Driveline Seminar List for Early 2015

After the release of Hacking The Kinetic Chain and an awesome time at ABCA, Driveline Baseball is hitting the road in 2015. Kyle will be giving talks about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to pitching mechanics and pitching training and lots of hands-on training with high doses of highly effective drills.

If you are on the mailing list, you saw that we kicked off the North American tour in Apex, NC at The K-Zone on February 8th with a one-day seminar and training session, and it was a blast.

If you run a facility or select teams, want to implement the Driveline system and have not yet reached out, email Mike to get more information and schedule an event.

March 7th – Abbotsford Cardinals – Abbotsford, BC

We are going to be in BC on March 7th, hosted by the Abbotsford Cardinals. This is going to be a one-day event with two separate training sessions, two research presentations plus a coaches-only Q&A. We will be at WJ Mouat High School. Derek Florko has done a great job setting up an event that packs a lot of value into one day of training.

You can find more information about the event on the Cardinals website along with contact information for Derek about purchasing tickets.

March 29 – Elite Baseball Training – Bridgeton, MO

We are back on the road in late March at Elite Baseball Training right outside of Saint Louis, MO. We’ll be rolling out 3D motion capture in Saint Louis at this event. Rick Strickland has built an incredible baseball facility with all the latest equipment needed to capture and analyze a ton of data in the pitching motion. Those attending will get a great mix of training sessions, research presentations and Q&A plus we’ll provide a 3D motion capture and analysis from Zenolink for a limited group of attendees.

Information for the event is up now at the Elite Baseball Training website. Contact Elite Baseball Training for exclusive info.

April 11 – Diamond Pros Baseball – Glen Arm, MD

Kyle will be in the Baltimore/DC area on April 11th at the Diamond Pros Facility. Mike Trott and the rest of the coaches behind Diamond Pros have built a great facility, and we’ll be doing a lot of hands-on training with their teams and local athletes plus sharing our research and coaching tips for local coaches.

More information, along with ticket information up soon at the Diamond Pros website.

Late 2015

We have more clinics lined up with partner facilities for later in 2015. We’ll be sharing those as they are finalized.

If you’d like to run the Driveline system of training pitchers out of your facility, let us know. You can fill out the contact form below or email Mike.

 

By |February 24th, 2015|Training|0 Comments

A More Forward Approach to Understanding Pitching Biomechanics

This is part two of three of the initial guest posts by Dr. James Buffi. Part one was titled Challenges with Typical Biomechanical Analyses of Pitching.

It is impossible to figure out if a specific player scored a run in a baseball game just by looking at the final box score. This is essentially what typical biomechanical analyses of pitching try to do. They attempt to infer the underlying outcome for the UCL from macroscopic surface-level observations of net elbow loading.

As stated in my previous post, the total elbow load is not nearly enough information to determine the underlying ligament load.

Most of these typical biomechanical analyses can be classified as inverse dynamic analyses. The word “inverse” refers to the order in which calculations are performed relative to the way the body actually creates motion. In an inverse dynamic analysis, the total joint loads are recorded and calculated first. The loads on individual joint structures and muscles are then computed second. This directly contrasts the way the human body actually creates motion.

In the human body, the muscles are generally activated first by the brain. A motion then occurs second, as a result of the activation. When an analysis of a motion is performed by working “forward” from neural command, to muscle output, to joint loading, and then to the motion, it is called a forward dynamic analysis. In a forward analysis, a motion is analyzed in the same way the body creates it, as opposed to the inverse approach, in which the analysis starts with the end result and works backwards.

Forward Dynamics

Referring back to the example I used in my first post, let’s again consider the situation in which two teams of 15 people are playing a game of tug-of-war. To perform an inverse analysis of the game, the total load on the rope is measured first, and then the loads supported by individual players are estimated second from the total rope load.

In contrast, to perform a forward analysis of tug-of-war, one would start by determining the loads supported by individual players, and then calculate the total rope load that results. The forward analysis better represents the observed process. It does not require approximating a method for working backwards from the load on the rope to the underlying loads supported by specific individuals.

When I perform a biomechanical analysis of a pitcher, I use a more forward approach. I go straight to the muscles and ligaments. To be clear, I do not perform a forward dynamic analysis in the purest sense, because my approach still begins with the recording of the pitching motion rather than the neural command. However, I do not calculate the total joint loading as an intermediate step. I compute the actions of the muscles and ligaments directly from the pitcher’s motion using knowledge of musculoskeletal anatomy and neural activation patterns. I am able to accomplish this with computational, physics-based, musculoskeletal-modeling techniques.

The development of my computational approach began while I was working toward my PhD. I used a computer model of the human body and a well-defined algorithm [1] to compute muscle forces that generated a recorded pitching motion. The algorithm included an embedded forward dynamic analysis. The specific computer model I used was developed from bone, muscle, and ligament geometry measurements taken in cadavers, as well as strength measurements taken in living subjects [2, 3].

Pitching Timeline

In 2014, I published an academic article using my modeling approach [4]. In this study, titled “Computing Muscle, Ligament, and Osseous Contributions to the Elbow Varus Moment During Baseball Pitching,” I created a computer simulation of a high school pitcher’s throwing motion. I then used the simulation to investigate how individual muscles can affect UCL loading. I also investigated how changes in muscle output can either relieve or exacerbate the load on the UCL.

My simulation results supported what many people have postulated over the years: muscles have the ability to substantially influence the load on the UCL [5-7]. As expected, my simulation results showed that the forearm flexor-pronator muscles have the capacity to generate considerable protective elbow forces. Surprisingly, due to the subject’s specific posture at the time of maximum elbow loading in his pitching motion, I also found that the triceps muscles were able to protect the subject’s UCL. This may not hold for every pitcher, but it is definitely worth exploring.

Additionally, when I increased the outputs of all the subject’s muscles in a simulation (as one could theoretically do using a well-defined training regimen), I was able to eliminate the simulated load on the subject’s modeled UCL.

This is an awesome result. It implies that pitchers can protect their elbows through muscle training. It implies that changes to throwing mechanics are not always necessary for injury prevention. However, it is important to understand that it only occurred in one simulation of one motion with certain muscles isolated. More work is needed before this result can be applied in the training room or on the practice field. The potential to get this work done is just one of the many reasons why I am excited to work with Kyle Boddy here at Driveline. He believes in using scientific evidence to support advanced training techniques.

The most important outcome of my 2014 study, which became the crux of my doctoral dissertation, is that I developed a framework for subject-specific muscle-driven analyses of pitching. This means that I can now record a specific pitcher’s throwing motion and give him a legitimate analysis of what is going on with his muscles and ligaments, in a way that has never been done before.

In fact, this more forward approach is already generating new and exciting research outcomes. Using this approach, I have observed notable differences between the muscle and ligament actions of previously injured and non-injured pitchers (which I hope to publish within the next year). If I am able to develop tests that detect specific differences such as these, there is great potential to identify injury-prone pitchers before they get injured. Furthermore, there is the potential to design training programs that compensate for observed differences and protect vulnerable muscles and ligaments.

The current state of baseball speaks volumes. Elbow injury rates are so severe that teams feel like they are running out of options. Certain teams are even seriously considering six-man rotations. Now I think it’s time for baseball to embrace a more forward approach to pitching injury prevention.

Dr. James H. Buffi has a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Notre Dame and a PhD in biomedical engineering from Northwestern University. His doctoral dissertation was called, “Using Biomechanical Modeling and Simulation to Calculate Potential Muscle Contributions to the Elbow Varus Moment during Baseball Pitching.”  He has also been a visiting scholar in the National Center for Simulation in Rehabilitation Research at Stanford University as well as a visiting researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital. You can follow @jameshbuffi on twitter.

References:

  1. Thelen, D.G., F.C. Anderson, and S.L. Delp, Generating dynamic simulations of movement using computed muscle control. Journal of Biomechanics, 2003. 36(3): p. 321-328.
  2. Holzbaur, K.R.S., et al., Moment-generating capacity of upper limb muscles in healthy adults. Journal of Biomechanics, 2007. 40(11): p. 2442-2449.
  3. Holzbaur, K.R.S., et al., Upper limb muscle volumes in adult subjects. Journal of Biomechanics, 2007. 40(4): p. 742-749.
  4. Buffi, J.H., et al., Computing Muscle, Ligament, and Osseous Contributions to the Elbow Varus Moment During Baseball Pitching. Ann Biomed Eng, 2014.
  5. Lin, F., et al., Muscle contribution to elbow joint valgus stability. Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery, 2007. 16(6): p. 795-802.
  6. Seiber, K., et al., The role of the elbow musculature, forearm rotation, and elbow flexion in elbow stability: an in vitro study. Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery, 2009. 18(2): p. 260-8.
  7. Udall, J.H., et al., Effects of flexor-pronator muscle loading on valgus stability of the elbow with an intact, stretched, and resected medial ulnar collateral ligament. Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery, 2009. 18(5): p. 773-778.

Challenges with Typical Biomechanical Analyses of Pitching

This is a guest post from Dr. James H. Buffi, Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering.

It is impossible to overstate how excited I am to have Dr. Buffi contribute to our blog in what will be the first article in a three-part series on the biomechanics of pitching. In 2014, Dr. Buffi had a paper published title Computing Muscle, Ligament, and Osseous Contributions to the Elbow Varus Moment During Baseball Pitching (pubmed) which absolutely stunned me with the new methodology he had taken. Prior to that, Dr. Buffi had presented a conference paper titled Effect of Forearm Posture on the Elbow Varus Torque Generated by the Flexor Pronator Muscles: Implications for the Ulnar Collateral Ligament (pdf) which has been quoted on this blog and on my Twitter feed many times.

Dr. Buffi reached out to me not long ago and we had a great conversation where we discussed where we thought the future of baseball training would be going and where it needed to improve to make serious dents on the rash of elbow injuries that all pitchers are dealing with, from Little League to MLB. It is my pleasure to provide a platform for Dr. Buffi to present his views and to announce that he will be working with Driveline Baseball in the future in some capacity!

——

Challenges with Typical Biomechanical Analyses of Pitching

Have we found the Tommy John solution?

Is this the sleeve that could save baseball?

These are the questions being posed by baseball enthusiasts as the company Motus Global markets a compression sleeve that pitchers can wear to monitor and manage the workloads on their pitching elbows.

I have played baseball since I first learned to walk. I am a fanatic about the sport in every sense of the word. I also have a PhD in biomedical engineering and I can tell you that the Motus sleeve will probably not save baseball from the epidemic of elbow ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) tears that lead to Tommy John surgeries.

To be clear, I am in no way saying that the Motus sleeve is without value. From what I know, I actually think it is a solid first step. The Motus sleeve takes baseball biomechanical analyses out of the laboratory and onto the playing field in live game situations, and it provides a method for tracking your workouts and monitoring your mechanics. These are definitely good things.

However, I do have some serious questions about the claim that the Motus sleeve monitors the load on your UCL. Moreover, there are systematic challenges with the biomechanical analyses being utilized by most institutions, including the American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI), that try to prevent UCL injuries by monitoring total elbow loading or total elbow stress.

All biomechanical analyses of pitching begin the same way. First, the pitching motion, and specifically the acceleration of the elbow, is recorded in three dimensions. This is often done using markers and cameras, or it is done using small inertial measurement units similar to the components that allow smart phones to detect landscape versus portrait mode. The Motus sleeve uses the latter approach.

After recording the motion of the pitcher’s elbow, most institutions (including Motus and ASMI) use an inverse dynamic process to then calculate the total elbow load (or stress) in the form of a joint torque. Torque is simply force that causes rotation. Calculating this total load is fairly straight forward, as Sir Isaac Newtown told us that force equals mass times acceleration. Sparing a few details, this means that the total elbow load is equal to the mass of the forearm and hand multiplied by its rotational acceleration.

Now we have come to the gaping hole in this process… how do we calculate the specific load on the UCL from the total elbow load?

Forearm

The UCL is basically a tiny band that connects the humerus to the ulna, and as far as I know, it is actually impossible with existing methodologies to accurately determine UCL loading when only the total elbow load is considered. This ligament is only a few centimeters in size and it is in close proximity to many muscles and other soft tissue. It is loaded (i.e. it feels a force) when it is stretched, similar to an elastic band. The image below shows the musculature of the left forearm. The UCL is hidden beneath the highlighted muscle near the elbow.

There are more than 10 muscles that cross the elbow [1], and when we only consider the total elbow load, we really have no way of calculating how any of these muscles are individually affecting the load on the UCL during a pitch. Scientists have used experiments in cadavers to show that the muscles on the inside of the elbow (the medial side) can relieve a load on the UCL [2-4]. The problem is these experiments cannot yet be replicated in living subjects.

Additionally, the bones of the elbow also provide substantial stability. Back in 1983, Dr. Morrey and Dr. An reported that just the bones and the joint capsule can support upwards of 40% of an applied elbow load [5]. However, this study was also completed in cadavers and muscles were not considered because the cadavers were dissected.

Furthermore, I published an academic article in 2014 that showed via simulation that the load on the UCL can range from catastrophic to nonexistent depending on the contributions from the muscles and bones [6].

Therefore, it remains unclear how the total elbow load relates to the specific load on the UCL. For a given elbow load, the UCL load could be really high if the muscles and bones are weak, or it could be really low if the muscles and bones are strong.

Consider the following thought experiment: If you have two teams of 15 people playing tug-of-war and the only thing you can measure is the total load on the rope, are you able to determine the specific load supported by any individual person on either team?

This is an impossible task.

Now the question we must ask is: can we develop effective training plans using the measurements of elbow loading provided by the Motus sleeve and other typical biomechanical analyses?

Without more information, the answer is likely no.

If a pitcher has a higher total elbow load, but also capable muscles and bones that protect his UCL, he may be able to push himself more in his throwing program when the typical advice would be to scale back. Muscles get stronger by overloading, not underloading. If a pitcher has a lower total elbow load, but also much less capable muscles and bones, he may actually be at a higher risk for UCL injury than one would expect. In this case, the pitcher may need to reduce his workload until he strengthens his muscles, while the typical advice would be to do the opposite and ramp up throwing.

The bottom line is that the total elbow load or the total elbow stress is a very poor predictor of UCL injury risk. In fact, excessively monitoring a pitcher’s total elbow load could actually increase his injury risk. If a pitcher were to scale his workload back too much in response to elevated elbow loading, he could actually weaken his muscles and therefore increase his risk for a UCL tear and a Tommy John surgery. This means that improper use of the Motus sleeve could actually be very dangerous for baseball.

In my own biomechanical analyses of pitching, I avoid the pitfalls mentioned above by monitoring the loads on individual muscles and ligaments. I accomplish this using advanced numerical methods and an anatomically-based computer model of the human body. This approach will enable targeted training of specific muscles and more accurate assessments of UCL vulnerability.

There may not be a solution to the Tommy John epidemic just yet, but I am confident we can change this very soon with the right scientific approach.

Dr. James H. Buffi has a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Notre Dame and a PhD in biomedical engineering from Northwestern University. His doctoral dissertation was called, “Using Biomechanical Modeling and Simulation to Calculate Potential Muscle Contributions to the Elbow Varus Moment during Baseball Pitching.”  He has also been a visiting scholar in the National Center for Simulation in Rehabilitation Research at Stanford University as well as a visiting researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital.

References:

  1. Holzbaur, K.R.S., et al., Moment-generating capacity of upper limb muscles in healthy adults. Journal of Biomechanics, 2007. 40(11): p. 2442-2449.
  2. Lin, F., et al., Muscle contribution to elbow joint valgus stability. Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery, 2007. 16(6): p. 795-802.
  3. Seiber, K., et al., The role of the elbow musculature, forearm rotation, and elbow flexion in elbow stability: an in vitro study. Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery, 2009. 18(2): p. 260-8.
  4. Udall, J.H., et al., Effects of flexor-pronator muscle loading on valgus stability of the elbow with an intact, stretched, and resected medial ulnar collateral ligament. Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery, 2009. 18(5): p. 773-778.
  5. Morrey, B.F. and K.N. An, Articular and Ligamentous Contributions to the Stability of the Elbow Joint. American Journal of Sports Medicine, 1983. 11(5): p. 315-319.
  6. Buffi, J.H., et al., Computing Muscle, Ligament, and Osseous Contributions to the Elbow Varus Moment During Baseball Pitching. Ann Biomed Eng, 2014.
By |February 18th, 2015|Injuries, Research|0 Comments

Rotational Lateral Bounds – Improve pelvic loading to build elite velocity

The lateral bound, also called the lateral skater jump or lateral heiden (named after former Olympic speed skater Eric Heiden) is a fantastic frontal plane lower body exercise. It gets athletes out of constantly training in the sagittal plane, and has shown a high correlation to ball velocity when compared to other measures of lower body strength and power, such as medball scoop and squat tosses, unilateral and bilateral vertical jumps, single / triple broad jumps and 10 / 60 yd sprint times (Lehman et al., 2013).

However, we know that pitching is a motor pattern that relies on not just drive leg hip abduction, and hip/knee flexion/extension, but also a significant rotational component as well. The traditional lateral bound only trains the leg musculature in the sagittal and frontal planes, neglecting the transverse (rotational) component.

Furthermore, many young athletes have never fully understood what the pelvic loading/unloading process feels like when attempting to throw with high velocity. Many mistakenly think that it is a purely frontal plane “push” when the reality is that high level throwers create torque via their hip rotator muscles, holding this tension as they drive towards the target, before releasing it into a late, smooth and powerful opening of the hips into landing.

Let’s take a look at the traditional lateral bound (pause the video and hold down on the video buffering bar to scroll frame by frame)

 

Here is the rotational lateral bound, which involves creating a torque at the hip joint (i.e. pelvic loading) followed by an explosive unloading of this tension (i.e. pelvic unloading). Whereas the countermovement in the lateral bound is a drop into knee/hip flexion and hip adduction (followed by the opposing movements – extension and abduction), the countermovement in this exercise is a combination of those same factors, but also adding in a stretch of the hip rotators, which drives the hip unloading process, crucial to converting linear back leg drive into usable rotational kinetic energy and for achieving a biomechanically efficient position at landing (front leg braced, hips open, back foot turned down and over).

And finally a standard throw with a plyocare ball (note the similarities in the lower half, even at just a 30% throw)

 

For comparison, let’s check out a couple hard-throwing big leaguers….

Notice how the back leg drives into aggressive hip abduction and hip extension, while HOLDING this hip internally rotated “knee pinched” position. An indication that this process is occurring properly is when the back foot begins to invert, with the majority of the pitcher’s bodyweight being held on the inside (medial) portion of the back foot. The center of mass begins to move directly towards the target while the upper body stays back and shoulders stay closed.

 

Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman (54)    bauer1

In addition to Aroldis Chapman and Trevor Bauer, Sandy Koufax is one of the most obvious examples of this pelvic loading, holding a ton of internal rotation torque in his back hip joint as he drives his center of mass towards the plate (via hip abduction and extension), keeping his upper body back and shoulders closed. Watch 0:45 in the following clip to see what this looks like.

Sandy Koufax – creating an internal rotation torque at the back hip

bauer4 bauer3

Putting it all together

Maxing out the contribution of your lower half to your throwing motion is complex, but the fundamental principles are relatively simple – 1) learn to apply more force into the ground, 2) learn to apply that force in the right direction and 3) learn to sequence the segments properly and with good timing in order to facilitate maximum transfer of this energy into the later links of the kinetic chain.

Applying more force into the ground

  • A balanced, periodized and individually designed strength and conditioning regimen that focuses on maximum eccentric, isometric and concentric force production, as well as rate of force production in the sagittal, frontal and transverse planes.
  • Doing squats, cleans and deadlifts for 3×10 is simply inadequate to fulfill this need. For absolute novices, any strength work is going to work, but after a certain point the programming must shift to accommodate increased recovery demands, decreased rate of adaptation and lack of specificity (implementing triphasic and triplanar principles).
  • For rotational lateral bounds, work them into your lower body training days, performing 3-6 sets of 3-5 reps on each leg prior to your main lifts of the day. It’s okay to continue rotating other plyometric movements, but this is a good one to include in the mix.

 

Applying force in the right direction

  • The pitching motion isn’t a vertical jump – it’s actually more of a lateral and rotational one. As such, we need to be able to produce large horizontal ground reaction forces while maintaining a rotational torque at the back hip joint during the driving phase to facilitate a fully rotational unloading of the hips into landing.
  • The youth pitcher below applies force improperly into the ground. The red arrow is the direction of the force vector he is producing into the ground, while the blue arrow is the resulting ground reaction force of equal magnitude occurring in the opposite direction. The back foot is planted flat on the ground, there is no drive occurring through the center of mass and there is no rotational torque being applied in order to create usable rotational kinetic energy into landing.
  • Sandy Koufax applies more horizontal force into the ground. In addition, he carries rotational torque in the hip joint, and actually unloads his hips into landing while propelling his center of mass explosively towards the target.

 

    koufaxrotation

Learning to sequence the segments with good timing

  • This is where repetition / deliberate practice comes in. You have to know what you’re trying to accomplish with every rep of every throw, whether it’s during long toss, flat grounds, bullpens, whatever. With time, you will learn what it feels like to be “connected” – certain throws will jump out of the hand with seemingly no effort in long toss or catch play. Chase that smooth, fluid, whip-like, connected feeling with every throw. Keep the arm rag loose from the elbow to fingertips.  Experiment and see what cues produce the best results. Get to the point where your motion functions as one rotational, smooth and powerful unit. Repetition is the only way.
  • Long toss is a great tool due to the immediate feedback – not just the distance of the throw, but the arc that the ball takes and the feeling of each throw out of the hand. Being able to see this immediate feedback is absolutely crucial to having productive throwing sessions – throwing into a net alone is generally not enough if major changes or refinements need to be made to a pitcher’s delivery.

You now have some tools and information at your disposal to start developing elite lower body mechanics. Keep in mind that effective lower body mechanics are just one piece of a well-synced throwing motion that produces high velocities safely. For more information on taking advantage of the kinetic chain, check out Driveline’s E-Book: Hacking The Kinetic Chain. For more information on the author, visit www.treadathletics.com

By |February 1st, 2015|Training|0 Comments