After a good – but not great – 2020 campaign, Gerrit Cole is on pace for the best season of his career in 2021.
Through eight starts, Cole has thrown 52.2 IP, struck out 78, and walked just three batters for absurd K/BB of 26.0. He’s allowed just eight earned runs and currently owns a 1.37 ERA, 0.684 WHIP, 1.11 FIP, and leads the MLB in WAR with 2.8. If it wasn’t for some guy named Jacob deGrom, he’d be pacing the league in all of those categories but one (ERA: Means 1.21).
While we can often become immune to success because of previous dominance (e.g. Mike Trout), there is nothing ordinary about Gerrit Cole’s second season in pinstripes. DeGrom might be stealing the show in 2021, but Cole’s numbers paint a pretty convincing story: He is not the same pitcher he was in 2020. He is much better, and the film backs it up.
Last year, we got a ton of traction talking about Gerrit Cole. We knew he wasn’t the same pitcher from 2019 after watching him throw just one pitch. It’s not to say he was bad, but we knew the changes he made weren’t good changes. Those predictions ended up aging pretty well.
This year is a different story. The film and the numbers give us a really good idea that Cole made some conscious and deliberate changes this past offseason to return to circa ’19 form. So far, those changes have paid huge dividends. If he keeps this pace up, he doesn’t just have a chance to match what he did two years ago. He has a chance to surpass it. If he does, he’ll be in a position to do something he’s never done before in his nine-year big league career: win a Cy Young.
To start this discussion, let’s go to the film room. Below is a pitch Cole threw in 2019 at 100 mph. It was his 110th pitch of the game.
When it comes to pitching and hitting, a good chunk of our success comes down to our ability to move a weight through space as efficiently as possible. We’re trying to impart the most amount of force using the least amount of energy to maximize our production. If we look at the video above, it’s no mistake Cole is throwing 100 mph late in games. He’s moving to and through positions of leverage that help him maximize his efficiency on the mound.
To give you a feel for this, below is where Cole gets to at foot strike (left) and how he compares to some of the hardest throwers in the game. Pay close attention to the lower half. What do you notice?
Notice how his pelvis stays closed into landing and resists opening up? See how anchored his back leg is and how his shoelaces face towards third base? This position is really important. When Cole’s front foot comes back down to earth, his trunk and pelvis are closed, centered, and connected. This puts him in a strong position of leverage when it’s time to stop and rotate. He’s not flying open, leaking energy, or losing connection to the ground. Everything is lined up so the can get his best punch off consistently and effectively.
As Cole starts to rotate and impart force into the ball, we start to see what made him really special: His braking system is elite. Cole doesn’t just produce a ton of force. He does it with ease. He stops and rotates on a dime. There’s no folding, yanking, or leaking energy into release. Everything becomes really stable really fast creating for a clean transfer of energy up the chain.
When you pair an elite engine with a strong set of brakes, you get this: Easy gas. The best don’t just produce a ton of force. They do it with ease.
Let’s go to 2020. Below is a 98 mph fastball from Cole during an outing against Tampa Bay. Take a close look at the positions and transfer of energy during this throw. Then compare it back to 2019.
Before we break it down, let’s go to Cole’s May 12 start against Tampa Bay where he threw eight scoreless innings. Below is his last pitch at 99 mph. Pay attention to the positions he gets to, the transfer of energy, and how it compares to 2020.
In 2020, Cole’s average fastball lost some zip dropping from 97.3 mph to 96.9 mph. This year it’s back up to 97.4 (from FanGraphs). These two videos give us a really good idea why. Last season, he wasn’t moving to and through the same positions he once was in ’19. As a result, his performance regressed.
Below is a snapshot of both videos at foot plant. Take a look at the difference in his front foot.
Notice how it’s slightly more open in 2020? Now let’s look at where he gets to after release.
In 2020, Cole never got to a point of crossbody tension where he was able to stop and impart force into the ball. Everything continued to spin towards the first base dugout after release. His brakes weren’t working the way they used to. This caused him to lose velocity, miss high and arm side with his fastball, and yank breaking balls out of the zone. Below are his pitch distribution charts from 2019 vs. 2020 that show some of these differences. It was a small sample size in 2020, but the charts do show some key differences that illustrate what we would expect.
This season, he’s improved on that a ton. He’s landing a little more closed, he’s stopping a lot better, and more of his energy is getting transmitted into the baseball. He’s no longer losing a ton of energy towards the first base dugout. As a result, his velocity is back up and his command is the best it’s ever been in his career (0.78 BB/9). It’s still a little early to draw significant conclusions from his 2021 pitch distribution, but you can start to see some differences. He’s pounding the zone more with his breaking ball, he’s throwing more glove side fastballs (it’s tough to throw these when you’re constantly spinning), and he’s using his change up a lot more. Remember this part – it’s important for later.
I’m not quite sure why Cole made the adjustments that he did last year, but I do know this: His extension numbers changed drastically. Whether it was Cole, a coach, or someone from the front office, someone thought it would be a better idea going into 2020 if he released the ball closer to home plate. The problem with this is not all extension is created equal. Just telling someone to get more of it and actually creating it the right way are two completely different things.
In Cole’s situation, I have a theory trying to get more of it made him worse.
To break this down, let’s look at some data. In ’19, Cole had 6.3 feet of extension on his fastball, 5.9 feet on his slider, and 5.7 on his curveball. At first glance, these numbers seemed a little off. I wouldn’t expect a pitcher to have four to six inches of difference in extension between their fastball and breaking ball. As a result, I did some digging and gathered extension numbers for the 10 best sliders and curveballs, according to wSL/C and wCB/C from Fangraphs. I then compared these numbers to the extension they got on their fastballs. Below is what I found.
*all extension numbers from Baseball Savant
Fastball vs. Slider extension
Yu Darvish: FB 6.4, SL 6.3 (+0.1)
John Means: FB 6.1, SL 6.2 (-0.1)
Zach Plesac – Both 6.2 (0)
Joe Musgrove: FB 5.8, SL 5.9 (-0.1)
Chris Bassit: FB 6.3, SL 6.4 (-0.1)
Jacob deGrom: FB 7, SL 6.9 (+0.1)
Shane Bieber: FB 6.6, SL 6.5 (+0.1)
Nick Pivetta: FB 6.6, SL 6.4 (+0.2)
DeSclafani: Both 6.6 (0)
German Marquez: Both 5.4 (0)
Fastball vs. Curveball extension
Lance McCullers: FB (sinker) 6.2, CB 6.0 (+0.2)
Brandon Woodruff: FB 6.6, CB 6.5 (+0.1
Kyle Gibson: FB 6.7, CB 6.6 (+0.1)
Yu Darvish: Both 6.4 (0)
Jordan Montgomery: FB 6.7, CB 6.6 (+0.1)
Julio Urias: FB 5.6, CB 5.5 (+0.1)
Zach Plesac: FB 6.2, CB 6.1 (+0.1)
Tyler Glasnow: FB 7.4, CB 7.2 (+0.2)
Jake Arrieta: FB (sinker): 5.9, CB 5.8 (+0.1)
Wade Miley: FB: 6.2, CB 6.1 (+0.1)
As it turns out, I was right. Having 4 inches of extension difference between a fastball/slider and 6 between a fastball/curveball isn’t just big. It’s astronomical. But it doesn’t mean it’s bad. Given the context of Cole’s historic season, I wouldn’t view the extension differences as a red flag. It’s very unique, but it didn’t seem to be a problem for him. His pitches still managed to tunnel very well off of each other.
Here’s where it gets interesting. In 2020, Cole added 3 inches of extension to his fastball, 5 inches to his slider, and 7 (yes, 7 inches) to his curveball. As a result, the gap in extension between his fastball and both pitches dropped to two inches (FB: 6’6″, CB/SL: 6’4″). This kind of a change isn’t an accident. These numbers were indication of a conscious and deliberate decision.
It didn’t have a positive influence on both pitches, either. His curveball lost 6.6 inches of horizontal movement, 4.8 inches of vertical movement, and 80 rpm of spin. His slider only gained 0.2 inches of horizontal movement, but lost 0.8 inches of vertical movement and 42 rpm of spin. Both performed relatively similar in terms of wOBA, but underperformed in ’20 against xwOBA (SL wOBA: 0.222, xwOBA .205, CB wOBA: .252, wxOBA .218). Of all his pitches, Cole’s fastball took the biggest hit. In ‘19, hitters batted .166, slugged .384, and totalled a .254 wOBA against four seamers. Last season, those numbers jumped to .226, .466, and .315, respectively.
Adding extension is often a slippery slope for most pitchers. It’s one thing to know it happens. It’s another to actually make it happen in a beneficial and impactful way. For Cole, there’s a chance that focusing on releasing the ball closer to home could explain why he was moving different last season. He was forcing himself to create more extension by actively reaching his hand out and trying to rotate more towards home. This is where the spinning and peeling open into release could have started. He was trying to achieve something that might have been important, but he wasn’t doing it in a way that reinforced good sequencing and decelerating patterns. He wasn’t stopping and whipping his arm through to create extension. He was dragging his arm through to artificially create extension. There’s a huge difference between these two.
While we won’t know the real reasons without insider info, I have a feeling this is something that was addressed with Cole going into the 2020 season. It might have been a problem, but the solution they came up with didn’t help address the problem. They only magnified it – if there was a problem in the first place.
Another issue Cole ran into in 2020 was getting left-handed hitters out. Last season, Cole’s ERA against right handers was 2.09. Against lefties, it was 3.90 – his worst mark since 2017. While Cole’s made his money off high spin heaters and breaking balls, he’s started to rely on his change up a lot more this season. He’s used 70.7% of them against left handers and is throwing the pitch at a career-high 15.5% clip. Last season, he relied on the pitch just 5.6% of the time. So far, it’s been really, really good. Hitters are batting just .053 against change ups, slugging .079, and have accumulated a .057 wOBA. Only four lefties have gotten hits off of it. He no longer has a gap in ERA between left and right handed hitters. Both have accumulated a 1.37 ERA against him through eight starts this season.
Out of his 78 strikeout victims this season, 42 have been left handed. Seven of his punch outs have come on curveballs. Sixteen – more than double – have come courtesy of the change up:
Cole’s always had a pretty good change up (41.2% whiff rate in 2019), but now he’s finally trusting it and throwing it at a significant clip. As a result, he’s developed a weapon that he can use to put lefties away deep into accounts. He’s throwing his four seamer and slider less as a result (4 seam -6.2%, SL – 4.1%), but both have been more effective. Going into this season, we all knew Cole had three elite weapons. Now he has four. If you’re a hitter, that’s a problem. Cole has yet again reinvented himself on the mound. He’s moving better, he’s more unpredictable than he’s ever been, and he’s currently on the first track to win his first ever Cy Young award.
Whether he does or not, what he’s done so far this season has been pretty special. It’s going to be even more fun to watch him the rest of the way.
As snow starts to melt and trees start to bloom, baseball games are going to start filling the calendars of kids this spring all across the country. While this is an exciting time of the year, it can bring a multitude of challenges. With more and more training economy being dedicated to games, less is ultimately reserved for training. This creates a big problem for players who made changes over the offseason. If you don’t supplement your work over the winter with in-season maintenance, your changes won’t hang around for long. You’re going to lose them.
To explain this, we have to go to the two biggest constraints all coaches face:
Hard wired Central Nervous System
Preconceived notion for how to execute a specific task
This article is going to focus on the first one: How to “rewire” and already hardwired Central Nervous System (CNS). If you’ve ever felt like pulling your hair out over players who constantly reverted back to bad mechanics, you know how hard this one is. Making meaningful movement changes is difficult. If you add an athlete to the equation who’s done something wrong their entire career, it becomes exponentially more difficult. If we want to understand why, we have to go deeper than connective tissue.
The issues you see on the surface are not the fault of the muscles. Every action we make can be traced back to the command center for all human movement: The CNS.
The CNS consists of the brain and the spinal cord. It serves many functions within our body. Of these includes the ability to process information about our environment and communicate to our muscles and other connective tissue on how to execute specific tasks. While it was once thought that muscles have “memory,” we now know this isn’t the case. Our connective tissue has no working memory. It organizes and responds based on what the CNS tells it to do. This part is really important.
When we learn a new skill, our CNS takes on the responsibility of building out “instruction manuals” for our body. At first, these manuals are a little fuzzy. It takes a lot of time and practice to get everything in our body on the same page so the skill can be executed consistently and without error. This is why your first attempts riding a bike or driving a car weren’t so graceful. Your brain and body were relying on a manual that hadn’t been completed yet. The only way to complete it is through time, practice, and a critical substance found in our brain that grows in response to repetition: Myelin.
Myelin is a fatty, insulating sheath that forms and wraps around nerves throughout our brain. It insulates neural circuits that relay the communication of electrical impulses between nerves. These impulses transmit signals from our brain to our body on how to execute specific skills. Everything we do – from shooting a basketball to tying our shoes – has a dedicated neural circuit behind it. The faster impulses can travel along these circuits, the more efficiently and effectively we’ll be able to execute that skill.
Myelin has a few fundamental principles, as outlined by Daniel Coyle in his best-selling book The Talent Code:
The firing of the circuit is paramount
Myelin responds to action and urgent repetition. It cannot grow unless you are firing the nerve patterns required for that specific skill.
Myelin is universal
Myelin is ignorant of what you are doing. It only cares that you are doing something. In Coyle’s words: “Myelin is meritocratic: circuits that fire get insulated.”
Myelin wraps – it doesn’t “unwrap”
You can’t uninsulated what’s already been insulated.
Coyle’s third principle of myelin gives us insight into why bad habits are so hard to break. He explains:
“Like a highway paving machine, myelination happens in one direction. Once a skill circuit is insulated, you can’t un-insulate it (except through age or disease). That’s why habits are hard to break. The only way to change them is to build new habits by repeating new behaviors – by myelinating new circuits.”
If you’ve patterned a bad swing your whole life, you can’t just “unlearn” it. Your brain is always going to remember that pattern. The only way you can break it is by learning something new. As a result, breaking bad habits can’t be a one stop shop. It is a constant process of myelinating newer and better patterns so they can eventually become your brain’s preferred course of action. What starts as a conscious action must eventually become an unconscious reaction. You bury the old by building the new. This takes a ton of work, time, and patience. It also takes a lot more than just one offseason.
If you made big changes this past winter to your swing or delivery, remember this: Those changes are NOT permanent. They are only as permanent as your dedication to maintain them. You need to continuously myelinate them throughout the course of the season because they’re constantly competing for attention over the bad patterns you’ve hammered your whole life. All it takes is a couple of missed training sessions for your body to default back to the patterns it knows best. It’s easier to patch these leaks when you’re training every day. It’s a lot tougher when you’re not.
Playing and competing on teams is a critical part of your development as a player. With this, understand your individual development needs won’t often be met in team environments. Practices will be centered around team specific needs. Games aren’t designed for training. They’re designed to tell you whether your training is effective or not.
If you sacrifice purposeful individual development for games and team practices, you can’t expect to make the same kind of progress throughout the season. You’re going to regress at some point because the environment you trained in that helped you break bad habits is no longer there. When the environment goes, the behavior is sure to follow.
If you want to make your offseason changes stick, below are some tips:
Make time to train outside of games and team practices. It doesn’t have to be much, but a little bit over a consistent period of time can go a long way.
Don’t focus on being perfect. You’re going to have good days and bad days. Just keep showing up.
Don’t mistake activity for achievement. Your practice must have purpose. Not all swings are created equal.
Collect film from games and practices. What you feel doesn’t always match what’s happening.
Ask questions. We’re often not the best at solving our own problems.
Find a training buddy that can help keep you accountable.
Don’t get married to drills. Focus on the framework and let that determine what drills, thoughts, or feelings you need at that moment in time.
Don’t panic. Stay the course and trust in your training.
On a final thought, being “too busy” isn’t a good enough excuse to explain why you haven’t kept up with your training. Busy is a decision. We make time for the things we want to do and “run out of time” when it’s time to do the things we lust. You can always make time if it’s important to you.
Don’t let this offseason go to waste because you didn’t have enough hours. Make the time to train and make this year your best one yet.
We know that we’ve said there are no magic tricks when it comes to player development.
Making meaningful movement changes is not easy. It’s really hard. If you want your training to show up when the lights turn on, you can’t cut corners. You have to put in the time, energy, and effort if you want to get results with your players.
There are, however, some tricks we’ve learned over the years that work just like magic. Below are a few of our favorites, why they work so well, and great candidates to use them with.
Baseball is a posterior chain driven sport where our glutes play a critical role in force production, acceptance, and transmission. As a result, getting into positions of leverage where the glutes can take on the bulk of the workload is really important for performance. If you’re not in the right positions, you’ll never be able to turn the glutes on when it’s time to use them.
One of the primary functions of the glutes is external rotation of the hip. External rotation (ER) simply refers to any movement where the leg is rotating away from the pelvis. If we were to look at the right leg, for example, there are two main ways to get into ER from a neutral standing position:
Rotate your body to the left
The second strategy is what we’re going to focus on for this magic trick. To think about it, check out this picture below that shows a front squat pattern. Take a close look at how the feet are set up:
Notice how both feet are slightly toed out? This position is critical and it’s no mistake. Instead of keeping the feet facing forward, opening them slightly allows you to start in more of an externally rotated position. This starts the glutes in a better position of leverage where they can control the movement and ultimately produce more force. It works the same exact way for hitters and throwers.
If you’re currently working with an athlete that pushes and loses the ground too soon, dumps their back knee in prematurely (i.e. works into internal rotation too soon), or never gets into external rotation with the back hip, try having them start with their back foot toed out. While kids are often get yelled at for doing this naturally (hint: don’t do this), starting toed out can be a huge lower half unlock without actually doing any kind of cueing or drill work. It’s that easy. All you’re doing is starting them in a better position so everything downstream can clean up.
Small hinges swing big doors.
If you were to crack a towel, would you put all of your energy into either 1) accelerating the towel forward, or 2) pulling the towel back? That’s right, you’d probably pick the second one. You’d want to focus on pulling the towel back so you can crack it and get energy out to the tip. It’s very similar to how you’d use a whip: You don’t focus on pulling the whip through. You focus on snapping it back to make it crack. Our arm works the same exact way.
If you’re working with a thrower who drags their arm because:
They’re too open
Their lower half has zero stability
They can’t stop and transfer energy up the chain
show them this and tell them to watch what happens at the end:
When they have a pretty good mental model for what the arm recoil looks like, tell them to try it. You’ll be amazed at the velo jumps it can create. It’s the most effective “trick” we’ve ever come up with for throwers. If you try it with 10 arms, there’s a really good chance it works like magic for six.
While it might seem like magic on the outside, but there’s no pixie dust involved in this one. Once thought of as taboo, the arm recoil is actually indication of an exceptional deceleration sequence. The lower half has to grab the ground, stabilize, and stop so the upper half can be rotate efficiently around it. The trunk also has to stabilize so it can whip the arm through and create a clean transfer of energy. By the time the arm releases the ball, there’s so much tension present in the system that the arm has no other choice but to get peeled back. It’s not a forced action. It’s a reflexive byproduct of a really strong sequence (feel free to read more about this here: https://bit.ly/108kikuchi).
This one is a must try if you work with any kind of throwers. It won’t work for everyone, but it will absolutely work like magic for someone.
Brace on the ball
If you’re working with a hitter who lacks stability, peels off balls, drags the barrel, or doesn’t do a good job of putting their energy into the strike, perform this quick demo. Have the player put their arms out and smack them in the stomach 3-4 times. Ask them what they felt, and then tell them to do that to the ball. If you do it right, it will look something like this:
While the recoil is our favorite trick for throwers, this is our favorite magic trick for hitters. Teaching players how to “brace” and “flex” at impact is a game changer when it comes to force transmission. You’re not just creating energy. You’re learning how to channel that energy into the moment of time when we need it the most: Impact. This not only has a positive influence on force production, but it also does wonders for direction. The more stable we are into impact, the more consistent our ball striking becomes.
If you’re working with hitters who have zero stability, can’t stop, leak energy, or drag their barrel through the zone, try this demo out with them and see what happens. It’ll work a lot more times than it won’t.
You can read more on, this along with 10 of our favorite analogies at the shop, here: http://bit.ly/pwrofanalogy
Below is a home run that Mike Trout hit in 2019 off of a Kenta Maeda slider that came off the bat 111 mph and went 441 feet. When you watch this swing, look at what happens to the front foot after contact.
Notice how it steps across home plate towards first base after he finishes his swing?
If you’re working with a hitter who is constantly flying open, peeling off baseballs, and gets stuck on their backside, show them this video and tell them to step across with their front foot after contact. Then, watch the magic happen.
If we think about why the “step across” move works, we have to understand that our brain maps backwards. It’s very good at building a mental map for specific movements by using information from end of the sequence. The step across is something that happens at the end of the swing. In order for it to happen, a lot of good stuff further up the chain needs to happen. Of these include:
Pelvis and trunk must stay closed
Hitter needs to get to front side
Must brace, decelerate into impact
If you fly open and get stuck with the majority of your weight on your backside, it’s physically impossible to step across after contact. You can’t force the move. It needs to be a reflexive action that shows up when everything is closed, braced, and stable into the strike. This is exactly why the arm recoil works so well: You’re putting the focus on the end so everything in the beginning cleans up.
Sometimes the problems downstream need to be cleaned up by going upstream. Other times, you need to go downstream to fix what’s going on upstream. The step across move is an example of the latter. If done in the appropriate context, it can be a game changer for hitters.
On a final note, below are some things to keep in mind when performing these tricks:
They won’t work for everyone. Don’t force a square peg into a round hole.
Don’t make the trick a one-stop show. If it works, continue to use it until it doesn’t.
Explain why it works to the athlete. It won’t stick unless they understand the purpose behind it.
The magic isn’t in the drill, thought, or cue. It’s in the movement.
These four tricks are just a sample of how you can create immediate and impactful movement changes using carefully crafted thoughts, moves, and messages. Have fun trying them out.
What do you do when you need to drive somewhere and you’re not exactly sure how to get there? Simple: You pull out your GPS, punch in the address of your destination, and let it do the work for you.
You’re going to get a couple of different routes, information on which one is quickest, and an estimated time of arrival based on traffic, conditions, and proximity. It doesn’t actually drive the car for you, but it gives you clear information on exactly where you need to go in seconds.
So consider this: Have you ever thought of coaches as human GPS systems?
Just think about it. When we pull out our GPS, we know where we want to go. We’re just not really sure how to get there. Our players are no different. They all have visions for starting on their high school teams, playing collegiately, or getting drafted. They know exactly what they want to punch into the GPS. They just need directions that tell them how to get there. That’s where you come in as a coach: You have the foresight to build out the right plan so they can make it to their destination in time.
How you get there is a different story.
If you’ve ever traveled somewhere new, you know just how easy it is to get distracted, veer off course, miss an exit, or take a wrong turn. Your athletes are going to go through the same exact thing. If you have a good GPS, these small mistakes don’t become catastrophic. Within seconds, you get a recalibrated route and a new set of directions designed to get you back on track as quickly as possible. If your players ever take a wrong turn – and they will – treat it just like a GPS would: Expect it, recognize it, and redesign your plan so you’re still on track to reach your destination in time.
We’ll never prevent our players from taking a wrong turn here or there, but we can always get them re-routed quicker than they ever will on their own.
We’ll never prevent our players from making mistakes along their journey, but we can always get them re-routed quicker than they ever will on their own. This is critical. The most precious resource we’ll ever have is our time. Those moments where our players get lost going down a long winding road will teach them some of the best lessons they’ll ever learn. They just can’t bring those lessons to fruition if they never make it back to the interstate.
On a final thought, always remember who’s driving the car: The player. We can’t drive the car for our players and we ever should. They need to take ownership of their experience and make decisions for themselves. We just have to make sure they don’t make any uninformed decisions. Their journey to get to where they want to go is going to take a ton of time, traverse a lot of different roads, and will need some re-calibrating along the way. If you wouldn’t want to make such a trip without your GPS, we shouldn’t let our players do the same.
See part one for context on what biotensegity is and why it’s important here.
If we want to train baseball athletes using the principles of biotensegrity, we need to understand how elite players move and produce force. Since baseball is a rotary sport, we have to start the conversation by defining good rotation.
Below are some guidelines:
Good rotation starts by getting into good positions. When it’s time to stop and rotate, we need to be closed, centered, and connected. Any leaks here are going to make it difficult to transfer energy up the chain.
Good rotation is quiet: We need tight turns in small windows. A common analogy we use is thinking about rotating in a phone booth. Elite rotation happens inside the phone booth. Bad rotation shifts out of it.
We need to turn from the middle of our body. The pelvis and trunk should drive rotation and pull the extremities (arms, legs) along for the ride. For this to happen, the middle needs to brace and stabilize so the arms and legs can capture energy. Proximal stability creates distal mobility.
The sequence of when and how things get up to speed is critical for maximizing rotational force output. Don’t just look at acceleration, either. Deceleration patterns give you a ton of information about the transfer of energy up the chain. You can’t crack the whip if you never stop your hand.
Closing the Gaps
The shoulder line must cross the pelvic line to create rotational force. The quicker you can do this, the more force you can produce. When you get this cross-body stretch, the torso should be facing home plate/center field. This is directional energy.
When it comes to training the fascial system to create good rotation, there are a number of different things we do. The first is the easiest: Practice the skill. Hitting and throwing are the ultimate fascial driven activities. We’re moving submaximal loads (bat/ball) omnidirectionally through space using all three planes of motion. Nothing in the body is working in isolation. Everything from head to toe is working as an integrated system to move an external load through space as efficiently as possible.
If you’ve ever been around an athlete with some serious juice but no lifting background, this is why: All the time they spent playing their sport helped them get really strong in the positions they needed for their sport. This is sport specific training. Instead of focusing on the muscular system, they put their energy into the system that helps us move: The fascial system. If we want to teach players how to move better, we need to start here.
The purpose of movement work isn’t to get good at movement work. It’s to get good at throwing or hitting. For this to happen, each exercise must elicit a specific sensation that the athlete can feel and replicate. Don’t chase positions. Chase feelings that create desirable positions.
All of our training sessions at 108 start with what we call “movement work.” This work is done without a bat or ball, is specific to each player, and gives us a foundation from which we can start building better movement patterns by tapping into the power of the fascial system.
Some guidelines for prescribing movement work include:
Start with the root cause of the movement inefficiency.
If you never figure out what’s actually causing the problem, you’re just going to play a constant game of wack-a-mole. Find the virus and carefully craft exercises that are designed to eradicate it.
You can use any tool, thought, cue, or exercise: It just has to work.
Everything is on the table when you’re making long term movement changes. The only requirement is it has to help them move better.
Treat it like Skill Acquisition
The learning curve for movement work mirrors the skill acquisition process: Start simple, build competency, blend it, and eventually progress it to maximize transfer. Each athlete will pick up things at different rates, but don’t force your hand if they’re not ready for it. Long term changes take time.
Feel the Difference (Most Important)
The purpose of movement work isn’t to get good at movement work. It’s to get good at throwing or hitting. For this to happen, each exercise must elicit a specific sensation that the athlete can feel and replicate. Don’t chase positions. Chase feelings that create desirable positions.
If you’ve never implemented movement work or understood how to build out a progression, this article is going to coach you up on how you can do both. We’ll use two of our favorite implements as examples: PVC pipes and Waterbags.
Teaching someone how to move better often starts by getting something new and fresh into their hands that doesn’t have any previous learned associations. PVC pipes are something we often use to accomplish this. In order to break a bad habit, you have to introduce a new habit and pattern it until it eventually becomes unconscious. Executing familiar tasks with a fresh implement creates the perfect environment to learn something new. You’re no longer fighting the old pattern. The new implement makes it a new task.
Below is a PVC progression you can use to blend better patterns to the mound:
Feet in Cement
The swing or throw are complex movements that require a lot of different things to sync up at high rates of speed. If you’re trying to make significant movement changes, don’t attack the entire thing all at once. Break it into chunks and learn how to master each piece.
We’ll often start our PVC work in constrained positions where the feet are “cemented” into the ground. This takes the forward move out of the equation and helps us focus exclusively on rotation. Below are some pointers when you’re coaching up kids during PVC rotations:
Rotate in a phone booth
Watch for shifting, yanking, or any other movement that isn’t assisting rotation. You need to stop well to rotate well.
Match shoulder angles
Pitching: Shoulders should mirror throwing slot (throwing above non-throwing).
Hitting: Rear shoulder should work underneath lead shoulder with posture (chest over toes). Watch for early side bend. Side bend should be created through rotation.
Keep the feet anchored
Don’t let the feet turn. Use them as anchors and hold the ground.
Some athletes don’t have the range of motion to keep both feet flat on the ground during rotations. This is completely normal.
To free up some space, you can move back foot behind front foot (where they “kick back” into) or start with the back heel off the ground.
Move from the middle
Start with pelvis and torso closed and centered. Brace the middle to initiate rotation. Trunk and pelvis should be connected during the turn.
Pelvis should pull an anchored femur. The legs shouldn’t turn before the pelvis does.
Shoulders need to cross pelvic line and close gaps of separation.
The shoulders need to cross the hips for rotation to stop (should get to point where you can’t rotate anymore). If the athlete can’t get to this point with direction (chest facing towards center field/home), play around with angles of legs and feet.
Ex: Players who feel stuck can benefit from more angle (closing off) with legs.
Ex: Players who don’t feel stable on front foot (e.g. rolling over side) can benefit from more angle (opening up) with front foot. The pelvis needs to be closed, but the foot can be angled open and the pelvis can still remain closed.
When players can get a good feel for this, try adding in a forward move.
Some things to keep in mind, along with the pointers we’ve already discussed:
Keep head over the belly button as the feet spread apart. You shouldn’t see any stacking or lunging.
Rotate against firm front side
Pitchers need to rotate down and around front side. If the player is uncomfortable releasing their backside during rotation, have them keep their back foot anchored to start. Eventually progress to where they can rotate the PVC pipe just the way they’d throw a ball.
Hitters need to rotate down and into their front side. Weight should be in front side when rep has been completed. Back foot works as anchor.
Turn, don’t fold
The objective is to turn around your spine – not bend at the waist. There’s a big difference between rotating and folding. Don’t confuse the two.
Throw it from deep
The pelvis and torso should stay closed into landing. Don’t let athletes yank, open up too soon, or create tension before they need it. We need the most amount of tension at release – not before our front foot lands.
From here, you can progress the pattern by making it as close to the delivery as possible. Examples include advancing from a slidestep into a full leg lift, doing it off the mound, or adding in decel moves like “pimping the finish.”
As you start to challenge it, pay close attention to where the pattern breaks down. If you lose the pattern, regress it and find it again. Once you find it, blend it so it starts to stick. Don’t rush this process. It takes time to get sensations to transfer to new tasks. The worst thing you can do is progress it when the pattern is falling apart.
Waterbags are a tool we use every single day with our athletes at the shop at 108. We love them for a multitude of reasons:
Helps us train plane specific power in the positions we need for sport
Adds instability to system which forces us to naturally find more stable positions
Facilitates co-contractions of key muscles along fascial lines
Teaches athletes how to create proximal stiffness, pull out slack, and produce force in small windows of time and space
Light (only 7-10 pounds), prevents athletes from “muscling up” and creating the wrong kind of tension too soon
If you move to and through unstable positions, waterbags are going to make your inefficiencies really obvious. You’re either going to learn how to find stability or you’re going to get yanked all over the place. For these reasons, waterbags are a great tool to repattern inefficient movement solutions. Adding instability forces the system to become much more stable. The more stable you are, the more efficient your movements are going to become.
Below is an example of a waterbag progression you can use to get the right areas activated for throwing or hitting:
In and out of Posture
Have athletes start in a constrained position with an athletic base and both feet cemented into the ground. You can either have a waterbag on your back or a waterball bear hugged between your chest and arms. Have the athlete rotate back and forth as fast as possible controlling the move from the trunk. As this is happening, they should slowly work through various angles of posture.
Below are some coaching points:
Brace and turn from the middle. Feet should stay cemented.
Rotations should be as fast as possible but stable. Athletes shouldn’t be all over the place when they try to turn.
Rotate from the trunk. The legs should be slavish to what’s going on up top.
Don’t rush going up and down. Control the movement as you work in and out of posture.
Can go for time (10-15 seconds) or reps (go up and down 3 times).
Similar to the PVC pipes, a great way to blend waterbags into throwing/hitting is to start from a wide base constrained position. This puts the emphasis on rotating and producing force in small windows. The water adds strategic resistance in the planes of motion required for producing force. This helps improve plane specific power.
Some coaching points include:
Brace from the middle to turn. You shouldn’t see yanking or moves where the trunk is turning but the ball or bag is not.
Stop well to rotate well. Turn in a phone booth.
Rotations should be quick but controlled/stable.
Set posture based on the targeted skill (throwing vs. hitting)
Keep feet anchored. Don’t let them rotate.
When athletes become more comfortable with this variation, you can add in a forward move to make it more specific to their swing or delivery. The same principles from the PVC rotations apply here.
Dynamic waterbag variations are a great way to prep athletes prior to their skill sessions for a number of reasons:
Prevents over analyzers from getting domed about constantly getting to specific positions or angles
Teaches players how to control their center of mass and stay centered while executing different tasks
Proximal stability, moving from the middle
Pulling out slack, producing force in small windows of time and space
Shuffles are a waterbag variation we’ll often use for kids who:
Get stuck on their backside
Open up their pelvis and/or trunk too soon
Never get to their front side
Don’t stop well
Need to feel cross-body sensations
Tips for these are pretty simple: Make sure athletes stay centered, stop, and rotate. Postures, angles, and other nuances depend on what they need for the skill. You can also use variations where the athlete holds on to the waterbag when they rotate. This reinforces the need to stop and turn in a small window of space.
Starting with something constrained, progressing to something more specific, and mixing in something dynamic is a great way to warm up the body to hit or throw. You don’t swing or throw to warm up. You warm up to swing or throw. Waterbags help you do just that.
Interested in learning more exercises? There are hundreds in the 108 Performance Mentorship portal you can start implementing today.
We’ve made mistakes, told kids to do things they shouldn’t have, and put together programs in the past that make us cringe. While it’s tough to swallow at times, there’s absolutely nothing wrong about it. Those moments are a necessary part of the learning process to become a better coach.
In fact, there’s only one thing you can ever do wrong as a coach: Make everyone do the same exact thing.
If you coach all of your athletes exactly the same way, your results are going to mirror a bell curve: Roughly 20 percent will see some improvement, 60 percent won’t, and 20 percent will get worse. In other words, eighty percent won’t see any results.
If you want actual results with all of your players, you can’t cut corners and repurpose old programs. You need to learn how to solve problems. This starts by building a large toolbox of cues, thoughts, drills, and implements designed to attack movement deficiencies. The more you have at your disposal, the more likely you are to find a solution for that athlete at that specific moment in time. Dan Pfaff, ALTIS and Olympic track and field coach, said it best:
“If you’re a general contractor, when you get to the worksite in the morning, you’d better have a big toolbox with a lot of different tools. Because you’ve got a lot of puzzles to solve when you get out of that truck.”
This is a big reason why we don’t hand out programs at 108 Performance. Building elite movement patterns isn’t as slapping together 4 to 5 drills that are executed sequentially. Programming is for computers. You coach athletes. For us, our coaching has to operate under a framework. Frameworks give us the flexibility to adapt and pivot when certain drills, thoughts, or cues stop working. Programs are too rigid. They don’t allow for you to change course when the plan needs to change.
At 108, our framework can be summed up in this statement: All humans are living and breathing biotensegrity systems that move reciprocally and crave efficiency. Once we start here, all of our future coaching interventions become calibrated problem solving. We know what we want to achieve, why it’s important, and we constantly test, assess, and retest until we get there.
While great coaches often simplify, we have to be careful not to simplify too much. Cookie cutter programs are a great example of this. Getting results isn’t about following a simple progression of drills and limited tools. Getting results is messy. Everything has to be on the table at all times because you’re never really sure what’s going to work well that day. Sometimes a specific drill or cue can be a huge unlock for a kid. Two weeks later, the same exact thing might have gotten overcooked and now it sucks. If you coach using a framework, you have the ability to adapt and utilize a large toolbox of solutions to find something that works. Programs don’t allow for this kind of dexterity.
One of our favorite phrases at 108 is: “Everything works and everything sucks.” You just have to remember that everything doesn’t work for everyone. If you never forget this, you’ll never do the only thing you can do wrong.
At 108 Performance, our training is centered around two bedrock principles:
All humans are pre-programmed for reciprocal movement
All humans are living and breathing biotensegrity systems
This article is going to focus on the second principle: What in the world is biotensegrity and why in the world is it important when it comes to training baseball players?
If you’ve followed along with any of our content before, there’s a good chance you understand just how important biotensegrity is to us. Our research into the concept has completely changed how we train athletes at 108. If you’ve never heard of biotensegrity before, that’s okay. There are things coaches will never need to know when it comes to the complexities and intricacies of biotensegrity. However, there are some things all coaches need to know. Keep an open mind and stay with me over the next 1,600 words. Your beliefs on how you train baseball athletes might completely change – just the way ours did.
Before we dive into what “biotensegrity” means, let’s strip off the first three letters and start with the concept of “tensegrity.”
Tensegrity, coined by Buckminster Fuller in the 1960s, is short for “tensional integrity.” If you couldn’t have guessed, two elements must be met for something to have tensegrity: Tension and Integrity. These structures have a couple of key design patterns:
Rods and cables are loaded in pure compression/tension. The structure only fails if the cables yield or the rods buckle.
The constant compression creates a “preload” or tensional “prestress.” This allows for structural integrity.
When tension increases, the structure becomes stiffer. This is because the constant compression gives the system a bandwidth to disperse stress without losing structural integrity.
If we want to build something that lasts the test of time, we must go to the laws of evolution. Serge Gracovetsky, world renowned researcher and author of The Spinal Engine, discovered the fittest of a species survives the longest because it expends the least amount of energy to satisfy its needs. They make most efficient and economical use of their energy and resources. Tensegrity models are no different. They withstand the most amount of stress using the least amount of material. There are no moments where rods become sheared or one section takes on more than what it can handle. Everything works together to evenly disperses stress throughout the entire system and maintain integrity when exposed to load, pressure, or vibration. To put it very simply: They are efficient.
A great metaphor for tensegrity models is to think about what happens when you compress a deflated basketball. If you apply pressure to one part of it, the entire basketball stiffens and becomes more stable. This is exactly when happens in a tensegrity structure. When you press on one part of the structure, the entire structure becomes stiffer and absorbs the load being placed on the system. This is architectural efficiency.
“All structures balance tension with compression – the yin and yang of biomechanics. Tensegrity engineering uniquely positions isolated compression members within a balancing sea of tension.” – Thomas Myers, fascia researcher and author of Anatomy Trains
Now let’s add the prefix “bio” back on to tensegrity.
Biotensegrity is a term coined by Dr. Stephen Levin. Through his observations, Levin came to the understanding that our model for human movement was inadequate. Humans do not execute tasks as a system of fulcrums and levers that operate in a single plane of motion. They are biological systems that move omnidirectionally and are capable of sustaining loads that would snap most levers in half. He concluded tensegrity structures were the only thing possible that could explain how biological systems move, accept, and produce force through various vectors. He added the prefix “bio” and came up with the word “biotensegrity.”
A really easy way to think of this is to view our bones as the rods in a tensegrity system. While the bones give us structure and rigidity, they are not capable of producing movement on their own. As a result, we have to go to the “cables” of our body to understand the role tensegrity plays in biological systems. These cables are better known as fascia. If you remember anything from this article, remember fascia. It will absolutely challenge your current thoughts on how to train baseball athletes.
What is Fascia?
A great analogy for fascia is to think of it as our human “spiderman suit.” It’s as thin as thread, strong as steel, and composed largely (90 percent) of collagen and water. Fascia wraps around everything in our body and inserts into everything from muscles, bones, organs, and ligaments. This body wide sheet of connective tissue creates a continuous web of tension that turns our body into a giant tensegrity system. If we want to understand how our body is able to function as one, interconnected system, the conversation has to start with fascia. It’s the only thing that actually connects everything inside of our body.
Fascia has three key components, as outlined by Bill Parisi in his book Fascial Training:
As mentioned above, fascia is almost entirely composed of collagen and water. The more hydrated fascia is, the easier it can slide against itself. If you’ve ever had a knot in your back before, you know what it feels like when it can’t.
The fascial system gives us the ability to create elastic energy. This elasticity is more efficient than muscular power, allows for greater motor recruitment, and is responsible for up to 30 percent of our explosive power. There’s a reason why research has shown kangaroos actually expend less energy hopping than walking. Their legs have been fine tuned into explosive springs that leverage the elastic “recoil” effect created by fascia.
Fascia is a form of connective tissue. According to Davis’ Law, all connective tissue remodels and reshapes in accordance with the stresses under which it is placed. Thus, fascia can get stronger just the way your muscles get stronger after you lift weights.
If you want to create force fast and expend the least amount of energy possible, you don’t want to rely primarily on the muscular system. It’s inefficient. You need to use the elastic properties of the fascial system.
“The best athletes don’t test the highest in terms of strength. They are, however, the best mechanical composites.” – Dr. Stuart McGill, world renowned researcher and author on back pain rehabilitation, injury prevention
With up to 10 times the amount of proprioceptors and six times more sensory nerve endings, fascia is the ultimate communication system. The problem is we don’t communicate with it nearly enough. In Parisi’s opinion, most training programs spend too much time in the sagittal plane and focus on moving heavy external loads. This is the opposite of how you train the fascial system.
Instead, fascia needs to be trained doing two things:
If you’ve ever been around an athlete with “farm strength,” this is where it comes from. The chores they do are submaximal loads done through multiple planes of motion. Our training with baseball athletes should take a very similar approach. After all, the baseball ball weighs only five ounces and an average bat weighs two pounds. Having success on the diamond depends on our ability to move submaximal loads omnidirectionally.
Back squatting might help our muscular system get stronger, but it doesn’t impact the fascial system in the same way. This is something Parisi cautioned against. Most of the soft tissue injuries he sees were created because the muscular system was prioritized over the fascial system. If there is an imbalance between muscles and fascia, something will break until that balance is restored. This often happens after it’s too late.
In order to avoid these imbalances, we need to train the fascial system to withstand the demands of the sport. This starts, in Parisi’s opinion, by laying down lines of stress outside of the center of mass.
“We are always facilitating muscles when we contract,” said Parisi. “It’s about co-contracting muscles along the fascial lines outside of the center of mass. You’re trying to create a different stress on the body that it is not accustomed to, but it will see in sport.”
These lines are better known as fascial slings. At 108, we view these slings under two big buckets:
Think of the brakes and the engine as the yin and the yang of the fascial network. While one is pushing, the other is pulling. When one is rotating, the other is resisting rotation. This system of checks and balances helps facilitate the co-contractions of key muscles along the fascial lines. This creates stability for your joints so the distal segments (e.g. arms, legs) can mobilize and execute fine motor tasks like throwing a baseball, for example.
The problem becomes when these systems can no longer keep each other in check. Strong engines must be paired with a strong set of brakes. If they cannot, something else is going to have to take on more than it can handle. This throws the entire tensegrity structure out of balance and puts your health and performance at risk. If you’ve ever been around an athlete with some serious juice who had lower back pain, difficulties staying on breaking balls, and constantly yanked homers foul, you know exactly what this looks like.
Biotensegrity comes from the term “tensegrity” which refers to a unique system of cables and rods loaded in a web of compression. They use the least amount of material to withstand the most amount of stress.
When tensegrity structures are exposed to pressure, load, or vibration, they become stiffer and disperse the stress throughout the entire system.
Humans are not mechanical systems that operate under fulcrums and levers. They are biological systems that are capable of moving omnidirectionally and producing force through various vectors.
Fascia has three components: Viscosity, Elasticity, and Plasticity.
The “elastic recoil” effect created by the fascia system allows for greater motor recruitment than muscles and accounts for up to 30 percent of our explosive power.
Fascia is trained doing two things: Moving submaximal loads and moving them omnidirectionally.
Good fascial training lays down lines of stress outside of our center of mass which work to create co-contractions of key muscles during specific movements.
The “engine” and “brakes” of our fascial system work to produce and accept force during dynamic movements while keeping our tensegrity structure intact.
Ready to hear how we train athletes using the principles of biotensegtity at 108?
Below are 10 thoughts I’ve gathered watching a couple of Masterclasses recently. One was from Daniel Pink – best-selling author of Drive and To Sell is Human. The other was from Chris Voss – former FBI hostage negotiator. I’d highly recommend both to anyone interested in learning how to build better arguments. Sales is not limited to just products and services.
While Voss and Pink come from completely different backgrounds, they both had very similar thoughts on how to influence human behavior. Keep this in mind, coaches…
Empathy is NOT sympathy.
This is a big one. To Voss, empathy is not being nice or agreeing with someone. It’s an identification of perspective. Empathy is understanding where someone is coming from. Sympathy might cause you to feel bad for someone, but it’s not effective in negotiations. People don’t want you to feel bad for them. They want to be heard. Making people feel like they’re being heard is where empathy comes into play.
Pink described this process as achieving “attunement.” If you’re not in tune with the person on the other side of the negotiation, you’re never going to get them to budge. You haven’t signaled to them that you’re seeing things through their eyes. Seek to understand before you seek to be understood.
The Power of Mirroring
“Interesting people are interested.” – Chris Voss, former FBI hostage negotiator, CEO Black Swan Group
Learning how to “mirror” someone else is something everyone should learn. We crave it, we’re hardwired for it, and we love when it’s happening – but we seldom realize it. Pink mentioned how research shows up to 95% of people don’t realize they’re being mirrored in the middle of a conversation. While we might not notice this subtle trick for influence, it doesn’t make it any less effective. Voss said it best: “Interesting people are interested.” People who want to be interesting know how to mirror their counterparts.
As for tips on how to mirror, Voss had a few:
Shut up. You can’t mirror and talk at the same time
Repeat things the other person says
Voss recommends concentrating on the last three words. When you get better at it, you can pick out any three words they say.
Show genuine curiosity
Tone is very important. You can’t fake curiosity.
Ask insightful questions
Great persuaders are great observers. Mirroring is a great way to learn how to do this.
This was one of the biggest ones I got from Voss. During a negotiation, you want to build trust. A great way to do this is to give people, actions, or emotions specific “labels.” It’s a lot easier to explain this one by providing specific examples of it:
“You seem like a trustworthy person.”
“It seems like this is making you really upset.”
“Doing something like that makes me think that you’re a really good friend.”
Assigning the right labels can help you break barriers that opens up much more meaningful conversation. Mirroring shows interest. Labeling facilitates trust. There’s no influence more powerful than trust-based influence.
“Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”
This is what Ronald Reagan asked the American people when running for President back in 1980. The question might have seemed obvious considering the tumultuous state of the country. However, asking it was incredibly powerful for his campaign. With the facts on his side (poor economy, recession, Iran hostage crisis), Reagan put the ball in the court of the American people. He didn’t tell them what to decide. He gave them the opportunity to come to his conclusion on their own. This is critical when it comes to sales.
Voss calls this “the illusion of control.” Reagan’s words were deliberately crafted. He knew very well that people were not better off now than they were four years ago when Jimmy Carter was sworn in as President. However, he didn’t need to say that. People crave autonomy. If you’re trying to influence someone, make sure they know they’re in control of the conclusions they come to. Especially, when you already know what they’re going to decide…
Giving people the “illusion” of control is much more powerful than trying to gain control.
“I can do it for $97.43.”
If you want to start closing more deals, stop trying to meet halfway using nice and neat numbers. Get granular. This is something both Voss and Pink talked about. People like odd numbers when it comes to sales ($29.99 vs. $30). There’s a big difference between getting something for $100 or $97.43. One of those prices is going to be much more persuasive than the other because it shows deliberate attention to detail. The other does not.
Even if you pulled that number out of thin air…
Power distorts perspective
Pink talked about a study where two groups of people were asked to draw an imaginary “E” on the top of their forehead. One group was primed with questions that made elicited powerful feelings. The other was not. When both groups were asked to draw the “E,” two different shapes appeared. The group primed with powerful questions tended to draw the E so they could read it themselves. The other group drew the E so others could read it. This is the power of perspective – or, how power distorts perspective.
If you want to understand where someone else is coming from, start by stripping away any power you think you might have. Your ability to empathize is directly related to what you think of yourself. The less you think of yourself, the better you can empathize.
“Compared to what?”
In Pink’s eyes, the most important question in sales is NOT “What’s in it for me?” Instead, it’s something much more powerful:
“Compared to what?”
Not what you were expecting? Just think about it. We process information based on how things compare to something else. How “tall” someone is depends on how “tall” their peers are. How “expensive” one product is depends on how expensive competing products are. People think in relativity. Contrast creates clarity.
If you want to create a clearer picture for the consumer, give them something for comparison. All the good things about your product become much more compelling when compared to the small blemishes. It’s also probably better you share those things before the consumer figures them out on their own…
“Have you ever thought about it this way?”
If you’ve learned nothing to this point, remember this one. One of Pink’s biggest misconceptions growing up was the idea that a good pitch had to end in someone pulling out their checkbook. Instead, he now thinks of an effective pitch completely different. It’s not about getting someone to say yes. It’s about getting someone to say : “Hey, have you ever thought about…”
In other words, the best pitches create conversation. They invite someone in to offer their thoughts on what you just presented to them. When you can do this, you 1) can find ways on how to potentially improve your product/service and 2) increase the likelihood they buy. What started as a sales pitch has now turned into an opportunity to build a relationship. People buy from people they like.
Cutting the price might be a good short-term solution, but it has a ceiling. Building rapport is a better long-term solution.
Marketing to the Masses: Utility & Curiosity
When building out content for email marketing, you need to hit one of two things in your subject line:
Can I offer something useful for someone else?
Can I stimulate someone else’s thinking?
Creating something useful (utility) is a great strategy for the masses. Stimulating thought (curiosity) is a great strategy for smaller audiences. Both are effective strategies, but Pink warns not to get caught in the middle of the road. Focus on the one that would be most effective based on your audience.
Get people to say no
This was one of the biggest things I got from Voss. Getting people to say “yes” during a negotiation might seem like an accomplishment, but Voss warns it might work against you. People want to keep their autonomy. Getting them to say “yes” slowly takes their autonomy away. You’re giving them micro-commitments they have to honor. The more they have to commit to, the less freedom they have. This is not a great strategy for getting someone to come to your conclusion.
Instead, Voss advises people design more questions tailored to the response “no.” Some examples of this are below:
Is it unreasonable for me to be upset that I paid $100 more for the same service I could have gotten somewhere else down the street?
Am I a bad person (also an example of labeling) for trying to get a slightly better deal as a loyal customer for the past five years?
Is it crazy to think that I should be able to find peace and quiet late at night when I’m trying to go to sleep?
Don’t just look for people to agree with you. Try to get people to disagree with you. It will make your argument that much more compelling.
You’ve just finished up your last practice for the fall and you’re building out offseason plans for your pitching staff this winter. Out of all of your players, there’s one in particular that really makes you excited. As a freshman, this kid has a chance to be a really special player. He’s long and lanky at 6’4 and weighs just 160 pounds, but don’t let the scale fool you. This kid can throw. Despite having twigs for arms and legs, this kid can already run it up to 84-87. Just imagine what his velo would look like if he got a steady dose of deadlifts and protein shakes this offseason. You decide to give him a goal: If he shows up at 175 next spring, he’ll touch 90.
When he showed up next spring at 180 lbs., you couldn’t have been happier. His skinny arms and twig legs were now chiseled with muscle thanks to an aggressive bodybuilding-style workout program. All of his compound lifts had doubled, his physicality was night and day, and he was looking exactly how you hoped when you envisioned his 90 mph body. He wasn’t going to be sitting 84-87 anymore when he started throwing off a mound again. He was going to be touching 91-92 with ease.
That’s where it gets interesting.
In his first bullpen of the year, his fastball didn’t even touch 83. Figuring he’s just shaking off some rust, you don’t get worried and decide to see how things play out. This changes when he’s one month into practices, his fastball hasn’t touched 84, and his elbow throbs every time he picks up a ball. You can’t figure it out. This kid did everything you asked him, crushed the weight room, added 20 lbs., and now his velo has fallen off a cliff. You don’t just feel bad. You feel like someone has repeatedly punched you in the gut until you can’t breathe anymore. The guy who was supposed to be one of your top three arms might not be able to throw any meaningful innings at all this year. The best part?
You only have yourself to blame.
Remember when you thought he wasn’t big or strong enough at the end of the fall? Turns out, that young man was actually pretty strong in the first place. He just didn’t fit the mold of what most of us tend to think of as strong. The situation from above wasn’t made up. In fact, it happens a lot more than you would think. Young, eager athletes looking for more velocity often try to find solutions in the weight room and at the dinner table. This is because we currently have a catchy phrase going around in baseball: Mass = Gas. The translation is pretty simple. Players who weigh more are able to throw the ball harder.
The application, however, is not so simple.
Mass equals gas might sound catchy to say, but it’s not totally accurate. The young man from above – along with the many others who have made his same mistake – are great reminders that adding mass can hurt performance as much as it can help it. This article is going to attempt to explain why.
Where did Mass = Gas come from?
Before we get into the pitfalls of adding mass, let’s start with where the idea of mass = gas comes from. We don’t have to go any further than Isaac Newton’s second law of motion: Force equals mass times acceleration (F=M*A).
According to Newton’s findings, the amount of potential force a system can produce is dependent on its mass and how quickly it’s able to overcome inertia. This is pretty straight forward. If it’s heavier and it gets up to speed faster, it’s probably going to do a lot more damage. From a training perspective, this seems to transfer well. Justin Verlander, Madison Bumgarner, and Noah Syndergaard aren’t small dudes. They’re physical specimens with a big motor and a quick trigger.
The average weight for an MLB player has steadily increased over the last several decades. In 1970, the average big leaguer weighed about 184 pounds. Today, that number is north of 200 lbs. As of 2017, the average MLB pitcher weighed in at about 215 pounds – a 25-pound increase from 1970. This past season, the average weight of starting pitchers with the top 10 hardest fastballs was 210.8 lbs. This list included:
Luis Castillo (97.4 mph, 200 lbs.)
Dinelson Lamet (97.0 mph, 228 lbs.)
Gerrit Cole (96.7 mph, 225 lbs.)
Brandon Woodruff (96.6 mph, 215 lbs.)
German Marquez (95.9 mph, 225 lbs.)
Yu Darvish (95.8 mph, 225 lbs.)
As you can see, the majority of the arms on this list exceed 200 lbs. This itself isn’t a bad thing. Additional mass can absolutely have a positive influence on performance. However, it’s not because F=M*A. Newton’s laws give us information about force production in linear systems. They fall short when applied to rotational systems. This is a problem if we’re trying to gauge force output in rotational athletes.
If we want to explain why mass can positively influence pitching velocity, we have to think using a slightly different lens. This is where torque comes into play.
I was fortunate to talk about this topic with Jimmy Buffi – current CEO of Reboot Motion and former analyst with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Torque is something Buffi brought up because it gives Newton’s laws more depth when it comes to force production in rotary athletes. By definition, torque measures the forces that cause an object to rotate about its axis. This is really important for baseball players. Force is plane specific. If we want to gauge how much force a pitcher is able to produce, we need to look at the planes of motion in which that force is being produced. Torque helps us do just that.
Below is the equation for torque:
Torque = Inertia*Angular Acceleration
I know it seems a little complicated at first glance, but it doesn’t have to be. The first part of the equation – inertia – can be calculated as follows:
Inertia = Mass*(Radius^2)
This is the most simplified equation for Inertia. Feel free to read more about this here.
This is pretty straight forward. Inertia simply looks at how heavy something is and how far the mass is being applied in relationship to the center axis of rotation (radius). We’ll dive into this one in just a second. First, let’s break down the second part of the equation: Angular Acceleration.
Angular Acceleration = Angular Velocity/Time
Don’t get too lost in physics on this one. Angular vector quantities simply give us information about how something is moving in a circular motion (i.e. rotation). Velocity over an elapsed period of time gives us information on acceleration. As a result, angular acceleration is going to give us information about how something is accelerating during a rotational movement.
So why the hell is any of this important when it comes to mass = gas?
Let’s go back to inertia. If you’re in the mass = gas crowd, you should pay close attention to this part. According to inertia, an increase in mass or an increase in the distance from the axis of rotation is going to result in greater torque. The more torque you can create, the more velocity you can produce. This is important. If the mass you’re adding helps you produce more torque, you’re going to be able to throw the ball harder. Newton’s laws kind of alluded to this, but using torque helps us clarify it. If we’re dealing with rotary athletes, we have to measure how force is being produced rotationally. Linear equations don’t cut it.
Alright, easy enough. Baseball players with more mass should produce more force based on what we know about torque. Therefore, adding more mass should help you throw harder.
Come on, you didn’t think it was going to be that simple. Did you?
Why are some players able to throw gas without mass?
Nathan Garza is the Director of Strength and Conditioning for the Oral Roberts University baseball team. When I asked him about his thoughts on the topic of mass = gas, he brought up a specific athlete he works with on the baseball team. At 130 lbs., this kid doesn’t really catch your eye at first glance. What makes him stick out is what he does on the field. Despite weighing nearly less than 100 lbs. under the MLB average for a pitcher, this kid has a fastball that touches 91 miles per hour.
If that isn’t enough, Garza tested this kid in a non-countermove vertical jump where he took the stretch shortening cycle away from him. He jumped 39 inches. To give you some perspective on this, Seattle wide receiver DK Metcalf – arguably the most physical athlete in the entire draft – jumped 40 inches with a countermove at the 2019 NFL Combine. Garza’s kid might be skinny, but you can’t convince him he isn’t strong. He just isn’t strong in the way we typically think of strength. We’ll get into this more in a few.
At TCU, Dechant has two specific pitchers who are able to run it up to 95 and 96, respectively. One weighs in at 165 pounds. The other weighs 177 pounds. These kinds of players might seem like outliers, but they’re actually more common than you think. Below is a list of elite MLB pitchers who sit well below 215 lbs:
Josh Hader (95.3 mph, 185 lbs.)
Walker Buehler (96.8 mph, 185 lbs.)
Dustin May (97.7 mph, 180 lbs.)
Chris Sale (94.6 mph, 180 lbs.)
Zack Wheeler (97.0 mph, 195 lbs.)
Marcus Stroman (94.1 mph, 180 lbs.)
Pedro Martinez (95-98 mph, playing weight – 170 lbs.)
Out of the five hardest average fastballs in 2020, two were owned by players who weighed 195 lbs. or less. One of them was Wheeler. The other was this guy:
Jacob deGrom (98.6 mph, 180 lbs.)
In 2020, deGrom’s heater was a full 1.2 mph harder than any other qualifying starter. Thirty-three of his pitches were thrown 100 mph or harder. He weighs less than all but two of Dechant’s baseball players at TCU. If we look beyond the scale, we realize this is no coincidence. There are some things that deGrom does exceptionally well that allow him to throw gas with much less mass.
To Dechant, two things stand out:
Exceptional Movement Quality & Sequencing
If we were to sum up guys like Stroman, deGrom, and Pedro using a single word, one stands out: Efficient. They have an elite movement signature which allows them to produce more force per pound than anyone else in the world. There’s no wasted movement or unnecessary tension. They move to and through strong positions and sync up their body beautifully – in Dechant’s words – so the right segments are speeding up and slowing down at the right times. If they only have 175 pounds to work with, they’re getting all 175 transmitted into the ball at release.
Having mass and leveraging mass to create velocity are not the same thing. Just because you have it doesn’t mean you’re using it well.
Arm Unwinds Beautifully
The best arms in the world might throw from different slots, angles, and postures, but they all share a key characteristic: The arm takes a specific path around the torso where the humerus, forearm, wrist, and hand all work in the same plane around the spine. This is called arm efficiency – and the best all have it.
Mass might play a role in creating velocity, but pitchers like deGrom, Pedro, and May are physical proof it’s only one thing. You don’t have to weigh 200 lbs. to throw a baseball 95 mph, but you do have to move really well. If the mass you put on doesn’t help you do this, we get situations like the one we started with.
This is where putting our faith into mass = gas becomes a big problem.
Why can adding mass hurt performance?
Let’s go back to Garza’s athlete from above. If that young man at 130 lbs. were to walk into most strength rooms across the country, you’d likely get an overwhelming consensus he needs to get stronger and put on some pounds. This might sound great in theory, but there can be some significant consequences to this approach without context. These start with the system controlling motor function: The Central Nervous System (CNS).
Building out a quality training program requires you prepare that athlete holistically for competition. This preparation involves the CNS as much as it does the muscles. If you’re not stimulating the CNS in ways that mirror the demands of throwing a baseball 95 mph, you’re not properly preparing that athlete. Exercises like bilateral squats and and deadlifts might help your legs get stronger, but they don’t even come close to reciprocating the CNS demands of pitching a baseball. If we spend the majority of our time training our CNS to move maximal loads at submaximal speed, our CNS is going to adapt accordingly. Garza said it best: “You’re pulling their CNS in two different directions.”
If we spend the majority of our time training our CNS to move maximal loads at submaximal speed, our CNS is going to adapt accordingly. (Nathan) Garza said it best: “You’re pulling their CNS in two different directions.”
Garza’s athlete from above doesn’t throw 91 because he can deadlift a house. He throws 91 because he has an incredibly efficient CNS. If you don’t train these things, they don’t just hang around. You lose them. This is part of the reason why the young man from above had a sharp decline in performance. Training the CNS to move heavy stuff slow does not teach it how to move light stuff fast. When the training demands don’t match the demands of competition, performance suffers.
If we go to the connective tissue level, additional mass can negatively impact the amount of force you’re able to produce. This is something Buffi talked about: Not all added mass is created equal. Lean muscle mass can generate force and torque. Fat mass cannot. While adding muscle mass can help, Buffi noted it can also have an adverse impact on the ranges of motion used to throw a ball 95 mph. This, in his experience, can become a problem.
“Sometimes, when players add a lot of muscle mass, they actually reduce range of motion because the muscles are bigger and take up more space,” said Buffi. “Adding more muscle might increase the ability to create force and acceleration… but it might reduce the distance and time over which you can apply that force. So, there could be a trade off here between the magnitude of force production and the amount of time over which you can apply that force.”
This can also have a subsequent impact on movement quality. If the mass you’re putting on doesn’t help you move to and through good positions, you’ve just created a barrier to performance. This barrier becomes tough to break – especially if you try to attack it using the same movement signature. There’s a really good chance our kid from the beginning ran into this problem. The positions and ranges of motion he was once able to access were no longer at his disposal. He thought he was doing a good thing by adding muscle mass, but what he put on ended up getting in his way. If the body changes and the movement solutions don’t, something is going to break until they do. In this case, it was his elbow.
Alright, so let’s recap.
We know where mass equals gas comes from and the pitfalls of looking at linear equations when it comes to rotational athletes. We have a pretty good idea why adding mass can help or hurt a player’s performance. We also know about some things that make athletes with less mass able to throw gas. However, we still have a poor kid with a barking elbow and in need of some help. Where exactly do we go from here?
Well, it depends – but there is one thing we do not want to do.
Designing the Program
There are several different things Dechant focuses on with his athletes at TCU. Chasing mass is not one of them. He uses the scale as feedback and has ranges he likes his players to fall under, but he never makes adding mass an objective. For him, any kind of mass his players need should be the byproduct of a plan that addresses:
Consistent and quality training habits
If his players can take care of these things, the numbers on the scale should take care of themselves.
As for the training itself, we need to first be able to assess and categorize the players in front of us so we can make good training decisions. For the sake of this article, we’re going to break down two different populations of athletes that fall on opposite ends of the spectrum: “Muscle bound” players and “string beans.”
When it comes to muscle bound guys, there are a few common themes that tend to stick out:
Very strong under a barbell, lots of concentric power
Limited Rate of Force Development (RFD), tough time overcoming inertia
Aches, pains, chronic ailments
Movement inefficiencies created through compensatory patterns
Huge engines, bad brakes
If we were plot these guys on the force velocity curve, they would be all the way to the left. They can produce a ton of force but can’t express it very quickly. This is a problem when it comes to baseball. Our ability to produce elite velocity does not come down to our ability to deadlift or squat a certain amount of weight. The baseball weighs just five ounces. Increasing the amount of potential force we can produce does not mean it’s all getting into the baseball.
For Garza, the easiest way to connect with muscle bound athletes is to start with where they’re hurting. In his experience, nearly all of these athletes have some sort of aches, pains, or chronic discomfort. This typically happens because at some point in time moving more weight became more important than moving well. This is exactly why Dechant titled his book Movement over Maxes. If you sacrifice how you move for how much you max, you’re throwing the whole purpose of the weight room out the window.
In order to get to the bottom of these inefficiencies, Garza assesses how the move on the mound and in the weight room. He looks for compensations and gets to the root of what is causing them. Improving he pattern will improve the pain they’re experiencing. When they can start to build some better solutions, Garza wants to teach these guys how to move stuff fast. These guys don’t need to add another 15 pounds to their front squat max. They need to learn how to express the force they already have. This starts with improving their rate of force development (RFD).
Some exercises to improve this include:
Jumping & Landing
Change of Direction work
Garza also modifies compound lifts where the objective is to move lighter loads at faster speeds. This might not create the same level of satisfaction as a set of heavy deadlifts, but it’s a lot closer to something they actually need. Remember: The baseball only weighs five ounces. Training to move heavy stuff slow does not help you move light stuff fast.
Now let’s go to the other side of the spectrum.
In order to determine the lowest hanging fruit for “string beans,” Garza explained how he utilizes his four Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for the weight room:
Bilateral compound lift
Garza doesn’t have specific metrics athletes need to hit for bilateral compound lifts (very individualized), but he does like to shift the focus away from them when athletes can get into the 2X BW range for deadlift and 1.75X for a front squat pattern.
Single leg lunge variation
Single leg variations (e.g. barbell reverse lunge) give Garza a lot of information on how well an athlete is able to stabilize their spine, produce, and accept force on one leg. As a general rule of thumb, he likes to see his guys be able to lunge their bodyweight for six to 10 quality reps.
Garza will test all of his athletes to see what their vertical jump looks like with and without a countermove. This gives him information on how well – or not so well – the athlete is able to leverage the stretch shortening cycle to produce force. Garza likes to see about a 10% difference between the two, but he’ll often see greater than 10% with his elastic driven athletes and less with his muscle driven athletes. The “twitchier” you are, the more skilled you are at using the SSC to overcome inertia. Muscle driven athletes tend to struggle with this.
30 yard sprint with 10 yard split
Using the 30 yard sprint with 10 yard splits gives Garza a lot of information on how well athletes can accelerate and get up to top speed. Muscle driven athletes tend to win in the first 10 as acceleration largely depends on strength and technique. Elastic athletes tend to win in the last 20 as they are much better at creating stiffness throughout the system and rapidly contracting/relaxing. Muscle driven athletes might know how to turn things on, but they’re not so great at knowing when to turn them off. Comparing the 30 yard time and the 10 yard split gives Garza a pretty good picture for where they fit on that spectrum.
Garza will collect information from the KPIs, do a thorough assessment of the skill, and prioritize his findings to determine where he’ll start his training interventions. For the sake of simplicity, let’s look at two different examples and how each requires a slightly different approach:
Athlete A: Performs well on field, not in weight room
This kind of athlete can be challenging from the perspective of a strength coach because they might have zero interest in strength training at all. If they can throw significantly harder than the rest of their teammates who lift significantly more, why should they care about getting “stronger?” If the weight room was really that important, shouldn’t the kids who lift more be able to throw harder?
In this kind of a situation, Garza tries to relate the weight room to the field as much as possible. He’ll start his sessions with specific exercises that target movement movement qualities all baseball players need. Of these include pelvic stability, rotation, and motor control. When teaching these movements, he’ll use language and analogies that relate it back to their swing or delivery. This helps build buy in. Instead of just force-feeding bilateral lifts down their throats, Garza starts with the thing that’s most important, invites engagement, and back chains from here.
By taking something that’s unfamiliar and teaching it in a way that is familiar, you increase the chances they’ll learn and retain it.
When it comes to the less specific work, Garza doesn’t look at it as just lifting weights. He views it as a big skill acquisition process. Patterning a good front squat is just like patterning out an efficient delivery: You’re teaching a skill. It’s going to go through a phase where it stinks (unconscious/conscious incompetence), it’s going to require deliberate work and practice to improve (conscious competence), and the goal is to get it to a point where it can be executed without conscious thought (unconscious competence). By taking something that’s unfamiliar and teaching it in a way that is familiar, you increase the chances they’ll learn and retain it.
When it comes to the KPI’s, Garza doesn’t lose sleep if they aren’t deadlifting twice their bodyweight in two months. The KPI’s are information – not predictors of performance. Throwing 90 mph is a lot more than how much you can squat, lunge, or how fast you can run. The objective is to build quality training habits that positively influence performance. Whatever they add to the bar should be a byproduct of this – not the other way around.
Athlete B: Doesn’t perform well on field or in weight room
This athlete isn’t as delicate of a project. Their lowest hanging fruit is often going to be a combination of strength and increased movement efficiency. Improving general strength will get you a pretty good return on your investment because these guys need some sort of foundation to produce force from. However, this doesn’t mean you just start lifting like a bodybuilder and crushing bilateral lifts four times per week. There needs to be an on ramping process where athletes master the patterns prior to loading them. Dechant describes this process as “slow-cooking” the athlete. Skipping to level 10 right out of the gate might sound exciting, but it’s a great way to expose your athletes to demands they aren’t prepared for. Play the long game. Strength added to dysfunction only magnifies dysfunction.
Something to also be cognizant of with this type of population is how their body changes. Putting detrained athletes on a good program will have an impact on body composition, lean muscle mass, and joint range of motion. These changes, as mentioned above, will have a subsequent impact on their delivery. Don’t get caught trying to fit a square peg into a round role. Use your knowledge of the skill and their new body to reposition them into positions of best leverage. It’s often bad news if one thing changes and the other doesn’t…
The weight room can be a huge asset to the detrained and unskilled population of athletes. Just keep the main objective in mind when you go about it…
Doing this the right way
Let’s finally go back to the situation we started with.
This athlete falls under the first type of athlete we broke down – Athlete A who excels on the field but struggles with the weights. If we were to redo his training program, we need to get some background:
Assess the delivery
What are the things he does well?
What kind of inefficiencies does he present with?
What are his greatest opportunities for improvement?
Define his training age
What is his experience in the weight room?
Can he execute movements under the bar with proficiency?
Where does he potentially compensate?
Determine when he needs to be game ready
Work backwards from game one.
How much undivided time do you have with him in the weight room prior to the start of practices?
When does the focus need to shift to more skill specific activities?
From here, we can start to build out the basics. The backbone of his training will address his targeted movement inefficiencies. Correcting them will involve time deliberately crafting fundamental movement patterns (e.g. hinge, push, lunge) and eventually synchronizing more dynamic movements (e.g. sprinting, landing, throwing). The progression to build these patterns will mirror the skill acquisition process: Build the pattern, challenge it to progress it, and regress it when it’s not proficient.
It might not be as fun to “slow cook” your athlete, but it’s going to keep them on the field in the long run. Performance and health need to be the priority. Chasing numbers right out of the gate jeopardizes both.
You might feel the urge to start loading the patterns right away when you start to see some improvements. Here’s my advice: Don’t. Be patient with this process early on. It might not be as fun to “slow cook” your athlete, but it’s going to keep them on the field in the long run. Performance and health need to be the priority. Chasing numbers right out of the gate jeopardizes both.
The more dynamic the movement, the more taxing it’s going to be on the CNS. As a result, activities like throwing and sprinting should be done at the beginning of sessions when the athlete is most fresh. Throwing is most important. Whatever is done in the weight room should supplement the throwing. After all, we remember what happened when lifting became more important than throwing…
Intensity, frequency, and duration of sessions should be balanced based on the demands of throwing and lifting. Each athlete only has so much training economy they can exert throughout the course of the day. If the throwing is more intense, the lifting has to be less intense to prevent overtraining. A great way to monitor this is to use a RPE (rare of perceived exertion) scale. Ask the athlete after each session how difficult it was on a scale of 1-10. This will help you understand what they can handle, what they’re struggling with, and how much you need to program so you can get the desired training effect. Your assumptions don’t often match up to what they’re actually experiencing. Don’t assume – just ask.
If the training is executed consistently and correctly, the athlete should start to progressively see improvements in pain, movement efficiency, and performance. If they’re not, the program needs to be re-evaluated. While some things may see tremendous improvement early on (e.g. general strength), other things might take more time (e.g. pitching velocity). This is where the role of a coach comes into play. If your program is creating positive movement adaptations that are creating transfer, don’t abandon ship when you don’t see instant velo jumps. If you take care of the big rocks the details will fall into place. That is, if you focus on the right things in the first place…
If these things are done consistently and effectively, this athlete very well has a chance to show up next spring up 2-3 mph. He might even put on a couple pounds, but it’s not because he tried to. It’s because he focused on the things that allowed him to.
If Mass doesn’t equal Gas, what does?
I don’t think it’s fair to put together an equation for creating velocity. There are too many different variables that influence whether someone is able to throw 95 mph. However, there is one thing I’m pretty sure of: Mass does not equal gas. Mass plays a role in throwing gas, but it’s only one thing. Let’s keep it that way.
To conclude, I think we should make a slight revision to mass = gas. I got this one from Lantz Wheeler:
Analogies are a powerful form of language all coaches can utilize. They work by combining a specific objective (e.g. rotate better) with a familiar association (e.g. phone booth) in order to create a vivid image for execution (e.g. rotate in a phone booth).
Instead of asking our athletes to:
Start in an athletic position
we can ask them to:
Turn their body into a jet taking off
Pretend they’re guarding LeBron James
Turn their legs into pogo sticks
In both examples, we’re asking our athletes to do the same exact thing. However, using analogies gives our athletes a much better picture for how to do it. Turning your body into a jet is going to create the posture and angles required to get your body to overcome inertia. Imagining you’re guarding LeBron James is going to get you into a strong base with your feet outside your shoulders and chest over your toes. Thinking about turning your legs into pogo sticks is going to create stiffness in the lower extremities that is beneficial for creating vertical force.
When we can create a vivid picture in the minds of our athletes, we increase the likelihood that our message will produce a desired movement outcome. There’s no gray area for misinterpretation. Just telling someone to “use their legs more” or “run faster” might address the objective, but it is very vague when it comes to execution. The vaguer it is, the less likely it will be done the way you want.
Analogies, on the other hand, are much more specific. All you need to do is find something that athlete can relate to (other sports, hobbies, video games, etc.). Once you find something, you have the keys to their interest. All that’s left is creatively crafting your message in a way that will best get their attention.
Below are 10 analogies you can use with your baseball athletes at practice.
Throw around the runner on a double play
Too often coaches take linear solutions to a rotational problem. Cues like “finish your pitch” or “stay on top of the ball” can create linear adaptations that bring the arm inside and out of the plane of rotation. This can create pushy and disconnected arm paths.
Instead, kids need to learn how to get their arms away from them. They’re not throwing darts. They’re throwing baseballs. In order to throw a baseball well, the arm needs to unwind around the body and the hand needs to work away from the midline into release. Giving them the imaginary constraint of an incoming baserunner can help them do just that.
Don’t fall off the cliff
Humans are primed with instincts for survival. Tapping into them can create some vivid pictures and sensations you can use to your advantage. One of these is the thought of “not falling off the cliff.” This is great for pitchers who don’t have great brakes and continue to fall forward after ball release. Have them pretend they’re landing on the edge of a cliff when they throw. The “consequences” for falling forward after release can teach them how to stop and rotate in a tighter window.
Another thought you can use for this is “don’t get punched in the face.” Have athletes pretend there is a fist right in front of their face when their front foot lands. If they fold forward instead of rotate, they’re going to get punched in the face. This might be a hair of an exaggeration, but the thought can influence a better pattern that’s less linear and more rotational.
Pitch like you’re throwing a punch
Relating movements from other sports to baseball is a great way to share the same message using a slightly different lens. A popular one we like to refer to is throwing a punch. In order to throw a punch, you have to do a lot things that baseball players also need to do:
Get into a strong and centered base
Stay closed with the pelvis and torso into foot plant
Strike by rotating the torso around a stable lower half
Brace and decelerate into impact
Produce a lot of force in a small window
If you’re working on any of the above, using the thought of “throwing your best punch” can be incredibly impactful. We commonly tell pitchers to “throw their punch from deep” to keep them from opening up too soon. Telling a kid to “stay closed longer” addresses the same thing, but the thought of a punch creates a much more specific picture. Better visuals create better adaptations.
Pretend like you’re hitting a ball that weighs 500 lbs.
This analogy is one of the best ones Eugene has ever come up with. He got the inspiration when he was doing research into martial arts and stumbled on the word “kime.” In Japanese, the word means “focus.” In martial arts, it references the bracing moment you feel right before you deliver a punch. For Bruce Lee to get off his famous one-inch punch, he needed to metaphorically turn his body into a brick wall. It might have looked like he was just punching with one finger, but he was actually using his entire body because of his ability to rapidly brace into impact. This helped him deliver a pretty forceful punch despite having to navigate a small window of time and space.
If you’re working with a hitter who’s flying open, peeling off baseballs, lacks stability, and can’t transmit a ton of force into the ball, smack them in the stomach a couple of times and ask them what they feel. They’ll probably respond with something along the lines of “tight” or “braced.” Have them use that sensation when they go to hit the ball. When you do this, you’ve successfully taught someone how to hit the ball like it weighs 500 lbs.
The thought alone of hitting the ball like it weighs 500 lbs. can create an immediate adaptation. You can also try “turn your body into a brick wall at impact” and “try to smash open a watermelon.” If the image still isn’t clear, just have the hitter strike a basketball. What they feel doing that is what they should be doing when they hit a baseball.
If you use any of these thoughts, this is one you need to try out.
Move forward like someone is on your back
One of the most common energy leaks we see with hitters and pitchers is pushing out of the ground (oddly enough, often caused by trying to use the ground more). A great analogy you can use to counter this is to create the sensation of having someone on your back. If you’re working with a couple of kids, you can have them demo it out and hop on each other’s backs. Ask them what they felt and tell them to take it into their swing. You’ll often see immediate improvements in posture, connection to the ground, and space.
Crack a whip
The whip analogy can be used in a couple of ways. For one, it can give a really good visual for how the arm should work to transmit force. Former MLB All-Star Ricky Romero talked about how his dad growing up taught him to use his arm like a whip. This helps create sensations for when to create tension as too much too soon eliminates your ability to create the “crack” at the end.
It can also be used to explain the importance of deceleration in applying directional force. To crack a whip, the arm and hand need to come to stop in order to get the whip to go forward. This gets energy out to the tip and creates that cracking sound. If the arm and the hand continue to drag through and never come to a stop, you lose the ability to crack the whip.
Pitch like you play shortstop
This is a good one if you have a kid that slings it across the diamond and looks like a robot when he toes the rubber. Pitchers are often taught in a way where positions and aesthetics become more important than learning how to move dynamically. When this happens, you’ve “pitchered” a kid: You’ve taken someone who knows how to move well and put him into a box where he can’t move well anymore.
An easy way to get them out of this box is to teach them how to be an athlete again. In other words, give them the freedom to pitch like they play shortstop. Allowing them to do this often creates an immediate impact on their delivery.
This can also work for lefties. Since they probably didn’t play infield or catcher growing, they probably didn’t spend a lot of time making dynamic and athletic throws. This makes it even more important that they do.
Pretend your front foot just landed in cement
Giving athletes the thought of “sticking” their front foot in cement can create sensations that influence a more stable lower half. The more stable you are down low, the better you can rotate up top. If the front foot is sliding or not accepting force early enough, something in the chain is unstable (e.g. pushy, quad dominant lower half). Using the thought of landing in cement can clean some of this up.
Something similar to this is thinking about the feet as “anchors” or “pegs” in the ground. Energy is created proximally to distally. What’s furthest away from us (e.g. arms, legs) should be controlled by what is most central to us (e.g. pelvis, trunk). Overactive extremities flip this on its head. By killing the feet and thinking of them as anchors/pegs, you give the middle the ability to control the movement and prevent the feet/legs from creating inefficient patterns.
Rotate in a phone booth
Most players stink at rotating. This is because how rotation is often taught (e.g. get extension, chest to glove) is largely ineffective. Good rotation happens where the trunk and pelvis work around our spine and through a small window of space. Using the thought of “rotating in a phone booth” can help give kids a pretty effective visual for this. A similar thought you can use is “rotate your head around a cement pole.” This gives kids the same visual for how to rotate around their spine without wasting a ton of movement.
Spread the floor like you’re riding a horse
Eugene picked up on this one in a conversation with Hunter Bledsoe. A great visual for the forward move is to give kids the thought of “straddling a horse.” This can help give them a better feel for how to spread their legs apart, control their center of mass, and keep their nose over their belly button.
BONUS: Player Imitations
A great way to stimulate creativity and athleticism in kids is to have them try and imitate their favorite players. Have them pick out two or three they really like or pick out a couple that have a similar movement profile. This can be a huge unlock for kids who are struggling to feel athletic in the box. We know that kids are great at imitating. Use this to your advantage when you’re trying to teach them something new.
These are only 10 suggestions. The ceiling for the analogies you can create is limitless. The more you use them, the better you’ll be able to communicate with kids.
Don’t just talk to your players. Use analogies and talk to them in color.