Pitching Lab… Day 1, Building a Pitcher’s Off-Season Roadmap

By Nunzio Signore (BA, CPT, CSCS, NASM, PES, FMS)

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The old saying “if you’re going to do something, do it right” couldn’t ring true anymore than when it comes to training a pitcher. Pitching is a volatile movement involving the shoulder, the most unstable joint in the body. This leaves no room for error when it comes to training.  Today, I am going to give you a glimpse into the first day of the Pitching Lab Protocol (click here for more info) and how we build a roadmap for training pitchers during the off-season. This is a first session like no other, but it’s really how an off-season program should begin for pitchers.  So come inside and see how each athlete’s individual off-season program is created and the blueprint for their success is drawn up.

Step 1 – The Movement Assessment

To safely and effectively reduce the chance of injury, a pitcher’s body needs to move in sync.  Unfortunately, not every pitcher’s mechanics, mobility and movement patterns work in perfect harmony.  Consequently, many young players get really good at moving incorrectly.  A thorough assessment is the first step in correcting these bad habits, helping to improve performance and velocity while adding years to a pitcher’s career.

That’s why the pitching lab begins with what we call the “Pitchers Assessment”.  It is an extremely thorough review of a pitcher’s movement strategy, mobility, core and scapular stability, shoulder range of motion and upper and lower body strength. An assessment not only provides a baseline to refer back to, but it can also tell us how the athlete moves from point A to point B.  By observing an pitcher’s strategy during an assessment we devise an individualized program to better address his weak links in the chain of movement.  This acts as a “road map” to help correct the imbalances, help improve mechanics and allowing the athlete to be more successful on the mound.

Step 2 – Assessing UCL Stress

As far as the elbow goes, there is a lot of stuff crammed into very little space. The elbow is the most “crowded” joint in the body. With 16 muscles crossing the elbow, there’s not much room for error or inflammation.   At the late cocking phase or “lay back” (where there is maximal external rotation) there is a tremendous valgus force on the elbow. The ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) takes on approximately 50% of this valgus force on each pitch.

Lower half mobility and stability problems can also wreak havoc on an elbow.  Pitchers who open up early tend to let their arm come around late, increasing valgus stress in the upper half particularly the elbow. Likewise, guys who stay closed and throw across their body while decelerating through their finish can wind up with medial elbow issues as well.

Bottom line is many mobility issues can cause flaws in upper and lower body mechanics which in turn can wreak havoc on the elbow and UCL.

Step 2 in the assessment involves a warm-up followed by testing using a Motus Sleeve  to get a baseline number as to the amount of stress currently being placed on the UCL as well as the degree of shoulder rotation in the layback position. This baseline measurement helps let us know if our programming is effectively helping reduce stress by making the athlete more mobile as well as adjusting mechanical issues in the tunnel  if needed. This is the final time our pitchers touch a baseball for six weeks.

(mThrow App Pre-mobility) 

Step 3 – Soft Tissue / Mobility Warm-up

After movement and elbow stress have been assessed, the athlete is taken onto the field to learn and perform various soft tissue (foam rolling) and mobility work to help address their individual and very specific issues (remember the roadmap referred to above) found during the assessment. This is much different than playing “catch” or doing 10 sets of band drills that puts the arm in the third inning before the athlete has even begun to throw. The soft tissue / mobility warm-up we perform at RPP is specifically designed for pitchers and it helps increase tissue temperature and get each athlete’s body ready to throw and lift.

(Soft Tissue / Mobility)

Step 4 – Band Activations

We use band activations as Step 4 to get blood flowing to the cuff musculature and “turn on” the scap. This is done only if the athlete is going to be throwing on this particular day (note: there is no throwing during the first six weeks of the program, only lower body engagement with corrective dry drills).  Although it doesn’t quite pertain to Day 1, we take the athletes through the sequence and make sure they’re doing them correctly. Bottom line, band drills done wrong are pointless and can do more harm than good.

(Band Activations)

Step 5 – Weight Room Evaluation- “Form is King”

The final step of Day 1 is assessing performance in the weight room. This is where we analyze the athlete based on form, strength, body awareness and experience in the weight room, and progress or regress the exercises as needed.  No athlete is left unmonitored unless they have been training with us for over a year. Remember form is king.  Don Bosco’s Zach Miraz demonstrates.

(Zach Miraz – SLDL)

See ya’ in the gym.