Put a bat in my hand and let me go face to face with a ninety-five mile per hour fast ball.
Just don’t watch when I pee my pants.
I can’t hit a ninety-five mile per hour fast ball. Hell, I probably can’t even hit one at eighty. My body wasn’t “taught” how to locate and swing at objects flying at speeds undetectable by anyone with a midi-chlorian count less than 20,000.
WHERE WOULD YOU BEGIN?
If I had any ambition of hitting a fastball, I’d have to start slow. Very slow. And I’m not quite sure the “slow ball” is in the MLB repertoire.
To put things in perspective, however, most major leaguers probably started at the furthest end of “slow” with teeball.
Anytime you learn something new, it almost always happens slowly from a movement standpoint. Slow affords thinking time. Looking back to my barbell row woes, I find it no coincidence that isometric contractions were involved. You can focus on things better when there are no moving parts.
It’s not uncommon for rookie (albeit advanced in the grand scheme of things) baseball players to lose their swing. When it happens, they don’t resort to facing faster pitches to get back in the groove. Motor patterning and learning should start slow. And I’m not talking “slow and steady wins the race” kind of slow; I’m talking “slow so you can think about what the hell you’re doing” slow.
When you’re up against something unpredictable that requires a fast reaction, the end result is all instincts. There’s no thinking involved. Stuff just happens.
Teeball eliminates the complicated variable in the equation to foster learning. Kids at that level barely know how to swing, let alone swing at a ball with an unpredictable flight path fly by their face.
Once the swing—the more controllable variable—is learned, complexity is added. Speed of movement then gradually increases over time. So speed is the last step, really. Yet no one cares about the slow stuff.
“How can I use my glutes more on a vertical jump?”
Worry about how to use your glutes in something simple and slow before worrying about something complex or remotely fast.
This brings up an interesting learning curve:
- Simple slow.
- Fast simple.
- Slow fancy.
- Fast fancy.
HOW TO START MOTOR PROGRAMMING
Learning the “true” baseball swing is like activation work. It’s the relatively simple first step. At this point, it’s all about feel. To progress into faster, more complex movements you have to feel the movement.
Speed increases difficulty because it eliminates feel. There’s no time to think. Baseball players, golfers, javelin throwers—anyone that engages in a violent activity—get to a point where they don’t think. They just do. The moment they think, they lose. They rely on feel. But it’s not the same kind of feel that the beginning stages are focused on. There’s no “activation.” It’s all instinct. All unconscious feel.
The baseball swing is driven from the hips. But no baseball player thinks about “squeezing the glutes” or “firing the rotators.” Those cues are fine at the rudimentary level, but once you get to the fast fancy stuff, you don’t have control.
YOU CAN’T THINK WHEN THINGS ARE FAST
Thinking about much of anything ruins speed and pureness. Being “in the zone” is a complete lack of conscious thought. And being “in the zone” is never a bad thing.
Repatterning—hopefully—enables the potential for a “zone.” You want the slow and simple stuff to be “enough” for your body to use the same pathways without consciousness. It’s like moving to a new house and accidentally driving to your old house on your way home from work one day. It’s all about rpetition over time. And doing a few repetitions of activation exercises here and there won’t quite cut it.
“It takes 500 hours to invoke a motor pattern before it becomes unconscious. It takes 25-30 thousand reps to break a bad motor pattern.”
- Buddy Morris
WHY PATTERNING IS DIFFICULT
Few people enjoy hammering away continuous seconds and countless repetitions with basic movements day after day. There’s no tangible reward. Your biceps don’t grow. It takes a long time. It’s not glamorous. It’s tiresome. It’s really just not all that fun. But you need it.
Your body has been evolving and blossoming over your lifespan. Even if you’re only fourteen years old, that’s still fourteen years of “driving to the same house.” Think about:
- How many steps you’ve walked up in down in the past week. Now multiply that by 52. Now multiply that by your age.
- How many times you’ve gotten in and out of a car today. Now multiply that by 7. Now by 52. Now by your age.
- How many times you’ve squatted, deadlifted, or done any kind of exercising.
- How many times you’ve played a sport.
- How many hours you’ve sat watching television.
It adds up.
Perhaps the saddest part is that patterning doesn’t hold forever. Major league baseball players sometimes get sent down to the minors to “find their swing.” These are guys have been playing ball since they were five, and they still lose their patterning.
The minor league slows everything down. The competition isn’t as good. Pitches don’t come as fast. There’s more time to think.
It’s like starting over.
Even more surprising than losing a swing is how much work it takes to maintain one. Considering that baseball players take batting practice before every game, and there are 162 games every season, they’re hacking at the ball a lot. So even at the highest level, it takes daily work to keep consistent with a craft.
WHAT WE CAN ASSUME ABOUT PATTERNING
We can learn a lot from baseball players about learning skills, specifically learning motor patterns:
- The process starts with conscious thought.
- The process starts slow.
- The goal is primarily to do slow things so much that they become as mundane and “regular” as driving to your house.
- You don’t have a say in fast. Fast is fast. Fat happens from accumulating slow and hoping for the best.
- Regression is normal and manageable.
- Upon regression, dial down the speed and seek simplicity.
- It takes a lot of work to maintain what you have. You’re never quite “home free.”
I’ve done enough talking. How would YOU incorporate this information into fixing up a barbell row? Increasing athleticism? Powering a squat from the glutes?
Be sure to check back next week for an actual sample of how I would reprogram the glutes. Afraid of missing it? Sign-up to my newsletter by throwing your name/e-mail in either the box below this post or at the box at top of the screen. Only the good stuff hits your inbox. I promise.
photo credit: Patrick Hoesly