Spare the Arm III: Training

- - - - -

Following Parts I HERE and II HERE, this concerns strength training and conditioning for pitchers. Traditional training may be worse than useless. These are strong words because I feel pretty strongly that training "like a pitcher" may in fact increase the chance of injury.


The traditional training of pitchers focuses an awfully lot on the arm, often to the exclusion of other critical elements in the total body effort of throwing. While certain precautions and modifications are needed to maximize benefit and minimize risk, pitchers are often treated far too gently in their training.

The conventional bodybuilding formula of training isolated body parts is not best for specific performance gains. Leave it to baseball guys to go ahead and do exactly that with their rotator cuff and core. The Throwers 10 is a series of shoulder and wrist exercises that are still referenced and used as the thing for getting and keeping a healthy arm. Traditional ab training is one or two steps removed from increased arm strain.

Lastly, what's with all the distance running? When close to 60% of pitchers suffer injury each season, should they be using their time running poles and shagging fly balls? Plodding along may even add to the typical imbalances that result from the repetitive asymmetrical forces involved in throwing. That's not even to speak of the peak power reductions that occur when endurance training is added to strength training (1).

Not hitting 90 m.p.h.

Baseball requires repeated doses of TNT, not a flow of kerosene; drag racers exploding on jet engines, not a Prius brigade. The very best thing we can do to spare the arm of a pitcher is to make the rest of the body more powerful, symmetrical, and athletic.


It happens by challenging the entire athlete with safe and effective ways to become rotational monsters.

The majority of the body's muscle mass is not in the rotator cuff. Tugging on rubber tubing in a manner that isolates the infraspinatus does not help pitchers create a huge amount of force in the legs and core. It does not help them efficiently transfer that force through the core and into the throwing arm. The upper back, lower back, and lead leg quadriceps muscles relieve the puny rotator cuff muscles from the entire duty of decelerating the arm.

Just like isolated forearm training does nothing to increase bat speed (2), wrist curls do not help in the acceleration and immediate deceleration of the violent "whip" that just produced a 60, 70, 80, even 90 mph fastball. Thick forearms are simply an indication of a heat throwing or long ball hitting person. How many athletes can perform 20 chin-ups or 70-pound "lawn mower" rows with weak forearms?

Check the massive 1 rep-max wrist curl! Surely he can hit 90 m.p.h.

Pitchers should spend 10 minutes or working the tubing exercises that support balance and fine-tuning of the scapula and humerus. Then get down to business. The legs the legs the legs. The legs. Train the legs for increased force generation (strength training) and power (plyometrics).

Leg training ties nicely in with lower back and core training. As mentioned above, traditional core training may actually contribute to injuries of the shoulder (and low back and oblique strains, too). Do pitchers need more activities that influence the scapula and ribs slumped down and forward toward the pelvis? That's exactly what crunches promote.
Uh, okay. And your fastball?
Weight training and core stabilization exercises on a big ball look fun and imaginative. Too bad they don't help with performance in a healthy population (3). Placing the body in unstable "environments" does cause increased activation of core muscles because the body shifts into "get by and survive this" mode. Sometimes this is a desired effect in a rehabilitative setting, but it comes at the cost of coordinating efficiency for peak power.

Gravity and firm earth underfoot are the athletes greatest activity-specific allies for core training. Hit those single leg squats, deadlift variations, plank variations, medicine ball throws, and activities that cause the core to resist rotational forces.

Conditioning is another good example of how traditional methods may actually promote injury and decreased performance. The jogging and pole running that pitchers do to "flush" muscles and keep them "in shape" enough to last seven or nine innings may promote imbalance and "flat" legs. Where did this distance running for pitchers come from? I've attempted to trace the orginal rationale for pitchers doing long drawn out cardio (4, 5). [1985, people!]

In the 80's. And I don't mean 80 m.p.h.!

Another recent report found that only power performance tests (and not endurance tests) could identify elite from average basketball players (6). In other words, elite hoopers are no more or less aerobically fit than average players. But they are far more powerful. And if power is a primary factor in a sport like basketball, imagine how it applies to baseball?

Not hitting 90 m.p.h.

Do pitchers have in mind the torso of a Roger Clemens or a (marathon champion) Kipruto Kirwa? Keep in mind that the few elite athletes who can pull off high power and decent endurance are not the norm. Whatever our genetic potentials are, we can cause the one body that we're given to be maximally adapted for only one thing at a time. The guys who "make" their body best suited to bench press 800 pounds (huge force generation) or run 800 meters (anaerobic endurance) have intentionally left behind their own maximum genetic potential for throwing hard (rotational power).

Pitching demands sporadic short distance sprints and regular short duration, high velocity bursts of rotational movement. Weak, immobile bodies will break down the fastest. While honed athletes are not made from hot-dog eating between innings, no amount of cardio will make up for laziness and poor eating habits. Intense plyometrics, sprinting, sprint training, and power training will provide plenty enough physical conditioning to get the far majority of young men through the ninth inning.

For a relatively thin 17-year old, let's concern ourselves with not getting shelled (and therefore keeping the pitch count relatively lower) before we worry about his ability to endure seven innings of baseball.

Go hard with sprints and resistance training. Go slow; like with low intensity dynamic warm ups and corrective movements that provide mobility benefits. But all power athletes need to avoid that middle area where they don't go slow and don't go fast. They need to condition their bodies to explode with muscular and elastic energy.

Or for elastic energy, they could go the traditional route and strap on the big rubber band shaking machine (7).
- - - - - - - - - -

1. Effect of Concurrent Endurance and Circuit Resistance Training Sequence on Muscular Strength and Power Development. J Strength Cond Res 22:1037-1045, 2008

2. Effect of Wrist and Forearm Training on Linear Bat-end, Hand Velocities, And Time to Ball Contact of High School Baseball Players. J Strength Cond Res 20(1):231-240. 2006.

3. Trunk Muscle Activation During Dynamic Weight-Training Exercises and Isometric Instability Activities. J Strength Cond Res 21(4): 1108-112. 2007.

4. Recovery from short term intense exercise: it's relation to capillary supply and blood lactate concentration. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol 52:98-103. 1983.

5. Programming and Organization of Training. Sportivny Press, 1988.

6. Physiological Testing of Basketball Players: Toward a Standard Evaluation of Anaerobic Fitness. J Strength Cond Res 22: 1066-1072, 2008.
7. Big rubber band shaking machine does not promote athleticism or loss of body flab. J of Fitness Gimmicks Bob Likes to Joke About, 2010.

No comments:

Post a Comment