Creating a world class baseball training program isn’t easy. Building one that regularly turns out Major League Baseball players like The Tampa Bay Devil Ray’s star second baseman Danny Espinosa is even rarer. For John Elliot it’s just another day at the office as the founder of The Quakes Baseball Academy. Since 1995 he’s trained all levels of baseball players from 8th graders to MLB pro players. The total number of pitchers that have passed through the Quakes Baseball Academy who’ve gone on to play Division 1 NCAA baseball is in the hundreds.
VertiMax: Can you tell us about the success of some of the players that you’ve worked with through the Quakes Baseball Academy?
John Elliot: We have guys at the Area Code Games right now. We have a pitcher at Brown and at Yale. We have a guy drafted out of Yale who is now a pitcher for the Padres. We have a guy who was drafted by the Orioles after he had surgery on his arm. We have been doing this for a long time. The success of this thing is integral with what we do with yoga, Pilates, weight lifting and all that stuff. One is with the Mets, one is with the Padres, and two or three of them will be drafted right out of high school.
VertiMax:Can you tell us more about Quakes Baseball Academy and how you work with the VertiMaxs?
John Elliot: I have been doing this for 22 years. I started using Vertimax about 12 years ago. I started with one, but now we have 10. We use them every night. I started with the guys running, then the pitchers were doing it, too. They had a bigger increase in velocity and became quicker than the runners did, with their increased foot strength.
I think we have the most Vertimax equipment in the country - in one place. We do three to four sets on them per night.
VertiMax: How did you find out about Vertimax? What was your first experience with it?
John Elliot: My first experience was when I watched it. I saw a guy doing it in the gym. He was doing slow jogging and light, active stuff. I thought that was not how your body functions. If you are going to do explosive exercise, then you should explode.
I looked at it and the ankles, hands and waist made sense to me. The one I bought only had the ankles and feet. I called the owner and he explained it, so I tried one, and by the end of the year I had four.
VertiMax: So, you loved it right off the bat?
John Elliot: It is not as much as the love as it is with the results. If you are looking at performance and see your velocity go up and your athleticism and movement get better, it is hard not to love the results. The key is to be consistent, so you need to do it three to four days a week.
VertiMax: How did Vertimax change your workouts and the routines you created?
John Elliot: It added to them. Instead of doing box jumps, hurdles and things that are time-consuming and that you have to be outside to do, it adds explosive moments to your indoor workouts. We are in California, so you can go outside and run sprints any day, even on a bad day. A bad day out here is when it is 55 degrees outside and raining. If I had a facility on the east coast, I could use this year-round. There is no replacement for it.
Vertimax can add strength in your hip flexors, improve your stretch reflex and enhance your glute activation. You are doing things with the human body you can’t do with other things.
VertiMax: Can you tell me how you work and give me an introduction to the exercises?
John Elliot: Strength and mechanics are two different things. When you talk about fixing mechanics, you can’t do that on a Vertimax board. Learning how to break your hands while landing on the same spot is not how you keep focused. That is a falsehood. Trying to teach hip rotation with that on your hip, while hitting and trying to soft toss at the same time is nonsense.
Neural pathways in the central nervous system are not set up to incorporate that. You have to create a pattern, but we form most patterns over a 20 to 30-day period to repeat a motor skill.
Doing that with weights on is going to be infinitely harder than with weight off, so the pattern is more important than the product right now. It is strictly for strength, movement, coordination and balance – these are all the things you are going to get out of it, but I don’t use it to incorporate a skill. That is how people misuse things.
Pitching and hitting are techniques, and there is no strength component that will make your technique better.
VertiMax: A lot of what I heard from other coaches is that it works well for sport-specific exercises. Can you put a pitcher on there and throw pitches while they are attached to the Vertimax?
John Elliot: I don’t do that.
VertiMax: Can you give me two or three exercises for pitchers and hitters that you use with the Vertimax?
John Elliot: We do jumping lunges, knee-ups and flying jumping jacks, which is a jumping jack when you touch your hands and your feet at the same time. We bring our arms up in a “T” shape and hop. We do moves that incorporate linear movement in the back and gets the back muscles to incorporate the glutes. You can change up the exercise, so you can focus on different areas.
We do feet exercises, plank exercises with spider movements outside, so you can have core movements. We do knees to chest, too, so there are different things we do, but none of it is based upon non-throwing. It is all throwing exercise-type workouts.
VertiMax: Are any of these exercises non-throwing?
John Elliot: These are all built for throwing. All these exercises are for manipulating your body in one area or the other for throwing.
VertiMax: It is essentially for pitchers, right?
John Elliot: Pitchers, short stops - everybody throws. We do the same exercises for all of them.
VertiMax: You made a strong point on how sport-specific exercises are not the smartest way to use the Vertimax, because it could potentially lead to injury.
John Elliot: It’s a false way to think that you can make pitcher’s mechanics better. The movement skills you acquire when hitting or throwing take momentum, timing and rotation. These machines are built for strengthening your body through movement and different dynamic positions, and none of them are close to a technique you can isolate.
Hip rotation is based on balance - how you separate and how you coordinate - like which leg is going to be a prime mover. It is more complex than putting a belt on and doing a movement to throw better. That is not a wise thing, in my opinion.
I have my master’s degree in exercise; a lot of guys can come in and everyone can you tell you what they are doing wrong, but few people can fix things.
John Elliot: For example you may have seen the football exercises where they lie backwards while moving their feet side to side. That’s okay - that is what they do in that sport.
To strap a belt on and swing, so it will make you a better hitter isn’t right, because you start a swing with your hands. Your hands have three joints that attach them to your torso, so if your hand path starts incorrectly, nothing on the lower half is going to coordinate with that.
It is like a long jumper running down the block and missing his spot by four feet. To start diagnosing problems, you need to have an idea of what the problem is.
I use the Vertimax a certain way, and other people can use it their way, but the success I have in sending guys to D1 schools, D2 schools and the pros is good, so I am not going to change what I do. I have guys going to UCLA and playing in the big leagues. These guys have used these things and actively considered them as part of their workout regime.
Until you have done it, you don’t realize how hard it is. Until you have done it, you don’t realize the benefits your body feels and the recovery the next day to repeat it, too.
VertiMax: How would you say Vertimax contrasts with weight lifting? If it is not the lactic acid, is the resistance training a psychological thing?
John Elliot: No, it is gradual. It is not psychological, it is physical. You build up to it, so you maintain yourself. If you run and don’t do it right during the first six weeks of doing Vertimax, the highest risk of injury is to your hamstrings, quads or your groin. What players do is build up their bodies over time.
There must be an ebb and flow, so they start with one belt and increase the tension gradually - then they go to two belts and increase the tension again. They start light, so they have the ability do stuff all the time. Everything in this business has become monetized, so people don’t want to take time. They want to force things on the kids to get results, so they can brag about them and make money. It is disgusting.
VertiMax: I understand where you are coming from and I think the most important thing is to counteract that notion of spoon feeding kids success, which can lead to injury or shattered dreams.
John Elliot: The most important thing about this is time and consistency. It is difficult, because we have kids throwing up on the boards and we have to change the mat. It costs about $200 to $300 to fix them.
You can run in place for six seconds, and most of our activities are six to seven seconds, because we want it quick; we want it reactive. There are different ways to use the Vertimax. You just have to come up with ways that are smart.
VertiMax: We are trying to provide a resource for trainers and other people who use Vertimax, so they can share information. These spotlights are the first step in doing that. We want people to make smart decisions.
John Elliot: It is like CrossFit. I don’t understand the premise that more reps or more weight is going to lead to a healthier body. That is the main premise. If you watch most of these pitchers doing CrossFit, they don’t have good form. They have joint problems and knee problems, so what good is it?
I get boxing, martial arts and pro ball, but after a while, if I am getting hurt too much doing it, I would have to weigh the benefits with the negatives. Yes, I am competitive, physical and in good shape, but what does a kid need to do to make his athleticism better? I think the Vertimax is one of the tools, and that is why we have 10 of them.
That is not something I take for granted.
John Elliot: The proof is in the pudding. We have 25 to 30 kids in the Area Code Games in Southern California. We have had two to three in the last five years as the top players in Southern California. I think I know what I am doing.
When it comes to conditioning, the Vertimax is a great tool. I think they have a great product, but I wouldn’t come close to doing some of the things they have put out there.
VertiMax: I’m glad not everyone is drinking the Kool-Aid, because ultimately that is what separates some trainers from others. A lot of people have some fantastic results. It is also part of their overall training approach, but I think they take care and understand how to use the Vertimax properly. That is why they see some pretty impressive results.
John Elliot: You have sheer weight going left and right - that is the Vertimax. So, you have weight pulling sideways on you and weight pulling you down. It is inherently difficult for me to think if you are not doing certain exercises to incorporate with it, that it is going to make your body more athletic.
The purpose of the machine is to be explosive and then add a component. Pitching mechanics has a process of slow movement to extremely fast movement and overloading that doesn’t make it better. The windup, then the delivery - there is no part of it that needs weight involved in it.
VertiMax: I don’t think other people see it that way, but I want to put it out there. I was watching some videos somebody sent to us. It looked awkward and cumbersome. They had this kid pitching on the Vertimax, and it didn’t seem to make the most sense.
You could see the difficulty and the strain on him. He was 15 to 16 years old; a younger guy. I think it is important to make sure people see there are better ways for people to use their tools. We can provide them with the correct resources to do so.
John Elliot: The product is designed to get guys to run faster and jump higher, correct?
John Elliot: The premise of that is the stretch reflex and the responsiveness in the human body, like the glut activation in the legs and the explosiveness. That all happens in less than a second. It has nothing to do with a physical skill. It has to do with getting your muscles to move faster, so your training is fast.
To talk about technique on that board is ignorant. That is the way it is - you can’t do that - that is not how you develop motor skills. I have seen videos like the one with the guy hooked up with belts and he is throwing, and I wondered what he was doing.
VertiMax: I am happy you said it, as you are the expert.
John Elliot: I am someone who uses it the way I use it. I wouldn’t say I am an expert, but I know what not to do. Have you heard of Driveline?
John Elliot: It is a baseball and a netball thing. People are going nuts over it. It is throwing medicine balls as far as you can and doing a program where you use certain weights. You can use a one-pound or two-pound weight and a three, seven or 10-ounce ball. If you try it with 10 guys, three guys will get better, three guys will stay the same, three guys get worse, and one guy will get injured.
Is that productive when seven guys out of 10 don’t get any better? The result is that most of them will lose their accuracy because the weight in ounces in their hand is not consistent with the ball they use, which is a five-ounce ball.
When you throw a five-ounce ball in there, you get a better idea where the five-ounce ball goes. But when you change weights all the time, now instead of worrying about getting a game and winning the game, you worry about how hard you are throwing the ball. It becomes complex.
It’s about pitching mechanics. Guys in the big leagues work in the bullpen with their pitching coach, even on their off days. Do you think they have a Vertimax there? It is the wrong trend. Use exercise tools to exercise and use baseball to play baseball. If you start crossing over, you are going to lose hard-core baseball coaches
VertiMax: I think that is a good point; it is about having your priorities in order.
John Elliot: Yoga is not Vertimax. We do yoga and we do Vertimax. They are two separate activities. When we do yoga, we stop to clean up, and then we do Vertimax. The point is the same when we do weight lifting. We stop, and then we do Vertimax, because you are working joints and muscles in a different manner. You change up your dynamic, your workout, so that everyday you are getting your muscle confusion in and all that.
VertiMax: I think you gave me an honest run down on Vertimax and your approach, which I like. I appreciate you taking the time out.
John Elliot: I have 10 of them, so they obviously work, but I don’t want 10 of them to be misused.
VertiMax: Hopefully not, that would be a shame.
John Elliot: That is part and parcel of what is going on today. When you start monetizing everything and people try to sell it, they are going to oversell what they buy. People come to me for baseball. We have Vertimax, but they stay because I know baseball.
Do we use Vertimax correctly? You bet we do. We have done it long enough, so we know how to do it. When it comes to exercise, I am 52 and I have 10 percent body fat, so I know what I am doing.