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.
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!
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!
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
Nomo 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.
For 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.
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.