Archive for October, 2012

“You can practice shooting eight hours a day, but if your technique is wrong, then all you become is very good at shooting the wrong way. Get the fundamentals down and the level of everything you do will rise.”
– Michael Jordan

Ahh. the wisdom of MJ. He’s always someone to look up to and listen to when it comes to competing at the highest level and what it takes to get there. I took a look at this quote of his a little while back, and I realized it was only partly true when it comes to pitching.

Yes, it’s critical that you practice good habits when playing catch, throwing bullpens, doing drill work, and pitching to hitters. It’s very easy to build bad habits while in the moment of those activities.

Yes, Michael has it right when he says that if you develop solid fundamentals, everything else will improve. This can easily apply to any sport, including baseball and throwing a baseball.

Where this quote can’t be applied to pitching, however, is the simple fact that a person just can’t physically throw a baseball for 8 hours a day. Michael Jordan can shoot free throws for 8 hours but I can pitch or play catch for 8 hours. My arm would be shot and I would never pitch again or lift my hand above my shoulder.

This would be about as far as I’d be able to reach if I threw a ball for eight hours straight!

So with this information, it is of utmost importance that pitchers get the most out each throwing session. If we want to consistently make improvements, develop new pitches, and eliminate poor mechanics each and every time we pick up a baseball, there must be ridiculous efficiency for there to be an upward trend in development. Unfortunately, nearly all of today’s young pitchers don’t understand what that means. They simply play catch with reckless abandon and no focus. Before you know it they are done with nothing to show for their efforts or lack there of. That leads me into this post where I’ll hit on three of the biggest issues I see when kids go out to play catch, and the improvements to correct and focus their efforts, ensuring positive gains each time they pick up a ball.

1.) Kids don’t have a clear-cut goal for most or any of their throwing sessions. Each and every time we throw a baseball, it counts a throwing session. There are only so many times we will be able to pick up that ball to practice or compete, so each time is truly important. I wish I knew this when I was younger, as I only appreciated how precious those opportunities to play catch were when I was sidelined with Tommy John surgery last year. That puts it into perspective alright. Most young pitchers I know just start winging the ball around without the slightest idea on what they are working on. Playing catch isn’t just to get loose or get your arm in shape, its to develop as a pitcher or player.

Solution- Have a clear-cut goal before you touch a baseball. Whether it’s to simply work on a truer four-seam fastball or something more advanced like throwing a cutter with later and tighter spin, it doesn’t matter. Be honest with yourself and what you need to work on, and make each and every throw a dedicated effort towards that goal of improving what you set out to improve. We only have so many bullets in our arms. Make them count!! 

Here’s a quote I picked up from a book called, The Big Miss, by Hank Haney, Tiger Woods’ former swing coach…..

“I never once saw Tiger Woods hit a careless shot in practice in all my years coaching him.” 

2.) Pitchers tend to get off-line when playing catch. Almost every pitcher has been guilty of this at some point. We think we are in line with our throwing partner, but if we don’t have any frame of reference (see solution below), then our mind and body will compensate with poor form without even realizing.

Quick Story In 2008, at class A Rome, we as pitchers threw at our home stadium from a mound that was 3.5 inches off-line towards the first base side. It never felt right as a left-handed pitcher. I was constantly fighting my body to get to the inside part of the plate, instead leaving balls over the middle with too much regularity. Even hitting the outside corner was more difficult. All 5 of the starting pitchers that year happened to be left-handed also. They too gradually started noticing the same issues in their delivery. Once all of us got together and spoke up to the team, front office, and eventually the grounds crew, the revelation was made that we were pitching off-line as a result of a newly installed mound that went in before the season started. The statistics from home games and away games were astounding, and once fixed, everything I wanted to accomplish on the mound became much more consistent.

So why the heck do most pitchers practice off-line most of the time? Well for one, we normally play catch in outfield grass without any hash marks or anything to guide us. We aren’t in a cage anymore where we can lay down tape or something of that sort. We still must find a way to throw online each and every time. Here’s how.

Solution- First, make sure your partner puts something at his feet that will remain there for the entire throwing session. Then, walk off from there in a straight line to the established starting distance you have set. Align cones, baseballs, or anything that you have a pair of that you can set on the ground by the middle of your back foot in a straight line to the estimated landing spot of your front foot. When you want to move back, simply move the cones or objects back, and line them up again. So always..always..ALWAYS make sure every throw is done so with proper alignment toward your target.

Pro Tip- Whenever possible, throw at a football field with hash marks. This will spare the extra work in setting up cones. It will also build consistency in the delivery, because now you have visual aid to see where your stride food lands each time.

3.) Most kids are never physically prepared to throw a baseball once they pick one up. It must be over 90 percent of young baseball players that have played and continue to play catch without properly warming up their body and arm first. It absolutely is a contributing factor in injuries to young pitchers. It’s astounding to me how many kids think its ok to just come straight from the car and expect to sling the ball around with max effort right away. It doesn’t work that way my friends. Pitching is one of the most demanding movements in all of sports. Treat it that way. Prepare yourself accordingly.

Solution- I am a firm believer in getting a sweat going before you pick up a baseball with any intention of throwing it. At the very least, do some sprints and jumping jacks until you’re body temp gets up. My two priorities before I pitch or toss are………..

A.) Make sure I’m sweating and my body feels primed. Check out my favorite exercises to get ready here.

B.) Make sure I get my arm firing from exercises first, not throwing first. My go-to’s are push up variations (see vid below), shoulder stabilizations, tubing, and body blade (only for the purpose of getting loose to throw, not training).

 

From all the years as a kid playing baseball, I wonder sometimes how much better I would be if I know what I do now about the importance of throwing with intent, throwing online to a target, and preparing my body for the demands of pitching. It’s not a regret, it’s only a wonder and an opprotunity to share what I’ve learned through the years for the benefit of you readers.

If you’re a young baseball player reading….Make each throw with a purpose.Throw on line every single time…and make sure you have a sweat going before you touch a ball. If you do these 3 things consistently, you’ll improve at a much higher rate than everyone else.

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“Because you might as well be dead. Seriously, if you always put limits on what you can do, physical or anything else, it’ll spread over into the rest of your life. It’ll spread into your work, into your morality, into your entire being. There are no limits. There are plateaus, but you must not stay there, you must go beyond them. If it kills you, it kills you. A man must constantly exceed his level.”

Bruce Lee

Here @Showmestrength, we dedicate a bunch of our time to sharing information about our training, the training of others, and the proper ways to approach training, mostly when it deals with the sport of baseball. An area we feel may get ignored and often under trained however, is an athlete’s approach to the training of his or her mind.

Everyone knows the athlete who has a boatload of talent but seems mentally soft or weak when it comes time to attack goals, perform under pressure, or pick themselves up when times are tough.

Everyone knows the athlete who gives up when they aren’t feeling their best, when they are tired, beat down, and things aren’t going their way.

Everyone knows the athlete who talks “tough,” but doesn’t day in and day out display the “mental fortitude” to achieve the “very best” that they so often talk about.

What do I believe mental toughness is? I’ve heard many people describe their idea of what it means, but rarely am I sold on their take. Being a mentally tough son of a b**** is very appealing to people, including myself. It’s sexy, macho, and downright cool to see people who seem to lock in with extreme focus under extreme pressure or circumstances. Why are we so drawn to these people? Because. If it were easy, everyone would be like that. Simple. That leads me to my definition, part of which I took from Richard Mackowicz who is a former Navy Seal, author/speaker, founder of NDCQ, and ultimate badass.

” What makes a person mentally tough is how they show up when the chips are down, when they are fatigued and when the odds aren’t in their favor. If that person is consistently focused on the goal or target, giving every ounce of energy to achieve that goal, and showing up with the same intensity when the odds are against them and when people depend on him or her the most, then that individual is mentally tough”

Richard “Mack” Mackowicz talks to the Oakland Raiders at length on the topic here –

 

As an athlete, its easy to see why videos like this fire me up. Matt Kramer sent me this video earlier this summer right after I was released by the Atlanta Braves. It got my juices flowing for sure. I wanted to prove people wrong, get back to Cressey Performance and bust my ass in the gym, and get back to throwing like I know how.

These though, were just emotions. What I needed was ACTION. I knew that I would train hard. I love to train hard. The question though was if I was willing to give more mentally. Was I willing to do things that would push my mind to my self-imposed limits? Was I willing to practice having the chips not in my favor and the conditions against me? I knew that physically I would be training with the best strength coach in the world, Eric Cressey. It was going to be up to me, though, if I wanted to train my mind as hard as my body.

I decided, along with close friend and Stanford baseball player, Sahil Bloom, that I would dedicate myself to exercising my mental strength as much as I would my physical strength. Here are a few of the ways we trained and continue to train.

Ice Baths-


 

 

 

The idea to try ice baths came from the 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss. It was described in the book as a way to supercharge your metabolism leading to an increase in fat loss. I found the book absolutely fascinating, and recommend it to people looking to recompose their body, but Sahil and I thought it would be a good way to challenge ourselves mentally. We decided that we would each take cold baths, working up to 15 bags of ice, every weeknight of the summer.

Seems reasonable right? Ha. I remember the first minute of my first ice bath very clearly. It was a minute that I learned a ton from because in that moment I let my negative thoughts get the best of me. I thought of ways I could make it easier, ways I could convince Sahil to cut it short and find a less cold way to complete the drill. The Navy Seals talk about this sort of reaction as a panic button that gets switched on in the brain. If left untrained, in their case, you’re dead. The Seals train extensively to suppress the “panic button” in their brain to keep laser like focus in the presence of chaos. (Learn more on how the seals train the brain’s reaction to fear here). From that minute of panic, I learned #1) I had a long way to go if I wanted to suppress my “panic button.” #2) This was something I could train. #3) Being freezing cold for an extended period of time would force me to focus on something simple, yet so difficult to master, my breath.

By the end of the summer, Sahil and I had worked up to 15 bags of ice filled alongside cold water in a normal sized tub. One of us would go in for a 2 minute interval while the other cheered and encouraged from the side or re-focused for the next rotation. This lasted upwards of 18 minutes some nights. 15 bags and 18 minutes would have been hard to fathom when just starting out, but we learned that just like our body, we could exercise and train our minds to overcome the most challenging of circumstances.

4 A.M. Mountain Runs-

Carrying each other on our shoulders, battling the fatigue of early morning, and enduring through the times when our bodies were telling us to quit were some of the ways Sahil and I decided we would use the mountain next to his house for mental training. Once I learned that this awesome hill existed, he and I both knew that it would become a staple for both our physical and mental training over the course of the summer.

Another lesson learned from Richard Mackowicz made alot of sense to me. It cut through to a very basic principle that I could apply to all areas of my life.

“A man can only be beaten in 2 ways. If he gives up or he dies.”

I vowed that I would keep this in the back of head when faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles such as carrying Sahil on my back up the mountain or waking up at 4 a.m. when I was tired and cold. Giving up simply wasn’t an option anymore. Once that was clear in my skull, it freed up so much more room to grow in regards to mental strength.

Here is a cool video from Will Smith that will help reinforce the concept :
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My favorite comment from Will is:

“The only thing that I see that is distinctly different from me and everyone else is that I am willing to die on a treadmill. You may have more talent that me. You may be smarter or stronger than me, but either you’re getting off first, or I’m gonna die.”

By no means are we in favor of treadmills till death here at Showmestrength, but that statement just shows the level of commitment toward success one can have, and therefore train.

Cheat Days-

This was another idea pulled from the 4-hour body. As part of the slow-carb diet, which essentially is 6 days a week eating meats, veggies, legumes, beans, and nuts followed by one day of an all out splurge on as much and whatever food your heart desires, Tim Ferriss goes into further detail on how if scheduled correctly, cheat days can actually be beneficial for those people looking to redesign their physique in a positive way. After reading this book, I knew that I really didn’t even need to change my eating habits too much. I tweaked a bit here and there, but scheduling this day of insane eating ended up teaching me a couple of things.

1.) Scheduling rewards for a job well done plays a huge role in remaining on the track of consistency. It’s easy to drift astray of goals sometimes, but I found that whether you’re trying to lose a few pounds, move around more weight in the gym, or become better at your craft, rewarding yourself on a scheduled basis can keep you locked into what you’re trying to achieve. Cheat days happen to be my scheduled weekly reward for eating amazingly all week.

2.) When planned correctly, cheat days have no negative affect on performance or physique. I learned this through two reliable professionals in the field of human performance, one of them being Tim Ferriss. The other is John Romaniello. Roman is well read in various areas of fitness and health, and is one of the most successful strength coaches in the world. Click on their names above to read about them further. You’d be doing yourself a favor!

The biggest item that I wanted to share here is the importance of training your mind. I think all of us are guilty in some degree to taking the power of our minds for granted. If you truly are looking for an edge in performance, dedicated to ACTING on your goals, and willing to do whatever it takes to become better at what you do, you owe it to your body AND your noggin to train accordingly…Now, one last quote from the dragon himself, Bruce Lee.

“Ever since I was a child I have had this instinctive urge for expansion and growth. To me, the function and duty of a quality human being is the sincere and honest development of one’s potential.”

In Soft Tissue Troubleshooting For Pitchers (Part 1), I ran through a few areas in the upper body where we as pitchers tend to get knotted up, then outlined some solutions to combat those soft tissue restrictions. Here in Part 2, I will do the same, but for areas in the lower body that tend to give pitchers trouble as the season wears on.

First, lets just pose a scenario where someone asks me to look at a professional pitcher’s delivery. Then, after watching, that person asked me what parts of that pitcher’s lower half I believed would become the most restricted, knotted up, or troublesome from a soft tissue standpoint throughout the season.

After thinking about how I would answer, I believe the first thing I would say is that I really didn’t need to see that video to give an appropriate answer. The questions I would ask them instead would be, 1.) Was this pitcher wearing cleats in the video? 2.) Did this pitcher participate in a full spring training? 3.) Has this pitcher already logged a ton of innings or appearances at the time of this video?

You might be wondering where I’m going with this, but coming from someone who has been to 6 spring trainings and pitched in parts of 7 professional seasons, I believe that from my experiences as well as discussions with fellow teammates about our aches and pains, I could cite at least a few areas in the lower body that tend to get aggravated at different stages of the season. Here are some…

1.) Bottoms of the feet– Often pitchers go entire off-seasons without putting on cleats. We train hard all winter in bare feet or minimalist footwear, and are happy campers when we finally get to finally move around without baseball spikes. Then, once spring training or spring practice rolls around, we are suddenly wearing spikes all the time again. Our feet start to get crammed up again, and as a result the arches of our feet get weak and sore. Heres a quick fix!

Tool– Batting cage ball- Sore Spot– Arches of feet

Find the meat of your foot and roll the pain away. I always tend to try and find the sorest spot and just hold the ball there with added pressure until the soreness subsides. After rolling for a bit, walk around without shoes. You should notice an appreciable difference.

2.) Shins, Shin Splints, or Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome (for the geeks)- Working our way up the chain, this area is a common problem amongst pro ball players coming back to spring training where we #1 Start wearing cleats again for a good part of the day #2 Stand around in sub-par posture most of the day shagging batting practice, and #3 Run absurd amounts (often in cleats) after standing around with sub-par posture. In my opinion and experience, this is a recipe to turn super strong and athletic pitchers into sore, immobile, and dysfunctional pitchers. Here is a way to help maintain decent soft tissue on the both sides of that tibia.

ToolRolling Stick or Tiger TailSore Spot– Calves, Shins

Forget the ultrasound, ice, or lovey dovey massage. If you want to feel better, you’re going to need to get in on that calf and around your shins. Have one of these rolling sticks or Tiger Tails handy to roll up along your calf and alongside your shins to get that crap outta there. It’s gonna hurt, but the pain is temporary. You’ll feel better after a few min of this focused soft tissue work. Pair this with a little static calf stretching and you’re golden.

3.) Lead Hip- This pertains to the final question I asked about the professional pitcher in the scenario mentioned at the beginning of this post. It’s no mystery that pitching is one of the most violent motions in all of sports. Not only is it violent, but it’s repetitively violent. The same joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments take a beating. When we look closer at a pitcher’s delivery, we can see precisely which areas those are. When it comes to a pitcher’s lower half, I would argue that the lead hip (hip closest to home plate throughout delivery) is the most important area to narrow in on for the most soft tissue maintenance.

Tool– Batting Cage Ball- Sore Spot- Outside of Lead Hip

For right-handed pitchers, cross your left leg over the right and roll over the tight fascia in your glute and outside hip on the left side. Opposite for lefties of course. This position is beneficial because it allows all your weight to sink into to the ball, ensuring you free some of that junked up soft tissue to allow for better hip internal rotation lost from driving through that front side so aggressively while pitching.

When it comes to being a healthy pitcher, the things that first come to mind are proper mechanics, strength, flexibility, mobility, and shoulder/elbow health. Still, one of the most important pieces to the puzzle, soft tissue, often gets overlooked. In professional baseball it is seen by some as weak, coddling, or pampering, all labels you want to avoid. Still, so many pitchers tend to break down over the year, many of them which could have been prevented with diligent soft tissue maintenance. If you are a pitcher, do yourself a favor and add some of these techniques to your program or routine. You can thank me later!