Saturday, September 25, 2010

Week 4 Facility Update - IT'S GETTING CLOSER!

The new exhaust fan - gotta keep that air moving!
Shower - AWESOME!

Before - the whole wall/ceiling junction looked like this
After - Full walls all around
Face Lift #1 - Fresh Paint
Face Lift  #2 - The paint job made the room look bigger!

Effective Core Training For Softball Pitchers: Part 2

Can too many Crunches and Sit Ups hurt a pitcher's performance?

As I discussed in Part 1 of this series, this might seem like a pretty controversial question considering that almost everyone does these exercises on a regular basis. Some pitchers' core programs may even be completely based off of these movements. If you really think about the act of pitching, however, you will see that these movements have no real place in a well-designed core program for several reasons.

A Visual Comparison of the Crunch/Sit-Up Movement and the Power Pitching Positions

Generally speaking, the typical crunch or sit up (and all of their variations) will have the athlete round at the shoulders and flex their trunk towards the lower body (anterior trunk flexion),while lying on the floor or a fitness ball. Here are a few examples to that show the core's relative function during these movements:

Let's compare them to these pictures of some top pitchers in action - you might just recognize them:

Jenni Finch - Pitching Stud #1
Monica Abbot - Pitching Stud #2

I didn't choose these pictures because these ladies are Olympians and two of the baddest pitchers ever to play the game. Rather, these pictures demonstrate the position and relative function of the core during the two most important power positions of the pitching motion, the "drive" and "land" phases. Having a strong and well-trained core is critical in these positions because the pitcher is "creating" and then "reducing" power during the process of accelerating the ball towards the plate. Using McGill's conceptualization of core function from Part 1, Jenny's core musculature is "transmitting" her leg power into her upper torso to begin this process. In Monica's case, her core musculature is aiding her front leg in  "resisting" the motion of her legs, hips and trunk so her arm and the ball have a solid pivot point to rotate around and finish the acceleration process. In both cases, our stud pitchers' cores are most certainly exhibiting an abdominal "brace" in order to accomplish these actions and effectively link the upper and lower bodies into a coherent movement pattern. Clearly, we see no "crunching" or anterior core flexion occurring in either position. Using this very simple visual analysis, we can see why having pitchers perform a majority of their core work in this movement pattern is questionable. However, since the crunch and sit up have been the norm for so long and are so easy to perform, such a simple analysis may not be enough to convince some people to change their ways. Is there any research that shows the crunch/sit up as an ineffective training tool in the core programs of pitchers?

Anterior core flexion and throwing performance

While there isn't much research available that deals with the specifics of softball pitching, there is a significant body of research concerning a related movement pattern, the overhand throwing motion. While the softball pitching motion and the overhand throwing motion are obviously dissimilar in some ways, they both share similar demands on the core musculature in terms of function (i.e. core power transmission, core bracing, rotational control, etc...), which allows us to draw some useful parallels.

Lying Crossover Crunch
 A study published by Stodden et al. the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in 2008 examined the relative translation between 4 rotational core exercises and throwing performance (velocity) in collegiate baseball players through kinematic (movement) analysis of the trunk during the throwing motion. The researchers found that, while their exercise selections showed similar kinematics to the throwing motion, the rotational speed of these movements was insufficient to likely elicit a measurable effect on velocity. One of these exercises, however, the lying crossover, was found to have the least amount of rotational movement when compared to the other exercises and the throwing motion. Why is this seemingly minor detail important? The researchers noted that this finding was likely due to the spine's inability to rotate when flexed. Essentially, anterior core flexion limits spinal rotational ability, which can inhibit maximal power generation and transference during the act of throwing. Clearly, this situation is not advantageous to the pitcher for peak performance.

What is the implication of this finding when considering core program design for pitchers? The goal of good program design is always to select exercises that can improve performance based on the specific needs of the athlete. If an exercise does not meet this simple criterion, it should be eliminated or at least minimized. Using the findings of aforementioned study, a pitcher (softball or baseball) looking to improve their throwing performance should want a core program centered around exercises that improve trunk rotation range of motion, rotational velocity, and improved power transference (among others). Wouldn't a program that emphasizes anterior core flexion condition an athlete and their core to perform in ways that are counter productive to improved performance? Using our good program design test from above, the crunch and sit up need to have a very limited role (if any) in a pitcher's core program who is looking for elite performance.

Where do we go next with our core training?

A proper plank
Now that I have shown you that a great core-training program for the pitcher should involve a minimal amount of crunch-like movements, what exercises should we be focusing on instead? Before I can answer this question, the next part in this series will address another famous core exercise- the plank. As I mentioned in Part 1, one of key functions of the core is to transmit power between the extremities through a "bracing" effect and the plank is one of the best foundational basic exercises for teaching an athlete how to do this. Unfortunately, I have found that most athletes either can't do it properly or were not taught how to do it correctly in the first place, meaning their foundation to build on with a great core program is faulty from the start. From this perspective, a poorly performed plank hold is almost as bad as program full of crunches and sit-ups in my mind. The next article in this series will discuss the importance of the plank and how to do it correctly. Once this key "building" block in place, we can move onto some really fun and really challenging pitcher specific core programs.

Full Disclosure: I do occasionally use some anterior flexion movements in my core programs for variety's sake but they are never my primary core exercises - they are only used sparingly as a change of pace. Once I minimized the use of these movements, my athletes have experienced a huge shift in their performance abilities.

Coach Green is the Director of Fury Performance Training and been helping softball players of all ages and ability levels reach their potential for the past 8 years. In the past year, he has helped 7 advanced high school pitchers (and counting) increase 1-3 mph on their peak and average velocities, including one who hadn't pitched in 12 months due to injury. The one constant for all of these pitchers was that they "re-engineered" their core training to be more specific and effective for pitching. Coach Green is available for consultations and custom performance programs. Please contact him at

Friday, September 17, 2010

Effective Core Training for Softball Pitchers - Part 1


I wanted to start this blog series off with a few questions...

1) Do crunches (and all their variations), sit ups, seated twists, leg raises, and poorly performed planks make the majority your core work?

2) Are these exercises really that effective in helping you to become a better pitcher?

3) If there were exercises out there that were more effective and efficient than the ones previously mentioned, would you do them?

Regardless of your answers to those questions, the intent of this series is to show you (pitchers, coaches, parents) that there really is a better way to train your core for elite pitching success. There is so much great training information out there for pitchers to utilize but no one seems to have taken the important step of specifically applying it the art and science of softball pitching. There have been a few performances coaches in the softball community that have touched on these concepts in the past but I don't think they have gone into enough detail nor have they made the information accessible enough to be useful. My goal is to do just that and show you how to supercharge your pitching performance with some innovative and "new school" core programs. Before I can get into the nitty gritty of how a pitcher should train their core, we need to understand the anatomy and the function of the core musculature so we can see how the concepts actually apply to pitching.

What is the "core"?  

Realistically speaking, outside of the sport performance community, who really knows or understands what the "core" is truly comprised of? In my conversations, many athletes and parents still think it's the classic "abs" (think 6 pack). Some might add the low back muscles into their definition. Others still, if they have read some magazines or done some personal training, will tell you that you can't forget about those "little inner back muscles - you know the ones you have to suck in". Occasionally, and this is very rare, I will talk to someone who will mention how important the glutes (i.e the butt) are to a strong core. Finally, I have yet to talk to someone who will add the hip flexors or lats to their defintion. In reality, the most comprehensive definition you could create of the "core" musculature from reviewing the literature would include all of the above. With this wide range of answers about what the "core"  actually consists of, it is not hard to understand why great core training programs are hard to find. For the rest of this series, when I refer to the "core", here is the definition in my head:

The "Core" - the inter-connected system of the muscles of the hip/pelvic area (front and back), lower torso (superficial and deep), and upper torso (the lats).

The "core"
This is a pretty broad and complex definition isn't it? I think this inherent complexity is why so many core programs really miss the mark and why training the core for elite performance is a such a challenging task. Once you start breaking down how the core functions, however, and then begin to apply these concepts to the pitching motion, the process becomes much simpler, leaving room for immediate and dramatic improvement for the athlete.

How does the core work?

Fitness bunny core work!
When trying to design an elite core development program, it is critical to understand why many of the basic core programs out there are poorly designed and ineffective for superior athletic performance. This statement is especially true if your core programs come from most of the "girly" fitness magazines out there or bodybuilding magazines of the 1990's, or even worse, late night infomercials. While the programs of the mainstream media have been getting better of late, their collected body of work over the years has led the average person to believe that the core's primary function is to flex the trunk forwards. As Mike Robertson relates in his excellent two part series on core training (Part 1, Part 2), this is technically true if we only consider the Rectus Abdominus muscle (the classic 6 pack muscle), as this is one of this muscle's primary functions. However, considering our definition of the core above, focusing on just one muscle or one movement pattern doesn't tell us much about what we need to do to train the core effectively for pitching dominance.

To really understand how to apply "new school" core training methods to pitching, we need to go to one of the main sources of the methodology, Professor Stuart McGill. He has written countless articles and several books on the subject of lower back/core training and has probably forgotten more about the topic than most of us will ever know. Here are some statements from Prof. McGill on the various functions of the core from his comprehensive article in a recent N.S.C.A journal published in June 2010.

1) "The core muscles often co-contract, stiffening the torso such that all muscles (of the body) become synergists." (pg.33)

2) "The core, more often than not, functions to prevent motion rather than initiating it...Good technique in most sporting, and daily living tasks, demand that power be generated at the hips and transmitted through a stiffened core." (pg.34)

3) "The core is never a power generator as measuring the great athletes always shows that the power is transmitted through the stiffened core. They also use the torso muscles as anti-motion controllers, rarely motion generators." (pg. 44)
    I'm guessing that if you aren't a performance specialist, the above statements were a bit dense so I will attempt to translate for you below.

    The body performing as a "one"
    Translation #1 - The muscles of the core and body are always "linked" together during movement and do not function in isolation. To train the core for high performance, you must think of the core and how all of its muscles function together along with the rest of the body. Attempting to isolate a specific muscle in the core (the RA from above) or specific function of the core (the draw in) is largely ineffective as it relates to human movement.

    Translation #2 - Your legs and arms are responsible for creating the power behind movements in athletics and daily life - not the core. The core functions to funnel or transmit the power created in the the limbs into coherent and effective movement patterns.

    Translation #3 - Exercises that train the muscles of the core to initiate movement (crunches, sit ups, certain types MB throws) do not train the core in a manner consistent with athletic movement.

    Hopefully, my translations put those intense concepts into more friendly language and you can see that most mainstream fitness core routines fall well short of being effective for improved and effective sports performance. Considering our new definition of the core and its function, we can now start applying these concepts to designing new school core programs for elite pitching performance.

    But first, considering the above information, I want you think about your typical core training routine and then consider your answers to the three lead off questions again, particularly #2 and #3.  Now that you have a better understanding of how the core really functions, how does your routine stack up? Do you still think that it is really helping you to be a better pitcher? My guess (and hope) is that you answers may have changed a bit. If you are not convinced yet and want some more support, the next article in this series will tackle two mainstays of old school core training, the crunch and the sit up and why they have little place in a high performance core training program for pitchers. I will also discuss why performing the "plank" exercise correctly is the critical first step in understanding the concept of core "stiffness" or "bracing".

    Note: Coach Green is the Director of Fury Performance Training and been helping softball players of all ages and ability levels reach their potential for the past 8 years. In the past year, he has helped 7 high school pitchers (and counting) increase 1-3 mph on their peak and average velocities, including one who hadn't pitched in 12 months due to injury. The one constant for all of these pitchers was that they "re-engineered" their core training to be more specific and effective for pitching. Coach Green is available for consultations and custom performance programs. Please contact him at

    Friday, September 10, 2010

    Brain Food - 9/10/10

    To slide or not to slide? You decide...

    This is a great blog post by Charlie Weingroff, a PT and powerlifter, on the supposed potential danger of using slide boards in training. This assertion was made by Charles Poliquin (another industry favorite of mine) and Charlie methodically analyzes why he thinks Poliquin is incorrect. If you want to see how strength coaches should evaluate an exercise for inclusion (or exclusion) in program design, this is a textbook example of how to do it.

    Full Disclosure - We have a slide board at Fury Performance and I think its a great training tool.

    A better way to do Lat Pulldowns

    This blog post from Mike Reinhold has some great tips and a good video on how to improve lat pulldown performance. As he discusses, the vast majority of people (including me!) do not peform this exercise as effectively as they probably could. Interestingly, we have been using two stretch bands to accomplish this same training set up at FPT that Mike recommends for awhile now due to our equipment limitations. Pretty cool.

    Maybe someday...

    A video tour of Joe DeFranco's new gym...this kind of stuff keeps me motivated to keep growing FPT!

    The importance of proper nutrition for athletes.

    Great profile of minor league pitcher Shawn Haviland that describes his complete 180 on the eating habits typical of many athletes today. Shawn trains at Cressey Performance and follows the Precision Nutrition system created by John Berardi.

    Sitting around all day = bad back

    Here is an article that discusses why the more we sit the more our back is likely to hurt. Previous articles that I have found on this topic have been a tad dense but this one does a good job of speaking to the layman.

    More is not always better...

    This article is written by Kevin Neeld, an elite hockey performance specialist. He talks about how practice and competition demands (and associated training demands) of many young athletes have become totally skewed away from the principals of proper long term development. The most instructive quote of the whole article for me was as follows...

    "From a training standpoint, the goal is to get the maximum benefit from the minimum amount of training."

    This is a must read for any sport or performance coach! 
    10lbs in 10 days...yeah right - get over it fatty!

    This is a short blog post by Leigh Peele that discredits many of the sensational claims made in the media about rapid fat loss programs. Basically - it is not humanly possible! This post reminds of the countless times athletes have asked me the following question, "Coach, I only have 3 weeks until the beach - can you help me lose the fat on my (insert some random fatty area of their body)?".  Somehow they never seem to like my answers...
    The 3 rules of training programs for young athletes... 
    This blog post was written by Brian Grasso, the director of the IYCA. The three principles he outlines speak really well to what we are trying to accomplish at FPT...cheers Brian.

    Saturday, September 4, 2010

    Brain Food - 9/4/2010

    Eat like a caveman!

    This is a cool article about the "Paleo Diet", which is designed to mimic our evolutionary eating habits. The proponents of this diet say it is unrivaled for both performance and overall health because it eliminates the "stressful" foods found in the modern diet. Definitely worth a read.

    Concussions really are that dangerous!

    This is a must read article for all parents and/or athletes who are concerned about concussions. It details the story of three prominent baseball players who have suffered concussions and are struggling with the aftermath. Yes - baseball players...traditionally non-contact athletes.

    Subscapularis Massage Videos

    I am a big fan of helping our athletes maintain proper tissue length/quality in typical problems spots with myofascial release techniques and I thought this was a pretty interesting read. It shows how to "release" a shortened subscap after SLAP repair. Very cool videos!

    More on the barefoot running debate...

    This blog post is a good read since it describes the lack of research supporting or discrediting the practice of barefoot running. I personally believe that adding barefoot warm up and balance drills to our programs has been a good thing for Fury Performance's clients but we never perform med-high intensity plyos or sprints barefoot. I am not willing to go that far with it for safety and injury management issues. Most of our athletes are indifferent to barefoot work but some actually request to do all their training barefoot. The lack of negative response tells me it is worth keeping around. As this article shows, there is always two sides to every story.

    Pallof Press, Pallof Press, Pallof Press!!!

    This blog post is by another one of my favorite industry pros, Tony Gentilcore. He works out of Cressey Performance and always has great training information to share. This one features video variations of the Pallof Press - one of the top core exercises used at Fury Performance. I wanted to include it because we use one of these exercises almost every day at FPT.