I still get many questions today from athletes and coaches who wonder how I was able to translate from throwing a 16 pound shot put at 300 pounds to throwing a 5oz baseball in the mid 90’s. The simple answer is that baseball training is terrible, with no progression or periodization to work on the qualities necessary to maximize your ability. There are many details that go into this question that I will address but there are two big ticket items that allowed me to do this. The first is that I had a huge base of general training that is often ignored in baseball. I was strong, powerful, mobile enough, and had done hundreds of rotational exercises. I had not thrown a baseball, but was fully prepared to jump into a program and succeed. The second answer, because I had worked on this general prep I was ahead of almost any baseball player. This is because most ball players are weak, produce no power, have mobility restrictions, and have not done many rotational movements. They have only played baseball and wonder why they can’t throw mid 90’s while the simple answer is that they just don’t produce enough power.
General physical preparation is the single most important quality that young athletes need to develop. This is because it allows athletes to improve later in their career. It is said in the Russian training world that “For youth athletes, the physical preparation schools served as a long-term development tool that highly discouraged early specialization of any one sporting activity. The primary goal of the early preparatory period of an athlete's career was to progressively develop motor skills and movement dynamics while sequentially developing adaptive levels for later phases”. The Russians developed training halls where different athletes all trained in the same way.
This is because youth athletes do not need to specialize early. However, this does not mean don’t play your sport. It simply means don’t just play your sport but also work on your motor skills, adaptive levels, and movement dynamics. When both are applied you have your greatest chance for success in sports and as you develop you slowly move to more specific work.
To go back to me, this is the process that I followed throughout my athletic development. I didn’t specialize in baseball until I was 21 because I was focusing on my track career. Track and field has a periodized training model where there are different cycles throughout the year to develop your athletic qualities. For example, after the season in the summer you work on mobility, conditioning, gaining muscle mass, and not throwing much. In the fall you start throwing overload implements which include shot puts and med balls. You also start working on strength and power in the weight room. In the winter you slowly start to throw more while slowly taking away strength from the weight room and work more on power. Ideally the peak will come in the spring when you need to throw your furthest distances. This process will be repeated season after season. In the long run, the athlete develops every quality needed to throw far. Following this training model allowed me to transition to baseball in a smooth manner because I had worked on all of the general preparatory qualities needed to throw far.
When I started to specialize in baseball, I was walking around at 290 pounds with a 455 lb bench press, 175kg power clean, a 700+ pound deadlift, and could broad jump 10 feet. I had also taken hundreds of rotational throws a day for 6 years, so not only did I have the strength and power but I could also translate that into a rotational movement. Hitting and throwing are both rotational movements. So, while strength and power are important you need to be able to translate that strength and power into a rotational movement. We have all seen some NFL athletes who are strong and powerful try to throw out the first pitch and it’s not good. Who are the ones that do throw hard in the NFL? This is an easy answer, the quarterbacks. This is because they have thrown an implement often but are also much more powerful than most MLB players.
While this was a very unconventional route to pitching, I was able to learn and create a philosophy of training. Both general and specific work are very important, but general work needs to be developed so that specific work can be maximized. The basic tenements of that are strength, power, mobility, diverse movement quality. Strength is obvious to understand learn proper technique on compound movements and get really strong at them. Power should be developed through whatever tool you choose, Olympic lifts, plyometrics, jumps, and speed movements with the barbell. Mobility should always be addressed by working on tissue quality and range of motion to improve recovery and limit injuries. This could be done by reading Eric Cressey’s hundreds of blog posts or Kelley Starrett’s Becoming a Supple Leopard and applying what they say. Diverse movement quality is essentially the ability to put your body through many different movement patterns at a young age. This simply means play a lot of sports recreationally or competitively and don’t be scared to try new sports.
Once you have been doing this general prep phase, it might be time to get more specific. This does not need to consist of 12 months of continuous throwing or 100 game seasons for 15 year olds. In fact, it shouldn’t look like this. This might mean focusing on one sport for a few months then having a long off-season where you train more specifically for that sport. In baseball that could be lots of strength, power, mobility, rotational work, and start a basic throwing program. Which is exactly what I did besides the basic throwing program. I pushed my strength, power, and mobility so I was better every season. I also threw hundreds of med-balls and shot puts a day so that I was able to translate that strength and power into a rotational movements.
This basic outline should be followed by young athletes looking to create a good base to build off of for future success. If you only remember one thing from this article, remember this: Work on your prep phase for as long as possible until it is crucial that you become a specialized athlete. The duration of general prep is different for each individual, but chances are you can stretch out general prep longer than you are thinking.