Season Preparation: On-ramping

It's still December, but in Texas, it's already time to start thinking about your spring season on-ramping. With high school and college teams beginning practices in January and many youth leagues not far behind, the training window is already turning into the preparation window.

Sufficient preparation is essential for both performance and health. Whether you spent the off-season training your butt off or resting and recovering from a year-round schedule, you don't want to show up to that first practice -- especially if it's a tryout -- and not be ready to go.

If you've been training, on-ramping for the season will mean transitioning to focused flat-ground work and eventually throwing from a mound. The goal is to translate off-season gains into baseball-ready performance.

Professional players are still 8-10 weeks from reporting, and at Driveline Baseball near Seattle, the pros have just started high-intensity throwing:

If you've been resting, however, on-ramping for the season will mean gradually returning to throwing. Most youth pitchers will fall into this category, and nearly all year-round pitchers should fall into this category. (Some pitchers don't even give themselves time to rest, playing in fall leagues and showcases well into December!)

Traditional prehab-style on-ramping focuses on constrained throwing (wrist flicks, elbow extensions, etc.) with limited intensity and restricted distances. As part of the ramp-up, throwing constraints are removed, intensity is increased, and distances are extended.

Coming off a period of rest is a great time to introduce a plyo ball program. The low-intensity, constrained throws at the beginning of such a program will not only physically prime the body for more intense throwing, it also gives the pitcher time to learn the new movements.

Starting out with heavier implements, such as Driveline's green and black PlyoCare balls, a plyo ball program tests the brain's neurological map for throwing, challenging it to become more efficient. As lighter implements are introduced and constraints are removed, the body continues to move toward readiness while a more efficient throwing pattern begins to take hold.

On the other hand, a traditional on-ramp program that uses only a standard 5oz baseball, while it will help prepare the pitcher for the upcoming season, will generally not provide enough of a training stimulus to challenge movement efficiency.

The clock is ticking on this off-season. Make sure you're ready for 2017.

Announcing Summer Training

I've been away from coaching for too long. A couple of recent changes have been made that will allow me to get back into it, and I'm going to do it for free this summer. That's right. For June, July, and August (and maybe September), I will charge zero fees for coaching.

"What's the catch?" you ask. My schedule is not free-and-clear, so my availability will not be consistent. This is a big reason why I do not feel that charging a fee is the right thing to do at this time.

I am also capping this inaugural training group at 5 pitchers.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Free for me does not mean free for you. You will be responsible for the cost of materials and any necessary facility fees.

We will be using the Driveline Velocity and Arm Care MegaKit - which contains plyo balls, overweight and underweight baseballs, and J bands. You will be expected to buy and use your own (or share with a friend, I guess).

driveline-megakit.jpg

At this time, I do not have a dedicated space for pitcher training, so we will be working at one of the many indoor facilities in the area. If I have my pick of places, our indoor work will be done in central/east Plano.

Not all work will be one-on-one. Group sessions will help spread facility fees across multiple participants.

I will be following the general philosophy of Kyle Boddy and Driveline Baseball. Sessions will be geared toward training for pitching and will not be what is typically thought of as a pitching lesson.

There are 5 openings, but that does not mean that 5 pitchers will be selected. Good candidates will be healthy, in decent baseball shape, and serious about training.

Due to my professional responsibilities, my schedule will be somewhat erratic. Ideally, we would meet 2-4 times a week, but many weeks, we will be lucky to get 2.

STILL INTERESTED?

If you are interested in free coaching in exchange for your hard work, click over to my contact form and shoot me an email. I am interested in your short-term and long-term baseball goals and why you think you're a good candidate. Please include your age and current level of play.

A look at Driveline Baseball's Velocity Development Program

Traditional baseball conditioning does not make sense, particularly when it comes to pitchers. Pitchers are expected to run long distances and ice their arms after they throw. Many coaches insist that body-weight lunges, push-ups, crunches and plyometrics are the only strength exercises a pitcher will ever need.

The truth of the matter is that this traditional concept of conditioning for baseball is completely backwards. Baseball is a sport composed of brief, explosive physical exertions followed by periods of complete energy recovery. (Triples and inside-the-park homeruns are potential exceptions for complete energy recovery.) Extended cardiovascular training in the form of running poles, getting on a treadmill, or riding a resistance bike, is, for the most part, a complete waste of time if the goal is to get better at baseball.

Baseball is an explosive sport where massive force is created in a very short amount of time. It only makes sense that baseball players should train to be explosive. There's nothing explosive about an extended light jog or crunches. Plyometrics and other body-weight exercises, while including some explosive elements, are limited by the athlete's body weight. There is no room for progression once the athlete adapts to his own body weight.

Throwing a baseball with maximum effort involves just about every major skeletal muscle in the body. This makes it one of the best indicators of a baseball player's explosive strength.

I don't think there's a single coach on the planet that would disagree with what I've said so far, not even Dick Mills who thinks strength training is not only unhelpful but also dangerous.

The thing about explosive strength -- and this may shock some of you -- is that you can improve it by lifting heavy things, like in a weight room.

This is the driving principle behind Driveline Baseball's (Seattle, WA) Velocity Development Program, a comprehensive baseball training program where the main focus is throwing velocity.

Kyle Boddy designed the program and coaches the athletes that are a part of it. The program is split between baseball skill activities, such as defense and mechanics, and strength training.

Regarding the naysayers, Boddy offered, "What they don't get is that training for strength and power also helps young athletes to train general motor patterns, which has a clear translation to all sports. Learning to use hip drive in the back squat, thoracic extension in the front squat, and explosive jumping in the power clean all translate to any sport - you name it, it transfers."

Because throwing a baseball involves so many muscles, the Velocity Development Program is not a program that focuses solely on the arm. As Boddy mentioned, his program utilizes various squat techniques and power cleans, but he also includes deadlifts -- perhaps the best measure of someone's overall brute strength -- and soft-tissue work. He adds, "When they first arrive, they do their self-myofascial release, wrist weight warmups, and resistance band work. The warm-up is pretty fast - it takes about 8 minutes."

The key to the program isn't just getting the athletes to lift the weights, it's to get them to work hard. Not every athlete who walks through the door is ready for the program. They can't all handle it. Boddy says, "We're pretty selective about who we bring in - we're seeking to create a hard-working and competitive atmosphere first and foremost. So we've had to screen out a few guys."

Selecting the right athletes is only part of the equation, though. Working with a coach one-on-one isn't always the best way to stay motivated. This is where the semi-private training model comes in.

Semi-private training, as a basic concept, is like group exercise. A small group of athletes, usually 2-4, train together as a group with a [semi-]personal trainer or coach.

Boddy credits Eric Cressey and Pete Dupuis as having influenced this aspect of his program. He adds, "Semi-private training works better for the athlete and for our business model - we get to train a larger group of guys and fill our facility up, and they get cheaper rates and a better atmosphere to train in. We tend to group them by age first, then skill second, so they have peers they can relate to."

Athletes are competitive by nature, and by throwing a handful of them together as a strength training group this competitive nature helps them push each other to work harder.

Results from Kyle's first Velocity Development Program are already being seen. In one off-season of training, a 15-year-old in his program added 8 MPH to his throws.

Now, if fixing the way baseball athletes are trained were as simple as saying, "Train for explosive strength," I would have said that at the top, and this article would have been very, very short. The truth is that you need a coach that knows how to train for explosive strength.

It's not about getting big (a.k.a. "hyooge") or moving large amounts of weight. It's about becoming explosive and training the correct motor patterns. Exercise selection, volume, intensity, and recovery are all factors that must be taken into consideration no matter how experienced the lifter is.

Kyle's results can do a lot of the talking for me, but I know from experience that Kyle has the knowledge and skillset required to manage these factors. If you live in the Seattle area, I strongly recommend taking a good, hard look at Kyle's program.

You can read more about Driveline Baseball's Velocity Development program here:

What athletes don't know: how to squat

A funny thing happens when you walk into a weight room with an NCAA Division III athlete. It's kind of like witnessing a "Best of Bro-science" compilation, and by "best of" I really mean stuff so awful it makes you want to scoop out the part of your brain responsible for short-term memory so you don't have to remember what you just saw.

It isn't that what's happening is so aesthetically upsetting that you'd rather watch a repeating reel of the explicit scenes from About Schmidt. Yes, a lot of it is hard to watch, but what really makes it uncomfortable is that many of them are 100% certain that they know what they're doing.

One of the freshmen said, "I think, by now, everyone pretty much knows how to lift." The irony gave me concussion-like symptoms.

At least I didn't have to slap anyone for doing this.

At least I didn't have to slap anyone for doing this.

During my year coaching NCAA baseball players, I saw countless problems. Among them were some ugly rows, a shocking lack of pull-ups, the improper use of unstable surfaces, and a neglect of soft tissue work. The biggest problem, of course, was -- with the exception of a few athletes -- extremely poor barbell work.

For the most part, if anyone was doing barbell work, he wasn't doing anything but back squats, and calling them "half squats" would have been more accurate. Depth is easily the most prevalent problem with squats.

Poor depth results in quad dominance because of poor activation of the abductors, adductors, hamstrings, and glutes. Because no one wants to back off to a load that their weak posterior chains can handle, poor depth is the toughest problem to correct.

On top of that, poor depth is typically accompanied by excessive ankle dorsiflexion. Instead of bending at the hips, the athlete's knees track forward to allow for more knee flexion. This action moves the barbell closer to the ground, but does not improve the depth of a squat. In this position -- above parallel with ankle dorsiflexion -- the anterior part of the knee faces unnecessary sheer force which may cause pain and may eventually lead to injury.

Next to depth, the most common issue with squats is knee position. Apparently, someone is out there teaching young athletes to squat with a wide stance and feet facing forward. (I have a vague recollection of being taught that myself while in high school.) As the legs bend into the squat and approach 90° of knee flexion, this stance creates unnecessary valgus stress on the medial collateral ligament, which is really good if you're also into grinding your lateral menisci. Such a position suffers many of the same muscle activation problems as poor depth and causes a great deal more pain. (This is true for any flat-footed, standing position where the knees wind up medial to the feet.)

On top of these issues there are chunks of bro-science to deal with: counting that quarter-depth squat as a completed rep so you can tell people "I squatted 400 lbs", coaching cues like "look at the ceiling", and thinking that the Smith Machine is just as good as a barbell.

It takes about 10 minutes to teach someone the correct way to squat, but it takes quite a bit of practice to get it right. Anyone willing to do the work in the first place should be willing to do the work correctly. I'm not going to re-invent the wheel here by breaking the squat down piece by piece and telling you how to do it, but I'm also not going to leave you hanging.

Mark Rippetoe and Lon Kilgore collaborated on one of the most popular strength training books of all time. It's called Starting Strength. You may have heard of it.

This book is the strength training bible for anyone that hasn't mastered the basic barbell lifts (squat, deadlift, press, clean). It tells you everything you need to know to do these exercises the right way.

If you're serious about strength training, you owe it to yourself to make sure you know what you're doing, and if you're a competitive athlete, there's no reason you shouldn't be serious about strength training.

Notes, news, and something else to read

I'm going to bury the lead here, but this is something you need to read. Over at Men's Journal, the light bulb just came on for Daniel Duane. Check out: Everything You Know About Fitness is a Lie. (Hat tip to Tony Gentilcore for getting this article in front of me.)

Remember that Strasburg article I promised a while back? After having looked things over, I decided I don't have much of anything to go on, so I decided to scrap it. My apologies to anyone that was looking forward to it.

I've had a few things kicking around in my head. I dumped a couple of my PITCHf/x ideas onto the blog in December, but I have yet to make any progress on either front. My annual look at the Texas Rangers win-curve is on its way. I have another "Please, Don't Buy This" product to write about. An upcoming series will give an inside look at what college athletes (and their coaches) know and don't know about strength and conditioning. I also have a few additions planned for the PITCHf/x database. I don't know how much of this I'm going to get to because...

Between March 11, 2011 and September 30, 2011, I will be working as a pro scout for a Major League Baseball club. At their request, I will be on hiatus from my websites during that time. I have not been asked to take down the PITCHf/x database, and I do not expect to be asked to do so.

I'm excited about the opportunity and eager to see where it might lead. Now, let's see how much I can get done in the next 5 weeks.