What does sport specific training really mean? If you consider yourself a performance coach and you’re not training specificity then what are you training? If you you’re not creating or reinforcing the proper movement patterns performed in baseball and softball, then what are you creating or reinforcing?
I wanted to bring up the 6 Phases of Throwing which everyone has seen before online, in articles or presentations. This cannot be a tool for teaching throwing mechanics. You cannot train positions in a throw, you have to train movements THROUGH the throw and how you get THROUGH each phase. The picture protocol shows ONLY positions. There are written explanations of what the muscles are doing during these phases, muscles that are activated and muscles that are down regulated (which is helpful in some training effect), but it doesn’t describe how to get through each phase using HIGH LEVEL MOVEMENT PATTERNS.
Further down in this article are videos of high level throwers as well as a few exercises to help create and help reinforce high level throwing patterns. Compare these high level movements to what you have been taught. Can you see the difference? Would you rather learn High Level Throwing Patterns or follow a six phase picture?
Youth Shoulder & Elbow Injuries
The majority of youth and high school injuries occur because A) There is poor instruction at an early age and B) Overuse! The information that has been passed down from coach to coach is very poor and the youth athletes are feeling this effect. There has to be a shift in training protocols and a deeper understanding of what high level throwers and hitters are actually doing in order to keep these athletes on the field and reduce the risk of shoulder and elbow injuries. Paradigm shift anyone?
What Sport Specificity Really Means
All sports and positions require skill and need to be trained differently, but for the more advanced movements and skilled sports such as baseball, softball, basketball, golf or track & field, and others I’m not listing, there needs to be a careful consideration when training for specificity.
Movement Pattern Training Spectrum
If you would consider a Football lineman. These big guys have a greater margin for error in terms of movement pattern skill. They have small areas to work with, they focus on lateral motion, small areas of acceleration and deceleration, explosive hip flexion to extension movements, footwork, handwork, hip mobility, thoracic extension and specific energy system requirements. Their movements are not as refined and not as sequenced as throwing a baseball, swinging a golf club, shooting a three pointer, or running hurdles. There is a different style of movement pattern for these athletes.
Sprinters have a smaller margin for error in terms of movement pattern skill. Baseball, softball, and golf all have small margins for error in terms of their movement pattern skills. I can put together a training program for a football lineman without adding any real movement pattern training or movement pattern creation. On the opposite spectrum, with running technique in sprinters or baseball and softball throwing and hitting, the high level movements that are occurring have to be understood. Then you have to create movement training drills and reinforce them as specific and as detailed as possible. Here’s where the training shifts from specificity to super specificity!
Any performance coach can understand the basic movements of baseball and softball and what each position requires. Components such as rest periods, energy system requirements, basic movements; forward, backward, side to side, up and down, multi planar change of direction, acceleration and deceleration and weight shift. These are all important aspects of the game, but there has to be a deeper understanding of what these high level throwers and hitters are doing not only in terms of movements, but in terms of sequence. This has to be reinforced properly or there will NOT be a direct transfer to sport.
Reinforce The High Level Throwing Pattern
Lets reinforce the high level movement pattern! I am considered to have high level movement patterns compared to MLB throwers. My back hip is doing something that all high level throwers do. How can the ball stay behind me so long? How do I stay coiled on the back side so long without losing any power? I am definitely not “Getting out in Front” or “Tucking my Glove”.
These phrases are generic and don’t mean anything in terms of training movement patterns. The back hip action is misunderstood by many and needs clarification in order to be taught correctly. In hitting and throwing, rotation is often discussed and a spinning motion of the back foot is the result. This doesn’t happen in high level throwers or hitters. In pitching or throwing in general, the lead arm never pulls towards the chest, the chest goes towards the lead arm. If you train an athlete to pull the glove towards their chest, it limits thoracic extension which leads to the body being “out in front”, which leads to a pushing of the ball. Something that is detrimental to velocity and can cause elbow pain!
It is also thought by most pitching coaches that the knee is driving down. This is actually a result of what the back hip is doing. The head of the femur is internally rotating in the acetabulum, not the other way around. Because of this rotation of the femur in the hip joint, the knee will come forward appearing that the knee is leading the throw.
It’s actually the hip that is leading the throw. The sequence in my throw is outstanding! I seem to stay back and hold the ball for a long time while the rest of my body is moving forward. There’s a detailed sequence that has to happen in order to get through each phase of the throw. A more detailed discussion of the Sequence will be in another post.
Start watching this throw at 1:06. Pause the video at 1:15. You will see my back foot at a 45º angle, toes facing away from where I’m throwing. This will allow for maximum internal rotation and adduction of the femur in the acetabulum. From 1:15 to 1:17, my hip is forcefully driving towards my target and the weight is on the posterior side of my body meaning the heel side (not the right leg side).
At 1:17 you can see how far the hip has moved from its initial position. As mentioned above, my knee is not collapsing. My femur is internally rotating and adducting in the acetabulum, not the other way around. The initial pelvic motion is a counter rotation or cocking (left and right hip rotate to the right, the frontside hip/butt may be pointing towards the target.
Then, the opening of the lead hip happens later as you can see the lead leg externally rotate as it’s about to touch the ground. It’s a linear movement in the transverse plane while moving towards the target at the same time. (crazy as it may sound, but it’s true).
Lets look at some pro guys. Watch their back hip. The knee is driving forward as a result of the hip motion. This movement pattern is done by all high level throwers. You can see something going on in these throws in which everyone else who’s not a high level thrower does not do. We need to teach this motion and what the rest of the body is doing during this motion, then implement in the weight room and reinforce it with different modalities during training such as medicine ball throws. If not, you are not training high level throwing movement patterns!
Watch at 1:01. You will see the back leg internally rotate in the hip and adduct towards the midline of the body or towards the target. The knee is collapsing due to the hip action. His back foot is slightly facing away.
Reinforce The High Level Movement Pattern Using Medicine Balls
Medicine Balls are everywhere. They have exploded onto the strength training scene allowing any athlete or weekly warrior to train for strength, power, balance and core stability. This modality can be used in a variety of settings and very popular amongst transfer sports such as baseball, softball, tennis and golf.
There are hundreds of medicine ball exercises out there which can benefit an athlete, but if you do not create drills or reinforce high level movement patterns, these drills can be dangerous. Some of these Med ball drills claim that it will directly transfer to sport. This may be the case in terms of stability, balance and rate of force production, but NOT for training high level movement patterns. If you’re training poor movement patterns in the weight room, you will be reinforcing poor movement patterns on the field. If the medicine ball drill isn’t training or reinforcing high level movement patterns, then what is being trained?
MB Drills for Throwing
MB Shuffle Throw 1 (Impairs High Level Movements) DO NOT DO!
Lets take a standard medicine ball shuffle throw against the wall. If you have no idea of what the sequence or hip action is supposed to be during throwing, then this drill will not reinforce proper movement pattern habits. This drill should not be used for throwing because it causes the foot to come off the ground early which will lead to a decrease in velocity during an actual throw. With the foot coming off the ground, there is no high level back hip movement. The Med Ball is being pushed forward so there is no sense of delay or a feeling of letting the ball stay behind your body as you move forward…reinforcing poor throwing mechanics. It it will also cause the arms to push the Med Ball, leading to the “Out in Front” effect. This impairs proper thoracic extension because the trunk is pushing forward. Again, there is no feeling of letting the ball stay behind the body. Since the drill emphasizes a pushing motion, it will also put more stress on the elbow. Lets take a look at a poor MB Shuffle Throw
MB Shuffle Throw 2 (Try This Instead)
How about implementing a drill where the sequence and high level movement pattern of throwing is being trained. With this drill, the body is closely shadowing what is actually being done during a throw. The motion is very fluent and sound. It allows the athlete to use their Pelvis and surrounding musculature, Lumbar Spine, and Lats all while incorporating proper thoracic extension. If you watch my back leg, it starts off at a 45º angle facing away from where I’m throwing, just as in the high speed video above. As I stride towards the wall, my back femur is internally rotating on the acetabulum. The knee is driving down due to this back hip action. If I already start in a fully internally rotated position (foot at a 45º angle, toes pointing at my target), I will not get the desired hip action resulting in a decreased velocity and loss of kinetic energy. This sequenced motion needs to be created and reinforced. The weight needs to be on the posterior side of my body meaning on the back side of my body (not the back side of my body like the right leg). This Med Ball throw will also allow for proper arm placement. The rest of the body will be traveling forward while the ball is staying back longer.
You can see how similar the MB Drill is to the high level movement pattern. This has to be trained and reinforced!
MB Rotational Throw 1
If I am trying to teach high level movement patterns at the hip, then it has to be performed a certain way. This drill can be used specifically for all throwing athletes. It focuses on glute activation and proper back hip action and direction. Lets take a look at a few poor MB Rotational Throws and a few High Level MB Rotational Throw. Poor movement patterns during the MB throw will show poor glute activation, limited hip extension and poor direction (mostly spinning on the back foot or rotating), something that is the most common mistake in hitting and throwing. High level movement patterns during the MB throw will show proper glute activation, excellent hip flexion to extension and good direction (linear movement in the transverse plane), what all good hitters and throwers do.
Professional Pitcher Steve Palazzolo
MB Rotational Throw 2
This is a great MB Exercise in order to train hip flexion to extension in a linear direction. The gluteus muscle is the key in this drill. You want to be able to fire the glute muscle properly. In throwing and hitting, the glute plays a big role in hip extension, and if activated correctly, less stress will placed on the shoulder and elbow. This is because you are using your Lumbo-Pelvic Hip Complex to supply the energy and force rather than your arm. Lets take a look at a poor MB Rotation Throw and a high level MB Rotation Throw.
I see a ton of medicine ball exercises for baseball and softball players and for the most part they generalize the basic movement of throwing which will all recruit similar musculature during these activities. But you need to ask yourself are these exercises reinforcing high level movements? Are they training proper muscle activation? Are they training what muscles need to be shut off or down regulated throughout the sequence of the throw? Getting kids to feel different things with different musculature is so incredibly important to establishing proper movement patterns and reinforcing this high level pattern.
What’s happening is that the high level movement patterns are not being taught and therefore not being reinforced so athletes continue to have average or below average patterns. I’ve even watched professional Strength Coaches perform these exercises and it doesn’t come close to what these high level throwers or hitters are doing. These strength coaches are not teaching or reinforcing this high level movement pattern.
So how can these coaches train youth and high school athletes if they don’t even understand what the movement pattern should look like? My point is that a well structured strength program can make all the musculature of an individual stronger, more powerful and explosive, more flexible and mobile, soft tissue work out the ass, but if it cannot create or reinforce the high level throwing movements, then how will it transfer to a game situation? Was the strength program really that specific?