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Strength-Speed: Customized Mechanics for Baseball Pitchers

This post comes from Graeme Lehman, who has been working on his “customized mechanics” series on his website. Graeme aims to build mechanics and train each athlete based on their physical profile. You can find the original post here. Be sure to check out his website for more great content.

Below is the chart that Graeme uses to illustrate how we must train each pitcher differently.

 

Today’s focus is going to be on “Strength-Speed” which is a type of strength that is described as moving a moderately heavy load at a moderate speed. This is important because when we initiate the pitching delivery we are in fact moving a moderate load, in the form of your own body weight, at a moderate speed, before moving faster and faster as we climb the kinetic chain and let go of the baseball.

To put some numbers with the term moderate we can think of an external training load as being about 75-85% of 1RM while the speed is in the 0.75-1.0 m/s range.

The intent on moving the load, however, should not be moderate since you should be moving at a max speed. Due to the load, the speed then slows down to this “moderate” range.

Looking at the chart below we can see some of the exercises that are associated with this part of the force-velocity curve.  These types of exercises help us measure both how much “strength-speed” an athlete has as well as providing a means to train and improve this area, if this athlete needs to spend time and energy improving this athletic quality.

 

The two types of exercises that we see on either side of “Strength-Speed” are Olympic Lifting and weighted jumps.

Before we move onto the controversial topic of Olympic Lifting for baseball players I do want to mention that traditional lifts like deadlifts, bench press or squats can also be performed in this range of moderate load and speed.

However, it’s harder to use them as an assessment tool since approximately 34% of each lift is spent accelerating while the remaining 66% is spent decelerating the weight.

 

Olympic Lifting – The Controversy for Baseball

Olympic lifting for baseball is a controversial topic but controversy gets people’s attention.

In fact, there is a good chance that you are reading this site due to the fact that I did an interview with Eric Cressey discussing my research since it helped him justify why he doesn’t use Olympic lifting with his baseball players, in particular pitchers.

In this interview, we talked about how he was receiving a lot of criticism when he wrote that he doesn’t use Olympic lifts for his pitchers.

For some strength and conditioning professionals, this was blasphemous since Olympic lifts are held in such high regard for some coaches.

But like any exercise or drill we must weigh the risks vs the rewards to see if it is the right tool for the job. In my opinion traditional Olympic lifts like the clean and snatch do not provide enough rewards to outweigh the risks which could be an injury to the wrist’s and elbows, not to mention the fact that it isn’t a great predictor of throwing velocity since it isn’t specific enough to the movement.

Lower body power that can be attained from moving a moderate load at a moderate speed can definitely help out when you’re on the mound. This is especially true of weaker players.

Let’s look for a “Win-Win” situation where we can work on producing this type of force with the lower body without having to catch a heavy barbell on our shoulders and wrists.

Movements like jump shrugs or high pulls allow for us to “reject what is useless and accept what is useful”. These are known in the S&C world as Olympic Lifting derivatives.

In fact there are research papers like this one or this one out there that show that Olympic weightlifting derivatives that don’t include the catch phase like a high pull or jump shrug produce just as much benefit.

If we are going to use these types of lifts then we need to find a way to quantify them and the best way to do this is to measure bar speed.

Radar guns don’t pick up barbell velocity very well so if you want to use Olympic lifting derivatives to assess how much “strength-speed” a particular athlete has then you need to get your hands on a device like the tendo unitbar sensi or push device.

The reason that you need to quantify the speed is that if we only use the weight on the bar as a guide the Olympic lifts tend to be too slow in order to get the benefits we want from training in strength-speed zone.

“I’ve mentioned this before idea before here when I read an article by Dr. Bryan Mann who is an expert in the field of velocity based training.  He recounts a story about how he measured the velocity of the Olympic lifts with his football team when the weight on the bar was the primary focus.”

When he measured the speeds, they were in the 0.6 to 0.8m/s range when his guys were performing hang cleans so it was only the fastest guys that were just barely in this “strength-speed” range of 0.75 to 1.0 m/s.

The proof that it was too slow came when they tested vertical jumps and didn’t see any improvements. But when the speed of the bar became the focus, the jump heights went up.

Jump height is a far better indicator of on-field football performance which is the reason we don’t see Olympic lifting at the NFL combine.

Remember that we are using the weight room to increase our performance on the mound. The fact that we aren’t lifting the weight with one leg in the frontal plane, like we see on the mound, still means that the benefits that a pitcher gets from using Olympic lifts, even if they are performed fast enough and safe enough, might not be the right choice for each athlete.

But I do really like how they can be used to help an athlete initiate power from a complete stand still. This is an area that I feel a lot of players with lots of mobility, elasticity and limb length could use since they can’t get enough FORCE in the first place in order to take advantage of these qualities which help produce SPEED. Remember that FORCE x SPEED = POWER.

So if a player is generally weak like we talked about in the absolute strength article it is pretty safe to assume that their strength-speed isn’t very good either. Personally, I like to use some traditional lifts like squats and deadlifts with an emphasis on speed to help increase this quality while also making them stronger overall.

Even if the bar spends more than half the time slowing down I still take it over trying to catch the weight.

Even guys that have lots of absolute strength can benefit from this type of training if they can’t move 75-85% of their 1RM in that speed range that we are looking for.

In other words, this player is strong but slow, which doesn’t allow for max power when we are talking about a 5 oz. baseball.

To sum things up here I think that in most cases Olympic lifts don’t provide baseball players the biggest bang for their buck but if you are going use them I suggest:

  • not catching the weight
  • starting from a standstill
  • measure bar velocity

The next part of this series will talk about weight jumps as we make our way towards “speed-strength”.  This one should be fun to put together since I have some examples of guys that can throw 95mph+ doing some weighted jumps.

Are You Making This Common Sprinting Mistake?

Do you make this mistake when you perform sprinting drills? Have you seen the same side arm to leg pattern when you skip or do other movements?

When we perform sprint drills in our workouts or warm-ups, I literally see this problem on a daily basis.

Honestly, most of the time we see this because athletes can get “careless” and forget what they are doing for the movement.

Here are some great exercises below on ways to help solidify that opposite arm to opposite leg pattern, which will help your sprinting!

 

Why Does It Matter?

The problem with same side arm to leg patterns is that you don’t run this way, or walk this way.

You are naturally out of sync and rhythm.

When you go to sprint, you will unknowingly slow yourself down to fix your arm pattern. The arms play such an important role in sprinting, but they are often overlooked or forgotten.

When the arms are engaged and in sync, the body moves faster.

With the arms in proper motion, the chest opens up, breathing comes more naturally, and you can sustain your sprinting for a longer duration.

All of these small details add up, especially if you are a higher level athlete. These are the small things that can impact your 60 yard dash time and finally getting you below that important 7 second marker.

 

 

For those who play a sport where sprint times and testing matters to recruiters and coaches (hint hint…all sports), make sure you are properly performing skips as demonstrated on the right side of the video.

 

How We Work on Getting in Sync

I really try to enforce the arm to leg opposite pattern early on. Every session, we are doing work which will translate to on field performance.

If you find yourself having a hard time synching up your arm and leg pattern, slow it down! Take the time to make sure you can repeat it over and over.

Here are some of my favorite exercises I like to use when training athletes:

 

Forward Marching with Slight Pause

 

Forward Marching

 

Lateral Marching

 

Lunge to High Knee with Pause

 

Lunge to High Knee Double with Pause

 

Forward Skipping

 

Lateral Skipping

 

For athletes in any sport involving sprinting, enforcing arm patterns can be crucial!

I typically program these into a warm-up and dynamic progression after movement prep and an active series.

I’ll usually have athletes perform 1-2 sets of each for 8-10 reps per side. I really enforce movement patterns here, so make sure you don’t go too fast through these!

How to Own the 60-Yard Dash

Speed is one of the most important tools in the game of baseball. Everyone wants to get faster in some way, whether it be linear speed or being quicker towards the ball.

There’s a reason why the 60-yard dash is the first test that is performed at every showcase across America – because speed matters!

Believe it or not, you can train yourself to become a faster athlete. Since speed is a skill, it can be trained.

Since the 60-yard dash is the first test that is performed at showcases, it’s important to grab a coach’s attention early on.

To improve on the 60-yard dash, you need to have outstanding relative strength, mobility, acceleration/top speed mechanics, and start mechanics!

 

How Can You Improve Your 60-Yard Dash?

First, you need to improve your relative strength. The stronger you are per pound of bodyweight, the more force you’re going to be able to apply into the ground with each foot strike. What this does is propel your body further in space, leading to a longer stride.

Here’s a crazy display relative strength – Miami Marlins Outfielder, Matt Brooks Trap Bar Deadlifts 3x his body weight (550 LB)! It should come as no surprise that Matt is also EXTREMELY fast!

 

Next, you need to MOVE BETTER! Flexibility and Mobility is HUGE!

By improving flexibility and mobility in your hips and legs you will be able to improve extension of your hip, knee, and ankle when accelerating.

Improving your flexibility and mobility goes along with performing a proper warm-up before your 60-yard dash.

 

 

Sprint Technique for the 60-Yard Dash

When we perform the 60-yard dash, we go through two different phases of sprinting: acceleration and top-speed.

The first phase of your sprint in the 60-yard dash is known as the acceleration phase.

For this phase, your goal should be to maintain a steep forward lean and a positive shin angle. This will give you the best mechanical advantage to accelerate and dominate the first 10 yards of the 60-yard dash.

Exercises to Improve Acceleration Technique include Sled Drags, Sled Pushes, Hill Sprints, Push-Up Sprint Start, Mountain Climber Sprint Start, Falling Sprint Start

 

Once you have concluded the acceleration phase of the 60-yard dash, you will approach the Top Speed or max velocity phase.

For this phase, your body angle will shift to more of an upright posture.

You will want your foot strike to be directly underneath your center of gravity and you want to perform more of a cycle action of the lower limbs, as opposed to the drive action we’re looking for with acceleration.

Exercises to Improve Top Speed Running Technique include Flying Sprints, Speed Bounds, Straight-Leg Bounding, Running High Knees

 

Owning the Warm-Up

Now that we talked about some specific exercises and speed drills you can incorporate in your training to lower your 60-yard dash, we should talk about how to warm up properly before you run your 60.

This is SUPER important because you want to prepare your body in the most efficient way possible so you have the best opportunity to DOMINATE the 60!

 

Start Technique

Finally, you’re ready to practice your start technique!

Your starting technique is critical because this will determine how much distance you will cover in the first few steps. A strong start can help you lead into a stronger finish.

The start technique shown in the video below is the same starting stance I used to run an elite 60 (6.42 when I played) and continue to utilize with my high school and college athletes that have to run the 60-yard dash for scouts.

 

By improving on your mobility, mechanics, and strength, you’ll be a step closer into getting faster.

In his newest 8-week Speed Program, Six Stages of Speed, Alex covers multiple exercises and modalities to use that will help you own the 60-yard dash.

If you’re a baseball player that is serious about training for better speed, give the program a try!