We’ve had a ton of success with our MaxVelo program, which just continues to be improved and improved upon (and always will be – the only constant is change). Athletes are getting a lot out of the program, but the rate at which athletes improve is not similar.
Increasing your fastball velocity consistently over time involves a lot of frustration. Many athletes assume that, if they gained 5 MPH in 10 weeks, that they will continue to gain 5 MPH for every 10 weeks of training.
The fact that the inputs (training) don’t always match the outputs (velocity gain) is a leading cause of frustration in long-time trainees.
To gain velocity over the long-run (20 months+), pitchers must endure many periods of no gain or even decrease.
The most common pattern for our athletes – backed up by the MaxVelo Study Data – shows a pattern like this:
- First six weeks: Immediate jump in velocity. Arm feels fatigued.
- Second six weeks: No gain in velocity. Arm durability goes way up, fatigue sets in less and less.
- Next eight weeks: Very slight gains in velocity, if any. Arm durability trends sideways as the athlete is training 4-6 times per week.
- Sometime after week 20: Another big jump in velocity.
We can also see how non-linear development is by looking at some examples from this summer (2016).
Now, why this pattern exists is something I am trying to figure out (it suggests we might want to periodize our training in a different way), but the first six weeks is common when it comes to any form of training. As I am fond of saying (paraphrased from Mark Rippetoe, author of Starting Strength):
- Everything works.
- Some things work better than others.
- Nothing works forever.
Athletes who have done a lifetime of nothing productive who jump into a productive program will see immediate gains, even if that program isn’t very good. If all you do is throw bullpens and play catch out to 120 feet, the worst long toss program in the world will show very fast results. So will the worst strength program.
However, progress over time isn’t a linear upwards trend. You don’t simply gain 0.1 MPH every day you’re in the gym. In fact, you’ll often go backwards or trend sideways while training. What gives?
Hans Selye discovered what he calls the General Adaptation Syndrome, which basically describes the concept of reacting to stress. The stages are Alarm, Resistance, and Recovery/Exhaustion, where a stressor is introduced, the body resists the stress and expends resources to do so, then it recovers (so long as the stress wasn’t so bad, otherwise you enter exhaustion). This forms the basis of understanding the concepts of exercise science; you want to gradually introduce increasingly more difficult stressors over time to improve your fitness levels. This is commonly known as the single-factor model, and while the dual-factor model is a little more descriptive and accurate, that’s a topic for another day.
Driveline Baseball trains athletes in a manner that is far more consistent with the Bulgarian style of training, though we’re a lot easier on our guys than they were due to connective tissue being under a ton of stress and much faster ballistic movements are occurring in baseball compared to Olympic lifting. The Bulgarian style of Olympic lifting doesn’t involve any sort of periodization at all, but rather training every single day to that day’s maximum intensity level. That means you work up to your “max” effort for that day – not necessarily a personal best, but how good you can be on that given day.
Needless to say, this doesn’t fit well with the single/dual factor model. The body is constantly in a form of regression, and over time output levels drop or trend sideways, and psychologically this is a very difficult long-term proposition.
Most of our athletes are training 3-4 days per week, but we do have a few that train every single day after they’ve been on-ramped over 4-6 weeks of regular training. I’m going to talk about one of them in this blog post to illustrate how psychologically tough this kind of training can be, and why fastball velocity doesn’t simply improve at a constant rate.
I have a client who trains on a daily basis. We’ll call him Ezekiel. (Not his real name. But it sure would be awesome if it was.)
Ezekiel is a terribly unathletic person. When he ran the sixty-yard dash for his HS team, he ran it in 10.1 seconds. I don’t know how else to explain it, but that is unbelievably bad. Actually, bad is not the right word for it. Bad is 8+ seconds. 10 seconds is unheard of.
When he first started training here in November (six months ago), Ezekiel was throwing 70-71 MPH – after being plenty warmed up and on-ramped when he threw for weeks beforehand.
Today he set a personal best in velocity, and I’ll just tell you what it was before I go any further: Ezekiel threw 88 MPH twice and sat 86 MPH. He threw a 2 oz. ball 98 MPH and sat 96 MPH. In six months Ezekiel gained 17-18 MPH on his fastball velocity. But if you think for a second that it was smooth sailing, you couldn’t be more wrong.
Like everyone else in our program, Ezekiel gained a ton of velocity very quickly and was running up against the 80 MPH barrier pretty quickly, which had him super excited. He threw 81 MPH in front of scouts in early March. His velocity chart over the last six months looked something like this:
Ezekiel trained every single day in his basement and his garage when he wasn’t at my facility. He was doing his Backwards Chaining work, Reverse Throwing protocols, Arm Durability circuits, and everything in-between. He also threw in tons of general physical preparedness (GPP) work to become a better athlete. He was throwing baseballs, weighted baseballs, or PlyoCare® balls every single day, using wrist weights twice per day, and getting tons of crap from his high school teammates day in and day out (but they used his J-bands when he wasn’t looking).
For months, Ezekiel was stuck on 80 MPH. In fact, he went backwards and was throwing 79 MPH quite a bit. He got frustrated – he was working so hard and yet his velocity wasn’t increasing like it had been in the past. I sat him down and told him that I understood the frustration, but as John Broz (Olympic weightlifting coach) says, you will have to push through the “dark times” where your performance is sub-optimal. You will still be getting a good training effect, but you will be going backwards or trending sideways in your development.
This is the hardest part to internalize as an athlete – tons and tons of hard work, time, and effort seemingly go down the tubes. Your coaches tell you that you are doing the right thing and that over time you will see the benefits, but after two months of busting your ass, how much longer is it going to take?
There are a few reasons that velocity/performance peaks sharply. The one reason we already discussed is that fatigue is masking the fitness underneath, so while you have it in you to throw over 79-80 MPH, you simply can’t do it because your central nervous system (CNS) is over-taxed, your muscles are too fatigued, or you are just mentally unprepared that day. The second reason is that mechanical things that need to be ironed out don’t click into place in a linear fashion. You throw weighted baseballs five to six times per week and it just feels like the same thing over and over again, until one day, wait a minute, I figured out how to lay my arm back a little bit more on the 4 oz. balls. Maybe I’ll try to translate that to the heavier balls… okay, now what about the regulation baseballs? COACH, GRAB THE RADAR GUN!
Hard Work…. Isn’t
What really angers me is when athletes on Twitter talk up how they had a great training session, how they puked or how they had one good outing and that they were working super hard. That’s not hard work in the MaxVelo program. That’s Wednesday.
The real hard work – adults who work a backbreaking job and raise children can attest to this, by the way – is showing up every single day, day in and day out, and never giving up. Hard work is weathering the mental fatigue you get, the constant derision you receive at the hands of your opponents and teammates because you dare to do something different, and the self-doubt that comes with all of this – and still busting your ass close to 100% in the gym and the pitching tunnel.
Hard work isn’t one day of training. Hard work is a constant psychological assault that constantly taunts you and tells you that you should quit, and you deciding to fight it off for just one more day. Every day of your life.
When you’re not gifted athletically, that’s what it takes to gain velocity, to throw 90, 92, 95 MPH, to play Division-I baseball, to play professional baseball. Oh, and by the way, if you think hard work stops there, just wait until you get to that next level when you’re now standing next to players who are willing to work as hard – or harder – than you, as well as players who never had to work hard in their life because they were gifted with ungodly athleticism.
Understanding and seeing the long run is the hardest thing anyone can do in their lives – it’s why we have so many instant weight loss, get rich quick schemes, and other scams that totally succeed in our society. But it’s the one thing you have to master if you want to reach your ultimate goals.