Intent is vital to every kind of training. It is the difference between reaching for goals and going through the motions. Applied to physical training, specifically for sport, intent can take many forms: trying to set a PR in the weight room, trying to beat your last 60 yard dash time, or trying to throw the ball harder than you ever have before.
The most common use of "intent" in modern pitching training refers to the intent to throw hard, a phrase coined by Paul Nyman, which is most succinctly summarized as "If you want to throw hard, try to throw hard." -- a thought you will see echoed across blogs and Twitter timelines.
The tricky thing about the intent to throw hard is that young athletes often have trouble accurately assessing their own maximum intent level. Back in 2013, Kyle Boddy wrote a blog post that touches on it:
[They] thought they were trying to throw hard, but they had no idea what it actually felt like to even try.
Any pitching coach that has had more than a few clients has run into a pitcher that can look you square in the eye and tell you that he is operating at 100% intent... in between throws that look like they were performed underwater. The catch is that he's not intentionally lying to you; he's just clueless.
Using a variety of implements (wrist weights, heavy balls, light balls) and techniques (constraint drills, running throws) can go a long way to helping athletes discover intent they didn't know they had.
I've always felt that intensity is something you know when you see it, so in addition to training variety, I make judicious use of Tweets and Vines that demonstrate clear and undeniable intent.
Show a kid this video of Driveline Baseball's Matt Daniels performing a pivot pickoff, and ask him if he still thinks his pivot pickoffs are at 100%.
ICYMI: I posted this about a month ago, but wanted to re-post some pivot pickoff technique for those who want it pic.twitter.com/plCO3ZpLDu
It's still December, but in Texas, it's already time to start thinking about your spring season on-ramping. With high school and college teams beginning practices in January and many youth leagues not far behind, the training window is already turning into the preparation window.
Sufficient preparation is essential for both performance and health. Whether you spent the off-season training your butt off or resting and recovering from a year-round schedule, you don't want to show up to that first practice -- especially if it's a tryout -- and not be ready to go.
If you've been training, on-ramping for the season will mean transitioning to focused flat-ground work and eventually throwing from a mound. The goal is to translate off-season gains into baseball-ready performance.
Professional players are still 8-10 weeks from reporting, and at Driveline Baseball near Seattle, the pros have just started high-intensity throwing:
Trevor Bauer, Casey Weathers, Trey McNutt, and Cody Buckel had their first high intensity throwing day. Take a look at the results! pic.twitter.com/Iy1pE1Y6dl
If you've been resting, however, on-ramping for the season will mean gradually returning to throwing. Most youth pitchers will fall into this category, and nearly all year-round pitchers should fall into this category. (Some pitchers don't even give themselves time to rest, playing in fall leagues and showcases well into December!)
Traditional prehab-style on-ramping focuses on constrained throwing (wrist flicks, elbow extensions, etc.) with limited intensity and restricted distances. As part of the ramp-up, throwing constraints are removed, intensity is increased, and distances are extended.
Coming off a period of rest is a great time to introduce a plyo ball program. The low-intensity, constrained throws at the beginning of such a program will not only physically prime the body for more intense throwing, it also gives the pitcher time to learn the new movements.
Starting out with heavier implements, such as Driveline's green and black PlyoCare balls, a plyo ball program tests the brain's neurological map for throwing, challenging it to become more efficient. As lighter implements are introduced and constraints are removed, the body continues to move toward readiness while a more efficient throwing pattern begins to take hold.
On the other hand, a traditional on-ramp program that uses only a standard 5oz baseball, while it will help prepare the pitcher for the upcoming season, will generally not provide enough of a training stimulus to challenge movement efficiency.
The clock is ticking on this off-season. Make sure you're ready for 2017.
No two pitchers are the same. Even two pitchers with similar body types and mechanics likely have different diets, sleep habits, attitudes, experiences, and physical adaptations. They learn in different ways and respond differently to stress.
And it doesn't make sense to give the same program to a light-tossing, pain-free pitcher that you would give to a flame-thrower with anterior shoulder pain, does it?
One size does not fit all. The program needs to fit the pitcher.
I want you to throw without pain.
My first step isn't far off from the first step at Ron Wolforth's Texas Baseball Ranch where they start with the pain. No matter what your other limitations are, pain will unquestionably hold you back.
A simple physical assessment taken from Kyle Boddy (Driveline Baseball) and a pain survey are the first steps in this individualized approach to training. This will help identify the cause(s) of the pain and help determine our initial focus for reducing and hopefully eliminating your pain.
If you are free of pain, you are free to train.
I want you to throw harder and stay healthy.
Driveline's throwing program is designed to produce efficient mechanics through guided self-discovery -- drills designed to help you teach yourself how to be more efficient! The program isn't just about building efficiency, though; it's also about fitness.
The strength portion of the program will be emphasized for those lacking a good foundation of strength. A good strength program will improve not only strength but also general kinesthetic awareness. You will discover how to feel what your body is doing.
The throwing program will use a variety of implements and modalities to train your body and arm to produce healthier velocity. Among these are heavy baseballs, light baseballs, heavy wrist weights, reverse throws, long toss, resistance bands, and more!
A full warm-up that focuses on proper muscle activation and a post-workout recovery protocol are vital to the process and included in the program.
I want you to think about executing your pitches not your mechanics.
It has been 7 1/2 years since I gave my last "pitching lesson", and I do not intend to ever give another. We may discuss mechanics and movement patterns and their pros and cons, but I will not micromanage your mechanics.
Mechanics will be learned during the drills in the throwing program. When you are on the mound, your primary focus must be on the pitch you are throwing. If we have done our work properly, your training will handle the rest.
If you work hard and commit to the process, you will get results.
I say this with confidence because I know the man that put the program together has done his research and has proven his results in practice. Kyle Boddy has tested every drill and exercise in this program, and I trust his work. (I highly encourage you to check out the Driveline Baseball website, especially the blog!)
Ready to learn more?
If you're still reading, that probably means you're either ready to sign up or you have more questions. Either way, the solution is to head over to my contact form and send me an email.
Almost 4 years ago, I wrote an article that was sort of a spit-balled take on an arm action sequencing concept. Practically immediately, it was torn apart by Dr. Mike Marshall. I realized then that the article was poorly written. Part of that was the spit-ball nature of it, its kind of "thinking out loud" approach, but a big part was my wonderfully awful descriptions of and references to the kinetic chain.
Shortly thereafter, I threw a disclaimer at the top and promised to re-write the article. Well, there really isn't much point because, even cleaned up, I don't think the concept holds water. [UPDATE 2019: ... or does it?]
It's an action that I've addressed before in my pitcher analyses. In my analyses (both professionally and on this site), I've drawn attention to when a pitcher decreases reverse forearm bounce by "picking up" his elbow. You can see this very well in my 2009 analysis of Brandon McCarthy. Back then, I described it like this:
It's hard to tell from this angle, but McCarthy's reverse forearm bounce might be exaggerated by some elbow flexion. By this, I mean that he picks his elbow up high enough that gravity plus natural elbow flexion - rather than inertia - appear to be causing some of the ball's downward motion. This view is inconclusive, but I don't believe his ulnar collateral ligament would hold up for very long if inertia alone caused a bounce that large.
You probably noticed that I was having trouble effectively articulating my thoughts about it. Chris Holt of Pro Bound USA in Clearwater, FL [2019 UPDATE: now pitching coordinator for the Baltimore Orioles] -- who didn't know I was in the audience -- has solved this problem for me by calling it "elbow roll-in". If someone before him coined the term, I'd never heard it.
With that term in mind, watch some of those McCarthy pitches again. Pay attention to his elbow and layback. While there is almost definitely an intertial lag component that helps with McCarthy's layback, the bulk of the layback was done by the way he rolled his elbow into position to lead his forearm.
This method of layback is something for which I've become a big proponent over the past 4 years (for a number of reasons that I don't have time to get into right now). I've needed a succinct way to describe it for some time, and now I have it.
Traditional baseball conditioning does not make sense, particularly when it comes to pitchers. Pitchers are expected to run long distances and ice their arms after they throw. Many coaches insist that body-weight lunges, push-ups, crunches and plyometrics are the only strength exercises a pitcher will ever need.
The truth of the matter is that this traditional concept of conditioning for baseball is completely backwards. Baseball is a sport composed of brief, explosive physical exertions followed by periods of complete energy recovery. (Triples and inside-the-park homeruns are potential exceptions for complete energy recovery.) Extended cardiovascular training in the form of running poles, getting on a treadmill, or riding a resistance bike, is, for the most part, a complete waste of time if the goal is to get better at baseball.
Baseball is an explosive sport where massive force is created in a very short amount of time. It only makes sense that baseball players should train to be explosive. There's nothing explosive about an extended light jog or crunches. Plyometrics and other body-weight exercises, while including some explosive elements, are limited by the athlete's body weight. There is no room for progression once the athlete adapts to his own body weight.
Throwing a baseball with maximum effort involves just about every major skeletal muscle in the body. This makes it one of the best indicators of a baseball player's explosive strength.
I don't think there's a single coach on the planet that would disagree with what I've said so far, not even Dick Mills who thinks strength training is not only unhelpful but also dangerous.
The thing about explosive strength -- and this may shock some of you -- is that you can improve it by lifting heavy things, like in a weight room.
This is the driving principle behind Driveline Baseball's (Seattle, WA) Velocity Development Program, a comprehensive baseball training program where the main focus is throwing velocity.
Kyle Boddy designed the program and coaches the athletes that are a part of it. The program is split between baseball skill activities, such as defense and mechanics, and strength training.
Regarding the naysayers, Boddy offered, "What they don't get is that training for strength and power also helps young athletes to train general motor patterns, which has a clear translation to all sports. Learning to use hip drive in the back squat, thoracic extension in the front squat, and explosive jumping in the power clean all translate to any sport - you name it, it transfers."
Because throwing a baseball involves so many muscles, the Velocity Development Program is not a program that focuses solely on the arm. As Boddy mentioned, his program utilizes various squat techniques and power cleans, but he also includes deadlifts -- perhaps the best measure of someone's overall brute strength -- and soft-tissue work. He adds, "When they first arrive, they do their self-myofascial release, wrist weight warmups, and resistance band work. The warm-up is pretty fast - it takes about 8 minutes."
The key to the program isn't just getting the athletes to lift the weights, it's to get them to work hard. Not every athlete who walks through the door is ready for the program. They can't all handle it. Boddy says, "We're pretty selective about who we bring in - we're seeking to create a hard-working and competitive atmosphere first and foremost. So we've had to screen out a few guys."
Selecting the right athletes is only part of the equation, though. Working with a coach one-on-one isn't always the best way to stay motivated. This is where the semi-private training model comes in.
Semi-private training, as a basic concept, is like group exercise. A small group of athletes, usually 2-4, train together as a group with a [semi-]personal trainer or coach.
Boddy credits Eric Cressey and Pete Dupuis as having influenced this aspect of his program. He adds, "Semi-private training works better for the athlete and for our business model - we get to train a larger group of guys and fill our facility up, and they get cheaper rates and a better atmosphere to train in. We tend to group them by age first, then skill second, so they have peers they can relate to."
Athletes are competitive by nature, and by throwing a handful of them together as a strength training group this competitive nature helps them push each other to work harder.
Now, if fixing the way baseball athletes are trained were as simple as saying, "Train for explosive strength," I would have said that at the top, and this article would have been very, very short. The truth is that you need a coach that knows how to train for explosive strength.
It's not about getting big (a.k.a. "hyooge") or moving large amounts of weight. It's about becoming explosive and training the correct motor patterns. Exercise selection, volume, intensity, and recovery are all factors that must be taken into consideration no matter how experienced the lifter is.
Kyle's results can do a lot of the talking for me, but I know from experience that Kyle has the knowledge and skillset required to manage these factors. If you live in the Seattle area, I strongly recommend taking a good, hard look at Kyle's program.
You can read more about Driveline Baseball's Velocity Development program here: