Posts Tagged ‘pitching’

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


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.


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
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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.