Right about this time every year, as fall ball programs wrap up, pitchers and position players alike are faced with a few decisions about their upcoming off-season training. At the top of the list is a potential shutdown period at the end of the season. Should you or shouldn’t you? Well, like all things pitching the answer is, it depends.
The “NO throwing for 2-3 months” guys will tell you that a break is needed to allow the UCL, anterior capsule and all connective tissue to help with “ball-in socket congruency” after being stressed and stretched throughout a long season.
The “throw all year” guys will tell you that a complete shutdown will lead to stiffness accompanied by a loss of mechanical efficiency.
And to no one’s surprise , year after year, the debate rages on!
During any given year, every pitcher has a different experience, not only versus others but also against their own prior experience. So, the answer to the question is very much pitcher-specific.
Let’s review some of the pros and cons.
Should You Shut it Down?
About ten years ago, when I started working with pitchers, I was a big believer in a complete shutdown. Over the years, my thinking has evolved as I now believe it should be a pitcher-specific decision. So, let’s go over some pros and cons, using the classic “6-8-week shutdown” as an example:
Pros – If you’ve already thrown a ton of innings this year and you’re throwing considerably harder (3-5 mph) than your peers, and you’ve got great command, then shutting down and focusing on getting your body back to square one in the weight room could be a good idea.
Cons – Before we get into the cons, let’s quickly review how the body adjusts to stress. Connective tissue has a grain or a pattern to it, and its cells always align themselves along the lines of stress to which they are exposed. In the world of anatomy this is referred to as Davis’s Law, which is used in anatomy and physiology to describe how soft tissue models along imposed demands.
A complete shutdown sometimes can cause an athlete’s soft tissue (ligaments and tendons) to temporarily forget how to effectively move in the throwing motion. Combine this with unaddressed physical constraints and bio-mechanical inefficiencies, it could create the perfect storm for tissue failure. Shutting down completely may allow time for tissue restoration, but without stress, the tissue becomes disorganized. Disorganized tissue makes the pre-season ramp up slow, and quite honestly, increases the risk of injury right as throwing intensity ramps up.
Should You Engage in Active Recovery?
So, as I stated earlier, I have changed my views on shut down periods for pitchers over the age of 16. We call this portion of the “ramp-up” period, Active Recovery.
Active Recovery doesn’t mean throw, throw, throw. The whole concept of Active Recovery is to make sure you’re not going back to ground zero. It means keep it moving in order to keep the tissue organized the way it should be for the act of pitching. Here’ are some examples of what we do here at RPP during that period:
- Using a throwing sock available from Oates specialties, 3x a week to keep pronation intact and prevent the bicep from raging into release
- Throwing a football
- Playing light catch (15-20 throws @ at 50-60%)
Also, here is another topic to keep in mind, as a general rule, I believe that every week off will warrant a week of ramp-up on the back end.
To sum it up, in general, I’m not a fan of a complete shutdown for most pitchers. I think taking time off from any sport is generally a positive thing, both physically and mentally. However, over the years, I have witnessed many athletes sputtering into March (high school) and December (winter break workouts for college) complaining of arm pain due to what I believe to be complete shutdowns. I must reiterate however that there are some “pros” to a complete shut down which I listed earlier. And, as for youth athletes under the age of 16…. go be a kid / play another sport and just shut it down for a bit.
See ya’ in the gym…
By Nunzio Signore (Owner at RPP Baseball)
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