Strike People Out: How to Protect Your Arm (Part 3)
Off-season, Training, Yearly-Monthly-Weekly-Daily Recovery
In part 3 we will get into what a year should look like for a throwing athlete at various ages. Not only the need for rest and recovery but the benefits of training and athletic development. Strategies will include recovery daily, weekly, monthly, during the season and a yearly training outline. Skill acquisition has a ceiling that is governed by athletic ability. The skill of a NASCAR driver and his likelihood of winning is going to be limited if he is racing in a mini-van. I don’t care if you put Ricky Bobby in the van, if you're not first you're last. Same thing with throwing athletes, if they aren’t strong they are limited, if they are not explosive they are limited, if they are not fast they are limited, if they are not
mobile and stable in the right areas they are limited, if they go to a pitching coach and cannot kinesthetically (sense of body awareness and position) feel the difference between what they should and should not be doing they will be limited. This is not to say they cannot have success, but that they will rarely reach or realize their TRUE POTENTIAL.
Daily, Weekly, Monthly, Yearly Recovery
ICYMI - Throwing under fatigue is the most common denominator in throwing injuries across the board. Throwing while fatigued, no matter the origin of fatigue, can increase injury likelihood up to 36 times that of throwing fresh. The human shoulder can move at 7500 degrees per second, this is the fastest measured moving joint in the body. Forces can be equivalent of holding five twelve pound bowling balls in your hand when you are fully laid back. When you are at ball release you are generating forces greater than your own body weight. A “weak” or underdeveloped core can increase injury 5-10 times. Taking less than 4 months off per year can increase risk 5 times. Specialization under the age of 12 increases your risk 70-90%. All of these stats are directly from the brightest minds in the industry out of the American Sports Medicine Institute founded by world renowned Dr. Andrews. You must let this powerful mechanism recover and take into account not only your daily recovery routine but your weekly, monthly, and yearly.
As mentioned before it is recommended that a youth athlete take off 4 months of playing each year to protect overuse. You might find some literature stating 3 months but we always want to heir on the side of caution and be responsible. More often than not, less is more, although the cultural norm says the opposite. Yearly development is not only key for recovery but also for appropriate athletic development both physically and mentally. In fact more and more research is coming out that shows less arm injuries in the northern and colder states where they are forced to take time off vs the southern warmer states where they can play more games. This should really make us sit back and think. In fact, from a development standpoint we should think more long-term pay off and less short-term reward, it's an investment. Since 1947 at the LLWS in Williamsport, of the 42,000 baseball athletes that have come through that tournament only 5 pitchers have made it to the big leagues. This does not mean don’t have fun and don’t go chase your dreams, as a whole I know not everyone's goal in reading this blog is to make it to the big leagues, it just means use caution when choosing to throw and not throw. Time off can come in the form of playing other sports, resting, or finding a training system that helps the athlete develop athleticism, explore new movement, improve imbalances, build strength, and psychologically mature. It is also recommended that athletes not throw more than 100 innings a year although some doctors prefer to keep it under 80-90. Greater than 100 innings in a year can increase likelihood of injury 3 times the norm. When counting innings we must understand that innings vary in stress levels just like pitch counts. A 30 pitch inning and a 9 pitch inning are a very different thing and we should acknowledge the stress differences in the two along with the stresses of pitching in a practice game versus a championship game.
When we look at the month we need to look at accumulation of total volume from that month. Not only games but practices. A throw is a throw and we need to treat it as such. New research is coming out that shows flat ground throws create comparable elbow torque and sometimes more stress than throwing off of a mound even if the velocities are significantly lower. If an athlete has done pitching lessons, practice, played in 1-2 games in a week then it is a very different situation then going into a weekend tournament where volume has been less. Keep track of the monthly volume and try to make sure 3-4 weeks into the month you haven’t accumulated 30 innings worth of throws when you add it all together. Again, quality is more important than quantity. Focus on accuracy and consistency utilizing the same warmup, cool down, and lifestyle approaches that you would for a game.
Weekly recovery should be influenced by how the athlete feels especially when they don’t feel good. If they feel tired, sore, or they are not recovering as fast as normal you might need to extend out the recommended rest days. On the flip side, if they are feeling good, DO NOT go under the recommended rest days. Sometimes it can be hard to regulate the competitor inside of us but this is highly recommended. Again, this is thinking along the lines of long-term development versus short-term competition. USA Baseball has recommendation based off of age and pitches accumulated:
With this in mind we need to understand the difference between rest and regeneration. Rest does not necessarily mean do nothing. You should stay active, do exercises or movements that encourage tissue healing and reduction of inflammation without aggravating the shoulder/elbow or throwing for volume. You should also stay on top of your lifestyle habits during these times to help normalize the recovery process.
Daily recovery should consist of the strategies in part 1 including warm-up, 2-out drills, cool down. The goal is to activate the lymphatic system which helps remove unwanted inflammation and bring fresh oxygenated blood to the damaged tissues. Light movement of the damaged tissue through band work, plyocare tosses, foam rolling, and soft tissue work will all help. Implementing these 3 things each time you throw will help you prepare and repair from each session. The more prepared you are the less damage your body will accumulate thus helping the recovery process. Nutrition, hydration, sleep will all be critical during this time to maximize normalization of healing. Other strategies would include compression massages, cryo therapy, and Marc pro electrical stimulation.
Developing a Thrower - How to Train
The biggest take home from the training portion is weak engines have to work way harder to accomplish a given task then a strong engine. If a kid is weak or underdeveloped they will accumulate more damage than someone who is stronger and more stable. This is wildly misunderstood in the sport of baseball and unfortunately not fully taken advantage of. This is why off-seasons are so crucially important. Even professional baseball players do not play year-round. They take time-off to heal their body, correct imbalances, and improve their strength. The throwing athlete needs to take a well-rounded approach to develop all aspects of athleticism. A program to develop a thrower should consist of at minimum the following human performance variables.
Mo-Sta-Bility - (mobility, stability, flexibility) the ability of the body to get into desired ranges of motion for both function to perform exercises to enhance ability but also positions of a thrower. This does not equal the ability to touch your toes but more so the ability to be in full stride with your hand behind your body and not break in half.
Core - the core is crucial for a thrower. It is the transfer case between the lower and upper half that allows your body to fluidly create kinetic energy. It keeps your body glued together and allows you to accelerate and decelerate without using your arm. You wouldn't shoot a cannon from a canoe. For more information on this crucial part of development see my blog on 6 Essentials of Core Training.
Proprioception - this is the ability to know where you are in space. Stopping, starting, pressure, end range of motion, speed, positioning, awareness, consistency, spin rate, location, all starts with dynamically owning your environment. You must be a movement specialist.
Movement efficiency - this is your ability to master your own bodyweight. We teach our throwers to be athletes first baseball players second and pitchers third. If you can understand how to use mass and momentum as well as take advantage of the free energy of gravity, you will be able to thrower harder and safer. This is at the foundation of applied functional science and chain reaction biomechanics. For more info on this check out Bobby Stroupe’s blog on Chain Reaction Biomechanics (Why Skinny Kids Throw Hard).
Strength - this is the foundation of all the pretty stuff that people see. This is what’s done behind closed doors. You do not build a house with the plumbing, electrical, walls and roof on a slab or foundation that has cracks and holes all through it. Strength training is the foundation that allows us to build everything else we want and see on top of it.
Power - power comes in a lot of forms but for a thrower is how well they accelerate their mass and the ball towards the plate. In order to do this you must develop lower body power, upper body power, and full body rotational power. This is done through a variety of plyometrics that tap into the stretch shortening cycles or your muscles ability to stretch and contract at high speeds. For more information here see my blog on power development.
Conditioning - conditioning needs to come in the form of anaerobic lactic/alactic and aerobic. Obviously the shoulder and arm need conditioning to keep up with the demands of throwing but the entire body as well. Having a solid base of conditioning helps us recover faster between throws, innings, and games.
In review the shoulder and elbow is an incredible work of architecture that allows us to do some unbelievable things. With as much as we know about it there is still tons to learn. If there is any take-home to this blog it is to open your mind to thinking outside the box of full-time baseball and bands on a fence to help fix all your problems. A lot goes into a systematic approach to arm care. Do not get suckered into a program that claims they do one thing and that thing is the answer. It must be attacked from a variety of angles with the individual and their specific needs in mind. Less is more, better is better, long-term focus is key.
Director of Training - APEC
CSCS-RSCC, CAFS, CFSC, PES, POSE, GI-GPS, USAW