Throwing Injury Prevention For Baseball & Softball Players

Baseball Rebellion's on-site physical therapist Gabe Dimock takes you through common causes for throwing-related injuries and how to prevent them!

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Over the past couple of years, I have seen a lot of discussion on how to give the most effective feedback to athletes. In particular, the question of whether internal or external feedback is more effective has been quite polarizing. Although this is the most common debate, there are many other factors to consider when it comes to motor learning such as practice variability and the quantity of feedback. While we don’t have the space to do a deep dive into each one of these topics, I do want to give you practical coaching tips that are steeped in motor learning research rather than anecdotal opinions. I’ll be the first to admit that in writing this piece, I can think of numerous mistakes I have made with players in each of the categories I’ll discuss. Thankfully, making mistakes is a great way to learn!

Internal vs. External Feedback

Before we get into what the research says about internal vs. external feedback, let’s begin with some quick definitions. Internal Feedback is when the athlete is told (or tells themselves) to address the internal requirements of a task. For example, cueing/thinking about dropping the back shoulder forcefully to get the barrel in the path of the ball would be an example of internal feedback. In contrast, External Feedback is when the feedback or thought has to do with the external result. An example of this would be telling a player to hit the ball over the fence or to pull the ball. So, which is better? Well… As with most things it depends. Motor Learning research suggests that children benefit more from internal feedback than external feedback while adults benefit more from external feedback that is focused on the result of a task. At Baseball Rebellion, we primarily work with children and young adults. This explains the success we have had with beginning our program with our movement progression in the mirror that is highly internally focused. We have seen that once our young clients understand and have practiced focusing on the internal requirements of the swing, they are able to make astonishing improvements. This being said, it is highly important that the language used is age appropriate and presented in a way that can be understood. On the other hand, I have made many mistakes working with older clients whose performance has acutely declined when I provided seemingly simple internal feedback. In thinking back, most of the older athletes have performed better when clearing their minds and focusing on the external result. As I have heard Baseball Rebellion founder Chas Pippitt say many times, “You have to let a thoroughbred be a thoroughbred.” With this in mind, we do feel that it is important early on in the training process to know and understand the same movement progression learned in the mirror (See Blocked practice below) but with cueing that is more externally based.

Random Practice vs. Blocked Practice vs. Mixed Practice

Random Practice is when a variety of tasks are practiced at random and are rarely practiced more than twice in a row. Blocked Practice is when a task is repeated several times before a new task introduced. Mixed Practice is a combination of random and blocked practice. Research has shown that random practice is better for adults and those learning a new skill. Random practice is also better children and young adults who have achieved proficiency using blocked practice in complex, sport-specific skills. Blocked practice is better for children/young adults and those learning a new skill. The guidelines mentioned above have not only been shown to be true in the isolated research setting but in transferring improved performance to other environments. As with most things, there is a continuum so some dosage of mixed practice has been shown to be effective in all populations.

The training program at Baseball Rebellion follows this methodology in that the beginning phase contains a great deal of blocked practice for everyone. Although many players come to us having played baseball for many years, the vast majority come because they want to learn a NEW and more efficient movement pattern making the progression essentially a new skill. With our older clients, we quickly move from blocked practice to mixed practice where the hitter attempts to repeat the movement pattern learned in front toss with fastballs to different locations. As they improve we progress to mixing in off-speed pitches and throwing mixed BP. The goal is to come as close as possible to simulating the game experience they will have by randomizing the variables the hitter will face in competition. However, this is only effective after building a solid movement foundation that is established through early blocked practice. With the kids we train, we spend a lot more time on blocked practice and slowly work towards randomized and mixed practice. This is something we will continue to reinforce with the knowledge that children transfer skills more effective with a heavy volume of blocked practice.

Frequency of Feedback

Unfortunately, we all know the helicopter baseball parent’s that Domingo refers to as “Bleacher Coaches.” Often coaches are just as guilty of being helicopter coaches who micro-manage and provide far too much feedback. In the motor learning, the frequencies of feedback are defined as constant, intermittent, and faded. Constant Feedback is when it is given after every single repetition.  Intermittent Feedback is simple feedback given less than 100% of the time. Faded Feedback is when the amount of feedback is higher when learning in the early stages of learning a task and decreases as the individual becomes more proficient. Studies have shown that adults and children benefit from faded feedback with children benefiting more from a higher frequency of feedback early in the learning process. Far too many baseball coaches provide too high of a frequency of feedback for too long. After an initial period of time, an athlete recognizes their obvious mistakes on their own. A coach or parent’s constant feedback can overload and irritate a player which often leads to them tuning out the coach which defeats the purpose of coaching. A good tip for coaches is to allow your players to participate in the learning process by asking them questions. In a given lesson or session, ideally, the player will speak as much if not more than the coach.

The Take-Away

The above recommendations are great to apply to general populations and should provide a solid framework to guide your teaching.   Whether teaching kids, adults, or somewhere in between, it is essential to understand motor learning and how each individual learns best. I hope this info helps you as much as it has helped me!

References

Campbell. Physical Therapy for Children. 4th Edition. 2012.

Cech and Martin. Functional Movement Development. 3rd Edition. 2012

Gabe Dimock – Baseball Rebellion Hitting Instructor

The Early Years

While offense and defense in baseball seem like very independent skills, they become more and more intertwined as players age and are being evaluated. For this reason developing quality defensive skills and picking defensive positions wisely is important to understand for any higher level baseball or softball player.

As you will read more about later in this article, certain defensive positions have more value than others. That being said, young players should build a good foundation by learning to play all positions because the particular body type, skills, and abilities of a player can change drastically as players age. Learning all the positions is also a great way to grow a young player’s general baseball knowledge so that they can instinctually know where every player on the field should be. The only exceptions to this rule are left handed players who should  understand all positions but focus their skill development efforts on outfield, 1st base, or pitching. The baseball field simply isn’t set up well for left handers to play 2nd, 3rd, SS, or catcher. Most players should continue to play a wide variety of positions until at least middle school. For a great example of the value of understanding all positions, we can look at Lebron James who’s basketball IQ added to his freakish athleticism makes him arguably the best player ever. Here was a recent quote from The King himself:

I think the best thing for me personally is that ever since I was a kid I’ve always learned every position on the floor. When I started playing ball, for some odd reason, I could learn every single position on the floor all at one time, as a point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward, and center and know all the plays, what they’re doing and what’s the reads.

Position Narrowing

As players enter middle and high school, it is normal for there to be narrowing of the number of positions in the player’s arsenal. This happens because body types, skills, and talents are being more solidified and more repetitions can be taken where that player fits best. Most players simply let their coach dictate the positions they will play but I encourage players to advocate for themselves and take ownership of their own careers. In order to do this, you may have to go above and beyond at practice to show that your defensive skills make you worthy if playing your position of choice. The positions in the middle of the field (SS, 2b, CF, C) tend to be more highly valued than positions on the corners (LF, RF, 3b, 1b).

While not everyone can play shortstop, I do think it is advantageous for aspiring players to develop their skills for SS, 2b, C, or CF. The reason for this is multifactorial. The first factor is that these positions are more highly valued by coaches, scouts, and the baseball community at large. For example a good defensive shortstop who struggles at the plate will still have a good chance of making a team and getting significant playing time compared to a good defensive right fielder who struggles at the plate. This is due in part to the types of athletes that you are being compared to. Most college and professional corner outfielders are absolute monsters who have passed through the weeding out process because of their size and hitting abilities. In other words, no matter how good your defense is, if you play the corners, you better be able to hit. A good case study for this concept is the career of Omar Vizquel who was an unbelievably skilled defensive shortstop. Vizquel had a career batting average of .272, 80 HR, and an OPS of . 688 and  is on the hall of fame ballot. While these offensive numbers are not terrible, they in no way indicate a potential hall of fame acceptance. It was clearly Vizquel’s defensive prowess that made him a three time all star. Let’s pretend that Vizquel played LF instead of SS for a moment and was equally as skilled a left fielder as he was a SS. Do you think he would be nearly as highly regarded as he is today? Not a chance.

Omar Vizquel

Another reason to develop at the highly valued defensive positions is that they  generally  require more athleticism. The work it will take to  become skilled at those positions will help in every other facet of the game because the player’s athletic ability will be boosted. Even if these positions will not be the final destinations for players, it is smart to continue to play them through high school because college coaches and professional scouts often believe that players in premium defensive positions have the ability to move to non-premium defensive positions but not the other way around.  For instance, both San Diego Padres star Wil Myers and Bryce Harper were primarily catchers through high school but were moved to corner outfield for their professional careers.

While I don’t want to overestimate the importance of playing certain positions, I do want talented young players and there parents to be aware of the impact it can have on the perceived value of a player as a whole. I was a walk on player at Appalachian State solely because of my defensive skills as a catcher. I wasn’t a great hitter or runner but I could defend. Had I been equally as good at 3b, 1b, LF, or RF, I have no doubt that I would have never had the great experience of playing collegiate baseball.

Gabe Dimock – Baseball Rebellion Hitting Instructor

 

 

At Baseball Rebellion, we often teach and write about the importance of the lower half of the body because kinetic energy works from the ground and proceeds through the body, eventually reaching the bat. While this is still the priority, it is also important understand how to fire the upper body explosively when the time is right. The major movement we use to do this is adduction of the back arm. Adduction is simply the motion of bringing your arm closer to the midline of your body. You can remember this because adduction is ADDing your arm to your body. Below is a diagram showing adduction as well as a video where I take a look at Aaron Judge adducting his arm in a swing.

Now that we know that adduction is important in the baseball swing, lets discuss the major muscles that act to adduct the arm. In my my opinion, there are three muscles on our back that we we want to use maximally (Latissimus Dorsi, Teres Major, and Subscapularis) and one that we want to use less (Pec Major).

Latissimus Dorsi

The Latissimus Dorsi is a big, strong muscle on the back that plays many roles including including adduction of the back arm. As mentioned in the video of Aaron Judge  above, it is important to set up the use of our back muscles by retracting our scapula so that the adduction of the arm happens over top of these muscles instead of in line or in front of our rib cage. This can be seen in this picture:

Teres Major

The Teres Major Muscle originates on the bottom of the scapula and inserts onto the front of the humerus (Upper arm). It has many of the same actions as the Latissimus Dorsi above. As you can see in the diagram above,  the Teres Major muscle wraps around  the arm. Because of this, the back can act to adduct the arm forcefully. As with the the Lat, it is important to set up the use of this muscle by reacting the arm/scapula prior to initiating the upper body in the swing.

Subscapularis

The Subscapularis muscle is the most anterior muscle that we want to use maximally  when adducting the back arm in the baseball swing. It is located on the front side of the scapula and attaches to the front of the upper arm. As you can see from the diagrams of all three muscles mentioned those far, they show how the big strong back muscles can act on the arm to adduct it quickly and powerfully. This can be a very advantageous move for hitters.

Use Less Pectoralis Major (By Itself)

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While the Pec Major muscle isn’t necessarily bad to use in addition to the three major adductors mentioned above, we don’t want to use it by itself to adduct the arm for a couple of reasons. The first is that you simply will not generate the same amount of force when compared to adduction using the Lat, Teres Major, and Subscapularis muscles. Using the Pectorals Major muscle as the primary adductor often leads to bat drag because there is nothing to stop the back elbow from sliding forward and across the stomach. We typically see bat drag in younger kids for precisely this reason. They often do not have big back musculature yet and have little coordination and control of their scapula. Allowing young hitters to understand where their muscles are and how to use them can be highly effective in creating better movement patterns. Without the important setup/retraction move mentioned earlier, the Pectoralis Major muscle will most likely take over as the primary adductor and lead to inefficient upper body mechanics.

I hope this has helped you understand your body and your swing.

Thank you for reading.

Gabe Dimock – Baseball Rebellion Hitting Instructor

 

Baseball Rebellion Swing Breakdown:

Madison Bumgarner

The opening day of the Major League Baseball season is always exciting given that it is the first taste of meaningful baseball in months. It is also a day where premium pitchers are on the mound ready to deliver for their teams. History was made on Sunday by pitcher, Madison Bumgarner, but not how anyone expected. Bumgarner became the first pitcher to hit two home runs on opening day. He blistered both balls at 112 mph but the 2nd home run was particularly impressive due to such a high velocity at a very high launch angle (33 degrees). This resulted in the ball traveling a mammoth, 422 feet. At Baseball Rebellion, our hitting and pitching programs interact quite a lot, allowing us to learn from one another. We have found that there are many similarities between hitting and pitching, especially in the lower body. It is our belief that Bumgarner actually has a mechanical advantage as a hitter because his pitching background makes it normal for him to open into his landing while keeping the upper body resisted. Watch the video above to see the swing that makes Madison Bumgarner worthy of this week’s Baseball Rebellion swing breakdown.

Gabe Dimock- Baseball Rebellion Hitting Instructor

Baseball Rebellion Swing Breakdown:

Aaron Judge

The New York Yankees have reloaded their system with young talent over the past few years, giving their fans ample reason to be excited. On the offensive side, Aaron Judge is one of the Yankees most promising young sluggers. Judge is a massive human being stepping into the box at 6’7, 275 lbs. and rivals Giancarlo Stanton as a physical specimen. Before watching Aaron Judge swing, I expected that his swing would be below average form a technical standpoint simply because he can afford to make more mistakes than smaller players. This expectation was false. Despite being a very muscular person, Judge does not rely on his strength as the sole reason for his success. Instead it supports a very efficient swing that would work with the smallest of players. In other words, Aaron Judge’s swing is the cake while his strength may be the icing.

Gabe Dimock – Baseball Rebellion Swing Breakdown

Baseball Rebellion Swing Breakdown:

Cody Bellinger

This week's Baseball Rebellion Swing Breakdown showcases Dodgers top prospect, Cody Bellinger who has a rich baseball bloodline. His dad (Clay) played in the MLB during the late 90s and early 2000s, winning two championships with the Yankees in 1999 and 2000. Cody is expected to surpass his father's career success as he is a highly touted prospect who is likely to make his MLB debut in 2017. In researching Cody Bellinger, I came across an interview where his dad was speaking about his son's development. He mentioned that Cody had previously been a line drive hitter and that the Dodgers had overhauled his swing to give him more power. I watched Bellinger's draft tape and thought the term "overhaul" was a bit strong. Cody swung with intent and used his body well to produce a lot of force in his swing just as he does now. That being said, I did notice one major difference in Bellinger's swing. Cody's swing plane changed from flat to more of an upward tilt giving him the ability to lift his velocity more consistently. As Bellinger's launch angle increased, so did his power numbers. He hit 30 and 26 home runs in 2015 and 2016 after only hitting 3 home runs in 2014. Bellinger's OPS also increased significantly. In the video breakdown above, I show how Bellinger creates the space and the angles that allow him to swing in a more upward plane. For those of you who want to see the swing in one fluid motion, skip to the end of the video. Thank you for watching!

Gabe Dimock - Baseball Rebellion Hitting Instructor

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