Avila Kinesiology Graduate Class of 2017. NAIA Div. I Pitcher
Greetings friends, colleagues, and clients! I am looking to share my thoughts and experiences in the field of health and fitness as well as baseball. The main idea driving this blog site is to share information as I grow and continue my education in the field of fitness and sports performance. Feel free to comment, share, and post up articles!
I will soon begin sharing my personal journals and articles that I read from my favorite trainers and leading researchers.
In a previous post I talked about my new approach with breathing in regards to my training and recovery. As I’ve been applying it to my everyday routine, I have slowly been using the same concept with some of my clients.
Specifically with one client, we had a conversation throughout a full hour training session that has sparked a new thought… How does Thinking and Feeling influence how we train? With a quick background on her (she was totally cool with me sharing this!), she is a woman in her 60’s with a history of lower back and shoulder pain and discomfort.What is unique about her is that she is extremely curious and nearly asks me a thousand questions each session (A bit exaggerated but I love teaching!). Well with such curiosity thinking can get in the way for her to learn new movement patterns, especially with her shoulder mobility.
My approach to a client like her is to first implement motor control into her training. If there are limitations to moving a certain body part, improving its mobility and function is a priority to ensure long term health. If her body moves and feels better, then she can eventually focus solely on strength and rarely have to worry about her muscle and joint discomforts.
With that said, there were a variety of exercises that she initially struggled to figure out. An example is when we began doing Foam Roll Serratus Wall Slides. Here’s a great demonstration by one of my favorite movement specialists – Eric Cressey.
In her initial evaluation I noticed how there was a “kink” in her left shoulder when I asked her to raise her arm and perform a full arm circle. To get a feel for her scapular movement, we began with these Wall Slides and noticed how she had a lot of tension in her neck when she raised her arms to move the Foam Roller up the wall. My reasoning behind this exercise was to figure out how much of her upper back she was able to engage. Ideally with an arm raise, the scapula should rotate smoothly without much trapezius muscle activation. In summary our goal was to teach the muscles in her scapula and mid-upper back to engage, enabling the shoulder and neck muscles to carry less of the load when trying to raise her arms.
While training someone, there are a variety of internal and external cues to give to a person to help them understand what the movement should look like as well as how it feels. An example to teach someone how to activate their upper back is to tell them to “pinch together the shoulder blades” (internal) or “imagine I’m about to tickle you in the upper ribs” (external). Both can help her accomplish the simple task of retracting her scapula and engaging the key muscles to efficiently raise the arms.
Back to the whole concept of Thinking vs. Feeling, I struggled to get her to understand what she needed to do with a lot of exercises. I like to constantly ask my clients “What did you feel?” Well the deep thinker that she is she often answered, “I don’t know!” There was a lot of confusion with many exercises but it was a subject that I could push on her as a trainer simply because she wanted to solve the puzzle too. The more we worked together the more she started to describe what she was feeling. I have a number of ideas why this started happening but a lot of it likely had to do with repetition and her willingness to work on the movement patterns outside of her training sessions with me. In the conversation we had in our most recent session, it all started with the topic of Yoga.
We talked about how the focus of breathing really helped relax her muscles and I briefly talked about my experiences with Yoga. As we started our session with mobility work, we discovered something that has once again sparked my perspective with training.
I like to have my clients with hip and shoulder issues perform CARs (Controlled Articular Rotations). Here is a demonstration from Frank Duffy at Cressey Sports Performance.
The basic concept behind these movement exercises is to gradually push a ball-and-socket joint slightly beyond its joint limitation. So that “kink” in her left shoulder happened every rotation at the point where her arm was pointed behind her back. Well every time we performed this exercise my cue was for her to listen to her shoulder and focus on when she felt that mild discomfort at that point in the movement. Her range of motion improved over time but she still felt that discomfort in the joint. The game changer was when I asked her to treat the exercise like Yoga and breathe through the movement. The concept of pushing the discomfort remained, but the focus was slightly shifted away from listening to her body (thinking) and instead feeling it. What we accomplished was that she felt minimal discomfort.
In my eyes her range of motion improved and even though that “kink” was still there she had no discomfort!!! My hypothesis is that the focus on her breathing distracted her from thinking about the discomfort. The flaw in my notion is that it is very difficult to validate what is physically happening to this individual simply because no one but her can fully understand what she felt. The best study that comes to mind would be to apply EMG (Electromyography) pads on her muscles along with a brain scan to figure out what kind of activity is truly happening. Nevertheless I truly believe that the brain is capable of doing anything… including blocking pain signals.
A theory that fascinates me and has influenced my approach to this pain management concept is Dr. Ramachandran’s “Phantom Limb” study. In a class at Avila called Behavior and the Brain, we had this theory as part of the curriculum to further understand the influences of the brain and what we feel in our body.
Below are some fascinating clips of his work with amputated patients. It is totally worth the watch!!!
In detail, “Phantom Limb” is a phenomenon where a person with an amputated limb continues to feel the body part that is no longer there. In most cases a person with an amputated hand, arm, leg, etc. experiences frequent pains in discomforts that vary in pain levels. Dr. Ramachandran came up with a simple yet brilliant idea of creating a box with a mirror to have a person use the arm that they have and “trick the brain” into thinking that the amputated arm is there after all.
Why is this significant? Well when the body senses pain it is simply a neurological signaling that is connected from the brain to the body part. If you touch a hot stove, your brain responds immediately telling your muscles to contract to remove your finger off. So if your brain is telling you that your shoulder hurts, there should be a way to influence that signaling to either remove or at least decrease the sensation of pain. Fascinating isn’t it?
Well even if you have all of your limbs intact I believe that there is to be a way to create a similar effect when a person has neck pain, shoulder, foot, back, etc. One could say that it is all a psychological fix but that is the point! While breathing may not have had a direct physiological effect onto my client’s tender shoulder, I believe that it had an effect on her brain and how she interpreted that pain signaling. The cause of pain/ discomfort in her shoulder was there, but her controlled breathing took her mind away from it!
So if you experience any kind of chronic pain and discomfort throughout your body, think about what you are thinking. This thinking can help you figure out how not to think and focus on what you are feeling.If you focus on feeling, then the pain you were feeling could decrease or may not even be felt. My mind is crazy… I know! But it is worth a try! So far breathing techniques is what helps me get distracted form the pains in my lower back and hip. Is the damage to my joints still there? Of course, but an approach like this can be very beneficial if you find a way to distract your mind from all your aches and pains. So try both Thinking and Feeling and see if you can trick your brain into removing that pain. If you think hard enough you might just start feeling but not feeling. Feel me?
Special thanks goes out this client for letting me share her story. You have made a huge impact on my career as a Personal Trainer and I thank you!!!
For the longest time I thought that I had the right game plan for getting my muscles loosened up either to warm up for a workout or to recover after. I am a huge advocate of Myofascial Release (foam rolling, tiger tail rolling, trigger point therapy), techniques that require applying pressure to the “tight” areas of our muscles.
In my case the tightness of my hips and lower back require beating the crap out of the tender spots in order to get them to loosen up. It helps… A LOT. But as I have been more open-minded towards alternative approaches, I have learned the amazing benefits of Yoga.
My approach to relaxation has changed because Yoga requires an intensive focus on breathing and enabling the muscles to relax rather than force them. Instead of beating up the muscle with physical force, I am allowing my brain to trigger the relaxation.
In a self-contradicting way, I have always believed in the ability of the mind to overcome anything and yet I was skeptical about using it to relax the physical tension in my body. As I think back to my Undergraduate studies, the first class that comes to mind is Stress Physiology. In a brief summary, the class was focused on understanding the natural Stress Response that controls all sorts of activity through the nervous system. There are two main branches to the nervous system: Sympathetic and Parasympathetic.
The Sympathetic Nervous System kicks in when we are exposed to a stressor- from stress from work or being chased by a lion, it’s that feeling of our heart accelerating. The theory behind it is that our body’s network of nerves, muscles, and even our organs are effected by chemical changes produced from the brain. This evolutionary phenomenon is nature’s design of survival. On the other end we have a Parasympathetic Nervous System designed to slow things down using the same network.
So what connection does this make with Yoga? Well the heavy focus of relaxation with breathing enables the Parasympathetic to take over because of a lowered heart rate. Controlled breathing allows us to slow our heart down along with blood pressure and other things going on within our mind and body. Stress is an amazing thing because while we see it as a negative it is naturally designed to be a survival mechanism. In terms of having tension within the muscles, the tightness that we can feel in our hips and back is our body’s way of protecting our joints and connective tissues from further damage.
For example, my self-studies on my herniated disk problems have concluded that the muscle imbalances in my lumbo-pelvic hip complex caused a forward tilt of my pelvis causing compression of the connective tissues of my lumbar spine… Still with me?
Well when I would roll out my Quads, IT Band, and activate my glutes and hamstrings I would get a temporary relief of my lower back discomfort and pain. Through the practice of several Yoga techniques I have now concluded that I was stretching the overactive muscles but not relaxing them. Just because I felt a sudden release in tension it didn’t mean that I got them to relax. My Sympathetic system was still in overdrive and that is why my back would start aching within an hour again. It wouldn’t bother me as much, but once tomorrow would hit it was back to square one.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome. Well besides the insanity of hurting all the time and not being able to work out, my old ways were limiting my rehab and recovery. Yoga has changed my perception of relaxation because I have now experienced how impactful it is to control my breathing. While corrective exercise and soft-tissue therapy has been helpful, I have now found my secret not-so-secret weapon of Yoga. Because of my athletic background I will always prefer intense squat days and 400 lb. hip thrusts, but I am starting to understand the value of these lower intensity routines like Yoga and Pilates (and trust that they can be very intense!). If you have never tried an alternative mode of exercise I encourage you to at least give it a try. You can crank out hundreds of sit-ups and minutes of planks but if you think you have a strong core you’d be surprised on how a slight moderation to an exercise can be extremely challenging.
If you have any nagging pains and injuries going on I encourage you to be open minded into finding a solution. There is world full of health professionals that specialize in specific techniques and more often than not a combination of a few can make all the difference! My methods today involve a network of various specialists that range from chiropractors, physical therapists, corrective exercise specialists, and personal trainers whom I take bits and pieces from their approaches towards my specific health issues. If hiring one is out of your budget, asking a few simple questions to these people can get you going in the right direction. Even as a personal trainer with a Bachelors in Exercise Science, I am constantly learning new things that help me with my clients as well as my own health. Be open minded because a simple practice of breathing can change everything!
Shout outs to Lisa at Genesis Health Clubs Overland Park for the Yoga and Pilates sessions!
Something that I take a tremendous amount of pride and effort in is my constant communication with my body. Regardless if you are a beginner or experienced lifter, your training provides an incredible stimulus when you exercise. But listening to your body is not limited to just training but also applies to your diet, sleep quality, and truly your everyday activity.
So how do our bodies communicate? It comes down to 2 simple things: your brain and the nervous system. Think of your brain like the hardware on a computer. It processes a tremendous amount of information and provides feedback for what is going on. It also holds a variety of programs that both send out and receive information via the neuropathways (the nerves).
A great example is what happens when you put your finger on a hot stove. When your finger touches the surface of the stove, it sends a signal to your brain that it is hot and harming your skin (afferent pathway). Immediately your brain processes what is happening and sends a signal to the muscles (efferent pathway) to take your finger off of the hot surface. Simple right?
While our body has an ideal structure, as we age we develop a variety of movement patterns that influence some abnormalities in our muscles, joints, bones, and so on. People who exercise frequently are typically able to listen to their bodies better simply because they are used to the feeling of forces and tension to certain parts of their body. If you lift weights frequently, in some way you understand basic principles like the difference between muscle soreness and pain. As a trainer I am for the most part against the phrase “No pain no gain.” Why? Because pain is the brain telling you that something in your body is being harmed. This doesn’t mean that you need to stop your set because your bicep “hurts” when doing a bicep curl, but if you can distinguish the difference between working the muscle and tearing it up the stress can provide a great deal of muscle strength and growth.
Pain is difficult to describe simply because every individual has their own degree of tolerance. Kobe Bryant’s longtime physical therapist Judy Seto was once interviewed with Sports Illustrated and talked about how the typical pain scale of 1-10 was irrelevant for him. A human being who tore his Achilles tendon and walked across the court to shoot his free throws perfectly proves her point simply because the average person experiencing such excruciating pain would describe it as a 10/10 pain and not be able to stand.Kobe Bryant Torn Achilles
When we exercise the “pain” that we feel on our muscles and joints is vital to our learning of our body because we learn to distinguish when we are truly damaging it. On the contrary of frequent exercise we also get body dysfunctions from our daily activities, even without the stimulus of training. Sitting for long periods of time can be just as detrimental to the body as the stress of weightlifting. Let me explain.
If you sit at a desk and work on a computer all day, it is likely that you don’t sit up straight for your entire 9-5. Naturally our back and neck is rounded forward either because we are writing, typing, or simply just tired. In most cases with such daily activity it becomes a normal posture for the spine. With that one can experience neck, shoulder, upper and lower back pain, and the list can continue.
So now that we’ve laid out the physical activity aspect (or lack thereof), another important part is the quality of our sleep. Everyone knows what it’s like to be tired from a lack of sleep… EVERYONE. But our approach to sleep is something that can be easily neglected. Sleep is as equally important to your training because it is what ultimately determines your recovery on a daily basis. Common sense right? Well the general thoughts behind a good night’s sleep should not be limited to just the amount of hours. From personal experience I have noticed the differences on my body when I go to sleep earlier, even if I end up sleeping less than the recommended 7-8 hours. Why is this? I think that it’s because I get into a deeper sleep to where I am in a REM stage for an efficient period of time. REM (Rapid Eye Movement) is when our dreams are more vivid with a series of multiple happenings with brain activity. During this stage our brain consumes more oxygen and between non-REM cycles puts our muscles in an inhibitory state, meaning that the muscles relax with minimal tone. I would need actual brain activity readings to truly understand what my body is experiencing while I sleep, but I can tell with how rested my mind and body feels, a reward when I achieve my ideal quality of sleep. If it makes me feel better, then why not make it a healthy habit!
In other regards to sleep, our positioning plays a huge role on how we can recover from injuries and muscle dysfunctions. Do you ever wake up and have a sore neck or shoulder? While it may be difficult to know what position we’re in while we sleep, the best information that we can take is how we go to sleep and how we wake up. Whether you like to lay flat, on your side, stomach, fetal position, and whatever weird angles you enjoy I think that it can be beneficial to experiment to see how your body responds the next day. I have a history of lower back and hip pain and I have realized that when I lay on my right side I end up with more soreness. Even though it allows me to relax and fall asleep, I feel like the sinking within the mattress compresses the joints on my right side. That is so far my basis for the quality of my sleep because I listen to my body! Despite the limited scientific approach to my conclusion, I think that the subjective evidence is enough to figure out what helps my body recover overnight. So consider keeping some mental notes on how you are approaching your sleep on a daily basis. Along with some professional diagnosis of your injuries or nagging discomforts, you can improve the quality of your sleep to move and feel better for your everyday activities.
And last but not least, nutrition! I think that everyone has a basic understanding for what food items and supplements make us feel better or worse. Whether if it is food allergies, hydration, or digestive issues, I think that it is very important to both understand and have the discipline to put the right things into our body. I like to think of the body as a car. You most certainly need gas to keep the engine running (food), but you also need a variety of fluids and other maintenances to keep it in good condition. Your body’s energy relies on how well you maintain your car. For me I need to have a relatively high amount of calories and proper hydration in order to have a good lift. When I neglect eating the right foods and having a proper balance of water and sodium levels in my body, I have “bad workouts” to where my strength and endurance is not where I know it should be. If I eat greasy foods and a high amount of sugar, I know that my body is going to feel sluggish and it ruins my day. It is inevitable even as a trainer who takes a lot of pride in taking care of my body. If you have a habit of eating foods that make you feel bad then you aren’t listening to your body well enough!
When it comes to eating junk and fast food, I understand that there is a convenience and comfort factor. Whether if it is time management, financial limitations, or laziness, there are always ways to make better decisions. If you struggle to eat healthy, start off by finding foods that you can both enjoy and make you feel good. Whether if it’s making shakes, meal prepping, or healthy snacks, consider what your environment is like. Think about what you do before going to the grocery store. If you go hungry, there is often a psychological aspect that junk foods are more appealing when walking down the aisles. If you have a bag of chips or sweets in your pantry, think about where you place them. When we look for food our eyes tend to attract towards the first items that we see. Consider putting such items in the back and putting your granola bars and fruits in the more accessible regions of your kitchen. You don’t have to get into crash diets to change your eating habits because if you decide to all of a sudden throw away the bad foods that you like, eventually your will power will cave and will likely go back to your old eating ways.
Regardless of your approach to a healthier lifestyle, it starts with body communication. We make hundreds of subconscious decisions on a daily basis and it plays a huge role on how we feel. If you exercise frequently it is probably an easier task to make changes to your routines because you recognize the value of feeling better a bit differently. If you live a sedentary lifestyle, deciding to start working out is only a portion of the solution. As a Personal Trainer I strongly believe in exercise to improve your fitness but there is more to it. Eating better and improving your body’s recovery can alone make a huge difference. If you need help to get things started surround yourself with an environment that promotes a healthier lifestyle. Talk to friends, family, health professionals, but most importantly to yourself! If you are constantly feeling tired and lacking energy consider what your body is telling you because after all, it is saying HELP ME!!!
It’s that time of year again where gyms and fitness centers get packed because of the spike in motivated individuals… New Year Resolutioners!!! If this is you I want you to know that what you are doing is great and do not let anyone make you feel otherwise. (Although the meme above is pretty funny 😝)
Joining a gym should be a positive life-changing experience and there is a lot that goes into it. Gyms vary in environment and culture so when you think of joining one make sure that you get to know it before you sign up. Whether you are a beginner or veteran of the gym floor, make sure that it is the right fit for your needs and goals.
With that said here are some pointers for your new life-changing decision!
Going to a gym the first time can be a daunting task for most individuals because they are stepping into an unfamiliar territory. If you have minimal experience with exercise I can understand how it can be intimidating learning to use weights when you have Meathead Joe benching 315 lbs. and grunting at the top of his lungs. In spite of this just remember that at some point in this jacked dude’s life he was a beginner too. Most people with lifting experience actually appreciate being asked for advice so don’t be afraid to ask how to use a certain machine, even if it has pictures on it. Just don’t interrupt him in the middle of his set because that can be a little irritating, but he’s probably a nice guy. 🙂
Every gym has its own personality and it takes some time to get to know it. The environment is set by its equipment, space, trainers, and most of all its members. The gym crowd can vary based off of the time of day, and if you’re starting off you should plan on your training based off of comfort and availability. For example a lot of Body Build/ Power Lifters like to train in the early mornings and/or later afternoons. If you feel uncomfortable lifting around these people and need time to work your way into it then the later morning and early afternoon might be a better time for you. If you are limited on when you can go then you’ll need to go back to my first point and suck it up! (You’ll be okay and honestly most people aren’t staring at you). Nevertheless joining a gym is like anything new. A new job, school, moving to another city… You’re surrounded by people you don’t know and feel like an outsider until eventually you get used to everything else. You just have to go back to your WHY and commit to achieving your goals. So if you feel lost its okay. Just keep showing up and eventually you will wonder why you ever felt that way.
Like those meatheads lifting massive weight, Personal Trainers sometimes carry a similar perception. Why is that? I think that there are many reasons, one of which is that intimidation factor. When you do something new it’s normal to feel uncomfortable and clueless when you are talking to an expert. As a Personal Trainer I want you to know that many of us are kind and loving people. If we seem intense when you see us lifting it’s because we’re trying really really hard to pick up some heavy weight! Like I said earlier, those of us with lifting experience really love to help people with their exercises. When you go to the gym find a trainer and try to pick their brain. Even though we make our living picking up clients, our role of the gym’s culture is to help.
If you decide to work with a Personal Trainer, start of by asking them a series of questions. What is your training philosophy? How can you help me reach my fitness goals? Are you going to make me cry and not be able to walk the next day? (If we do it wasn’t our intention 😛 ) Can I get a free training session?
At Genesis Health Clubs we provide all new members with a series of 4 complimentary training sessions. Our philosophy is to provide results based training, meaning that we design you a plan based off of your specific needs. We start you off with assessments, finding all the factors that will both help you and prevent you from achieving your goals. Once we get to know more about you we lay out a weekly routine that we believe will benefit you. This isn’t just a list of exercises, but also a plan of consistency with scheduling and nutrition. We stay in contact with you daily to see how your training is progressing. Through this process what matters most to us is having that relationship with you, giving you all the tools to succeed with your fitness goals. If you enjoy working with us we can set up plan to continue working together!
One thing about working with a Personal Trainer is that we all have our specialties and distinct personalities, and that is why at our club our fitness manager sets you up with who he or she believes will be a good fit. If your gym doesn’t have that type of structure, then you have to take it upon yourself to meet your gym’s Personal Trainers and get to know them. Either way what matters the most is you achieving your goals. If you don’t feel comfortable working with one or paying for our services, a lot of us just want to help. Don’t be afraid to ask!!!
If You Decide To Go On Your Own
If you don’t believe in working with a Personal Trainer then that’s okay. If you want to figure it out as you go, here are some pointers.
Establish your WHY. If you decided to start your gym membership you need to have at least one why. Why are you committing to this new lifestyle? Why did you make this investment? Who are you doing this for? Come up with both short term and long term goals. Consistency is the most difficult thing to overcome regardless if you are starting off or have been lifting for a few years. Ask any experienced lifter and they will tell you how important it is for them to stay on a consistent routine. Whatever that routine will be for you, accept that it is going to take some time. Have patience but get after it!
Going back to consistency, the long term goals are going to be pretty tough to reach. They are supposed to!!! Whether if you are trying to “tone up” or lose weight, you are going to reach plateaus that will be frustrating and make you want to give up. Most people will see quick results in the beginning and then experience not much of a change. When this happens you have to consider providing your routines with some kind of stimulus. That means you have to adjust variables such as volume, load, tempo, and sometimes the exercise type. Do some research to find out what you may need to add or take away from your routines.
Research is extremely valuable but it is largely dependent on the source. You can Google right now “Leg Exercises” and you will get over 50 million hits… Try it. With everything that shows you are going to see a lot of great exercises to do but with so many hits not everything will be beneficial. I do not personally believe in general programs because they don’t apply to every individual. For example, you can follow a program that has a ton of exercises that work the front side of your legs. They even provided “Before and after” pictures and have had a lot of successful clients… Great! But what if you have tight hip flexors and the program doesn’t provide enough hamstring work? This is where you might want to ask an expert to give you their opinion. But even then, Meathead Joe might not know anything about muscle imbalances because well… he’s already jacked. I’m not saying that non-trainers are dumb, but if they don’t know any better their training methods might not help you for your specific needs.
I am very open minded with training methods and will always listen to other people’s ideas, but the people that I will trust the most are the ones with college degrees and training certifications. Take information from everyone possible and see what works for you. There are a lot of successful trainers on the internet and just because they have thousands of YouTube subscribers doesn’t mean that all of their information is credible. Even then a college graduate with an Exercise Science degree can give faulty information, so just be aware that not everything you read and hear will apply to you and your fitness goals. Training is a constant learning process where even us as “experts” are learning from our mistakes.
So what to do now? Just get to the gym! Be there and get to work! If you are uncomfortable work your way into it and try to get to know people. Whether if it’s the front desk, a trainer, or a friendly member that said hi, just know that you are officially a part of your gym’s culture! Whatever your fitness goals are enjoy the process of getting there because it’s supposed to be a great experience. If you don’t have any extreme goals to accomplish then just make sure you make it a joyful thing to show up the gym every time that you do.
If you are interested in checking out our club click on the link below.
Kids specializing in one sport can have both its benefits and flaws and there is a lot that goes into making “the right decision.” Personally I think that it is a very good thing to have a kid grow up playing a variety of sports simply because it helps improve their athleticism. From personal experience, I wish I wouldn’t have given up soccer after the 3rd practice. My excuse was that I wanted to focus on baseball but really I hated running and most of all header drills. Lame, I know. Nevertheless as I struggled to develop in high school and into college, I learned that I could have developed better body control by doing other things than throwing a baseball. I picked up a bat and ball as a toddler and that is what was always comfortable to me. I always had a great feel for a baseball in my hand and I think that is why I was able to play at the level that I did as a pitcher. But it goes beyond just athletic development.
So here are my thoughts specialization.
Specialization allows more time to develop specific skills
Baseball is a skilled sport that requires a tremendous amount of coordination and body awareness. Not that other sports don’t, but the best players on a diamond can come in all shapes and sizes. By position, there is a unique set of skills and abilities that one needs to possess to compete at an elite level. Position players need endless repetitions fielding balls to improve their anticipation while hitters need swings to master it. You can do all the drill work in the world but any athlete will tell you that there is nothing like game speed. You need live at bats and game situations to truly improve your game, otherwise you’ll never know how you stack up against your competition. Playing year-round optimizes your experience on the field giving you the feedback needed for what you need to work on.
Playing year-round can be exhausting and especially for pitchers, they need time for their arm to rest. From an athleticism perspective, baseball is a rather sedentary sport where there isn’t a whole lot of constant action. Slightly contradicting the exhaustion argument right? Well compared to a sport like soccer or football, there aren’t many plays in baseball that require the movement that the other provide.
The need for reaction time is different in these faster paced sports that can improve your speed and agility. You don’t have to perform relatively great in these sports, but it forces you into movements that you do not constantly get in baseball. Dribbling a ball or tackling a guy is something you never have to do on a baseball field (although it was awesome to see some contact in baseball back in the day), but you can develop a lot of footwork and explosiveness doing these other activities.
Age: Time will tell
As a child and adolescent, you’re not going pro… not yet. Every sport at every level has its standout players but 12 year old Johnny is not the next Bryce Harper… not yet. I believe that high school might be a better level to specialize in one sport but even then you can benefit so much from playing other sports. Bo Jackson, Clayton Kershaw, and Giancarlo Stanton just to name a few were multi-sport athletes. Eric Cressey has talked about how “82% of the top athletes from the four major sports in the U.S actually played multiple sports.” There comes a time in everyone’s life where we decide what we want to do, and often it’s something that we are really good at. If baseball is what you love and you are getting recognized there’s a good chance that someone is going to give you an opportunity to play at either a college or professional level.
There is zero intention to discourage your dreams and aspirations to be the next MLB
star, but it’s worth considering the odds of making it to the next level. While in your youth I encourage you to enjoy your passion for sports and to use that energy to simply enjoy it. Sooner or later you will figure out what sport you can enjoy for the rest of your athletic career.
You may miss out on developing those skills to be the best. Still, at a high school age and into college you have a lot of days to put in the work. A lot. Use that time wisely and you can develop the skills that you will need to get that scholarship or maybe even that phone call on draft day. Trust the process and most importantly embrace being an athlete.
An unneeded pressure
This goes to parents and it references the previous point. You probably know your child more than anyone else but you don’t always know what’s going through their mind. I have played with growing up and experienced on the coaching side that some kids can get burned out. Timmy might have been playing baseball since he was 5 years old and may love the sport but playing competitively isn’t for everyone. As they get older the competition gets harder and playing on travel teams can get overwhelming with all the expectations. As a coach I believe that my biggest failure would be to have them not enjoy the game anymore. If I ever get to be a dad and my son doesn’t like baseball it would be a heartbreak, but at the end of the day what matters is his passion. Failure in sport in my opinion provides one of the most valuable lessons in life, but some kids do get to the point where it may not be the best activity for them anymore. Communication is huge and I think that it is something that at times there is a lack thereof with kids and their parents in sports.
I knew that I wanted to play baseball since I was 3 and growing up I never understood why I had teammates that would talk about a T.V show in the middle of the game. I think that my parents always knew what I truly wanted out of the game so I was fortunate to have always received their positive support for my dreams. But I remember having teammates whose parents drove them away from the game simply because of the pressure that they put on their kids. This goes out specifically to those hardcore moms and dads. You want your kid to be the best but you have to always remember that it’s their game, not yours. Let the kids play!!!
Got a little sidetracked with the multi-sport aspect but you get the point.
All in all
The arguments are all in context. If you are 12 years old and have always been one of the best players on your team then there’s a pretty good chance that you have a future playing college baseball or even professional. If you are one of the best players on your high school team then you have a good shot, but it doesn’t hurt to explore your athletic abilities across other sports. Worst comes to worse you can still take some ground balls and get your swings in your baseball offseason. Regardless of what you decide to do all you need is to invest 100% of your time and effort into what you love. I was a strictly baseball guy and I truly enjoyed playing from January to December year in and year out. (West Coast Privilege!!!) Looking back I don’t think it was the greatest decision in terms of athletic development and health (next article on Year-Round Baseball?).
In the last segment I talked about the risk-reward of choosing the path of sport specialization. To the population of young baseball players who choose such an approach, the risk-reward aspect gets magnified with year-round throwing. Especially for pitchers, the arm can only make so many throws until some type of damage can and will likely occur.
If you have the ability to hit the diamond from January to December like I did growing up in Southern California, it is a tremendous advantage in terms of baseball skill development. Playing college ball in Kansas City really made me appreciate my high school days because when there’s snow you don’t always have the ability to go outside.
My freshman year we took about 30 shovels for a full day workout to clear half of the infield. Avila has a turf field so no excuses!.
Yeah we rolled that up
Indoor facilities really come in handy in these winter-struck regions of the country, so regardless of your geographic location there’s always a way to work on things if you really want to work hard for that ultimate goal.
With that said it is extremely important to establish a program for all aspects of your various baseball seasons. Baseball’s main season takes place in the spring and many take advantage of the summer time to continue practice and games. That all sounds great, but you need to evaluate your load in all aspects of your training during the calendar year. This includes strength and conditioning, practice, games, throwing cycles, and innings pitched (taxing innings specifically).
For college players let’s begin with what we consider the beginning of next season: when the regular season has ended. This is the summer time where most of us are off and the lucky few get to the postseason. Regardless of when your season ends, the summer at some point becomes your first transition (active rest).
From a Strength and Conditioning point of view, you have 2 options. Rest and restore for next year or continue playing with summer ball. If you decide to play summer, consider first what your pitching load was for the spring. You can consider innings and pitches thrown for the course of 4-6 months, but what we often forget is everything else that happened in between. I’m talking about all your long toss, bullpens, scrimmages, nagging or legitimate injuries. As pitchers there are often things that are out of our control. A great example goes for relief pitchers. Maybe you only threw 20 innings but what about those days where you warmed up a couple times in a 4 game series and the guy on the mound got out of the jam? You hadn’t thrown for a series or two and threw in some scrimmages to keep your stuff sharp. These are just a few scenarios but think about how that taxing adds up to those 20 innings that the stat book shows: we could have doubled that!
So let’s say that we’ve evaluated your load and you’ve decided to go on with summer ball. Great! Now we have to figure out what the schedule will be like along with the transition into the fall season. What does your coach plan on for the fall? At some point the competition will begin in terms of scrimmages so how do we prepare ourselves to be ready to win a job? You have to remember that the fall season is all about preparing for the main spring season. You can have a great summer and fall season but what happens 6 months after when it is the prime time to compete? Once again, it truly depends on the load of throwing through the entire process. At the college level you should have an established understanding of your body and being able to listen to it when something isn’t right physically. This is also where communication is vital with your coaches and trainers to figure out the best approach for you to both develop and maintain your health.
High school players follow an identical structure but with an added element of travel ball and showcases. Exposure to college and pro scouts is awesome but we need to consider the risk-reward of throwing competitively year round. Being this deep into baseball specialization can be detrimental to your development and health because of increased fatigue. As fatigue increases we increase the likelihood of injury, especially for the joints of the elbow and shoulder.
When we throw a baseball the arm is put in a position where our mechanics and their timing determine how much force is distributed throughout the kinetic chain. “Clean mechanics” is a blurred phrase because velocity and command do not indicate as such. For me this phrase is defined clearer through a biomechanical analysis. This means that we look at the entire delivery and break down key movements that show how your body is positioned from start to finish. Notice how I didn’t say your arm’s position? This is because our arm position is affected by how we apply a force from Front Foot Strike and transfer that energy through the finger tips when we release the ball. Top pitching instructors can debate what an optimal delivery should look like, but what we do have available to us is data that shows what inefficient movement patterns look like among pitchers who have frequent injuries.
Some phrases that you might have heard of are “Inverted W” “Tommy John Twist” and “Early Trunk Rotation” just to name a few.
The Tommy John Twist
Top pitching researchers like Brent Pourciau, Lantz Wheeler, Kyle Boddy, and Chris O’Leary all have their different perspectives and theories and how to teach proper mechanics, but I think they all speak the same language. It always comes down to timing and how we apply all the movements in our delivery. So what does this have to do with year-round throwing? A fatigued body will not move efficiently!
Just because our arm feels good throughout the year doesn’t mean that we aren’t applying any damage to it. Most injuries are not acute, meaning that your UCL didn’t just pop on one throw. Every athlete has some kind of wear-and-tear in their body and pitchers’ elbows and shoulders are no exception. According to Dr. James Andrews in a NY Times article, he discussed with pitchers evaluated that were not injured and had no pain, their M.R.I.’s found “abnormal shoulder cartilage in 90 percent of them and abnormal rotator cuff tendons in 87 percent. ‘If you want an excuse to operate on a pitcher’s throwing shoulder, just get an M.R.I.” Every period of loaded throwing involves some kind of micro-tearing to the muscles and connective tissues. That is why I am a huge advocate in resting your body at some point of the year. Resting doesn’t mean to not do anything for a period of time, rather taking that time to work on things like mobility, soft-tissue work, and corrective exercise. Stretching and band work isn’t the most exciting thing to do but I think that injury-prevention is the easiest and most detrimental thing neglected in a pitcher’s development.
The value of hard work is often validated by performance. You can follow your throwing program to the wire, work hard in the weight room, and refuse to take days off to get better every day. That is definitely worth admiring, but it wasn’t until my injuries made me realize that I didn’t do everything right. I was always focused on getting stronger lifting 2-3 hours a day and long tossing to throw harder. I was always the small guy who had to outwork everyone, so I worked harder rather than smarter. From complete games in summer ball, December college showcases, and excessive weight training in college, I was focused on reaching the top of the mountain when I should have looked for the best way to climb it. The little things matter and that is why I think every young pitcher should take the time to process and map out the micro-goals to develop.
Once again it’s all about context. If you are a professional athlete the risk sometimes outweighs the reward. Heavy training and intensive throwing might be the only option to continue your career, but for the high school and college athlete? YOU STILL HAVE SOME TIME!!! You obviously need a sense of urgency to get to the next level but you have the time to strategically plan your development. So what are some good ideas?
Constantly adjust your programming. Establish important dates in terms of competitive seasons that require you to be at your best. This means regular season, showcases, and most importantly how you prepare for them. What period are you going to use to restore your body and how will you do it? In a college and high school program a Strength and Conditioning coach should be able to assist you in terms of how to train for them. Your coaches should be able to give you a schedule months in advance and be able to communicate what and how they want you to be prepared for them. If you take initiative to carefully map out your development, your effort should ultimately display how much you develop. Your success also relies on who you surround yourself with, but if you control the controllable and trust in the process, you set yourself up for a successful and healthy career.
One of the most common injuries to both athletes and non is the lower back simply because of our anatomy and how we use it (often misused). The lumbar spine is connected to the sacrum and pelvis, a network of muscles, bones, and connective tissue that is responsible for almost every movement that involves the legs and spine. From walking, exercising, and even sitting all of those parts have something to do with what we are currently doing- carrying a majority of our bodyweight.
The network of the Lumbo-pelvic Hip Complex that I am talking about begins with its bone structure. From the top you have your Lumbar Spine which consists of 5 vertebrae cushioned with intervertebral disks labeled L1-L5. This structure connects with the sacral curve and other forms of connective tissue. To finish this network you also have the pelvis connected in which it sits on the femur in a ball-and-socket joint allowing a wide range of motion at the hip.
Now when referencing the all the muscles of this Lumbo-pelvic Hip Complex, I like to use the analogy of sticks and rubber bands connected all together. In order to have motion at any joint, the muscles have to either contract, elongate, or relax. In order to move a limb in a particular direction, the muscles receive a message from the nervous system to do either of the three in an efficient manner to provide “optimal movement.” I say “optimal” in the sense of having a full range of motion with minimal-to-none discomfort or pain. The reason we feel tightness/pain in our back, hips, and legs is because we have overactive and underactive muscles (rubber bands) that are not pulling the bones (sticks) efficiently. Depending on your activity level or lack thereof, the connective tissues and joints can get worn out because there are imbalanced forces acting upon them. Still with me?
When we have tightness, discomfort, pain in our lower back, there is an extremely high likelihood that we have a muscle imbalance within this body region. How do these imbalances happen? Well mostly because of inefficient joint movement and improper contraction of the muscles that are used. While what we feel is in the lower back, the root of the problem can often be found in the region below.
In a previous article “The Injury Bug,” I talked about my experiences with a herniated disk. After the MRI results the two doctors I saw confirmed the diagnosis of the disk herniation of the L4-L5. After a progressively worsening back pain that lasted for about a year, I finally had an answer for structural damage.
The original approach was to deal with the inflammation and nerve irritation through medication and physical therapy to strengthen the muscles in my lower back. After the 6 week period the pain worsened and it had expanded to my right hip, eventually a numbing pain down my leg. After further evaluation, the MRI also showed Femoral Acetabular Impingement (FAI), a dysfunction at the hip joint likely from a tearing of the labrum in the right hip. Remember the anatomy of the ball-and-socket joint? Well with any basic movement at the hip joint there was a constant pressure and grinding of the labrum. The reason that this information was so important was because it helped explain a number of questions that weren’t asked from the very beginning.Now that we knew that there was a structural issue at the hip joint, we were able to explore what movements were limited and what muscles were overactive and underactive. When it came to basic pelvic movement, we discovered that I had an anterior pelvic tilt, making it extremely painful to shift my hips into a neutral position. This helped explain a probable cause for lumbar disk herniation because the pelvic tilt was putting pressure onto the vertebral disks. When we tested hip flexion with the Dead bug exercise, we discovered that my right hip was externally rotated while my left was internally rotated. Not only did this tell us that both hips had a very improper alignment, but that there was an extreme muscle imbalance to the hip abductors and adductors.
In terms of a rehabilitation program, we knew that surgery was the only way possible to “fix” the damaged connective tissues, and even with it there was no guarantee that it would fix the entire problem (that of muscle imbalances and movement patterns). Once the structure of our anatomy is damaged we can improve its function but can rarely ever restore it to its original “100%” structure. Because of inflammation and possible nerve damage from the spinal cord down to the right hip, pain management and corrective exercise was the best option. So what did we decide to do? We started by getting the hips realigned through chiropractic adjustments. This helped fix the positioning of the sticks but we had to consider how we changed the tension of the rubber bands. Corrective exercise involved a lot of glute activation and more so of the weaker muscle groups (abdominals, hip flexors/extensors and abductors/adductors). Over the span of 3 months of daily corrective exercise the muscle imbalances tested at a much lower rate than it did in the beginning. Throughout my senior season I still experienced pain and discomfort but it was enough to get me back on the field for a daily frequency.
So does my case study make a general point for lower back pain? I think that it does. The structural damage and muscle imbalances vary from person to person so no rehab program should be alike. Several studies have shown fairly similar traits in terms of improving these inefficient movement patterns to alleviate lower back pain and discomfort. People respond differently to different treatments such as chiropractic adjustments, acupuncture, physical therapy, and rest. But at the end of the day muscle imbalances attribute to a majority of structural issues to the body. I think that is why there are skeptics towards chiropractors (I was one!) because of the notion that you have to continually get treatments. If a good chiropractor can realign your body, those adjustments can only last as long as the body allows it to maintain those proper positions and posture. This is why I am so adamant in finding the root of the problem rather than fixing the symptoms. So if you are experiencing lower back problems ask yourself this question, “Is my injury only where I feel the pain?” If so we have to be willing to explore the biomechanics of basic movements to find all the pieces to the puzzle. There is a lot that does into it and is why it is important to explore the entire body. In terms of having a hip issue, there is always a possibility that the root of the problem is in our knees, ankles, and feet. For example, a sprained ankle can lead to compensation when walking or running, which can ultimately impact how we apply forces to the hip joint. A simple change in movement patterns can affect the entire chain of movement!
So if you are experiencing any issues I highly recommend that you get yourself a solid team of health professionals that can help you understand what your body is doing. Such a team should consist of doctors, physical therapists, chiropractors, corrective exercise specialists, and even certified personal trainers. Research your symptoms through credible sources and find the greatest amount of information possible to take initiative of your injuries. Once you do all of that, you are halfway there towards moving and feeling better!
The term “We” in this article references my doctors and physical therapists, professors and classmates in my Clinical Kinesiology class at Avila University as well as the athletic training staff and strength and conditioning coach. From evaluations, discussions, and answering all of my questions, this team helped make it all happen. Thanks!!!