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
al·li·ance (/əˈlīəns/, noun)
1. a union or association formed for mutual benefit, especially between countries or organizations.
2. a relationship based on an affinity in interests, nature, or qualities.
3. a state of being joined or associated.
Having coached Division 1 baseball for 14 years and being a Colorado native, I’ve had a broad look at Colorado baseball for some time. The baseball culture has changed in Colorado since I heavily recruited this state as a Division 1 coach at Texas Tech, Kansas, Texas-Arlington and Dallas Baptist. The state has always been fertile with a population base that supports and produces fine athletes who want to further their baseball opportunities at higher levels. However, the onset of travel baseball teams and tournaments has changed the culture. Kids are playing more games and getting more opportunities to hone their game. While the volume of game play has increased, the commitment and reality of truthful development becomes a tricky conundrum. Game play is certainly an important part of development, but intentional training is of equal importance. I’ve often witnessed the sacrifice of one in leu of the other, and intentional training is often the choice left on the altar. This doesn’t need to be the case and it shouldn’t be so that every child will develop to their fullest potential.
One of our most successful programs has been our In House Youth Team Training. Our Bardo’s teams have experienced great on-field success thanks to matching excellent development and intentional training with wonderful coaching, appropriate game play opportunities, and talented young players. This past summer, we began the process of branding our In House Teams with “TCA” - Team Colorado Alliance. The idea here is that we have built an alliance with many youth teams in a relationship where we come together for mutual benefit.
Because of the success of that program, we starting to expand this idea and contextualize it to the High School level as well. We started with four different instructional clubs this past fall (Healthy Heat, 3D Hitting, Catcher’s Club, and Impact Infielders) and the results have been very encouraging. We’re seeing players improve, but, more importantly, we’re starting the process of working with the high school coaches so we can all experience the mutual benefit of development. We’re choosing to build alliances with high school coaches for the good of the baseball community and build development opportunities for players of all ages. It is our desire to help and build up the culture of baseball in Colorado through these healthy alliances.
Over the summer, we’ve created a program called High School Summer Alliance Training. It gives players the opportunity to train their arm through our Healthy Heat program and their bat through our 3D Hitting program. The program also provides a 30-minute power-building workout. The program is designed for players playing in any program to come in and train for intentional development. Playing the game is an important step in the process, but every player needs to spend time developing their arm and bat during the season. Playing the game alone can’t accomplish the goals, dreams, and expectations of developing players. We want baseball athletes to experience the freedom to play where they want, and train in a program like our High School Summer Alliance Training. Spend time on your arm and bat during the summer season, and be prepared for an incredible season of improvement.
The link to register for this program is below. There are five options open for training, and players can choose to come once or twice per week. The price comes out to less than $20 per hour for individualized training and protocols provided by both Healthy Heat and 3D Hitting. The program starts on Monday, June 4 and runs to the end of July. I want to encourage all high school players to join us this summer and develop through our High School Summer Alliance Training!
Throwing is like many other athletic movements. If a basketball player wants to get better at his jump shot, he has to get in the gym and get the ball in the air. If you want to improve your lower body strength, you have lift. Now, strength training is probably the most similar to throwing a baseball because you can’t max it out every day. But you can’t just go in once a week, crush your lower body, and then shut it down for a week. You need to take care of auxiliary lifts and make sure that you maintain mobility. For many, the body will actually recover better if they are active in between lifting days.
Throwing is an extreme complex movement that, for some, can be very stressful. As the tissue recovers from this stress, it becomes a jumbled mess. In order to get the tissue to align properly, it needs low intensity work that is specific to its normal movement. To say it another way, you need to make low intensity throws. Youth athletes typically fall into three categories: no pain - great performance, pain - great performance, pain and inconsistent performance. We believe that all three groups could benefit from a recovery day.
Starting with the latter, athletes experiencing pain and inconsistent performance need to refine their movement patterns to lessen the stress on their arm and continue to increase arm strength. They may also have major physical contributors to arm pain that need to be taken seriously or corrected with different forms of arm care. If there is pain, then we need to fix both movement patterns and physical constraints, because it is impossible to know which is causing pain. However, if we take care of all of it, we have a better chance at getting rid of the pain.
For the group that is having pain, but still performing well, they need to do all they can to maintain arm fitness, but also need to improve movement patterns. The Oates Training Sock is the equivalent to ⅓ of the stress of normal throwing. We have athletes throw in constraint drills that will keep them moving efficiently while also speeding up the recovery process. These constraint drills allow them to continue to improve their mechanics which could eliminate many recovery issues (if every pitch becomes less stressful, they will recover faster). We can also use arm care to address specific strength or movement issues that can be contributing to their lack of recovery.
For the guys who have no pain and great performance, their need for recovery is simple. If they improved their recovery, they could be able to train at a higher level of intensity. Our data from the offseason shows that if you are able to throw the ball hard more often, your velocity can continue to improve, even in season. Also if they are able to throw a bullpen at closer to game-like speed, they can improve command and secondary offerings. Again research of skill development shows that a majority of work needs to be done at 80% or above, or movement patterns could regress when they get up to game speed. Therefore, their recovery day would be more geared to making their next training day more intense.
We are shifting Healthy Heat to accommodate in-season work. Youth throwers need to continue to improve their routine. They need an arm care program that is monitored to make sure any movement issues are improving. They also need to continue to refine mechanics so their recovery improves. While bullpens are important, there is more work that can be done to improve efficiency. We want to shift the focus from just pitching and continue to make high-level throwers who have the ability to dominate on the mound. And, most importantly, we want to provide a real plan for guys to overcome arm pain.