Roll With It Baby!!

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We have a former MLB student who started training with us 3 weeks ago after receiving a recommendation for Chien-Ming Wang. I wrote about Wang’s resurgence in a blog called How Chien-Ming Wang Got His Groove Back.

This new guy once topped out at 100 mph.

That was before 2 Tommy John surgeries and a serious shoulder blowout known as a HAGL (Humeral Avulsion Glenohumeral Ligament).

This guy (who shall remain nameless until he makes it back to pro ball – hit 91.9 last week) was drafted out of high school as a catcher, so I’m guessing he started with a powerful compact, efficient arm action and a solid contribution from his legs. I haven’t seen many high level catching prospects that didn’t present with those factors.

However, when he was asked to transition to the mound, by his report, a couple of highly regarded pitching coaches taught him to stay tall and fall, point the ball to second base, and to break his hands with his elbows leading the way up. Lacking any energy from his lower half, he found a short cut and adopted a severe inverted W that was still present when his front foot hit the ground.

Just to be clear. We are not the Inverted W police, and we have no interest in engaging the tired internet argument about it. Not all Inverted Ws are the same. Some of our guys show the inverted W and get out of it before weight bearing foot plant. We’re ok with that.

We have 2 rules about the Inverted W: 1) If you have shoulder or elbow pain, it is a possible contributor and it must go (or at least be improved).2) If it is still present when the front foot hits the ground it must go.

InvertedWI can’t see a way to get from this position at weight bearing foot plant to throwing without a significant tax on the shoulder or the elbow

Not surprisingly, since his lower half was offering no attenuation of the 100 mph energy in his arm action, he broke.

He rehabbed from his Tommy John and went right back to throwing the same way… and he broke again.

Doctors repaired his UCL a second time and a year later he was back in the big leagues fuzzing 100. Then his shoulder gave out.

It might be just me, but I’m beginning to think it’s almost criminal what baseball does to pitchers after they’re injured…

We patch them up with the latest/greatest surgical technique, then send them right back out there throwing exactly the same way and with the exact same physical constraints they possessed before they were injured…

And somehow we expect a different result!

It’s absolute insanity, and it begs a deeper question.

Is it more cost effective for MLB teams to keep their guys healthy and fix them when they break, or to simply go find another guy?

But I guess that’s a discussion for another day.

Here’s what I really want to relay to you.

Yesterday our MLB guy was going through his drills, and I noticed he seemed to be unable to disassociate his pelvis from his torso. It was especially evident on his Marshall drills. He was unable to achieve hip to shoulder separation and subsequently presented with premature torso rotation — a well documented contributor to elbow and shoulder problems, and a velocity bandit.

Usually when I see a guy with this inefficiency, I find a thoracic rotational mobility deficit. That wasn’t case with this guy. In fact, he is actually hypermobile through his hips and T-spine.

So what would explain his inability to get separation?

There is only one answer to that question…

Motor control.

For some reason, he doesn’t have the kinesthetic awareness and control to be able to separate his upper half from his lower half.

To test my theory I used a test I learned recently in my SFMA Level 2 certification course.

I had him lie on his back with his arms over his head. I then took my hand and drew an imaginary line across his waist and told him to imagine he is paralyzed from the waist down. Now, without using his legs at all I instructed him to roll to his stomach.

It was supposed to look like this.

It actually looked like this.

I was amazed.

Here is a world class athlete with a 100 mph arm and he can’t even execute a simple roll.

How does that happen?

I’m pretty sure this guy knew how to roll when he was a baby?

Where did that natural motor pattern go?

The answer to that question lies in what I call the injury triad.
pain and motor control

The athlete can enter into this vicious cycle through any of the 3 ports.

Most of the time, I find it begins with a subconscious or a conscious alteration of his movement pattern. This leads to pain, which can feedback unpredictably into further degradation of motor control. If the contributing variables are allowed to progress even in the presence of pain, it can feed forward to the point of frank injury, which erodes the movement pattern even more.

So how do you think we needed to proceed with the training plan?

Blast him with verbal and cognitive cues to opens his hips before allowing his torso to rotate?

Bang out thousands of reps of our walking torque drill to create separation?


The only way to solve this problem is to address the underlying movement disorder.

We needed to teach this grown man how to segmentally roll again.

We used a few motor learning tricks to facilitate and accelerate the learning. We added some new exercises to his weight training program (that involved very light weight), and within a few days, he was demonstrating a much better kinetic sequence.

The cool thing about motor control training is that for the most part, we’re simply re-educating the athlete to perform movement skills he had already mastered but had somehow forgotten.

The circuitry for the pattern is already in place. Training is just a matter of turning on the right circuit breakers and dusting off the old forgotten pathways.

Once mobility constraints are removed, motor control deficits can usually reset, reinforced and reloaded very quickly.

Positive results can emerge in as little as a few training sessions.

I just shared these thoughts with our incredible staff.

The first take home lesson for the Florida Baseball Ranch staff is this:

We must always understand that to improve skill specific mechanics, we must be masters of fundamental human movement.

The second message is that while we feel like we know a lot more about what we are doing than many in the industry, what we don’t know far outweighs what we do.

Gotta go.

So much to learn and so little time to learn it.
Until next time,
See you at The Ranch

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Randy Sulivan, MPT
CEO Florida Baseball Ranch
Sullivan Rehab Services

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