Bill Miller is the Head Sports Performance Trainer at Team Dream Big Athletics, a baseball training facility in Palatine, Illinois. He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association, and he mainly trains baseball athletes.
Freelap USA: You have made it a point to chase the adaptation of rotational power. What are some key trends/points you have found along the way that do NOT contribute to rotational power development?
Bill Miller: I believe that “core” training in the traditional sense is mostly unnecessary for rotational power development. I am referring to exercises that result in dozens and dozens of crunches and/or sit-ups, and planks for long periods of time. These exercises are all bark and no bite. These exercises appear to be training the core to stabilize the spine and transfer force up the kinetic chain, but in reality, they just waste your time and energy. Plenty of athletes and coaches are probably reading this belligerently and ready to rip off my head. Let me explain!
In order for any sort of strength training to ultimately transfer to improved sport performance, it must entail a high level of motor unit recruitment. Examples of this include running a sprint as fast as you can or lifting a weight that requires maximal effort to move. High efforts lead to high motor unit recruitment, which ultimately leads to worthwhile adaptations, such as increased hypertrophy of fast-twitch fibers and eventually more force that can be developed.If you can execute a movement for minutes on end or for dozens and dozens of reps at a time, there is not enough motor unit recruitment to elicit the adaptations needed for power transfer, says @billmills. Click To Tweet
If you can execute a movement for minutes on end or for dozens and dozens of reps at a time, there is not enough motor unit recruitment to elicit the adaptations needed for power transfer. If we want to have a stronger core for swinging and throwing, I advise we pick exercises that require maximal effort in stabilizing the core in order to get the job done. Exercises that I have found great success with are deadlifts, farmer walks, max effort Pallof holds, and max tension planks (sets lasting 20-30 seconds at most).
Freelap USA: Rotational power expression comes in many shapes and sizes. What are some universal biomechanical boxes that athletes must be able to check in order to maximize their rotational power potential?
Bill Miller: I have a checklist for those who train with me:
- Lead leg stabilization: Can the athlete put force into the ground and rapidly transfer it up the chain? Plyometrics (repetitive bounding), depth jumps, drop jumps, isometric lunges, and Nordic curl variations are all good options for training this skill.
- Hip extension power: Power is force x velocity, and it has become evident that transferring force from the lower body into the upper body is huge for swinging and throwing power. Athletes who throw/swing hard can usually produce a ton of force at high speeds in deadlifts, Olympic lifts, lunges, squats, jumps, and sprints. I like to track bar speeds and velocity performance with movements like those to make sure athletes are moving faster and faster each session.
- Core stability: As mentioned above, it is a crucial component to transfer force up the kinetic chain. A factor I have observed to be super important for trunk rotational velocity is how well an athlete can create a hip/shoulder separated position while remaining extremely stable. This is the position in which the hips begin to rotate and the torso/shoulders stay closed. If you’re weak in that position, you won’t transfer as much force as possible up the chain, and you run a higher risk for injury to the hips and low back.
- Pressing/Pulling RFD: This is the last piece of the kinetic sequence. Force has been “added up” the chain to this point, so the limbs are firing very fast and must be able to produce a lot of force in a very short time frame. So, not only are the bench press and rows important, but it’s just as crucial to see how explosive an athlete is with medicine ball throws, slams, and other upper body plyometrics.
Freelap USA: Strength often gets chased in the pursuit of throwing and swinging with power. Where does strength play a role? When does it become a distraction?
Bill Miller: This is one of those “million-dollar” questions. Strength is crucial for development, but at some point, there will be a diminished return. It’s cool to be the strongest kid on the field, but it means nothing if everyone else is throwing way faster and hitting balls harder than you. Here’s how I approach it:
- Find some meaningful measurements of power development, also known as key performance indicators (KPIs). Some useful ones I’ve found for rotational athletes are:
- Medball chest pass for distance.
- Medball rotational throw for velo/distance.
- Broad jump for distance.
- Sprint times.
- If these metrics improve, then generally global power development improves. If so, then you know whatever you’re doing is working!
- Train to improve strength, especially with younger developmental athletes. Strength decreases the likelihood of injury as arm speed and rotational velocity improve with their sport-specific training, aka practice. A timeline guide for generally tracking the performance in these areas is every 3-4 weeks.
If there are noticeable KPI trends that are not improving even though there are increases in weight room strength, then that could mean the athlete is struggling to express the increased force output capability at high speeds. So now it’s time to cut down strength training volume a bit in favor of more medicine ball throws, jumps, or sprints.Continuously tinker and tweak volumes of high-velocity movements, balancing them with heavy strength movements, and see what produces the best adaptations for each athlete, says @billmills. Click To Tweet
Continuously tinker and tweak volumes of high-velocity movements, balancing them with heavy strength movements, and see what produces the best adaptations for each athlete.
Freelap USA: You often use medicine balls in your power training approach. What is your overall approach with the medicine ball when developing rotational power?
Bill Miller: One way I’ve seen success with med ball training is by tracking medicine ball throw velocity or distance on a consistent basis. This keeps effort high, creates a competitive environment, and allows me to monitor fatigue. Like I’ve said before, without high effort, it is difficult to move the needle toward power development. Don’t have a radar gun? Can’t throw it for distance? Throw it like you’re trying to break the wall!
With tracking velocities, I’ve also had a lot of success with athletes when I’m able to monitor performances at different loads. This helps to give a good indication of where they thrive and where they struggle. That ultimately helps indicate if they should target more force (struggling with throwing 8+ pound med balls) or more velocity (struggling with throwing the lighter 2- to 4-pound balls).
Freelap USA: What advice would you give a young athlete in high school who wants to throw really hard?
Bill Miller: Get your low-hanging fruit. Here are some examples of low-hanging fruit for high schoolers:
- Sleep eight hours on average every night.
- Eat and hydrate extremely well on a daily basis.
- Master your warm-up and be highly ready to throw every time you pick up a ball.
- Sprint at full speed and full recovery (time each sprint, stop when speed declines) 2-3 times per week.
- Gain 50-100 pounds of strength on your press, deadlift, row, and squat/lunge.
- Increase grip strength.
- Increase strength in the back/rear shoulder.
- Train and recover consistently well for 2-3 years. Lasting results don’t happen in a week or a month!
So many kids want to jump to the coolest velocity programs and do all the fun exercises they see the pros do, but they haven’t come close to mastering the areas above! Let’s imagine what might happen if an undertrained kid with a poor diet and sleep routine jumps on a program to improve throwing velocity…
Scenario A: The athlete sees some small velocity jumps at first, but ultimately can’t consistently show up with enough energy or recover well enough to see long-term progress. Four to five weeks later, they get discouraged and give up.
Scenario B: The athlete sees big velocity results within the first 3-4 weeks, but they’re not any stronger than before. The nutrition and sleep habits are still subpar. They are developing the skill to whip the ball around their body 5-10 mph faster than before. This produces more stress on the joints, especially at the shoulder and elbow. Without adequate strength to handle that increased speed, their arm starts to bother them. They can’t seem to shake the pain they have when throwing and pay a visit to a physical therapist. What does the therapist prescribe for rehab? Rear shoulder strength training, grip work and general strength exercises.
Find a coach who has the tools to develop the physical attributes needed to handle the stress that comes with velocity gains! Be consistent with your training, nutrition, and sleep, and watch the magic happen.
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