Throw Weighted Balls, Lift Heavy Stuff, and Fix Your Mechanics To Improve Velocity? It’s Not That Simple!

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Let’s suppose you have a friend and he’s sick – let’s even pretend he’s in the ICU… dying of something (make sure it’s a pretend friend… using one of your actual friends would be kind of creepy).

Let’s say you know this guy well. You know he eats right and exercises consistently. He seems to have a healthy lifestyle, but still… there he is.

From what you know about this guy, he should be the healthiest cat on the planet. But he’s dying.

What could be the reason for his illness?

Perhaps it’s a combination of the things you don’t know about him… things some would consider minor variables:

When he was 16, he smoked cigarettes for about a year.

He drinks alcohol (more than he lets on).

He gets very little sleep.

He’s under a lot of stress from his wife and kids.

He has a hangnail on his little toe

He needs a haircut.

Or maybe he’s having an allergic reaction to a prescribed medication.

Or maybe it’s all of the above

He could have any of a number of issues we don’t know about that are contributing to his illness.

Here’s the truth.

We may never know why your friend is sick.

We might be able to identify a bunch of symptoms, and we might even come up with a name for his syndrome (defined as a cluster of symptoms). If our treatment plan involves the right combination of interventions, we might even be able to help him get better. But we may never find a true “cause”.

That’s because his body is a dynamic system. A dynamic system is defined as a system whose state changes with time due to the influence of a complex web of variables. Dynamic Systems Theory is based on a mathematical model used to describe the behavior of complex systems such as the environment, the economy, and the psychology of politics.

In such a system, all variables matter – those we consider major, and even those we might arbitrarily suspect to be minor. This makes the number of possible combinations of variables and their impact effectively infinite and therefore infinitely unpredictable.

The opposite of dynamic systems theory is known as “reductionism”. Reductionism attempts to explain entire systems in terms of their individual, constituent parts. It attempts to define some variables as “significant” and others as unimportant so as to narrow down the number of variations to consider. Reductionism is one of the pillars of the scientific method.

Science hates variability and humans are infinitely variable. The assumption in science is that if a sample size is large enough, uncontrolled variables will statistically dilute themselves. But, even with the most colossal sample size,  it would be impossible to account completely for the unlimited vastness of human variability.

In the dynamic system of the training athlete, reductionism can be deceiving and sometimes devastating. Here’s an example:

A common refrain among baseball training professionals is “Mass = Gas”… and if it were only about classical Newtonian physics that would be correct (f=ma).

Unfortunately, it’s not only about physics. The dynamic system of the training athlete is far more complex than that. It’s also about timing, synchronization of movement, motor control, respiratory input, circulation, neurology and many other unobservable and likely immeasurable factors.

To be clear, I am not an anti-weight lifting guy. I am a CSCS and we use resistance training as a key component of our training process. I am not saying that weight lifting is bad for pitchers. I am saying that false hustle, testosterone driven rage in the gym and the ability to lift massive weight may not equal improved performance on the field.

According to Dr. Frans Bosch, probably the world’s most preeminent expert in motor learning, biomechanics, and athletic performance, “There has never been a single scientific study proving that weight training has ever resulted in improved performance for an athlete in any sport”. That includes football, baseball, basketball, rugby – whatever sport you can name.

Yet, we here it all the time: “This guy put on 20 pounds of muscle in the off-season and because of that, he had a great year.” That’s what is known as anectodal evidence.

So, while we’re talking about anectdotal evidence, I would submit that for every guy who can dead lift or squat 2 times his bodyweight and throw cheese, I’ve seen another 20 who can lift everything in the gym, but can’t throw above 83.

On the other hand, I’ve also seen quite a few guys who were bona fide milk toast in the gym but could throw lasers.

Mass may be a contributor to gas in some pitchers, but it certainly can’t be considered a cause and effect relationship.

In a dynamic system, it’s just not that simple.

This is why it drives me absolutely batty when I see self-appointed “experts” using still photography to identify the exact mechanical error that “caused” an injury to a pitcher.

Or when I get an email asking me for “a few mechanical tips” to increase velocity.

Again… it’s not that simple!

In the dynamic system of the training athlete, we can never be sure which variables are important and which aren’t… They all matter. Moreover, to make it even more confusing, any given training stimulus can elicit varied responses among different athletes. As a coach or instructor, you can’t predict with any certainty, what the exact effects of your training intervention will be.

And that is why you can’t just roll out a set of weighted balls, start chucking them around, and expect every single guy to get better.

It’s not that simple!

Please don’t get me wrong here either. I am not “anti-weighted ball”. In our practice, we use weighted balls as a valuable tool — under the right conditions and with the right athletes. But every athlete’s use of weighted balls must be individualized to meet his specific set of training demands. And every athlete’s program must be adjusted frequently to meet his ever changing needs.

So what’s the answer? How can a coach best help his athlete improve his ability?

I believe the most effective process for eliciting improvement is as follows:

  1. Establish a clear and measurable goal.
  2. Assess the athlete.
  3. Design an individualized training plan.
  4. Introduce training stimuli gradually.
  5. Provide objective feedback (knowledge of results)
  6. Reassess and adjust.
  7. Rinse and repeat.

If we are willing to  listen to and keenly observe the athlete, more times than not, his infinitely intelligent body will tell us what it needs.

At the core of all learning and performance improvement, it’s the teacher that matters the most. It’s the master teacher who’s knowledge, compassion, and artful application of the available science changes the world one student at a time.

And at its ultimate endpoint, the training process requires one variable many coaches and instructors miss…

A relationship.

We still have a few slots open for our Elite Performers Boot Camp this weekend. Call us at 866-STRIKE3 to learn more.

Randy Sullivan, MPT,CSCS

CEO, The Florida Baseball Ranch

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