By Nunzio Signore (BA, CSCS, CPT, NASM, FMS)
As coaches and trainers, we have a big responsibility to fully develop our athletes, so they can perform at their best. At the same time, we are expected to keep them healthy to give them the best chance to play at the highest level. But, while arm injuries continue to rise in baseball players (specifically pitchers), we’ve come to realize that pitchers are the worst prepared athletes to step on an athletic field. Take note I didn’t say worst athletes, I said worst prepared. Bottom line, the system is flawed.
ASMI and all the leading researchers on the subject make it very clear that these injuries are happening at a younger and younger age. This is the result of asking the body to do something it isn’t prepared to handle. It’s not the 16 year-old pitcher throwing 75 MPH that’s on the operating table; it’s the pitchers that throw hard, the YOUNG, elite pitchers.
We’ve implemented pitch counts. Unfortunately, injuries have not decreased. They have actually increased since the pitch count system was introduced.
Their arm (and body) have not been trained, or often not used enough to withstand even 40 pitches let alone the limits implemented by pitch counts. According to the widely accepted SAID principle the body will Specifically Adapt to Imposed Demands. Further, if you are familiar with Davis’ Law (click here for more info), we are just not asking our pitchers to prepare properly.
Pitching too much is a problem, but not throwing enough is a bigger one. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that all pitchers should take off 8 consecutive weeks of throwing every year, but outside of that, they should feed their arm accordingly.
As far as strength goes, strength training, adequate rest and nutrition are the big 3 necessities here. As puberty hits, a young athletes body needs to develop more size (muscle) to help disperse the force of coming down the mound. If not, bad things start to happen in crucial areas such as the hips, shoulder and elbow to name a few. This will cause the game to “catch up with him” as I mentioned earlier.
The bottom line is this:
Any pitching, batting or strength coach worth his weight should educate his athlete on the need for complete training… in all areas!
Example, a 15 year-old that is 6’1” and weighs in at 173 lbs. that walks in into any of the “go-to” pitching coaches in his area and throws 80-85 off the mound would be considered a “great catch” to add to their stable of young, genetically gifted throwers. This helps inflate the coaches’ rosters and business (and sometimes ego). But if they don’t inform the young athlete about covering all his bases training-wise (strength, mobility, arm care, etc.), the game will eventually catch up with him and he’ll spend much of that time stuck in a plateau, frustrated or worst yet in the PT‘s office or eventually on the table.
If that same 15 year-old walks into RPP, he too would be considered an elite athlete in his age bracket. But, he would also be informed by ME that if his body doesn’t get stronger and more durable he’s an accident waiting to happen.
What to do? It’s all about TOTAL athletic development. Fix mechanical issues, feed your arm accordingly, take 8 weeks off and participate in a quality strength/mobility program year-round. If the pitcher is under the care of a coach, make sure they’re covering ALL the bases, not just what they do best. PT Mike Reinold calls it “making sure all your buckets are filled”. Every kid deserves the best possible chance to succeed, make sure you’re giving it to them.
See ya’ in the gym…