Inside Pitch Magazine, September/October 2020

Inside Interview: Bill Miller

Director of Strength and Conditioning at Dream Big Athletics

by Barrett Snyder

Bill MillerBill Miller is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and the Director of Strength and Conditioning at Dream Big Athletics in Palatine, Illinois. Bill trains all levels of baseball players from Little League up through the professional ranks. He has a passion for learning, spreading and applying the most advanced methods of strength training to all his athletes.

Bill was a four-year starter at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Illinois while graduating with a degree in Exercise Science. After college, Bill played in the Frontier Baseball League for the Joliet Slammers.

Inside Pitch: You are one of a very small handful of coaches in the Strength and Conditioning industry who employ “eccentric overload” training. Explain how eccentric overload training differs from traditional eccentric training and why eccentric overload training has become the foundation of your training programs.

Bill Miller: There is critical difference between “focusing on the eccentric portion” with slow tempos (which is commonly seen in the weight room) versus the “eccentric strength” I am aiming to train When we look at concentric and eccentric strength, we know that an individual’s eccentric strength is 20-30% greater than their concentric strength. Therefore, if we want to address and improve our strength by means of weight training, we need to train against a very challenging resistance and that is where “eccentric overload” training comes into play. Eccentric overload training provides us the greatest resistance we could use to increase our strength levels in the gym, and increases our motor unit recruitment threshold better than any other training mechanism, which ultimately increases our force production within the muscles we are training.

We cannot talk about eccentric strength without mentioning a very large protein molecule found inside the muscle fibers called titin. When we contract a muscle, actin and myosin (inside the muscle fibers) come together to form cross bridges that shorten the muscle. Titin is found stretching alongside these cross bridges and ultimately binds itself to the actin and myosin, which then creates more tension as the cross bridges come apart. Ultimately, this is the reason eccentric strength is so much greater than concentric strength.

Having eccentric strength will significantly help the athletes decelerate more effectively while substantially decreasing their risk of injury. When athletes jump, change direction, or land with the lead leg to swing or throw, eccentric forces play a crucial role in how effective the action will be overall. Without the necessary eccentric strength, athletes are at a higher risk of injury and won’t be able to optimize their movements on the field.

IP: When it comes to pitching, what are your recommendations for players, parents and coaches who are focusing in the weight room to ultimately yield a gain in velocity?

BM: Every kid and their parents want a 95-mph fastball and a Division I scholarship. But people also want immediate satisfaction and the confidence that “If I just do this one thing, that means I throw really hard!” This is not often the case when it comes to succeeding as a baseball player. Movement quality should be a coach’s first concern. Adding body mass will only help you throw a ball faster if certain criteria are met.

First, body fat cannot be a main source of the mass gained; fat doesn’t help us move faster, muscle does. Secondly, the muscle mass gained must have a high strength to size ratio. Without great levels of force production, none of that muscle mass will transfer to high velocities.

Lastly, I feel that strength at very high velocities should be the overall goal when training. Certainly, some athletes may need to increase force production, while others may need to throw medicine balls, for example, more often to achieve those adaptations of moving more powerfully.

IP: You are constantly measuring, documenting and then re-measuring your athletes. What has this done for you as a coach and what has this done for your athletes?

BM: I would say that measurement keeps me honest as a coach. We cannot improve what we do not measure and if we are not constantly measuring our athletes’ numbers (velocity, ball-exit speed, etc.), how can we be certain as strength coaches that our programs are most effective? I try to be 100% transparent with every training method I program; I will always go through a training program myself prior to giving it to an athlete. Our athletes spend time, energy and money to improve and I want to find the best methods of measurement to show whether they are improving or not. I owe them that much. If their measurements are not improving, I am not doing my job properly.

Competitive athletes really get amped for this type of training. Whenever the radar gun, stopwatch or gFlight comes out, their intent level increases, their focus increases, they begin competing against one another and overall, the culture in the weight room is taken to an entirely different level. I would venture to say that their most beneficial training sessions in the weight room (as well as on the field) are when they are being tested and measured. We live in a day and age where we have so much technology available to us it is imperative that we maximize these tools.

IP: Over the years you have done quite a lot of research comparing medicine ball throwing velocity to baseball throwing velocity. What are some of the conclusions you have found? Can we draw a direct link between medicine ball throwing velocity and baseball throwing velocity?

BM: I believe there is definitely a correlation between medicine ball throwing velocity and baseball throwing velocity. Throwing a baseball requires force to be displayed at extremely high velocities. It is a kinetic sequence producing force from the ground all the way through the fingertips where the ball is released. This kinetic sequence is very comparable to what we would find in a medicine ball shot-put or overhead throw. The movement uses very similar muscle groups at very similar contractile speeds. However – be aware – it is not necessarily a perfect correlation.

You will see a handful of athletes throw medicine balls very hard, only to throw baseballs in the lower 80 mph range. In these instances, we can likely point to throwing mechanics and lack of mobility as the main culprits.

IP: What is the biggest mistake you see strength coaches making when it comes to training baseball players?

BM: When they try to create a conditioning component within their training sessions. Baseball players do not need an abundant amount of conditioning, especially in the early or middle part of the off-season. These are times where we need to address force production and high velocity movements and if we do too much conditioning, fatigue will get in the way of our main training goals. Our central nervous system will be so fried, we will be unable to train at our greatest capacity. The wasted energy used for conditioning purposes will limit the effectiveness of the strength training that actually produces positive adaptations for swinging a bat harder and throwing faster. A program is only effective if it is efficient. All the extra “noise” such as testing mile times, 300-yard shuttles, and extra conditioning sessions, gets in the way of the training an athlete needs to maximize their on-field potential.

IP: What advice would you give to someone looking to enter the field and what can they do to best prepare themselves for training athletes?

BM: Find a mentor who has good knowledge and can help challenge your current way of thinking. This will ultimately lead you to become a better coach. From my experience, the best mentors I have found are those individuals who are “in the trenches,” day in and day out. These are individuals working with athletes, getting results, conducting research, continuing to learn and most importantly, challenging themselves on a daily basis.

It’s also a good idea to consistently read and write sample training programs in their downtime. Even if you’re not currently training athletes, imagine that you are training a certain athlete with an individualized background and you have to create a program for them. How would you program for them? What would you use to test to make sure that that program is working? These are things that help get your mind sharpened for the tasks that come with coaching athletes.

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