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4 Arm Care Exercises Baseball Players Should Be Doing

 

I had another request from a subscriber to go over some arm care exercises this week. I put together a video below of 4 exercises I consistently use with our throwers during arm care days, or after a throwing session.

Don’t be the person who doesn’t do any arm care. Take it from me…I never did any, and I had Tommy John in High School, then a SLAP Tear in College.

Take the 10 extra minutes to do some arm care!

 

HERE’S WHAT’S IN THE VIDEO:

  1. Forearm Wall Slides are a great shoulder mobility exercise. This exercise works your scap protractors, and your lower traps, which assist in upward rotation. Kind of important if you throw things overhead!

✅Key Cue: Make sure you are not substituting lumbar extension to get overhead. Engage your core to keep your rib cage down.

  1. Quadruped T-Spine Rotations are a great exercise to mobilize your upper back and thoracic spine. Having a mobile T-spine will prevent you from substituting with your lower back to rotate. Throwing a baseball is a violent rotation. Using your lower back will impact your performance and possibly your injury risk.

✅Key Cue: Keep your hips and lower back as still as possible. Follow your elbow with your eyes as you perform left and right rotation.

  1. 3-Point Contact Y Scap Raises help maintain muscular balance. You can make this exercise more difficult by lifting a dumbbell. Just be sure to maintain proper technique.

✅Key Cue: Make sure you don’t lift your arm too high. You should be able to draw a straight line from your hips through your shoulder and arm at the top of the lift.

  1. Stability Overhead Press is a great strength and endurance exercise for the posterior shoulder muscles. As you press overhead, you must stabilize as the band tries to pull you forward.

✅Key Cue: Use a lighter band. Nobody is handing out world records for stability overhead press in the gym!

10 Keys to a Better Long Toss Session for Baseball Pitchers

Note from the Editor-in-Chief: We love long toss at Elite Baseball Performance, especially programs that are smart, individualized, and well structured for the right time of year.  Alan Jaeger has done a lot of great work in this area and has really helped popularize long toss in general.  Dale does a great job discussing some of these concepts and points he uses to get the most out of long toss below.  If you are interested in learning more, we encourage to learn more from Alan’s Thrive on Throwing 2 program and be sure to check out his J-bands for your arm care program.  

 

In baseball, there is no substitute for a well-conditioned and healthy arm. Virtually no baseball specific activity can be done successfully if you have a weak or an injured arm. You can’t make accurate throws if you’re an infielder, you can’t gun down a runner from the outfield, and you certainly can’t pitch well.

I’ll say it again: the bottom line is that a baseball player needs to have a strong, conditioned and healthy arm to play the game. It can be the deciding factor as to whether a player moves on to the next level.

In this article, you’ll learn how to better structure and improve your long toss sessions/

“Your arm is your life line as a player — it can either be an asset or liability. Be proactive — it is one of your five major tools, so treat it that way.”

 

 

When Should a Player Implement a Long Toss Routine?

The primary goal of any throwing program should be to put the arm in the best position possible to be healthy and perform at the highest level. The next priority is to build strength, endurance and accuracy. The most important time to establish a throwing program is during the offseason, for two main reasons:

 

  1. No Interference From Games and Practices

When a player is in the offseason, there are no demands of games or practices giving players the freedom to follow a sound throwing routine. This freedom allows players to throw based on their own personal needs and work on specific mechanics. Also, in the absence of excessive game related throwing, the player will be better able to recover adequately between sessions.

 

  1. Less Wear and Tear From In-Season Throwing

When a player is in season, bullpens and game-related throwing put a tremendous amount of wear and tear on the arm. It has been shown that arm strength, more specifically rotator cuff strength and scapular stabilizer proficiency, actually decreases over the course of the season. Because of this, we don’t want to add any excess stress on the arm during the season.

 

How to Long Toss

A long toss session can be broken into two phases: the stretching-out phase, and the pull-down phase.

 

Stretching-Out Phase

This is the first stage of a long toss session where our goal is to let the arm stretch itself out with a loose arm action. Here we are allowing our arm to throw as far as it wants to throw while keeping throws pain free and effortless. Be aware of keeping sound mechanics.

The goal of this phase is to “stretch out the arm,” creating a greater capacity for arm speed using a longer, looser arm motion. Progressively throw farther and farther until comfortably maxed-out in distance. After peaking in distance, we’ll start the pull-down phase.

 

Pull-Down Phase

After reaching maximum distance during the stretch out phase, we will work back in towards our throwing partner. Because the muscles have been lengthened and the arm has been adequately loosened, we have a greater capacity for the arm to generate speed.

As you come in, you will notice that it will take a great deal of concentration to pull your throws downhill and not sail them over your partner’s head. If you decelerate or ease up on your throw to gain this control, you cannot effectively increase your arm speed.

To pull your throws down to your partner, we will have to accelerate through your release point by taking your maximum effort throw toward your throwing partner. We want to focus on maintaining good balance and creating downward extension through your release point towards your target.

The number of throws during the pull-down phase will vary from player to player. A general rule of thumb is to come in 10 feet at a time with each throw.

Arm speed and endurance comes from the combination of both phases. The additional distance provides the arm with an opportunity to generate more arm speed on longer, looser and well-conditioned muscles. Now that we’re clear on what a long-toss session looks like, let’s discuss some ways to maximize your training effect.

 

Baseball Field

 

10 Tips to Get The Most Out of Your Long Toss Session

  1. Warm up properly using a dynamic warm up.
  2. Always maintain sound throwing mechanics. Don’t let your mechanics degrade by overthrowing.
  3. Keep your throws loose and nearly effortless. You should not be straining to reach your target.
  4. If you max out in the stretching-out phase in terms of distance, don’t worry, just stay at that distance and continue to work there until your arm allows more. Remember, the end point of your throwing distance should still see a nice controlled throwing motion with your normal mechanics.
  5. Remember that the goal of a long toss program is to progressively build arm strength through increasing distance.
  6. Let your arm dictate the number of throws that you perform at each distance. If you feel strong, feel free to throw a few extra, but remember: if at any point you feel sore or fatigued, stop throwing. You should never throw through fatigue and certainly not through soreness.
  7. When returning from max distances to throw from 60 feet, concentrate on finishing through your release and forcing the ball down – it is easy to miss high.
  8. Use a step behind before every throw. It keeps the hips properly closed preventing the arm from flying open too early, especially as you stretch out to longer distances. Add a second crow-hop if necessary to build momentum.
  9. Starting a long toss program early on will help you develop a unique understanding of your arm that will pay big dividends for years to come. Get to know your arm now and put yourself ahead of the competition.
  10. Perform a cool down. Gently stretch and perform a post-throwing mobility routine to help speed up your recovery and maintain muscle tissue quality.

 

Don’t Forget Arm Care & Prehab

Even the strongest arm is vulnerable to serious injury if not properly cared for with functional rotator cuff and scapular stabilization exercises.

By neglecting the importance of a rotator cuff strengthening program and an adequate throwing warm up routine, you are pushing the odds in the favor of injuring yourself at some point.

Elite Baseball Performance has a great free arm care program designed to build your base strength.

 

Use These 10 Tips to Improve Your Arm Strength & Health

Without the opportunity to long toss, the arm won’t gain the strength, length, and endurance it needs. Following a quality arm care and long toss regimen will pay dividends in the long-run. Use the guidelines in this article to have better long toss sessions and build arm strength for years to come.

2 Key Subscapularis Arm Care Exercises for Baseball Players

The subscapularis is a muscle that is often neglected when talking about arm care exercises for baseball players.

The subscapularis is a rotator cuff muscle that attaches from the inside of your shoulder blade/scapula and wraps underneath to the front part of your shoulder. It can be placed at a mechanical disadvantage with poor mechanics.

 

It contracts to protect your shoulder from excessive external rotation (layback) late in the throwing motion. There are also larger muscles that contribute to the velocity of the throw that are involved to provide stability (pectoralis major and the latissimus dorsi) in this layback position.

If the shoulder isn’t trained specific to the movement pattern, type of contraction, and position the arm needs to be in to accept these forces, you’re leaving yourself open to injury.

I often see exercises done by throwing athletes with bands or tubing that are nonspecific and do not prepare the shoulder for the forces that are placed on it during maximal external rotation.

Performing any tubing or band exercise does have a potentially positive effect for any throwing athlete, but there are simple things and pivotal positions that athletes should include that can make exercises for the rotator cuff so much better.

The rotator cuff’s primary role is to keep the humerus centered in the socket, resist distraction, and contribute to the ligamentous stability of the glenohumeral joint to prevent excessive anterior and posterior translation of the humeral head.

If the shoulder moves too much in the socket during the throwing motion in either direction that can contribute to instability and injury.

Knowing what a muscle’s role is in the throwing motion and what types of contractions it goes through should be the guiding principle in which exercises are chosen and how they’re performed. There is an extremely delicate balance that must be maintained when training a rotator cuff.

These factors are often overlooked and not included in most arm care routines and training regimens, even in professional baseball. My personal experience in professional baseball with injury, anterior subluxation requiring surgical correction, incomplete recovery, and 17 years of clinical experience working with throwing athletes has forced me to evaluate the effectiveness of rotator cuff exercises.

The posterior rotator cuff is often the prominent focus of in therapy for shoulder athletes, and rightfully so. But the subscapularis is a pivotal muscle for the throwing athlete but it is often neglected in therapy and training situations.

Below are two joint and contraction specific subscapularis exercises that we utilize and often include in our throwers’ corrective exercise programs. These videos give great detail as to the “why” behind certain exercises are chosen.

 

 

If you want to have a long-playing career, or even a healthy throwing season, you should implement these 2 exercises into your arm care routine and be sure to focus on your subscapularis.

Evidence-Based Inseason Arm Care for Baseball Players

Recently the American Sports Medicine Institute published some fantastic research identifying specific changes in pitchers that may increase risk of an arm injury during the baseball season.

The most important changes have been linked to range of motion in the throwing arm.  At our facility, we identify three changes in measurement as red flags while in season: decreased shoulder flexion, decreased shoulder internal rotation and increasing shoulder external rotation.

We have adopted specific mobility and stability exercises as part of an arm care system that draws heavily on this research.  I will outline how we progress through our most common exercises that drives the best results for players.

 

How to Prevent Loss of Shoulder Flexion

Pitchers will acquire a heavy workload on the lats and low back muscles during the year, especially at the start of the baseball season.  Stiffness in these muscles will contribute to loss of shoulder flexion and the ability to fully reach overhead.

We have players start with lat soft tissue mobilization for 1-2 sets of 10, and then follow with lat isometric liftoffs for 1 set of 5 for 5 second holds.

 

How to Prevent Loss of Shoulder Internal Rotation

More people are now familiar with the concept of pitchers losing shoulder internal rotation from throwing.

This can happen for a variety of reasons, including chronic bony changes in mature throwers over time, and acute changes to the rotator cuff and trunk muscles in pitchers during the season.

This article will not detail the total motion concept, and if you are unfamiliar I would urge you to read articles by ASMI that are readily available online.  Mike Reinold has an excellent article about GIRD and loss of internal rotation in baseball players.

We mandate that all players at our facility have a plan for pre- and post-throwing to prevent negative long-term changes in shoulder range of motion.  Here you will see how we target the posterior shoulder to accomplish this.

We have players start with posterior shoulder mobilization for 1-2 sets of 10, and then follow with the cross-body rotation stretch for 1 set of 10.

How to Prevent Excessive Increase of Shoulder External Rotation

Rapid increases in shoulder external rotation have been linked with increased risk of injury in throwers.  This change in external rotation is also correlated with throwing harder, so we should not be surprised by the link between the two.  So how can we encourage our athletes to throw hard while reducing injury risk?

We use data from a recent ASMI weighted ball study that demonstrated an increase of more than 5 degrees of shoulder external rotation during a throwing program is correlated with a risk of arm injury.

Motor control of end-range external rotation and trunk position often decreases with workload and fatigue in our experience.  As a result, we prescribe two of the following exercises to maintain motor control in the layback phase of throwing.

We have players start with half kneeling cuff stabilization for 2-3 sets of 3 for 5 second holds, and then follow with external rotation oscillations for 2-3 sets of 15.

The cuff stabilization drill allows the coach or clinician to progressively load the shoulder based on feel and comfort for each player.

There seems to be a gap in the baseball world between recommendations from research and real-world implementation with players.  I hope this article will provide some ideas for fitness and medical providers to connect the dots and help reduce the epidemic of arm injuries currently plaguing baseball!

The Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization Approach To Arm Care

Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization (DNS) is a method of training stability and movement of the arm and body. Not only does it help with longevity and health of the arm, but also with movement and functionality of the kinetic energy system. DNS is revolutionizing rehabilitation, and its principles can be directly applied to pitching.

The function and position of the diaphragm is foundational to DNS. Dr. Hans Lindgren’s previous article on diaphragmatic function and intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) called “Core Stability From the Inside Out” exposes the importance of this mechanism.  IAP is the foundation for which the spine is stabilized and forces are efficiently transferred throughout the body.

Joint centration is the other main tenet of DNS.  Joint centration is defined as the ideal loading of a joint in a neutral position that enables:

  • Optimal loading
  • Ideal balance between agonistic and antagonistic muscles
  • Generation of maximum muscle power

Joint Centration is a position in which the joint surfaces are in maximum contact and the ligaments and capsule have low tension. In this position, all muscles around the joint can most effectively be activated. Symmetrical activation of the muscles around any joint is the hallmark of ideal function without injury. When disturbed, there can be catastrophic joint injury (ie ACL tear) or more low level chronic injuries such as: forms of tendonitis, ligament strains, and spinal disc herniation’s to name a few. DNS exercises emphasize joint centration at all times regardless of the position being used to exercise.

The concept of DNS is based on the scientific principles of developmental kinesiology. Meaning, all positions used for exercise in DNS are the same positions every human-being will advance through in the first year of life. If the baby develops normally, and the right environment is present, the correct activation of all muscles helps to form the joint surfaces and skeleton. This has enormous implications for baseball pitchers. If the development is not ideal then performance and arm health can be drastically altered later in life.

Revolutionizing Arm Care: The DNS Approach

As a baby develops, they must use their body as efficiently as possible which means proper joint centration, intra-abdominal pressure, and global stabilization.  There are phases for development of the stabilization function that are:

  1. 0 – 4.5 months (Sagittal stabilization)
  2. From 4.5 months (Extremity function differentiation within global patterns)
  3. From 8 months (Development of locomotor function)

For example, at 3 months of development in the prone position (on the stomach), the baby starts to integrate all the muscles involved in scapular stabilization. This is a complex strategy that involves many muscles, including some away from the shoulder girdle. Correct diaphragm position and IAP is a prerequisite for activation of key scapular stabilizers such as serratus anterior. Using closed chain exercises (elbow or hand support) is imperative for establishing the correct stabilization around the shoulder. This allows the muscles to be pulled from the opposite direction. Said differently, because the distal segment is now fixed (elbow) all the muscles around the shoulder reverse their direction of pull. Traditional rehabilitation exercises often neglect this function.

You can learn more about DNS and the stages of developmental kinesiology.  Also, if you’re interested in taking a DNS course you can check to see if they’re coming to your area.

The function of the scapula during the throwing motion is to allow 3-dimensional movement as well as coactivation of the muscles around the scapula to allow functional stabilization throughout the ranges of motion.  Dr. W Ben Kibler was one of the first to discuss scapular dyskinesis.  Kibler has shown that dysfunctional scapular movement can possibly lead to injury if not addressed, which is incredibly prevalent in the overuse community of baseball. He was also one of the first people to start talking about the importance of the entire kinetic chain as it relates to arm injuries.

Most injuries in baseball are non-contact which means that injuries occur because of stress overload, which can be from repetitive overuse, poor mechanics, or both. If not a biomechanical issue, often improper stabilization of the shoulder girdle can be found in both shoulder and elbow injuries.

Kibler has shown that patients with scapular dyskinesis will demonstrate:

  • Medial or inferomedial scapular border prominence (winging)
  • Early scapular elevation or shrugging on arm elevation
  • Rapid downward rotation on lowering of the arm

To assess scapular dyskinesis we will demonstrate a couple of DNS tests.

The 4-point rock test

Start on your hands and knees, rock back and forth several times and observe for any fatiguing or lack of stabilization in the scapula or hips.

What to look for:

  • Hand support (improper support on outside of palms)
  • Gradual winging of scapula
  • Medial border of scapula more than 2.5 – 3 inches away from spine.

Shoulder abduction test

The shoulder abduction test is where you raise your arms from the side all the way up and bring them down in a controlled manner.

What to look for:

  • Early activation of the scapula before 90 degrees of abduction
  • Clunking or popping of the scapula during abduction
  • Rapid downward rotation upon lowering of arm

These strategies can be used for rehabbing an injury, improving performance, and they’re a great warm up because it neurologically wakes up the muscles that hold the scapula in a good position.

Now let’s dig into a few of the exercises that really set this technique apart. We’re going to start with only a few to leave you with to master. The first exercise is called the…

5-7.5 Month Uprighting

You’ll start on your side laying on your shoulder with your arm directly out in front of you. Next, you’ll drive pressure into the ground with your elbow and bring your upper half off the ground trying not to bend too much at the torso. Slowly lower your body back down using the muscles around your scapula.

Repeat this process 8-10 reps in a situation where you’re trying to strengthen those muscles and 3-4 reps when you’re just warming up before throwing or exercises.

Bear

Start on your hands and knees just like the 4-point rock test with your hands under your shoulders and knees under your hips. Next, raise your knees about 5 to 6 inches off the ground. You’ll be supporting your weight while stabilizing at your hips and your shoulders. Now while staying as balanced as possible, lift one hand or foot (either side) off the ground 1 inch and hold it there for 15 seconds. Alternate until you run through all 4 extremities, or you can just hold the normal bear starting position. The important part is to feel the stabilization in the shoulder blades and the hips.

Again, this can be performed in a strengthening or in a warm-up setting and reps/sets should be done appropriately.

In conclusion, there are several different approaches to stabilizing the scapula. We believe a strategy that utilizes development kinesiology principles is the most effective. Many different developmental positions could be used; however, certain positions have a greater influence on the shoulder blade than others. Every exercise is a snapshot of the developmental sequence and will always be seen in the normal developing child. If the correct IAP and joint centration is maintained throughout the exercise, then the CNS will be able to proportionately activate all the muscles around the shoulder blade. Training and rehabilitation techniques that focus solely on individual muscles (ex. rotator cuff) may not create the most ideal stabilization strategy around the shoulder. These principles are revolutionizing how we assess and treat the throwing athlete.

Although this article has focused on assessment and treatment, the principles can also be used for biomechanical evaluation of the pitcher.

This article was co-written by Tyler White, co-founder of Gestalt Performance.

References:

  • Kibler, Ben W., and John McMullen. “Scapular dyskinesis and its relation to shoulder pain.” Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons11.2 (2003): 142-151.
  • Burkhart, Stephen S., Craig D. Morgan, and W. Ben Kibler. “The disabled throwing shoulder: spectrum of pathology Part III: The SICK scapula, scapular dyskinesis, the kinetic chain, and rehabilitation.” Arthroscopy: The Journal of Arthroscopic & Related Surgery 19.6 (2003): 641-661.
  • Burkhart, Stephen S., Craig D. Morgan, and W. Ben Kibler. “The disabled throwing shoulder: spectrum of pathology Part I: pathoanatomy and biomechanics.” Arthroscopy: The Journal of Arthroscopic & Related Surgery19.4 (2003): 404-420.
  • Wilk, Kevin E., Leonard C. Macrina, and Michael M. Reinold. “Non-operative rehabilitation for traumatic and atraumatic glenohumeral instability.” North American journal of sports physical therapy: NAJSPT 1.1 (2006): 16.
  • Frank, Clare, Alena Kobesova, and Pavel Kolar. “Dynamic neuromuscular stabilization & sports rehabilitation.” International journal of sports physical therapy 8.1 (2013): 62.

How to Get Your Arm Loose When Throwing Indoors

I recently shared a video showing how I recommend baseball players get your arm loose when playing catch.  I discussed that one of the biggest mistakes I see baseball players make is throwing too hard too early when playing catch.  If you haven’t watched it yet, click here to see my past post on The Biggest Mistake Baseball Players Make When Playing Catch.

In this past video, I demonstrated how to stretch your arm out with long toss but starting to throw harder on a line.  When getting your arm loose, you need to let distance dictate your intensity before you start throwing harder on a line.

A simple concept, but something that many amateur players do not perform well. More importantly, this is a common trait I see in players with sore arms.  They simply don’t know how to play catch well to get their arm loose.

But how do you do this indoors?

 

How to Get Your Arm Loose When Throwing Indoors

In the video below, I show the same concept, but how you can apply it when throwing indoors into a net.

Want our FREE Arm Care Program?

EBP Reinold Throwers Arm Care ProgramOur mission at EBP is to provide the best and most trustworthy information. That’s why we now are offering Mike Reinold’s recommended arm care protocol for absolutely FREE. A proper arm care program should be one of the foundations of injury prevention and performance enhancement programs. The EBP Arm Care program is the perfect program to set the foundation for success that EVERY baseball player should perform.

Are Weighted Baseball Velocity Programs Safe and Effective?

Weighted baseball velocity training programs continue to rise in popularity in baseball pitchers of all levels despite us not knowing why they may improve velocity, the long term effects on the body, or the most appropriate program to perform.

Unfortunately, it seems like the trend is towards more aggressive programs every day.

The following is a summary of the 2-year research project that we have just finished conducting at Champion PT and Performance.  Myself and Lenny Macrina teamed up with Dr. James Andrews and Dr. Glenn Fleisig of ASMI to design and conduct the first study to document the effects of a 6-week weighted baseball training program on pitching velocity, arm characteristics, and injury rates.

This may be the most important research project I have conducted to date.  Weighted baseball programs continue to rise in popularity while injury rates continue to soar in baseball.  This is completely unbiased scientific research that has been conducted with sound methodology.  I actually make a living rehabbing baseball injuries, so you can assure I am sincere when I say I want to decrease the amount of baseball injuries.

I simply want to advance the game of baseball.

The injuries we are seeing at the youth, high school, and collegiate level are heartbreaking.  Collegiate and minor league baseball pitchers are having their second Tommy John surgery, which have a low success rate.  When I first started working with baseball players, Tommy John surgeries were occurring in older baseball veterans, not youth.  The severity of injuries we are seeing are significant.  Never before in my 20 year career have I seen such an enormous amount of significant injuries in baseball players.

We have presented the findings of this study at numerous conferences so far, and the manuscript is currently submitted for publication in a scientific journal.  It is currently in the running for the 2018 Excellence in Research Award by the Sports Section of the APTA.

I’ve decided to publish an initial summary because I know many people are looking to start weighted baseball velocity programs this offseason.  The journal submission and publication process can takes months or even years to finally get the information published, and I did not want to delay any further.

 

We Still Don’t Know the Science Behind Weighted Baseball Velocity Programs

There has been a recent increased emphasis on pitch velocity within the amateur and professional levels of baseball.  According to Pitch/FX data, the average fastball velocity in MLB has gone up each year since tracking began in 2008, from 90.9 MPH to 93.2 MPH in 2017.  Previous studies have shown both a correlation between increased pitch velocity and increased elbow stress and elbow injury rates.   Thus, it is not surprising that injury rates continue to increase in a nearly linear fashion with increased average pitch velocity.

This emphasis on pitch velocity has resulted in the development of several velocity enhancement programs often marketed on the internet to baseball pitchers.  These have become increasingly popular with amateur baseball players looking to enhance their playing potential in the future.  One of the most popular forms of velocity enhancement programs utilize underweight and overweight weighted baseballs.

These programs have been theorized to enhance throwing mechanics, arm speed, and arm strength, resulting in enhanced pitch velocity, despite this not being validated scientifically.

Several studies have shown that weighted baseball training programs are effective at enhancing velocity, however, we still do not understand why or the long term effect of these programs.

Thus, the purpose of this study was to determine the effectiveness of a 6-week weighted baseball training program on enhancing pitch velocity while also quantifying the effects on biomechanical and physical characteristics of the shoulder and elbow.

 

How the Study Was Conducted

Youth baseball pitchers between the ages of 13 and 18 years old were recruited for the study.  To be clear, there was one 13 year old who turned 14 shortly after, who was in the control group and did not throw weighted balls.  The majority of subjects were ~16 years old.  We just reported how old they were in year, not the months, many were almost 16 years old.  If we were to have used the month, the mean would have been about 16 years old.  We choose to use high school aged pitchers because we wanted the study to look specifically at this population, as these are the baseball pitchers that are often looking to perform a weighted baseball program due to the aggressive amount of marketing online.

38 youth baseball pitchers with the mean age of 15 years old met these criteria and agreed to participate.  Subjects were randomly divided into a weighted baseball training group and a control group.

Upon enrollment in the study, baseline measurements of shoulder passive range of motion (PROM), elbow PROM, and shoulder strength were measured for each subject.  They then underwent baseline pitching performance testing while we recorded pitch velocity, elbow varus torque, and shoulder internal rotation velocity using the Motus M Sleeve.

After the baseline testing, both groups were allowed to participate in a supervised baseball offseason strength and conditioning program.  All subjects participated in a throwing program, but were not allowed to practice pitching off a mound.

The weighted baseball group performed a 6-week weighted ball throwing program in January and February of the baseball offseason.  Throwing was performed 3 times per week.   The 6-week program was developed to be similar, if not more conservative, than commonly marketed weighted baseball velocity programs available programs for baseball pitchers.  The volume, frequency, and weight of the balls used was less than many popular programs.

Over the course of the 6-week program, throws were performed from the knee, rocker, and run and gun positions.

weight baseball velocity program

Athletes were instructed to throw at 75%, 90%, and 100% of their full intensity depending on the week of the training program.  The intensity gradually ramped up over the course of the program.  Throws were performed from each position on each training session with a 2 ounce, 4 ounce, 6 ounce, 16 ounce, and 32 ounce ball.  One set with each weighted baseball was performed with the outlined repetitions below:

baseball weighted ball velocity program

 

Many of commented about throwing 2lb balls at full intensity run-and-gun.  Two things to realize about this:

  1. We choose to include this because this is being performed in our athletes
  2. Over the course of 6-weeks, there were 540 total throws, 18 of these were with 2lb balls at full intensity with run-and-guns.  This only represents 3% of the program.  We should not lose focus on the other 97%.

The control group performed an independent throwing program using standard regulation 5 oz baseballs and were not allowed to throw with any underload or overload balls.

All measurements were repeated after 6-weeks for both groups.  The subjects went on to pitch as normal through spring and summer baseball season.

Below is a summary of the major findings of the study.  The results were eye opening for me, personally.  I feel like we have discovered why weighted baseball training programs may work, and you could argue this isn’t for a good reason.

 

Pitch Velocity Increased, But Not in Everyone

After 6-weeks, the weighted baseball group showed a 3% increase of 2.2 MPH, from 67 MPH to 69 MPH.  The control group as a whole did not show a statistically significant increase in velocity.  However, we did note that:

  • 80% of the weighted baseball group improved velocity, and 12% showed a decrease in velocity
  • 67% of the control group also improved velocity, and 14% showed a decrease in velocity

Weighted baseball training on average does help increase velocity, however, not in everyone and some people actually go down.  Many people that did NOT perform the weighted ball program also increased velocity.

 

Shoulder External Rotation Increased, Likely in a Bad Way

There was a significant increase in almost 5 degrees of shoulder external rotation range of motion in the weighted ball group.

This rapid gain in external rotation occurred over a 6-week training program and did not occur in the control group.  I have previously published my results and reported that shoulder external rotation increased from pitching, however, reported only a 5 degree increase in external rotation in MLB pitchers over the course of an entire 8-month baseball season.

While we are not able to determine the exact cause of the increased pitch velocity, based on past studies it may be from the increased amount of shoulder external rotation observed following the weighted ball training program.  Previous biomechanical studies have shown that shoulder external rotation mobility correlates to both pitch velocity, as well as increased shoulder and elbow forces.

It is not known if such a rapid gain in external rotation following a 6-week weighted baseball training program is disadvantageous or challenges the static stabilizing structures of the shoulder.  However, previous research has shown that 78% of pitching injuries occur in athletes with greater amounts of shoulder rotational motion.

 

Weighted Baseballs Do Not Increase Shoulder Strength, They May Actually Inhibit Strength Gains

One of the more interesting findings to me was that external rotation rotator cuff strength actually went up in the control group and not the weighted baseball group.

During the 6-week period, subjects in both groups were allowed to perform a baseball-specific offseason strength and conditioning program.  Strengthening of the rotator cuff, particularly the external rotators, was a specific focus of this program and has been shown to increase pitching performance.  The control group showed a 13% increase in dominant shoulder ER strength, which we were thrilled about, while the training group showed no change.

It appears that not only do weighted ball training programs not help develop rotator cuff strength, as previously theorized, they may in fact inhibit strength gains and should be further investigated.

 

Weighted Baseballs Do Not Increase Arm Speed or Strength

There were no statistically significant differences in valgus stress or angular velocity of the arm in either group.

Arm strength, arm angular velocity, and arm stress were not statistically different following the training program.  This refutes the commonly reported theories that the effectiveness of weighted ball training programs can be attributed to the development of greater arm strength or arm speed.

 

24% of Pitchers Were Injured in the Weighted Ball Group

Potentially most important to the study was the finding that 24% of those in the training group either sustained an injury during the training program or in the following season, including two olecranon stress fractures, one partial ulnar collateral ligament injury, and one ulnar collateral ligament injury that surgical reconstruction was recommended.   This is the first study to document the injury rates associated with a 6-week weighted baseball training program.

No injuries were noted in the same time span within the control group.

It should also be noted again that the weighted ball program utilized in the current study is far less aggressive in regard to the weight of the balls used as well as the volume and frequency of throwing, in comparison to many commonly performed programs.

Of note, two players of the players that were injured both exhibited the greatest amount of increase in shoulder ER PROM of 10 and 11 degrees, making this appear to be related.

It is unclear how quickly athletes gain external rotation and whether it occurs at a safe rate, and future research should attempt to answer this question. While pitch velocity may be enhanced, injury risk may also be elevated when performing a weighted baseball training program.  Future studies should continue to assess the effects of different weighted ball training program on different age groups.  We still need to find the right dosage to maximize the effectiveness while reducing the injury risk.

 

Should You Perform a Weighted Baseball Velocity Program?

Based on the results of this study, it appears that weighted baseball training programs are effective at enhancing pitch velocity, but the question is, at what cost?

It is still unknown why velocity goes up.

Since arm strength and speed were not changed after the training program, and Dr. Glenn Fleisig of ASMI has shown no change in mechanics, the increased pitch velocity observed may be related to this gain in shoulder external rotation motion.

This is alarming to me, as I feel this may also at least partially explain the increase in injury rates.  This is not natural.

 

Who May Want to Perform a Weighted Baseball Program

Realistically throwing any baseball, even a standard 5 oz baseball, has an inherent amount of risk.  I, in fact, actually including weighted balls at times in both our rehabilitation programs and our Elite Pitching Performance Program at Champion.

However, we do them in a very controlled fashion with less volume, intensity, and weight.  We perform 4-7 oz throws with many of our athletes, however we have strict criteria to do so, that includes:

  • Full skeletal maturity
  • Efficient throwing mechanics
  • Baseline of strength and conditioning (usually a year or more of training)
  • Baseline of arm strength and dynamic stability (usually a year or more of training)

Essentially you need to be mature and developed enough to withstand the stress of these programs as well as justify the need to push the limits.  Weighted baseball programs should not be where you begin when developing pitching performance.  If you skip any of the above steps and jump straight to weighted baseballs, you are focusing on the frosting before you even baked the cake.

For you to use lighter balls, heavier balls, or aggressive run-and-gun drills, you need to be even more advanced.   Few will meet this criteria.

There are many people that are willing to accept the increased injury risk, especially older baseball pitchers that are trying to make it to the next level.  Weighted ball programs may be an effective option for you in this case, especially if you have maximized your throwing mechanics, strength and power development, and arm strength and dynamic stability.

Unfortunately, most baseball pitchers I meet have not done so.

 

Who Probably Should Not Perform Weighted Baseball Training

While some older baseball pitchers may be willing to accept this risk in an attempt to extend their career or take their game to the next level, it’s difficult to recommend most others perform an aggressive weighted baseball training program.

I’m not talking about warming up with a few light throws with a 6 oz ball, I’m talking about an aggressive several week- to month-long program with aggressive intensity using underload and overload balls.  These are the videos that are being sensationalized on Instagram so much.

Because it appears weighted baseball training programs are likely effective by pushing your physiological limits, they should be reserved for those that have maximized their potential and have again achieved our criteria of:

  • Full skeletal maturity
  • Efficient throwing mechanics
  • Baseline of strength and conditioning (usually a year or more of training)
  • Baseline of arm strength and dynamic stability (usually a year or more of training)

Basically, if you are still growing, have inefficient mechanics, haven’t been training in a weight room for a significant amount of time, and have never performed an arm care program, you’re not prepared to perform a weighted ball program.

Plus, I can show you several scientific studies that show different training programs and arm care programs can be just as effective, if not more, at gaining pitching velocity without the inherent risk.

We can’t just be jumping to the quick fix.

The problem I am seeing is that we are using weighted ball programs with everyone, regardless of age, mechanics, training level, and injury history.  This and the fact that we continue to try to push the limits and get more aggressive.  If a 16 oz ball works, than a 32 oz ball may be twice as effective.  This is simply unrealistic and unsafe to think this way.

More is not better.

I’ve talked about this before in my article, “Are Baseball Velocity Programs to Blame for the Rise in Pitching Injuries?”  We are overdosing.

I think the most scary trend I am seeing in baseball right now is the blind use of generic weighted baseball programs.  This includes people buying a random program on the internet, or worse, a baseball coach starting one generic program with all players on the team.

We’ve seen college teams with 4+ Tommy John surgeries with their players in one season, this was unheard of just a few short years ago.

We need to make the adjustment.

Weighted ball programs must be individualized, monitored, and implemented progressively.  If you can’t do this, you shouldn’t be using them.

Not everyone is appropriate for weighted baseball programs.  Many players that are currently performing a program probably shouldn’t be doing so, especially if they haven’t established a proper foundation of strength training, arm care, and physical maturity.  In fact, at Champion, we have found that stopping weighted ball programs in those that are not ready for this stress has resulted in an even bigger gain in velocity after we have focused on foundational strength training and arm care programs.

 

Call to Action to Everyone in Baseball

I need your help.

We need to get this information out there so we stop seeing so many injuries in baseball pitchers.  Baseball players, parents, coaches, and even rehabilitation and fitness specialists that work with baseball players need to understand the science behind weighted baseball training programs.

Yes, velocity goes up, but at what cost?

Based on this study, weighted baseball training does not change mechanics, increase arm speed, or increase arm strength.  In fact, they may inhibit strength gains.  They do stretch out your shoulder in a potentially disadvantageous way and lead to a 24% chance of injury.  1 in 4 players sustained an injury.  Are you willing to accept that risk?

Once you understand the science, you can make a more educated decision if using weighted baseballs is appropriate for you.  And if you do, how to safely and effectively choose to use these programs on the right players at the right times.

Please share this article with anyone that you feel shares our goal of advancing the game of baseball.  I feel that many baseball players, parents, and coaches simply are not aware of the science.   The more we can share the science, the better we can become.

We need to get better.  We need to accept the science.

 

 

Download our Free Arm Care Program for Baseball Players

One of the foundational pillars of any program for baseball players is an arm care program. Yet, this is often one of the most neglected areas I’ve seen. Many collegiate baseball players, let alone high school and youth baseball players, have never performed an appropriate arm care program.

Here’s a simple fact… If you are a baseball player, you must be performing an arm care program. All the big leaguers do, why aren’t you?

More importantly, if you are performing a strength training program, getting pitching lessons, or participating in a long toss or weighted ball program and do NOT perform an arm care program, your priorities are reversed.

I always say, you are focusing on the frosting before you’ve baked your cake.

But I get it, some people have never heard of an arm care program and some people do not have access to a good one.

Well, I want to change that.

Our mission here at Elite Baseball Performance is to advance the game of baseball through trustworthy and scientifically proven information and programs.

Download the the EBP Arm Care Program for FREE

EBP Reinold Throwers Arm Care ProgramI want every baseball player in the world to perform an appropriate arm care program, that’s why I am giving mine away for free here at EBP.

I’ve developed this program over the course of two decades based on the science of throwing a baseball and the science behind exercise selection. This is the foundational program that we have used at Champion PT and Performance on everyone from Little League pitchers to Cy Young winners. Sure, the programs we do with our athletes in person are far more comprehensive, but I consider this to be the mandatory foundational program you should be performing.

In exchange, I only ask for your help spreading the word. Please share this page with all your friends, teammates, coaches, parents, and anyone else that wants to help baseball players enhance their performance while reducing their chance for injury!

Start performing this today and you will be well ahead of the curve. Countless big leaguers perform this exact program, get it here for free today!

 

 

How to Get the Most Out of the Start of Your Baseball Offseason

This article, How to Get the Most Out of the Start of Your Baseball Offseason, was originally featured on MikeReinold.com. 

 

It’s been a long summer of baseball and it is time to start thinking about your offseason training program!

Some people think of the offseason as a time to rest, or to get away from baseball, or to do everything they can to dominate again next season. I’ve seen every spectrum of player, from the player that wants to just sit in a tree stand until February to the player that comes in to train the first day of the offseason.

Offseason training programs in baseball are now standard.  Believe it or not, this was not the case 20 years ago.  However, I think there is another golden opportunity that many players do not take advantage of at the start of the offseason.  Think of it as setting the foundation to prepare your body to get the most out of your offseason training.

Here is what I recommend and do with all my athletes at this time of year to get the most out of the start of your baseball offseason training.

 

Take Time Off From Throwing and Baseball

One of the most important aspects to the start of the baseball offseason is to take a step back and get away from baseball.  While this may seem counterintuitive, I do believe it is critical to your long term success.

For professional baseball pitchers in MLB, the start of the offseason means spending time with family, golfing, hunting, fishing, and probably taking a well deserved vacation to somewhere tropical.  It’s a long season, both physically and mentally.

I wouldn’t say that a summer of baseball is much easier for the younger baseball players, either.  Between traveling teams, tournaments, showcases, and grinding away at practice, the summer is almost as busy as the pro players!  I actually joke with some of my high school and college baseball pitchers that they can’t wait to go back to school to take a vacation from their summer baseball travel schedule!

But there are important physical benefits of taking time off as well.  Throwing a baseball is hard on your body and creates cumulative stress.  Furthermore, several studies have been published showing that the more your pitch, the greater your chances of injury:

  • Pitching for greater than 8 months out of the year results in 5x as many injuries (Olsen AJSM 06)
  • Pitching greater than 100 innings in one year results in 3x as many injuries (Fleisig AJSM 2011)
  • Pitching in showcases and travel leagues significantly correlated to increased injuries (Register-Mahlick JAT 12, Olsen AJSM 06)

I have found that my younger athletes that play a sport like soccer in the fall, tend to look better to me over time.

Sure, that is purely anecdotal.  But specializing in a very unilateral sport may actually limit some of your athletic potential, especially when you are in the certain younger age ranges where athletic development occurs.  Everything is baseball tends to be to one side.  Righties always rotate to the left when throwing and swinging, heck everyone even runs to the left around the bases!

There is plenty of time to get ready for next spring.  Take some time off in the fall and let your body heal up.  You aren’t going to forget how to pitch or lose your release point or feel.  You’ll come back stronger next season.

 

Regen Your Body

Tough travel schedule, long hours in a car, bus, or  plane, cheap hotels, bad food, lack of sleep, inconsistent schedule.  Sound familiar?  That is a baseball season.  It’s tougher than you would think on your body.

All of these factors, and more, wear down your body and it’s ability to regenerate.  The constant stress to your body is a grind that drains your energy, increases your fatigue and soreness after an outing, and lengthens the time your body needs to fully recover between outings.

In order to get all that you can out of your off season training, you need to regen your body first.  This begins with the first principle above and taking time away from throwing, but there are also other things you can do to reset and regenerate your body.  You body needs to heal and sleep and nutrition are two great things to focus on at the start of the offseason.  Here are  a few things I recommend:

  • Get on a consistent sleep schedule
  • Sleep at least 8 hours a night
  • Eat a clean diet while avoiding fast food and processed foods
  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate

Think of it as allowing your body to get back to neutral so you can start building on a solid foundation during the offseason.  You don’t want to start your offseason training with your body worn down.

 

Clean Up Any Past or Lingering Injuries

I’m always amazed at the amount of people that limp through a baseball season and think that taking some downtime after the season is going to cure all their aches and pains.  What happens many times is that they take time off and then start training or preparing for next season and find out they may feel better but they didn’t address their past injuries.  They still have deficits.  If you wait until you start throwing again to find this out, it’s too late.

All my athletes start the offseason out with a thorough assessment that looks at all past areas of injury, regardless of whether or not they are currently symptomatic.

Many times, strength deficits, scar tissue, fibrosis, and several imbalances are still present after an injury, even if your are playing without concern.  Your body is really good at adapting and compensating.  It will find a way to perform.  This is likely one of the reasons that the number one predictor of future injury is past injury, meaning if you strain your hamstring, you are more likely to strain it again.  You probably never adequately addressed the concern.

You have to dig deep and find the root cause of the injury as well as clean up the mess created from the injury itself.  Remember, many injuries occur due to deficits elsewhere in the body.  Sometimes that elbow soreness is coming from your shoulder, for example.  Resting at the start of the offseason is great for the elbow, but you didn’t address the cause of your elbow symptoms.

 

Rebalance Your Portfolio

In the financial world, the concept of rebalancing your portfolio is one of the cornerstones of sound investing.  Essentially at periodic intervals you should assess your current portfolio balance and adjust based on the performance of your assets.  As some of your stocks go up and others potentially go down, your top performers are probably taking up a very large percentage of your portfolio and skewing your balance.

By rebalancing your portfolio at the end of the year, you assure that you redistribute your assets evenly and minimize your risk.

This same concept is important for baseball training.

After a long season of wear and tear you no doubt are going to have imbalances.  This happens even if you get through the season injury-free.  I say this often, but throwing a baseball is not natural for your body.  You’ll have areas of tightness and looseness, you’ll have areas of strength and weakness.  You’ll have imbalances and asymmetries.

In my studies on professional baseball pitchers (you can find some of my published data here and here), and an article on baseball shoulder adaptations), I have found many things:

  • You will lose shoulder internal rotation and flexion (if you don’t manage this during the season)
  • Your will gain external rotation, which isn’t necessarily a good thing and needs to be addressed!
  • You will lose elbow extension
  • You will lose shoulder and scapular strength
  • You will lose overall body strength and power
  • Your posture and alignment will change

One of the most powerful things I can recommend for any baseball pitcher is that you get a thorough assessment at the end of the season.  This serves as the most important day to me in your offseason program and the cornerstone of what I do with my athletes.  We need to find out exactly how your body handled the season and adjusted over the way.  Everyone responds differently.

Without this knowledge, your just throwing a program together and hoping everything works out.  This may work one year, but it’s going to catch up to you eventually.  Probably right in the middle of next season!

 

Set a Foundation for the Start of Your Baseball Offseason Training

What is the purpose of all this?  Simply taking time off after a season isn’t enough anymore.  Simply jumping into an offseason baseball training program isn’t enough anymore.  Simply performing a baseball long toss program isn’t enough anymore.

You need to actively put yourself in the best position to succeed.  Offseason training is the norm now.  You used to be able to gain a competitive advantage by training your tail off all offseason, but your peers are doing this too.

You can set yourself apart by setting a strong foundation BEFORE your offseason training.  This is not as common and one of the biggest mistakes I see amateur baseball players make each offseason.

Set yourself apart by starting your offseason on the right path.  Take some time off, regen your body, get your past injuries evaluated, and go through a thorough assessment to find ways to maximize your bodies potential.  Do this before the start of your offseason training so you set a fantastic foundation to build upon just.  This is a big part of our baseball offseason performance training at Champion Physical Therapy and Performance.

 

 

 

3 Shoulder Stability Drills for Throwers

As previously discussed in my article on Elite Baseball Performance’s website, scapular stability and the establishment of Glenohumeral rhythm are critical to the health of our athletes.

There is, however, a broader point that needs to be made. Most of the time when our throwers have shoulder injuries it is due to lack of stability in the joint.

There is a plethora of information (some good, some not so much) on the Internet about mobility drills but lets not forget that we need to be stable before we can be mobile. With other joints I think that mobility is extremely important but the shoulder is the most freely movable join in the entire body. Stabilization of the joint, in most situations, should be a top priority. Especially as we see an increasing number of youth athletes who are able to generate significant velocity with their arm action.

In real time it is difficult to appreciate the tremendous external forces weighing on the arm and shoulder during the act of pitching a baseball.

Check out this video of a slow motion pitch.

As observed in the video, pitchers must generate a significant amount of force to overcome gravity and hurl a ball 60 feet, 6 inches towards the plate. However, once the ball is released, the work has just begun.

Without stability of the Glenohumeral joint, the pitchers arm would not be able to decelerate the forces and would be very susceptible to injury. The rotator cuff muscles are responsible for keeping the head of the humerus in the glenoid socket and decelerating the forces generated in the acceleration phase of the movement.

In simpler terms, keeping the pitchers arm from flying off with the pitch. The rotator cuff is a common injury site for individuals who are unable to maintain Glenohumeral congruency and adequately decelerate their arms post-ball release.

Though rotator cuff injuries are certainly a common injury for throwers, we often hear athletes report pain in their elbows. With the shoulder being the most proximal, or closest to the body, arm joint, instability will likely lead to injury further down the chain. The elbow joint often falls victim to poor shoulder stability, as it is located more distally and is exposed to greater external forces when throwing.

There are plenty of drills available to develop the muscles of the rotator cuff to aid the maintenance of Glenohumeral congruency and overall shoulder stability throughout the throwing motion.

Here are a few of my favorites.

Manual Rotator Cuff Work

Manual exercises allow the coach to adjust the resistance based on the athlete’s strength and/or in tailor the resistance to the strength curve.

Band Cuff Work

Unfortunately, athletes may not always have a coach or teammate to perform manuals with so using bands and tubing is a good alternative.

Rhythmic Stabilization Drills

Programming our rotator cuff drills in combination with our scapular stability drills will help reduce risk of injury and improve your overall throwing performance.

Try these 3 drills to work on rotator cuff strength and stability and I know you’ll feel a difference during the season.