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Written on February 22, 2012 at 8:06 am, by Eric Cressey
In part 1 of this series, I touched on some of the mechanical factors one must consider in relation to increasing stride length in pitchers. Then, in part 2, I got discussed physical factors – hip mobility and lower-body strength/power – that govern how far you can stride. In wrapping up today with part 3, we’ll work our way up the kinetic chain to discuss three more physical factors that control stride length.
3. Rotary Stability – As I discussed in my recent article at T-Nation, What I Learned in 2011, hip mobility “sticks” better when you have adequate rotary stability, so we’ve been doing more of our core stability exercises in more “extreme” positions of hip mobility.
If you’re going to push the limits of hip abduction, internal, and external rotation range of motion, you need to be sure that you have adequate rotary stability to be stable in these positions in weight-bearing and not destroy the spine. Anybody can just get into these positions in slow speed, but not everyone can control the body precisely with a combination of isometric and eccentric muscle action at the high velocities we see with pitching.
Additionally, many of the big-time long stride guys rely heavily on controlling lumbar spine hyperextension as they ride the back hip down the mound. This is something you’ll see if you watch the deliveries of smaller, athletic guys like Tim Lincecum, Tim Collins, and Trevor Bauer. If they don’t maintain adequate anterior core function, they’ll wind up with extension-based back pain in no time.
4. Thoracic Mobility – Throwing and hitting (and really any rotational challenge like a hockey slapshot or tennis stroke) present a unique challenge to an athlete: the hips and shoulders are temporarily moving in opposite directions. This creates separation, which allows an athlete to store elastic energy and create velocity via the stretch-shortening cycle.
The first issue to consider is that not all separation is created equal. You can create separation with the hips and lower back – and jack up a lumbar spine over time. The goal is to having adequate thoracic spine mobility to ensure that this separation occurs higher up (and engages the upper extremity well).
The second issue is that the more you push the limits of hip mobility, the more you must push the limits of thoracic mobility. We’ve always heard “equal and opposite” when it comes to the throwing arm and glove arm, but the truth is that it probably apply to the lower half and thoracic spine as well. You simply don’t see guys with terrible thoracic mobility getting way down the mound, as that lack of thoracic mobility would cause them to leak forward with the upper body. I covered this in part 1, but the Cliff’s Notes version is that the head doesn’t stay behind the hips long enough, so throwers lose separation.
The third issue is that poor thoracic mobility will really interfere with getting an adequate scap load, so the arm speed will be slower. Throwing with a poorly positioned scapula is like trying to jump out of sand; you just don’t have a firm platform from which to create force.
A very basic thoracic spine mobility drill that would be a “safe” bet for most throwers would be the quadruped extension-rotation.
This drill doesn’t crank the shoulder into excessive external rotation, which may be a problem for the really “loose” arms in the crowd. Progressions for the really stiff pitchers would be the side-lying windmill and side-lying extension-rotation. I also like the yoga plex, a drill I learned from Nick Tumminello, as a means of syncing everything up with a longer stride.
Note: be sure to read this shoulder mobility blog on why not all thoracic spine mobility drills are created equal for throwers!
5. Quick Arm – When I say that you have to have a quick arm to have a long stride, I really just mean that you need some upper body power to make things work. The longer the stride, the quicker your arm must be to catch up in time to create a downward plane and throw strikes.
You simply don’t see guys with long strides competing at high levels unless they have a quick arm that can catch up to the lower body.
When a guy’s arm isn’t quick enough to catch up to his lower half, you see him miss up and arm side.
This type of thrower would be better off shortening up his stride (at least temporarily) and spending more time on good throwing programs to increase arm speed.
This is one reason Justin Verlander is great. If you watch him, he’s not an insanely long stride. Rather, he’s shorter with it, and much stiffer on his landing leg to create an awesome downward plane. Plus, he actually does have a ridiculously quick arm and outstanding secondary stuff. A lot of pitching coaches would try to lengthen his stride – and while this might work, I don’t know about you, but I think overhauling a Cy Young winner’s mechanics is silly.
The “long stride, slow arm” issue is (in my experience) most common in young, lax players who have the joint range-of-motion and just enough stability to get a long stride, but don’t have adequate arm speed to catch up. This is really common in the 14-17 age ranges, and I think it’s one reason why so many of these kids respond incredibly favorably to long toss; it teaches their arms to go faster and keep up with their strides.
Conversely, as you start to deal with 18-year-olds and older (or kids who have grown quickly), you start to see that preparing everything below the arm is arguably more important than arm speed. You don’t pitch in college or professional baseball unless you have a reasonably quick arm, and getting more aggressive with the lower half to stride longer is often exactly what guys need to make the big velocity jump. Likewise, when guys don’t take care of the lower half, but continue on aggressive throwing programs, they often wind up with velocity drops, injuries, or control issues because they’ve lost the separation that made them successful.
While a long stride can certainly be advantageous in the throwing motion, as I’ve shown in this series, forcing it when you don’t have the right physical preparation or mechanical coaching in place can actually hurt an pitcher’s performance and health. Remember that the best changes are subtle ones; in other words, you might increase a stride by six inches over the course of a year, not in a single session.
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Written on February 16, 2012 at 11:18 am, by Eric Cressey
In part 1 of this series, I discussed the fact that – all other factors held constant – increasing stride length will improve pitching velocity. Unfortunately, when you simply tell a pitcher to stride further down the mound, there are usually some unfavorable mechanical consequences that actually hinder pitching velocity. So, be sure to read that piece before continuing on here.
That said, sometimes, physical limitations can make it difficult to acquire a longer stride. To that end, I wanted to use this second installment to begin to outline the top five limiting factors for those looking to get down the mound and throw harder.
1. Hip Mobility
If you’re going to really get down the mound, you need outstanding adductor length on both the lead and trailing legs. That goes without saying. While we outline several options on our Assess and Correct DVD set, the split-stance kneeling adductor mobilization is definitely my favorite, as it improves adductor length in both hip flexion and extension:
Just as important, players need to stop “hanging out” in adduction in sitting and standing. I wrote about this in a bit more detail in my What I Learned in 2010 article (point #3). This is incredibly common in right-handed throwers, in particular. If your resting hip posture looks like this, fix it!
We use a variety of drills from the Postural Restoration Institute to help address the issue, but suffice it to say that you’ll be swimming upstream unless you learn to stop standing/sitting like this!
Additionally, you need adequate length of the trailing leg hip flexors – particularly rectus femoris – to ensure that you don’t cut off hip rotation prematurely. I like the wall hip flexor mobilization for this purpose. Keep in mind that we perform the exercises on both the front and trailing leg, as many pitchers will have substantial knee flexion deficit on the front leg secondary to the stress of landing/deceleration.
Third, you need adequate hip internal and external rotation on both sides. Hip external rotation range-of-motion on the trailing leg is particularly important to allow force to be applied over a longer distance. Additionally, hip internal rotation is key on the front side, as enables a thrower to utilize the lower half more efficiently in deceleration. Those without adequate internal rotation on the front side often cut their arm paths short and miss high with pitches – and put much more stress on their arm because the deceleration “arc” is shorter.
External rotation is best gained through glute activation drills (supine bridges, side-lying clams, x-band walks) in conjunction with simply externally rotating the femur during the split-stance kneeling adductor mobilization I featured earlier. For internal rotation, I like a gentle knee-t0-knee stretch/mobs (assuming no medial knee issues) , and bowler squats as a follow-up to get comfortable with the pattern.
Of course, all these mobility drills must be complemented by quality soft tissue work: foam rolling and, ideally, manual therapy with a qualified practitioner.
So, as you can see, adequate hip mobility for optimizing pitching velocity must take place in a number of planes. Additionally, you need to remember that mobility is always influenced by musculo-tendinous. capsular, ligamentous, and osseous (bony) restrictions, so no two pitchers will be the same in their needs. And, some pitchers simply may not have the bone structures to get into certain positions that are easy for other pitchers to achieve.
2. Lower-Body Strength/Power
You can’t discuss lower-body mobility without appreciating the interaction it has with lower-body strength and power.
You see, mobility is simply your ability to get into a certain position or posture. Flexibility is simply the excursion through which a joint can move. What’s the problem?
Flexibility doesn’t take into account stability. Just because you can get your joints to a certain position in a non-weight-bearing scenario doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to achieve that same position when you’re in a weight-bearing position, trying to throw 95mph as you move downhill. So, I’ll put my point in big, bold letters:
Pitchers need strength to have mobility.
Truth be told, building lower body strength in throwers isn’t tough. You use all the basics – single-leg work, deadlift variations, squat variations (when appropriate), sled work, pull-throughs, glute-ham raise, hip thrusts, glute bridges, etc. – but just work to make sure that they are safe for throwers (e.g., use the front squat grip instead of the back squat grip).
Strength isn’t just a foundation for mobility, though; it’s also a foundation for power. You can’t apply force quickly if you don’t have force! So, once players have an adequate foundation of strength, they can benefit more from rotational medicine ball exercises and plyos in the frontal/transverse planes to learn to better apply force outside the sagittal plane.
Make no mistake about it; having adequate strength/power to push off and rotate aggressively – not to mention decelerate the body on the front leg – is essential to outstanding pitching velocity.
I’ll be back soon with Part 3 of this series. In the meantime, if you’re looking for more hip mobility ideas for baseball players, check out Assess and Correct: Breaking Barriers to Unlock Performance.
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Written on March 29, 2011 at 6:56 am, by Eric Cressey
Just over three years ago, during a period where oblique strains were on the rise in professional baseball and the USA Today profiled this “new” injury, I wrote an article on what I perceived to be the causes of the issue. Check it out: Oblique Strains and Rotational Power.
This year, the topic has come back to the forefront, as players like Joba Chamberlain, Sergio Mitre, Curtis Granderson, and Brian Wilson have experienced the injury this spring training alone.
While my thoughts from the initial article are still very much applicable, I do have some additional thoughts on the matter for 2011:
1. Is anyone surprised that the rise in oblique injuries in baseball is paralleled by the exponential rise in hip injuries and lower back pain? I don’t care whether you work in a factory or play a professional sport; violent, repetitive, and persistently unilateral-dominant rotation (especially if it is uncontrolled) will eventually chew up a hip, low back, or oblique; it’s just a matter of where people break down.
In other words, pro athletes are generating a tremendous amount of power from the hips – moreso, in fact, than they ever have before thanks to the advances in strength training, nutrition, supplementation, and, unfortunately, in some cases, illegal “pharmaceutical interventions.” Assuming mechanics are relative good (as they should be in a professional athlete), rotate a hip faster and you’ll improve bat speed and throwing velocity; it’s that simple. This force production alone is enough to chew up a labrum, irritate a hip capsule, and deliver enough localized eccentric stress to cause a loss in range of motion. The Cliff’s Notes version is that we’ve increased hip strength and power (more on this in a bit), but most folks have overlooked tissue quality (foam rolling, massage, and more focal approaches like Active Release and Graston) and mobility training.
If the hips stiffen up, the lumbar spine will move excessively in all planes of motion – and, in turn, affect the positioning of the thoracic spine. Throw off the thoracic spine, and you’ll negatively impact scapular (and shoulder), respiratory (via the rib cage), and cervical spine. Hips that are strong – but have short or stiff musculature can throw off the whole shebang.
2. “Strong” isn’t a detailed enough description. I think that it goes beyond that, as you have to consider that a big part of this is a discrepancy between concentric and eccentric strength. Concentrically, you have the trailing leg hip generating tremendous rotational power, and eccentrically, you have the lead leg musculature decelerating that rotation.
Moreover, because the front hip can’t be expected to dissipate all that rotational velocity – and because the thoracic spine is rotating from the drive of the upper extremities – you put the muscles acting at the lumbar spine in a situation where they must provide incredible stiffness to resist rotation. It is essentially the opposite of being between a rock and a hard place; they are the rock between two moving parts. Structurally, though, they’re well equipped to handle this responsibility; just look at how the line of pull of each of these muscles (as well as the tendinous inscriptions of the rectus abdominus) runs horizontally to resist rotation. That’s eccentric control.
How do we train it? Definitely not with sit-ups, crunches, or sidebends. The former are too sagittal plane oriented and not particularly functional at all. The latter really doesn’t reflect the stability-oriented nature of our “core.” The bulk of our oblique strain prevention core training program should be movements that resist rotation:
While on the topic, it’s also important to resist lumbar hypextension, as poor anterior core strength can allow the rib cage to flare up (increases the stretch on the most commonly injured area of the obliques: at the attachment to the 11th rib on the non-throwing side) and even interfere with ideal respiratory function (the diaphragm can’t take on its optimal dome shape, so we overuse accessory breathing muscles like pec minor, sternocleidomastoid, scalenes, etc).
So, to recap: I don’t think oblique strains are a new injury epidemic or the result of team doctors just getting better with diagnostics. Rather, I think that we’re talking about a movement dysfunction that has been prevalent for quite some time – but we just happen to have had several of them in a short amount of time that has made the media more alert to the issue. The truth is that if we worried more about “inefficiency” and not pathology,” journalists could have “broken” this story a long time ago.
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Written on October 28, 2010 at 6:06 am, by Eric Cressey
If you’ve had a groin strain (or adductor strain, for the anatomy geeks like me in the crowd) – or would like to prevent one in the first place – read on.
Those of you who check out this website regularly probably already know that I’m a huge advocate of good manual therapy – especially disciplines like Graston and Active Release. One area where we constantly see athletes really “gritty” is the hip adductors (groin muscles) – and it’s one reason why we see so many groin strains in the general population. Note that treatments DON’T have to be this aggressive to yield favorable outcomes; it’s just an extreme example of someone with a pale skin tone that makes it even more prominent:
Soccer and hockey players really overuse the adductors during the kicking motion and skating stride, respectively. And, even outside athletic populations, you’ll see a lot of people who don’t activate the gluteus maximum well as a hip extension – so you have the adductor magnus taking over to help out with this important task. The only problem is that the adductor magnus internally rotates and adducts the hip, whereas the glute max externally rotates and abducts the hip. Movements get altered, one muscle gets overworked and all fibrotic, and the next thing you know you’ve got a nasty “tweak” just south of the frank and beans (or female equivalent).
Really, that’s not the issue, though. Nobody is denying that groin strains occur – but there are different treatment approaches to dealing with this issue on the rehabilitation side of things. Some professionals use manual therapy during their treatments, while others don’t. Can you guess which school of thought gets my backing?
Well, it turns out that the “include manual therapy” side of the argument gets the backing of Weir et al in light of some new research they just published. These researchers found that athletes with groin strains returned to sports 4.5 weeks sooner when they received manual therapy plus stretching and a return to running program as compared to an exercise therapy and return to running program only. It took the average time lost down from 17.3 weeks to 12.8 weeks in those with good long-term outcomes! For a bit more information on the manual therapy discipline utilized in this particular study, check out this abstract.
Need a quick tutorial on how to come back from a groin strain?
1. Find a good physical therapist who does manual therapy.
5. Make sure you’re continuing to foam roll the area and getting the occasional treatment on them with that same manual therapy you had during your rehabilitation. Here’s a great self myofascial release option with the foam roller:
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Written on March 9, 2010 at 12:38 pm, by Eric Cressey
I just got back from speaking at the NSCA Personal Trainers Conference in Las Vegas, so I’m a bit short on content as I play catch-up now that I’m back in Boston. Luckily, Bill Hartman put together an excellent two-part series on femoral anteversion as it relates to hip mobility. Check them out:
Along similar lines, this old video blog of mine might interest you:
Written on November 30, 2009 at 7:13 am, by Eric Cressey
For more mobility exercises, be sure to check out Assess and Correct: Breaking Barriers to Unlock Performance.
Written on November 23, 2009 at 11:07 am, by Eric Cressey
Q: Inspired by your articles on T-Nation, I’ve started to measure IR/ER/Total shoulder rotation deficits using a goniometer. I did have another question, however: you mentioned in an article that Hip Internal Rotation Deficit (HIRD) is a serious problem among baseball pitchers and hitters due to the asymmetrical front leg blocking in both mechanics. I absolutely agree, and I use corrective exercises and stretches to help alleviate these problems. However, I lack a good way to test for this; do you have any suggestions?
A: We check hip internal rotation in the seated position. Basically, you just have the individual sit up tall at the end of a table, and position the hips and knees at 90 degrees. Then, without allowing the hip to hike, you internally rotate the femur. This is one of the many assessments on our new DVD set, Assess and Correct, and it’s featured on page 50 of the tag-along e-manual. Check it out:
For more information on how to correct the problem – and assess for other issues like this, check out www.AssessandCorrect.com.
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