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A System for Creating Resilient Baseball Players

If you are reading this and do not already follow Dr. Josh Heenan, I would highly suggest to go follow him first and type in #90mphformula so you know exactly what I am talking about here.

Simply put, Dr. Heenan’s 90-mph formula is a system that has been created with his OWN athletes over YEARS of research and trying to draw correlational data between certain movements and metrics that can significantly reduce the likelihood of injury. Specifically, we are talking about injury to the UCL, which is every baseball player’s nightmare.

Ever since getting in contact with Dr. Josh Heenan and his formula, I’ve been implementing parts of it in my evaluation process. How does the athlete move, what are some of the performance variables that we need to focus on, what is the current weight of the athlete, and what is the most important metric to be working on at this given moment?

The main premises of the formula is that if you cannot hit these metrics, you do not have the RIGHT to throw 90-mph without any pain. Here is the formula, and we will go over each and every one:

  • Minimal Ideal BW: height (inches) x 2.5
  • Reverse Lunge: BW for 10 reps on each leg; 1.5 x BW for 1RM
  • Deadlift: 400-pounds; 2x BW
  • Chin Ups: 250-lb for 1RM; 13 BW reps with full extension
  • Bird Dog Row: 1/3 BW for 10 reps
  • Glider Pushup: 10 perfect reps
  • Long Toss: 300+ feet
  • Optimal Authentic Mechanics
Strength metrics and risk of UCL surgery – Dr. Josh Heenan

Minimal Ideal BW: height (inches) x 2.5

If I had to rank all of the metrics in order of importance, I would probably put the bodyweight metric towards the bottom. However, it is still a VERY important metric to try and hit because if you’re a guy who is 6-feet tall and only weigh 160 pounds, I would probably say that you need to gain some weight, and now this becomes one of the most important metrics.

Of the baseball players that I am currently in contact with, most of them are within a decent range for bodyweight. However, going back to the previous example of the 6-foot tall guy, if he were to theoretically gain some more mass on his body, he would have a greater potential to throw harder because he has a greater chance to put more force into the ground.

Now, the reason why I say that I would put this metric towards the bottom of “importance” is because its really about relative strength: how strong you are based on your bodyweight.

Using myself as an example, I can hit every single metric strength wise, even though I am not at my minimal ideal bodyweight. Based on this information, I know that I can generate enough force into the ground with my current bodyweight.

Reverse Lunge: BW for 10 reps on each leg; 1.5 x BW for 1RM

Arguably the MOST important metric is the reverse lunge because this is the power position in pitching. Transferring force from one leg to another, and being in a stable lunge position will allow the thrower to rotate efficiently and absorb force where its supposed to be absorbed.

Before trying to chase the relative strength number, I would highly suggest trying to build lunge volume first. Hit the 10 BW reps of your bodyweight on the bar first and then build strength from there.

I personally like to perform the reverse lunge in the cross-front rack position since it forces the core to work that much more. A stronger core means greater, more efficient force transfer.

The reverse lunge is also the most important metric, in my opinion, because it takes the longest to increase. If you haven’t lunged religiously before, and start lunging twice a week, you will definitely see some newbie gains. Work on building volume, work the isometric phase, and finally layer on raw strength.

Deadlift: 400-pounds; 2x BW

The deadlift is all about RAWWW force production. Sport performance training shouldn’t just be all about getting as strong as a power lifter, but there is a time and a place for it. If you’re trying to throw harder or further, then get as strong as an ox. If you have the strength of a baby deer, then it’s time to start lifting and gaining!

One overlooked variable when deadlifting is a neutral head position. A lot of kids, that I see, like to look forward or look up as the weight is being lifted. We must remember that a neck is a part of our spine, so keeping a neutral neck position will truly put the athlete in a neutral spinal position when lifting heavy loads.

There should be NO change in movement quality when looking at different percentages of load. Your 10-RM should look no different from your 1-RM, period. Move well first before layering strength on dysfunction. This is a hard pill to swallow for a lot of kids, but it’s the correct way to get stronger.

Chin Ups: 250-lb for 1RM; 13 BW reps with full extension

The chin-up makes the most sense from the upper body perspective because arm acceleration is the fastest motion in all of sports, which means that arm deceleration is going to be the most violent. During deceleration, the bicep and other structures are lengthened to their complete end range over, and over, and over again, so they take a beating.

The best way to fully train deceleration of the bicep is not with curls, but with chin-ups since we are talking about multiple structures being lengthened.

Not a lot of people can do good chin-ups, let alone 10-13 bodyweight. This comes back to a relative strength issue. However, chin ups are important not only from the deceleration perspective, but because of how much stress is actually put on the elbow when accelerating.

Pitching Stress and the UCL – Dr. Josh Heenan

First let’s go over what is going on in the elbow. When the arm is in external rotation, the UCL can with take anywhere from 50-120 newton-meters. This basically explains that the UCL gets stretched from an external force. The greater the force and the greater the pull results in the UCL tearing. When we convert this to pounds, we get 37-89 foot-pounds.

The chin-up is more specific than a pull-up because the shoulder is being placed in external rotation during the pull, or at least that is what it is working towards when the elbow/upper arm is supinated (palm turned up and out).

The greater the ability to build strength around the muscles of the forearm and elbow, the greater the chance that the UCL will be protected.

Bird Dog Row: 1/3 BW for 10 reps ; Glider Pushup: 10 perfect reps

The Bird-Dog Row, initially expressed by Dr. Joel Seedman (on social media at least), expresses true anti-rotation core strength of the athlete. Dr. Heenan then put a metric to this exercise and basically said if you cannot control 1/3 of your bodyweight for 10 reps, you have a core strength/control issue.

During ball release, opposing sides of the body are working together. Your front hip and your throwing shoulder begin to absorb force. If you rotate too early in this 10-step kinetic sequence, the ball will not spin as quickly in space, resulting in a loss in velocity.

The ability to control early rotation is huge for velocity development.

When you look from a “bird’s eye view” (non pun intended), when one are is pulling, the other arm is reaching away, and the leg on the same side is extending away from the body. The same exact thing is happening during pitching, which is why this exercise is so specific to pitching.

The Glider push-up is performed in similar fashion, except for pushing rather than pulling. I personally think that the glider push-up is a much more difficult exercise than the bird dog row, because now you have your own body weight into account. Before testing somebody on this, I would probably see if they can even do a good push-up first.

If someone cannot do a bird-dog row, their anti-rotational core strength is probably low. If someone cannot do a glider push-up, it is most likely because their upper body is just weak and their shoulder blades do not know how to move properly. Teach the simple savagely well!

Long Toss: 300+ feet and Optimal Authentic Mechanics

The last part of the formula is the 300-foot long toss. I have mixed feelings about this one.

A lot of people say long toss will build your arm strength and make you throw harder…well, here’s some food for thought:

  • what is arm strength?
  • what if I told you a study showed that ball velocity did not change between flat ground throwing and long toss?

That’s all I will say about that…long toss shows the POTENTIAL to throw hard.

Likelihood of UCL Surgery – Dr. Josh Heenan

It seems as if the more metrics you hit, the lesser chance that you’ll injure your UCL. However, the formula is not to be taken as cut and dry or black and white because it does not take previous injury history into account. All it takes is one weird pitch for your UCL to go, and this is horrifying to think about.

Just because you can hit all of these metrics does not mean that you will magically throw 90-mph either. There’s much more to that then a lot of people don’t realize.

I think I’m going to change my mind here, but I think the most important metric here is Optimal Authentic Mechanics. There is no true “metric” that you’re supposed to hit, but based on a few biomechanics studies of the throwing motion, here is what we do know creates more arm stress:

  • The “Inverted W” at front foot strike
  • Greater than 90-100* of elbow flexion at front foot strike
  • Lack of lead hip internal rotation
  • Lack of grip strength

One more thing I would like to add is blending this with “workload” research. We know from Dr. Tim Gabbet that if workload is significantly spiked too soon, or chronic workload hasn’t been high enough for long, will result in injury.

With the formula getting to be so popular, I think the workload research we all loved is starting to become old news to us. Please do not forget to track workload (pitches, innings thrown, number of stressful pitches) when your hurlers are throwing! All of these data points and metrics actually make sense, but it is up to the coaches in this great game to actually know how to apply it and make sure that everyone is following some sort of system.

Keep throwing responsibly,

Jarad Vollkommer, CSCS

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