It was great to see Garrett Richards opted to rehab his partial torn UCL Ligament instead of opting for Tommy John Surgery.

Garrett Richards 2

This choice seems misguided to the general public. Why not just go ahead and get the surgery out of the way? Don’t you come back throwing harder after Tommy John? Isn’t it just part of the job description now?

Unfortunately, the success of the surgery almost now seems to be somewhat of a detriment to the sport. We hear of all the success stories at the Major League level while the high school, college, and minor league pitchers who don’t make it back, or return as a shell of their former selves, are swept under the rug.

The accepted success rate for TJ surgery is somewhere around 80-85 percent. This percentage needs a huge asterisk beside it. Success rate is defined, in this case, as returned to pitch in one game at the level the pitcher was at before the injury occurred. So if a Low A pitcher has Tommy John and comes back to pitch one inning in Low A, it’s a tally for the successful TJ surgery count. If he is throwing 4 MPH slower, in pain, barely makes it through the inning only to get released the next day and quits, it’s a tally for the successful TJ surgery count.

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at New York Mets

Jeremy Hefner is part of the 15-20% that hasn’t made it back after two Tommy John surgeries. Mandatory Credit: John Munson/THE STAR-LEDGER via USA TODAY Sports

 

The scary thing is no one really seems to know the cut off for what percentage of a tear is a definite for surgery. There seems to be such a casual attitude towards the surgery now, it’s blindly prescribed for any chronic elbow issue.

For instance:

 

If that doesn’t make you leery, I don’t know what will.

Also remember the big league pitchers have big league resources. They get the best surgeons, one-on-one attention from an Athletic Trainer or Physical Therapist, and other rehab methods like soft tissue work. Very few high school and college players are going to have the resources professional baseball players have, lowering the percentage even more.

Hopefully more guys will be successful choosing the Masahio Tanaka and Garrett Richards’ route and pitchers will realize there is more than one option when dealing with damage to the UCL.

And maybe even one day we figure this whole ulnar collateral ligament thing out and prevent some injuries.

If you would like more information on UCL injuries and prevention, I highly recommend Jeff Passan’s new book, The Arm.

Other great resources are:

What We’ve Missed About Tommy John Surgery

PitchSmart

It seems like every sport is a year-round-sport now. Ten-year-old kids are playing similar schedules to professional athletes. The mentality seems to be if you aren’t playing on three travel teams and your school team, then you are falling behind.

Parents read about Bryce Harper playing 100 games per year and having teams fly him to tournaments at a young age and think that’s the blueprint for little Johnny to be the next phenom.

Harper SI Cover

The thought of taking time off the primary sport to play a different sport or to focus your time and effort into training is ludicrous. How will the scouts see your child if he/she doesn’t play on that special 12u team?

The shame of it is most athletes would benefit immensely from some sort of off-season strength program. It doesn’t do any good for a right-handed pitcher that is a high school junior and tops out at 80 MPH to play on a fall travel ball team and go to showcase events. Any college or professional scout will put their gun away and cross him off the list after 5 pitches. Trust me, I’ve been there. That athlete would be much better served spending 6 months getting after it in the gym and utilizing a long toss and/or weighted ball program.

Baseball Scouts

On the flip side, some athletes do need to spend more time practicing their particular skill. For example, if there is a pitcher that throws 98 but can’t find the strike zone, improving his deadlift probably isn’t the answer. Or if you have a golfer that crushes the ball but can’t putt, their time would be better spent on the putting green rather than doing medicine ball throws.

We have seen athletes on both ends of the spectrum. Sometimes we have to encourage athletes to leave the gym and go practice. Most of the time we are trying to educate the parents and the athlete that time spent in the gym now will lead to better results later.

There is a fine line for every athlete. It is very easy to get caught up trying to be the best right now, but foolish to do so when that hinders the future. It is important to realistically evaluate yourself every so often and make sure you are improving your weaknesses. Parents, have a trusted coach assess your child to prevent any bias from getting in the way of constructive criticism. Taking a break from competition to train may be the best decision you could make for your athletic career.

Spring is one of the best times of the year for sports fans. College basketball has the NCAA tournament, the Masters is here, and most importantly baseball season has started.

The weather starts to warm up and nothing brings back the memories of the ballpark quite like the smell of freshly cut grass, hot dogs, and torn UCLs.

When pitchers start throwing again there always seem to be arm soreness or stiffness one would expect after the layoff. That’s just the nature of the beast.

This year, UCL injuries seem to be occurring at an alarming rate. Maybe it’s because some big names have gone down this spring, or that social media informs us of the hang nail that keeps a player out of a spring training game. But it seems that every day a pitcher is getting checked for structural damage to his elbow.

Both Medlen and Parker underwent their second Tommy John surgery

Both Medlen and Parker underwent their second Tommy John surgery

Jarrod+Parker+New+York+Yankees+v+Oakland+Athletics+vOSSgnHCbQUl

So the billion dollar question is, can you do anything to prevent ripping your Tommy John?

I believe the answer is YES…sort of.

Throwing a baseball is a very unnatural movement for your body. It is also the fastest movement for any joint in sports, with a pitcher’s arm rotating at up to 8,500° per second. No, that is not a misprint. Combine these two factors and something has to give, and it’s either the elbow or shoulder.

"Lay back" phase (maximum external rotation)

“Lay back” phase (maximum external rotation)

 

Can torn UCLs be completely eliminated from baseball? No.

Is there something that can be done to reduce the rate or likelihood of it happening? Absolutely.

Here are 3 ways to lower the chance of a UCL tear, or any arm injury for that matter:

1. Proper Mechanics

No matter how strong or mobile or “functional” the athlete is, he/she will not be able to overcome poor mechanics for any repetitive movement. Baseball is a very repetitive sport and requires movements at high speeds, like 8,500° per second high speeds. Improper technique multiple times at high speeds is a recipe for injury. While some pitchers may be able to have a long, healthy career with “poor” mechanics, I would certainly not advise tempting fate.

brandon_beachy_medium

I am restraining myself from going on a rant about how there is no such thing as perfect mechanics and how it depends on the individual, but for now I will leave it as that. There are certain indicators that have been found to increase the likelihood for injury. I do not believe the idea of significantly altering a professional pitcher’s mechanics is realistic. This is the kind of information that needs to be applied at an early age in place of coaching clichés like “throw strikes” and “get on top of the ball “.  Coaches should be taking advantage of technology, like frame-by-frame video apps on your cell phone, to identify possible red flags like the inverted W or angle of shoulder abduction at release.

2. Physical Restrictions/Compensations

The first two points actually coincide a lot more than one may think. A strong argument can be made that proper mechanics cannot be achieved without out proper strength, mobility, and stability. For instance, factors like internal hip rotation of the lead leg and internal rotation of the throwing shoulder can lead to increased chance of injury. Lack of strength in the legs and core means the arm will have to make up the power and speed in order to produce adequate velocity.

While better training is definitely a contributor in the increase in velocity over the past 20 years, baseball still has a long way to go before old school myths, like long distance running, are out of the game. Not that I have all the answers, but proper training will decrease the chance of injury for any sport, baseball included.

Soft tissue work has also become popular in the last few years. The attitude has changed from getting a massage for relaxation to getting specific soft tissue work, like Active Release Technique. Soft tissue evaluation and treatment is certainly another tool that can keep athletes healthy.

 

3. Pitch Selection

Jeff Zimmerman of FansGraphs did a really cool article on breaking ball usage and it’s affect on a pitcher’s health.

Granted the numbers are not drastic, but it gives validity to the notion that throwing a high percentage of breaking balls increases the chance of injury.

The fastball is and always will be the best pitch in baseball. That’s why it’s thrown about 70% of the time. Learn how to pitch off your fastball growing up. Locate your fastball, learn a change up, and then a decent breaking ball will just make it unfair for the hitter.

After his rookie year, Greg Maddux started 33 games every year until retirement (except '94 strike)

Greg Maddux pitched 5008 1/3 innings and spent 15 days on the Disabled List

At the end of the day, the ulnar collateral ligament can only withstand so much stress. With the increased demand for velocity, Tommy John surgery will continue to be commonplace in baseball.

However, that does not provide an adequate excuse for elbow injuries to occur at the current rate. A strong effort should be made to increase our knowledge of why this may happen and to apply the knowledge to prevent future injuries.

Dylan Bundy warming up with long toss

Dylan Bundy, long toss enthusiast

Baseball is a funny sport. Years ago, kids played baseball every day. No pitch count, no innings limit, just trying to throw the ball past the other boys in the neighborhood. Arm injuries were fairly uncommon, especially when compared to today’s standards. Tommy John comes along and returns to pitch in the big leagues after having a major arm surgery. The surgery becomes more common, and so a rehab protocol is put together. In this protocol, it is suggested that the player progresses back to 120 feet to conclude his rehab. The protocol does not state that the player should stop there or never throw a ball over 120 ft again, it’s just simply the end of the rehab.

And this is how the “120 ft rule” was born.

Someone thought it made sense that if an injured pitcher coming off a major surgery shouldn’t throw over 120 ft within 8 months of surgery, then by golly no one should.

The other major thought behind this rule is your mechanics start to change to put arc on the ball after 120 ft. I agree with this. Mechanics are slightly altered and the release point changes as a player begins to extend the distance. If you want to keep the same mechanics and release point that you have when you pitch, you should only throw off a mound to a squatting catcher. Throwing on flat ground at any distance will alter your mechanics when compared to the mechanics of pitching off a mound. But throwing from a mound increases the torque on your shoulder. Quite the conundrum.

Angles of flat ground vs mound

Angles of flat ground vs mound

Theoretically, I don’t mind the 120 ft rule. If a player could properly warm up his arm and throw each throw as hard as he could, properly using his entire body and not just his arm, I would be in favor of it. In fact, I wouldn’t see the need to go back to even 120 ft.

Realistically, that can’t/won’t happen. That distance isn’t sufficient to warm up an advanced high school or college arm, so chance of injury will increase if you really try to let a few go at 100%. Also, it’s human nature to do as little as possible to accomplish any goal. If the goal is to throw the ball 120 ft, it is difficult to use the entire body as much as you should, leaving the shoulder to make up the difference.

Finally, it is much easier to get feedback as the distance increases. If you ease up on a throw, the ball falls 10 ft short. If you get beside the ball, it moves more and doesn’t carry as well. It teaches the player, especially younger athletes, how to sync their entire body during a max effort throw and get the most out of their legs, hips, back, etc.

Two other reasons I am a huge fan of long toss:

1. It provides a longer arc for the arm to decelerate. If you have read any of my other articles on pitching, you know I am a huge proponent of training the body to decelerate. Long toss provides a longer arc for the thrower to slow down his arm, and encourages the rest of the body to help with it as well so it’s not just the shoulder and elbow bearing all of the distraction force. Fleisig and colleagues (1996) state, “The kinetic chain helps to reduce stress placed on the throwing arm by transferring most of the weight and momentum of the body to the lead leg.”

2. It encourages the rest of the body to help the shoulder and elbow bear the distraction forces (the force put on the arm after you let go of the ball, the arm pulling away from the body). Most shoulder injuries occur as the “rotator cuff muscles try to resist distraction, horizontal adduction and internal rotation at the shoulder during arm deceleration” and later recommends “exercises emphasizing eccentric contractions should therefore be performed with appropriate range of motions and speeds of movement. The best exercise for throwing is some form of throwing” (Fleisig, et. al. 1996).

Trevor Bauer warming up

Trevor Bauer warming up

I would never say that one training protocol is perfect for everyone. I’m sure you can find many successful major league pitchers, such as John Smoltz, that never long tossed and still does not believe in it.

However, I do believe that for the reasons listed above long toss can be a very important tool to utilize for the majority of baseball players, both pitchers and position players, when trying to improve arm speed.

Just like everything else, long toss is just a piece of the puzzle. It is important to continue to work on pitching mechanics on a mound and have a baseball specific strength and conditioning program in place. There should be a throwing program, much like a weight lifting program, that is designed to prime YOUR body for the season.

Like weighted balls, or throwing in general, there is both risk and reward with long toss. Consult a knowledgeable professional before you begin any throwing program to make sure it is right for you.

Reference

Fleisig, G. S., Barrentine, S. W., Escamilla, R.F., Andrews, J.R. (1996): Biomechanics of overhand                      throwing with implications for injuries. Sports Medicine, 21(6), 421-437.

To say Charles is extremely competitive would be an understatement. If he loses a card game, he’s on the brink of a breakdown. He can’t stand it.

It is also easy to ruffle his feathers, which I really like to do. A few smart comments or jabs and he’s coming after you. For some reason I find this amusing and do it quite frequently.

My dad and I like to combine these two characteristics and challenge him. This is usually in the form of trash talk which he loves

Even though Charles is only 6, his grandfather (my dad) and I have tried to instill in him the importance of practice. One of the lessons my dad taught me at an early age and has stuck with me since is no matter what you do, your goal should be to be the best. The way you become the best is through hard work and practice.

Charles understands that. Maybe because we semi brain washed him)

For instance, my dad saw a kid about Charles’ age playing baseball and thought the kid was pretty impressive. Charles was visiting at the time so my dad told Charles about the kid.

Dad: “Charles, I saw a kid playing baseball today. He looked pretty good.”

Charles: “I better start practicing more then.”

He gets it. And he doesn’t just say it, he actually started practicing more.

He is able to carry the idea over to all sports and other aspects of life. He understands the benefit of practice and the process it takes to improve. It is much easier to communicate why he should spend more time reading or working on math. He has reaped the benefits of hard work and realizes the results are worth the effort.

I guarantee that 99% of the people that are very successful didn’t just stumble into their success. They achieved their position in life because they outworked their peers.

Whatever your occupation may be, learn from Charles and dedicate yourself to practice.

 

Baseball season is finally in full swing at all levels. While games should be the focal point of a baseball player’s routine, it is critical to maintain a training schedule. These concepts can be applied to any sport, but baseball has the most games and longest season making in season workouts more imperative.

This is mainly geared towards high school athletes as most college programs (hopefully) allow for time in the weight room during the season. Professional baseball players have a game every day for 6 or 7 months. Do you really think they don’t touch a weight for over half a year?

Also, a younger athlete is more likely to undergo detraining more quickly. For an athlete that is completely physically developed (20 yr +), noticeable detraining effects occur after 4 weeks of not working out. High school athletes are more likely to notice detraining effects around 2 weeks of no training. Also, the high school athletes will lose more of the gains made during the off season.

A maintenance program can go a long way to ensure the athlete stays at peak performance through the season and won’t have to start over once the season is over.

Most of the hesitation to lifting or doing any kind of workout during the season is due to the fear of soreness. Luckily, soreness can be avoided by remembering a few simple tips:

1. Avoid heavy eccentric movements- The eccentric (lengthening of the muscle) phase of the lift is where the trauma to the muscle occurs that allows for it to grow back stronger, which is why soreness occurs (NOT from lactic acid).

2. Don’t change the exercises- Choose exercises that you have used in the off season and stick with those throughout the entire season. This way, your body won’t have to constantly adjust to new stresses.

3. Keep the workouts short- Make sure to include the multi-joint lifts that hit the major muscle groups. Auxiliary work isn’t necessary in season, and for baseball players this usually just includes curls. Sorry, but huge biceps don’t help you hit the ball any further, Dan Uggla being the exception. Forearm work is acceptable.

4. Include movement work- As many reps as you take in baseball on one side of your body, it’s easy to get jacked up very quickly. Implementing a dynamic warm up appropriate to dealing with these asymmetries can help “reset” your body. Scap/Thoracic spine, hip, and ankle mobility should be the general focal points here, but each person will be different.

A maintenance program is just that- doing enough to help you maintain throughout the season. Basic  periodization should still be applied, including getting up to 85% or greater of your 1RM. Just make sure to keep the volume low and build up to it and no soreness will occur.

Something as little as 3 multi-joint exercises twice a week can go a long way in helping you keep strength and power throughout the season. That will allow you to include your movement work and still keep the workouts around 30-45 minutes.

Tabata training is a hot topic today in the fitness world. For some reason, I got a wild hair today to try it. I had heard a lot about it, but never had the courage to try it out. I am a fan of high intensity interval training (HIIT) and was looking for something new so I figured what the heck.

For those of you that aren’t familiar with Tabata training, it is interval training where you exercise for 20 seconds with a 10 second break, and repeat. It was started by Izumi Tabata, a Japanese scientist, who did research on speed skaters comparing this training method to steady state training (long distance). The group that performed the intervals showed a greater increase in VO2 and also showed improvements in their anaerobic capacity.

Tabata Training Intervals

Because I haven’t done any cardio in awhile and was scared by the 2:1 work:rest ratio (I usually do a 1:3 work:rest ratio for intervals), I did not get anywhere close to the recommended intensity which is about 170% of your VO2 max. In layman’s terms, working at 170% of your VO2 max with a rest break that is half the time of the exercise time will make you want to pass out or throw up.

My other excuse is more valid. I started a new workout program this week and this was my off day for lifting between a full body day and a lower body day, and I didn’t want to ruin myself for a leg workout I had never done before.

Here is what my workout looked like:

20 sec 5 degree 8 mph

  • 10 sec rest

20 sec 5 degree 8 mph

  • 10 sec rest

20 sec 5 degree 8.5 mph

  • 10 sec rest

20 sec 5 degree 8.5 mph

  • 10 sec rest

20 sec 5 degree 9 mph

  • 10 sec rest

20 sec 5 degree 9 mph

  • 10 sec rest

20 sec 5 degree 9 mph

  • Curse Izumi Tabata
I lost count, but I completed around 8 cycles which is the recommended number. This was a pretty solid intensity for me to get my feet wet. It was definitely challenging, but I didn’t feel like I was going to die after I was finished.
The 10 second rest goes by really fast and you don’t recover much so I wouldn’t suggest trying to set a world record the first time you do it.
It is a great tool for fat loss, as all interval training is. If you are looking to switch it up a bit, try out Tabata training and let me know how you like it.