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!

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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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First blog post

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.

Thanks!