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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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!

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!