External Cues and Constraint Learning Approach

Written By: Chas Pippitt

"The assumption that the body will figure out the best way to do something is a big jump to make."  -Gabe Dimock

Part One of a Two-Part series detailing External Cues, Constraint Led Training, and How Baseball Rebellion teaches rotational power

Anyone who has ever met me knows that I talk more about human rotation than hitting.  I routinely defer to JK, Tyler, Eric and on some occasions, even Dave about hitting ideas because I’m the least experienced player on my entire staff.  

We look at movement differently here at Baseball Rebellion than most places that do hitting and pitching lessons.  Now, I am not a strength coach or physical therapist. I was FMS (Functional Movement Screen) certified (I let that lapse) and I continue to consider many different physical training certifications while reading books about them.  That being said, I continue to lean heavily on my colleagues like the professionals at DiamondFit Performance, our in-house Strength & Conditioning partner, to help Baseball Rebellion gain more insight on teaching rotation and movement.

What the Strength Coaches Say about Constraint Training

Eric Cressey

Eric Cressey, one of the leading baseball and specifically throwing related strength & conditioning coaches in the world wrote this article in April of 2018, talking about a study of different, movement related training methodologies. 

Now the article is not specifically on External Cues or Constraint Learning Approach (CLA) but it IS about the value of coaching and how that directly influences how athletes move.

DiamondFit Performance

As DiamondFit Performance has come into our building, I’ve watched many athletes come into their program, almost all of our athletes are novice lifters, as we did not offer strength & conditioning at Baseball Rebellion previously.  I’ve seen them evaluate 10-year-olds to professional athletes and everything in between. Once general patterns are tested/assessed, and the athlete perfects patterns to the point they can handle additional stress, then these patterns are loaded, slightly, with intense supervision and coaching cues.

I asked Justin Meng, the Head of Performance at our shared DiamondFit/Baseball Rebellion location this exact question:

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Justin goes on to talk about how constraint led training in strength and conditioning can lead to injury, something he also stresses is the most important component of creating a program for his athletes:

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His idea of avoiding injury by technique was interesting as ‘avoiding injury’ is (mostly) the reason to throw weighted balls.  To me, a non-strength coach and someone who studies rotation by both hitters and throwers obsessively, this was quite the dichotomy.

What a Physical Therpist Says about Constraint Training

I asked Gabe Dimock, one of my former employees who is now at Physical Therapy school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and still does online lessons and helps out in the building when he can the same question I asked Justin Meng, of DiamondFit.

Here is Gabe’s response:
“The constraint led approach can be very effective as it works to change the brain’s representation of the body and activate inhibited areas while inhibiting overactive areas for a given task. However, it is important to know if the desired/intended compensation is taking place as it is possible that the body will choose a maladaptive compensatory pattern that was not intended to complete the task. Therefore, utilizing a constraint led approach with the appropriate amount and timing of cueing can lead to optimal results...the assumption that the body will figure out the best way to do something is a big jump to make."  

So if it’s entirely possible for the body to ‘find a way to complete the task’ using a ‘maladaptive compensatory pattern’, how do coaches decide if they should build an optimal movement first (the strength & conditioning model) or let the athlete “Figure it out themselves and self organize” (the baseball/softball model)?  

What We Say about Contraint Training

At Baseball Rebellion we teach each athlete to turn with the Rebel’s Rack. Once the Turn/Movement Pattern, that we teach all athletes, is good in the mirror with the Rebel's Rack, then we add variables to the turn, like a moving ball and a bat (check out the videos below to see how we teach our movement progression):

Once the turn holds up while hitting front toss, we load the turn (Overspeed/Underspeed using Rebel Rack with bands) in a few different ways to get the athlete to feel speed and directional power (see more over speed/under speed drills using the Rebel's Rack in Part-Two of the External Cues and Constraint Learning Approach series).

Then hitting happens again. Sometimes, we use external cues or overload and underload bats, but mostly, we turn really fast with the Rack, we work on our footwork in the mirror, and the hit.  Overhand BP and Front Toss followed by the Spinball machine for velocity.

Conclusion

We believe that the turn, in healthy humans, generally works pretty simply. We allow the front leg to be in better position for knee extension and hip internal rotation and this allows the back foot and back hip to ‘pull through’ and gain ground.  This falls in line with most rotational athletes from Hammer Throwers to javelin throwers. Also, we have studied Olympic divers and skaters to examine how they rotate fastest when in the air. The rack keeps the arms flexed, backloaded and allows the hitter to ‘feel’ the movement of retraction of the back arm which resists the rotation of the pelvis.

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Part II by clicking here