We are a little over a month into our new in-season Healthy Heat format. We made the decision to slightly alter our offering because we understand the time constraint that comes with playing amateur baseball. Unlike the college and professional level, schedules are anything but predictable. The offseason was spent focusing on building volume, cleaning up inefficiencies, and training the body to move faster. As we transitioned to our in-season format the primary focus became my go-to cliche of “maximizing the week."
High level athletes train every day. Every day doesn’t have to be a maximum effort day, but every day they are working on their craft. This provides more opportunities for guys to experiment and feel their way through new movements. We wanted to give this opportunity to our throwers. It has also allowed us to give athletes full recovery days, where they primarily work on their body while using their throwing work as active recovery.
Results have been amazing! We have seen huge improvements in the way that guys feel, not only on training days, but also on pitching days away from us. When throwers show up, they have to self report: when they pitched last, when they will throw next, and how they have felt on pitch days as well as on that given day. This information has allowed us to provide them with an even more individualized plan for exactly what they need on that day.
While we do not test velocity regularly, when guys haven’t pitched in a week, and have a weekend off, we can have full push days. The early results have been staggering. Guys are up an average of 5 MPH on a double hop and 3 MPH on their positional throw. While initially we thought it would just be maintaining the gains that guys had achieved over the offseason, we have seen that they can still make huge progress.
These early results have really fueled our fire as to why we think it is critical for guys to continue to train, as often as their schedule allows, during the season. Even big leaguers have things that they work on in between starts, so amatuer athletes certainly do. They can continue to do arm care to maintain strength and alignment. They are able to benefit from power building workouts that train them to move better in the specific planes of motion that baseball requires. Most importantly they are able to remove mechanical inefficiencies and remodel their new tissue that is built as a result of throwing in season so that they are able to throw at a higher intent, without pain, more often.
Consistency is key. The best pitchers on any team are good more often than not. If a guy is lights out one game and then seemingly ineffective the next, it is not a mental issue, it is a recovery issue. Mechanical inefficiencies, improper warm up or recovery processes, improper build up to the season, or too great of a workload are the main contributing factors. While the only one with control of workload is ultimately the coach, the first three factors can all be addressed in season. Inefficiencies can be cleaned up with a proper throwing plan. A bad warm-up can be fixed tomorrow by simply doing what it takes to prepare the body to throw, as well as developing a recovery routine. They can continue to build volume in season, by simply managing stress, and gradually increasing it throughout the week.
To sum it all up, development never stops, it can’t. And, more importantly, most guys do not need a total overhaul. Changes can be made quickly in-season, without regression, by identifying issues and developing a plan of attack. Our in-season plan is off to a good start and it will continue to change and adapt as players do. We want to plan for anything that could possibly come up so that athletes are able to adjust without having to think about it. While we want them to own it, we simply want them to work hard during the week, and compete their tails off on the weekend. When they allow it to be that simple, the sky's the limit.
If you or someone you know needs to improve performance, increase their fastball velocity by 3 plus MPH, or eliminate arm pain. Get in touch with us. Become a part of the best throwing program in Colorado. http://www.bardosdiamondsports.com/healthy-heat.html
People have preconceived notions of what having “it” looks like. People are convinced they can make decisions on an athlete's career just by looking at them, or, at most, after watching them play one game. “He doesn’t throw hard,” “he doesn’t throw strikes,” “he can’t throw a breaking ball,” or as simple as “he’s not a pitcher.” False. All of them are skills and skills can be developed. It may come quicker for some, but anyone can do it if they work to develop it.
Human tissue has no free will. Nikolai Bernstein was one of the founding fathers of motor learning. He said, “The body will organize itself in accordance with the overall goal of the activity.” The body will respond to a stimulus, the key to developing skills is to be in an environment that forces the body to adapt. As an athlete progresses the environment needs to continue to progress to continue to force adaptation.
When Craig Kimbrel was a freshman in college he badly broke his left foot leaving him in a cast for several months. He learned to long toss from his knees, and, initially, he wasn’t able to throw the ball very far. Within a few weeks, he could throw it 100 yards from his knees. He adapted. When he was back to full strength, his velocity had gone from 85 to 95. This offseason Trevor Bauer wanted to learn a slider. His curveball was already his best pitch, but he wanted more. So, with the help of immediate feedback, from a Rapsodo unit and some high-speed cameras he developed a slider.
We use a simple saying often in Healthy Heat, “I throw hard because I throw hard.” David Price was quoted saying something similar in an article I read once and I’ve run with it. It doesn’t have to be rocket surgery - if you want to throw the ball harder, try to throw it harder. As long as an athlete takes care of their body and gradually increases volume over time, they will throw harder. We use the same principle in our power-building circuits. There are specific planes of motion that are involved in pitching: moving side to side, rotating around a vertical axis, and doing it primarily on one leg. As athletes are able to do more reps in 10 seconds in each of these planes they are building power that they can use on the field.
The body has to respond, it doesn’t get to choose. It just takes time. I probably had thirty at bats after my freshman year of high school...I’m a lifer P.O. Last summer, I decided I was going to see what would happen if I hit everyday for a month. I took 100 swings everyday, even when I was out of state coaching, I swung a fungo as hard as I could 100 times...once in my hotel room. At the end of the month, I hopped on the Hit Trax and my exit velocity was 4 mph higher. No coaching, no distractions, just one simple goal - swing harder and my body adapted.
All of this is the driving force behind everything we do at Bardo’s and, even more specifically, in Healthy Heat. We want to create an environment that forces the body to respond. Pick a target, move fast, throw hard, tell us if it hurts. Once an athlete is within our safety parameters mechanically, we add as much variance and energy to the system as possible. Running throws have gotten grief from some gurus in the past since you can’t crow hop off the mound, but it challenges the body. We have seen several guys who thrower slower off a double hop than they do off the mound, because they don’t move well enough to time up a running throw. As their double hop numbers improve, their mound numbers quickly follow.
It breaks my heart when a parent asks me after a few lessons if their kid has a shot as a pitcher. “HE’S 10!” If they like to pitch, let them pitch. If they are willing to work at it, let them work at it. Just because they aren’t the best pitcher on the team in youth baseball doesn’t they never will be. Some people may be further along, but with the right plan and hard work they can one day be a dude on the mound!
Pitchers have been told for years that they need to be long, loose, and "whippy" with their arm. The belief is if the arm action is short and compact they'll push the ball or lose power. While pitchers do not NEED to be quick with their actions, efficiency should still be the ultimate goal. While throwing and the arm action associated with it is something that even toddlers do, it is the most over-coached part of baseball. The long and short of it is (that may have been a pun), whatever can be timed up most often is the right “length” of an arm action.
For simplicity’s sake, let’s break the arm action down into four phases: Arm swing, Final Connection, Launch, and Deceleration. Arm swing is referring to the time from hand break until the front foot hits the ground. Final connection refers to the position of the arm at front foot strike. Launch is essentially when the arm unwinds and releases the ball. The Deceleration phase is then from release until the arm comes to a complete stop. In every throw, each phase exists. However, the only one that we choose to directly isolate is deceleration. Everyone from eight-year-olds to our professional clients do deceleration drills every day. It is commonly overlooked, but, in our experience, a large majority of arm pain can be eliminated by cleaning up the deceleration phase.
Each phase will be affected by the phase before it and can affect the phase after it. While we do not believe in a one-size-fits-all approach, we do have certain parameters for each and they are evaluated based on how they all sync together.
If you are a coach evaluating arm action, I strongly encourage you to get slow-motion video from the open side to look at arm action and even compare it to a big leaguer’s arm action. A large majority of video of pitchers is from the center-field camera, but this view is insufficient in evaluating mechanics because you can really only see side-to-side and one can lose reference of what is happening front to back.
The timing of the hand break is critical. If the hands break too early, there is time for inefficient movement, and if it is too late the hand may not be up in time. To put it into words, we want the body to move away from the arm as opposed to the arm being thrown away from the body. Often times we see athletes giving themselves too much time or really trying to reach back for extra velocity, as a result we will try to speed up the body moving toward the target to limit unnecessary arm movement. This phase is mainly a feel thing so eliminating time is highly effective because it forces the body to find it’s most efficient path. Reaching back for a little extra is a common phrase, but actually reaching away from the body just makes being on time at foot strike more difficult. Being super short in this phase works well for some, but is not something that works for everyone. The inverted W (driving the elbows back and up) has become popular as a major contributor to Tommy John, while we now believe it is more of a timing issue we will not address this type of move unless there is shoulder or elbow pain and as long as it is not still present at front foot strike.
The position of the arm at foot strike is the real money-maker of a delivery. The hand needs to be “up” above the shoulder, even to or inside of 90 degrees, with the elbow just below the shoulder. For many years people taught that the fingers need to be on top of the ball and the ball pointing to second base, however this puts the forearm in a position where it will be forced to turn off the muscles that protect the UCL to throw. Let the hand be neutral or even pointed toward the thrower. This phase is critical because it will dictate how the arm unfolds and launches. The rotation of the shoulders creates centripetal force which will drive the hand away from the body. If at foot strike the hand is already way outside of 90 degrees this launch could way too early. Adjustments to final connection can be done using a conveniently named connection ball, which creates feel for connected positions. While in training this may look like shorting the arm action it is simply used to create feel for efficiency and provide feedback of if the athlete was connected through rotation.
As the shoulders rotate, the arm will lay back into external rotation and then begin to unfold. This unfolding is a result of the shoulder internally rotating and the hand continuing to drive away from he body. THIS WILL ALL TAKE PLACE AS A RESULT OF WHAT THE BODY IS DOING. If this happens independently of the body, power, health, and maximum effectiveness will be greatly lessened. Many have been taught to reach out toward the target, but this cannot happen independently. The throwing side hip and shoulder should be rotating past the glove side hip and shoulder driving the hand toward the target. Trevor Bauer recently referred to it on MLB Network as throwing a dart and I completely agree. The hand can make fine tuned adjustments right at the end, but it should not be the primary driver. While the launch phase is an easy one to diagnose and correct, a large majority of issues are a result of previous inefficiency, work backward first.
The ball is gone. If launch happened sequentially, the hand should be in front of the body with the throwing side rotated past the glove side. The first part of this phase is the forearm pronating (thumb down) immediately after ball release turning off the biceps. If the biceps stays active it will pull on what is above (shoulder) and below (elbow), turn it off. Many say that pronation is natural, but if a thrower only focuses on finishing with the fingers they may prevent pronation from occurring. Secondly, we want both shoulders to continue to rotate so that the throwing shoulder finishes on the target. This is not to be confused with rolling the throwing shoulder in which can look like shoulder rotation but is again one part acting independently. Lastly the arm should keep a slight bend throughout the entire phase. If the arm becomes completely extended, it will but stress on the back of the arm and bang the bones around the elbow together. If the bend happens too quickly, then the thrower is “cutting it off” at release and would be losing power. This is a delicate matter because it all happens so fast and it can be hard to tell the difference. Our general rule is if the ball goes straight and isn’t dying off at the end they are extending enough.
Arm action is a delicate thing. It is often the first thing that instructors will look to clean up because it seems to be the biggest issue. However, most of the arm action is largely dependent on what the body is doing. Since January of last year, we have made major changes to how we teach throwing. Everyone that throws a baseball in Bardo’s has received an individualized throwing protocol. In our protocol we try to identify the biggest issues limiting, velocity, health, and performance and clean them up with drills. After doing around 1,000 protocols I can say that 90% of the time, it is not the arm action. Arm actions will constantly change, as athletes move faster or slower arm action will change. As athletes grow and develop arm action will change. Many of our athletes have shortened their arm action and a month from now it may be longer. As long as targets are being hit, velocity is improving, it doesn’t hurt, and guys are going back to the dugout long or short doesn’t matter.
Pick a target, move fast, throw hard, and tell us if it hurts, the body will figure out the rest.
“No citizen has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. What a disgrace it is for a person to grow old without ever seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.” - Socrates (d. 399 BC)
As a Baseball Coach, former Physical Educator and Strength Coach, these words could not be more definitive in terms of my personal philosophy. Sometimes in our quest for the skill-related components of our chosen sport, we skip over the development of foundational health-related components that ultimately benefit our kids two-fold. By moving them towards and keeping them in healthy age-appropriate zones in the areas of mobility, muscular strength and endurance, cardio vascular fitness and body composition, we allow players to train at progressively higher levels of intensity and continued physical development. Current information tells us that youth fitness levels are down and youth sports-related injuries are up! I think Coach Socrates had the answer a long time ago! We cannot skip the development of foundational health-components which lead young people into expertise in the area of physical training.
Coach Steve Eaton, MS,CSCS
I love the art and science of hitting! I always have, and because I grew up without the internet, when I became a coach I bought books. It was my belief that only the smartest people in their given field wrote those books. Most of those books were written by former famous “artists” (players) who told us how they did it. Some of the information in the numerous hitting manuals that I studied went against my own educational beliefs in the areas of motor learning, exercise physiology and sports medicine. Being a scientist made me skeptical of some of the traditional “beliefs” that have been passed down about hitting a baseball well.
Enter Robert Kemp Adair in 1987, Sterling Professor of Physics, Yale University and Physicist to the National League. His book “The Physics of Baseball” This is my “go to” when it come to hitting theory because it takes most of the “theory” out. For instance, in his chapter on hitting he speaks of the perfect full swing and the real time events involved in the process. 100 milliseconds for the eye to see the ball and send a message to the brain. 75 milliseconds for the brain to process info. 25 milliseconds to make a decision to swing. 15 milliseconds for the legs to start the swing at a 3-inch spinning ball within 1/8-inch of its center and at precisely the right millisecond! Now we are talking real science!
With all the perpetrators of misinformation out there, we can always count on a true scientist (with letters behind his name) to help decipher WHY some guys hit and some guys miss!
Don’t be afraid to ask “why” to the guy who works with your kid!
Coach Eaton MS,CSCS