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How To Make Knees Great Again!

Jean Claude Van Damme doing mid split in movie Lion Heart (I think). Splits are a great antidote to a fragile knee.  Photo courtesy: eljueves.es

Fragile.

What a “dumb” joint.

I heard one of my 8th grade hitters, who took a break from lessons to play football, busted his knee requiring surgery, and would be out for 6-8 weeks.

Another one of my 7th grade hitters busted his knee playing soccer, requiring minor surgery.

And yet another hitter of mine, a Junior in High School, tweaked his knee playing basketball at school, and will be undergoing an X-Ray (which will probably turn up negative), followed by an MRI to be safe.

And btw, all these hitters are smart young men, who have performed above and beyond for their age in the batter’s box.  I frequently tell my hitters, you’re no good to your team sitting on the “shelf”, so take care of your body.

So, what’s the answer?

Now, we can’t pull out ye ol’ pocket crystal ball, reveal an injury before it happens, and avoid it.  But…we…can…prevent them!  We’ll get into what we can do in a moment…but first,

Studies show today’s young athletes are sitting 80% of their day.  Athletes are specializing in one sport earlier and earlier in life.  If you read my recent post on 4 Tips On How To Train Springy Fascia, then you’ll remember the first rule of Fight Club is…ahem…training fascia is, to vary training vectors (i.e. be varied in different movement planes of motion)Healthy fascia HATES moving in the same way over and over again – like a 2yo, it gets bored easily!

On top of all that, observe the following reality about young female athletes from a New England Baptist Hospital post titled, “Why Do Female Athletes Suffer More ACL Injuries Than Males?”:

“High school female athletes in the United States suffer 20,000-80,000 ACL injuries per year. The issue isn’t only that female athletes are prone to these potentially season-ending injuries: the National Institutes of Health reports that female athletes are two to eight times more likely to suffer an ACL injury than their male counterparts.”

For young female athletes, factors that contribute to this increased risk are the differences in sports undertaken and in gender anatomy and structure (duh!).  The truth is, a wider lumbo-pelvic-hip complex puts the knees in a structurally compromised position.

For all athletes, the knee is considered a “dumb” joint, oftentimes stuck, or rendered unstable, between two immobile joints – the hip and ankle.  When the “bookends” are tight, stiff, and immobile, then the knee becomes unstable or “fragile”.

So, what can we do to prevent injury, minimize damage, or treat a knee injury?  I wanted to share a list of credible FREE resources parents and coaches can use to reference for knee speed bumps…

  1.  Overcome Knee Pain: Exercises and Solutions for Crunchy Knees (Gold Medal Body Fitness)
  2. Speedy Recovery? Ice Bath Benefits Not What They Seem (Hitting Performance Lab)
  3. 5 Simple Solutions For Anterior Knee Pain (Breaking Muscle)
  4. How To Do The Splits: Proven Hip and Leg Stretches for Splits (Gold Medal Body Fitness)
  5. Are You Weak In The Knees? (Breaking Muscle)
  6. Dr. Kelly Starrett from MobilityWOD is one of my favorite resources for troubleshooting injuries.  Click Here for a YouTube link to view the videos he’s done on dealing with knees.
  7. Identifying the What and Why of Valgus Collapse: Part 1: Identifying the What of Valgus Collapse (FunctionalMovement.com)
  8. CLICK HERE for a YouTube video of Charlie Weingroff demonstrating how to fix knee valgus using Reactive Neuromuscular Training (RNT).
  9. The Do’s and Don’ts of Training Squats (CharlesPoliquin.com)
  10. Building Your Arsenal: 5 Exercises for Bulletproof Knees (GymnasticBodies.com)
  11. How to build Super Knees (Forum Topic at GymnasticBodies.com)
  12. Have a favorite training website with an overwhelming amount of info on it?  Here’s a trick to filter information for what you’re looking for…go to Google, type the following into search engine: “site:<<insert actual website w/out www. here>> + keyword…for example “site:gymnasticbodies.com knees”
  13. PAY-FOR Local in-a-town-near-you Programs: Yoga and Pilates
  14. PAY-FOR Online Program #1: https://gmb.io/ff/#choose (I have no affiliation with this program)
  15. PAY-FOR Online Program #2: https://www.gymnasticbodies.com/gb-courses/stretch-series/#titleBar

If your athletes move better, then they’ll perform better.  The knee is considered a “dumb” joint, so make knees SMART (aka “antifragile”) again!

Breathing Technique For Hitting A Baseball: Why Hitters Shouldn’t Breath Like “Normal”

 

Before we get to the breathing technique for hitting a baseball (same for softball), consider this…

Breathing is one of the most commonly dysfunctional movement patterns today.  In other words, nowadays “normal” breathing IS dysfunctional!

Breathing Technique For Hitting A Baseball

Photo courtesy: MobilityWOD.com YouTube video

Why?  Here are a few reasons off the top of my head – you could probably think of others:

  • High levels of stress hormone cortisol throughout the day because of constant bombardment of mind numbing hamster-constantly-on-the-wheel technology (phones, video games, etc.),
  • Overuse training – doubling training efforts without doubling recovery efforts (dangerously over scheduled youth athletes), and
  • Injuries to certain areas of the body, playing a one-sided dominant sport (i.e. baseball and softball), and imbalanced training (without proper flushing of waste by the lymphatic system), can build a shorter breathing pattern, which can cause a constant drip-drip-drip of the fight or flight response throughout the day.

One of my hitter’s dad asked me what physical training I recommend outside of a busy baseball and football schedule, and I said either Yoga or Pilates.  I HIGHLY disagree with most hitting coaches putting ORGASMIC emphasis on explosive, Olympic, Cross-fit, or whatever else type of performance training out there.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a time and place for physical training geared for performance, but corrective maintenance training SHOULD precede performance – if we want healthy moving athletes.  If you put fresh 80,000 mile tires on a Lamborghini with a misaligned front end, then you’ll be lucky to get half the miles out of the tires!  Also, the tires won’t be your only problem.

Let’s connect what an effective breathing technique for hitting a baseball means to hitters…

World renowned strength and conditioning coach Brett Jones says this about “anatomical” versus “biomechanical” breathing in a post titled, “How Your Breathing Relates to Your Movement”:

“Anatomical breathing match refers to the natural matching of the inhalation and exhalation with extension and flexion of the spine/body. Extension facilitates inhalation and flexion facilitates exhalation. As the body gets compressed (flexion) exhalation dissipates the pressure and extension assists in opening the thoracic area to assist in inhalation. In addition, anatomical breathing can be used in stretching where the exhale is used to enhance the relaxation into a stretch.

Whereas, in the biomechanical breathing match we flip those actions. Inhaling to increase the intra-abdominal pressure during flexion and exhaling to improve muscular action and stability during extension. Biomechanical breathing match is key to being able to handle loads through the body during performance. During a dead-lift, kettle-bell swing or a kettle-bell military press the biomechanical breathing match allows us to amp up our strength and stability.”

The video above demonstrates this biomechanical breathing technique for hitting a baseball.  I’ve had quite a few of you ask about this, so here you go!  The description says the above YouTube video is about…

“Identifying and correcting low back extension loading issues through the correct sequence of breathing. If we can get our athletes to breath better across all movements and under load, performance will improve.”

Dr. Mark Cheng, one of my many favorite strength and conditioning coaches, says:

“When you truly own a movement pattern, strain isn’t part of the picture.”

There are a couple other resources I’d be estupido not to mention that plays right into improving breathing technique for hitting a baseball:

The above video is only 3-min and 41-secs, so there won’t be any breathing technique for hitting a baseball notes.  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the REPLY section below this post…

Move better, perform better.  Enjoy!

How to Become a Hitting Expert When You Come Across “That Guy” (Baseball Hitting Drills For Youth Included)

So, this is what I have to deal with on a weekly basis…

I also want to apologize in advance, this is a little bit of a rant.

Before going into the baseball hitting drills for youth, here’s some context,

It all started when I posted this image of Buster Posey in his ‘Float’ position on Twitter (CLICK HERE for Twitter thread):

Baseball Hitting Drills for Youth: Buster Posey 'Floating'

Buster Posey photo courtesy: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The caption I put over the Twitter image stated: “Hitting Misconception: ‘Keep the back knee inside the foot’. Buster Posey is ‘floating’ with his knee over ankle…”

This is when my conversation with @13tys started…

@13tys: his knee is inside his foot! No?

@hitperformlab (Me): nope, knee floating slightly off center of ankle.

@13tys: just showed the same pic to my 11yr old and asked him, reply “are you stupid? His knee is inside his ankle”.

(This is when I get the feeling that I was dealing with “that guy”)

@hitperformlab: he’s kind of bias don’t you think? Lol

@13tys: just showed the pic and asked. I usually use my 9 and 11 yr olds to call a spade a spade. They don’t know baseball politics.

@hitperformlab: it’s not the ideal angle, I’ll find another. You believe in keeping the knee inside at all costs?

@13tys: you don’t have to, but the further back it goes, the tougher u make hitting. Already tough enough w/o that much movement!

@hitperformlab: C’mon man! Had to prove to your 10yo I’m not “stupid” lol. Just did simple Google image search.

(Here are the two images of Buster Posey I posted to the baseball hitting drills for youth Twitter thread)...

Baseball Hitting Drills for Youth: Buster Posey 'Floating'

Buster Posey photo courtesy: www.BayAreaSportsGuy.com

AND

Baseball Hitting Drills for Youth: Buster Posey 'Floating'

Buster Posey photo courtesy: InWriteField.com

@13tys: still, we are looking at the same thing and seeing different things. To me, that knee is still not on top of the ankle.

(by the way, in the beginning of our Twitter conversation, I said “knee floating slightly off center of ankle”)…

@hitperformlab: let me get my 2 year old to comment on your comment lol

@hitperformlab: Posey is creating torque in his back hip. Also depends on the severity of the leg kick, Posey’s is about medium…hope this helps

@13tys: creating torque?? Seriously? This is y kids are so confused by their “hitting coaches” #keepitsimple

(Then like the “good American citizen” he is, posts a screenshot of the definition of “Torque”)…

@hitperformlab: I’m talking to you, not to kids. Read Dr. Kelly Starrett’s book The Supple Leopard.

@13tys: sorry, My experience and knowledge come from yrs in cages & video w/ the best hitters ever, some come from books on crossfit

@hitperformlab: book that’ll rock you’re isolated hitting world? Anatomy Trains by Thomas Myers.

(Then there was radio silence…)

FIRST of all, if spending years in the cages AND analyzing video of the best hitters ever, magically made you know EVERYTHING you need to know about effective hitting, then we wouldn’t have the problem we do today with guys like this, coming up with effective baseball hitting drills for youth hitters.

“That guy” is a soaked sponge, and has reached his ceiling of knowledge when it comes to hitting.

Baseball Hitting Drills for Youth: Alex Rodriguez Barrel Down

Baseball hitting drills for youth: Alex Rodriguez NOT keeping barrel above hands like he said. Photo courtesy: NewsDay.com

If experience, cage work, and analysis were the only standard of learning the swing, then we’d all have to accept what Alex Rodriguez shared about the secret to his swing during the 2015 World Series FOX Sports broadcast…

How he talked about keeping the barrel above his hands when hitting.  And we ALL know how well that little tip would help our hitters 😛

And SECOND, this “talking down to you” TWEETitude, is a sure sign of an inferior coach, nevertheless, a knucklehead for a human being.

Slightly off topic…

Read this Business Insider article titled, “4 behaviors are the most reliable predictors of divorce”.

Guess which one of the ‘4 horsemen of the apocalypse’ is the worst offender in marriages…

CONTEMPT (aka, the “talking down to you” attitude).

Okay, back on topic…

Look, if we as coaches don’t have a solid foundation in human movement principles, validated by science, then we’re pissing in the wind!  Without this foundation, conversations about hitting would model a Merry-Go-Round.  Many of you have experienced this ridiculous insanity in popular online hitting forums.

Look at this slow motion video of Buster Posey.  Look at the difference of the back knee position (over the ankle, slightly off center) at the 0:03 video mark, versus at the 0:09 video mark during the fall forward…

Here’s the holdup with hitting coaches, even ones I agree with on a majority of things,

They think that the back knee MUST stay inside the foot at ALL times.  So, they teach ALL their hitters to do this, often putting the hitter’s back knee in an unnatural and awkward position before Forward Momentum.

If you think this knee position is healthy, then CLICK HERE to learn how bad putting the knee into a ‘knee valgus’ position is to our youth athletes from FunctionalMovement.com.

In addition,

These same instructors may also suggest and teach there hitters that when the back knee gets over the ankle, that it’s a BAD thing.

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

The shifting of the knee back over the ankle should have a purpose.  A couple baseball hitting drills for youth concepts:

  1. A timing mechanism that I like to call the ‘Float’, AND
  2. Creating torque, or stability, in the back hip.

 

Baseball Hitting Drills for Youth #1: Using the ‘Float’

A ‘Float’ is a timing mechanism the hitter uses just before falling forward.  It generally can be observed as a slight weight shift back towards the catcher before falling forward.

With the ‘Float’, the severity of the knee shift will depend on the leg kick.  The higher the leg kick, the more the shifting of the knee over the ankle may have to happen.

For example, Willie Mays didn’t have much of a weight shift (or Float) back, he just fell forward with a slide step:

However, watch slow motion video of Josh Donaldson, who has a high leg kick, and you’ll see him virtually ‘pause’ on one leg, before his fall forward:

Baseball Hitting Drills for Youth #2: Creating Hip Torque & Stability

Okay, so what is creating torque to stabilize the back hip mean?  Let Dr. Kelly Starrett, Physical Therapist and owner of San Francisco CrossFit, at MobilityWOD.com explain its importance:

Here’s a baseball hitting drills for youth coaching cue that I use…

Borrowed from Dr. Kelly Starrett, I say to my hitters “screw the back ankle into the foot”.  I also advise them to point the back toe slightly inward towards the pitcher at setup, and to keep it there while screwing the ankle in.  The keyword is slight, not a lot.

Take a look at this video of Jose Bautista fouling a ball off, and watch how he ‘bows’ his back knee in, but at about the 0:06 second mark (when he begins his fall forward), the back knee starts to shift back towards the catcher…his back hip and thigh bone are searching for stability after being put in an unstable internally rotated (knee valgus) position at setup:

Now, CLICK HERE to watch this video clip of Ted Williams, and keep an eye on the back knee action between the 0:06-0:15 video mark.  Sorry, this YouTuber disabled the embed code so I couldn’t embed the video here.

What did arguably one of the best hitters of all time do with his back knee prior to Forward Momentum.  Boy, didn’t it shift back over the ankle?!

How about this homerun hit by Asdrubal Cabrera (watch the slow motion chest view at the 0:41 second mark)…

One more video…

Check out Matt Kemp.  As you can see, he starts with his back knee inside his foot, then watch for his back knee action prior to Forward Momentum:

Now, is this making baseball hitting drills for youth more complicated, like Mr. @13tys said?

Heck no!  It takes about 5 to 10-mins to explain to my 7-year-old hitters, and they begin applying it in their swings.  Easy peasy.

So after looking at all this, here’s the point of my baseball hitting drills for youth rant…

Don’t get caught up drinking the cool-aid of other hitting experts, blowhards, or “That Guy” without questioning what they’re saying.  Remember, we aren’t just observers.  We’re amateur scientists in a way.

I don’t claim to know it all.  And am still learning.  But I know for a fact, I’m on a better road than “That Guy”.

Look, I don’t mind being challenged, but if you don’t back up what you’re saying with human movement principles, that are validated by science, then you’ll lose.  We aren’t debating baseball hitting drills for youth philosophies or theories…we analyze through the lens of validated science.  Physics, Engineering, Bodywork, Biology, Chemistry, and Biomechanics.

I DO NOT care what level you played or coached at.

I DO NOT care if you’ve digested a million hours of slow motion video footage of only the BEST hitters.

I also DO NOT care if you’ve logged more hitting lesson hours than it takes to fly to Mars!!

If you don’t understand the human movement “rules”, then you DO NOT understand high level hitting, or better yet, high level human performance.

I know this may upset some of you out there.  But I don’t care.  The days of being “That Guy” are numbered.  If you aren’t moving with us, then you’ll be left behind.  And that’s the truth.