What To Do If You Have A Bad Velo Day: Understanding Supercompensation

by Randy Sullivan
in blog

It’s 9:15 am on a muggy, humid summer day in Plant City, Florida.  Hidden on the backside of a mystifyingly beautiful property that features hundreds of giant oak trees strung like Christmas tinsel with picturesque Spanish moss, The Florida Baseball Ranch® (FBR) is both sanctuary and laboratory for a collection of uncommonly dedicated athletes known in the baseball community as “Ranch Guys.  A cluster of high school and college level pitchers stands perched on the slopes of a 5-pack of bullpen mounds, while a host of others are posted down the length of a 360’ x 60’ grass-covered long toss alley.  On an elevated, flattop berm, a massive 120’ x 60’ steel Quonset hut is fronted by a rustic dark brown sliding barn door that reminds all who enter that this is a place where country strong, blue-collar hard work is done. Inside, a platoon of industrial fans hums loudly, circulating and refreshing the otherwise irrepressibly stifling morning air. The resultant undercurrent of noise drowns out any unintentional conversation, forcing the building’s inhabitants to lock their focus on the job at hand.  Within minutes, the entire property buzzes with activity as an array of 15 to 23-year-old Ranch guys meticulously and deliberately execute their personalized throwing plans.  Every rep of every drill is performed with precision and palpable intent.  Ranch instructors armed with I-pads, phone cameras, and clipboards roam the complex, offering assistance and instruction while measuring and recording the objective outcomes of nearly every throw.  FBR students, review their training protocols, and independently self-organize explore, tweak their movement patterns, while relentlessly and deliberately practicing their skills.  Inch by inch, throw by throw, they hone their craft, creeping ever closer toward the biomechanical efficiency they know will serve as the launching point on their journey toward two things – white-hot velocity and laser targeted command.

As the warmup draws to a close, FBR Director of Player Development, Corey Stump, touches the Spotify icon on his Apple watch and within a few seconds, it starts.  FBR R&D Director, Jordan Rassmann, positioned near an elaborate soundboard on a table behind the makeshift physical therapy clinic, nudges the volume toggle on the channel labeled “music” to max level and the show is on.

Soon everyone on site notices the intensifying rhythm of the leading guitar riff from the Ranch Velo theme song, Can’t Stop by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It starts as a faint whisper and rises like the charge of a Civil War Cavalry unit. As the song crescendos to rock concert level, FBR Founder and CEO, Randy Sullivan, grabs the mic and bellows the Florida Baseball Ranch’s traditional call to action.  “Let’s get ready to rumble! … IT’S VELO DAY BABY! WHOO!”  Trainees stop in their tracks then spontaneously scurry to form a semicircle around “Velo Lane.” Parents break out their phones in anticipation of recording the epic achievement of a personal record.

Today’s velo star is Jimmy, a 17-year-old high school senior D-1 commit, on a mission to develop a 95 fastball, which he hopes will improve his chances of being drafted by the pros. Jimmy takes a deep breath grabs a tattered baseball from a bucket, skips once, and starts sprinting.  Snorting and grunting, he races toward his target – a Stalker 2 radar gun mounted on a tripod and nestled behind a 10’ x 10’ mesh screen. Mustering every ounce of energy he can conjure, Jimmy crow hops lets it rip, launching the ball and his body forward.  Tumbling toward the ground, he lands on his chest, skidding to a stop inches from the base of the screen.  Instantaneously, the display board attached to the radar gun lights up – 101.3!  Jimmy springs to his feet, throws his hands in the air in an epic power pose, pumps both fists, and shouts, “Let’s go!!”  Everyone in the gallery lets out a yell,  “RECORD!!”  Chest bumps and high fives abound.

While toeing the rubber on an indoor turf mound, Jimmy realizes he has just thrown a baseball harder than ever before in his life.   He absolutely understands that mound throws – actual game-like pitches are where his bread is buttered. Listen, 90-95-100 mph in any form is a significant accomplishment.  Nonetheless, we continure to see a fair amount of criticism on social media for utilizing running throws as part of our training process.  Our critics clearly don’t understand our logic or progression.  Under the right conditions, within the appropriate context, and with a well-prepared athlete, running throws, like weighted ball training and long toss, can be valuable for revving up the nervous system and establishing intent, while promoting adjustable, adaptable, and highly efficient movement patterns.

Jimmy’s superb velo day continues as he breaks his record off the mound as well (93).

Jimmy and his parents are overjoyed with his progress.  The FBR staff is also thrilled (but not surprised) by his performance thus far.  Jimmy is topping at 93 now and 95 to 100 off the mound is just around the corner. Everyone at The Ranch shares Jimmy’s optimism that he’ll get there by the summer.

Unquestionably, in Jimmy’s world, this is a good day.  But it could have easily gone the other way.  What we didn’t tell you about Jimmy’s story is that just one week prior to his most successful day ever, he had an abysmal velo day by his standards, barely touching 94 on running throws and sitting at 89-91 off the mound.

For Ranch students, especially guys who are new to the process, “velo day” can be the greatest day of their lives, or it can drive them to suicide watch status.  Whether a player breaks records or crashes and burns, we can never be certain exactly what subtle changes could lead to relative failure and disappointment one week and exhilarating success the next.  That’s because the human body is a complex biological dynamic system.  The nature of a dynamic system is that the state and behavior of every component at any given time are dependent upon the state and behavior of every component surrounding it at that moment.

One small change in any of a number of variables such as sleep, nutrition, hydration, psychological stress, cumulative fatigue, physical limitations in mobility or stability, biomechanical efficiency, power, timing, synergy and sequencing movements and training stress can all play significant roles in the final performance outcomes. Those variables are all in a constant state of flux, which makes charting a predictable, linear path forward virtually impossible.

Recently, at The Florida Baseball Ranch®, we’ve begun to observe some emerging patterns with regard to velocity development. Here is a graph showing the collective trend in velocity gains for 166 FBR students that have trained with us (either on site, or remotely with regular on site follow up) for up to 14 weeks over the past 12 months.*

To a large degree, throwing velocity development tends to follow the progression of a strength and conditioning training cycle as suggested by the legendary trainer, Vern Gambetta in his 2007 text, Athletic Development.  This trend features an intial stumuls followed by a drop in performance, then a recovery period and a “supercompensation” above the previous baseline.

In a dynamical biological system, such as a training athlete’s body, any well-designed training plan must provide a stimulus that shocks the system into a specific adaptation.  A common initial response is for that organism to retreat, regress, and regroup.  But if we continue to apply the stimulus at just the right frequency, intensity, and duration, and then throttle it back at just the right time, the system bounces back with enough vigor to ensure it will never be knocked down by that same stimulus again.  The system becomes more robust and resilient – less easily perturbed.  During this “supercompensation” phase, gains in performance are the norm.  The baseline is raised, but after a period of time, a new stimulus will be required for further improvement to be shown.

On a neurophysiological level, the new stimulus demands an adaptive change.  Any change, even if it is subtle, represents a stressor that requires a new sequencing, timing, and synergy of neuromuscular connections.  Reworking the system occurs through a series of neural and physiological reactions that drill all the way down to the cellular level.  Remodeling a movement, like any biological activity, requires energy and while the athlete is redirecting energy to the pay that tax can negatively impact performance temporarily.  As the system becomes more efficient and the remodeling slows, less energy is required and the system is free to thrive.

Here’ an example:

Let’s say you consistently throw 85 mph. That’s your base level velo, also known as your homeostasis. You decide you need to throw harder and you come to the Florida Baseball Ranch. We conduct an assessment and decide on a training plan. Initially, we begin applying the new stimulus gradually, probing, testing, to see how your body will respond. As we complete the on-ramping phase, we conduct an informal status check and you seem fine. It’s not uncommon to see an initial temporary surge in performance during the on-ramping phase (as the graph above demonstrates). After 3 weeks, you check your velo and you’re thrilled to see 87 or 88 mph. The body is equipped with enough reserve energy to deal with reasonable doses of novel stress on a temporary basis, so you’re handling things pretty well.  Your velo gains continue to trend upward for a few weeks, but as the body continues reworking the system, energy stores become depleted.  At around 3-6 weeks after you start pushing (6-9 weeks since the onset of training), you can probably expect a poor velo day.  A week later, you might have another day in which you can’t even reach your initial baseline numbers.  This is where some guys panic and start contemplating suicide. But this is where Ranch instructors thrive.

Over the past several weeks, either in person or through our online Durathro® Training program, your instructors have built a relationship and we’ve made several important subjective and objective observations as to how your body responds to stress. The timing of the next sequence is critical and its what separates a master teacher from the average.  When we see a dip in performance, FBR instructors go on alert, poising our hands over the metaphorical de-load throttle stick.  Like a train engineer waiting to hit the brakes on a fast-moving locomotive, we might continue pushing, applying intense training stimulus for one or two more weeks. All the while we’re constantly monitoring for indications of pain or abnormal biomechanical stress to your connective tissue. Then, at just the right time, we taper the volume and intensity of the stimulus, sometimes reaching levels 50% lower than the initial stimulus.  Your body shifts from training to recovery mode, and eventually breaks through the supercompensation threshold.  This is where you can expect to see significant gains above your initial baseline.

When we notice, through subjective observation and objective measurement that the gains are starting to plateau, we reassess, make the necessary changes and increase volume and intensity again. When the data tells us you are reaching your training threshold, we throttle back again.  The process continues along this pattern indefinitely.

A vitally important note:

The purpose of training isn’t to make you better at training.  The purpose of training is to improve your performance.  This is one reason year-round competition interferes with player development.  Pushing you into the training and recovery cycle when you need to be winning games for your team is counter-productive.  Whatever your training goal might be –velocity enhancement, command improvement, or developing your secondary stuff – optimal gains require a period of time when you’re NOT PLAYING GAMES.

At this point, I think you can clearly see how attempting to improve your ability while competing in games can disrupt both the training and performance sides of the equation.  In many cases, this truth requires some significant soul searching and reapportionment of energy and resources.

If your velocity is not 3-5 mph greater than that of your competitive peer group (worldwide) …

If your command is not 5-10% better than that of your competitive peer group (worldwide) …

If your secondary stuff is not 5-10% better than that of your competitive peer group (worldwide)

Then YOU DO NOT NEED TO SPEND YOUR SUMMER PLAYING IN GAMES.

When you train at The Florida Baseball Ranch®, one of the first things we will need to know is the exact date you will need to be performing at peak level.  We’ll start on that date and work backward to design a personalized training plan that ensures you will be well into a supercompensation phase when your season starts.

Now, finally we get to the question in the title of this article:

What should you do if you have a bad velo day?

First, you must understand that your body doesn’t really know the difference between 85 and 90 mph. It only knows the stress of the push.  A push is a push.  You must trust that your training plan, including this velo push day, has applied the appropriate demand and that your body is actively reworking the system to produce the necessary adaptations. So, don’t stress over the number.   When your throwing session is over, immediately initiate your daily recovery protocol.  Conduct your assigned post-throwing restorative exercises, do a 30-45 minute full arm flush on a MarcPro, helping to evacuate cellular debris and exciting your arteries to open and pour fresh blood, rich in reparative cells and healing agents, into stressed tissue.  With your recovery complete, you continue on with the plan and prep for the next push day.

Fluctuating Volume (Inconsistent Training Days)

Immediately after you emerge from recovery, you have a huge opportunity for a positive adaptation known as “supercompensation.” However, if we wait to train too long we miss the window of opportunity and our bodies return to our prior homeostasis. Conversely, if we train too soon during recovery, we will not reach the supercompensation period. During the supercompensation phase, you could be vulnerable to overtraining (more on that later). Make sure that your training volume is consistent and steady, maintaining a good floor and ceiling. The overall volume should ramp up slowly from week to week.

Handling The Dip

Training is stressful.

Success is not linear.

Our bodies are complex biological systems constantly subjected to a wide array of positive and negative stress.  Training alone may not be the only stress we encounter in life. Other stresses could include school, finances, and girlfriends, etc…  All variables intertwine in a complex web of influence.  Even if everything is good in the world and your training and timing are on point, sometimes we just have bad weeks. You could do everything right and still drop in velocity. It doesn’t make you a bad person. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure, it makes you human.

  • When you encounter difficulty, frustration, or disappointment, take a deep breath, relax, and trust the process.
  • Listen to your body. On the days you feel great, push yourself HARDER. On days you don’t feel so hot, step back and maybe just do a connection day or sock day, focusing on improving your movement patterns.
  • Find something to win at each day. According to Tank Tankersly, of primalstrength.com, in a perfect world the training progression would look something like this:

BUT… we all know, life happens and it doesn’t always go as planned.

Objectively Assess Results and Recovery

A crucial piece of the training equation is objective measurement performance. Without objective measurement, we would have no idea when to push and when to throttle back. For this reason, we have a full-time data analyst on staff.  In our day-to-day operations, Jordan Rassmann is tasked with what I view as one of the most important pieces of our training puzzle.  He collects and analyzes objective information about our athletes’ performance, readiness, and recovery and prepares reports that our training staff can use to control the throttle, making daily adjustments to every player’s individualized training plan.

Even though we are located on a beautiful 18-acre property with a rustic, rural look that facilitates a relentless blue-collar work ethic, we deploy state-of-the-art technology to objectively measure the effects of training.  I like to say, “We’re like Rocky, training in the woods, with Drago’s equipment.”

We use Motus® sleeves to monitor inter and intrasession stress levels. Motus® also assists with pitch design by identifying changes in arm slots and release points.

Rapsodo® pitching analysis shows information on spin and carry characteristics and helps us with pitch design, as well as velocity, command, and off-speed training.

Kinetisene® allows digital analysis of the range of motion of joints during various functional movements.

A 1000 fps camera is used to view every detail of the pitching delivery and swing patterns.

Rapsodo® hitting displays information on exit velocity, launch angle spin, and direction of all batted balls.

BLAST® Motion sensors provide data on swing characteristics for our hitters.

The VFlex® system helps our hitters implicitly improve pitch recognition.

And then there’s MuscleSound®:  Until recently, the only gage we had for recovery was, the standard question, “Hey. How are you feeling?”  Well, that’s just not good enough, so when our friends at Runners Edge® in Denver, introduced us to the MuscleSound® team, we made the leap and invested in a new technology.  This brilliantly designed software and hardware uses ultrasound imaging from key body parts to assess for appropriate levels of glycogen and other muscle fuel substrates. For the first time in our history, we have a portable, affordable and highly effective means for quantifying readiness and recovery.

Muscles usually work and recover on a 48-hour cycle, tendons and ligaments a 72-hour cycle and bone adaptation a 96-hour cycle. The nervous system, on the other hand, is more random. The beautiful thing about the human body is that it is highly sensitive to stimulus and it also keenly adaptable.  However, the adaptation will be specific to the stimulus. Master teachers (like those at The Ranch) assess for inefficiency and then design and facilitate learning environments that allow the athlete to explore solutions that result in better movement.

Self -Check Less Obvious Recovery Variables

Psychological stress, mental strain (from exam week, for example), sleep, nutrition, and hydration are all significant variables that can an impact on readiness and performance.  We’ll cover this in more detail in a future article.

Understand and Identify the Fine Line Between Overreaching vs. Overtraining

During any training cycle ebbs and flows in objectively measured outcomes should be expected.  Uninformed, inexperienced trainers and trainees might see a dip in performance and immediately conclude that the athlete is “overtraining”. Anticipate the dip and you won’t be caught off guard.  Subtle dips in performance are neither good nor bad, they are simply information.  That information can and should be used to identify the entry of a training phase known as “overreaching.”  Overreaching can be divided into 2 subcategories: Functional and nonfunctional overreaching. Stated as simply as possible, “functional overreaching” is intentionally planned, monitored and modulated.  It usually involves a scheduled deload period after a period of hard training.  This is the approach we use at The Florida Baseball Ranch®.

On the other hand, non-functional overreaching is less organized and has no planned deload week.  The lack of structure in non-functional overreaching makes identification and adjustment of training plans and trends more difficulty.

Trust The Process But Be Willing To Change The Plan When Necessary

As previously discussed, the training athlete’s body is both highly sensitive to stimulus and highly adaptable. However, because of the infinite complexity of dynamic biological systems, an individual’s response to that stimulus can be highly unpredictable.  For this reason, every training plan, no matter how meticulously designed, is a theory.  That theory must be tested constantly and the master teacher must know when it is time to rethink the plan.  In general, if a dip in performance persists over a long period of time (4-6 weeks), we can assume the current training stimulus is missing its mark. Or, it could be contributing to overtraining.  When this occurs, doubling down on our current process would only serve to make deepen the dip. If the plan isn’t working, consider adding a little chaos by shaking up the order, intensity or type of training stimulus used.  If the dip continues, don’t panic.  Start from the beginning. Reassess with a clean slate look.  Examine the data and come up with a new training plan.

Understanding and exploiting the dynamics of supercompensation can be pivotal to your development as a pitcher or a hitter.  Modulating the timing, frequency, intensity, and volume of training stimuli is the master teacher’s throttle and steering wheel for optimizing performance.  Of equal significance, anticipating the ebbs of flows of training, recovery, and supercompensation can mitigate the frustration and disappointment that might cause you to give up.

More importantly,  it could reduce the workloads of suicide helpline attendants across the globe.

Thank you.

We’ll See You at the Ranch!

Randy Sullivan, MPT, CSCS                Garrison Roy
CEO, The Florida Baseball Ranch          FBR Savage & Strength Coordinator

*Special contribution in data analytics by Jordan Rassmann. FBR R&D Coordinator

References:

  1. Gambetta, V. 2007 Athletic Development. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics
  2. Tank. C. “Supercompensation: How Training Frequency and Intensity Can Make or Break Your Gains.” Primal Strength Camp, 4 Nov. 2015, primalstrengthcamp.com/supercompensation-how-training-frequency-and-intensity-can-make-or-break-your-gains/.

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