Posts

An Easy Way for Baseball Pitchers to Maintain Mobility: The 2-Out Drill

I have a saying that I always used when I discuss how and why baseball pitchers sustain injuries:

Baseball pitchers get injured when they’re tight or they’re tired.

I know, it’s not that profound of a statement, but I really do think it’s that simple.  We often try to overcomplicate the reason for baseball pitching injuries.  Over the years we have researched this quite a bit and found that:

  1. The act of throwing is stressful on the body
  2. Throwing makes you lose mobility and strength
  3. A loss of mobility or strength is correlated to injuries

I originally published the first study to look at range of motion of the throwing arm before and after pitching.  We were looking to determine what happened to the arm immediately after throwing.

We reported that after throwing a 40-50 pitch bullpen session, that shoulder internal rotation decreased by 10 degrees, shoulder total rotational motion also decreased by 10 degrees, and elbow extension decreased by over 3 degrees.

 

 

What do these 3 motions all have in common?  These are the muscle groups that all eccentrically contract to slow down and decelerate the arm while throwing.

We found that the act of throwing causes an immediate loss of range of motion of both the shoulder and the elbow.  Anecdotally, I have found that this loss of motion can easily be cumulative and result in a steady loss of motion over a season.

However, with a simple mobility routine performed over the course of a season, we reported that we were able to restore and maintain mobility in pitchers, which is one of the primary reasons I believe our pitching injuries were so low and we handled our pitchers so well when I was with the Boston Red Sox.

Since publishing this original research report on loss of mobility from pitching, others have also correlated the loss of mobility to injury rates.  This is why I also have another saying that I often use:

I want you to be “you” every time you pick up a ball.

What I mean by this is, if we know you loose motion from pitching, and we know that this loss of motion is cumulative over the course of the season, and we know that this loss of motion can potentially lead to injuries, then we should do whatever we can to restore and maintain your mobility BEFORE you pick up a ball.

This is why we recommend a good warm-up routine prior to throwing.  I also believe this is why our arm care programs at my facility, Champion PT and Performance, are so successful.  We not only build up the arm strength and dynamic stability in our athletes, we also help restore and maintain their mobility.

The impact is huge.  Players almost immediately notice the difference in how they feel and that it is so much easier to get loose.  We offered a peek into our Arm Care programs at Champion in one of our past episodes of our Champion TV video series:

 

While our arm care programs are effective in managing the baseball pitcher during the season, don’t forget that we have also noted that you lose mobility fairly quickly while pitching, after only 40 pitches.  

You probably lose motion slowly over the course of a game as your pitch count rises.  I am sure any pitcher that plays on a team with a strong offense knows that they feel like they tighten up while on the bench during a long inning while their team puts up a few runs.

So while arm care programs are necessary in season, what if there was something we could do during the game to maintain mobility?

 

The 2-Out Drill

This was the exact question my friends and colleagues Rafael Escamilla and Kyle Yamashiro sought to answer.  Working with the Oakland Athletics, they developed what they called the “2-Out Drill.”  

Essentially what this means is that you should perform the drill between innings, perhaps when your offense records the 2nd out of the inning and your know you’re close to getting back on the mound.

The 2-Out Drill contains a series of mobility, activation, and movement prep drills specific to the act of pitching.  

I wanted to share a video of the 2-Out Drill so you can see it in action.  I have modified the original version slightly based on what I have found to be effective, but here is how I teach people to perform:

 

An Easy Way for Baseball Pitchers to Maintain Mobility

Rafael and Kyle recently published a study in the American Journal of Sports Medicine documenting the effectiveness of the 2-Out Drill.

The reported that after throwing a 40 pitch bullpen, that range of motion was limited, similar to our past study.  However, the group of pitchers that performed the 2-Out Drill were able to restore their mobility back to the pre-pitching levels.

These results are amazing and important.  In talking to Kyle, some of the things that he told me that aren’t in the research study were that the pitchers felt so much better, felt like it was easier to get loose, and felt that they were able to pitch better after performing the drill.  My athletes said the same thing.\

To me, this is a no-brainer.  The 2-Out Drill is quick, simple, and effective at maintaining mobility during the game.  I recommend all baseball pitchers use the 2-Out Drill between innings, but also prior to throwing each day.  It’s also a great way for relievers to get ready in the pen before they starting throwing.

Give the 2-Out Drill a try and let me know how you feel.

 

Want our FREE Arm Care Program?


EBP Reinold Throwers Arm Care ProgramOur mission at EBP is to provide the best and most trustworthy information. That’s why we now are offering Mike Reinold’s recommended arm care protocol for absolutely FREE.  A proper arm care program should be one of the foundations of injury prevention and performance enhancement programs.  The EBP Arm Care program is the perfect program to set the foundation for success that EVERY baseball player should perform.

 

Teaching The Modern Changeup

The changeup is one of the least sensationalized pitch in baseball, but perhaps one of the most important to develop.

This part 3 of a 3 part series on the “modern” change up.  Here in part three, the goal is to explain how pitchers should best use their shiny new changeup, because executing the pitch in a game is ultimately the only thing that matters.  If you haven’t read the previous posts, click below to get started:

  • The Modern Change Up: In part one, we discussed the theory of the changeup, and how a pitcher can reliably remove speed, apply spin, and produce a consistent changeup that sinks, runs, and deceives a hitter.
  • How to Throw a Changeup: In part two, I explained my method of teaching it, with cues for both the coach and the pitcher.

 

It’s Not One Changeup, It’s Four

The biggest thing to understand about the modern changeup is that its action and effect varies depending on where it’s thrown. Let’s talk about five common locations into which it will be thrown. But first, I want to explain the terminology of arm-side versus glove-side, which describes pitch location without needing to know the handedness of the hitter

arm side glove side baseball pitcher

Thrown Glove-side: OK version; flattens out a bit and tends to be a little harder

The pitcher is forced to hold onto the pitch just a little longer to locate it on the glove-side of the plate, which means he can’t roll his hand inward quite as well; this results in a slightly harder changeup with less movement. A pitcher can throw this one, but it makes less sense when other locations will result in better action and deception.

 

Thrown Middle: Good version; will both sink and run, with correct speed differential

Thrown to the middle, it’s easy to pronate in on the pitch to get excellent sink, run and speed change. This was my favorite location to throw it because it would induce swings, and I could just let the pitch rip. Depending on how low in the zone I’d throw it, results would usually be a weak ground ball or swing and miss. The heavy downward action is a major failsafe, and pitchers don’t need to fear throwing it down the middle.

 

Thrown Arm-side: Best version; has the most sink, run and speed differential

The arm-side version is dynamite. Start it on the outer half or outer third, and it will sink below the strike zone on or off the corner of the plate. When a pitcher gets ahead in the count and has this in his arsenal, he can finish opposite-handed hitters off with ease, and bury a changeup down and in to strike out same-side hitters just as well. I punched out plenty of righties with righty-righty changeups; at worse, if they make contact, they’ll hook it foul.

 

Arm-Side Hanger: when a pitcher flies open and gets his hand too much on the side of it.

Pitchers are afraid of hanging changeups, and for good reason – they come in as slow fastballs at the belt, and fly out of the park in a hurry. But, when they learn to pronate their changeup, a good amount of sidespin will be applied even to hangers. The result is that many hanging changeups will “hunt” a same-side hitter. For me as a righty, I would drag occasionally through a changeup and watch as it bore hard into a righty’s hands, basically chasing him as he started his swing; they rarely could much of anything but try to get out of the way. In a sense, applying pronation to the changeup is a failsafe when a pitcher invariably pushes a few each game.

The GIF above is a great example of an arm-side hanging changeup that, if it didn’t have a lot of side-spin, might have lingered in the strike zone. It’s not a good pitch, but it keeps itself out of trouble.

 

Middle Hanger: you’re screwed just like any other “hung” off-speed pitch

When thrown at mid-thigh or above, out on the middle of the plate, speed-differential can’t save a pitcher, as hitters can reset themselves. If two changeups have the same action and speed differential, the one up in the zone will be easier for a hitter to re-adjust to despite being fooled early in the pitch’s flight.

The challenge is learning how to locate the pitch, which is more difficult because of the heavy movement. To throw the modern changeup for strikes, the pitcher needs to learn to use his eyes as a targeting system.

 

Focal Point: Differentiating Starting And Ending Point  

The catcher calls for a four-seamer. You lock your eyes on the mitt, kick and deliver; the pitch flies straight, and you hit you your spot. Next, he calls a changeup. You take your new changeup grip, lock eyes on the mitt then kick and deliver. You miss your spot down and arm-side by eight inches in both directions. What just happened?

Even at high levels, many pitchers don’t understand the concept of the starting point for breaking pitches. The starting and ending point for a slider are different. If a pitcher stares down the mitt and throws his slider for it, he either misses his spot by exactly the amount the slider breaks, or subconsciously starts the pitch at a higher, more lateral location to account for the break. Just like in golf – if you have a slice you can’t fix, just aim a little more to the side so your ball slices into the fairway, as opposed to into the rough. Right? Right.

As pitchers, we need to know our pitch will end up the in place we intend; for that reason, we musts pick a focal point that that represents the starting point on the trajectory that will result in our desired spot.  So, if you throw a 12-6 curveball that breaks exactly eight inches, and you want to throw it at the knee cap, the focal point must be eight inches above the knee cap.

Using focal points to account for break is the only reliable method of controlling breaking pitches, and the modern changeup. Because the changeup you’ve learned in this article series will have a consistent action – typically an equal combination of arm-side run and sink – the pitcher must learn where to start the pitch so it sinks and runs into the catcher’s mitt. Otherwise, every changeup that starts for the catcher’s mitt will sink out of the strike zone, and it will be tough to throw for strikes.

Three Key Steps: 

  1. Learn and develop the pitch until it has consistent, dependable action.
  2. Figure out where you should start the pitch so that its typical action will cause it to hit your desired spot.
  3. Work hard with your eyes – many pitches take their eyes off their target, which makes establishing a strong focal point connection difficult.

 

Throw As Many Changeups As Possible

Even if a pitcher today is striking out the world with just a fastball-slider combination, that will one day run out as he ascends the ranks of baseball. Learning a changeup today is an investment in avoiding that slump in the future, when the level of play catches up to an overachiever. Any new pitch takes at least a year to master, so start now.

The problem, though, is that playing changeup catch with your buddies isn’t, well, fun. Young pitchers like watching their curveball break, slider slide, and their brutal knuckleball occasionally knuckle. No pitcher has ever said, Hey! Let’s see who can throw the most deceptive changeup! Best out of ten!

The changeup will be the pitch that you need to get opposite-handed hitters out in a jam, the pitch you go to when a hitter picks up your breaking ball well, and when you need to induce that double-play ball with the bases loaded. It will be the pitch that makes everything else you throw better.

And, if a pitcher wants any chance at starting in college or pro baseball, a changeup is a requirement. The only guys who don’t throw changeups are select reliever specialists and the hardest-throwing, back-of-the-bullpen type pitchers who see more risk than reward in throwing 90mph changeups when the game is on the line.

 

Take Home

The changeup is evolving, and advanced metrics are showing us that movement and speed-change is superior to speed change alone. Learning a changeup with advanced qualities – more than just speed change– gives a pitcher a chance to be on the leading edge of advances in baseball.

 

The Biggest Mistake Baseball Players Make When Playing Catch

Over my career, I’ve been fortunate to work with a wide variety of baseball players.  I’ve worked with everyone from youth to MLB Cy Young winners, and I’ve also worked with hundreds of healthy and injured baseball players.

I have found that many baseball players make the same mistake when playing catch, and I think this mistake can cause a lot of soreness, decreased performance, and maybe even injury down the road.

But more importantly, I’ve found that most big leaguers do NOT make this mistake and most injured players DO make this mistake.

The Biggest Mistake Baseball Players Make When Playing Catch

The mistake is simply that they start throwing too hard too early.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started a throwing program with someone coming back from an injury and their first few throws are near max effort at my knees from 45 feet!

Throwing a baseball is such a dynamic activity, it’s very stressful on the arm when this happens.  It’s the equivalent of waking up, getting out of bed, and then immediately running sprints.  You’d never do that, you’d maybe stretch out, go for a jog, then start sprinting.

I’ve always used this simple phrase when starting to teach players this concept:

Let distance dictate your intensity.

This is very similar to Alan Jaeger’s concept of stretching out and compressing on the way back in when long tossing, but something I apply to any throwing situation.  The arm needs to get ready for the upcoming demand.

Luckily, this mistake is easy to fix.

Watch my video below to learn how.  I discuss this common mistake and how I teach baseball players to warm up their arm.

EBP Reinold Throwers Arm Care ProgramWant our FREE Arm Care Program?

Our mission at EBP is to provide the best and most trustworthy information. That’s why we now are offering Mike Reinold’s recommended arm care protocol for absolutely FREE.  A proper arm care program should be one of the foundations of injury prevention and performance enhancement programs.  The EBP Arm Care program is the perfect program to set the foundation for success that EVERY baseball player should perform.

Pullover Variations to Improve Overhead Stability in Throwers

When working with overhead athletes, optimal positioning and function of the shoulder complex is vital for sustained performance. Whether you’re a high school outfielder or major league pitcher optimal development and function of the serratus anterior and the deep abdominals are a must for meeting the demands of an overhead sport like baseball. This brings us to the Kettlebell Pullover; this exercise is an underutilized yet effective movement that baseball players can add into their performance and rehabilitation programs.

Why should we use them?

With these exercise variations, we are achieving many things. First, the person will have to stabilize their anterior core while moving their arms in space (AKA proximal stability promoting distal mobility). This allows us to see the person’s ability to reach a full squat both passively (through hip flexion on the floor) as well as actively (reaching a full squat position).

The exercises posted below are challenging the individual to go overhead while maintaining the pelvis and rib cage over one another. This can help achieve proper scapular upward rotation, scapular posterior tilt, and protraction of the scapula.

One of the other benefits is it can be modified to fit the movement ability of each person.  As shown below these exercises follow a developmental sequence of supine to half or tall kneeling to standing.

This is a general progression of positions I may follow with a person who has limited movement experience and needs to better solidify their overhead capabilities.

Kettlebell Pullover Variations for Throwers

Progression 1: Supine

The follow supine exercise can be progressed from bilateral to unilateral, and feet on the ground transitioning to a 90/90 position without wall support.

Supine Kettlebell Pullover

 

Supine Single Arm Kettlebell Pullover

 

Supine Bottoms Up Single Arm Kettlebell Pullover

 

Progression 2: Kneeling

The following exercises progress from half kneeling or tall kneeling, can be performed bilateral or unilateral, and can go from a light band to a light Kettlebell.

Tall Kneeling Bilateral Band Pullover

 

Half Kneeling Single Arm Kettlebell Pullover

 

Progression 3: Standing

Lastly, we can progress to the standing position, with or without the squat. 

Kettlebell Goblet Squat with Heartbeat to Pullover

 

Application to Strength Training

These exercises are beneficial for the overhead athlete in both the warm up and during the workout itself. These exercises teach the client how to keep their pelvis and rib cage aligned, which will then carry over to relearning a more optimal overhead mechanical pattern.

When progressed appropriately it can also be a challenging anterior core exercise because the person has to resist excessive lumbar extension while their arms begin to move overhead.

Application to Rehabilitation

Many times patients come to us with hip and shoulder pains that can be traced back to overuse of the latissimus dorsi and underuse of the deep abdominal muscles, serratus anterior along with an anteriorly tilted pelvis. When we begin to balance out these opposing forces, we then see better outcomes in our patient population.

These exercises are a good starting point to slowly and safely reintroduce the overhead pattern in various non-threatening positions. Many times a patient is highly guarded after experiencing shoulder soreness or an injury. Putting them in these positions allows the therapist to tap into the person’s nervous system and make a positive change towards the patient relearning a more optimal overhead movement sequence.

Finally, it gives us a global view of the person we are working with. Can they do the task we want or do they need an excessive amount of extension strategies to get into the squat position or to get their arms fully overhead?

How to Program

Start with 2-4 sets of 4-6 breaths either in the warm up or as filler in between exercises is a great place to begin implementing this exercise.

  1. Reach your arms long to the ceiling throughout the motion
  2. Inhale to start the motion and exhale as you bring the Kettlebell down towards the floor
  3. Slightly bring your belt buckle towards your chin while maintaining your low back on the floor

How to Throw the Modern Change Up

In part one of this series on the changeup, we discussed the “modern changeup,” a version of the changeup that is typified by heavy sink and run that is thrown by an increasing number of successful Major Leaguers.

Here in part two, I’m going to provide step-by-step instructions to learn, and teach, the pitch that I believe will be the predominant version of the changeup in the future.

Step 1: Explain the Grip, Hand Action, and Theory

Here’s what you need to know:

The Modern Changeup Grip

  •      I teach a “hook ‘em horns” grip – similar to a circle change but with no circle
  •      The key is having the thumb on the bottom of the ball. This is CRUCIAL.
  •      Pressure must be from the thumb to the bottom crease of the middle fingers
  •      Ball is held as loosely as possible with no fingertip pressure

 

The Hand Action

The hand action of the pitch is also different, here is what I focus on:

  •      Slightly early pronation (pouring out a can of soda)
  •      The ball will release off the inner edge of the middle finger
  •      “Paint brush” type finish

The Spin

You should be able to tell a lot about your spin based on the flight of the ball:

  • Correct: diagonal spin that creates one thick, bright red seam spinning at 2-8 orientation for righties, or 10-4 for lefties
  • Flat: it will fly straight and be a little too hard; will look like a two-seam fastball, with parallel “railroad track” seams
  • Cut: the ball will cut (move to the glove side), often with what looks like railroad track spin.

The Speed

In regard to the spin, you are looking for:

  • 10% total speed reduction. For a 60mph pitcher, this means 53-55mph, on average.
  • 5% comes from the grip – if thrown flat, the pitch will be only 5% slower.
  • 5% comes from the hand action. Channeling arm speed over and inward on the ball converts arm speed into spin, which reduces velocity just like a breaking ball.

That’s it. Teach the pitcher how to hold the pitch, what his hand is supposed to do, and how the pitch is supposed to spin.

Now that you understand the basics.  Here is a detailed video explaining even more:

Step 2: Identify Mechanical Flaws That Preclude Good Changeups

Now that you know how to throw the modern changeup, we next need to understand some of the flaws that can occur.  

But first, we need to get on the same page: the goal is for the hand to pronate inward on the ball just before release. There are numerous mechanical flaws that will prevent this from happening, or make it overly difficult, including:

  • Flying open with the front side (the hips rotating toward the catcher before foot strike). The hand tends to move to the “cut” side of the ball when the front side opens too early.
  • Striding too open or too closed – either one makes it more difficult to deliver the chest and hand toward the plate, creating a more out-in-front extension.
  • Rotating in place (staying too tall) – pitchers apply better spin to their changeup with greater extension. Reaching farther “through” the pitch helps apply more spin on the inner edge as the hand pronates.
  • A soft, sinking front leg – the front leg needs to brace and help deliver the upper body forward, creating greater extension at release and allowing the pitcher to get both on the inside and on top of the baseball.
  • Sideways bending – the hand will turn the wrong way, again to the “cut” side of the ball with side bend. Pitchers tend to side-bend when they stride too far across their body, or their hips aren’t opening properly.
  • “Late” arm timing – good arm timing means the throwing forearm is somewhere between 10 and 11 o’clock (depending on which way the clock is) when the stride foot contacts the ground. Arms that are late –  9 o’clock or lower – force the hand to catch up later, and it can’t; the hand won’t make it to the inside of the pitch by “go time.” Pitchers with late timing usually throw cutting or flat changeups, which are too hard and have no useful movement.

These mechanical flaws will make it difficult to teach a good changeup, so a holistic view is necessary; we need to teach good pitching mechanics as a prerequisite to throwing a good changeup. But, since all of it will likely be a work in progress with amateur pitchers, the strategy to improve both at the same time.  

Step 3: The Hand Is The Variable Of Interest

To start, we first try to isolate hand position, so we can start teaching feel of good vs. bad changeups, without running into difficulty in pitchers with problematic mechanics (discussed above). Then, as the pitcher develops feel for the pitch, we slowly re-introduce his full mechanics.

Starting Drill: Knee or Standing Changeups at 25-30ft

We use this position to isolate as many variables as possible. By preventing the lower body from interacting with the upper body, we keep everything simple – the focus is on:

  •      Closing his upper body to his target
  •      Pointing his front shoulder to his target
  •      Giving his arm time to cycle up to the “top,” preventing late timing
  •      Reaching out with the pitch
  •      Finishing thumb down with the throwing hand
  •      And tucking the glove arm compactly by his side

All of the above are valuable mechanical concepts in addition to helping build a compact, simple upper body rotation that delivers repeatable changeups.

The Coach’s Job:

  1. Give feedback on spin on nearly every throw.
  2. Force them to execute the mechanics of the drill perfectly.  
  3. Graduate the pitcher to a progression drill only when most changeups have correct spin.  

We’ll make typically 20-40 throws like this, and the pitcher graduates to progression 1 when he shows me correct spin on 4 out of every 5 throws.

Progression 1: Hips-Square Changeups at 40 feet

In this drill, we put the pitcher in a more athletic position while still not allowing hip rotation. This helps to keep the arm action in two-dimensions (forward and back only) and teaches them how to separate the hips from the shoulders.

All the mechanical action-items are the same as in the knee changeups – point the glove arm, get closed, tuck the glove, and finish thumb-down. Separating the hips and shoulders should happen as well, which really just means closing off while keeping the lower body still.

The Coach’s Job:

  1. Continue to give mechanical and spin feedback on nearly every throw
  2. Explain how, when the drill mechanics are done wrong, changeup spin changes

        Note: This is important, because pitchers will have more freedom to mess this drill up than in the previous

  1. Move to progression 2 only when 4 out of every 5 throws have correct spin

Progression 2: Rocker Drill Changeups at 50 feet

The rocker drill allows the hips to pivot naturally, which, in turn, allows the pitcher to go back to a more three-dimensional arm action, which can allow mechanical flaws to come back into play. But, this drill is the first crucial gap between simply isolating the hand position that teaches feel of the pitch, with integrating that feel into how a pitcher normally throws.  

Changeup spin will break down here, as speed will make it more difficult to continue to feel correct hand position.

Continued Progress & Coaching

The rocker drill is the key stepping stone – once a pitcher can throw most of his changeups correctly from the rocker, he’s set to throw it from his delivery. The task, then, is gradually increasing velocity while maintaining compliance. As velocity increases, the percentage of correct changeups will decrease.

The Coach’s Job

The battle is for the pitcher to master the pitch at a lower velocity before moving up – otherwise, the feel of the pitch won’t be there. But, most pitchers like to throw too hard too often, and they thusly fail to learn the pitch. From my experience, this is what a beginner, who has gotten the feel at slow speed, looks like:

  • 100% correct changeups at 30 feet (standing drill)
  • 80% correct at 40 feet (hips-square drill)
  • 60% correct at 50 feet (rocker drill)
  • 50% correct at 55 feet at 50% effort (full windup)
  • 30% correct at 55 feet at 60% effort (full windup)
  • 20-25% correct at 55 feet at 75% effort (full windup)
  • 0% correct at full speed from their windup

The goal is to keep the pitcher in the 60% or above range – where there are enough good changeups and bad ones, where he can feel the difference between the two while still finding success more often than not. In the above example, I’d keep the pitcher working mostly on hips-square and rocker changeups until he was closer to 75% correct at the rocker drill. Then, we’d move on. The percentages used above are a good way of quantifying what we’re looking for: a benchmark for progressing a pitcher.

As the pitcher is released into the wild, so to speak, the coach must keep him on track, which means the following:

  • Forcing him to throw at lower velocities when he can’t throw the majority of changeups correctly
  • Constantly giving spin feedback – Good! No, that one cut; That one was flat
  • Giving mechanical feedback where necessary – this is often the more difficult correction to identify, and for the pitcher to make, but mechanics are a precursor to delivering the hand on time to get into the correct position to apply the spin we want.=

Teaching the Changeup Isn’t Hard

Teaching a changeup isn’t hard, if we know what we’re looking for. It’s easy to teach when the changeup has a defined spin and set of characteristics. When we’re guessing which grip might work best, and guessing how we’re going to remove speed from the ball, then it becomes a muddy, difficult task.

Stay tuned for part three, in which I’ll explain how we pitch with this changeup, compared to others. The skill of the operator dictates the usefulness of the tool.   

Lat Injuries in Baseball Pitchers

It seems like we are starting to see more and more injuries to the latissimus dorsi, or lat, in baseball pitchers than ever before.

20 years ago, lat injuries in baseball pitchers were fairly rare.  You always had the one or two you’d come across, but they certainly weren’t something I would call a common injury.

In this article, I’m going to discuss the anatomy, role of the lat during pitching, and reasons why I believe lat injuries are increasing.  Then, based on this information, I’ll outline several key factors to considering when trying to prevent, diagnose, and rehabilitate lat injuries in baseball pitchers.

 

Anatomy of the Latissimus Dorsi

The latissimus dorsi muscle is a large flat muscle of the back.  It has several attachment points on the back of the body, which can vary for each person.  The muscle blends with the thoracolumbar fascia of the lower back and spans out to attach to the iliac crest of the hip, the lower ribs, and the spinous processes of lower thoracic vertebrae.

Some studies have even shown that up to 80% of people will also have some attachment to the scapula as well.  This attachment point is very close to the teres major muscle, a muscle that is intimately related to the lat in both anatomy and function.  Please note: I am note referring to the teres minor muscle, which is one of the rotator cuff muscles, but rather the teres major.

In the below illustration, you can see the large lat muscle on the left and the smaller teres major on the right.  The left side also shows the intimate relationship between the lat and teres:

latissimus dorsi teres major baseball pitching injuries

At the point of the scapula, the lat runs parallel with the teres major muscle.  In many people, the lat and the teres major may actually even blend together.  In fact, baseball pitchers can injure either or both of these muscles from pitching, but you rarely hear about teres major injuries.  Often times these will just be grouped together and labeled a “lat injury.”  Of the 16 subjects in a recent study by Nagda in AJSM, only 3 had an isolated injury to the latissimus.  Similarly, in another recent review by Schickendantz from AJSM, only 5 out of 10 subjects had isolated lat injuries.

Both the lat and the teres major run through the back of the armpit to the front of the shoulder and attach near the bicipital groove.  In the below illustration, you can see the close relationship between the attachment points of the lat, teres major, and pectoralis major and the biciptial groove, which I shaded in red:

latissimus dorsi teres major baseball pitching

 

The lat actually attaches to the floor of the biciptal groove while the teres attached just next to it.  However, there many fascial connections between the lat, teres major, pectoralis major, coracobrachialis, subscapularis, biceps, triceps and others.

So…

Do you still think that anterior shoulder pain in pitchers is always “biceps tendonitis?”

As you can see, the lat and teres major (and others), attach along near the biceps tendon.  I have never been a big believer in biceps pain in baseball pitchers.  I just don’t think it happens as common as it is diagnosed.  It has never been something that I have focused on with my athletes.  Many people often just assume anterior shoulder pain is biceps pain and use that as a junk diagnosis.  But doing so is careless and leads to less specific rehabilitation programs.

 

The Function of the Lats in Baseball Pitching

Both the lat and teres major function to perform shoulder extension, adduction, cross body adduction, and internal rotation.  As you can see, from the point of full layback in the throwing motion, these are the exact motions that are performed when throwing.

If you’re not convinced that the lats are important in baseball pitchers, take a look at your athletes with their shirts off.  The asymmetrical hypertrophy of the lat on the throwing side is amazing.  The volume of throwing in baseball pitchers causes a significant growth in the size of the lat.

The lat actually has three roles during baseball pitching:

  1. Controlling the arm going into layback with an eccentric contraction
  2. Transition from layback into acceleration transitioning from an eccentric into a concentric contraction
  3. Accelerating the arm concentrically into internal rotation as well as down and across the body

As you can see, the layback position when the arm transitions from moving into external rotation and into accelerating into internal rotation is an extremely vulnerable position of many injuries.

kinetics of baseball pitching

In their classic research studies looking at the EMG of muscles during baseball pitching, Jobe and Gowan have shown that the lat becomes active during late cocking as the arm comes into full external rotation in the layback position.  This is the period where the arm transitions from moving into external rotation to moving into internal rotation.

EMG during this phase has shown that the lat is significantly active in this phase, at 168% of a maximal manual muscle test.  This means that the lat contracts nearly 2x more aggressively during throwing than when pushing as hard as they can on a manual muscle test during your clinical exam.

This makes sense, as Fleisig and colleagues at ASMI have shown that the arm has a significant amount of stress in this position and accelerates at over 7000 degrees per second, which is the fastest recorded human motion in sports.

The lat has a significant role in slowing down the arm flying into layback and then transitioning into internal rotation through the arm acceleration phase of throwing.

 

Why Do Lat Injuries Occur in Baseball Pitchers?

The anatomy and function of the lat has not changed, so why are we seeing an increase in the amount of lat strains in baseball pitchers?

I think there are a few reasons.

 

More Layback and Retroversion

We know a few things are evolving in baseball.  Just over my short career, I have seen the physical characteristics of baseball pitchers evolve.

Back in 2008, I published a research study that looked at the range of motion of professional baseball pitchers and noted that their throwing shoulders had 137 degrees of external rotation.  When we measure players now, it’s not uncommon to have 140-155 degrees of external rotation.

We know that external rotation in the throwing shoulder is due to boney adaptations from throwing while the growth plates are open.  Youth baseball players are throwing so much, that the volume of throwing is likely leading to more boney changes, and more layback.

So that lat will need to produce tension to eccentrically control the arm into layback and switch to concentric acceleration from a more biomechanically disadvantageous position.  The lat is needing to produce more force at further amounts of end range of motion.

 

More Cumulative Stress

So, take your increased shoulder external rotation and add more throwing and you are pushing both volume and intensity.  Each time you throw, I believe you have a micro-injury of the muscles of the arm, including the lat.  We know that the arm gets tight right after throwing, likely due to this stress.

What we are seeing more and more at Champion, are baseball players with a loss of overhead shoulder elevation and cross body abduction.

lat tightness in baseball pitcher

To me, this is a sign of excessive workload, poor recovery, or most likely both.  This slowly worsens over the course of a season if not addressed.

When we evaluate the shoulder, it’s clear that tightness of the lat and teres major are the contributing factors to this tightness.

If the lat is tight during the throwing motion, that is going to cause more stress at the full layback position each and every throw.

 

Bigger, Stronger, Faster Baseball Players

So, now we have more external rotation of the shoulder, putting the lat in a biomechanical disadvantage, plus cumulative tightness of the lat from the stress of throwing, which causes increased tension at end range.  Add more strength and power in the modern day baseball player and we are just adding fuel to the fire.

Baseball strength and conditioning has evolved over the years and has done an amazing job building strong powerful athletes.   Well designed baseball strength and conditioning programs are different from those of other sports.

However, it is very common to have high school, collegiate, and even professional baseball players perform the same type of strength and conditioning program as other sports, such as football and hockey.

You have to start questioning if focusing on developing maximum strength and power is the best approach for baseball pitchers.  Are we starting to put too much focus on always trying to add strength and power?  Are we focusing too much on strength and not athleticism?

I know in my time in Major League Baseball, very few baseball pitchers had overdeveloped upper body strength.  They all had strong legs, but most professional baseball pitchers looked quite average with their shirts off.  Who am I kidding, many were well below average!

But these were MLB All-Stars and Cy Young winners that threw in the upper 90’s.

These days, baseball pitchers are starting to look like body builders, with the notion that more is always better.

Just like everything else, there is likely a diminishing reward to strength training when your job is to throw a ball, and proper strength and conditioning programs must periodize the stress involved on the body.  I can’t tell you how many times I shake my head when I watch videos on social media of players trying to hit a max effort lift in the weight room in the spring.  If you are still trying to maximize your strength in the spring and not focusing your stress on pitching, you are missing the boat on what makes a great pitcher.

 

Pushing Past Our Physiological Limits

As you can see from the first three reasons I believe lat injuries in baseball pitchers are increasing, we are increasing the stress applied to the lat in many ways from increasing shoulder joint mobility, to decreasing lat mobility, to increasing lat strength and power.

The final reason I believe we are seeing so many more injuries takes all these into consideration, however, may be the final straw that broke the camel’s back.  In addition to the above, the culture of baseball now is pushing velocity at all costs.

The current state of baseball believes that velocity is king.

So we are seeing throwing programs that include things like aggressive long toss and weighted ball programs being pushed throughout baseball in an attempt to maximize velocity.

There is a time and a place for these programs, however, many if not most athletes performing these programs are not prepared for these programs.  I’ve said it hundreds of times before, but performing a velocity enhancement throwing program without skeletal maturity, a solid foundation of total body strength, and a proper baseline of arm strength is like frosting the cake before you ever baked it.

In our recent research projects with ASMI and Motus Global, we have identified that the likely reason that weighted ball programs are effective at gaining velocity is due to the increased amount of shoulder external rotation that occurs over the course of a weighted ball program.  Our study has shown an average of 5 degrees of external rotation of the shoulder is gained over the course of a moderated 6-week weighted ball program.

Over time, pitching with this increased range of motion and velocity can overload muscles like the lat and lead to injuries.

We are pushing past our physiological limits.

 

Preventing Lat Injuries in Baseball Pitchers

To prevent lat injuries, you first need to understand the 4 concepts that I discuss above.  Without an understand of why lat injuries are occurring, we’ll never be able to prevent them.

Taking the above factors into consideration, we can reverse engineer how to potentially reduce lat injuries.

  1. Since we are developing greater amounts of external rotation of the shoulder, we must emphasize proper strength and dynamic stability of the shoulder.  Essentially, if we are decreasing our static stability, we need to enhance our dynamic stability.
  2. We must perform soft tissue techniques, both manually and through self myofascial release, to maintain proper lat and teres mobility.
  3. Strength and conditioning programs must emphasizing complete athleticism and not just maximum strength and power.  These programs must be periodized to decrease the emphasize on strength as baseball pitchers start to get closer to the season and pitching off the mound.
  4. We should avoid pushing past our physiological limits with weighted ball and long toss programs without an adequate foundation of physical maturity, strength and conditioning, and arm strength.

 

Diagnosing Lat Injuries in Baseball Pitchers

Realistically, despite the above information, we are going to continue to see lat injuries in baseball players.   I’ve heard many people say that lat injuries are often overlooked and difficult to diagnose.

I completely disagree.

I just think we aren’t looking hard enough.  It seems like anyone with anterior shoulder pain is diagnosed with “biceps tendonitis,” which I hope you will carefully scrutinize in the future after reading this article.

Next time someone has anterior shoulder pain, don’t jump to the conclusion that it’s from the biceps.  Look at overhead and cross body mobility. Test the lat function with manual muscle testing including straight arm pulldowns, arm abduction, and shoulder internal rotation and see if it is weak or produces symptoms.

lat strength test baseball

lat muscle test shoulder internal rotation at 90

Also keep in mind that lat injuries can present with either anterior or posterior shoulder pain.  Strains at the muscle tendinous junction tend to have posterior shoulder pain, in the back lower armpit area.

latissimus dorsi teres major injuries in baseball pitchers

But these are the easier types of lat injuries to diagnose.  It’s the anterior pain that I think we are missing.

 

Rehabilitating Lat Injuries Baseball Pitchers

Lastly, I want to share a few clinical pearls when rehabilitation injuries to the latissimus dorsi or teres major muscle.  These come with experience.  I have seen many players struggle with this rehab, so learn from my mistakes:

  1. Lat injuries need to be shut down from throwing for longer than you think.  On average, I tend to shut players down for 4-6 weeks, but now that we are identifying these injuries sooner before they become huge injuries, I sometimes consider as soon as 2 weeks.
  2. The chance of reinjury is high.  I have seen many players reinjure their lats from trying to come back too soon, or progressing too fast.
  3. It’s hard to stress the lat appropriately in the clinically setting.  The act of pitching places a tremendous amount of stress on the lat.  Players will have a satisfactory clinical examination before the lat is ready to throw.  As a general rule of thumb with lats, I tend to say that you must pass my clinical examination, then wait an additional week before you can start throwing.  Seriously.
  4. Go slower than usual with a throwing program.  Again, it’s easy to reinjure the lat.  You need to perform a gradual intensity long toss program without max intent.  Once you get a decent base of long toss under your belt, you can increase intensity.  I see too many players focus on intensity before distance in their throwing program.  I always say, “let distance dictate your intensity.”

 

Lat Injuries in Baseball Pitchers

There is no doubt about it, lat injuries in baseball pitchers are becoming more common, and probably will continue to do so as we continue to push out limits of throwing velocity.  To prevent, diagnose, and rehabilitate lat injuries, you have to understand the anatomy, function during pitching, and pathomechanics of lat injuries.

 

 

Controlling the Running Game: Should Young Pitchers Slide Step?

One of the biggest challenges that a young pitchers faces comes when they have to make that jump from the Little League mound to the big mound at the next level.

The difference between pitching at 46 ft and 60 ft is absolutely huge. And it can wreck havoc on a young pitcher’s arm, mechanics, and effectiveness, not to mention his self confidence.

Thankfully, the trend has been moving towards 50’/70’ or some other modified proportions to help make that adjustment a little more gradual. But even in those cases, that transition still involves some other adjustments like learning to control the running game.

Learning the mechanics of pitching from the stretch is easy enough.  A lot of Little League pitchers choose to pitch from the stretch, anyway, to keep things simple, but now they have to deal with the added element of baserunners leading off the base.

At least they don’t have worry about these players on the basepaths…

 

Nobody likes players stealing off them left and right, so the natural tendency is to speed up your pitching delivery.  This isn’t always a bad thing, but, you want to at least give your catcher a chance, right?

If you just go with a big slow leg lift every time, it doesn’t matter how good your catcher is – that stolen base is on you!

But there’s a difference between being “quick to the plate” and “rushing” your delivery.

And one of the things I hear a lot from young pitchers going through this transition is that their coach wants all his pitchers going with a slide step when pitching from the stretch.

 

Why I Don’t Like the Slide Step in Young Pitchers

Well here’s why I’m not a big fan of the slide step, especially for young pitchers:

Never sacrifice the quality of the pitch in order to be quick to the plate.  So let’s think about this… What is your #1 job as a pitcher?

Get the batter out.

Okay, and how do you do that?

Make good pitches. (Keep it simple)

And this is why I don’t like the slide step for young pitchers. Because you’re placing the emphasis (and the pitcher’s attention) on the baserunner, not the batter. And when young pitchers just starting to get used to pitching with runners leading off, this can really take away from their focus and leads to all kinds of problems, like falling behind in the count.

So now, not only are you taking the mental focus off the batter (and sacrificing the quality of the pitch that way) but because most young pitchers don’t learn how to slide step effectively – it usually leads to rushing and throwing “all arm.”

They never get their lower half into it, they don’t load their hips.

So they lose power, command, velocity, and risk putting more stress on the arm… and since most youth catchers aren’t at the professional level, the runner usually steals the base anyway. Does that make any sense?

Now it is possible to “slide step” without losing velocity if you can do it well.  Some big leaguers often do, but realize they have the necessary timing, as well as lower body strength, power, and control.

Getting this timing right is challenging and can easily lead to rushing, where things get out of sync and the ball sails high.  And this is why you really don’t see many pitchers at the big league level use a true slide step.

Now this doesn’t mean you just ignore the runner and let them run willy nilly… you want to keep them close, and if you can prevent stolen bases, that’s definitely a plus.

 

Alternatives to a Slide Step

So here are some effective alternatives to using a slide step:

Be quick to the plate without using a true slide step: Try using a quicker, abbreviated leg lift. You’re still lifting and loading, but shorter and quicker instead of bringing your leg up above your belt. It can be almost as quick as a slide step, but it’s much easier to get your whole body into your delivery.

Don’t be predictable: Change your timing from the set. If you just come set and hold it for a count of 3 every time before the pitch, you make it real easy for the runner to time your move the plate. Mix it up. Hold it for a 3 count one time, then hold it for 1 on the next pitch.  The order isn’t important, you just don’t want to fall into a predictable pattern.

And this leads to my favorite strategy for preventing stolen bases…

Hold the ball: This is one that really helped me to do a pretty solid job preventing stolen bases despite having a pretty awful pick-off move (having some good catchers helped, too). When you think a guy might be trying to time you, just come set and hold the ball… And wait. You can do a count of 5 or 6 if it helps. Then when you finally make your move to the plate you’ll usually catch the runner flat footed. So even if he goes, he won’t get a good jump.

So those are just some quick tips for controlling the running game without resorting to the slide step.

Again, controlling the running game matters, but you need to remember job #1:

Make good pitches.

 

 

The Modern Changeup: The Best New Pitch In Baseball

The changeup is the most historically misunderstood baseball pitch.

Despite slight differences in grip, most other pitches are thrown in the same way across pitchers.

A slider has defined spin, a mixture of bullet-spin, forward and side spin that creates a visible red dot.

A curveball has defined spin, topspin moving in a 12-6 or 1-7 orientation with as true a spin axis as possible.

The grip might differ slightly, but the way spin is applied, which may be the biggest factor in throwing a breaking pitch, is largely the same.

But, what about the changeup?

The changeup, for no good reason, is confused. The change up is supposed to be…

…slower.

This is likely the only thing changeup throwers all agree on. But, how much slower? Six miles per hour? Eight? 10? 12? And, straight?

Straight changeups are sooooo old-school.

Pull the string! But what about James Shields’ heavily-sinking changeup? Sink is good, right? He strikes out right-handers regularly with that thing. And, how about some arm-side run? That’s always a plus. Which version is best? What type should a young pitcher aim to develop?

And, what grip will get him there? Circle change? Vulcan change? “Fosh” changeup? Hook ‘em horns grip? Three-finger? Palm ball? Or, if all else fails, we can just say screw it and just throw a splitter; that’ll work as a poor-man’s changeup.

There’s too many questions, too much confusion with the changeup. Let’s clear it all up.

 

Characteristics of The Modern Changeup

First, let’s get it straight: a changeup does have a defined set of characteristics, and not all grips are created equal. Most people just aren’t on board with this yet. The best changeups feature the following:

  • Excellent arm speed that appears identical to the fastball
  • Speed reduction of 8-12% (miles per hour value varies depending on fastball velocity)
  • A combination of arm-side movement, known as “run,” and sinking movement.

James Shields is one of the best examples. Watch the short video below to see what I believe is the modern changeup:

Let’s consider the following:

Straight or Moving?

If all other parameters are equal, a pitch that has movement is harder to hit than a pitch that is straight.

Though a straight change perhaps looks exactly like a straight fastball (thus making it very deceptive), pure deception isn’t the end goal. The end goal, rather, is a mis-hit or swing and miss. When the hitter’s brain must deal with both speed change and movement away from the initial trajectory of the pitch, the likelihood of weak contact increases.

Pitchers want to create as many variables as possible to prevent the hitter from getting barrel to ball.

How Slow?

The answer depends on the other big half of the equation: movement.

From my years pitching professionally, my experience has been that the more movement a changeup has, the harder it can be thrown. Essentially, it’s no different than a slider or cutter Think about Noah Syndergaard’s extra-hard “slider,” and how hard it is to hit.

When a pitch is thrown harder, it flies longer along the same trajectory as a fastball.

When these harder breaking pitches finally do move off the fastball’s path, it makes them appear to break more suddenly, sharper, which in turn makes them more difficult to square up. The more speed we remove, the more the pitch must deviate from a fastball’s initial trajectory, thus making it look less like a fastball out of the hand.

The basement of speed change is about 8%. For a pitcher who throws 90mph, this is about 7mph off, or 83mph. But, a -8% changeup must have tremendous movement to be effective.

For all other changeups, as movement decreases, speed change must proportionally increase. If a changeup is dead-straight, being closer to a 12% reduction is ideal (79mph off a 90mph fastball).

There are many times when we pitchers get away with a changeup that was thrown a little too hard because late movement caused it to fade off his barrel at the last moment.

How Hard?

This is basic, but needs to be addressed in any good changeup article.

A changeup needs to be thrown with as much intensity as possible. The “harder” a changeup is thrown, the more it matches fastball arm speed, and initially fools the hitter into thinking that 90mph arm speed = 90mph output. We need 90mph arm speed with a 79-83mph output.

What allows this to be possible is the grip and hand action, both of which play equal parts in reducing the velocity output.

What About Cutting Changeups?

Kyle Hendricks purposefully cuts his changeup sometimes. But, this is just another iteration of his changeup, a different way for a him to manipulate hitters.

Though this works quite well for him, it’s not the standard version for most pitchers, for one main reason: pitchers need a pitch that breaks away from opposite-handed hitters.

If we cut our changeup, how does it vary from a slider?

Not much, is the answer.

As a right-handed pitcher myself, I threw more changeups to lefties, because I didn’t want my curveball breaking down and in, into their happy zone.

For a veteran pitcher who throws a curveball, sinker, sinking changeup, mixing in an occasional cutting changeup will definitely confuse a hitter. But, that’s much more of a thing Big Leaguers do to stay effective, and much less the rule we teach an amateur or minor leaguer who needs consistency more than anything.

Throwing The Modern Changeup

If we compromise on a goal of 10% speed reduction, which will be ideal for the majority of pitchers, we need to understand how we obtain that reduction.

We get about 5% from the grip itself, and 5% from the hand action.

Breaking pitches are slower than fastballs not because they are thrown with less intensity. Rather, that arm speed and velocity is lost into the baseball by spinning it.

This is the same for the changeup.

When force is applied to the center of the baseball, the baseball will come out hard, because all of the available arm speed is going into propelling the ball forward and applying backspin. Aside from slowing the arm or hand down, or not “finishing” the pitch, there’s no reliable way to reduce the speed of a changeup when force is applied through the center.

This is why we need a defined hand action that converts speed into spin.

The grip will only account for a 5% speed reduction when force is applied to the center of the baseball. That equals 4.5mph off a 90mph – much too hard to be effective.

The hand action provides the second 4.5mph, and that action is the same as a sinker, and somewhat opposite of a slider: pronating the hand on the inside of the ball just before release.

By pronating the hand onto the inside of the ball just before release (think pouring out a can of soda), we accomplish two things:

  1. We reduce speed because less force is applied to the center of the ball; we are converting speed into spin just like a breaking pitch
  2. We tilt the axis of rotation of the ball to a diagonal axis, which will result in angled downward movement – a mix of both arm-side lateral movement (run) and sink.

And with that, we have given the changeup a reliable set of characteristics just like any other pitch. When thrown the above way, we will reliably achieve a 10% (plus or minus) speed reduction that can easily be repeated at any intensity. We also create a reliable movement pattern for the hand, creating relatively equal parts sink and lateral movement.

A few of my high school pitchers threw to the Rapsodo device and turned in spin-efficiencies of 90% or better, indicating a very “clean” diagonal spin axis on their changeups, confirming that what I believed was happening.

Depending on the pitcher and his unique way of executing the pitch, the output will vary slightly. I’ve taught this exact style of changeup to hundreds of pitchers, and 70% will obtain a 10% speed reduction with equal parts lateral and sinking movement. 15% will throw get the same speed reduction with predominantly lateral movement, and another 15% will get the same speed reduction, but only sinking movement.

Provided the speed reduction is there, anomalies in movement are okay, and to be expected – no two pitchers are alike. I have one collegiate pitcher who throws the pitch with a 15% reduction, no decrease in arm speed, and heavy, fork-ball like sink with no lateral movement whatsoever.

The ball comes out in a unique way, with a tumbling spin rather than an angled axis. But, the output is fine for him – it’s different, but still exceptionally effective. He reminds me of Brad Lidge, who threw a slider that appeared to have mostly downward movement. His slider wasn’t the archetypal slider, but it still had deadly effect as shown by his season of 41 saves without a single blown opportunity.

Even with consistency in teach methods, there will be an inconsistency in output. But, most pitchers will develop a changeup that consistently fits the aforementioned mold.

Can All Changeup Grips Accomplish This?

In short, no.

There are a few conditions that result in more reliable hand action and spin application, which are made difficult or impossible by certain grips.

Condition 1: Pressure must be at the junction of the palm and fingers, not on the fingertips.

We maximize lateral spin application by forcing the ball to roll up the fingers before finally releasing off the fingertip. Changeups that start and leave from the fingertips do not gather as much spin, and often fly too straight or “flat.”

Condition 2: The ball must be held stable with as little pressure as possible.

We need to think of “paintbrushing” the hand over the changeup.

But, we need to do this at a 100% intensity, which is difficult. So, we need a combination of the hand being as relaxed as possible while still being held securely. To do this, the thumb must be on the bottom.

Condition 3: Overall hand tension must be as low as possible.

A relaxed hand applies spin more fluidly and evenly, and allows the pitch to more closely resemble a fastball at release. A tense hand also tends to force the changeup into the ground, resulting in spiked changeups that are often the signature of beginners. Forcing the fingers down the sides of the baseball are one of a few culprits that cause undue hand tension.

Condition 4: To accomplish the above, the thumb must be on the bottom of the baseball.

If the thumb cradles the ball from the bottom, the rest of the hand can be almost completely relaxed. If the thumb is not beneath the ball, as in the “circle change” grip, the fingertips will tense up to prevent the ball from simply falling out of the hand. Tension and fingertip pressure will result in the pitcher hooking the pitch into the ground more often.

As a side note, my students rarely bounce changeups while they learn them, because the grip I teach provides a relaxed hand. This is not to say they miss up the in zone; rather, they are able to control the ball in the strike zone most of the time, with the same frequency as their fastball, with fewer egregious misses. The changeup spiked five feet in front of the plate, typical of beginners, is extremely rare in my baseball academy.

Teaching and Throwing the Modern Changeup

This is the first article in a 3-part series on throwing the modern changeup. In part two of this changeup article series, I’ll cover a step-by-step method of teaching and throwing the modern changeup.

In my years as a baseball academy owner and professional pitcher, I’ve taught this pitch with equally great effect to 11-year olds and 25-year old pros. I use a simple step-by-step approach to teaching the pitch the cornerstone of which is watching and giving constant feedback on ball spin. After that, it’s up to the pitcher to put in the time and dedication honing the pitch and learning how to pitch with it.

And, in part three, we’ll discuss the difference in how you pitch with the modern changeup. Righty-on-righty changeups? You bet. Gloveside changeups for called strikes? Not so much. Learning how to maximize the effect of the pitch, and minimize its weaknesses is what takes a pitcher to the next level.

In the meantime, subscribe to my Podcast, titled Dear Baseball Gods and find me on Instagram @coachdanblewett.

3 Exercises Baseball Players Can Use to Gain Control of the Lats

The latissimus dorsi muscle is important in baseball players.

The lats can be a baseball player’s best friend as well as their worst enemy at times. The lats are an expansive muscle group originating in the low back and ending up at the humerus and sometimes also attaching to the scapula.

When the lats are given free reign without control from opposing musculature, gross extension patterns in player’s lumbar spines may begin to show up.

This can then lead to players letting their coaches know of nagging arm and back pain.

With the three exercises below, players can regain control of certain opposition muscles such as the serratus anterior, the internal oblique and the transversus abdominis to help restore balance.

Bear Position Step Up

The combination of bear position hold and a “step up” can be a great integrative exercise for abdominal control as well as shoulder stability and mobility.

Players need their serratus anterior properly engaged to maintain their ability to repeatedly throw gas over an entire game. This exercise helps players find their abs and serratus while gaining control over their lats. This can then allow them to demonstrate scapular control in a slightly challenging position.

This exercise can be coupled with the next two exercises to help ingrain this new position.

Cues I use: 

  • Reach your arms as long as you can throughout the whole movement.
  • Keep your belt buckle towards your chin
  • Breathe going in through your nose and out through your mouth while trying to fill the middle part of your back instead of your neck and upper chest. 

 

L-Sit Vertical Pull Progressions

This exercise can actually be a good starting point for some players because they can use the bench to take away or add more body weight as needed.

Coaches can also use this progression to help players struggling with getting a proper pull-up or to increase their pull up total. This exercise also teaches players what better lat engagement feels like.

I often use two variations, a dead stop from the floor (left video) and the full hang position (right video).

Starting from the floor helps teach players to better engage lats and drive upward with authority. You can also have someone hook their heels and exhale to make them engage their abs to help counteract too much spinal extension.

This full hang progresses the exercise because there is no rest between reps. Again get the person to engage their abdominals by hooking the bench.

Intensity can be increased via external load (weights or weight vest), increases in sets or reps, or an increase in total time through varying the tempo up/down/or at the top of the repetition.

 

Single Arm Short Seated Lat Pull-down

Lats love to keep us in an extended position, especially in overhead athletes who repetitively go overhead in their sport. This can be a common reason why players can have shoulder trouble and neck pain.

Short seated lat pull downs are based on postural restoration techniques of getting your deeper abs working to help counteract the extension of the lats and to help restore a more optimal balance between the two!

Cues I use:

  • Inhale as you bring one arm down and slightly crunch to that side while reaching long toward the ceiling with your other hand. Think of your elbow going into your front pocket, this will help you feel your abdominal wall on that side engaging.
  • Exhale fully on the way up bringing yourself back to midline and repeat on other side
  • Tuck your belt buckle to chin to help get a neutral pelvis throughout the motion.

Gain Control of Your Lats

Gaining control of the lats is vital in ensuring players can handle the rigors of a baseball season with minimal back and neck issues. Try incorporating these exercises into your programming to help players improve and recover faster but restoring balance.

Arm Care Starts with the Scaps

The two most commonly reported areas of pain in baseball players are the shoulder and elbow.

However, the area in pain may not actually be causing the pain itself.

The body is a chain and weakness in one link of that chain can cause pain in another area. This is certainly the case when it comes to arm pain. Often when pain is felt in the arm it is due to a lack of mobility elsewhere in the body. That “elsewhere” is often from the scapulothoracic joint.

In order to understand the importance of the scapulothoracic joint, which is comprised of the scapula (shoulder blade) and the rib cage, we have to appreciate the functional. The shoulder joint is made up of the head of the humerus and the glenoid cavity of the scapula. The humeral head sits right on top of the glenoid cavity like a golf ball on a tee. As the shoulder joint goes through various motions, the scapula has to move with it. It does this by gliding on top of the rib cage. For every two degrees that the shoulder moves, the scapula should move one degree (2:1 ratio).

Here’s a great video showing the anatomy of this movement:

If the scapula is unable to move close to a 2:1 ratio with the shoulder, then we are going to be limited with how far we can move our arm. This limit, when trying to throw a baseball, is problematic, as the thrower will place undue pressure on the shoulder and elbow in an attempt to reach the proper range of motion.

Scapula Exercises for Baseball Pitchers

As you can see, it’s pretty important to not just focus on the arm, but also the scapula.  Below are my four favorite correctional exercises to develop scapulothoracic movement.

Side Lying Half Moon Thoracic Stretch

In addition to mobilizing the thoracic spine, the lying half moon stretch is exceptional at promoting scapulothoracic range of motion.

Have the athlete flex their top knee at 90° and sit it on top of either a medball or a foam roller. This will keep their spine aligned properly. The athlete should try to drag their fingers along the ground as they progress throughout the motion. It is important to note that athletes who lack ST mobility will not be able to get their hand all the way to the ground initially.

As the athlete moves their arm through the motion the scapula will go through all of its movement patterns.

 

Back to Wall Shoulder Flexion

For baseball players it is critical that the scapula is able to elevate and upwardly rotate as the arm extends forward towards ball release. This drill is an example of how an assessment test can also be used as a corrective exercise.

Have the athlete stand with their feet 4-6 inches away from the wall and cue them to keep their back completely flat against the wall. With the amount of lumber extension we see across the population this may be very challenging for some athletes. If the athletes cannot keep their lower back flat on the wall, instruct them to bend their knees and active their core.

Forearm Wall Slides

As the athlete slides their hands up the wall they are getting more elevation and upward rotation of the scapula; but as they pull their hands off of the wall, they’re going to retract the scapula and get some slight posterior tilt as well.

Make sure that athlete engages their core and doesn’t fall into lumbar extension as they bring their hands off of the wall as this should be an exclusively scapulothoracic movement.

Prone 1-Arm Trap Raise

The last exercise in my scapulothoracic joint mobilization series is very similar to the classic Blackburn’s exercises.

I prefer to have athletes do these exercises unilaterally and on a table because when done bilaterally and on the floor we often see more spine movement than actual ST movement. This is another good exercise for developing posterior tilt of the scapula by allowing the lower trap to get involved.

The beautiful thing about all of these exercises is that they require very little to no equipment at all. This means that athletes can do these exercises in the gym, on the field, or at home.

Give these scapular exercises for baseball pitchers a try and keep that arm healthy this season!

 

Want EBP’s FREE Arm Care Program?

EBP Reinold Throwers Arm Care ProgramOur mission at EBP is to provide the best and most trustworthy information.  That’s why we now are offering Mike Reinold’s recommended arm care protocol for absolutely FREE.  A proper arm care program should be one of the foundations of injury prevention and performance enhancement programs.  The EBP Arm Care program is the perfect program to set the foundation for success that EVERY baseball player should perform.