you’re the weakest, and it’s more challenging where you’re stronger.
7. Side Sled Drags
Side sled drags are a great option for integrating some work outside the sagittal plane for folks who either a) aren’t coordinated enough for lateral lunge variations or b) have some knee or hip issues that don’t handle deceleration stress well. As you can see, the exercise is pretty much purely concentric. We’ll usually use it as a third exercise on a lower body strength training day – and as you can see, it can offer some metabolic conditioning benefits as well.
Keep in mind that these are just strength development progressions; we use a different collection of exercises for training power in comparable positions. In our more advanced athletes, these drills will take place toward the end of a lower body training session – after we’ve already trained for strength in the sagittal plane, where we can load folks up better. That said, if an individual is new to lateral lunge variations, you may want to introduce them early on in the strength training session when they’re fresh.
Have some fun with these exercise variations; I think you’ll find them to be challenging in ways you haven’t previously experienced. And, the soreness you’ll experience will be all the proof you need!
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Learn the Exact Flexibility Exercises Used by Cressey Performance Pitchers after they Throw.