WHY THE PRONE TRAP RAISE IS SO DIFFICULT FOR ATHLETES?

The prone trap raise is a fantastic exercise for not just any athlete but for most of the population as well. However, as alluded to in the title, the prone trap raise is a difficult exercise to master. The article below will touch on a few reasons why this exercise, that appears simple, is actually one of our more complex movements we complete with our athletes.

What is the prone trap raise?

In this video, you’ll see Coach Brandon completing a prone trap raise on an incline bench. The exercise can be done on a table as well where the athlete is laying flat. Coaching cues for the exercise:

    1. Begin by having the athlete lay flat on the incline bench and crush their anterior core into the bench (there should be no excessive extension at the lumbar spine.)

    1. Cue to keep the chin tucked and pressed into the bench. This will prevent excessive forward head push. If the athlete were on a table, they should have their head turned toward the direction of the arm being used in order to decrease activation of the upper trapezius musculature (more about which muscles we target below).

    1. Have the athlete ‘scap load’ meaning, they will pull their shoulder blade into a retracted and posteriorly tilted position. Most of the time, this will be done so with the aid of a coaches guidance in order to ensure the athlete is setting up properly.

  1. The athlete should then raise his or her arm up at approximately a 135-degree angle in order to activate the lower trapezius regions. See picture below for the pennation angle of the striations in the trapezius muscle.

*Due to the many areas of focus for this exercise, we will typically begin each athlete by just utilizing the weight of their arm.

Why is this all important?

Attention to detail with this exercise is paramount to making sure we as coaches are not just prescribing exercises because they make sense on paper. As an industry, we need to take pride in knowing the why behind everything we do. This will allow us as practitioners to provide the best for our athlete as well as be able to educate the athlete on the importance of taking pride in the finer details of the movement. The prone trap raise is an important exercise because the exercise works to put the scapula in the proper position by activating the lower trapezius muscle fibers. Many times, the body is used to relying on the upper trapezius in order to complete movements. The lower regions of the trapezius are important for balancing this dominance by the upper trapezius as well as allowing the shoulder to get into an upwardly rotated position. In addition, utilization of the lower trapezius will aid in stabilizing once in the overhead position. Most sports such as (but not limited to) baseball, softball, tennis, volleyball, lacrosse, and weightlifting involve a heavy reliance on the ability to raise the arm overhead. Understand that our body, especially as an overhead athlete, will not shut down once we fatigue. Even when improper muscle sequencing begins to take over, we will still find a way to throw, shoot, spike, and lift. As athletes, we will compensate and reach for a different part of our body that is less than optimal for completing the movement in order to get the job done. This repetitive compensation will overtime set us up for injury.

Why is this exercise is so difficult?

Posture

Not just as athletes, but as a society, our posture is pretty terrible. Take for example how we find ourselves in front of our electronic devices:

Typically, we have a very shortened and tight front side of our body. If we look at the upper body alone, the shortened pectoralis region can lead to an anteriorly tilted scapula. [insert picture of anteriorly tilted scapula]

This poor scapular position can lead to a multitude of dysfunctions with athletic movement. One of the more pressing issues is the inability to get into a proper upwardly rotated position. In order to help correct for this, we can add prone trap raises into the athletes exercise routine. Remember though, the very first thing we had to do in order to properly complete the prone trap raise was scap load our athlete into a posteriorly tilted position. But what if the athlete lives in an anterior position? What if the front side of his or her body is so shortened that they cannot get into the correct position in the first place? They’ll complete the prone trap raise but they’ll crank on their upper trapezius in order to get the job done. This is just further exacerbating their dysfunction! Instead of helping the athlete, we as coaches have put them in a position to hurt themselves. This is when a properly trained eye and guidance from a coach can aid in helping this athlete accomplish the purpose of the exercise.

Let’s take it one step further. So the athlete has a shorted front side of their chest. Why? What if there is a lower body dysfunction that is causing the upper body to compensate? In some cases, we observe individuals with extremely tight hip flexors. This tight hip flexor position pulls their low back into an extreme lordotic curvature. Over time, the body will compensate for this lordosis by developing a kyphotic curvature of the upper back (see image below). So, let’s say we as coaches try to get an athlete to posteriorly tilt their scapula by lengthening the front side of their chest but we are still missing the bigger picture which is that their lower half is a mess to start with. Working on releasing the tight hip flexors that are pulling the hips forward and causing thoracic flexion in the first place may be step one to correct these movement and posture deficiencies.

Posture is a bit of a rabbit hole and I hope I didn’t disrespect the topic too much by briefly going over general issues. It is important for someone who has chosen to study the human body as their career to keep in mind that there can always be more than one explanation for a movement dysfunction. Our role as coaches and specialists is to honor the complexities of the body and continue to educate our athletes on proper movement. By doing so, we will be able to better correct for issues in the human body and not only will you as a coach pay closer attention to movement but your athlete will too resulting in accelerated improvements.

THE DICHOTOMY OF BAT VELOCITY

The game of baseball and softball has been studied extensively, especially in recent years with the boom of tracking devices entering the sports world. Most commonly investigated for hitters has been the measure of bat velocity (also termed swing speed). Anything from how this metric impacts the likelihood of a hit to what athletes can be doing in the weight room to improve bat velocity has been researched. As a former collegiate softball player to a graduate assistant studying the metrics of the softball swing and now as a performance coach, I have had a unique view of hitting from various perspectives. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to explore bat velocity and the contrast of what this metric can mean for a hitter.

What exactly is Bat Velocity?

The word ‘velocity’ scares people because it reminds us of physics class. Without diving into a scientific explanation, simply put velocity is a change in distance divided by a change in time. It is most commonly used when referring to our vehicles (miles per hour, miles being the distance, hour being the time). These values resonate with us as we can easily conceptualize a car going 60 mph vs. 20 mph. However in research, bat velocity is typically reported in meters per second (m/s). Additionally, even if we convert m/s to mph we are not as familiar with the ‘norms’ of bat velocity. Is a 50 mph bat speed impressive? What about for a softball player vs. baseball player? What factor does age play in these norms? The good news is, with the influx of data collection devices that are becoming more readily available to coaches and players alike, normative data based on all these factors will become even more clear and well defined in the years to come.

According to Blast Motion, here is a brief overview of averages for bat velocity:

LEVEL BAT VELOCITY (MPH)
PRO 63-75
COLLEGE 58-70
TRAVEL BALL 16U – 18U 54-66
HIGH SCHOOL VARSITY 49-63
HIGH SCHOOL JV 42-56
TRAVEL BALL 12U-14U 38-53
RECREATIONAL 32-46

(1)

As mentioned earlier, there has been a plethora of data to report on why an increase in bat velocity will improve at batter’s chances of being successful in the game.

Benefit Why is this important?
Increase in decision-making time A hitter with a longer period of time to make a decision at the plate will likely have an improved pitch selection.   The longer a hitter can wait before swinging, the more likely he or she is to be accurate at contact.
Increase in batted ball velocity High exit velocity has been correlated with power hitters.   An improved batted ball velocity can make up for a less than optimal ball trajectory.

(2, 4)

An increase is positive until a point….

So, now for the tricky part. If you ever played the game, hopefully you are thinking to yourself, ‘Wait a second…I have definitely been a situation where I was swinging too hard and wasn’t successful.’ And you would not be wrong. There is such a thing as swinging the bat too hard. As fielders, especially pitchers, we can understand this concept of sub-maximal effort easily. Imagine if you tried to throw the ball as hard as you possibly could every single time. Sure, you would throw it hard but it probably wouldn’t be too accurate. The ball would sail or you’d miss the strike zone more often than you’d like in order to be effective in the game. Same goes for hitting. If we swing the bat too hard, we will decrease our ability to accurately get our barrel to the ball. Coop DeRenne in his book, “The Scientific Approach to Hitting” claimed the two most important factors to successful hitting were accurate contact and having the bat arrive on time (3). With that being said, this tells us that bat velocity does not tell the entire story.

Improved Swing Time?

Previously, research has claimed that improved bat velocity would lead to an increase in decision-making time. This makes sense, the faster you swing, the later you get to start your swing thus the longer you get to wait to interpret a pitch. Not so fast… Let’s take a look at the way we calculate swing velocity.   

Take a look at picture 1: 

This athlete is able to get from the start of her swing to the end of her swing in .22 seconds. This would be her time. She may be able to improve her velocity by starting with her hands further back (increase distance) – see picture #2: 

She may have improved her distance but if she did so at the cost of her swing time then this could lead to a potential increase in overall swing velocity yet it can be detrimental to the hitters ability to hit faster pitching. Szymanski and colleagues claimed, “If pitchers are going to be throwing harder and harder, then we need to start swinging harder, period” (10). I agree, to a point. As long as our total swing time does not get compromised by the incoming pitch. To conclude this part, a future article explaining swing acceleration (change in velocity over change in time) is in the works as this metric becomes one of the most important factors contributing to on-field success at the higher levels.

Improved Batted Ball Velocity?

Due to our ability to hit an incoming pitch relying so heavily on the accuracy of our barrel to the ball, it would be naive of us to assume that the only factor contributing to batted ball velocity is bat velocity. The accuracy of our barrel is heavily dependent on the kinematic sequencing of the movement as a whole (5). Alterations to our swing sequencing in an attempt to obtain increased bat velocity will more times than not lead to a negative impact on the swing. For example, we may increase our stride length in order to improve velocity yet by increasing too much we end up altering our vertical displacement of our head height and missing underneath the ball. Or, perhaps we over coil in the loading phase and end up missing directional extension thus spinning off the ball too soon. Or the added coiling ends up leading to a swing that is too long thus getting jammed. Although increased in bat velocity with proper accuracy undoubtedly leads to a greater batted ball velocity, it is important for coaches and athletes to understand the balance and work to feel where optimal bat velocity is for each athlete.

Ways to Improve Bat Velocity

Alright, we are sold on bat velocity when managed the proper way will without a doubt aid in hitting performance. Now, what are the best ways to do so? Although there are several factors argued in the literature (grip strength, weighted bats, certain hitting techniques, etc (9, 8, 6, 5) it is indisputable that when you incorporate an increase muscular development, you are giving that athlete a system capable of producing a higher bat velocity. Having athletes work with trained professionals that can determine the needs of the athlete from a sports skill perspective as well as a human movement system is imperative to reaching each hitter’s potential in the batter’s box. Moving forward, I challenge our entire softball and baseball community to work toward finding smarter ways to evaluate the optimal bat velocity for each hitter. By doing so, we can work to have the athlete.

*It is important to note that this graph is not always a perfect bell curve. There are many athletes that operate best at a swing velocity 75% of their maximal swing whereas other athletes may operate best at 95% of their swing velocity. With that being said, I leave you with this: It is better to improve maximum swing velocity so that an athlete can operate at a higher bat velocity that is lower percentage of their maximum or is it best to get athletes better and more comfortable at swinging at higher percentages and instead ignore improving maximum bat velocity?

Comment below to let us know your thoughts!

References:

(1) Bentley, M., & Bose, B. (2015). U.S. Patent No. 8,941,723. Washington, DC: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

(2) DeRenne, C., Hetzler, R. K., Buxton, B. P., & Ho, K. W. (1996). Effects of training frequency on strength maintenance in pubescent baseball players. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research10(1), 8-14.

(3) DeRenne, C. The Scientific Approach to Hitting. San Diego: University Readers Custom Publishing, 2007

(4) Escamilla, R. F., Fleisig, G. S., DeRenne, C., Taylor, M. K., Moorman III, C. T., Imamura, R., & Andrews, J. R. (2009b). A comparison of age level on baseball hitting kinematics. Journal of Applied Biomechanics, 25, 210-218.

(5) Flyger, N., Button, C., & Rishiraj, N. (2006). The science of softball. Sports Medicine, 36, 797- 816.

(6) Fry, A. C., Honnold, D., Hudy, A., Roberts, C., Gallagher, P. M., Vardiman, P. J., & Dellasega, C. (2011). Relationships Between Muscular Strength and Batting Performances in Collegiate Baseball Athletes. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 25, S19- S20

(7) Hoffman, J. R., Vazquez, J., Pichardo, N., & Tenenbaum, G. (2009). Anthropometric and performance comparisons in professional baseball players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 23, 2173-2178.

(8) Miller, R. M. (2017). The Relationship of Maximal Leg Power and Swing Velocity in Collegiate Athletes (Doctoral dissertation).

(9) Szymanski, D. J., DeRenne, C., & Spaniol, F. J. (2009). Contributing factors for increased bat swing velocity. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research23(4), 1338-1352.

(10) Szymanski, D. J., Bassett, K. E., Beiser, E. J., Till, M. E., Medlin, G. L., Beam, J. R., & Derenne, C. (2012). Effect of various warm-up devices on bat velocity of intercollegiate softball players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 26, 199-205

BACKSIDE DRIVE PART 2

Do you feel like you’re swinging hard but the ball is going nowhere? Is ‘warning-track-power’ your nickname? Do you feel like if you ever do get a hold of a ball it gets pulled foul? Then you may be suffering from a lack of backside power…

In hitting, there are three main components to developing power within a hitter: Separation, front side tilt, and backside drive. The purpose of this article is to demonstrate the most effective ways to train backside drive in an athlete, in particular, a female softball hitter.

This article will cover the various ways to coach an athlete through improvement. Some hitters operate best with a simple cue while others need a more focused skill development. Sometimes, neither of these work and the hitter is instead limited physically by their structure and muscular functions. For this article series, we will dive into each of these categories so that you as a parent, coach, or athlete can feel fully equipped to develop backside drive.

Part 2: Structure & Function

See part 1 for an explanation on backside drive.

When hitting, our ultimate goal is to be able to drive the lower half while simultaneously staying centered enough to rotate along the middle axis of our body. If you see the video below, I am analyzing the hitter’s drift once her front heel makes contact with the ground. This is indicative of the initiation phase beginning. Therefore, the back side (back hip) should begin to violently externally rotating as the front side hip absorbs the rotation by internally rotating.

It is important to note that if the athlete does not possess the ability to rotate at the hip joint then they will rely solely on linear aspects in order to generate power. If you view the video below, you’ll notice the tilt angle drastically changes during the initiation phase because the individual lacks the ability to properly rotate on their front hip.

Additionally, if the athlete cannot get into the proper loaded position at separation then they will miss getting into the proper position in order to drive out of their backside anyway. This will typically happen when an athlete does not possess the proper strength or awareness to sink into their backside as they begin to separate. This does not necessarily mean the athlete is not strong, it just means that the position they are in is inhibiting them to exhibit that strength. In this video below you’ll notice an athlete sway or drift backward opposed to sinking into their back hip and as a result, they have a tremendous push forward instead of an effective drive that allows the hand path to smoothly translate to and through the ball. The athlete still hits the ball hard but it requires a maximum effort in order to do so. This inability to load down into the back hip will throw off muscle sequencing and thus disallow the proper muscle firing order in the swing.

Okay, great – what do we do about this now? If you are looking for skill specific work to address these issues, then check out our first article on backside drive. If you have attempted each of these drills with precision and consistency and have still struggled to find results in your hitter, then perhaps there is an issue with structure or function.

The body won’t create what it can’t first absorb

What does this mean? The body won’t jump to a height it does not feel strong enough to land from. A pitcher won’t be able to throw so hard that the shoulder doesn’t feel like it can hold the arm in place. And lastly, a hitter will not swing with a velocity that the body does not feel it can slow down. In a perfect world, these statements are 100% true. However, when the athlete pushes through these limitations, compensates with poor movement patterns or neglects to listen to their body’s signs of fatigue, the result is an injury. Therefore, in order to have the body trust the swing, it is imperative to activate musculature needed to absorb the power created in the swing.

Below are three basic activation exercises that require zero equipment. Thoughtful intent and high kinesthetic awareness are required.

Activation Exercise #1: Lateral Plank with Rotation

For this exercise, the athlete begins on their side. They will work to keep their balance on the outside of their bottom foot as they cross over their top leg and plant it firmly on the ground for balance. It is imperative that the elbow on the ground is aligned with the shoulder so as to avoid undue stress on the shoulder capsule. From here, the athlete will work to reach around their midline and then while maintaining balance and control, reach their arm to the ceiling. As a coach, look to have the athlete maintain proper hip height throughout the entire movement. If the athlete struggles to balance in this position, have them first just hold the lateral plank position and eventually progress to the plank with reach variations.
Activation Exercise #2: Glute Bridge

There is a multitude of variations for the glute bridge. The ultimate goal is to get the body to activate the glute. Seems obvious enough yet it is important to note that many athletes will feel their hamstring or lower back activate instead of their glute. Remember, athletes are not the best movers, they are the best compensators. We will figure out a way to accomplish the task regardless if we are utilizing the best musculature in order to do so. Therefore, progress these movements slowly and controlled and work to communicate with the athlete on where they are feeling this movement. Adjusting the hip height and alternating between unilateral vs. bilateral variations will aid in the effectiveness of this exercise.

Activation Exercise #3: Split Stance Tempo Up Downs with Rotation

Although this drill appears simple in nature, the complexities of it come from understanding the bodies smallest movements. From a kneeling stance, the athlete should work toward exhaling their ribcage into a neutral position thus adjusting their spine and hip position to an active neutral position as well. From there, the emphasis will be on activating the glute of the trail leg. The athlete should be able to keep the glute engaged throughout the entire length of the movement. If the athlete is unable to stand all the way up with their glute remaining engaged, then take the athlete to the height of disengagement and work toward improving range of motion each week.

Correcting for Common Issues

Addressing the inability to separate the lower half and the upper half. See below for various drills that work toward having the athlete feel the separation in the swing.

Banded Separation/PVC Separation

Seated Thoracic Mobility

Quadruped Thoracic Mobility

Addressing Drifting on Load or Initiation Phase

Many times in the swing, the athlete will experience drift due to an inability to internally and/or externally rotate at the hip or rotate at the thoracic spine. Below are exercises that address these two issues.

Internal/External Hip Rotation Conditioning

Adductor Slides

DRILL PRESCRIPTION: UNDERSTANDING THE HITTERS NEEDS

Case Study:

This hitter presented with some backward sway in the loading phase and excessive drift during the initiation phase of her swing. It was observed as the head or center of mass sliding forward throughout the course of the swing thus preventing a quick bat path from the end of loading to contact. The best drill prescription for someone that presents with this issue (assuming the hitter has no structural issues contributing to this swing compensation) would be the wedge step off drill. This drill is fantastic for correcting both deviations because (1) the step down off of the one inch elevation allows the hitter to feel the ‘sinking’ into their back side (activation of their backside glute complex) and (2) The angle of the wedge initiates an over-exaggerated drive phase toward the ball. The powerful lower half drive typically allows the upper half to properly lag behind in sequence before whipping to the proper position for contact. Typically, this drill very easily corrects for drift and sway.

As observed in this video, this hitter completes the drill extremely well. However, when slowing the movement down, we are able to recognize that separation of the lower and upper half did not happen in sync. The drill appears to be too mechanical in nature as her foot lands in a harsh manner and her hands continue to load AFTER front foot contact has been made. Although the end result is a hard hit line drive, how the hitter got there is not effective in developing proper skill acquisition to later translate to the swing.

Therefore, we utilized a walk up drill for this particular hitter. You may be saying to yourself, “For someone who is drifting forward in their swing, why would you ever use the walk up drill?” This is where understanding the mechanism of the drill as well as your hitter is extremely valuable for proper drill prescription as a coach. Yes, the walk up drill is very focused on aggressive backside drive. However, with a mature hitter who can feel their drift occurring, the walk up drill can be one of the most effective drills because it will expose their compensation if the drill is not performed properly. With this drill, as observed in the second half of the video, we are working to create a fluid rhythm of the separation phase. By adding the reactive component to the drill (calling in vs. out during separation) not only are we making the drill more game-like but we are disallowing the hitter to commit their body to a certain pitch during the loading phase. This makes tee work way more accurate and especially for this particular hitter who had difficulty releasing tension, it allowed the hitter’s swing to fall into the proper place with smooth and relaxed effort.

PREVENTING BACK SHOULDER DIP/DROP

“STOP DROPPING YOUR BACK SHOULDER”

 No. Stop saying this, we are all better than this.

Raise your hand if you’ve heard a parent or coach yell to their athlete, “Stop dipping your back shoulder!” It seems that if we correct the back should dip then all will be okay in the world. However, there are a couple of things to keep in mind: 1. There is a certain amount of acceptable back shoulder ‘dip’ that is necessary for proper swing kinematics to fall into place. 2. Dipping of the back shoulder is sometimes due to extraneous factors such as timing or fatigue. For example: If an athlete is extremely late to contact, they will often compensate by dipping their shoulder in order to try and get their barrel to the ball. Additionally, if an athlete begins to fatigue throughout the course of a training session, it will be natural for the back shoulder to dip due to fatigue. Therefore, although the athlete is indeed dipping their back shoulder, that is not the main cause of the issue. Instead of yelling to your athlete, “Stop dipping” you should instead…well, you should instead not yell anything to your athlete during a game but the proper corrective cue would be to correct timing opposed to physical attributes of the swing.

However, if the main issue is repetitive dip due to body awareness or improper sequencing habits, then here are three quick drills to work on to address back shoulder dip.

Kneeling Tee Work

Description: Kneeling allows the body to focus and isolate the upper half. By utilizing the bad as seen in the first video above, the athlete can create opposite direction tension in order to focus solely on the one hand they are swinging with.
Staggered Tee

Description: Set up the tee like normal. Add another tee, so the top is 6 inches behind the normal tee, and about 6 inches lower. Add a ball to the second tee. The goal here is to be able to hit the top ball without hitting the bottom ball. This drill is meant for girls who drop their barrel too much. The tee will need to be adjusted based on pitch height. Keep in mind there is an acceptable and normal amount of bat drop that needs to happen.

Back elbow/Back knee connectivity

Description: Check in to pitcher, start swing by just moving elbow into the slot leaving the bat head behind. Make sure that your back hip and knee stay in line with the backside shoulder. The back heel should move off the ground without initiating any twisting motion. The purpose of this drill is to purely activate the linear aspect of the swing with proper initiation and commitment sequencing. It is important that the upper body and lower body work together. This should feel super loose, but quick. After two reps, perform a full speed swing.

TRAINING BACKSIDE DRIVE IN THE SOFTBALL SWING PART 1: SKILL SPECIFIC FOCUS

Do you feel like you’re swinging hard but the ball is going nowhere? Is ‘warning-track-power’ your nickname? Do you feel like if you ever do get a hold of a ball it gets pulled foul? Then you may be suffering from lack of backside power…

In hitting, there are three main components to developing power within a hitter: Separation, front side tilt, and backside drive. The purpose of this article is to demonstrate the most effective ways to train backside drive in an athlete, in particular, a female softball hitter.

This article will cover the various ways to coach an athlete through improvement. Some hitters operate best with a simple cue while others need a more focused skill development. Sometimes, neither of these work and the hitter is instead limited physically by their structure and muscular functions. For this article series, we will dive into each of these categories so that you as a parent, coach, or athlete can feel fully equipped to develop backside drive.

Part 1: Skill Specific Focus for Backside Drive

What exactly is backside drive?

Backside drive is referring to the ability for a hitter to apply force into their front side of their body during the swing. In the picture below, the swing is indicating where the focus of ‘drive’ is coming from. Keep in mind, spinning the backside is exactly what we are looking to avoid (pictures E & F). There are three main things to look for on backside drive:

1. Back hip & knee positioning

A. Back knee position in stance
B. Back knee position at contact

Whenever evaluating for backside drive it is important to observe an active drive phase. Typically, observing the back hip position would be best. Ideally, the back hip at contact should be pointing toward the intended location of the ball. Fortunately, most shorts have small logos on this part of the leg/hip and a great cue would be to get the logo on the shorts to face the location of where you as a hitter want to hit the ball. However, for some, the movement and positioning of the hip is difficult to see. Therefore, there are times when evaluating the trailside knee is best. The backside knee should appear to be closing the gap between the two legs. Failure to do so will be observed as a straightened knee with very little muscle activation. This is a simple evaluation tool and a great place to start when evaluating backside drive. However, the back knee only tells a partial part of the story of what is actually going on in the swing.

2. Back foot positioning

C. Back foot positioning in stance
D. Back foot positioning at Contact

A simple way to see if an athlete has initiated their backside for power vs. sitting back and spinning it to draw a line by their back foot while they are in their stance. This way, you can evaluate just how much drive the hitter was able to get because you simply have a point of reference.

Pictures E &F below show an athlete who has under-utilized their power from their backside. Also, note that the knee position in picture F is deceiving. Although it appears that there is adequate drive, when drawing a line behind their back foot, it is obvious that there was too much sit and spin happening in the swing.

E. Back foot position in stance
(Sit and Spin)
F. Back foot position at contact (Sit & Spin) 

Effective Drills

Seeing a movement deficiency is key to becoming an effective hitting coach. However, being able to quickly translate to the hitter what they need to do in order to correct this deficiency is where your impact on the swing can be effective.

1. Walk up

1a. Walk up variation

2. Walk through

3. Wedge

4. Back elbow / Back knee

5. Back knee emphasis

Keep an eye out for part 2 and 3 explaining mental cues and movement corrections to develop backside power.

Pitching Performance Seminar Recap

This article is a review of a seminar in Boston, MA regarding improving pitching performance and injury prevention in pitchers.

A Review by Cassie Reilly-Boccia

What’s up AW geniuses. Recently Coach Brandon and I hopped in the car and drove up to Boston, MA to learn more about baseball pitching. If you know anything about Brandon or myself you’d know that neither of us played baseball. At least I have been involved in the realm having played softball my entire life (still, the art of overhand pitching is quite foreign to me). Brandon, on the other hand, has been invested in football – a far distance away on the spectrum of baseball pitching. With that being said, Brandon and I as strength and conditioning coaches have a responsibility to our athlete’s movements and needs. Many of our male athletes this fall are baseball pitchers, in particular those associated with the Male ALPHA pitching program that spans six months throughout the year. It is thus imperative that our entire staff become entrenched in the fundamental needs of our athletes in their sport and position. Not for just the interest of teaching them, but also so that we can support Coach Nick’s pitching program with an educated ‘think tank’ on these topics. After becoming aware of this pitching performance seminar with professionals such as Mike Reinold, Brent Porciau, and Lance Wheeler, it was a no-brainer to take the day to improve ourselves as movement specialists. The purpose of this article is to recap what we learned at the seminar, specifically Mike Reinold’s talk, in order to shed light on the new research being presented within the world of baseball pitching as well as continue to educate our community of professionals, athletes, and parents on the WHY behind what we do what we do at Athletes Warehouse. So, without further ado, enjoy the following recap:

Mike Reinold

Talk Title: Setting the Foundation

About the speaker:

    • Was a prodigy of Dr. James Andrews of Birmingham, AL (insert link of Andrews clinic)
    • Won a World Series with the Boston Red Sox as their athletic trainer
  • Now works as a PT @ [Insert place of employment]

Key points on the rise of injury in the sport of baseball:

    • Since ’05-’08 the incidence of injury in baseball pitchers has increased 37%
  • There has been a 10x increase in youth injury rate
    • 193% increase in UCL injuries in New York from ’02-’11

So, why is this happening? There is more research going on about training, we all know not to ‘specialize’ in order to avoid an overuse injury yet we are seeing injuries go through the roof. What about velocity? In the last 10-15 years, the average velocity of an MLB fastball has increased from 85mph to 93mph. So, the question remains, are we in the velocity era of baseball pitching or the injury era of baseball pitching?

Reinold’s Facts about Baseball pitching injury:

  • Injuries correlate to 1 thing and 1 thing only: Overuse
      • By pitching <100 innings in a season, you can decrease your chance of injury by 3x
      • By pitching <80 pitches an outing, you can decrease your chance of injury by 4x
    • By pitching less than 8 months out of the year, you can decrease your injury rate by 5x

Important delineation: Is playing catch the same thing as pitching? NO. Overuse injuries are a combination of quantity and intensity. By having a catch with a friend every day, despite the quantity being high, the intensity is fairly low. Thus, having a catch will be exponentially less stressful than pitching with intent each day.

Creating a plan to solve the problem: A baseball pitcher has four aspects that contribute to their success: (1) Age & Maturity, (2) Arm Care, (3) Strength and Conditioning, (4) Mechanics

When taking into account all four of these aspects to managing a healthy and effective baseball pitcher, we can then begin to translate this model to other sports. Key takeaways: Always keep in mind the athlete’s physical maturity as well as psychological maturity, chronological age does not tell the entire story. You can be the strongest athlete in the world but if you lack the proper arm care you will only be generating tremendous force on a system that can’t handle or support the impact. Strength and conditioning is a necessity when it comes to developing any skilled athlete. With this industry, it is important to seek out individuals who are able to take a scientific based and professional approach to safely and effectively managing the youth athlete. Finally, mechanics which are governed by the world of physics, dictate the overarching principles that we teach for each pitcher to reduce the risk of injury and improve performance.

Pitching performance is really important for pitchers. Pitching performance is cool. Pitching performance will improve your pitching performance while on the mound. Pitching performance can be improved by a variety of exercises that will improve your pitching performance. This guy talks a lot about pitching performance.

A Letter of Thanks…

by Cassie Reilly-Boccia

So many of us ask each other what we’re thankful for around this time of year. As I sit and reflect upon all I have to be grateful for, I can’t help but find my mind circling back to our family of athletes at AW. With this being on my mind, I felt compelled to write a thank you note to our community who has meant so much to us over these last few years. So, without further ado…

Dear AW family,

Thank you for taking a chance on a warehouse in the middle of Pleasantville. Thank you for being willing to learn about the importance of strength and conditioning opposed to just accepting the previously established norms of training young athletes. There is a paralyzing amount of information on the internet that can lead to confusion beyond measure as to what the right thing to do in training is. Don’t for a second think that we don’t understand the enormity of you entrusting us with your dreams. It has become the greatest reward to watch you succeed in all that you do. Your success is our success and as Randy Pausch once said, “Sometimes, the, ‘Enabling the dreams of others’ thing is even more fun.” (If you haven’t read his book, The Last Lecture yet, I highly recommend it.) As each coach is a former collegiate athlete, we all couldn’t agree more and we would have never had a chance to experience this awesome feeling had you not handed over part of your dream to us when you first walked in the door.

Thank you for your appreciation. You have no idea how much a handshake at the end of a session or a simple, ‘Thanks for everything, coach’ means to us. Strength and conditioning is hard. Instead of resenting what is prescribed by your coach, you instead see the value and intent behind each exercise. Putting your body through physical discomfort in the short term in order to achieve a dream far off in the long term is the ultimate definition of delayed gratification. Seeing how you all appreciate and embrace ‘the suck’ of a workout during these fall and winter months shows a great deal of emotion and psychological maturity. Traits that will undoubtedly serve you well in all of your future endeavors.

Lastly, thank you for giving the effort you do on a daily basis. Your continuous fight when the weight gets heavy, push when your breath becomes short, and passion to achieve a level of greatness higher than the one you are currently at inspires us as coaches each and every day. It is because of your tenacity and grit that we are driven to work harder ourselves and aspire to become better coaches, mentors, teachers, athletes, and people. It is because of you that we go to sleep thinking about the program that will best suit you the next day. It is because of you that we wake up in the morning fired up at the opportunity to work with you. Lastly, it is because of you that we possess the most vital trait to leading a happy and fulfilled life: purpose. Thank you for giving us our purpose, defining our why, and making this the best ‘job’ any of us could have ever asked for. From our family to yours, we hope you all have a great Thanksgiving!

10 Exercises Your Softball Athlete Should Be Doing

This article outlines 10 exercises for softball athletes to increase performance.

Single Leg Landmine RDL

Balance is a form of strength. Being able to complete a unilateral hinge movement while maintaining proper scapula stability will strengthen components necessary for a softball athlete to minimize the risk of injury in their sport. These unilateral movements will also expose to the practitioner or coach just how one-side dominated the athlete is from continuously swingining and hitting from one side.

Landmine Lunge to Power Press

The athlete will begin by kneeling on the ground with both legs at 90/90. The knee in contact with the ground should be on the same side as the arm pressing the landmine. Begin lifting the back knee off of the ground approximately two inches and engaging the glute and midline so that there is a straight line of force from the knee to the shoulder. Then in one motion, simultaneously thrust the landmine forward into an overhead position while achieving a strong standing posture. The athlete should work to achieve knee extension and elbow extension at the same time.

MB Shuffle Throw

The athlete starts the exercise with a light medicine ball by their back hip. Next, while using the lateral momentum garnered from shuffling off of the back side, the athlete drives their back hip forward and throws the medicine ball into the wall. This drill should be used to reinforce backside hip drive opposed to a throwing action with the arms.

Goblet Lateral Lunge

Lateral power and force are a huge component to staying healthy and successful in the sport of softball. In order to maintain hip health with this exercise, complete the lateral lunge to an elevated box height position. The box should be at a height that the athlete can sink her hips below parallel while keeping their chest upright. The goblet weight helps with balancing and ensures the chest stays upright. The weight should not be so heavy that the upper back rounds forward.

Single Arm Renegade Row

The exercise starts with both feet wide in a push-up plank position. The dumbbell should be directly in line with the shoulder. While maintaining a flat back and engaged midline, the athlete should bring the DB up in a row position while keeping the scapula retracted. When rowing during this exercise, it is crucial that the athlete should be working to keep their midline engaged and avoiding hip rotation or shifting.

Split Squat Anti-Rotation Hold with Press

The purpose of this exercise is to resist torque in order to create torque throughout the midline. In a split squat stance with the right knee 2-3 inches above the ground, the athlete will bring the band out in front of their chest with both arms extended. Tension on the band should be enough so that the lateral midline musculature is activating in order to hold the torso and hips centered. Be sure that the tension is not too much so that the shoulders and arms are overactive during this exercise. Repeat this exercise on both sides.

Banded Deadbug

The purpose of this drill is to brace the pelvis and ribcage positioning in order to ensure a bullet-proof midline. This exercise will be instrumental in protecting the lower back from injury with the violent rotations that take place during softball. While trying to keep the base of the lower back in contact with the ground, straighten the legs while maintaining tension on the band with the arms. Once the athlete begins to arch their back, even just slightly, it is important to cue the athlete to return back to their original position. Progress in this exercise should be observed as the distance the athlete can extend their legs without eleviating tension in their mdiline.

High Hang Power Clean

The purpose of this exercise is to teach triple extension of the hip, knee, and ankle. It is critical in sport and athletics to demand eccentric strength capabilities when catching/absorbing weight in order to teach the athlete how to manipulate their lower body to generate power through their upper body. The athlete starts with a barbell in the power hang position. While simultaneously and rapidly extending their hip, knee, and ankles they will thrust their weight upward in a straight line. Once the weight has reached the pinnacle of its height the athlete will then drop underneath the load and catch the barbell in a front rack position in the same power position that they originally launched the weight from. It is important to pick an appropriate load that will tax the athlete enough needed to achieve triple extension. The athlete should avoid pulling the weight upward with their arms and instead launch the weight with their lower half. Additionally, the athlete should be catching the weight in a strong position and not being overmatched by the momentum of the load when landing. 

Banded Sumo KB Deadlift

The purpose of this exercise is to maintain hip health while developing hip extension power.  The athlete starts with a kettlebell on the ground between their legs with a band around their feet and through the handle of the kettlebell. While simultaneously and rapidly extending their hips and knees, they will thrust their hips forward while pulling the banded KB straight up in the air toward their hip. It is important to pick an appropriate load of both the kettlebell and band that will tax the athlete enough to need to achieve rapid hip extension without compromising movement velocity. 

OH Bulgarian Lunge with Pause

This is perhaps one of the most demanding yet most effective exercises an athlete can perform. Sport is predicated on achieving true separation from the front hip to the back shoulder. By requiring the athlete to stabilize overhead during a rear-foot elevated split squat stance, the athlete is stressing the system to stabilize and recruit musculature responsible for this stretch shortening mechanism. The kettlebell or dumbell should be directly in line with the shoulder in the overhead position with the shoulder externally rotated and stable. The athlete will then descend to the bottom position of the Bulgarian lunge while keeping their chest upright and hips engaged in order to ensure proper posture. After a slight pause, the athlete will then extending their hip and drive out of the bottom returning to their original start position.

Exercises for softball athletes are fun to perform. I like to learn how to do exercises for softball athletes. It is very important to perform exercises for softball athletes when you want to improve your athletic performance through doing exercises for softball athletes.

5 DRILLS YOUR SOFTBALL HITTER SHOULD BE DOING

This article has 5 drills that will improve your hitting in softball.

Begin by facing the pitcher with both feet while having the upper body emulate the positioning of a normal stance for hitting in softball. Without utilizing the lower half, allow the hands to slide into the correct slot and drive through the ball to an extension hold position.  Due to your hips being open, your hands are going to either want to roll over the ball or your torso will turn off too quickly thus creating a slicing action with the bat. In order to ensure that your upper half (hand path) continues toward the pitcher, this drill will reinforce that early over rotation does not happen before full extension is reached.

Go through the first half of your swing slowly and under control to bat/ball contact.Once arriving at the proper contact positioning, ensure the barrel is behind your hands and you are palm up/palm down with slightly bent elbows. Then, while leaving your lower half in the proper position for contact, retract your hands back to their original starting position before driving through the ball for a smooth full cut.

Start with bringing your front foot next to your back foot or slightly elevated. Separate your front foot from your back foot while simultaneously loading your upper half. Complete this twice before pausing after the separation phase and completing a full swing. The focus of this drill should be separating the back shoulder/hands region from the front hip/leg region. This proper separation position will ensure that the athlete is maintaining centrifugal stability throughout the swing opposed to drifting through the load and commitment phases of the swing.

Speaking of load and commitment….Begin this drill by separating the upper body and lower body to achieve the proper loaded position. Then, violently commit just the lower body by leaving the upper body in a loaded position. The commitment phases of the swing should be signified by the front heel making contact with the ground while the back heel comes off the ground. This violent action should be driven by the musculature of the hip region and not just elevating the body on the back toe.  Once separation has been achieved for a third time, complete a smooth full cut through the ball. Note that this should not be a power drill as the stretch-shortening cycle has been compromised due to trying to reinforce proper body positioning.

Jump back onto your back foot while simultaneously loading your upper body. Once the front side of your body has achieved the proper tilt angle, complete a full swing using the power harvested into the explosion of the hips into the swing.

Hitting in softball is awesome especially with these drills that work on hitting in softball. These drills make you better at hitting in softball.

‘To Do’ vs. ‘To Be’ in the New Year

by Cassie Reilly-Boccia

Happy New Year AW Geniuses!

As the 2014 year comes to a close, I wanted to talk briefly about resolutions and setting goals being that this is the common theme during this time of year.

There are plenty of articles out there that explain, “10 Best Ways to Pick Your New Year Resolution”, “How to stick to your 2015 goals”, etc.

Regardless of what you plan to do, I challenge each of you to always have a ‘To Be’ goal vs. a ‘To Do’ goal.

The difference?

A ‘To Do’ sounds like a list of things you have to check off. Once you check off the list, the item that was once a burden on your list is now a thing of the past and off of your mind.

However, a ‘To Be’ goal is what will illicit true change in a person and lead to a more successful mindset.

It is important to understand and note that any achievement worth working towards is going to take a lot of time and an enormous amount of effort. I have been a part of many teams in the past and the number one thing that separated the successful teams from the rest was the team’s ability to ‘make payments’ in the present in order to afford a future goal.

For example: An athlete who is working toward making his or her varsity team in the spring must understand that in order to do this it does not take just a superior attitude and effort at the tryout. They understand that this level of effort and attitude must be present during every aspect of their life leading up to the tryout. At the beginning of workouts in the fall, this athlete might find it difficult to drag themselves to a workout or make good decisions come meal time. Although, after just a little bit of the athlete continuously working on being the best they can possibly be at all aspects of their life, they will all of a sudden recognize these ‘burdens’ or ‘chores’ turn from a ‘I have to go work out today’ to ‘I get to go work out today.’ Still, the athlete pushes their body past the point of comfort, listens to what their body needs (adequate sleep, water, and food) and before they know it the ‘get to’ turns into a ‘want to’.

I have been fortunate enough to be a part of a team with this type attitude at Athletes Warehouse. Our staff does not view our duties in order for this company to run as a ‘job’ or ‘burden’ but instead as an enormous opportunity. Each and every one of us relish in the opportunity to coach athletes and pour our passion and knowledge from past experience into the facility and the athletes that come through our doors on a daily basis.

We promise to constantly challenge ourselves TO BE prepared, passionate, and diligent in every aspect of our lives. We will hold ourselves accountable to these standards as we welcome in the New Year and hope to continue helping others in our lives do the same.

Happy New Year to you all and we hope to see you soon!

AW Coaching Chronicles, Week 1

AW Geniuses,

It’s that time of year again. Winter is officially upon us. Although the leaves have not fully vacated the trees and there is no sight of snow for (hopefully) a long time, the winter season at Athletes Warehouse started last week. This point of the year is marked by time our teams begin training with us. Our turf is usually packed from 3pm – 9pm and our gym is filled with hungry individuals who truly understand that in order to transform their game in the spring, the hard work and dedication begins now.

For each week of the winter we as coaches will be highlighting various individuals or teams, coaching concepts, or answering questions from our athletes in an attempt to engage conversation among other professionals in the field of strength and conditioning, parents, and or other athletes themselves.  We will be keeping a more conversational vernacular in an effort to evoke responses and discussions.

So, without further ado, I present to you our first Coaching Chronicle Article:

Progressing The Athlete Through Movement

Our graphic of the week highlights our movement progression triangle that shows our considerations when coaching an athlete in the weight room through strength development, speed, change of direction, and power. This is our ultimate goal with every athlete that walks in the building:

The foundation of our triangle is POSITION. With this, we ask ourselves, “Is the athlete capable of achieving the positioning they need to in order to complete the exercise/movement?” This could be a structural issue or a competency issue. Either way, we are looking for the limiting factors of the human system. Once the athlete is capable of achieving the correct positioning, we ask ourselves, “Can this athlete move properly from position A to position B?” For example: The athlete may understand what they need to look like at the bottom of the squat but in order to get to the that position they load their knees first and then shift back into their hips. The movement from position A to position B is flawed thus our focus needs to be on progressing the proper movement pattern and teaching the brain how to tell the body how to move. Next, is speed. Everyone loves to talk about speed and how fast an athlete can move however, when we think of speed with this triangle we think of slow motion. In order to enhance our first two bases of the triangle, positioning and movement, we need to first tempo the movement. For example: We will require an athlete to take 10 seconds to get to the bottom of the squat. Then we will make them hold that position for 5 seconds before taking another 5-10 seconds to return to the start position. This is important because it gives us as coaches an opportunity to better see how the athlete moves and on top of that, the athlete will begin to learn their movement as well! Lastly, is load. So many times strength and conditioning is associated with adding a barbell with a ton of weight. This is our last consideration when working with a youth athlete. Unfortunately, many professionals in the field interpret training an athlete as this triangle flipped upside down with the weight being the most important thing. Remember, it is not how much weight you move it is how you move the weight that matters the most!

Evaluations

One of the most difficult things to do with our winter sessions is to decide on our evaluation protocol for each athlete, group, and team. Here are our concerns with looking at which tests to complete:

How many sessions will this team be coming for? 8, 12, 16 weeks?

How many times per week will the team be coming?

With keeping the first two questions in mind, how committed are the athletes?

This third one is important. If we have a 12 week program where the athletes are scheduled to come 2 times per week, that is a total of 24 sessions to get better. Improvement during that time frame should be tremendous! However, we have athletes who unfortunately won’t come but once every two weeks. If we have an entire team with this type of commitment and attendance it will severely alter our standards for evaluation protocol. Sometimes, our evaluation protocol for our younger population is just filming them perform a basic movement screening. Their technique and awareness of how they squat, lunge, jump, and run will be changed the most – factors that may not show up on a pro-agility test when working with a 10 year old.

What are the demands of the sport?

A 40 yard dash makes a lot more sense to test with our lacrosse athletes than it does our softball athletes. Should we radar gun our pitching group? Should we radar the shot of our lacrosse boys? Should we use bat metrics for any of our baseball or softball hitters when they swing? Are we becoming too goal oriented instead of process oriented with these? Is it safe to ever do a 1RM? Is it safer or more putting the athlete at a higher risk to do a 3RM or 5RM? Our goal is to still steer toward the realm of strength and conditioning while still being able to add the sport specific touch necessary for our more elite athletes. We also want to foster a strong and resilient mental game that is focused on improving themselves in the process opposed to just focusing on the numbers during evaluations.

How will we store and track the data we get from these athletes?

Keeping all of the information in one place for 800 athletes per week when you have 5 coaches can be a gigantic task. Fortunately for us, there are softwares like TrainHeroic that we have been utilizing and loving. We’ve tried out various softwares and yes, even tried to make our own, but TrainHeroic has been the most user friendly and detail oriented program we’ve found. They are made by people that get strength and conditioning and that helps a ton.

We’d love to hear your feedback. Feel free to comment on the types of evaluations you run for your athletes, how you determine which tests to run with them and if you have any other data collection techniques that work well!

See you guys next week,

Coach Cassie