Paradise By The Dashboard Lights
One of the keys to efficient movement in pitching is stabilizing attractors. As described in several previous articles, in The Dynamical Systems Theory, which is the guiding force in our approach to training, “attractors” are stable parts of movements and “fluctuations” are the variable components. Through research and deductive reasoning, we’ve identified 7 attractors in throwing that must be stable for maximizing efficiency, performance and injury risk reduction. For more on our attractor-based view of pitching biomechanics, see this article.
Four of the attractors involve gathering and storing energy through co-contraction of muscle groups at crucial moments. The 5th attractor is about finding optimal length-tension relationships in the abdominals and chest muscles for the transfer of energy. The 6th attractor guides and directs that energy toward the target and the 7th allows for safe, smooth dissipation of the energy after the ball is gone. Stabilizing all seven attractors can lead to improved velocity, command, secondary stuff, and arm health, but the timing of the stability is also critical. With the current technology available, objectively measuring attractor stability is not possible. We also need to be careful not to view attractors as “absolutes” that can be defined by Newtonian physics and measured by angles and/or positions. The exact point of stability for each attractor will be different for each individual will even vary from pitch to pitch. No matter how many wearable biomarkers and surface EMG sensors you deploy, and no matter how sophisticated your machine learning is, you’ll never be able to get real-time, objective data on attractor stability on every pitch.
Right about now you’re probably asking, “So, what do you do? How do you know when an attractor is stable?”
Well, that may be an unanswerable question.
We shouldn’t think of attractor stability as a “yes/no” or “on/off” proposition.
It’s more of a continuum of less stable to more stable, and since you can’t measure attractor stability directly, you have to infer it. So, how do you do that? Of course, the ultimate indicator of attractor stability is performance and consistency. Just as the purr of an automobile engine and the vehicle reaching its final destination safely and on time will always be the ultimate measure of your car’s performance, the endpoint pitching metrics of targets hit, stuff (speed, spin, movement), pain (or lack thereof), and dudes with bats in their hands going back to the dugout must always be the standard by which all throwing efficiency is judged. However, when those results aren’t consistent, we may need to dig deeper to find the most likely contributors to sub-par performance and/or pain. And while we can’t directly measure attractor stability, if we look closely, we may be able to observe signs that illuminate the degree to which the body is able to stabilize attractors in accomplishing its goals. We may be able to visualize key dashboard indicators in the movement that point to efficiency.
One example of such an indicator can be seen in the “Back Leg Attractor.” In stabilizing this critical attractor, the athlete must achieve co-contraction and hip lock in the muscles back leg to remove muscle slack and to minimize degrees of freedom. When the athlete makes his first move, we can infer co-contraction from a few indicators.
Is the butt behind the heel? If the butt is directly over the heel, co-contraction of the glutes and quads is difficult.
Is the rear knee forward of the back toes? When the back leg collapses with, the trailing knee drifts forward of the back toe, and the quads dominate over the glutes. This can produce muscle slack, loss of power and directional issues.
Is the lead hip higher than the trail hip? When proper pelvic tilt (the lead hip carried more elevated than the trail hip while the ships and shoulders remain parallel) is coupled with a hip hinge, hip the back more readily leg acquires “hip-lock” which stabilizes the back leg attractor.
What is the direction of the move (across/open)? When co-contraction of the back leg occurs, the only possible outcome is a stride line directly at the catcher. If the athlete’s movement is not directly at the catcher, it is not likely that full co-contraction has occurred.
Does the back heel come off the ground prematurely? When the weight shifts to the ball of the foot, the back heel lifts off the ground. The quads dominate the move, creating unwanted muscle slack. And since the quads are linear muscle with no capacity to rotate, the resultant “pushing” or “leaping” can lead to directional issues.
Premature or independent opening of the lead leg, lateral postural tilts, glove side pulls, and head yanks can also be flashing warning lights indicating instability in the back leg attractor. When a back leg attractor instability leads to a directional problem, the body often attempts to compensate with one or more of these downstream compensations/disconnections.
Another dashboard indicator can be seen in the “Hip Rotation Attractor” that directs energy toward the target. Appropriate back hip rotation into foot plant from above on the lead leg puts the trail hip ahead of, or parallel to the lead hip, places the arm side shoulder ahead of the glove side shoulder and contributes to a clawing action of the lead leg that adds energy to hip rotation and stabilizes the lead leg attractor.
The indicator that the trail hip has rotated efficiently occurs when the back foot rolls toward the little toe, creating sort of a “Nike Swoosh” in the dirt. Note: this is not a dragging of the toe. The hip does not move into flexion. It rotates, rolling the ankle, so the top or side of the little toe is the last to leave the ground. The rolling of the toe is not the attractor. Back hip rotation is the attractor. Rolling to the little toe is merely the indicator that proper hip rotation has occurred.
And finally, as introduced by Frans Bosch at The 2018 FBR/Dutch Baseball Skill Acquisition Summit, a subtle but significant dashboard indicator is evident in one of the most essential attractors, the trunk attractor. This critical segment involves achieving optimal length-tension relationships and then, at just the right time, co-contracting the abdominals and chest muscles as the transfer of energy is initiated. According to Bosch, this is a universal attractor seen in several different overhead activities such as tennis serving, volleyball spiking, and baseball pitching. When co-contraction of the abdominals occurs, the free hand, or in the case of pitching, the glove side hand, freezes in space briefly before continuing with the delivery. This temporary freeze indicates the exact moment when abdominal co-contraction has occurred and represents yet another of the many dashboard indicators that give evidence of stable attractors.
How is your dashboard? Is your check engine light illuminated? Do you need to improve the stability of your attractors to enhance your velocity, command, secondary stuff or eliminate your arm pain? If so, give us a call at 866-787-4533. Remember, any human performance skill can be trained! Whatever it is that is keeping you from advancing to higher levels of play, it can be taught. And, we know how to teach it. Let us help you achieve your dreams!
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