Keeping Pitching Simple – Setting Artificial Ceilings for Your Athletes

At the 2015 ABCA Convention, the overarching message from pitching coaches and attendees alike was the idea that things need to be “kept simple.” That going into deep detail was ultimately very confusing and hard to understand, and not necessary – after all, pitching effectively simply involves throwing strikes, locating well, having a good pitch selection, and keeping the hitter off balance. What could be more difficult than that?

Let’s back up. I think most people would agree that sprinting is a much simpler activity than pitching – it’s mostly in a single plane, it doesn’t require a second party that is reacting to what you’re doing, it’s generally easier to train for, etc. As we all know, Usain Bolt is one of the best sprinters in the world and of all-time:

Usain Bolt

Unfortunately, sprinting turns out to be quite a bit difficult to understand – according to lead researchers in the field like Dr. Frans Bosch:

“It’s very early stages in understanding,” he says. “It could be many, many years still before we know more. If you look at a very important development in science over the last 15 years called dynamic systems theory and complex theory, we have learned that the answers to our questions are actually further away than ever before. We’re probably not getting closer to the answer, we’re just getting closer to asking the right questions.”

Pitching is heavily triplanar (sagittal, frontal, and transverse planes of movement) and tough to analyze using video without multiple cameras – often synchronized to get actual joint kinematics and kinetics through deeper analysis. If an Olympic sport that has been researched to death isn’t even close to getting the final answers, how can we hope to “simplify” pitching for our instructors and coaches?

A pitching coordinator who was recently at my facility for a week made probably one of the smartest comments I’ve ever heard in my life. He was talking to a group of us including me, two college pitchers, and two pro pitchers who train at my facility. When the topic of pitchability came up, he said: “We honestly don’t know a damn thing about how to get guys out. Or really how to throw strikes.” This is a guy who has been a pro coach for 10+ years in multiple organizations, and he’s absolutely correct. If we knew how to teach throwing strikes and getting guys out, everyone would have sniper-like command and would never walk hitters – and offense would be even more abysmal than it is in today’s MLB game. It is no different with velocity – if it was easy to teach velocity, then everyone would throw 90+ MPH. Instead, you have coaches claiming: “It’s impossible to develop velocity, and that should not come before ‘proper’ pitching mechanics anyway” as a safe valve for their own ignorance.

Your Job is NOT to Make it Simple for Yourself – But for Your Athlete

I’m not saying you should explain complex mechanical concepts to your 12 year old pitchers; we don’t do that, either. We’ve designed specific drills and underload/overload training mechanisms to help train those concepts without our verbal instruction, however, since verbal discussion of complex mechanical movements is largely useless outside of an education setting. You absolutely need to make the athlete feel and understand what is going on without verbally terrorizing him (kudos to Brent Strom for the phrase), but to take that attitude yourself is to deny the very reality that throwing hard and throwing strikes and increasing spin rates and staying healthy and, and, and…. are all REALLY hard problems that are as of yet, totally unsolved.

We’re getting better at asking the right questions, but to simplify your approach and ignore the deeper pool of research – like the 261 pages in Hacking the Kinetic Chain hopes to detail – then you’re only doing yourself and your athletes a huge disservice by setting an artificial ceiling on them. It’s impossible to get better if you aren’t interested in delving into the unknown; experiment and research as much as possible to turn over all the rocks you can.

Sequencing the 95 MPH Delivery

In Hacking the Kinetic Chain, we’ve developed a system that has evolved over six years of research and development and took over two years to fully write. Unlike other products, we do not shy away from the reality that all other “gurus” ignore – developing elite-level velocity and staying healthy is hard. In Hacking the Kinetic Chain, we outlined the 12-step mechanical model that illustrates and describes the 95+ MPH delivery, and today’s giveaway is that sequencing chart.

(Click the image for larger size)

Sequencing the 95+ MPH Delivery

The pitching delivery is broken up into three main groups and twelve subgroups, and they are:

Lower Half

  • Loading
  • Striding
  • Rotation
  • Blocking

Trunk

  • Rotation
  • Stabilization
  • Flexion

Arms

  • Separation
  • Pickup
  • Disconnection
  • Driveline
  • Recovery

As you can see in the chart above, some subgroups have overlap while others do not. This is a 178 frame analysis of Trevor Bauer’s pitching mechanics, who averaged over 95 MPH and touched 99+ MPH in the big leagues in 2014. Images of the various conventional stages of the delivery are provided for reference – balance point, stride foot contact, maximum external rotation, ball release, and maximum internal rotation.

Hacking the Kinetic Chain

In Hacking the Kinetic Chain, we’ve outlined this sequence and provided 261 pages of reading material, 30+ videos, and 10+ programs for in-season, off-season, recovery, and other modalities to ensure you can develop an elite set of pitching mechanics expressed like only your anthropometry and anatomical structure are capable of. We do not put pitchers in a box; we provide them the tools and training methods to develop as a complete pitcher.

Pre-orders Ending in Less than One Day

You can save $100 on Hacking the Kinetic Chain, but only if you buy the book by December 16th at 11:59 PM. After that, Hacking the Kinetic Chain price will permanently go up to $299.

Don’t delay. Pre-order your copy and books will begin shipping on December 17th, 2014 in the order they were received. You will get your 261+ page spiral lay-flat copy of Hacking the Kinetic Chain, online access to the PDF for easy reading on your tablet/smartphone, online streaming AND downloadable training videos shot in high definition (many shot at 4K resolution with Hollywood-studio grade cameras), detailed spreadsheets for specific training programs, and a constantly updated membership sections with Q&A files and member results.

 Click here to pre-order today.

By |December 15th, 2014|Products, Research|0 Comments

Demonizing Early Specialization – Flawed Research Interpretation

A generally-accepted tenet of youth sports training is to avoid early specialization – meaning that kids should have more unstructured play time and not get locked into a single sport at an early age. Trainers and pundits around the world have embraced this concept, demonizing parents and  coaches who suggest that single-sport specialization might be a reasonable decision. Just take the Google search engine for a spin and see it for yourself.

Unfortunately, these claims, while well-meaning, have little to no basis in actual sports science research. Here are the two most common claims used in the case against early specialization:

Most Professional Athletes Played Multiple Sports

Wayne Gretzky New York Rangers action hšjd portrŠtt

Wayne Gretzky New York Rangers action hšjd portrŠtt

This argument is made by many trainers, and Elsbeth Vainbo is just one example of many. (I have no particular ill-will towards her; this article is just often cited by other writers.) In Does Early Specialization Help?, Elsbeth makes the following point:

Do the best of the best get there by playing only one sport? Or do they develop athleticism across multiple sports? I decided to run a little test: I took lists of the top 10 players in 2012 from the four major team sports in North America, and let Google help me to see what sports were in each of their backgrounds. For the sake of consistency, I went with lists compiled by ESPN. You may not agree with their list, but I felt it was best to go with a single source for top 10 lists for the NBA, NFL, MLB, and the NHL; and ESPN seemed the best option.

Would you believe me if I told you 7 out of 40? Only 18% of the top professional athletes were single-sport athletes. Or to look at it another way, 82% played multiple sports.

This is a pretty clearly fallacious argument for multiple reasons, but the best one is simply this: More athletes play multiple sports than those who play a single sport. No attempt to control for youth participation across sports was done, so this simple argument should be thrown out. It seems to make sense on the surface, but what if 90% of ALL youth athletes played multiple sports growing up? Would 7/40 be a good argument then? Clearly not.

Elsbeth also goes on to talk about the idea that early specialization may be harmful, but quotes no research, merely anecdotal stories. We’ll look to others for this.

Early Specialization Increases Injury Risk

Injured Elbow

The vast majority of studies that link single-sport specialization to increased injury risk did not control for number of games played or seasons participated in. In fact, what “early specialization” meant to these researchers was increased games played and participated in by an athlete – year-round soccer, baseball, basketball, and so forth. Instead of playing 20 games of basketball, 20 games of baseball, and 20 matches of swimming, an example athlete would play 60 games of basketball instead.

I have zero qualms with this claim and it’s almost certainly true that participating in increased competitive games in a single sport year-round leads to increased injury risk. The same holds true for baseball – perhaps especially so, considering pitching off a mound at a young age is a very risky activity and should be limited by pitches, innings, and months on the diamond.

However, this is NOT the same as talking about early specialization while LIMITING competitive participation! Consider the example youth athlete that plays 20 games of baseball and loves the game so much that he trains year-round for baseball in an appropriate way that does not risk the growth plates and connective tissue. Would the results be the same? A big league pitcher that works with me specialized in baseball at 12 years old but his father kept him out of competitive leagues for much of the year, having him take lessons with a local pitching coach and throwing long toss and doing drills during the week. He played no more competitive games of baseball than the average multi-sport athlete, but got significantly better through additional exposure and repetition of sport-specific drills. He went on to get a full scholarship at a college, get drafted in the first round, and pitch in the big leagues just a few years later.

No attempt to control for these cases was done, and equating additional games played with the fault of a single sport is the incorrect conclusion to draw.

Our Recommendation: Stop Demonizing Parents

Let me make it clear, lest I be misquoted: I do NOT believe that youth athletes should play competitive games year-round. However, forcing a youth athlete to play multiple sports when all he wants to do is play baseball simply because you heard it was a good idea from “research posts on the Internet” has no basis in reality. Youth athletes should be held out of competition for an appropriate amount of time per year, but off-season training can be provided to confer both general fitness and sport-specific fitness without increasing the injury rate to the athlete.

Demonizing parents whose kids want to play one sport is not fair and has little to no real support when it comes to peer-reviewed research. Unfortunately, much of the research out there has significant holes in it and journalists take the conclusions in the wrong direction, fitting the “research” to their predefined narrative.

By |November 17th, 2014|Training|0 Comments

How to Transfer Weighted Baseball Velocity Gains to the Mound

We’ve uploaded a bunch of awesome videos in recent history on our YouTube channel of guys throwing 100+ MPH, so if you’ve missed out, here’s a pair to review:

Not too shabby, and we expect bigger gains going forward with more and more guys hitting 100+ MPH from a run and gun throw in due time. However there’s no shortage of questions about how this “transfers” to the mound. In an attempt to be brief, I’ll go over the short version and the long version of my answer to this question.

Short Version: How Does it Transfer? It Just DOES.

Caleb Cotham is one of the pitchers in the video above, throwing 100.2 MPH. He’s no stranger to run and gun throws, though – he played for Vanderbilt under Derek Johnson and throws with Lantz Wheeler in Tennessee, both of whom utilize high-output flat ground throwing in their development programs. His previous best before coming to Driveline Baseball for 4 weeks was 98 MPH, so he put 2.2 MPH on his best run and gun in just under a month. We only threw off the mound one time to a catcher before he went to the Arizona Fall League to get extra work in, and this was his last appearance on the PITCHf/x gun, courtesy of Brooks Baseball (click the image for the report):

Caleb PITCHfx

If you can’t read that, it shows that Caleb’s average velocity was 92.8 MPH and his best bolt was 93.6 MPH. Prior to coming to Driveline Baseball, Caleb was averaging just about 90 MPH in affiliate ball and topping 92-93, so he’s clearly gained a few ticks on his fastball.

But that’s not all – this is just the one game he played at Surprise, since PITCHf/x is not in every AFL stadium. According to Stalker radar readings, Caleb has been as high as 96 MPH in the AFL, with one game’s velocity range being 93-96 MPH.

So – the short answer: It simply transfers. The other Internet gurus out there who try to disclaim the idea that increased neuromuscular efficiency of training with weighted baseballs doesn’t transfer to the mound somehow are flat-out wrong, not that it will change their mind.

Long Version: How Does it Optimally Transfer? We Can Do Better.

While Caleb’s results were pretty good, we can do a lot better than that. Simply throwing PlyoCare balls and Driveline Elite Weighted Baseballs at full bore with mechanical cueing goes a long way, but backchaining the work to the mound can seriously increase velocity as well. Here’s what a general outline of how a backchained series of events looks like:

  • Pure neuromuscular adaptation: Vastly increased fitness, very minor primary skill improvement (throwing), negligible secondary skill improvement (pitching)
  • Neuromuscular blending: Minor increase in fitness, major primary skill improvement (throwing), minor secondary skill improvement (pitching)
  • Skill-specific blending: Negligible fitness gains, minor primary skill improvement (throwing), mediocre secondary skill improvement (pitching)
  • Low-output skill-intense training: No fitness gains (possible regression), no primary skill improvement (throwing, possible regression), major secondary skill improvement (pitching)

Caleb only ever got to the neuromuscular blending stage, and didn’t even complete that, yet saw gains on the mound. This is a testament to how hard he worked on his own, studying video and doing hundreds (if not thousands) of dry reps per day thinking about re-integrating what he’d learned unconsciously.

Most coaches start with the low-output skill-intense training phase, which is completely backwards unless the athlete is incredibly advanced (95+ MPH velocity, pitches at a very high level already with no command or injury problems). Some examples of this include low-speed throwing drills, towel drills, target throwing, or intent focusing on hitting the target rather than for maximum output. These are all useful concepts – except for the towel drill – at the appropriate stage of development, which is generally not until a serious base of fitness and adaptation has been implemented.

The very nature of backchaining demands that the low-skill high-output training methods are put before the high-skill low-output training concepts!

To make it a bit more specific, here’s what a general outline of our Elite Training Program might look like, assuming an athlete who has sufficiently reasonable levels of fitness and a set of mechanics that are not immediately at risk for injury (in which case, rehabilitative efforts have to occur first):

  • High-output ballistic flat ground work
  • High-output stationary flat ground work
  • High-output mound velocity work
  • Medium-output mound blend work
  • Medium-output mound control work
  • Low-output mound command work
  • Low-output mound pitchability work

For more information on how weighted baseball training works, check out this video I shot on Total vs. Peak Force:

Hope that helps you understand how weighted baseball training actually works to transfer velocity to the mound! If you’re looking for a sample program for weighted baseballs, we offer a free eBook titled Ballistic Training Methods for Pitchers. Grab your copy today!

By |November 2nd, 2014|Training|1 Comment