For this post, I wanted to talk about an important topic that pretty much any high level thrower (or athlete of any kind) will run into at some point: what happens when you encounter a downswing or “hole” in your training? For baseball specifically, what happens when an athlete’s velo dips by a few mph seemingly out of nowhere? Logically, the follow up question to this is how do you get out of the hole once you get into it? As I’ll talk about at the end of this post, I was (and still am to some extent) in a pretty major hole for about a month and a half from the end of May through the beginning of July in which I wasn’t able to get above 86-87 in my bullpens, although my velo has finally started to come back up in my more recent pens (up to 88-89, which isn’t where I want to be but is a lot better).
Downswings or holes like this are often difficult for athletes to deal with both physically and mentally, because they can arise seemingly “out of nowhere” and can be caused by a number of different factors. As I talk about in one of my previous posts, we as humans like certainty in our lives, especially in the context of training, so it can be hard for us to deal with these sudden setbacks and downswings when they inevitably occur. What’s the best way to deal with one of these downswings, and eventually get back on the upswing again? It depends heavily on the circumstance, as I will talk about more below, but one of the most important things to do is to stay the course mentally. If you approach each training day with the same outlook and intensity regardless of what your recent results have been, you are much more likely to dig yourself out of holes sooner rather than later. I’m certainly not the only one who’s been through holes like this, and I remember listening to Casey Weathers talk at Driveline last summer about the hole he was in during one of the last offseasons of his career, down 5-6+ mph from his peak velo. He ended up not only getting out of the hole, but actually setting the (since broken) mound velo record at Driveline of 98.9 that same offseason! My point is that these holes can happen to anyone, and that you shouldn’t freak out if you’re down a few mph from your previous max, especially at the beginning of an offseason. With all this being said, I want to go into some more detail about the different ways that a velocity dip can occur, and what to do in each case. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but I think it should cover most cases:
Fatigue buildup/insufficient recovery
This is a big one that is often overlooked by guys, and can be a major limiting factor if you do the same. Quite simply, if you are not recovering completely from the training that you are putting your body through, then you are not going to make progress and are actually going to be “overtraining.” As Ben Brewster discusses in this article (there is a part 2 article as well), this can take the form of throwing and/or lifting fatigue buildup, as well as not getting sufficient food, sleep, etc. Athletes who manage their throwing and lifting fatigue optimally (as well as get enough food and sleep) allow their bodies to actually grow and become stronger in response to the training stimulus, but athletes who don’t recover sufficiently in between heavy lifting and/or throwing days will actually regress in the long run. Fortunately, it is easy to correct this problem if you find yourself struggling to recover! Either eat or sleep more if you aren’t doing that already, or just scale down the total volume of lifting or throwing you are doing if it is too high, all of which are really easy to do.
There are a couple of reasons why this fatigue buildup can happen to guys. One reason is because a guy just doesn’t care very much, and so he doesn’t get enough sleep, stays up late playing video games, eats a lot of junk food (or doesn’t eat enough food at all), and ultimately just wastes his time. If you’re a player reading this you’ve almost certainly had teammates like this at some point. The other reason is the exact opposite: a guy cares a lot and is so invested that he tries to go “above and beyond” in the weight room (or on the throwing floor), and as a result ends up doing more than what his body can recover from. Guys like this (I know I have been one in the past) need to realize that their body only has a finite recovery ability, and that doing more is not necessarily always better.
Mobility is another area of “low hanging fruit” in my opinion when it comes to getting out of a training hole. Doing a 30-minute mobility assessment or something of that nature to check for any glaring deficiencies can really help get an athlete back on track to performing their best. There are so many areas that could be immobile and holding a guy back from throwing as hard as he possibly could, and finding and fixing these issues can lead to very rapid progress. For example, an athlete’s hip mobility could be preventing him from getting into a hip/shoulder separated position at stride foot contact, or an athlete’s tight scaps could force him into an inefficient arm action. A mobility assessment (and subsequent corrective exercises) can save a lot of time and frustration trying to figure out why a guy is down a few mph.
Last but certainly not least on this list is mechanics. Unlike the first two categories that I mentioned, finding and fixing mechanical issues can be extremely difficult. For one, there is still so much about pitching mechanics that we don’t know, and one of the things we do know is that the “optimal” set of mechanics is going to vary significantly from person to person…compare Chris Sale’s mechanics to Fernando Rodney’s! This makes it very hard to nail down exactly what mechanical flaw is holding an athlete back in some cases. Fortunately, though, with motion capture (mocap) technology being used at more and more facilities (like the motion capture lab at Driveline), this task is becoming a bit easier. Nonetheless, it still remains challenging even with mocap, and even once a mechanical flaw has been identified, it is often times even harder to correct it, because chances are your body has been using the same mechanical patterns for years! Everyone’s body responds differently to different cues, constraint drills, etc., and this is what makes changing throwing mechanics such a difficult task. If identifying and correcting mechanical inefficiencies were easy, then so many more athletes would throw 90+, 95+, 100+, etc., but what makes these benchmarks exclusive is that developing an optimal (or near-optimal) set of mechanics is a truly difficult task.
It’s been awhile since my last post, so I want to catch you guys up with what’s been happening! I chose to write about training downswings for this post because I was stuck in a really long downswing from May-June, as I talked about at the beginning. I wasn’t really moving well, I was having some arm pain, and my velo was down, despite all of my strength numbers being at all time highs. I took a look at some video and noticed a couple of things mechanically. First of all, I picked up on the fact that my arm action had a sort of “hitch” in it, in that I sort of just reached back and extended my arm completely and then quickly folded it up into position at stride foot contact. I also noticed that my hip/shoulder separation was still not great and had a lot of room for improvement. Here’s the video I am referring to:
I’ve attacked these two areas specifically over the last few weeks of training, and I did see a gain in velocity (I was up to 88-89 in some recent pens). I’m going to continue to work on these areas and introduce some more constraint drills, and hopefully see some more progress!