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    Starting Strength, 3rd edition
    by Mark Rippetoe
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Saturday
Feb192011

Please, don't buy this: StrikeOut Strippz

StrikeOut Strippz has been a product I've wanted to write about for some time. Unfortunately, it looks like I waited too long. The online store for purchasing these is no longer functioning, and the inventor's blog has not been updated since June 2009. Instead of writing my typical "Please, don't buy this" stuff, I'm simply going to highlight a few reasons why this product was something you shouldn't buy.

If you've heard of using a towel for pitching drills, then you can probably get a fairly accurate concept of how to use the StrikeOut Strippz. Simply imagine attaching the towel to your fingertips -- or maybe strapping the towel to the back of your hand -- so you don't have to grip it when doing the drill. Voila! You've got yourself a do-it-yourself version of the StrikeOut Strippz.

There's no question that a vinyl strip (Why are there two strips???) attached by a glove is going to be a lot easier to use, and convenience means something. Maybe spending $24.95 on such a product would have made sense for you.

The Strippz were part of a package that included instructional DVDs meant to teach coaches and parents how to teach the inventor's idea of "perfect mechanics" to their young pitchers. The methods involved rhyming (so you know it has to be correct!) and a few questionable body and arm positions.

The methods are no doubt successful, though the techniques being taught remain questionable. Pitchers who followed the teaching cues learned repeatability, a very valuable attribute for any pitcher because it leads to improved control. Of course, repeatability is only achieved through practice.

Practicing anything enough is going to result in learning. Repetition leads to repeatability. It's that simple. The trick is having something to repeat, and that's exactly what this product did. Whether or not the StrikeOut Strippz mechanics were the best thing to repeat -- and judging by the materials on their website, they aren't -- remains to be seen.

If you really want to learn how to be a better pitcher, find an actual pitching coach. There's only so much that can be contained in a 76-minute DVD.

If all you need is a system to repeat and your money is tight, you should use Google and find someone who's giving away "perfect" mechanics for free. There's no reason to pay for it.

To have a look at this questionable product for yourself, click here, but please, don't buy this (if the ordering system is ever fixed).

Do you know of another stupid pitching product out there? Tell me about it.

Monday
Feb072011

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.

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.

Friday
Feb042011

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.

Sunday
Jan162011

Maybe you should read this stuff

Eric Cressey has had a spot on my blogroll for some time, but he's not the only fitness blog I read. A couple of Cressey's buddies are also pretty well plugged-in: Tony Gentilcore and Brian St. Pierre.

Tony's blog is informative and entertaining because Tony is knowledgeable, funny, and a self-described geek. When he isn't bragging about how "gunny" he is, he's usually either praising someone who "got it right" or insulting someone who "got it wrong." Tony talks a lot about general training topics and often focuses on topics specifically related to training women. If you're like me - a geek that spends a lot of time thinking about athletic strength training - you'll find Tony's blog very entertainng.

Brian's blog focuses on nutrition. He highlights research findings and discusses a lot of generl health issues mostly related to nutrition. I like his approach because he leans on scientific evidence but does a good job of not getting too technical. If you want to know why you should be drinking pomegranate juice or why you shouldn't microwave milk, this is definitely a blog you should read.

I'm introducing the "Read This Stuff" tag with this entry. Future entries with this tag will highlight blogs and articles that I want to pass along to my readers.

Monday
Jan032011

Measuring pitch variability through PITCHf/x

For a while, I've been wondering what can be measured and analyzed using PITCHf/x data that hasn't already been measured and analyzed. A few things crossed my mind, but the most interesting thought was about the degree of variability of a pitcher's pitches.

It would be relatively easy to measure how much variability a pitcher has in velocity and movement if all things were equal. Of course, they aren't.

The two biggest problems for analyzing this type of variability are, as I see them, pitch type identification and park-to-park measurement error. Variability would mean little if half of a pitcher's "two-seam fastballs" are actually change-ups. Variability also runs into problems when parks like Kansas City -- whose radar gun readings are notoriously high -- are included in a data set with other ballparks.

Fortunately, if we only look at a single ballpark -- usually the pitcher's home ballpark because it has the greatest sample size -- park-to-park measurement error should be less of a factor. Without some form of park-to-park normalization, though, interpark comparisons shouldn't necessarily be taken at face value.

Additionally, 2010 saw a huge improvement in pitch type identification. While it still isn't 100% accurate, it is close enough on many pitchers to give me confidence while playing around with my ideas.

I haven't really dug into the numbers yet, but I will be looking to see if variability within a pitch type helps or hurts a pitcher. My gut feeling is that the number itself won't have much meaning.

To calculate the variability, I plan to capture the 95% window using two measurements of the standard deviation in both directions from the mean. By definition, this eliminates the outliers, but it will take some study to determine if that's really the measurement to use.

It may be beneficial to use a pythagorrean measure to find the variability for pitch movement; however, this would not appropriately model pitches that have greater variability vertically than horizontally (and vice versa, of course).

Look for a follow-up after I play around with this idea.