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Avila Kinesiology Graduate Class of 2017. NAIA Div. I Pitcher

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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.

Thanks!

 

Sport Specialization

December 2, 2017

Erick Mojica – B.S Kinesiology

 

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. ALCS Astros Yankees BaseballBy 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.

The drawback

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

Baseball Odds
National School of Baseball

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.

The drawback

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!!!

 The drawback

 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?).

Nevertheless get out and be an athlete!

Lower Back Problems

November 20, 2017

Erick Mojica – B.S Kinesiology

 

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.

Hip Impingement
“Hip impingement occurs when the ball and socket of the hip joint don’t fit together properly. The restricted motion damages cartilage and can cause pain.” -Mayo Clinic

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.Pelvic postureNow 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.22_hip_internal_external_rotation

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!!!

 

The Injury Bug and Its Psychology

September 23, 2017

Erick Mojica  B.S Kinesiology

 

Ahh, there’s nothing like getting a good old bite from the dreadful injury bug. The most frustrating part about undergoing this process is because there is only so much that you can control. Especially as an athlete you are limited to what you can do depending on how severe your injury is. In season or not, you are constantly competing for a spot. With that said, I want to share my thoughts and experiences on this subject.

First off, you have to have your injury addressed by the professionals who can diagnose you and figure out what your short-term and long-term goals should be to return to action. In some cases you deal with soreness and inflammation and have to give the local area some time to rest, usually a pretty easy injury to overcome. But it’s those serious/ nagging injuries that can really put a toll on you not only physically but mentally. I think that it is safe to say that most people eventually experience some of this, and if you never do you are one lucky athlete! None the less, you have to find a strong place within you psychologically to keep pushing forward. Easier said than done right? Well, when you know that you are going to be on the shelf for an extended period of time, you have to be realistic with where you stand through the entire process. Setbacks are tough because it makes it you feel like you are never going to get better. As motivational speaker Eric Thomas says, “A setback is a set up for a comeback!” You have to surround yourself with helpful opinions on where you stand and maintain your motivation and focus towards that comeback goal.

From personal experience, I dealt with a pretty serious back injury that had me questioned to play my senior year. The two doctors that reviewed my MRI revealed a herniated disc in my L4-L5 and L5-S1 area along with Femoral Acetabular Impingement in my right hip; I knew something was wrong when it hurt to sit (Next blog post? Hint Hint).

Both doctors suggested that playing baseball was something that could severely injure me long-term while one of them said that I shouldn’t play at all. Not quite the news that I wanted to hear. The emotions at first were a little confusing. I was obviously frustrated, upset, angry, but what bugged me most was the thought of me even deserving to play in the spring after taking off the entire fall pre-season. All that I could think of was the idea of having to sit out of all of our team’s practices and heavy training sessions. I had enough trouble walking and I had to watch all of my teammates work hard and battle for their spots. For all of my teammates and coaches for that year reading this, I can’t thank you enough for your support.

The reason why this support was so important for me is that I am a very reserved and introverted person. I didn’t want to talk about anything with my injury and this might be the first time that I share this with a lot of you. The first few months of my recovery process was optimistic, sitting out for 6 weeks to fully rest my body. I went through physical therapy and mostly all of my activity was in the trainers’ room. I got to hang out at practice every day and had some positive energy by just getting to be around my teammates. Once the 6 weeks were up, I wasn’t feeling any better and I later found out that my insurance was not going to cover me for any type of available treatments. That’s where it really hit me. As the fall season went on, the frustration hit its peak and I got to the point where there was nothing but hopelessness and negativity going through my mind. The nights became long and sleepless and the motivation to come back was sliding away from me. A form of depression and anxiety took me over not only around baseball but also in my everyday living. It was like a loss of self-identity, not recognizing the person standing in front of the mirror. Crazy how that happened with baseball, right? Well it did because playing the game was everything to me. Competing with my teammates day in and day out, lifting weights, running sprints until my heart exploded out of my chest, all of this was no longer a part of my everyday life. It was really hard to adjust and overcome.

But there was a dim light at the end of the tunnel, and it all changed one morning in my Clinical Kinesiology class. That day we were going over movement assessments and we did a lab where we got into groups and examined each other’s mobility. Since I was having pain in my back and hips I got my hips assessed and what we found was shocking.

When performing a supine dead bug, both of my legs were shifted about 25-30° to my left side. When applying a passive stretch trying to place my legs back to neutral, there was a shooting pain right where my disc injury was. Light bulb? Could it have been Lower-Crossed Syndrome that was causing all of my pain and numbness shooting from my lower back to my right leg?

To briefly explain, according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine, LCS “produces

LCS Symptomsan increased forward tilt of the pelvis that coincides with an excessive lower-back arch. Holding this static position constantly can create or contribute to muscle imbalances in the pelvic region. Unfortunately, this uneven pull of muscles has effects beyond the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex, strongly influencing the regions above and below as well.” After further evaluation, we determined an identical match with muscle imbalances throughout my lumbo-pelvic hip complex, something that was slightly disregarded with my physical therapy.  This isn’t to knock off the people who I worked with because even the best therapists can make mistakes, but this changed everything! From November into the first month of the season, I took a more aggressive approach to my therapy by applying more strength training to my rehab along with working with a chiropractor and my Kinesiology professors at Avila. In the span of four months, I was finally able to get back on the field (with plenty of struggle), but with a complete 180° turn to my mental strength.

Depression and anxiety is a sensitive issue, and I have full sympathy for anyone who has ever dealt with these feelings because in some cases they can be very traumatic. The perception of our own reality differs from everyone else’s and while an athletic injury may not be the worst thing that could happen to someone, I understand the feeling of not being physically capable of playing the game that you love. My point with all of this is that if you ever have these feelings when dealing with an injury you are not alone. I guarantee you that athletes in all sports and at all levels experience this. So keep your head up and keep pushing forward. While you can’t put in the work on the field you can put just as much an effort in your rehab. Work with your doctors and training staff and trust the process. Surround yourself with people who bring positivity in your recovery and know that you will not be on the ground forever. I don’t know if I would’ve been able to play my senior year if I hadn’t been a Kinesiology student for a number of reasons, but I do have to give all the credit to every person who helped me through the entire process. For every health professional, coach, family, teammate, and friend, you helped me through that dark and terrible place in my mind. Although my senior season ended with us having a short postseason run, I walked off of the field for the last time with a smile on my face.

The featured image is the screensaver that I set on my phone from January until the last day of the season. I never shared about my experiences with depression and anxiety until this blog post, so once again, thank you to everyone who was there and helped me through it.

Learning How to Train: Part 2

 

August 21, 2017

Erick Mojica – B.S Kinesiology

 

So training, what’s the right way to do it? Well as I mentioned in Part 1, I learned from a lot of people throughout my playing career and most of it towards the end of it in college. There is no perfect program, but there are some basic principles in training for baseball. I’ll admit that I lean a lot towards Olympic lifting, and that’s because I agree with the training type, it is baseball-like from the perspective of fast and explosive movements in short bursts. I am by no means disregarding strength training and endurance exercises, but I think that is what ultimately translates to performance on the field.

The key aspect of any Olympic lift is the concept of Triple Extension. In any explosive movement such as a sprint, jump, pitching delivery, to produce a maximal force through the kinetic chain requires performing the movement with full extension of the ankle, knee, and hip joint when producing a force off the ground.

 

 

Triple Extension

Now just because you are performing a Power Clean doesn’t mean that you’re going jump from 80 MPH to 90, but the transition of that type of training can provide some long term improvements to your explosive ability. My Strength and Conditioning coach at Avila was the first to introduce me to that concept, and it was Brent Pourciau that really validated that idea for me with pitching.  Studying elite pitchers who throw 90+ MPH, the one common variable in every pitchers’ mechanics was their consistency in performing that Triple Extension in their delivery.

Brent’s 3X Pitching program with Top Velocity is based off of this concept. Going further into Biomechanics, pitchers who throw in the upper 90’s not only excel in performing this movement but also have a specific range of timing through various phases of their delivery.

3X Triple Extension Proper timing is dependent on a number of factors ranging from a pitcher’s body type as well as their “natural” mechanics and throwing motion. Pitchers have different balance points, separation mechanisms, and different release points, all of which factor into an individual’s most efficient mechanics. This is where I believe that using Biomechanical Data is the optimal way to approach your training.

Going back to training methods, this is where the fun begins for a Strength and Conditioning professional. To provide an athlete with the “perfect training program.” We have to look at a number of variables that could influence your performance. Maybe you’re a guy who can rep out 10 squats at 315 lbs. but your pitching coach says that you’re not using your legs when you pitch. Well, maybe some explosive training involving Olympic lifts and Plyometrics could benefit you prior to starting your season. In contrast maybe you do a good job of Triple Extending in your delivery, but you’re not performing very well in your lifts in the weight room. This is where program designing should be specific rather just jumping at it with a training program that you found online. It makes me cringe when a baseball player tells me that he wants to follow his favorite body builder’s training program to get ready for season. It’s not me trying to be a know-it-all, but I wish that more athletes would dig into research before just trying out any program.

With research comes a variety of approaches, some of which can bump heads in the field of Sports Performance training. Along with Top Velocity’s 3X program, I also like following Kyle Boddy’s Driveline program.

Driveline Weighted Balls

Driveline has a slightly different approach to developing pitchers, a big difference with using weighted balls to develop speed and power. They do not by any means disregard weight training, but many baseball guys buy into his program only thinking about the weighted balls. I was a victim to this kind of thinking in my early years in college because I noticed some immediate gains in my velocity training with weighted baseballs. It made sense to me at the time; get used to a heavier ball and the baseball will feel lighter resulting in increased arm speed. It worked for a while, but I eventually learned that I was relying on my arm to increase my velocity and not enough on my entire body being explosive when I pitched. There are many valid arguments to both sides, and I believe that both can provide you a great deal of information to find what approach can work best for your needs. I won’t spend too much time explaining their programs, some of it to encourage you to research it yourself 😉

Using resistance bands is of great interest of mine on multiple perspectives. I’m a big fan of the Jaeger arm care bands to strengthen out the rotator cuff muscles. I don’t care how much resistance training you do, working those cuff muscles with bands is extremely important in keeping your arm healthy. Jaeger BandsThere is a great level of technique that should be applied when using those bands simply because it’s easy to slack off and lose focus on how you position yourself. Although the bands don’t provide a very heavy load on the shoulder, bad positioning can do more harm than good when using them. I think that they are a great tool for a warm-up and recovery, but have an educated approach for how you use them!

 

Along with arm care, my career was heavily impacted with the use of a band on my lower half mechanics. In the winter of my Junior year heading into the season, my coaches at Avila attended a baseball event where they met up with Lantz Wheeler, a pitching coach who created the “Core Velocity Belt,” designed to use resistance bands to teach you how to accelerate your body with specific direction. If you’ve watched Jered Weaver pitch, my pitching mechanics were nearly identical on the lower half.

Notice how I start off by leaning my center mass the 3rd base side?

For my entire life I threw across my body, something that I eventually realized was affecting my ability to throw harder and spotting the outside pitch to a righty. This belt helped me to re-learn my lower body mechanics after a solid three months of trying to land straight. To explain it better, my pitching coach tried endless ways to get me to stride towards the plate. Changing my leg kick like Kershaw, putting his cell phone next to my landing spot, you name it! I might be exaggerating but I spent a solid 2-3 hours a day just trying to fix my landing. It was really hard to make such a drastic change to my mechanics but I truly believed that it would make me a better pitcher. Well as soon as I got back to KC to prepare for the season my coaches introduced me to the Core Velocity program. I didn’t know much about it, but I bought in right away. At first it was crazy but it made sense, using a band to pull me in the direction that I’ve been working so hard to get away from. From a neurological standpoint, I have been throwing my entire life moving in the direction of the right handed batter’s box (I’m right handed). What if the band pulled me in that same direction so that I learn to use my body to counteract that movement? Ahh! Well it worked!!! The resistance of the band created a stimulus for my muscles to resist that force and use my hamstrings to contract stronger and maintain my body in a more linear path to the plate. BINGO!!! It still took many weeks to get it down, but I had the best year of my college career simply because I was using my body more efficiently. Not only was I throwing a little bit harder, but I was getting even better at commanding the ball to the outer half of the plate! Similar approaches are used for weightlifting purposes such as a valgus knee when performing a squat. Because resistance bands changed my career, I have a great interest in applying them for when I work with pitchers, and I encourage you to explore how it could possibly improve your mechanics in anything!

So what’s the right way to train? There is no specific program. I do believe in a foundation of strength training and Olympic lifting, but there are a lot of approaches that you can take to improve your game. I truly enjoy exploring a variety of methods so I will never tell you that it’s my way or the high way. Okay maybe I’ll blow up on you if you want to do CrossFit if you think it’s going to make you throw 100 MPH :P. Either way I think the most rewarding thing about being a Strength and Conditioning coach is being able to educate people on how to train. There is no perfect program, but there is the possibility of designing a program that will fit best to your needs as an athlete. Even if you’re not an athlete a great trainer or coach should be able to inform you on what approaches you should have to achieve your goals. Regardless I hope that this helps you baseball guys to look for great ways to improve your game. I had to figure these things out myself and when I did it was a little too late. As my theme continues, I HAVE ZERO REGRETS! I enjoyed the process and learned a lot while I played this wonderful game. For those who have dreams and aspirations of playing at the next level, be willing to not only put in the hours to your training but also to your learning! The more you know the better you can prepare!

Learning How to Train

August 15, 2017

Erick Mojica – B.S Kinesiology

 

Training for baseball is something that I picked up at an early age, but over the years I realized that I didn’t start early enough as well as working on the right things. I want to say that I was about 14 years old when I first started a weight training program as a freshman in High School. Twice a week we would meet up in the weight room and get an hour of weight training and conditioning in place of practice in the fall. Like most kids, I had no idea what I was doing, but I fell in love with it right away. Lower body exercises came natural to me (really just squatting), but I loved the grind of implementing medicine balls and plyometrics at the end of it. As time went on I convinced my parents to get me a gym membership and started working out as much as I could on a weekly basis. There’s no doubt that I was getting stronger, but as I look back I realize that I wasn’t always working on the right things. In this article I will reflect on all of the good and bad that I went through in the process of using weight training for my baseball performance.

For starters, any young athlete who begins a resistance training program is going to experience some quick improvements in their overall strength. While this might provide some immediate improvements on the field, they probably won’t have a full long term benefit in the long run. Speaking from my personal experiences, I didn’t really start to see my improvement as an athlete until I got to college baseball. The reason for that? Well my workouts were generally based off of standard weight training and using machines at my local gym. While my focus was getting stronger, I realize now that I wasn’t developing my explosiveness and power as an athlete. Was it a waste of time through my High School years? Not exactly because I did set a foundation of basic strength, but I do wish I would’ve known more about Olympic lifting and how greatly it translates to not just baseball, but any competitive sport.

There are a few key differences between Strength and Power. The essence of Strength revolves around resistance against an external load, building muscle mass and improving neuromuscular recruitment. When it comes to Power, it’s about using that Strength to move the weight and /or body in a fast explosive manner. Olympic lifts such as Power Cleans, Jerks, and Snatches along with Plyometric training focus on using your Strength to move as quickly and as efficiently as possible. Sounds familiar? I don’t know, like throwing a baseball? Well I didn’t know any better until I started to learn more about training and how to stimulate the entire body to perform at a higher level.

As I mentioned before, I was never a hard thrower. I did pick up a few MPH through college, but I wish I would’ve trained for explosiveness a few years earlier than I did. My freshman year of college we didn’t have a Strength and Conditioning coach, but our head coach always encouraged us to get in the weight room to get stronger. I was fortunate to surround myself around a great group of upperclassmen that would train with me in the weight room almost every single day. I did get a little more into Olympic lifts and Plyometrics, but I didn’t have a full understanding on how to approach such a training program to have it translate to my performance on the baseball field. A year later, Coach C. was brought on to our athletic program and implemented an outstanding training program that involved all aspects of Strength and Power. Despite my years of training experience, this first year was an absolute struggle in the weight room. My deadlifts were atrocious and I had no physical understanding on how to perform these skilled multi-joint lifts. I thought I was fairly strong, but having a Strength and Conditioning coach made me realize that I didn’t always have the greatest techniques and far less had the athleticism to perform at the elite level that I was working towards. Well once again I was surrounded by a lot of great teammates that were always there for me and helped me with my training. Fast forward through the summer entering my junior year, I went from an ugly 135 lb. deadlift to a 225 lb. with far better technique and form. A few months into the fall I reached up to a not so pretty 315 lb. deadlift, but man was I super proud! Along with my studies in my kinesiology classes, it took me this long into my baseball life to finally start understanding how to implement a more effective training program that directly impacted my performance on the field. I was still far from hitting 90 MPH, but my understanding of how to use my body on the mound increased significantly leading me into the best season that I had in my career.

Based off of research from some of my favorite professional trainers (such as Eric Cressey and Brent Pourciau), the reason why Olympic lifts translate to sports so well is because they require a correct sequence of movements to produce a maximum force at a maximum speed.

Below is a great video by Brent that I came across this past summer interviewing Rachel Balkovec, MLB’s first female Strength and Conditioning Coach! Baseball players, I promise you it’s worth the 55 minutes!

Well if you correlate that to pitching, it makes some sense right? You don’t throw 90+ MPH because you can squat more than twice your bodyweight, but you do so because you can use that strength and apply it to your delivery to throw a baseball downhill in an explosive and timely manner. Try getting a body builder to throw 90 MPH off of a mound. Will the dude be able to muscle the ball to the plate? Maybe, but tell me how many MLB players are built with that type of frame? My point is that Strength training alone can only take your performance so far. Some guys might have a lot of natural athletic ability and can survive through that type of training, but there’s a reason why the elite can do what they do at the highest level of the game.

Olympic lifting won’t entirely make you perform better on the field, but in my opinion it is one of the most important aspects of training for any athletic sport. What I have learned over the years as an athlete is that to reach your maximum potential you have to be willing to try a variety of training programs. For some individuals weight training can be the difference maker while for some they might need a greater emphasis on mobility work. Growing up as a young baseball player I thought that I was always working on the right things, and in the end I didn’t develop into the player that I wanted to be. I have ZERO regrets simply because for the 18 years that I played baseball I was always working towards that ultimate goal. Do I wish I could go back a couple years? Sure! As the old saying goes, “If I knew then what I know now,” maybe I would’ve been able to at least one time hit that 90 MPH benchmark. Despite all of this, I encourage you whether you’re a kid in High School or a guy looking to reach the next level to seek professional help. There is a world full of great trainers and coaches that can point you in the right direction to someone who can transform you into everything that you want to be as an athlete. Do your research and surround yourself with people who want you to succeed just as much as you do. Ask questions to find the perfect program for your specific needs!

On the next blog post, I’ll discuss my thoughts on more baseball specific training with of course Olympic lifting (sense a slight bias?), weighted balls, bands, long tossing, and more!

Sport Specific Muscle Imbalances

Sport Specific Muscle Imbalances 2015 Research

Above is a PDF link to the full study I conducted with my Undergraduate Kinesiology Professor Dr. Larson back in 2015. The file includes images and data tables showing descriptive data that was found among various groups of athletes at Avila University. Two years later, I have re-evaluated this study and shared my thoughts below.

The question we asked was “How can we find a more efficient way to both predict and prevent injuries with competitive athletes?” Well for starters we have to begin by looking at sport specific movements. While all sports require some sort of strength and power, the nature of an individual’s sport dictates the types of movements that have to take place. Considering the loads, frequency, and energy demands, the wear-and-tear of a baseball player will be quite different from that of a soccer player.

To take it a step further, we had to consider the types of injuries that athletes typically experience with their sport. For example, a basketball player typically will experience damaged knees and ankles with frequent jumping and change of direction running. In contrast, a golfer will typically experience back tightness and oblique issues due to a constant twisting and rotation in the direction of their back swing. While some of these observations can pretty transparent, this is a key component to finding useful data when measuring muscle imbalances.

The research and experiments were conducted in a class of 28 (22 Male, 6 Female) Avila University student athletes along with data gathering of 12 Golf players (7 Male, 5 Female). The data was separated between Males and Females in their perspective category.

The study took place inside the Maybee Fieldhouse at Avila University on a Tuesday morning Measurement and Evaluation class that ran from 9:00 A.M – 10:00 A.M. The measurements were taken by groups of students at different set up stations throughout the gymnasium.

The procedures that took place during the class portion of the data gathering involved splitting into groups of 4- 6 people with each individual partnering to observe the exercise and record the results. The order of performing the exercises were not of great importance, rather just emphasizing pairing the synergistic muscle groups. Such      pairings involve performing the Right Side Bridge (RSB) with the Left Side Bridge (LSB) as well as the Trunk Flexor Endurance (TFE) with the Trunk Extensor Endurance (TEE). The remaining exercises involved performing a One-repetition Maximum (1RM) Bicep Curl with proper technique of not swinging the curling arm. The other was a simple measurement of a Sit and Reach (S&R) pushing a marker measuring in inches.

To test our hypothesis of having each sport specific group in having similar issues, we used a comparative analysis by placing the athletes not only in correspondence with their sport but also with their sport type. Football and Baseball were categorized as “Strength-Power” Sports while Soccer and Basketball were listed as “Stop-and-Go” Sports. With that, Golf was placed in a category all within itself due to the distinct nature of the sport.

Imbalances were determined by researched differentials corresponding with the specific muscle groups based off of the endurance exercises. We used data from normative studies that looked at imbalances in a general population experiencing back issues. Such comparisons of our data were made by referencing ratios of

  • RSB/LSB 1.0 ± .05
  • TFE/TEE > 1.0
  • RSB/TEE > 0.75
  • LSB/TEE > 0.75

 

to indicate an imbalance that displayed an increased risk for injury.

What we found in our “Strength-Power” athletes was that imbalances were common with the anterior and posterior chain. 5/7 Football athletes displayed an imbalance of Trunk Flexion- Trunk Extension as well as 5/7 for Baseball athletes. This indicates that the nature of their sport has a high demand on this body region, thus suggesting that their training should be focused on improving the balance of strength between the “core muscles” and back.

“Stop-and-Go” athletes such as Soccer and Basketball displayed a significant amount of imbalances with oblique muscles. 6/7 athletes combined for such data, bringing up an intriguing question, “If there is a common imbalance of oblique endurance, why isn’t that a common injury for this type of athlete?” A follow up study could suggest that these imbalances are caused by an injury or overuse of a joint such as an ankle, knee, hip, or combination on either the right or left side. Theories such as “Lower crossed syndrome” could be a probable cause for why these athlete types may experience a muscle imbalance in this region.

And finally Golf, a sport that displayed 9/12 muscle imbalances within the oblique muscles. Because the sport is performed in a much more controllable environment, a biomechanical analysis of each individual’s swing could provide greater detail to why this imbalance occurred. As mentioned previously, we expected this phenomenon to take place considering that a Golfer drives the ball either right handed or left handed. How injuries can be predicted would need more detail for how each individual moves throughout his or her swing.

Cautions for this study point out directly to the small sample size. Data only consisted of 40 collegiate athletes and had an average of 7 subjects per sport category. Further studies should explore a greater amount of subjects to provide more data and information. Further studies should also include EMG (Electromyogram) reports to provide a much greater analysis for defining muscle fatigue when performing the endurance tests used in this study.

So what does all of this really mean? Well you can never really prevent an injury from happening to an athlete. Part of the equation is that acute injuries will happen, meaning that when performing at a maximal effort there will always be some sort of injury risk to the athlete. Concussions are common in Football while ACL tears occur in Soccer. Each sport has its own unique physical demand and there will always be muscles and body regions that will take a greater impact than the other. When working with athletes, I would say the best way to decrease the likelihood of injury would be to measure muscle imbalances and improve them by applying a specific training program to the individual athlete’s needs. As an athlete, you can attempt to follow another athlete’s training program, but it might not translate in terms of your specific needs. My advice to you would be to refer to a professional Strength and Conditioning Coach or an Athletic Trainer. Professionals in this field specialize in programming exercises for your specific needs in both a rehab and performance aspect. And most importantly, DO YOUR RESEARCH! Be willing to ask questions and seek multiple opinions to decide what is best for your interests. If you want to be a great baseball player, find what is going to make you a more athletic and and durable athlete! If you play football, don’t just think about getting big and strong. Consider what your position demands are and train with a program that will maximize your needed skill-set!

 

Getting to College Baseball

July 29, 2017

Erick Mojica – B.S Kinesiology

For as long as I can remember I wanted to play professional baseball. I would grab pillows for catcher’s gear and grab a plastic basketball hoop for a mask to be just like Mike Piazza. At the same time I would twirl up my best tornado impression of Hideo

Baby MONomo and deliver the pitch to myself. Boy those were the days! Fast forward up to high school and I was a young kid dead set to play professional baseball. I didn’t make it past college baseball, but through the years I worked every single day thinking I could one day be a #2 starter behind Kershaw with the Dodgers. Every kid should reach for the stars that way. But I didn’t have the size nor the athletic ability of my peers. I always thought that I would be devastated the day I would have to hang up my cleats, but it didn’t end in the wreck that I thought I’d be.

Throughout my career I experienced a lot of ups and downs, all of which shaped me into the person that I am today. Starting in high school, I believe I always had the work ethic to make it to the ultimate goal. To be truthful I don’t think we are ever working as hard as we think we are. I can only speak for myself through all of my experiences, but I think that every kid dreaming of playing at the next level can take information from everyone with a grain of salt. What fueled me as a player was my size, a 5’8, 180 lb. kid who probably only grew an inch or two in high school. I heard it all for many years through high school and college career; that I was too small, I didn’t throw hard enough, some of you have heard that before right? Well it always pushed me to work harder than the guy next to me. I was always fortunate throughout the years to have teammates who wanted to put in the long hours. From hitting in the cage, lifting weights, long tossing and running sprints. I learned a lot of things up to my senior year in college, so here are some of the things that I learned along the way.

I always took a lot of pride in trying to be that ideal teammate. The selfless guy that tried to always do things the right way. The little things always mattered, like showing up early, picking your up your teammate when he’s struggling, making sure the bucket’s filled up during BP. But there is a degree where you do have to look out for yourself. I felt extremely undervalued on my high school team and felt that I didn’t get the playing time that I deserved. That was my opinion. It didn’t really matter on a team of 20+ guys, but I reached the point of frustration to where I realized that I was not going to make it to the college level. I made the tough decision to quit my high school team heading into the season and joined the travel ball team that I had played with over the years in the offseason. I know that it didn’t leave me as a very popular guy, and it was the first time that I decided to be that selfish guy on the team. I had a really great time playing high school ball and I took a lot of pride in representing my school, but at the time I felt like it was the best decision for me to make. I felt terrible about it, but I did something that I believe gave me a better opportunity to get to the next level. I am not telling you that you should quit your team when things aren’t going your way, but there might be a time where you will have to make a decision for yourself.

Playing with the southern California club ABD was a life-changing experience.

ABDFor over two decades this program was producing talent that was consistently seeing guys in the draft and getting baseball scholarships. This is a place where I felt I belonged. Trying to keep myself in an ego check here, I was a kid topping out at 80 mph competing against some of the best players in the country. I mean some dudes were throwing 95, dropping bombs and getting serious looks by MLB scouts. Every weekend consisted of doubleheaders with multiple college and pro scouts in attendance at pretty much every game. But most importantly, the coaching staffs were tremendous. Led by the late Mike Spiers, ABD had a system that implemented hard work and accountability both on and off the field. If a coach asked you what the count was and you hesitated, you were sprinting to the foul pole before you could even answer. You were not allowed to wear a hat indoors and you always had to be clean cut and shaven. Remember what I said about the little things? This is what mattered. Expectations were high, not just on your performance but in how you carried yourself and represented yourself as a ballplayer, your team, your family. This experience was life changing and I thank every coach that I ever had in this program. I know that travel ball isn’t always affordable for every young athlete and their family, but I highly encourage you to find programs as such that instill these values. A coach helping you with your swing or your pitching mechanics can go a long way, but this type of environment is what I believe can be the difference maker in achieving your goals to get to the next level. This environment is what drove me out of high school baseball and what I believe opened those doors for me to find a way into college baseball.

Fast forward to the end of my career with ABD, I found myself calling and emailing college coaches throughout the entire country trying to find a school to play for. I’ll be straight forward and tell you that I did not develop into the athlete that I wanted to be. I spent so many hours in the gym trying to get stronger, long tossing and flat grounds, and most of all studying the pros to see what I could do to elevate my game. I can go a lifetime talking about where I went wrong with my training, so I’ll save it for another journal. But I found myself at a point of extreme disappointment, thinking that maybe I just didn’t have what it takes to make it to the next level. But given the coaches and support system that I had through all the years I knew that I couldn’t give up. My 19 year old self throwing 80 mph still believed that I could make it to the pros.  Like I said I learned a lot. After what was probably 100 calls and emails, a Kansas City coach, Daryl Cronk at Avila University told me that he had a spot for me.

I discovered Avila through an Instagram post from a teammate that went to a camp where Coach Cronk was at in San Diego, CA. I did some research and what convinced me was 2 things: there was an MLB team there and the team had a lot of California players. Where do I sign! Turns out it was a solid NAIA program that this coach was constantly leading the team to national tournaments. This decision shaped my life in more ways that I could have ever imagined. I was once again surrounded by an environment filled with great teammates and excellent resources to become a better student-athlete.  It wasn’t an NCAA D1 school, but it was an opportunity to play the college game. Being a student-athlete at Avila enabled me to find new passions outside of baseball, one in particular with kinesiology. I got to play baseball every day and made some lifelong friends with memories forever engrained in my heart. I don’t know how much my high school decisions lead me to Avila, but through the process I learned a lot of things not only about baseball but about myself as a person. If you do what you love and put 100% of your heart into it, I promise you that you will never walk away with regret.

AU 2016 Champions
2016 Heart of America Conference Champions

 

Like I said earlier, you can take everything with a grain of salt. Some of you young guys reading this might have that 6+ foot frame and have that 90+ mph fastball that’s getting you into a top college baseball program or maybe even pro. Some of you might be like me, having to work harder than everyone else just to get people’s attention to your skills and abilities. Regardless I encourage you to keep grinding. The grind never stops and remember that there is always someone out there working harder than you. Some guys have it easy and others have it tough, but this game WILL HUMBLE YOU. I have seen a lot of guys that had tremendous talent but wasted it all away because they didn’t put the work in. I can’t tell you the keys to making it to pro ball because I didn’t get there, but I will tell you that there is always competition for the spot that you want. Whatever your skill set, talent, or even luck, there is always a place for you if you work hard enough to get there. Not everyone gets to play the college game and there are even less that make it to pro ball, that’s just the hard reality of this wonderful game. For what it’s worth, cherish the opportunities that you have to play this game. Whatever level you get to play at, make the most out of the opportunity and do what you can to create that ideal environment. Some programs may not have it for one reason or another, but it is up to you make things that way. Know your role and excel at it, because one day you might get to play on that big stage. I didn’t get to crack the rotation with Kershaw, but playing at the Z was greatest place to play the game.

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