The Top 4 Ways Pitchers Become Disconnected
The definition of disconnected pitching mechanics: “Disconnected pitching mechanics” describes a pitcher whose body parts act independently, away from the natural synergy of the rest of the body or apart from a stable spine, which adds stress to connective tissue that can result in injury, premature fatigue and/or difficulty with recovery. Disconnections can also limit an athlete’s ability to summate the forces in the kinetic chain when throwing, thereby limiting the ability to achieve optimal velocity. And finally, disconnections can lead to early unraveling of the movement pattern, resulting in command issues and substandard pitching overall.
The Throwing Myth
Humans are natural pitchers. We’re born to throw…so why all of the disconnect in pitchers? First, let’s dispel a common myth.
“Overhand throwing is an unnatural movement.”
That’s what “they” say.
Who says that?
You know, the ubiquitous yet ever-elusive “they” who reign supreme as the self-appointed authority on just about everything.
Well… not surprisingly, “they” are wrong again.
According to a June 2013 report published in the journal Nature, throwing has been “natural” since our Homo Erectus ancestors began chucking rocks and sticks at large prey about 1.9 million years ago.
Humans are born to throw. It’s in our DNA. And when left to our own devices, most throwers learn to do so without the need for any coaching or guidance. Yet, despite the natural nature (that’s redundant and repetitive) of throwing, injury rates continue to climb and although most players desire to throw at a high level, many never achieve it.
How can this be?
As I reflect on this question, I am guided toward yet another stroke of brilliance from Coach Ron Wolforth of The Texas Baseball Ranch. Sometime around 2015, Coach Wolforth presented a list of 11 of the most common “disconnections” that limit a player’s ability to throw hard, demonstrate elite level command, developed high caliber secondary stuff and/or recover on schedule. At the risk of sounding like a slobbering lap dog, I am frequently impressed by Ron’s ability to see through complex problems and pare them down to comprehensible, manageable categories. Hyper-individualization of baseball training programs and plans across multiple dimensions is the hallmark and the desired endpoint of the TBR/FBR consortium but without categorization there can be no systemized path to customization.
Categorize, then customize.
That’s the formula and, in my opinion, it’s brilliant.
Throwing at a superior level is about being “connected”. When a delivery is connected all the body parts are acting in timing and synergy with one another. Every part is playing its proper role and performing in concert with all the other body parts…and those parts are operating around a stable spine.
Disconnections are defined as instances when a body part acts independently, away from the natural synergy of the rest of the body or apart from a stable spine. Disconnections add stress to connective tissue that can result in injury, premature fatigue and/or difficulty with recovery. Disconnections can also limit an athlete’s ability to summate the forces in the kinetic chain, thereby limiting the ability to achieve optimal velocity. And finally, disconnections can lead to early unraveling of the movement pattern, resulting in command issues and substandard secondary stuff.
Being connected is natural. Disconnections are unnatural.
So, why do some throwing athletes become disconnected?
In my experience there are 4 reasons a throwing athlete develops disconnections (and these are listed in order from the most common to the least common).
- Their disconnections are taught. Through the years, I’ve studied throwing more than most and I’ve screwed some things up along the way. Frankly, many of the concepts I espoused as a young coach probably did more harm than good. There are about 1,000 kids I should find and offer my apologies. I taught what I knew… and I was wrong. Like me, there are many well-meaning coaches who unfortunately possess incomplete or in correct information…and they teach it to thousands of players at baseball training camps. I’ve never met a coach who intentionally made a player worse, or chose to put him at risk for injury. Nonetheless, many of the standard teaching points in traditional pitching instruction are simply wrong and they encourage disconnections. “Get your elbow up”. “Point the ball to second base.” “Tall and fall.” “Push off the rubber.” All of these well intentioned commands can lead to disconnections that add stress to connective tissue, rob a pitcher of velocity and negatively impact command and secondary stuff. Yes, indeed… many times disconnections are taught.
- They are desperately seeking energy in the wrong places. When inefficiencies present themselves, they tend to disrupt the kinetic chain such that a player attempting to maximize production subconsciously searches for motor patterns that might be counterproductive or might even put him at risk for injury. This is most commonly demonstrated in the disconnection that is the highly debated inverted W. Defined as any time the throwing athlete moves one or both elbows into extreme abduction with internal rotation of the shoulder. Typically, athletes who demonstrate this disconnection also exhibit poor lower half efficiency. Lacking support from the ground, they look to their upper bodies to produce the energy needed to approach elite level throwing. In my experience, many times if you can improve the player’s lower half movement pattern in the baseball training camps, this upper half problem goes away.
- They have mobility or stability constraints that force them to adopt a particular movement pattern. I say this quite often in my baseball training camps. Mobility and stability constraints are intimately interwoven. Often one will spawn the other. For example, if you have tight quads or you have poor ankle mobility, you’ll probably have a hard time getting into a glute load. Your mobility restrictions will force you to shift your weight toward the ball of your foot and you’ll become quad dominant. This will project the direction of your load toward the on deck circle on your arm side. From this point, unless you have crazy hip internal rotation mobility and motor control, you’ll either land across your body and throw hook shots toward home plate (significantly stressing your connective tissue in the process). Or, you’ll disconnect with a lead leg opening early, premature torso rotation, leaning hard to the glove side with your posture, you’ll push or leap with your back leg, instead of rotating, in a move that will cause you to release the ball with your back foot in the air, All of this eliminates any further contribution from your lower half. Mobility and/or stability constraint are often major contributors to disconnection and they’re frequently ignored. If you hope to change a pitchers biomechanical pattern, you must start off the baseball training program by assessing for contributory physical constraints concurrently with a high-speed video analysis.
- Their body randomly selects an inefficient pathway as they are learning their movement pattern. The Bernstein Principle #1 and is one of the fundamental principles in motor learning. It states that “The body will organize itself in accordance to the overall goal of the activity.” If given a clear goal, the body will find a way to accomplish the task. Note, however that we said the body will find “a way.” That doesn’t necessarily mean it will always choose the safest or the most efficient way. That’s where customized baseball training programs with master teaching/coaching can play the most significant role in player development. As players begin to self-organize new movements, we can use motor learning strategies to maximize efficiency and safety, increase the rate of learning for the student and improve transfer to game performance.
As a master teacher or coach, it is our responsibility to design and execute baseball training programs and protocols that take advantage of all the available motor learning science principle to suppress, improve or eliminate disconnections. It seems to me that it would be a whole lot easier to catch them before they became a problem. Get your athlete connected first. Then add energy. That is the Ranch formula that we use in our baseball training camps. So far it’s going pretty well… and getting better all the time.
If you’re a throwing athlete who needs to get connected, here’s how you can connect with us, here are 3 links to get you there:
- Come spend a week or two with us at our incredible complete game winter baseball training program. Stay anywhere from 1-6 weeks and train up to 5 hours per day, 5 days per week. Get connected and ramped up for the best season of your life. Click Here to learn more.
- Schedule a Precision Strike, One-day, One-on-One evaluation and training session. We’ll spend up to 5 hours in a one-on-one experience assessing you for inefficiencies and physical constrain. Then we’ll take that information and design a custom-made training plan that will leave no stone unturned and you’ll leave not only with a world-class comprehensive baseball training program and plan, but you’ll also be offered a process to stay connected with us so we can help you continue your improvement. Click Here to learn more or call us a 866-787-4533 (866-STRIKE3) to schedule an appointment.
- Come to a weekend baseball training camp – the Elite Performance Boot Camp. In what can only be considered 2 days of amazing, we’ll conduct a full court press assessment, and teach you all the drills and exercises necessary to correct your inefficiencies. You’ll learn about our leading edge motor learning approach and we’ll teach you all you need to know about strength and conditioning, tissue preparation and recovery. You’ll leave with a plan that will make the complex subject of elite pitcher training simple and easy to implement.
We can’t wait to see you at The Ranch®.
Randy Sullivan, MPT, CSCS
CEO, Florida Baseball Ranch