by Eric McMahon, MEd, CSCS, RSCC*D and Dr. David Szymanski, PhD, CSCS,*D, FNSCA, RSCC*E
Coaching Podcast June 2022
Explore the applied sport science research process in college baseball, and how academic research can be optimized to benefit player programming. This...
Explore the applied sport science research process in college baseball, and how academic research can be optimized to benefit player programming. This episode features Dr. David Szymanski, the Director of Baseball Performance at Louisiana Tech University, and co-editor of the recently published book NSCA’s Strength Training for Baseball. Hear about Szymanski’s career path, from college baseball player to coach and sport scientist. This episode covers a wide range of relevant topics, including exercise selection, performance technology, student pathways, and the emergence of performance director roles across Major League Baseball (MLB). Find David on Instagram: @drdavidszymanski or at his program website: LA Tech Sport Science| Find Eric on Instagram: @ericmcmahoncscs or Twitter: @ericmcmahoncscs
Explore the applied sport science research process in college baseball, and how academic research can be optimized to benefit player programming. This episode features Dr. David Szymanski, the Director of Baseball Performance at Louisiana Tech University, and co-editor of the recently published book NSCA’s Strength Training for Baseball. Hear about Szymanski’s career path, from college baseball player to coach and sport scientist. This episode covers a wide range of relevant topics, including exercise selection, performance technology, student pathways, and the emergence of performance director roles across Major League Baseball (MLB).
Find David on Instagram: @drdavidszymanski or at his program website: LA Tech Sport Science| Find Eric on Instagram: @ericmcmahoncscs or Twitter: @ericmcmahoncscs
“And then I always tell them, know who your athletes are. What are your facilities? Where are your equipment? How much time do you have? Are you in the offseason, preseason, in-season? What are your injuries? What are your sport coaches may influence what you do or ask you to do some things? And then you have to put it all together and make it work.” 17:20
“There has been research that's demonstrated with force plates that the triple extension really is most powerful from the second pull. So you don't have to pull from the floor if you want to really accentuate power production.” 21:33
“Learn from those who have good experiences or evidence-based information, because, to me, that's what we really need to know. Because, inevitably, you're going to be asked by somebody-- a medical doctor, athletic trainer, the players, their parents, the coaches-- why are you doing what you do? And I think you always need to have an answer that is going to be objective and evidence-based.” 33:34
[00:00:04.36] Welcome to the NSCA Coaching Podcast season 6 episode 6.
[00:00:10.24] Learn from those who have good experiences or evidence-based information. Because to me, that's what we really need to know. Because inevitably, you're going to be asked by somebody-- a medical doctor, athletic trainer, the players, their parents, the coaches-- why are you doing what you do? And I think you always need to have an answer that is going to be objective and evidence-based.
[00:00:32.71] This is the NSCA's Coaching Podcast, where we talk to strength and conditioning coaches about what you really need to know but probably didn't learn in school. There's strength and conditioning, and then there's everything else.
[00:00:43.31] Welcome to the NSCA Coaching Podcast. I'm Eric McMahon. Today, we're joined by Dr. David Szymanski, Louisiana Tech University Director of Baseball Performance and a Professor. David, welcome.
[00:00:54.85] Thank you very much. I'm very happy to be here today.
[00:00:57.16] Yeah, excited to talk with you on the podcast today. I know we've connected a few times at the conferences over the years and something I get excited about talking about baseball, an area you've really focused a lot on in your career and just want to kick things off by giving you a chance to talk about your current role at LA Tech.
[00:01:19.98] Well, first and foremost, I am the department chair who has been here for 17 years. And over the last four, that's my role, or current role. As you said, I am also a professor. So I am involved with teaching courses at the undergraduate and graduate level and then doing research in the area of exercise physiology and biomechanics. And as you did say, my area of expertise really has been baseball.
[00:01:44.91] For those who may not know, I was a college baseball player with hopes of being a professional baseball player. Ultimately, that didn't happen for me. I then became a college baseball coach for four years at a school in Texas. And then I went on to get my PhD and I started volunteer coaching at that university.
[00:02:03.93] And over the course of that time, finished my PhD but also was hired to be the exercise physiologist of that baseball program under the former head coach there, Mr. Steve Renfrow. And that kind of started that whole area. And then, I will say, unfortunately, we got fired in 2004 after we went 12 and 18 in the SEC.
[00:02:28.71] And then I went to work as a director of a training facility for a while in Tulsa, Oklahoma for one year. But about five or six months into that, I knew that wasn't actually the place that I needed to be professionally. And that's when I applied to various schools, and Louisiana Tech was one of them. Now, over the course of that time, not only being an assistant professor, and associate, and then full professor, but I worked with a former coach here, Wade Simoneaux, who was the head baseball coach for a number of years-- and I worked with Wade for about nine years.
[00:03:01.79] And initially, I was just observing and helping where I could. And eventually, they asked me to be their volunteer assistant while being an assistant professor. And I gladly accepted it. And then I was involved with their strength training and conditioning and then also coaching at the time.
[00:03:16.28] And then as my responsibility as a professor got more and more demanding, then I couldn't be the volunteer coach. And I was just was done doing all the strength and conditioning. And so after Wade was let go in, I think, 2012 or '13 or so, I wasn't doing that any longer. And I have two boys, one is now a senior in high school, one's a junior in high school. They both play baseball.
[00:03:38.71] I was able to coach them probably from the time they were seven until they got into high school. And then the new coaching staff came in last five years-- Coach Lane Burrows. And he is still here, and I have worked now with him and the coaching staff-- Mitch Gaspar, and Cooper Fouts, and Matt Miller.
[00:04:01.67] And then two years ago, they asked me if I could do some more. And so we ended up doing not only the strength training and conditioning, but we were doing all the sports science. Some of that leads to now into the role where I'm the director of baseball performance here. And myself, my wife, one of our graduate students currently here, Pablo Ortiz, works with me.
[00:04:24.02] And we train the athletes and then we do all the research. And then I have a number of undergraduate students and graduate students that help us with all the data collection that we do for, primarily, our pitching staff. And so we have some very nice labs. And I can talk about that in detail if you'd like or ask questions about it.
[00:04:41.13] But that's where we have been now. So this is my second full year in that capacity of being the director of baseball performance. And I think we've done a lot of really nice baseball research that we have written some abstracts. We're in the process of writing articles. And those hopefully will be coming out in the next year or two. And it should help contribute to those who like to train baseball athletes and how they can utilize that research and maybe help them train their players as best as we can for what we know at this time.
[00:05:09.14] It's really cool following your social media, some of the posts you've had recently with your baseball performance lab, and just the research projects that you have going on. It's pretty unique that you have a academic program that focuses on a sport as much as you have with baseball. Share a little bit about the curriculum that you have across your department, how grad students are involved, and just strength and conditioning curriculum in general in the professionals that you're putting out into the field.
[00:05:44.99] OK. So at the graduate level, we have a master's of science and kinesiology and then there's two concentrations. One of them is sport performance, and that's the one that really is my area of expertise. And the other is sport and exercise psychology.
[00:06:00.96] So in the sport performance world, we have a number of different labs. Collectively, we call them the human performance laboratories. But we have an applied physiology lab. We have a sport and movement science lab. And in those two spaces, we do things such as VO2 max testing, biodex testing that looks at the kinetic strength, and torque, and power output that athletes have, particularly for the throwing athlete, for me.
[00:06:27.89] And so we're doing things such as internal and external rotation at 90 degrees. We're doing a diagonal adduction, abduction, which mimics the throwing arm action to a certain degree. We're doing a flexion and extension of the wrist. We're doing a pronation and supination of the forearm. And we're doing a bicep curl or an elbow flexion extension.
[00:06:50.36] So we're looking at the shoulder and the elbow, because those are two very important areas for the overhead throwing athlete. And then we have most recently worked with some other companies where you actually can put a dynamometer now on your wrist. And as opposed to spending, say, 15 minutes per exercise on an iso-kinetic device, which can be for some, and maybe even many, to be very impractical at times because it does take a considerable amount of time if you have 20 or more baseball pitchers-- but that particular device takes six minutes.
[00:07:21.12] And so now you can do that before they pitch and after they pitch. And now we're running some statistics on all of that, because that was a recent study that we did to look at the iso-kinetic device compared to the isometric device that is a dynamometer on the wrist. And I will be presenting that information at the NSCA's national conference in 2022 in New Orleans. So that'll be something I think will be of interest to people, because they want to know whether or not, I think, this device works, and how effective is it, and is it worth their time, or money, or effort to maybe purchase it. And I think if it can make it simpler, it definitely can be really nice.
[00:07:57.55] It's unique to have a place that really bridges the gap. As we say at the NSCA, you do the research and you're also working with high level athletes. And I want to ask, I think this is a perfect time to ask, what are the emerging areas that you see around working with overhead, throwing athletes specifically related to sports science, some of the biomechanics and data analysis trends that are out there?
[00:08:24.43] One of the things I'll say about technology today, it's becoming less and less expensive, which is really nice. And it's really highly validated and reliable, because other groups like ourselves and others are doing the research that demonstrates that. So it gives other individuals who are coaching, whether it's the sport of baseball or the strength and conditioning world, it gives them an opportunity to actually assess their athletes, I think, in a quick and effective manner. And now they can make decisions on what they're going to do.
[00:08:52.60] So for example, if our baseball pitchers happen to be weak externally rotated in this 90-90 position, then there are some exercises that we could recommend that they do specific to them, as opposed to just doing a blanketed program that might really address all those different areas for the throwing shoulder, but this one might allow us to get a little bit more specific information to that individual and make it more individualized than ever before.
[00:09:20.58] The same thing can be said for we did the forearm pronation supination and found some of our athletes whose flexor mass was really weak from whatever reason, now, all of a sudden, we could do some other exercises.
[00:09:34.48] So for example, just today, I actually put on this 4 pound bat. It has a name, and I won't mention it, but it's a rubber bat that's flexible and it bends. But as you go either lower on the bat or higher on the bat, it can make it more challenging to lower you go because it makes it a longer lever arm.
[00:09:55.71] But anyway, we did, for example, pronation and supination. And the reason why we're doing that exercise is specifically for our athletes who were assessed. And we found if they were weak, then these are some exercises that I wanted to add to the program.
[00:10:08.02] So when I train athletes, and the NCAA only really allows you so much time to work with them, I try to be really efficient in the weight room. So I do something that's called complex training. And we do multiple things that are compounded on each other in order to make the weight session efficient.
[00:10:26.70] And I will also say the strength training for baseball book that we recently wrote with the NSCA and human kinetics also, there's a collegiate strength and conditioning coach, Chris Joyner, who was one of the authors. And then with the Cleveland Indians, we had that program as well. So now Joe Kessler was the individual who did that.
[00:10:47.88] And both of those individuals do something very similar with their respective athletes at the college and the pro level. Because in the season, you probably want to be as efficient as you can so you don't over-train them. I always talk about keep the intensity, decrease the volume so that you can keep them strong and powerful on the field. So how do we do that? So again, complex training where you might be doing a resistance training movement followed by something else.
[00:11:13.12] So upper body exercises-- when they do their upper body pushing movements, for example, say, a dumbbell bench press, it will be followed by a forearm pronation supination. Then maybe on another day when we train, as opposed to doing that, it might be ulnar and radial deviations. And then on another day when we're doing an upper body push movement, it might be the forearm circles.
[00:11:35.28] So now they're working in multiple planes of movement, not only doing the push, but they're also doing the exercises of the forearm. Now, I don't do those exercises when I do the pulls. And that's really from feedback from the players. When they do the heavy pulling, so I do a one-arm landmine row, a one-arm dumbbell row, well, that also really impacts their grip when they have to do that.
[00:11:56.05] So from feedback from them, they preferred not to do that because they felt it was overwhelming their grip and their forearm strength. So then, really, from a process of elimination, from them, I modified the workout because I always tell them, I'm going to be able to be as flexible as possible to make sure that you get a really good workout but something that's not going to overload you so that you can't play that well.
[00:12:18.84] Now for lower body exercises I also do complex training and I integrate plyometrics. So if we're doing a back squat, for example, that's performed in the sagittal plane. And if people have read articles that have been published, for example, in the NSCA's strength and conditioning journal or even in the research journal, complex training, you would have another exercise that would be a similar movement in the same plane. And so they might be doing a squat jump, for example, or some days they might be doing a single leg max vertical jump, or other exercises that try to help them not only be strong, but also be powerful and move quickly.
[00:12:56.47] And then there will be what I want to call hard days, moderate days, and light days as they are going from day to day or week to week. And then, technically, I use Dr. Stone's approach where it's a four-week summated microcycle where there's low, medium, high download. Some people don't like that word, so now there's unload, there's also restitution period.
[00:13:21.68] So it just depends on what vocabulary you want to use. But in essence, that's what I do in season with our athletes. And I did write a previous article that does describe that if people are interested in reading that.
[00:13:33.66] Yeah. David, I really appreciate your depth on that answer. And I think one thing that's coming through is no matter what the research says, the value of being efficient and working with your athletes speaks to the complex training you're talking about. And I've actually got the same feedback from players at the professional level, to your grip example, of with excessive pulling exercises paired with grip strength and just the fatigue aspect.
[00:14:02.61] And I think your example of using that player feedback to influence training, that's obviously very relevant today in terms of how we're interacting and connecting with athletes. I want to ask you kind of about the state of where we're at with baseball training. I think there's always been this perception that certain exercises are just not safe for overhead throwing athletes.
[00:14:28.71] Some of that comes from a lot of different sources and a lot of different reasons. There's a lot of history there. Are we in a better place with that, would you say? Or what's the current state of that.
[00:14:39.44] Well, for me, I'm still going to rely on personal experienced, player experience, research, and medical staff, for sure. What I do know is that the action of throwing will always put trauma on the shoulder and the elbow or the throwing arm. So no matter who we are in the strength and conditioning world, we need to consider that first.
[00:15:01.23] So if you do have an athlete who has a shoulder issue or an elbow issue, then I'm going to select an exercise that will be less risky and just as beneficial. So now, today, I now have created what I call a Cheesecake Factory menu of exercises. So you can't do this exercise, then let's do this one. You don't like that one, let's do this one.
[00:15:20.84] So it gives them a choice of day. So today is Friday. We lifted yesterday, because we have a weekend series-- Friday, Saturday, Sunday. And they lifted yesterday. So yesterday was a light day compared to Monday, which was the off day from the previous weekend. And so Monday was the hard day relative to the intensity for that week within the four-week summated microcycle.
[00:15:44.03] And then the Thursday would be the light day. So for me, light days, I usually go 15% less than whatever the hard day was. A moderate day, I go 10% less. You can also manipulate that by keeping the same intensity but decreasing your repetitions. Again, I tell students in my classes, and I my theory and methodology of resistance training is a class that I actually teach here at Louisiana Tech in our graduate program.
[00:16:11.84] And I then expose them to the NSCA's methodology from the essentials textbook. I expose them to Dr. Mike Stone's book with his wife, Meg, and Bill Sands. I teach them the tier system from Joe Kim. I teach them Tudor Bompa's approach. And then they learn how to paradise programs according to those individuals. And then ultimately, at the end of that class, I give them a final exam and I ask them to design a program specifically to every single one of those individuals.
[00:16:42.44] But they have to do it in a way that I'm telling them-- offseason, preseason, in-season-- here's who you must use, and then you must use their philosophy, and implement it, and then make this whole periodized program work together, hopefully as seamlessly as they can. And they have three hours and 45 minutes to do that. So it is challenging, for sure, to do such a thing.
[00:17:02.60] But as they've learned these theories or methodologies over the course of a quarter, because that's what we're on, and they practice this before in the same format that the final is in, then for me when they walk away from the class, they have now multiple approaches that could help them when they become professionals in the field. And then I always tell them, know who your athletes are. What are your facilities? Where are your equipment? How much time do you have?
[00:17:29.42] Are you in the offseason, preseason, in-season? What are your injuries? What are your sport coaches may influence what you do or ask you to do some things? And then you have to put it all together and make it work. And I also tell them what I present to you is not everything, by any stretch of the imagination.
[00:17:47.45] There's plenty of more information that's out there. So then I also have them read articles from primarily the strength and conditioning journal or the research journal. And so they might learn about clustering-- so ascending clusters, or descending clusters, or things of that nature-- if they were going to do such exercises, that might be the Olympic-style lifts.
[00:18:07.04] But then to get back to maybe the question about where are we going-- so back to the arm issue. Well, you may not want to do overhead actions, because when you do that, the head of the humerus will be pushed into the glenoid fossa or the shoulder capsule. And if somebody does have a shoulder issue, then, to me, that's not a wise exercise to choose for that individual.
[00:18:31.19] However, I've done multiple studies with high school athletes who are young, not as physically mature, haven't had as much throwing experience over the course of a lifetime-- I do talk about chronological age and biological age, because you might have a 15, 16, or 17-year-old young person and that's their chronological age. But if they are in the South, for example, and they play year-round baseball 11 or 12 months, instead of being 17 years old, their arm might be 19 years old because they've just never given it a rest.
[00:19:04.67] And if that's the case, then what are some exercises that might be less risky, or safer, or just healthier for that person? Now, I grew up in the North. And when I grew up there, we didn't have indoor facilities and we certainly weren't playing year round. And there was a football soccer season, a basketball season, and we'll say spring baseball and track. And that's how I grew up.
[00:19:23.42] So I was never throwing all the time. However, I don't live in the North anymore. I live in the South. And so our kids can play quite often. And I try to be very mindful of that for my own children.
[00:19:33.96] So whether it was travel ball, or local ball, or whatever it was, there was time always taken off. I always tried to teach them resistance training that was age appropriate and then how to progress it so that hopefully they get strong, and powerful, and can ultimately play the game well. So for me, then you could do dumbbell bench pressing and with a neutral grip, for example.
[00:19:54.80] You could do incline dumbbell bench pressing. You could do alternated. Because I didn't have them years ago, but I have them now-- landmine devices, so I'm doing half kneeling landmine press. I'm doing a standing and a staggered stance landmine press that progresses. And then ultimately, I am getting to a landmine row to press.
[00:20:15.22] And that happens over the course of 16 weeks, for example, as they are progressing through these various exercises over the offseason. And so I will say personally, though, I don't have our athletes military press or overhead press. But if you're pressing at a 45-degree angle, I don't it's a whole lot different, per se, in terms of the musculature involved. But it's certainly not going above the head where that had the humerus is really driving down into that glenoid fossa.
[00:20:44.81] What the Olympic lifting potential conversations that are out there, I think you have to decide what you think is going to be most appropriate for the athletes you train. I always tell students and our athletes there's nothing wrong with Olympic lifting whatsoever. I just think you have to be mindful of the wrist, the elbow, and the shoulder, for example. So if athletes aren't very flexible and they're not very mobile, then you're going to have to teach them things that you think are most appropriate that eventually progresses them to where you want to go.
[00:21:15.28] Dr. Tim Suchomel has written some nice articles that relate to modifications of Olympic-style lifting for the baseball athlete. So you could, for example, go from a hang clean position if you wanted to. You could do a mid-thigh clean pull. And you could do a high pull.
[00:21:33.61] And there has been research that's demonstrated with force plates that the triple extension really is most powerful from the second pull. So you don't have to pull from the floor if you want to really accentuate power production. And so if you have devices that are out there that now actually measure this for athletes, you can use them.
[00:21:53.10] And I think it's really motivational, because now one athlete doesn't want to be less powerful than the other. And so now the numbers will say, hey, I've got to be better. So it really helps motivate them to be more explosive or competitive in the weight room. So I think that's a great thing.
[00:22:06.95] Now, one of the things that I have also done-- if I don't want an athlete to catch the bar, then I actually have them do a mid-thigh clean pull and then drop the weight. I'll have them do a high pull and I've had them drop the weight. I might also have them doing medicine ball exercises for triple extension that have heavier med balls that might be 25 pounds or more and doing triple extension with throwing a ball above their head, for example, or doing a pushing movement above their head.
[00:22:35.50] I do medicine ball exercises that are rotational, rotational with throwing, and you name it-- all the variations that you could have and all the planes of movement. So I really want an athlete, and particularly a baseball athlete, to be strong and powerful in all planes of movement. So on a daily basis, if I'm training them Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, for example, we are working in all different types of planes with lower body, upper body, frontside, backside, anterior, posterior exercise.
[00:23:03.53] So it's a well-balanced program. That's my goal. And again, if I have to modify it, it gets modified because I can tell you, on a weekly basis, as I communicate with our athletic trainer, every day I get a list of here are the people who have an issue. Here's who's getting better. Here's who's not.
[00:23:18.97] Here's whose having surgery. Here's who's out now for COVID. So there's plenty of things that you have to do to be flexible with all the athletes that you work with. So I think those are probably the two most interesting debates would be overhead lifting and then probably Olympic-style if it's appropriate or not for the athlete.
[00:23:35.56] And then I guess, again, if you're working at the professional level, there might be some people at the top who might be expressing what they would recommend that you do or not. They might still give you the ability to do it. You have to decide whether you're going to do it or not.
[00:23:49.70] And so there are, again, variations of what you can do. But for me, I'm still going to come back and say I want them to be strong, powerful, and on the field. However you're going to most effectively accomplish that without getting that too risky and hurting somebody, then I think you're probably going to be OK.
[00:24:05.29] Because I do believe that the human body is made to do all of these things. And if we can do them safely, then why shouldn't we be able to do them? That is my general thought whenever I'm lifting myself and thinking about ideas, or concepts, or maybe controversies that are out there on topics like this.
[00:24:23.39] So if you can do it as a human, we probably should be able to do it all the time. But again, I'm still going to come back to be mindful of the shoulder, be mindful of the elbow, because that overhead throwing athlete, we don't know what strength and conditioning people or even the researchers all the time-- we just don't know what's going on for that person's arm. And for those of you who have really trained athletes, the athletes don't always tell you all their issues because they want to be in the lineup.
[00:24:47.02] So they might mask those issues or not even tell you anything until it's too late. And then all of a sudden, we don't know why this happened because I was never expressed previously. And that's just a lack of communication or potentially even trust between an athlete and a coach or an athlete and athletic trainer, because they want to play. And I understand that too.
[00:25:08.10] It's a great perspective just on the number of choices we have as coaches in our exercise selection and how we play that deck, it's the process of being a strength and conditioning coach. It's the what's in the research versus what I need to actually do during this session, on this day, at this time, with this athlete. And those are the challenges that coaches face.
[00:25:35.07] You mentioned a little bit about technology. And I want to ask-- there's a ton of coaches out there right now implementing new technologies in their program. And obviously, we've had so much growth in sports science and technology over the past few years. What process do you recommend coaches undergo when taking on a new piece of equipment with their athletes, onboarding those athletes to that equipment-- how do you go about that?
[00:26:04.37] Well, I'll first say I really greatly appreciate the technology, because in my earlier days in the late-'80s as a player, and then in the '90s as a coach, and then getting into the 2000s as a doctoral student, we didn't have all these things that were as easily accessible and, relatively speaking, not as expensive. I will tell everybody-- when I was doing my doctoral work, I used a four-camera motion capture system and four cameras was $500,000 back then.
[00:26:36.40] Today, in our lab, we have a 12-camera system. And that 12-camera system with two force plates was $83,000. So for me, that's less expensive compared to $500,000. But to a baseball coach or a strength and conditioning person, that's a lot of money.
[00:26:53.96] So, then, what can you use that might be potentially as effective that might be less expensive and very user friendly? So there are apps on phones that are now being used from a biomechanical perspective that allow you to go at a 90-degree angle, for example, to a baseball pitcher on a rubber, and then they can give you 3D-- well, it's 2D-- but kind of biomechanical information about, for example, peak knee height, foot plant, maximal external rotation, and then ball release.
[00:27:26.57] And now, it can tell you the arm speed, for example, the stride length of that pitcher. And for me, that's really important because if I'm going to talk about strength and conditioning, I want to try to put them into positions, as we get more into the pre-season and in-season, that mimic their body positions while they throw a baseball, for example, or hit a baseball, or something else like that that's related to the game so that the athlete understands how this might be just a little bit better, possibly, or more appropriate for their sport and here's how we're going to do it.
[00:27:58.21] Even an overhead tricep extension, they will be in a split position because when you throw a baseball, your lead leg is going to be out in front and you're going to extend your elbow as you release the baseball. So just that little thing might make it more specific to them and they might have, potentially, greater buy-in, for example, than just doing a regular tricep pushdown. So that's just this app software.
[00:28:20.53] Then there's things you can attach to a bat, for example, that allow you to get that information. You can sync it up with an iPad, and now it'll tell you the bat speed. It'll tell you if you have a radar gun or a pocket radar gun that's less expensive, you can get the exit velocity. There are other devices that you can put on the field in front of home plate and it has cameras.
[00:28:40.24] And then it will give you either pitching information or hitting information. Or if you have both types of equipment, it'll give you both simultaneously during intrasquad games. And now, you can use that information. Well, what we've done is we've taken that type of information from fastball velocity, for example, and we've related that to an overhead medicine ball throw test, which is very inexpensive to do.
[00:29:00.02] We've now also run correlations to vertical jump tests-- so bilateral, two legs, unilateral, one leg off of force plates simultaneously with a Vertech. Well, the Vertech most people have or could afford to purchase, the force plates they may not be able to depending on whether it's research grade or not. But the point I'm trying to make is that you can use the Vertech to estimate peak power, and then you can also use that information and divide it by their body mass.
[00:29:28.74] You can divide it by their lean body mass. And now, all of a sudden, you can get pound for pound who is the strongest, who is the most powerful, or whatever other variable you want to look at. And then you can look at that same information and relate it, right, run correlations on an Excel spreadsheet, which is really inexpensive, to their fastball velocity, for example, or any of the metrics that you might get from some of these other devices.
[00:29:48.57] And then there's other tests that we do like a lateral medial jump, which is in the frontal plane, we do a standing long jump. But I will say, because I only have two force plates, I can't do all of those tests off of force plates. So it's just distance, which everyone can do. And how do those things happen to relate to fastball velocity for the baseball athlete?
[00:30:08.52] There has been a previous research study in 2012 that actually indicated that that would be the greatest predictor for throwing velocity, because that particular study looked at pitchers and position players in that same study. Where I now have replicated, I believe, that study for our baseball pitchers only, and we don't see that same correlation, meaning that that lateral medial jump will predict the greatest fastball velocity.
[00:30:36.99] What we've actually found is that overhead medicine ball throw with a radar gun, the last three years that I've done it, that's the one that keeps doing it. And it's a really simple test. But then I'll also say, we've got force plates now that are embedded into a pitcher's mound.
[00:30:54.68] We have the 3D motion capture system. We have the cell phone app. I've got a Cosmed K5 device which allows us to measure oxygen and carbon dioxide production as they're going through the pitching motion. And now we're doing all those things simultaneously, and then looking at that information, and then taking that, and then comparing it to, again, what they do with the pitching, for example.
[00:31:19.98] So again, whether it's the velocity, or the spin rate, or any other metrics that you want to look at, how does that happen to relate for these Division I college baseball players? Now, that may not be the same thing we find for high school pitchers. It may not be the same thing we find for professional pitchers. But in general, we have 18 to 22-- actually because of COVID, now we have 18 to 23-year-olds, so it's a much larger range of some athletes.
[00:31:41.75] And I will say this, for at least the pitchers I have, we've been finding very consistent information over the last three years with our athletes. And so now that allows me to select exercises in the weight room that I think might be more appropriate for that particular athlete. And then so I tell them, this is why we do it.
[00:31:58.86] So here's how strong you are or here's how weak you are. Now, these are the exercises I think you should do to help you get stronger and more powerful. And so if you have the ability, it would be really nice to design a program for each individual on the team if you have the luxury of doing that. But that's not always the case, and I'm well aware of that.
[00:32:16.34] So then you really then have to decide how you're going to design your program and make sure that it is as balanced as possible-- bilateral, unilateral, work simultaneously in the respective sessions-- so that hopefully every athlete, whoever has asymmetries or imbalances, hopefully you address those with your workouts over the course of that week, or over your summated microcycle, or however else people are trying to periodize their program.
[00:32:41.00] So it's a lot of intricate stuff, I think, because you can make it really simple or you can get really complex with all this stuff and decide how you're going to best approach it.
[00:32:51.29] From what it sounds like, your students get a really engaged sports science experience at Louisiana Tech. And I want to ask you-- there's a lot of students, and aspiring coaches, and professionals out there that are in that looking for grad school program stage or early in their career and they might be considering PhD programs. What advice do you have for those students and aspiring professionals just in navigating that early path to get into sports science with all the different types of exercise science programs that are out there?
[00:33:29.87] So I would say, first and foremost, education will always help you. So the more educated you can get, whether that's formally through universities or whether you're going to do your own continuing education, learn from those who have good experiences or evidence-based information, because, to me, that's what we really need to know.
[00:33:48.62] Because, inevitably, you're going to be asked by somebody-- a medical doctor, athletic trainer, the players, their parents, the coaches-- why are you doing what you do? And I think you always need to have an answer that is going to be objective and evidence-based. If you have that, then you can feel comfortable, I think, and confident with what you're doing with the athletes.
[00:34:09.76] And if the athletes, or parents, or even sometimes other people are saying, well, you might be using them just for the science-- well, to me, the answer is, yes. But the science is hopefully going to help everyone learn maybe something more about, we'll say again, the baseball athlete. And if we can do that and we help everyone in some capacity, then we're going to help, I hope, the game, and then hope to help the players. So I think that's really important.
[00:34:36.81] Now, from the student's perspective, certainly looking to programs at the master's level or PhD level for individuals who are actually studying these topics. Because if you go to a university and you have faculty who don't do those things or are not interested in them, well, then, they're going to say, respectfully, you need to come here and study the things that I study, because those faculty might have grants. And those grants dictate that they must do these research projects.
[00:35:03.36] And if they don't, then that grant money gets taken away from them. So at the largest universities, where, really, you do your PhD work, it might be more challenging to find an individual who's in the sports performance world. So now, how does the student navigate that? Well, to me, read the journal of strength and conditioning research.
[00:35:19.05] Where are those faculty members that are actually writing these articles, teaching? And once you find that out, those are the schools that I would tell you to investigate. So it could be in the United States, but there's other schools around the world that also are doing things like this. And students might be able to do those things where they go to Australia, for example, or somewhere else.
[00:35:40.59] But they've got to figure out if that's really what they want. And do they want to be in those particular places for whatever time frame that is. So on the master's level, I certainly would say look for an exercise science program where you can work on exercise physiology, biomechanics, motor learning, psychology.
[00:35:57.40] Because all of those things are going to make you a better sport coach, or a better strength and conditioning coach, or, heck, even a better parent for that matter or friend-- because you're learning all these different disciplines and becoming more and more focused on them. If you're going to pursue a PhD, then you absolutely need to find the mentor that you're going to work with that can help you.
[00:36:17.62] And then you've got to decide, what am I going to get my PhD in? So mine is an exercise physiology, but I can't tell you how much biomechanics stuff I do, and motor learning stuff that I do, and sports psychology as a strength and conditioning person, and learning how to effectively communicate with people. So you really learn as much as you can as it relates to maybe the area that you want to be an expert in.
[00:36:41.05] So I don't ever think people should have blinders on and be very narrow-minded. I think they need to be as open-minded about where they could potentially go and then who might be that mentor that's going to be willing to work with you. My particular mentor was a gentleman, Dr. David Pascoe, who's an expert in thermography. So that's heat and cold.
[00:36:57.97] Well, when I went and talked to him about what I wanted to do long ago-- and this was like 1995 or so when I went to visit the university-- he told me nobody is doing baseball science. So why do you want to do that? And then my response to him was, that's exactly why I want to do it, because no one's doing it, and maybe I can be one of the guys who starts this or continues it, because Dr. Coop DeRenne, in my opinion, he's the godfather of overweighted, under-weighted implement training for the sport of baseball.
[00:37:26.71] Which, by the way, then, if you're not familiar with him, you should. And then he got his stuff from Russian track and field-- so discus, the hammer throw, the javelin. They were using overweighted, under-weighted implements to help them throw those implements farther. And so he's like, well, if that works for them, could it work for baseball?
[00:37:45.34] And it did. He did research in the '80s and the '90s. And then I'll say, fortunately, I got to meet him in 1996 in Atlanta at one of the NSCA conferences, because he was speaking that year. And so I got to hear him talk. But then afterwards, what did I do? I followed him to wherever he was going to go and then I tried to sit down with him and talk with him.
[00:38:04.00] And ultimately, we did. And then we developed a relationship. And then I will say, proudly, I was able to write some articles with him that are in the NSCA, whether it's the strength and conditioning journal or the research journal. And for me, that's one of the most enriching things that I've done professionally with somebody as a collaboration.
[00:38:20.38] And then now, I try to reach out to other people to do something similar, because I always think we can learn from others and we can also put more heads together and maybe come up with something that might be better, more thorough, or whatever else you want to call it. So that's important.
[00:38:37.46] So for me at Louisiana Tech, we don't currently have a PhD program. So if someone comes here, if they want to be in the sport performance world, then we might send them to someplace else where we know faculty who might be doing something like this. And again, there are universities and professors that are out there that are doing sport performance things, you just got to know who they are, and where they are, and then see if they have openings for either master's level work or doctoral work, and then get immersed in it.
[00:39:04.21] That's the thing I always say-- do as much as you can. I usually say, be Jim Carrey in Yes Man. Say, yes, to everything to see what you can learn. And then, ultimately, you'll find out what are the things that you maybe don't want to do and what are the things that you want to do? And then take it to whatever level you need to take it to where you want to.
[00:39:23.44] In the professional baseball world now, for those who are listening don't know this-- there are more high performance directors being hired by Major League Baseball teams than ever before in history. There have been individuals who've come from overseas for those jobs, there've been people within the United States, there's both men and women now doing these jobs. And then there's all the people underneath them who are also working from the sports science world, and now they try to collaborate.
[00:39:48.85] And various teams are trying to have as strong a staff as they can to help support the head coach, the baseball players, and then the organization to try to win championships. And if they can accomplish those things and have healthy, strong, powerful players and they are successful, then that's a wonderful recipe for success. So definitely look at those programs and see what's going on.
[00:40:14.65] I mentioned this to some people earlier, that I never have been on social media. And it was probably for many reasons. But most recently, I have, whether it's LinkedIn, or Facebook, or Instagram-- and I've just put a lot of the things that we've done this past year and it's caught a lot of attention. And so I now have people from the United States that are baseball-specific, but other professors, and people in the industry, manufacturers of products that they know, hey, you're testing this stuff, would you be interested in buying our stuff?
[00:40:44.50] And it's like, well, I'm interested in testing your stuff. But I don't have economic means to buy all these things. So I'd be happy to do some research if you're interested. So that could be either sponsored research or partnerships.
[00:40:55.29] And then we can see whether the product that you are producing is effective. Does it do what you theorize or think it does? And if it does, fantastic. But also, if it doesn't, I'm still going to report that because maybe earlier in my career, I used to call myself the Consumer Reports of baseball gadgets. I would do this research and determine whether or not they were effective for the way which we did it.
[00:41:18.02] And if it wasn't, then I was going to publish it or talk about it at an NSCA sport-specific conference, and now it's the coaches conference, and just say, hey, this is what it's doing. And I would like to think a lot of people heard those things, and then that made more and more people want to do this.
[00:41:32.83] In today's world right now, there's probably more sports performance research people than ever before. And I think it's going to continue to grow. We have a lot of young people that want to do these things. And they're trying to navigate what they're going to do.
[00:41:43.15] And then I will say, maybe lastly on this point, the jobs that are currently today were not in existence 10 years ago, many of them. So where are we going to go in 10 years? I don't really know, but probably the technology is going to drive it and then competition is going to drive it.
[00:41:57.67] And then it'll still come down to, what does effectively demonstrate that it works? And that, again, is from the research. And so is it valid? Is it reliable? And can we repeat this over and over again with whomever we're working with? And to me, that's the excitement of it, because I will also say that I've thought of myself at times, because I get movie analogies all the time, as the Indiana Jones of baseball research.
[00:42:22.15] So Dr. DeRenne started it. So he's the godfather. So there's Godfather 1, 2, and 3, right-- and so now I'm Indiana Jones and I was looking for the Holy Grail of life. I was looking for the answers, the truth that might help baseball players. And then that keeps me going.
[00:42:36.23] And so I'm 55 years of age. I have two jobs. I get up at 4:30 in the morning. I don't go home until about 8:00 at night. And so it just keeps me immersed in it. And my wife is involved, my kids are involved, and it's kind of a family affair.
[00:42:51.37] But, man, this is what I really love to do. And I hope that I'm not going to have to stop doing it any time soon.
[00:42:58.48] Really great advice there, David. Thank you so much for sharing. I want to give you a chance to share what your social media handles are and just your contact info for anyone that wants to connect with you.
[00:43:12.94] Well, you know what? To be honest with you, I don't know my social media handles. I think, to be honest with you, folks, I think my wife created them and I just do them. So I think it's DrDavidSzymanski is Instagram. On LinkedIn, just Google my name. I don't know what it is-- again, sorry to disappoint everybody on that one.
[00:43:32.27] And then on Facebook, we do everything on Louisiana Tech Kinesiology. That's what we do for our Facebook. That's where I post everything. And then we have an undergraduate page, a graduate page, and then an alumni page.
[00:43:43.90] But we share all that information on all of it. So if you go to Louisiana Tech Kinesiology, you could find things, or DrDavidSzymanski-- and again, the LinkedIn stuff is where, I'll say, I put more of the more hard sciency stuff, because I think that's more maybe appropriate for that, because you might have people that are in the industry that are looking for it, whereas the Facebook and the Instagram might be just a picture or a short video of something that describes something like that forearm pronation supination that I mentioned.
[00:44:12.21] But my email address, if people want to contact me that way, is D-S-Z-Y-M-A-N email@example.com. And I'm always happy to talk to anybody about baseball-related topics, either how I might be able to assist them or if they're interested in collaborating and doing research-- if there are people that want to do that or have access to players that maybe we can have a greater sample size, I think that would be wonderful. I will say that most recently, Dr. Ryan Croton, who was formerly with the Los Angeles Angels, is now a member of our faculty from a adjunct position.
[00:44:49.86] And he does work for a company now that does make that dynamoometer that I mentioned before. But we've been collaborating together. And then we have a biomechanist here, Dr. [INAUDIBLE]. So the three minds are working together to really, I think, put out some fantastic research.
[00:45:04.68] But we're also now talking to other people who are interested in doing baseball pitching, or hitting, or strength and conditioning research related to the sport, and then just trying to either put out articles, abstracts, doing a podcast like this, for example, or any other way to try to get information to people is something I think is what we should be trying to accomplish is to try to share and help people learn and hopefully, as I said earlier, get the sport maybe to another level.
[00:45:32.97] Or we're just going to find out that what we've been doing is fine, so let's just keep doing it. Those are the other things that we might be able to substantiate as well.
[00:45:41.57] Dr. David Szymanski, thanks for being with us. I think anyone listening in, this is a great opportunity just to hear the passion and excitement that David brings just towards his craft. And anyone in the game of baseball really knows the significant contributions he's made to the research, and the articles, and conferences that he's contributed to over the years.
[00:46:06.72] So we're really thankful for that. For everyone listening in, thank you. And also, a special thanks to Sorinex Exercise Equipment. We appreciate their support.
[00:46:17.98] Hi, coaches. This is Mike Caro, longtime college strength and conditioning coach, now working on the tactical side of the profession. The NSCA Coaching Podcast brings highlights from all areas of our growing field to help you navigate your coaching path. Subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts so that you don't miss an episode. Thanks for listening.
[00:46:37.37] This was the NSCA's Coaching Podcast. The National Strength and Conditioning Association was founded in 1978 by strength and conditioning coaches to share information, resources, and help advance the profession. Serving coaches for over 40 years, the NSCA is the trusted source for strength and conditioning professionals. Be sure to join us next time.
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