3 Things Baseball Players Need to Develop Elite Pitching Performance

There is no magical answer to the question, “what are the best pitching mechanics?”  Take a look around Major League Baseball and you’ll see an endless amount of mechanical variations.

There’s definitely not just one way to throw a baseball.

However, some key moments in the delivery do tend to be more consistent in elite baseball pitchers than many think.

I’ve always considered the wind up more of the dramatical part of the delivery, often times allowing some unique “flare” for each pitcher.  It’s almost like a peacock showing their feathers.  The windup sets the stage for what is to come but doesn’t really have much force or stress seen.

However, everything changes when the foot hits the ground.

Take a look at the moment of foot contact between these three pitchers (photo credit is from Rob Friedman and his amazing collection of pitching gifs):

How to Develop Elite Pitching Performance

And these three at the moment of ball release:How to Develop Elite Pitching Performance

All of a sudden, we start to see very similar mechanics, even though how they got to these positions differed dramatically.

Sure, you are always going to find anomalies, that’s why they are Major League Baseball pitchers.  But I don’t think it’s in anyone’s best interest to try to emulate the mechanics of that one goofy big leaguer.

To truly understand how to best train youth baseball pitchers, we must understand 3 things:

  1. What do elite level baseball pitching mechanics look like?
  2. What are the mechanical faults most common in youth baseball pitchers?
  3. How does youth pitching mechanics change as they age?

Once we understand these factors, we can then develop programs to help facilitate their natural development.  It is extremely important to base our pitching instruction on the science of baseball pitching mechanics.

We sat down last year with my team at Champion PT and Performance and The Farm Baseball Academy to discuss these exact 3 questions to help develop our Elite Pitching Performance Program.

Our youth and high school baseball pitchers should strive to develop sound pitching mechanics at an early age.  Then, once the master the basics, we can start focusing on their long term development based on the above 3 points.

 

Youth Baseball Pitching Mechanics

A recent research study performed by Dr. Glenn Fleisig and the team at ASMI did an amazing job of following several youth baseball pitchers to see how their pitching mechanics changed as they aged, and how this compared to elite baseball pitchers.  The authors followed a group of youth pitchers and assessed their mechanics yearly from age 9 to age 15.

For first time, we now have a more clear pitcher of how youth baseball pitchers slowly develop into elite pitchers.

Using this information, we can build not only better training programs for baseball pitchers to perform, but also a several year curriculum to develop elite pitching performance as they age and mature.

The researchers discussed a few main findings:

  • Stride length – Youth baseball pitchers had a shorter stride length than elite pitchers
  • Open landing – Youth baseball pitchers landed in a more open position than elite pitchers
  • Land with too much Shoulder ER – Youth baseball pitchers shoulder was too far into layback early in their delivery when foot plant occurred than elite pitchers
  • Trunk separation – Youth baseball has less separation of their hip and shoulder than elite pitchers

How to Develop Elite Pitching Performance

Interestingly, pitching velocity has been correlated to both trunk separation and stride length in youth pitchers, so these findings are even more important.  These appear to be two very important things that youth pitchers do with their mechanics that may be holding them back from being elite.

 

The 3 Keys to Enhancing Pitching Performance

Based on the two reports above, we identified three big keys to enhancing pitching performance that we wanted to assure we built our programs around:

  1. Develop hip and shoulder separation
  2. Develop linear and rotation power
  3. Develop lower body drive and intent

We considered this the foundation of our pitching performance programs.  Anything else, like working on long toss or weighted ball programs prior to developing this foundation would be focusing on the wrong things in my mind.

I always say that in baseball pitchers, the lower body develops the power, the core transfers the power, and the upper body dissipates the power.

 

Develop Hip and Shoulder Separation

The first key is developing the ability to separate the hip and shoulder.  This will help land in a more closed position and develop the ability to transfer the force from the legs to the arm and eventually the ball.

While mobility of the hips and spine is a huge factor in developing separation, core stability is also important to control the mobility.  In youth, I see many that don’t have any issue with the mobility to achieve separation, they simply don’t have the core control.

 

Develop Linear and Rotational Power

The next key is to train baseball pitchers to develop linear and rotational power towards the plate.  The body is inherently strong moving forward and back, and less so moving sideways and rotation.

Linear and rotation power is something that needs to be developed.

 

Develop Lower Body Drive and Intent

Once proper trunk separation is established, and linear and rotational power of the lower half and core is developed, then we can focus on developing lower body drive and intent down the mound.

This would inherently increase stride length and help land in a more closed position.

It’s amazing to me how many kids essentially throw with their arms, and not their lower half.  Take a look at our three pitchers here slowly developing drive with their lower half:

How to Develop Elite Pitching Performance

I do believe that intent is something that needs to be taught to many youth baseball pitchers, but many simply just don’t have the mobility, strength, and stability to drive down the mound.

 

How to Develop Elite Pitching Performance

How to Develop Elite Pitching PerformanceThe above information is what I consider to be some of the most important things to focus on when developing pitchers.  As I previously mentioned, this has become the core of our Elite Pitching Performance Program at Champion.  But I know not everyone can train with us.

So a few months ago I hosted a seminar on Developing Elite Pitching Performance that we have recorded and now made available online for everyone to view.

 

I invited a group of pitching coaches around the country to participate and share their knowledge, including:

  • Dan Blewett of Warbird Academy
  • Brent Pourciau of Top Velocity
  • Paul Reddick of Paul Reddick Baseball
  • Lantz Wheeler of Baseball Think Tank

I hand chose each of the above because I know they also believe in the above factors and I wanted them to share this information.  Sure, I don’t agree with everything that they teach, but I do believe in what they teach in regard to the above concepts.  That’s what the program is all about.

We’ll show you exactly what it takes to safely and effectively developing baseball pitchers, without the shortcuts or gimmicks you can find on the internet.

It’s geared towards baseball players and parents, as well as baseball coaches, strength coaches, and rehab specialists.

If you want to learn how to take your pitching to the next level and do it the right way, this is an amazing resource that you are going love.

The program is on sale for 50% off this week only!  Purchase the program now until Sunday, January 21st, at midnight EST for only $99.  Click below to learn more and purchase today:

How to Develop Elite Pitching Performance

 

The Science of Weighted Baseball Training Programs

Weighted baseball training programs to enhance pitching velocity are becoming more popular each year.  However, there are so many questions regarding the proper use of  weighted baseballs:

  • Are weighted baseball training programs effective at improving pitching velocity?
  • If so, why do weighted baseball velocity programs work?
  • Does everyone gain velocity with weighted ball programs?
  • Are weighted baseball programs safe for everyone to perform?
  • Do we know the long term implications of these programs?

We still do not know many of these answers.  There are a bunch of great facilities around the country that are pushing the limits with not only training with weighted baseballs, but also attempting to collecting data to help answer some of these questions.

We are getting better everyday, but there is still a great need for more information.  Like anything else, the pendulum is swinging towards the side of pushing the limits.  I’ve discussed this in a past article on baseball velocity programs and essentially noted that I felt we have not found out the most appropriate dose, and are simply are overdosing.  We need to fully understand the science of these programs before we let this swing too far.

 

The Science of Weighted Baseball Training Programs

We have just recently finished a 2-year study looking at the safety and effectiveness of weighted baseball training programs at Champion.  Lenny Macrina and I conducted the study in collaboration with ASMI, Dr. Glenn Fleisig, and Dr. James Andrews.

This is the first real research study looking at the way a 6-week weighted baseball training program effects pitching velocity, arm stress, range of motion, strength, and most importantly, injury rates.

The results are eye-opening for sure.

As many of you know, planning, conducting, and publishing a real research project takes time, often years from the beginning to the eventual publication.  It must go through a strict review to assure safe methodology and a lengthy peer-review process to assure there is no methodological flaws or bias that may be skewing the data.

It’s great that many people around the internet are discussing the data that they collect at their facilities.  This is a great first step in becoming better as a group of professionals.  but without careful scrutiny of their research design, methodology, statistical analysis, and results, it’s tough to call that data “research.”  There are so many variables that could skew the data, it’s hard to draw accurate conclusions.

Our project has been presented at numerous scientific meetings and is currently submitted for publication.  It’s actually been nominated for the Sports Physical Therapy Excellence in Research Award.

Are Weighted Baseball Velocity Programs Safe and Effective?But because it takes so long to get to publication, I wanted to write a summary of our findings.  I recently published this on EliteBaseballPerformance.com, an amazing website I have started dedicated to providing trust worthy information to advance the game of baseball.

Click below to read my summary of our research project on EBP, and please be sure to share this with any baseball player, parent, coach, rehab, or fitness specialist that may work with baseball players:

 

 

Velocity Down After Weighted Balls and What Pitchers Should Do After Games

On this episode of the #AskMikeReinold show he have a baseball episode with special guests Will Carroll, Dan Blewett, Kevin Vance, and Dave Fischer all discussing weighted ball velocity programs and post-game routines for pitchers. To view more episodes, subscribe, and ask your questions, go to http://mikereinold.com/askmikereinold.

 

#AskMikeReinold Episode 84: Velocity Down After Weighted Balls and What Pitchers Should Do After Games

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5 Reasons Why I Don’t Use the Sleeper Stretch and Why You Shouldn’t Either

Ah, the sleeper stretch.  Pretty popular right now, huh, especially in baseball players?  Seems like a ton of people are preaching the use of the sleeper stretch and why everyone needs to use it.  It’s so popular now that physicians are asking for it specifically.

I don’t like the sleeper stretch and I rarely use it, in fact I haven’t used it in years.  I don’t think you should use it either.

There, I said it, I felt like I really had the get that off my chest!

Every meeting I go to, I see more and more people talking like the sleeper stretch is the next great king of all exercises.  Then I get up there and say I don’t use it and everyone looks at me like I have two heads!  Call me crazy, but I think we probably shouldn’t be using it as much as we do.

In fact, I actually think it causes more harm than good.

 

5 Reasons Why Shouldn’t Use the Sleeper Stretch

I haven’t used the sleeper stretch in over a decade and have no issues restoring and maintaining shoulder internal rotation in my athletes with safer and more effective techniques.

If you have followed me for some time, you know that I rarely talk in definitive terms, as I always strive to continue to learn and grow.  I know my opinions will change and things aren’t black and white.  However, over the years my stance on NOT using the sleeper stretch has only strengthening.  As I learn more and grow, I actually feel more strongly that we shouldn’t be using this common stretch.

So why don’t I use the sleeper stretch?  There are actually several reasons.

 

It’s Often Performed for the Wrong Reason

The sleeper stretch is most often recommended for people with a loss of shoulder internal rotation.  When a person has a loss of internal rotation, it can be from several reasons, including:

  1. Soft tissue / muscular tightness
  2. Joint capsular tightness
  3. Joint and boney alignment of the glenohumeral joint and scapulothoracic joint
  4. Boney adaptations to repetitive tasks, such as throwing a baseball and other overhead sports

You must assess the true cause of loss of shoulder motion and treat accordingly.

Of the above reasons, you could argue that only joint capsular tightness would be an indication to perform the posterior capsule.  But see my next point below…

Performing the sleeper stretch for the other reasons could lead to more issues, especially in the case of boney adaptations.  The whole concept of glenohumeral internal rotation deficit (GIRD), is often flawed due to a lack of understanding of the normal boney adaptations in overhead athletes.

I can’t tell you how many people think they have GIRD that I evaluate and that they in fact do NOT have GIRD.  Click here to learn more about how I define GIRD.

 

It Stretches the Posterior Capsule

If you have heard me speak at any of my live or online courses, you know that I am not a believer in posterior capsule tightness in overhead athletes.  Maybe it happens, but I have to admit I rarely (if ever) see it.  In fact, I see way more issues with posterior instability.  Please keep in mind I am talking about athletes.  Not older individuals and not people postoperative.  They can absolutely have a tight posterior capsule.

But for athletes, the last thing I want to do is make an already loose athlete looser by stretching a structure that is so thin and weak, yet so important in shoulder stability.

Urayama et al in JSES have shown that stretching the shoulder into internal rotation at 90 degrees of abduction in the scapular plane does not strain the posterior capsule.  However, by performing internal rotation at 90 degrees of abduction in the sagittal plane, like the sleeper stretch position, places significantly more strain on the posterior capsule.

Based on the first two points I’ve made so far, if you have a loss of shoulder internal rotation, you should never blindly assume you have a tight posterior capsule.

Assess, don’t assume.

But be sure you know how to accurately assess the posterior capsule.  Many people perform it incorrectly.  Click here to read how to assess for a tight posterior capsule.

 

It is an Impingement Position

This one cracks me, check out the photos below, if you rotate a photo of the Hawkins-Kennedy impingement test 90 degrees it looks just like a sleeper stretch.  I personally try to avoid recreating provocative special tests as exercises.

sleeper stretch impingement reinold

 

This is a provocative test for a reason, by performing internal rotation in this position, you impinge the rotator cuff and biceps tendon along the coracoacromial arch.  If you actually had a tight posterior capsule, you’d get subsequent translation anteriorly during this stretch and further impingement the structures.

So based on this, even if you have a tight posterior capsule, I wouldn’t use the sleeper stretch.  I would just perform joint mobilizations in a neutral plane.

 

People Often Perform with Poor Technique

So far we’ve essentially said that people often perform the sleeper stretch for the wrong reasons and can end up torquing the wrong structure (the posterior capsule) and irritating more structures (the rotator cuff and biceps tendon).

Even if you have the right person with the right indication, the sleeper stretch is also often performed with poor technique, which can be equally as disadvantageous.

People often roll too far over onto their shoulder or start in the wrong position.  If you are going to perform the sleeper stretch, at least follow my recommendations on the correct way to perform the sleeper stretch.

 

People Get WAY too Aggressive

Despite the above reasons, this may actually be the biggest reason that I don’t use the sleeper stretch – people just get way too aggressive with the stretch.  The whole “more is better” thought process.  Being too aggressive is only going to cause more strain on the posterior capsule and more impingement.  You may actually flare up the shoulder instead of make it better.

I always say, if you have a loss of joint mobility, torquing into that loss of mobility aggressively is only going to make it worse.

 

When the Sleeper Stretch is Appropriate

There are times when the sleeper stretch is probably appropriate.  But it’s not as often as you think and it’s most often not in athletes.  The older individual with adhesive capsulitis or a postoperative stiff shoulder may be good candidates for the sleeper stretch.  But I honestly still don’t use it in these populations.  There are better things to do.

But of course, there are good ways to perform the sleeper stretch and there are bad ways, technique is important.

For more information on some alternatives to the sleeper stretch, check out my article on sleeper stretch alternatives.

 

Proper Warm Up for Pitchers, the Empty Can Test, and the Batter’s Shoulder

On this baseball episode of the #AskMikeReinold show we talk about a proper warm up for pitchers, using the empty can test, and the batter’s shoulder. To view more episodes, subscribe, and ask your questions, go to http://mikereinold.com/askmikereinold.

 

#AskMikeReinold Episode 39: Proper Warm Up for Pitchers, the Empty Can Test, and the Batter’s Shoulder

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You can use the player below to listen to the podcast or subscribe. If you are enjoying the podcast, PLEASE click here to leave us a review in iTunes, it will really mean a lot to us. THANKS!

 

Special Baseball Podcast on GIRD

On this episode of the #AskMikeReinold show we have a questions related to baseball injuries and glenohumeral internal rotation deficit, or GIRD. To view more episodes, subscribe, and ask your questions, go to http://mikereinold.com/askmikereinold.

 

#AskMikeReinold Episode 29: Special Baseball Podcast on GIRD

 

Listen and Subscribe to Podcast

You can use the player below to listen to the podcast or subscribe. If you are enjoying the podcast, PLEASE click here to leave us a review in iTunes, it will really mean a lot to us. THANKS!

Professional Baseball Player Experiences with Tommy John Surgery

On this episode of the #AskMikeReinold show we have an amazing group of professional baseball players talking about their experiences with Tommy John surgery. Tim Collins, Dennis Torres, and Jamill Moquete join us for this awesome show. To view more episodes, subscribe, and ask your questions, go to http://mikereinold.com/askmikereinold.

 

#AskMikeReinold Episode 25: Professional Baseball Player Experiences with Tommy John Surgery

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You can use the player below to listen to the podcast or subscribe. If you are enjoying the podcast, PLEASE click here to leave us a review in iTunes, it will really mean a lot to us. THANKS!

Is GIRD Really the Reason Why Baseball Pitchers Get Hurt?

Today’s guest post comes from Lenny Macrina, my good friend and co-owner of Champion PT and Performance.  We work with a lot of baseball players at Champion, which makes us really understand one thing – baseball pitchers are unique!  Many of our athletes come to us after going elsewhere for care but not making the progress they want.  I don’t think we are special, we just see a lot of baseball injuries, so we know what to look for in these athletes.  

Lenny does a great job here discussing a very common misconception about pitching injuries and GIRD.  Honestly, GIRD is kind of outdated.  

Lenny has conducted a ton of research on this topic and wanted to share his results.  You MUST understand the science and not get caught up in all the hype on the internet!  Read below and learn more!


 

Baseball pitchers tend to have unique amounts of mobility of their shoulders. Because of this, throwing generates tremendous forces on the shoulder.  This is important to consider when evaluating and treating baseball injuries.

All of this fancy talk basically says that throwing a baseball is technically bad for your body, and many times we see baseball pitchers with hurt shoulders and elbows.

But why?

We believe there are many reasons, but as physical therapists who have to assess and treat these baseball players, we must be aware of their unique presentation and act accordingly.

It has been well established in the literature that pitchers exhibit adaptations to their shoulder mobility from the act of throwing.   Generally, the thrower’s shoulder exhibits less internal rotation but greater external rotation compared to non-throwing side. There are many proposed reasons for these shoulder mobility changes, including bony adaptations, muscular tightness, shoulder blade position, and capsular restrictions.

This loss of internal rotation has received a lot of attention and has even been referred to as glenohumeral joint internal rotation deficit (GIRD).

 

Is GIRD really the reason why baseball pitchers get hurt?

Several authors have stated that GIRD may increase the risk of shoulder injuries in baseball pitchers. This has caused everyone to assume this and treat accordingly.

Our initial research, that we published in 2011, showed pitchers with GIRD had a 1.8 times increased risk of shoulder injury. But it was NOT statistically significant. Since then, we have published more data that shows similar trends, specifically in our paper looking at 8 consecutive seasons of injury data.

While pitchers with measured GIRD had a slightly higher rate of shoulder injury during that season, the relationship was not statistically significant and GIRD did not correlate with shoulder injuries.

Essentially, we have not shown that GIRD correlates to pitching injuries.

 

Total Motion May Be More of the Issue

Perhaps the issue really isn’t GIRD?  A more important measurement to consider in the overhead thrower is total rotational range of motion. Total rotation is defined as the sum of external rotation and internal rotation.

 

Total Rotational Range of Motion

Rather than look at internal rotation by itself, it may be more valuable to look at the combined total rotational motion of both external and internal rotation together.

In fact, we showed that pitchers with greater than a 5 degree deficit in total rotational range of motion displayed a greater risk of injury. In one study, this was a statistically significant 2.6 times increased risk of shoulder injury.

 

What About External Rotation and Shoulder Injuries?

Does GIRD Cause Baseball Pitching InjuriesCuriously enough, we also have shown a relationship between loss of external rotation mobility and shoulder injuries.  Pitchers with external rotation insufficiency were more likely to undergo surgery, 2.2 times more likely be placed on the DL for a shoulder injury, and 4.0 times more likely to undergo shoulder surgery.

Wow!  At first you would think, let’s stretch these guys out and gain external rotation. But hold on one second and let’s get a grip!

If you remember our study from 2011, we showed a high preponderance for shoulder injuries especially in the pitchers whose total motion was greater than 187 degrees.  You don’t want too little or too much motion!

So, as I always tell my students, athletes and fellow clinicians: We’re always walking a fine line between too much and not enough mobility.

 

What About Shoulder Flexion?

While internal and external rotation get all the exposure, shoulder flexion may actually be an area we see tight the most.

I think one interesting finding of our recent research has been the relationship between the shoulder flexion deficit and injury.  Pitchers with a deficit of greater than or equal to 5° in shoulder flexion of the throwing shoulder had a 2.8 times greater risk for elbow injury.

The correlation between shoulder flexion deficit and elbow injury may represent a lack of tissue mobility and overall flexibility (possibly to the latissimus dorsi) in injury-prone subjects.

The baseball pitcher has a unique mobility of the arm.  We need to be careful assuming that these abnormalities and asymmetries correlate to injury.  They often do not.

The challenge is figuring this out and keeping up with the research…as it is always evolving!  The more you work with baseball pitchers the more you appreciate these subtleties.  These are the subtleties that make them unique, and effective as athletes.

 

So, what does all of this mean?

  • Assess motion
  • GIRD not necessarily bad (actually pretty normal)
  • Lacking ER may increase risk of injury
  • Total range of motion deficits increase risk of injury
  • Shoulder flexion deficits increased elbow injury risks
  • Assess and never assume!

GIRD is not as evil as everyone makes it out to be.  Treating them unnecessarily and trying to gain internal rotation may actually make them worse.  Don’t treat without thoroughly assessing, and don’t assume GIRD is the reason why baseball pitchers get injured.