Steven Wright: Progress
The beauty of neuromuscular re-education in athletic training is that results can come quickly. Steven is an “all-in” athlete, and had been told by fellow professional athlete Dwight Lowery that I would not only change his career, but his day-to-day life. Soon after starting to feel the effects of the training, Steven began asking questions about what he could do outside the gym to improve his athletic performance. When an athlete asks this question, I know he or she will succeed within their sport. If you can take the extra steps when no one is watching you will see the results in every part of your life.
Soon, we were discussing what positions Steven should sleep in and how long he should sleep, what he should eat, how to walk better, and even how he should breathe. The training we did along with the lifestyle changes we discussed allowed him to narrowly avoid another hip injury, go from constant pain to zero pain, and to jump 3 inches higher on each leg within only three weeks! His overall power increased by an average of 11.5%.
Another major factor that contributed to Steven's fast improvement was his ability to control his explosive movement. His dynamic stability (measured by OptoJump) improved by a whopping 617% on his left side and 1051% on his right side. This is hugely important for a pitcher, who must have balanced support in order for his arm to be relaxed when he throws. If your body doesn’t find the support it needs from your legs, it will go elsewhere and cause problems. This often leads to harmful stiffness in parts of the body that should remain loose. Research has shown that how well a pitcher is able to balance directly influences pitch velocity as well as accuracy (see this article).
My approach improving Steven's balance may not be obvious to most, but is absolutely essential. First, I had him simply march in place with the OptoJump system relaying his imbalances to a screen that he watched for real-time biofeedback. This immediate data helped him to create “muscle memory” of what good symmetry and balance felt like.
Second, during force production activities (jumping up and down, pushing down on the mound to throw a ball) there are several things taking place. Most people will focus on force production a million times over, neglecting the fact that there are actions your body must take prior to creating force. By practicing force dampening (eccentric contraction) and proprioception (amortization phase/change of direction) I was able to train Steven to focus on overall body control. We trained with his eyes open and closed, and this alone helped him to improve his results significantly. When his lower body stability increased, his upper body was able to relax, meaning less strain and increased flexibility.
Throughout the training process, Steven would occasionally ask why his arm didn’t feel particularly strong when he threw, as if there wasn’t much effort being spent within his shoulder. Being able to help an athlete realize the answer to this question is essential and a change from the status quo. Throwing a baseball should not require an inordinate amount of force from the shoulder! The throw should be a relaxed product of what the rest of the body is doing. For a pitcher who was used to forcing his should to do a ton of work, the alternative was an odd and surprising feeling. I was training Steven for effortless power, not powerful effort.
When the whole body works toward a common goal, the work load is shared through all the necessary players, not straining one or two to carry the team. An analogy I often use is that of a game of tug-of-war. Imagine you have 30 average guys on one end of the rope, and 3 body builders on the other end. Who is likely to win, and not get hurt during the game? The answer should be obvious – the 30 average men will work as a unified team to win easily, and will likely never injure themselves. Which side of the rope are you on?