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How Visualizing a Bad Performance Can Help an Athlete Avoid One

The fear of failure—and the shame, embarrassment and ridicule that accompanies it—is a major hindrance of fluid, athletic motion and good performance on the field. It’s common wisdom that positive visualization and self-talk will enhance an athlete’s mindset, boosting confidence and outcomes on the field. Though this wisdom is tried, true and effective, it may not address a core problem that plagues ballplayers at all level: fear of failure.

 

The Fear of Failure Will Crush a Ballplayer…If He Lets It

Today was the day—you filled out the recruiting questionnaires, attended the showcases, filmed the videos and emailed the coaches. And today, the recruiting coordinator is in the stands with his radar gun fixed squarely on you.

Holy. Crap.

You’re nervous, your coach is nervous, your Mom, Dad, Grandma and dog are all nervous. It’s the biggest day of your young life. How do you separate yourself from the crushing disappointment you’ll feel if you, well, choke?

As a former pitcher myself, I can tell you for a fact that the thought will run through your head. You’ll be out there on the mound knowing full well:

If I pitch well today, I may get my chance. If I don’t pitch well, I may never get another.

Coaches and athletes alike know that when you try harder…things only get worse.

 

The Best Players Don’t Give a Darn

In the sports world, a revered trait among athletes is to be perceived to not give a darn. Though I’m using the PG version of this sentiment, it rings true—the best athletes rise to the occasion and succeed under pressure because they’re either not afraid to fail, or are completely detached from the idea of failing. Either way, the best players pitch, hit and play like nothing is on the line…even when everything is on the line.

Positivity and confidence-boosting techniques definitely deserve a place at the table, but they may not remove the fear of failure in the same way as the technique outlined by Yamamoto Tsunetomo in the famous 18th century book Hagakure.

 

Why Samurai Regularly Visualized Their Own Death

Hagakure, compiled by author Yamamoto Tsunetomo, is a guide in Bushido, the code of the Samurai warrior. Samurai lived and died by the sword, and as such were subject to intense physical and mental training. Too many American athletes neglect mental training altogether, but they can learn countless lessons from the Samurai code. This passage from Hagakure is especially important:

“Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily. Every day when one’s body and mind are at peace, one should meditate upon being ripped apart by arrows, rifles, spears and swords, being carried away by surging waves, being thrown into the midst of a great fire, being struck by lightning, being shaken to death by a great earthquake, falling from thousand-foot cliffs, dying of disease or committing seppuku at the death of one’s master. And every day without fail one should consider himself as dead”

Yamamoto Tsunetomo

 

Why Is It Good to Meditate on Such Awful Things?

The goal, Tsunetomo explains, is to have experienced death so many times in one’s own head that he becomes immune to it, detached to it, and unconcerned by it.

When a Samurai had imagined his own death enough, he entered battle with a sense that he was already dead. How could he be afraid of his opponent’s sword if he was already dead?

The goal was to obtain a clear mind that allowed the warrior to simply react without fear and thoughts slowing down his sword.

Athletes of all sports report entering the zone, which is this same state of thoughtless action in which they play at their full potential without being slowed down by an anxious, cluttered mind.

 

How Does The Samurai Code Apply to The Ballplayer?

Baseball is clearly not life or death.

However, time spent visualizing the outcomes an athlete fears and struggles with can have a clear, tangible benefit. If a player only spends his mental training reinforcing confidence and positivity, what is he to do when he finds himself on the brink of failure, or when he has failed?

Experience always helps—things are less scary when we’ve been there or done them before. For pitchers who get nervous and fearful with runners on base (a common affliction), visualizing himself giving up those runners and watching those runs score—all the while in the safe, calm, no-consequence environment of his own head—can help him realize that it’s not the end of the world. Failure is a huge part of every sport.

The best athletes learn to shrug their shoulders in defeat, call it a fluke and turn the page. But when athletes take it too hard, get too anxious, and dwell on it too much…they struggle to make in-game adjustments or move on mentally to the next game.

 

How to Do This

Athletes, if you’re mature enough to have read this far, you’re capable of doing this yourself: sit down, close your eyes, get comfortable and imagine yourself in a pressure situation. Then, imagine it all going wrong. Do it over and over, then open your eyes 5, 10 or 20 minutes later.

You’re okay, right? You’re still you. Remind yourself this—the goal is to detach yourself from negative consequences and know for a fact that no matter the outcome, you’ll play another day.

And for parents and coaches, sit down with your athlete(s). Explain to him or her the drill and close your eyes together. Then, when you come to, have a discussion. Explain how negative outcomes will always be there and that we shouldn’t be afraid of them. When we face our fears, we realize that they hold only as much power as we allow them to. And, we give ourselves the best chance to succeed.

 

For The Samurai, They Played For Keeps

For the Samurai warrior, combat was not a game—it was life or death. If a Samurai was afraid of being killed in combat, his swordplay would suffer and he would almost certainly be killed—it became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Mental training is sacrosanct in martial arts, because they know that a fluid, uncluttered mind yields the best performance; the body can react and do what it knows how to do. For this reason, meditation, visualization and mental training is just as vital as physical training.

Modern athletes can use this technique—meditating and visualizing negative consequences—as part of their mental training. It is not necessarily the right practice for everyone, but as athletes and coaches look for an edge in performance, they should give it a try and see how it fits into their mental skills routine.

 

Want to Learn More on The Mental Game From Coach Dan?

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It’s filled with mental strategies for all facets of pitching – holding runners, pitch sequences, confidence, and much more.

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4 Ways to Improve Your Command and Control in the Weight Room

Generally, when players start to struggle with throwing strikes, they’ve been conditioned to modify their mechanics. Many times, this is completely unnecessary.

Anatomy often tells us that in order to fix a “control” issue, strength and stability may need to be addressed before looking deeper into the situation.

Not long ago, I noticed a great tweet from Lantz Wheeler (from the Baseball Think Tank):

 

I found this to be one of the greatest external cues that I could use to get my point across to younger athletes struggling with throwing strikes.

It also prompted me to dive into this article on creating better “control” in the delivery through strength and stability.

But first, we should know the difference between command and control.

 

Command vs. Control

Even though they are similar, they’re not quite the same. These two skills are necessary for any pitcher who wants to elevate their game to the next level. But for today, we’re going to be talking about control. But first what’s the difference?

 

Control

To have control over one’s pitches means that a pitcher is able to throw strikes.

Not just out of the zone swings and misses either, but actual called strikes.

A pitcher needs to exhibit the ability to throw a fastball for a strike at any time during an at-bat, in other words “consistency”.

 

Command

Once a pitcher gains control over their pitches they must then move on to learning command.

Pitchers with good command have the talent to place their pitches anywhere they want within the strike zone. Not only can they just throw strikes, but good strikes.

This is more about how the ball is coming off your hand and how you’re locating the ball. I’ll leave that to our pitching coaches and Rapsodo.

Having better “control” means that your brain does a good job calling on the right muscles at the right time, and that you have the strength to maintain a stable platform to throw from.

So really, when we’re talking about control, we’re talking about becoming more stable, which is basically talking about getting stronger.

This brings us back to Lantz’s comment. When a pitcher lacks the ability (stability) to maintain pelvic position, it’s hard to make an efficient rotation at front foot strike, while still maintaining his driveline to the plate.

The outcome is usually missing high and arm side, in other words a lack of CONTROL.

A lack of strength and stability alters and creates less than optimal movement patterns. This in turn will create inconsistent throwing patterns and problems executing pitches as in throwing strikes (control).

“Don’t take mechanical solutions to athleticism problems. Before tinkering w/ mechanics, make sure a pitcher can jog to the mound w/out tripping.” – Eric Cressey

Many times, a pitching coach will spend hours working on arm slot mechanics when the athlete’s poor hip or core stability is the culprit.

This can lead to a lot of wasted time and frustration from both the player and the coach. Until these issues are fixed both will be banging their heads against the wall.

 

Now, let’s get into how we can create strength and stability in order to drive “control”.

 

Strength and Stability Drive Control

 

Train Single-Leg Strength

This helps create good, consistent ball and socket congruency (femur centered in the hip) at foot strike as well as a strong STABLE platform to throw from. Enter the Split Squat:

  • Build single-leg strength,
  • Improve flexibility in the trailing leg,
  • Improve stability and control through the hip, knee and ankle, etc.

 

Improve Anterior and Rotary Core Strength and Stiffness

Next to the lower half, the core / rib cage positioning is probably the most important part of a pitching delivery.

It is at the center of the body and serves as a platform for the shoulder blades to move on, which in turn, dictates where the hand will be at ball release. It also gives us the stiffness needed to “hold” the upper body in place while the lower half starts to rotate.

I mean many young athletes can barely perform a plank correctly, let alone try to stabilize their core, while throwing a baseball as hard as they can.

Working on some good anterior core strength can be just what the doctor ordered. Oh yea, let’s throw in some serratus work while we’re at it to work on upward rotation as well.

(TRX Forearm Flutters)

 

Make Sure Your Program Includes Rotational Movements and Anti-Rotation Movements

Being able to control when your body rotates or preventing itself from rotating when it shouldn’t (think rolling an ankle or tweaking a knee), is a key part of ensuring you have good control and stability throughout your body.

An example of a rotational movement would be a wide stance cable rotation. An anti-rotation movement would be core stability at stride length.

(Core Stab at Stride Length)

 

Rotator Cuff Strength and Firing Time

The cuff has to be strong and timed up to center the humeral head (ball) on the glenoid fossa (socket) while the arm is accelerating.

Perturbations work great to help teach the smaller stabilizers to fire quicker and more efficiently rather than using the bigger prime movers such as the lat and deltoid.

Firing time of the cuff is just as important as cuff strength in regard to injury prevention.

 

(1/2 Kneeling Band Stabilizations)

 

Our goal here at RPP is to make sure movement quality and strength has been optimized to get improvements before even considering touching your mechanics.

But as always, every pitcher is different. Determine what the needs are first, and then prescribe the correct training effect from there.

See ya’ in the gym…

The Three Hardest Challenges of Tommy John Rehab

My elbow hurts a lot.

My arm feels really tight.

I feel great!

It was really sore the next day.

I had nothing on it – no movement and no velocity.

It started off good, then it started to hurt.

The ball was really coming out well, no pain at all!

It just feels…dead.

If you’re a pitcher who’s gone through Tommy John surgery, you’ve probably uttered all the statements above. If you’re a rehab professional, coach or parent, you’ve probably heard them too as the pitcher(s) in your life finished up their latest throwing session.

As a coach who had two Tommy John surgeries, I know that the hardest part of both of my rehabs – and they were both hard for the same reasons – was the randomness with which the arm recovers and the mental toll it takes on you. Today as a coach, I mentor young pitchers through their own recoveries and hear the same difficulties voiced regularly. Today, we’ll discuss the mental challenges of the surgery in its various forms.

 

First: Why The Last Part of Tommy John Recovery Is The Hardest

After about month eight or nine of the recovery the pitcher is capable of doing a lot of new things that make his arm hurt, get sore, and react in new and confusing ways. The player is also pretty much done with the formal, written throwing protocol, so months 9+ end up being up to interpretation, much like one of those make-your-own-adventure books. This is because pitchers in this last phase are:

  • Throwing nearly at or just near full-speed
  • Throwing off-speed stuff again
  • Increasing frequency of bullpens
  • Beginning simulated games against live hitters
  • Getting physically stronger and doing more demanding lifts in the weight room
  • Feeling the pull that they are almost ready

Because of this, the body is getting huge doses of new things ­­– it’s not just soft-tossing grenades anymore, the pitcher is putting the same forces through his arm that tore it in the first place. He’s mixing all his pitches, and curves, sliders and changeups all make the healing ligament react and get sore.

 

 

Workouts in the weight room are crucial to returning him to game shape and warding off future injury, but as strength returns, heavier weights cause the elbow to react and get sore, sometimes painful as well. How does a pitcher balance all these things?

This question raises many, many more questions:

How much should he lift after a hard bullpen that caused a little pain? Should some exercises be omitted, altered, or used with lesser resistance?

Should bullpen pitch count increase? If so, how much?

Should rest between pens begin to decrease? If so, how much?

How much should a pitcher throw in between bullpens?

Is long-toss okay? If so, when?

Are weighted balls appropriate? If so, when?

When can a pitcher return to a game?

When can he pitch on back-to-back days in relief?

His arm hurts a LOT – is that normal? Is it torn again? How long should I wait to throw?

 

The common answer to all the above is this: it depends. It’s a very unsettling answer.

There are a million variables that can’t be addressed in the written throwing protocol. There’s just too much variation and too much throttling up and down to account for it all. The experience is similar for players but also completely and painfully unique.

If the questions above seemed confusing…imagine you’re a 19 year-old kid going through this for the first time – it’s a lot.

 

Challenge #1: Interpreting and Coping with Types of Discomfort

There are four main feelings a pitcher will experience in his recovery:

  • Pain: that sharp, stabbing feeling.
  • Soreness: that dull, burning feeling.
  • Tightness: When the arm feels constricted and doesn’t move like normal, as if the joint is swollen or needs to “pop.”
  • Deadness: a general dull, achy, fatigued feeling in which the arm just…can’t.

Which of these is worse? Pain gets a pitcher’s attention the fastest, but all are unique. Soreness often turns to pain. Tightness turns to any of them and makes throwing very uncomfortable. Deadness is demoralizing.

Some of the best advice I ever received was from Stan Conte, former head ATC of the Los Angeles Dodgers. He basically just reminded me that my arm had holes drilled in it, and that the muscles and ligaments were sliced open before being stitched back together. He explained that it would never be “normal” again, and that weird pain, sensations and unexplainable things would happen. I just had to learn to accept some of that.

When I thought of it that way, I stopped dwelling on slight pain and the little aches and soreness – those were just from my arm being, well, a lot like an old car. Old cars make lots of weird sounds and are a little bumpier, but they still drive just fine.

Pitchers who have had a surgery – any surgery – are never going to feel fresh off the assembly-line again. When they stop believing they have to feel perfect and brand new to pitch, things mentally get a lot better.

 

Challenge #2: Dealing With The Randomness of Pain 

 

What’s extra frustrating about the recovery is that there is little reason why one day is a good day and why another day is a bad day.

Sure, when a player overdoes it or does something new, the arm usually reacts in a negative – but still normal – way. However, lots of times a player will be adequately rested and has set himself up for success in his routine…just to find lots of pain and discomfort that doesn’t add up.

This – unfortunately – is also normal. It’s especially frustrating and worrisome because a player feels helpless to prevent or predict good and bad days. The follow exchange was had between myself and one of my college pitcher clients, who I have been mentoring through the last stages of his rehab in conjunction with his school coaches. It sums this point up perfectly.

 

 

Challenge #3: Expectations That Are Set Too High

Lastly, there’s this idea that every player should be back on the mound, dominating and throwing 2-5mph harder at the 12-month mark. This just isn’t reality for most pitchers. Most pitchers will feel like their old selves again somewhere between the 14 month and 24-month mark. Even when a pitcher is back in games, he often won’t reach his previous level of statistical performance until the second competitive year back…if he does so at all.

I doggy-paddled through my first season back following each surgery, struggling to keep my head above water and not get released by the team. I posted league-average ERAs in both seasons and could not locate my off-speed stuff to save my life. I got by with good velocity and a fierce will to compete. Had I not had both of those things, my career would have ended; I would not have had enough tools to get by in pro baseball.

But in year two following both surgeries, my command of all three pitches improved dramatically, and my velocity went up another tick or two. Year two was much, much better than year one. Year one was hard.

 

Tommy John Surgery: It’s a Long, Hard Road.

A lot of people take for granted just how hard it is to return from Tommy John Surgery; it’s not a guarantee for any pitcher, and the mental toll is often greater than the physical. The uncertainty, randomness, pain and daily grind will challenge even the toughest of athletes. The big challenge is staying the course and trusting that tomorrow will be better…even when today wasn’t.

 

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Top 4 Exercises to Help Generate Front Leg Power in Throwers

In this blog post, I am going to focus on the lead leg when throwing. While arm path and direction are definitely something to not ignore, the lead leg plays a very important role when throwing a baseball, especially pitching.

 

Why the Front Leg is Important

Think of the front leg as a means of transferring momentum as energy gets built up. This allows for an optimal transfer of energy into the upper body through the throwing process.

The top pitchers in baseball often show similar traits and mechanics. While they each have a unique way to their delivery, most tend to hit similar checkpoints, and one of these checkpoints is a great front leg brace.

Without the front leg bracing and assisting in that energy transfer, where could all the force go?

Shoulder? Elbow? Your back?

All that will depend on the athlete, and their individual body makeup and throwing biomechanics.

 

How to Work on the Front Leg

The following exercises are some of my “Go To’s” I have used with MLB, MiLB, NCAA, all the way down to youth levels!

 

1. OVERHEAD MED BALL TOSS

This is a great drill to work on your front leg and knee extending. Watch the videos below to see what not to do, and how to optimally perform the med ball drill with the help of a ramp or wedge. We normally perform 2-4 sets of 3-5 reps on each side.

 

2. STEP UP JUMPS

This is a great drill to work on your front leg power and force. Start on a box around 12-18 inches based on your height. For reference, the athlete in the video is 6’3″ using a 18″ box.

Drive off your front leg to explode as high as you can. Allow your trail leg to perform a knee drive.

This will help to optimize your timing and production.

I personally like to use the gFlight to measure the athletes jump height. Here’s what we found out about this RHP…1. His left leg was measuring about 11-13″ each jump. 2. His right leg was measuring 7-9″ per jump.

So that lets us know there is a imbalance of power and force.

Getting his right leg caught up will only help his plant lead leg when throwing.

We normally perform 2-4 sets of 3-5 reps on each side.

3. FRONT FOOT ELEVATED LUNGE

This is a great drill to work on your front leg power and force.

Standing on an elevated plate or riser allows the athlete to get near parallel or slightly below parallel in the lunge pattern. The more weight, the more force you must produce to perform the exercise. I typically program 3-5 sets of 4-8 reps on each leg.

 

4. DUMBBELL STEP UPS

This is a great drill to work on your front leg power and force. This is a very similar leg extension seen in throwers.

We are now adding a weighted component, which will increase strength and power, and should help with force development.

The more weight, the more force you must produce to perform the exercise. I typically program 3-5 sets of 4-8 reps on each leg.

4 Arm Care Exercises Baseball Players Should Be Doing

 

I had another request from a subscriber to go over some arm care exercises this week. I put together a video below of 4 exercises I consistently use with our throwers during arm care days, or after a throwing session.

Don’t be the person who doesn’t do any arm care. Take it from me…I never did any, and I had Tommy John in High School, then a SLAP Tear in College.

Take the 10 extra minutes to do some arm care!

 

HERE’S WHAT’S IN THE VIDEO:

  1. Forearm Wall Slides are a great shoulder mobility exercise. This exercise works your scap protractors, and your lower traps, which assist in upward rotation. Kind of important if you throw things overhead!

✅Key Cue: Make sure you are not substituting lumbar extension to get overhead. Engage your core to keep your rib cage down.

  1. Quadruped T-Spine Rotations are a great exercise to mobilize your upper back and thoracic spine. Having a mobile T-spine will prevent you from substituting with your lower back to rotate. Throwing a baseball is a violent rotation. Using your lower back will impact your performance and possibly your injury risk.

✅Key Cue: Keep your hips and lower back as still as possible. Follow your elbow with your eyes as you perform left and right rotation.

  1. 3-Point Contact Y Scap Raises help maintain muscular balance. You can make this exercise more difficult by lifting a dumbbell. Just be sure to maintain proper technique.

✅Key Cue: Make sure you don’t lift your arm too high. You should be able to draw a straight line from your hips through your shoulder and arm at the top of the lift.

  1. Stability Overhead Press is a great strength and endurance exercise for the posterior shoulder muscles. As you press overhead, you must stabilize as the band tries to pull you forward.

✅Key Cue: Use a lighter band. Nobody is handing out world records for stability overhead press in the gym!

10 Keys to a Better Long Toss Session for Baseball Pitchers

Note from the Editor-in-Chief: We love long toss at Elite Baseball Performance, especially programs that are smart, individualized, and well structured for the right time of year.  Alan Jaeger has done a lot of great work in this area and has really helped popularize long toss in general.  Dale does a great job discussing some of these concepts and points he uses to get the most out of long toss below.  If you are interested in learning more, we encourage to learn more from Alan’s Thrive on Throwing 2 program and be sure to check out his J-bands for your arm care program.  

 

In baseball, there is no substitute for a well-conditioned and healthy arm. Virtually no baseball specific activity can be done successfully if you have a weak or an injured arm. You can’t make accurate throws if you’re an infielder, you can’t gun down a runner from the outfield, and you certainly can’t pitch well.

I’ll say it again: the bottom line is that a baseball player needs to have a strong, conditioned and healthy arm to play the game. It can be the deciding factor as to whether a player moves on to the next level.

In this article, you’ll learn how to better structure and improve your long toss sessions/

“Your arm is your life line as a player — it can either be an asset or liability. Be proactive — it is one of your five major tools, so treat it that way.”

 

 

When Should a Player Implement a Long Toss Routine?

The primary goal of any throwing program should be to put the arm in the best position possible to be healthy and perform at the highest level. The next priority is to build strength, endurance and accuracy. The most important time to establish a throwing program is during the offseason, for two main reasons:

 

  1. No Interference From Games and Practices

When a player is in the offseason, there are no demands of games or practices giving players the freedom to follow a sound throwing routine. This freedom allows players to throw based on their own personal needs and work on specific mechanics. Also, in the absence of excessive game related throwing, the player will be better able to recover adequately between sessions.

 

  1. Less Wear and Tear From In-Season Throwing

When a player is in season, bullpens and game-related throwing put a tremendous amount of wear and tear on the arm. It has been shown that arm strength, more specifically rotator cuff strength and scapular stabilizer proficiency, actually decreases over the course of the season. Because of this, we don’t want to add any excess stress on the arm during the season.

 

How to Long Toss

A long toss session can be broken into two phases: the stretching-out phase, and the pull-down phase.

 

Stretching-Out Phase

This is the first stage of a long toss session where our goal is to let the arm stretch itself out with a loose arm action. Here we are allowing our arm to throw as far as it wants to throw while keeping throws pain free and effortless. Be aware of keeping sound mechanics.

The goal of this phase is to “stretch out the arm,” creating a greater capacity for arm speed using a longer, looser arm motion. Progressively throw farther and farther until comfortably maxed-out in distance. After peaking in distance, we’ll start the pull-down phase.

 

Pull-Down Phase

After reaching maximum distance during the stretch out phase, we will work back in towards our throwing partner. Because the muscles have been lengthened and the arm has been adequately loosened, we have a greater capacity for the arm to generate speed.

As you come in, you will notice that it will take a great deal of concentration to pull your throws downhill and not sail them over your partner’s head. If you decelerate or ease up on your throw to gain this control, you cannot effectively increase your arm speed.

To pull your throws down to your partner, we will have to accelerate through your release point by taking your maximum effort throw toward your throwing partner. We want to focus on maintaining good balance and creating downward extension through your release point towards your target.

The number of throws during the pull-down phase will vary from player to player. A general rule of thumb is to come in 10 feet at a time with each throw.

Arm speed and endurance comes from the combination of both phases. The additional distance provides the arm with an opportunity to generate more arm speed on longer, looser and well-conditioned muscles. Now that we’re clear on what a long-toss session looks like, let’s discuss some ways to maximize your training effect.

 

Baseball Field

 

10 Tips to Get The Most Out of Your Long Toss Session

  1. Warm up properly using a dynamic warm up.
  2. Always maintain sound throwing mechanics. Don’t let your mechanics degrade by overthrowing.
  3. Keep your throws loose and nearly effortless. You should not be straining to reach your target.
  4. If you max out in the stretching-out phase in terms of distance, don’t worry, just stay at that distance and continue to work there until your arm allows more. Remember, the end point of your throwing distance should still see a nice controlled throwing motion with your normal mechanics.
  5. Remember that the goal of a long toss program is to progressively build arm strength through increasing distance.
  6. Let your arm dictate the number of throws that you perform at each distance. If you feel strong, feel free to throw a few extra, but remember: if at any point you feel sore or fatigued, stop throwing. You should never throw through fatigue and certainly not through soreness.
  7. When returning from max distances to throw from 60 feet, concentrate on finishing through your release and forcing the ball down – it is easy to miss high.
  8. Use a step behind before every throw. It keeps the hips properly closed preventing the arm from flying open too early, especially as you stretch out to longer distances. Add a second crow-hop if necessary to build momentum.
  9. Starting a long toss program early on will help you develop a unique understanding of your arm that will pay big dividends for years to come. Get to know your arm now and put yourself ahead of the competition.
  10. Perform a cool down. Gently stretch and perform a post-throwing mobility routine to help speed up your recovery and maintain muscle tissue quality.

 

Don’t Forget Arm Care & Prehab

Even the strongest arm is vulnerable to serious injury if not properly cared for with functional rotator cuff and scapular stabilization exercises.

By neglecting the importance of a rotator cuff strengthening program and an adequate throwing warm up routine, you are pushing the odds in the favor of injuring yourself at some point.

Elite Baseball Performance has a great free arm care program designed to build your base strength.

 

Use These 10 Tips to Improve Your Arm Strength & Health

Without the opportunity to long toss, the arm won’t gain the strength, length, and endurance it needs. Following a quality arm care and long toss regimen will pay dividends in the long-run. Use the guidelines in this article to have better long toss sessions and build arm strength for years to come.

Quick Tips to Never Hang a Curveball Again

You’ve got the hitter 0-1 after a sharp first-pitch fastball for a strike. You then break off a nasty 1/7 curveball, and he swings and misses. The hitter is on the ropes and took an ugly swing, so the catcher calls again for the curveball. You nod in agreement, rock, kick and deliver….

…a big, fat hanger.

He blasts it into the gap, and you don’t know what went wrong. The last curveball was a hammer – hard and straight until the last second, at which point it dropped off the table and embarrassed the guy with the bat. But in trying to make the next one even better, you tensed up, tried too hard, and hung it.

This is an all-too-common scenario, especially for young pitchers.

 

How to Fix Your Curveball During a Game

Some days, a pitcher just doesn’t have it. But no matter how good – or bad – a pitcher’s stuff is on a given day, he has to battle to find, and right the ship before it’s too late. Most days, a pitcher will take the mound with his B or C-grade stuff, and he’ll have to battle and adjust to eek out a win.

Pitching is a game of adjustments. Remember – mechanics are half the battle, and pitchers need to keep a clear mind to let the body do what it knows how to do. Too often, pitchers struggle to locate off-speed pitches because they’re too anxious and nervous about falling behind in the count, failing to execute, or giving up hits.

Relax, pick your spot and execute. Check out the video below for quick adjustments that can be used immediately on the mound!

 

 

How to Throw a Hammer Curveball

If you liked this video, be sure to download my free eBook, How to Throw a Hammer Curveball. You’ll also get access to my entire VIP library of pitching eBooks, courses, videos and weekly updates.

 

How to Use the Weight Room for Baseball Pitching Mechanical Issues

I truly believe that for those athletes that can do certain basic things properly the sky is the limit. However, the reality is that the underlying foundation that enables pitchers to do these “basic things” is great strength and mobility (in other words a good movement strategy).

Let me first start by saying this: there is no pitching coach on the planet that can get a pitcher into a desired position if the athlete does not physically have the strength or mobility to get into that position. Period.

Case in point, Cleveland Indians pitcher Robbie Aviles came to me a couple of years ago after a long season, presenting with a lack of Internal Rotation (IR) in his lead leg and a limited ability to engage his core. This side-by-side video demonstrates what his squat looked like at his assessment (left) and one hour later, after some intensive training focusing on strength and mobility.

(Robbie Aviles – Before and After)

 

Which pitcher (before or after) do you think will be capable of throwing more gas and for a longer period of time?

After cleaning up Robbie’s hip IR, his anterior tilt and making him aware of what great core control is all about.

It’s really all about being more mobile and stronger and being able to physically get into positions you need to get into to be successful on the mound.

In keeping with our concept of the Closed Loop, where your pitching coach and strength coach work in sync to achieve a result, I thought it would be appropriate to give some insight into how we help fix some of the issues that we observe on the mound from a strength and mobility standpoint (i.e. the weight room).

 

Maintaining a Healthy, Clean Arm Action

The words “stress free and clean” are the key words here. The bottom line is clearing pathways from a mobility standpoint, or creating stability by increasing strength, allows the body to take the path of least resistance.

This in turn takes stress off the muscles and joints that are trying to do the job all by themselves.

A great example is strengthening the core to give the arm a more stable base of support to throw from.

Here’s a great exercise to strengthen the core while the arm goes into the overhead position.

 

Shoulder to Hip Separation

We need thoracic spine (upper back) rotation to achieve a great pre-stretch in the hips/core in order to help create good hip-shoulder separation.

Successfully creating a great pre-stretch in the upper half while transferring force up the chain and into the arm, requires great core strength as well.

This core strength also gives us the stiffness needed to “hold” the upper body in place when the lower half starts to rotate, helping to create valuable torque when the upper body finally does start to unwind.

Once again, you can’t coach bodies into a position they’re not strong enough to get into or maintain.

 

Balance and Alignment

Achieving proper weight exchange at the appropriate time requires a strong lower half to be able to apply this strength in a specific manner.

Teaching this is possible, but only if the back leg and glutes are strong enough to maintain body weight and force into the ground on one leg while moving down an incline. Here’s a great one to get it done:

 

Another way to effectively transfer bodyweight, while maintaining great balance, is to have great core strength.

This first exercise is different than the one mentioned in #1 above due to the fact that it uses the core to dynamically transfer body weight and power from the lower half to the upper half in the frontal and transverse planes.

 

Timing and Rhythm

For pitchers, timing and rhythm is everything. If your throwing arm isn’t where it’s supposed to be when your front foot lands, you’re working against your body and your arm is playing catch-up.

This final point is a great example of how a mechanical problem in one area (in this case late arm action), could be caused by a mobility issue in a completely different side and/or part of the body.

For example, a lead hip that closes off early due to a lack of stability (strength) and/or internal rotation (mobility) could cause the arm to fly open early, helping to contribute to that late arm action as well as creating a “bang” on the anterior shoulder.

Here are two exercises that work on both strength and mobility:

 

 

Too often pitchers fail, not because they don’t train hard enough on the mound, but because they can’t physically do what is being asked of them.

I want to close by saying that a great throwing program MUST include input and development from both sides of the net. Only then can you ensure that you are giving it your all.

Remember:

 

You absolutely need both.

See ya’ in the gym…

5 Rotational Power Exercises for Baseball Performance

A strengthening program for baseball that doesn’t include rotational movements and “controlled rotation” is simply incomplete. Like the pitcher that throws 100 mph but has no idea where the ball is going, neither one is very effective.

Many of the primary activities in baseball consist of some amount of rotation in a powerful manner. Training should closely mimic the movements and energy systems utilized during the game.

Being able to rotate, and create powerful rotation is a must for baseball performance.

Try throwing a baseball with any force without rotation in your trunk. Have you ever hit a baseball out of the infield with just your arms and no trunk rotation?

 

Have you ever attempted to steal second without turning and driving your body in that direction? Not only would you look silly, but you’d be out! Get the point?

Baseball is a rotational sport. We must train that way!

Baseball players should train to generate force from the ground to fingertips in a rotational movement plane. Two areas that are largely responsible for controlled rotational power are the hips and the core.

 

The Hips and Core

When looked at more closely, the true function of the hips in baseball (and most other sports for that matter) is to stabilize the core from below and produce powerful but controlled rotation of the lower body on the upper body.

The role of the core is to control rotation and streamline the power generated below to the upper body. With most of this power coming from the explosive, rotational unloading of the hips, the teamwork between these two areas becomes obvious.

Now that we understand that importance of rotational hip and core strength and how they relate to the mechanics of pitching and hitting, what should you be doing about it?

Try incorporating a variety of controlled rotational exercises and conditioning drills focusing on maximizing hip and core strength and coordination.

 

Focusing on these areas during our training can help any baseball player develop rotational power that translates directly to the baseball diamond.

The game of baseball requires short bursts of speed and power followed by long periods of rest. Because of this, your exercise programming should include adequate rest periods of 1 minute or greater.

Adding the following exercises to your lower body/core training will most likely awaken the muscles you never knew you had. Now you realize the importance that strengthening them can have on every aspect of your game!

 

Rotational Exercises

Here are five simple exercises that will help you develop rotational strength and power. Try them out during your next training session.

 

Back Leg-Loaded Medicine Ball Throw

 

Side to Side Medicine Ball Slam

 

Single Leg Rotational Medicine Ball Slam

 

Rotational Landmine Press

 

Rotational Cable Push-Pull

Should Baseball Pitchers Use Long Distance Running for Conditioning?

We figured it out years ago, and it was a good thing we did: Conditioning for pitchers needed to change. Strength coaches declared Sprinting is the way! Down with distance running! All of a sudden, gone were the days of jogging mile after mile, pole after pole.

But, is this the only way? Is every other type of running “making us slow?” As both a veteran pro pitcher and strength coach, I say no. We strength coaches have been making impractical, dogmatic recommendations that need to improve.

 

Good Advice Gone Too Far?

Strength coaches meant well when we banned distance running: sprinting better suits the needs of a baseball pitcher by training them to be more explosive. A pitcher isn’t continuously moving for seven to nine innings with an elevated heart rate like that of a distance runner. Rather, he explodes; gathers; repeats. He is most like a cheetah, going full-speed or lying in wait with little in between.

But as leaders in the industry, we should worry about how others interpret our information. What started out as a smart new way to condition pitchers has become a source of dogma, confusion, and, in many cases, a new problem. I heard again recently, from a coach I greatly respect:

 

Pitchers should only do sprints. I’d never have them run anything longer than 60 or 100 yards; any more than that makes them slow.

 

The advice might be sound, but it’s not one bit practical.

This is also a case where any finger I point comes right back at me. I’ve written this same statement in previous articles, expressed the same sentiment to coaches and players over the years. I embraced the never run distance mentality in college and tried implementing it during much of my pro career. “No distance for me,” I declared! A year or two in, I stopped flying that flag in favor of the everything in moderation flag. 

 

The Problem: A Program is Only Good If People Follow it

The problem here lies in the real-world practicality and application of a sprinting-only conditioning regimen. I’m a firm believer that any training program is only as good as its:

  • Practical application – is it realistic given the resources and the environment a person lives in?
  • Realistic expectations – would most players actually be motivated to do it? Or is it too hard?
  • Viability in both the short and long term – will this just burn a player out, cause injury or put him further off-track later on? Can it work for years to come?

I lived on both sides of the fence, both as a full-time strength coach and as a pro pitcher who spent multiple seasons as both a reliever and starter. I killed myself with strength in conditioning in college, and now have perspective on what striking a balance feels like.

 

 

I’ve watched former Major Leaguers conduct their pre-game routines, and helped rookie players build theirs. I know what it feels like to do pre-game sprints at 3:00 pm, in 95-degree heat, before game #118 in late August. Programming workouts for tired, beaten-down ballplayers is not as straightforward as it is sometimes professed to be.

Here’s what your players are thinking when you tell them that sprinting is the only thing that’s good for them…

 

#1. If Sprinting Is My Only Option, And I Don’t Have the Energy Today…What Else Do I Do?

If running slowly will make a player worse, and he’s too tired, hurting, or unmotivated to sprint, then he may just pack it in and not do any conditioning. Is that what we want?

I personally don’t believe that doing nothing is better than doing something. Is a 10-minute jog on a day when I’m exhausted really that bad for me? Especially if I don’t have the energy in my legs to legitimately sprint?

 

#2. Our “Sprints” Are Actually Hard Jogs – Is That Still Worthwhile?

If you haven’t watched players sprint in pre-game – at any level – then you need to. 90% of them perform a half-hearted effort that is five hard steps followed by coasting. Most “sprints” are merely hard, short runs.

If a coach prescribes six 60yd sprints, he’ll get a 360yard hard jog…which is useless.

 

#3. Sprinting is Hard and It’s Very Hot Outside. Are You Sure It’s Good For My Longevity?

I think coaches sometimes forget. A 90% sprint won’t build the power and explosiveness that we intend. So if a player bears down and truly gives 100%, the time, does my likelihood of injury increase? They still have baseball to play, after all. 

You want me to run only sprints in the months of June, July and August? In pre-game when it’s 95 degrees for three straight months and I have a game every night?

My knees hurt, my Achilles tendons are swollen. I wear cleats for 4 hours a day. Is sprinting really the best thing for me? What if I can only go 70% without pain? Is sprinting all the time good for my longevity? Will I start breaking down earlier?

A reasonable volume of sprints for a relief pitcher is 200-300 total yards per day. It’s a little longer than that on the sprint days for starters. 200-300 yards breaks down into four 40s and two 60s, or seven 40s. If you run those hard, it takes a lot of out of you when you’re on your feet all day, pitching at night with two days off per month as a pro.

And it’s not better as a college player. They have practice on non-game days. They walk to class.

Or as a high schooler. They play other sports and have practice for all of them. They don’t get enough sleep or eat enough.

 

#4. We Don’t Build Good Conditioning With the Amount of Sprints We’re Often Capable of Doing.

Personally, I pitched better when I was in good cardiovascular shape. I felt stronger on really hot days and my body reacted in a more positive manner to in-game stresses like pressure situations. Good conditioning allowed me to feel stronger and more in control when I was under fire.

And, I knew that I couldn’t get enough volume in sprints to both stay sane, stay healthy, AND get into good shape – it’d take too much sprinting to build the cardiovascular endurance I wanted, and my knees sometimes start barking at me late in the year.

 

#5. We Don’t Lose Our Velocity or Ability Because of a Few Lousy Jogs.

During my playing career, I jogged or ran longer distances 1-2 times per week in the offseason and in-season. Nothing changed, except it allowed me to stay in better shape, burn more calorie and keep my bad weight down, and gave me something to do when I was too tired for more of those horrible sprints.

What’s wrong with moderation? Certainly a jog or longer set of intervals once or twice per week won’t ruin me.

Does anyone have an example of when a player showed some measurable decrease in velocity because he ran distances longer than 60yards a few times per week? If it’s as ruinous as we all claim, there should be casualties.

 

#6. Longer Distances Have Value In Other Ways

400 meter sprints are maybe the hardest thing I did as a player. In the last 150 meters, your body starts flailing because of how tired your legs, core, upper back, and lungs get. You try – often in vain – to not trip over your feet. You feel your core legitimately give out; a jellyfish-like feeling ensues as your limbs feel out of control.

Is this not the same phenomenon we try to prevent in the 7th inning of a start? Pitchers get tired – in their legs, their arms and their core – and they try to hold their mechanics together. I think 400 meter runs do a darn good job providing functional conditioning: giving a pitcher the mental and physical conditioning to keep themselves together and make good pitches late in the game.

 

#7. Isn’t Everyone Different? What About Individuality?

Most good strength coaches are champions of individuality, constantly reiterating that we should place all our clients into the same category, program, etc. But with conditioning recommendations, it’s pretty much one-size-fits-all. Why is there a disconnect?

I totally understand that though unique, we are all united with standards – yes, all baseball players need explosive training, no matter who we are. But, we are also all wired a little differently; can you really say that jogging hurts me, even when I say that my body feels better, I think I pitch better, and it keeps me in good cardiovascular shape?

Talk to pitchers. Some say that they thrive on a little (or a lot) of distance running. Sure, maybe they don’t know that they’d be better if they changed their ways. Or, maybe they’ve found what works for them.

 

Where We Go From Here

I think most strength coaches would agree that 75% effort sprints aren’t the way to more explosive pitchers. But, in years of observing my peers in pro baseball, 75% is the average effort level with which pitchers perform their sprints.

I think it’s safe to say that if you’re prescribing sprints, your players will give you 75% effort sprints on most days. Do your recommendations change, knowing that? Why not run 75% effort for longer distances, to let them burn more calories and challenge their heart and lungs?

Or, we can dial it back, be less dogmatic, and allow more diverse conditioning choices so that when players are told to sprint, they actually feel able to give it a true 100%. We need to admit to ourselves that some longer distance runs aren’t leading to any measurable decline in the velocity or ability of pitchers who do them.

A vast number of players jog as part of their routines and it can’t be killing all of them. Could they be made a little better by sprinting more? Maybe. But, the common sprinting prescription is akin to a doctor telling a diabetic patient to eat nothing but vegetables. Sure – great advice for his long term health!  But, it’ll never happen. Such unrealistic advice just shows that the doctor isn’t in tune with how to help his patients improve their habits. A strategy that shows a balance of best-case scenario and realistic expectations is best.

 

Creating a Balance Conditioning Plan

We should be looking to advocate for balanced conditioning plans, ones that better address the following:

  • Reasonable demands of mental and physical energy
  • Accumulated fatigue over a long season
  • Environmental demands such as the oppressive late-summer heat
  • Individual differences in what makes a player feel prepared
  • Starter versus reliever
  • Body composition, prior injury history
  • The desire to keep pre-game routines motivating and challenging
  • Many athletes don’t have access to joint-saving cardio machines like bikes or ellipticals that can still allow for a decent workout with reduced stress

 

Preparation is Key

Finding balance in training programs is as difficult in baseball as in any other sport – there are so many unique demands and the season is so long. But, if we marry practical advice with sound methodology and exercise choices, then we can better prepare ballplayers to both get better and stay healthy for the long term.