Posts Tagged ‘pitching’

The beginning of November is synonymous with the end of baseball season. The World Series has just ended, all of the big travel ball tournaments have ended, and the high school fall season (in Florida, at least) is coming to an end.

So hopefully the next thought that crosses your mind is:

“What’s the best way to prepare my arm over the offseason”

This used to be a very black and white matter for me. You ABSOLUTELY HAVE to take time off. Like as close to 2 months as possible. Definitely 1 month.

The sign I used to put over the baseballs during the “No Throwing” period

 

But with experience, and hopefully some wisdom, I have learned there are endless scenarios for athletes that require a grey area to answer the question above.

So here are the guidelines we suggest to our athletes, and a few examples of situations that require us to work in the grey area:
  • We recommend that all baseball players take 4-8 weeks off from picking up a baseball.
  • For the way the yearly schedule works out for most of our guys, we are recommending that they take 4 weeks off (all of November) from throwing.
  • As I mentioned, most of the high schools just finished fall ball and travel ball teams have their tryouts around the weekend of January 12. So taking 4 weeks off allow the athletes adequate time (6 weeks) to get ready to throw 100% at a tryout.
When we it comes to customizing a program, some of the factors that play in to the length of time off throwing are:
  1. Injury History– Ideally more rest time and longer on ramping before spring season for athletes coming off an injury or less than a full year back from an injury.
  2. Velocity– The higher the velocity, longer the down time. This rule becomes less of a factor the older an athlete is. For example, a high schooler that throws 96 needs more time off relative to his peer compared to a 27 yr old in Triple A that throws 96.
  3. Previous Calendar Year Innings Pitched– Obviously the more innings pitched, the longer we would like to have the pitcher rest, up to 2 months.
  4. Upcoming Calendar Year Innings Projections- If a pitcher is going to be the ace for the high school team and play travel ball in the summer, we are going to project 80 innings (50-60 IP for school and 20-30 IP for summer team). If the athlete is also pitching in the fall, that total number for the year is closer to 100 innings. If the pitcher is a reliever, his projection is probably closer to 20 innings in spring and 20 innings during the summer. Clearly, 2 pitchers that may have a 40-60 inning difference over the course of a year should also have different off season programs.
  5. Role on the Team– This one does coincide with Innings Projection, but I think of this more in the sense of “When does the pitcher need to be ready to compete at 100%?” For instance, a junior in college that is the returning ace and a projected draft pick needs to be ready to compete at 100% on opening day. A junior who threw 5 innings last year and is trying to prove himself need to be ready to compete at 100% on opening day of INTRASQUADS. It doesn’t do him much good if he well rested to sit the bench.
  6. Stage of Development- Player A could go 3 months without throwing off a mound and first time back on the bump they have command of 3 pitches. Player B has zero feel for his mechanics and can barely throw a fastball in the strike zone. Having Player B go 4-6 weeks without touching a baseball could significantly stunt his development, where it’s probably necessary for Player A to have the time off. Instead, take the 4-6 weeks with Player B and implement sub maximal mechanical and throwing drills. If done properly, the athlete is still getting a break from high intensity stress on his arm while working on his weaknesses.

 

Long toss is a great way to increase arm strength, but is that what YOU need this offseason? 

So this year, we have made an adjustment and put guys into a few different categories. We have some pitchers that are going to not touch a ball for 4-8 weeks, others that will throw 2-3 times a week at a very low intensity, and still others that will continue normal throwing through the winter.

We all have that kid that would completely forget everything if he stops throwing for any amount of time. Is it really in his best interest to take time off and have everything he’s worked on for the past 10 months completely disappear?

The biggest thing to remember as sports performance or skill coaches is our number 1 job is to help the athlete improve at their sport. Having the same off season throwing plan for every single baseball player is not going to help each person. We are trying to be more and more creative in the way we handle our throwers in the off season so we can maximize results and minimize stress on the arm.

Having said that, we wanted to provide an Off Season Throwing Calendar. This will give you a day-by-day guide to prepare your arm for the season. REMEMBER, IT IS JUST A GUIDE. Listen to your body and modify the program as needed. Please feel free to email me at barrett@revolutionsp.com or contact me on any social media platform if you have any questions.

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I had an awesome weekend in Franklin, Tennessee at Pitch-a-Palooza. Needless to say I learned a lot, but as I was thinking about the weekend on the flight home, I had 3 big picture thoughts that stuck out to me.

The baseball world is changing, and it’s starting to change (relative to the history of baseball).

With 22 MLB organizations in attendance, it is clear that baseball is finally starting to change for the best. Clubs are thirsty for knowledge and are willing to look outside the box to get an edge. I met a few pitching instructors from various organizations that are baseball lifers (played pro ball now coach pro ball) that said if they aren’t willing to learn about sabermetrics and explore different teaching methods they would be pushed out. I almost teared up hearing this!

The number of college coaches there was simply amazing as well. One thing that Kyle Boddy has said quite a few times is that change in baseball will start from the bottom, so seeing so many college coaches there is even more encouraging for the future of baseball.

The best example of this is the weighted ball training. College programs adopted weighted ball training much earlier than the professional organizations. As players from the college programs that used weighted balls got drafted, they wanted to continue the program so the organizations could no longer squash it once the population was big enough.

Coaching is getting less and less mechanical, and much more movement driven.

Listening to Rick Strickland and Eugene Bleecker talk about the process they go through their evaluation and teaching process set this light bulb off for me.

It just makes too much sense how they explained teaching movement first and mechanics second. That is an extreme simplification of what they do, and I certainly don’t want to undermine how good they are at their job. But this is the way baseball instructing is going, and it’s beautiful! Seeing the before videos of a tight, mechanical swing transform into a free, athletic swing pumps me up.

Professional development can come outside of your immediate field.

The two main reasons I went to Pitch-a-Palooza were to make connections and be exposed to different coaching philosophies.

The baseball world is very small, so going to an event like this is worth its weight in gold for networking alone. Everyone that I spoke to was extremely friendly and willing to share their knowledge. I heard some great stories and learned a lot from conversations in between presentations and at the Saturday night hot stove.

Only 3 presentations were directly related to the strength and conditioning field, but many dealt with movement, communication, and/or teaching methods. Where I used to dismiss information that didn’t pertain to my niche, I now appreciate any outside the box thinking from any profession. For instance, Tony Robichaux (Head Coach of Louisiana Lafayette), presented entirely on how their team throws bullpens.

While this has zero effect on my job, I appreciated the different methods he used and it made me question if there are ways I could improve my program but haven’t simply because it would go against the status quo.

All in all it was an amazing weekend. I can’t wait to go back next year and if your career has anything to do with baseball I would highly recommend going.

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.

Because of the spike of arm injuries over the past 2 decades, arm care has been a focus of many overhead athletes. There are many different programs that aim to properly train the rotator cuff and other smaller muscles involved in an overhead movement. For the purpose of this article, we will focus on pitching as the overhead movement.

While rotator cuff and other isolated arm care work is important, it should be viewed as auxiliary work when we think about preventing arm injuries. In Anatomy Trains 2nd Edition, Thomas Myers illustrates how the fascial system connects our whole body. One of the main points he tries to convey is how one area of a fascial line can affect the entire line, not just the immediate area around the effected area. One statement Meyers made really stuck out to me when discussing the functional lines:

 “While remedial work on these muscles or their antagonists may be helpful, long-term relief depends on reinforcing the strength and precise timing of the Back Functional Line  (BFL) in throwing, rather than asking the small muscles of the shoulder joint to bear the entire burden.”

 Note: The Back Functional Line is the fascial system that runs from the distal attachment of the latissimus dorsi through the sacrolumbar junction to connect with the lower fibers of the gluteus maximus on the opposite side.

Hopefully by now you know I am a huge proponent of training the entire body together as much as possible. There is certainly merit to isolation work, but the body needs to be taught how to work together. This idea is emphasized throughout Anatomy Trains, especially in the above quote. While there are many other applications to this idea, let’s concentrate on back during a pitch.

This goes beyond pull ups, DB rows, reverse flys, and keeping the golden 2:1 pull:push ratio. While those exercises are important, they are isolated strengthening exercises. They don’t do much for the timing of the BFL. We want to try and get the entire back to work on decelerating the arm and body.

So how is this accomplished?

The simplest way to do this is hold on to the ball, preferably a weighted ball. The thought behind this is if your body can slow down say a 2 lb ball, it can certainly slow down itself after it releases a 5 oz object. Also, your body will not let your arm accelerate any faster than your deceleration muscles can slow it down. If you want to increase velocity, start by improving your deceleration muscles (infraspinatus, teres minor, biceps), along with the integrating the rest of the musculature of the back.

Drill: Start in the “early cocking” position where the arm is going to start accelerating forwards, and the lead shoulder is still pointing at the target, front in the position it would be in if you just landed.

Take your arm through your normal  throwing motion at a slow speed. Finish like you would normally finish a pitch, except keep your back foot down. Keeping the back foot down places more of the deceleration on the back. Once you finish your follow through, rewind the motion taking your arm back through the exact path it traveled when going forward. Return to starting position and repeat. I usually start with just a baseball and 2 sets of 6 and work up to using a 21 oz ball and 3 sets of 10 depending on the athlete.

It all goes back to the idea of training the body as 1 unit. There are several other drills that teach us how to utilize a larger section of the body or the entire body during a specific sports movement. I will cover some of the other exercises I use at another time. It is also important to note that mechanics play a major role in the precise timing involved in a skill like pitching. Your back can be really strong and it won’t help at all if your mechanics suck. Try out this exercise and let me know what you think.

Recovery for Pitchers

Posted: November 2, 2012 in General Health
Tags: , ,

I spent last weekend in Houston at Dynamic Sports Training hanging out with Lee Fiocchi. Lee was nice enough to have me down and take some time to impart some knowledge on me. Needless to say, I learned a lot. He also brought up a few basic points that I hadn’t thought of in awhile. Two of these points came up when we were discussing recovery for pitchers. After reading “Condtioning” for Pitchersyou know that lactic acid levels have returned to normal during an outing so flushing the lactic acid from the muscles is not necessary after an outing. It is beneficial to increase blood flow to the muscles that were damaged with micro fractures so more oxygen is delivered to the area which will increase recovery rate. While this helps, I think the two points Lee reminded me of are much more important and definitely less strenuous.

1. Proper nutrition/Hydration- As many times as I remember coaches telling me to make sure I ran after I pitched, I don’t ever remember a coach telling to eat afterwards. We stress refueling our bodies after any kind of weight training, but not after an extremely taxing activity like pitching. That doesn’t make sense to me. Follow the same nutritional guidelines listed in the post workout part of the Nutrition section. The protein consumption could be slightly less, but it is still important as your body will need some source of protein to break down to help repair the muscles. Make sure you are drinking the proper amounts after a game as it is hard to properly replace the water during the game. It is suggested that you consume 16 oz of water for every pound you lose during exercise. Pitchers can lose between 5-10 pounds in a start during the summer, so what would mean 80-160 oz of water to return your body to an optimal level. Also, our body is able to break down nutrients more efficiently if we are properly hydrated. Eating and drinking will help maintain or increase your body weight, as well. Most athletes struggle with maintaining weight during season, and for pitchers this can result in a decrease in velocity.

2. Sleep- Sleep is the best time for our bodies to recover both mentally and physically. For any athlete during any time of the year, adequate sleep is important. Obviously this is amplified in season. So going out the night after you pitch or after a game is not ideal because you are pushing back your recovery time severely.

Try these two tips out and see if you notice a difference over the next few days after you pitch. Thanks again to Lee for the hospitality. Check out his website and blog for more information on how he does things at Dynamic Sports Training.