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Building Your Offseason Baseball Throwing Program

For many years I’ve been asked a number of questions about “when” and “how” pitchers should train in the off-season to best prepare for their upcoming season. Because there are so many variables in each case, it’s not usually a short answer. That’s because each pitcher has their own unique history.

However, what variables do seem to apply to nearly all pitchers are

  1. The amount of rest a pitcher needs to take after a long season
  2. Their approach toward their off season throwing program and
  3. The integration of their off season throwing program into their season.

Knowing when to shut down after a demanding period of time and how to best prepare the arm in the off-season is the key to maximizing a pitchers health, strength, endurance and recovery period in season. Without well timed rest and a clear intention of how to best prepare the arm in the off-season, pitchers may wonder why they are lacking endurance or velocity in season, or even worse, why they may be breaking down.

When pitchers truly understands the importance of “resting” and “rebuilding” their arms over a substantial period of time (4-6 weeks) in the off-season without stepping on a mound, they will best position themselves to not only peak at the right time (beginning of the season), but maintain or even enhance their base throughout the season.

The following article will discuss this concept.  If you are interested in learning more, we have our brand new online version of our Thrive on Throwing 2 video where we show you exactly how to perform the Jaeger Throwing Programs, as well as a downloadable Year Round Throwing Manual that builds off this information and discusses how to best prepare your throwing programs throughout the year for optimal success.  More information on these can be found below.

This article is part of a 3 part series on year round throwing:

 

 

Establishing A Rest and Rebuild Period

In order to establish the best time to rest and rebuild a pitchers arm, you must establish:

  1. What the pitchers’ workload has been like from the previous season/seasons (their past season may have been only the summer, or it may have been the preceding spring, fall and winter season as well),
  2. Find out how much “pitching” they’ve been doing as opposed to “training” or conditioning (unfortunately, many pitchers “pitch” year round, and leave little or no time for training or conditioning), and
  3. Devise a plan that gives pitchers a chance to shut down and rest (minimum of 2-3 Weeks), and rebuild their arm for an additional 4-6 week period before getting back on a mound. It is very important to keep the pitchers off the mound because the arm is best developed by conditioning without any unnecessary demands on it during the rebuilding phase.

In the case of a typical pitcher who just finished his summer season, he should typically take a minimum of 2-3 weeks off to rest (physical and mental) after he’s thrown his last pitch of the summer, and spend the subsequent 4-6 weeks to do nothing but “train” and recondition his arm. There is nothing more important than establishing this 4-6 week training window after proper rest.

As you will see throughout this article, establishing rest at the right time, followed by the rebuilding or conditioning phase are the single most important factors in getting a pitcher into what we call a “positive cycle” that can last until the end of the season (Note: pitchers who begin their cycle in September/October may find it helpful to take another rest/rebuild period at the end of December. In that case, the rest period may only be a week and the conditioning period may only need to be 2 weeks because the base from the Fall/Winter is still relatively strong).

 

Establishing The Right Time

Our philosophy is pretty simple — it’s of minimal importance as to “when” a pitcher is expected to throw his first bull-pen in the fall/winter, considering that the pitcher has the balance of the year to work off of the mound. What matters most is what the pitcher does in this 4-6 week window leading up to the first bull-pen, and understanding how to maintain or strengthen this base throughout the remainder of the Fall, Winter and Spring. Without the proper base in place by rushing your pitchers back to the mound is like worrying about putting a roof on a house that doesn’t have a structure in place yet.

The desired rest period of the pitcher, along with the 4-6 week window of conditioning is the single most important factor in determining the pitchers health, strength, endurance and recovery period for the entire year (season) — or until that point in which he feels he needs another significant break (rest), and begin a new conditioning cycle. What we’ve found with the guys who have gone through our training program, and have been allowed to maintain their long toss (maintenance) program throughout the year, is that they have less of a need to have a significant rest or conditioning period throughout the year. But I would strongly recommend that every pitcher consider having a rest/conditioning period twice a year, even if it’s only for 2-3 weeks.

 

Building Your Base By Listening To Your Arm

The primary goal of our throwing program is to build an extremely strong base or foundation, progressively. Taking into consideration that a pitcher is coming off of an extended rest of 2-3 weeks, like anything else you would “build” in life, start off slowly and surely — walk before you jog and jog before you run. By not being in a hurry to “get in shape”, the muscles have a chance to stretch out more progressively, develop more efficiently, and recover more quickly. That’s why the first two weeks of our throwing program place such a huge emphasis on Surgical Tubing and the Stretching Out phase of Long Toss.

Chief among all of our principles of our throwing program is the principle of “listening to your arm”. In essence, listening to your arm means to let it guide you — to follow it. As opposed to having a throwing program with a predetermined limit on how many throws you are to make, or for how many minutes you are to throw for, our philosophy is based on learning how to trust your arm by listening to it — allowing it to dictate the pace, amount, and distance of throws for that day. I love the metaphor of allowing your arm to take you for a walk. Since your arm is your lifeline as a baseball player, there could be nothing more important than being in tune with it. This is what happens when you learn how to listen to your arm and let it dictate the pace.

Only your arm knows from day to day what it needs, and by eliminating predetermined restrictions on your arm, your arm will probably surprise you as to how many throws it wants to make each day, and how many times a week it wants to throw.

Because endurance increases through this process as the muscles “get in shape”, recovery period improves because swelling tends to be minimized. This is conditioning at its best because we are allowing the higher intelligence of the arm to guide us, and you will almost assuredly find that the more you allow your arm to throw (smartly and progressively), the more your arm wants to throw. Or, as we like to say, “the more you use it (correctly) the more it produces.”

The arm will tell you what to do from day to day, and even throw to throw. On days that you don’t feel great, try throwing through this feeling unless it is obviously a sign of pain. The reason I mention this is pitchers may often shut down early because of “false” signs. If the feeling doesn’t get better after a couple of minutes, or the pain is obvious, then shut it down. Ironically, the more throwing you do, the more you understand the difference between unhealthy feelings and a “good” soreness that you can throw through.

 

The Throwing Program

Our off-season throwing program is based predominately on 4-6 weeks of Arm Care exercises (Surgical Tubing) and Long Toss. Again, it is crucial for pitchers to stay off the mound during this period. As you will see below, I have broken down our Throwing Program into 3 phases. Each phase lasts approximately 10-14 days. Naturally, if a pitcher is truly listening to his arm, these increments may fluctuate.

 

Phase 1: Stretching Out (10-14 Days)

Before each day of throwing, we have our guys go through a very thorough arm circle (forwards and backwards) and surgical tubing program. Just as you are getting your arm in shape progressively, similarly, you also need to build a base with your arm circles/surgical tubing exercises. Focus on stretching, flexibility, range of motion, freedom, breathing and proper technique when doing these exercises. Symbolically, your first 10-14 days of throwing should also follow this same mentality: stretching, loose arm action, range of motion, freedom, and so on. In this 10-14 day period, the goal is to build endurance and distance through the Stretching Out phase of Long Toss (Long Toss is broken down into 2 parts: Stretching Out as you move away from your throwing partner, and Pulling Down or Strengthening as you move back in toward your throwing partner).

Stretching out means just that — maintain loose, relaxed arm action, put some arc on the ball and gradually move away from your throwing partner. Simply move away from your throwing partner each time you begin to sense that you are going to throw the ball over your partners head. Go out, each day, as far as the arm wants to take you that day — and stay at your furthest distance that day as long as your arm feels like it. There is no need to come back into your partner with any aggressiveness for the first two weeks of throwing — this will come in Phase 2, the Pull Down or Strengthening Phase. The goal of Phase 1 is to focus exclusively on “stretching”, hence the Stretching Out phase.

Depending on the amount of time off you took at the end of your last “in-season”, and how strong your arm is, you may throw as little as 5 minutes at 60 feet or 10 minutes at 90 feet on Day 1. Again, always listen to your arm. Regardless of how far out you get on Day 1 or how much time you may throw for, if you go out virtually everyday for the 10-14 day period, and you are religious with your arm circles/surgical tubing exercises, your arm should begin to feel better with each passing day. Though Day 1 may only be 5 minutes of throwing out to 60 feet and Day 2 may be only 7 minutes of throwing out to 90 feet, by Day 8 or 9, you may be out to 250 feet or more for 20 minutes of throwing (again based on the arm strength of that pitcher). By Day 12, 13, 14, that same pitcher may be out as far as 300 feet or more for 30 minutes.

It’s hard to put a number of throws on it, or a time or distance measurement, but from my experience, based on a pitcher that throws in the 82-90 range, he will probably start pushing 240-300 feet by the end of the second week. The beauty of going out each day without the demands of bull-pens, etc., is that a pitcher can enter into a new threshold simply because he is allowing his arm to open up most effectively. This is where many pitchers, who have never truly built their arm the correct way in the off-season, may have a pleasant surprise waiting for them. For these pitchers, and even pitchers who have been on a good throwing program, they often find themselves pushing beyond distances they thought they had in them. These further distances are critical to gaining flexibility, range of motion, extension, which in my experiences have led to looser/quicker arm action, explosiveness, freedom, increased velocity and endurance.

For example, in the case of a pitcher who throws 90 mph but has never thrown beyond 120 feet or used surgical tubing, I could see where his 120 foot throw could turn into 300, 330, maybe even 350 feet over time. I’ve found that pitchers who can get out to 300 feet throw in the 88mph range, those who can get out to 330 feet may push the low 90’s and those who can get out to 350 feet are typically in the 93-98 mph range.

The beauty of allowing the arm to stretch out without any aggressive throwing in Weeks 1 and 2 is that it best positions the arm for Week 3 and 4, which is the “pull down” or Strengthening Phase of the throwing program. This is where we bring a stretched out, well conditioned arm from Weeks 1 and 2 into the more aggressive and explosive throwing dynamic of the arm into weeks 3 and 4.

 

Phase 2: Stretching Out & Pulling Down (10-14 Days)

Once the base has been built through the stretching out phase, the arm is in a great position to work from and strengthen this base through the Pull Down Phase of long toss. Because the first two weeks have created such a strong foundation, Weeks 3 and 4 deepen this base because each pitcher will actually go through the conditioning phase of Arm Circles, Surgical Tubing and the Stretching Out phase of Long Toss before the pull-down or aggressive throws that are made coming back in toward your throwing partner.

Now that the arm is ready to take this stretched out feeling “downhill” with some aggressive throwing, the mentality shifts from one of uphill to downhill. Though we still want our pitchers thinking “stretch”, “loose” and “freedom” on their pull-downs, we want them to do it in an aggressive manner. We want them to come back toward their throwing partner 10 feet per throw or so, with the same dynamics they made with their furthest distance throw that day (e.g. 300 feet). We just want them to start getting downhill without decelerating their arm. We also want them to understand what it means to maintain a loose and relaxed arm action (loose and relaxed mind) as they make their way back to their throwing partner. In essence, they are not necessarily trying to “throw harder” — they are simply maintaining the effort of a 300 foot throw into shorter and shorter distances without decelerating their arm.

For the first few days of Week 3, there may only be 10-15 pull downs after the pitcher has peaked out to his furthest distance on that given day. Depending on how well he did the first two weeks, it’s possible that he may want to make closer to 20-25 throws on his way back to 60 feet. Regardless, Week 3 and 4 are very personal. Each pitcher may respond differently. Some may throw a lot on the first day of their pull downs, and then only want to go out to 250 feet the next day and not pull down at all. Others may actually throw further distances the next day because the Pull Down phase actually opened their arm up even more, and they will have an even more aggressive pull down the next day.

This is where listening to your arm is imperative. Once the base is built from Week 1 and 2, your primary goal is to still condition in Weeks 3 and 4. If the arm is not ready to pull down in Weeks 3 and 4, continue to build distance and endurance. In fact, a good rule of thumb is to not even think about the Pull Down phase until you are comfortably throwing what feels like your max distance, and you are able to stay there comfortably for 5-10 throws.

Things to look for in Weeks 3 and 4 are pacing and recovery period. Since you are not throwing off a mound, you should have relatively good recovery period. For example, the more you throw, the more you arm will probably want to throw. This doesn’t mean to push it beyond it’s means on any given day (Rule #1: ALWAYS listen to your arm). But if you feel like only stretching your arm out one day, or just throwing 150 feet, or not throwing at all on a given day, than do so.

Again, from my experience, the more you throw after building the base right, the more the arm seems to want to throw. For some players, that may mean stretching out and pulling down nearly everyday for Weeks 3, 4, 5 and 6. For others, it may mean stretching out and pulling down only 3 days a week. For others, it may mean stretching out 6 days a week, and pulling down 2 days a week. Again, your arm will dictate it’s own needs to you. Your job is to put it in a position where it can best maximize it’s potential — and I can tell you from a lot of experience that this usually happens when you are doing more throwing, rather than less.

 

Phase 3: Deepening The Base: Building Strength and Endurance (10-14 days)

If you needed more than 2 weeks to build your base, than Weeks 5 and 6 essentially become Weeks 3 and 4 for you. I’d almost prefer it this way because it’s better to spend the extra 2 weeks of deepening your base than it is to get to the pull down/strengthening phase after 2 weeks of conditioning. Considering that you have the rest of the off season and in season ahead of you, it’s far better to take the extra time and insure that your base is deep and strong. It’s like opening up a bank account with a million dollars in it and making deposits all year long, rather than opening up a bank account with a thousand dollars and making withdrawals right away.

For those pitchers who have been pretty aggressive in weeks 3 and 4, weeks 5 and 6 are considered to be “more of the same” throwing. Because you are staying off the mound, don’t be surprised how often, and how long your arm wants to throw. For example, you may begin to notice that 20-30 minutes of throwing has turned into 30-40 minutes of throwing on certain days. You may find that 250 feet has turned into 300 feet and 300 feet has turned into 330 feet or more. In any case, the things you should begin to notice is that your endurance is getting better (conditioning), your arm is feeling consistently stronger (conditioning) and your recovery period is amazingly good.

Once your foundation is built, the remainder of the year becomes one of maintaining this foundation, and even strengthening this foundation. What you do after this six week period may differ from pitching coach to pitching coach, but if you’ve “built” your arm correctly, and are in tune with it through this off-season throwing program, than you will probably want to maintain some form of distance throwing throughout the year. A simple rule of thumb is to get in at least 2 good days of long toss during the season, and these days tend to be most optimal on your bull pen/game day (if you are a starter). The reason for this is that the arm tends to respond better on the mound after a good long toss session — it’s been trained for it. Velocity seems to come more quickly — endurance seems to last longer — swelling is minimized. Also, long tossing on bull-pen/game days is effective because the rest of the days of the week can be used for rest, recovery and rebuilding. Regardless, if you are in tune with your arm, it will tell you from day to day what it wants to do that day…what it needs to do that day.

 

Building Your Offseason Throwing Program

Though most throwing programs are formatted so a pitcher has structure throughout the off-season, our throwing program places more responsibility on a pitcher listening to his arm. Though it would be convenient to tell pitchers to make “x” amount of throws for “x” amount of minutes each Monday, Wednesday and Friday for six weeks, this can be very limiting to the pitchers development.

In a sense, our programs structure is to be structure-less. This doesn’t mean reckless abandon. Quite the contrary. It means to abandon those contrived restraints that prevents the arm from being built the most effective way — by allowing the pitchers’ arm to dictate the amount of throwing rather than following someone else’s pre-determined format. Only the arm knows from day to day, what it wants and what it needs. And that’s we want our players to ultimately learn to do….know their arm.

Though the first principle of the article was to “listen to your arm” and allow it to guide you from day to day, there are still a number of players and coaches that feel more comfortable with having some form of structure or guidelines to follow — some players simply respond better to having structure and some coaches find it more efficient to have a standardized program that everyone can follow.

You can see my whole throwing program in my new online version of the Jaeger Year Round Throwing Manual.

 

Finally, remember that the bottom line is to listen to your arm. How many throws you make at each increment is dependent on how your arm feels. How far you go out, or how fast you come in may vary from day to day. Your job is to put your arm in a position to throw as often as possible, with awareness and sensitivity to your arm, in order to progressively build a strong base. This mentality is what optimizes your ability to insure health, strength, endurance and improved recovery period.

 

Learn the Jaeger Long Toss Program

Jaeger Thrive on ThrowingFor those interested in learning more, we have teamed up with Elite Baseball Performance to offer a brand new online version of our popular Thrive on Throwing 2 video.  In this program, we teach you exactly how to perform a proper arm care, warm-up, long toss, and pull down program to maximize your arm.

We also have a more detailed Year Round Throwing Manual that builds off this article in much more detail and shows you exactly what to do for a throwing program throughout the entire year.

If you don’t have a structured throwing program that you follow, this is an essential place to start:

 

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.

 

 

 

How to Throw to Prepare the Arm for the Season

One of the most important concepts when trying to prepare the arm for the baseball season is developing an appropriate offseason throwing program.  It is important that any throwing program consists of a rest period after a long summer, followed by a rebuilding period to prepare the arm for the upcoming season.

During the rebuilding period, it is important to stay off of the mound for an initial four week, base building period. The idea is that the better you build your base in the fall and winter months, the better you can maximize your health, strength, and endurance during the season.

The key to optimizing the health, strength, and endurance of your arm inseason is significantly reflected by how well you can maintain this base throughout the offseason months, and then how well it carries over into the season.

The following article will discuss how to transition your offseason throwing program into mound work to prepare the arm for the season.  If you are interested in learning more, we have our brand new online version of our Thrive on Throwing 2 video where we show you exactly how to perform the Jaeger Throwing Programs, as well as a downloadable Year Round Throwing Manual that builds off this information and discusses how to best prepare your throwing programs throughout the year for optimal success.  More information on these can be found below.

This article is part of a 3 part series on year round throwing:

 

How to Throw to Prepare the Arm for the Season

After a pitcher has gone through the initial offseason phase of resting his arm and rebuilding his base correctly through among other things, arm care exercises and long toss, there are two more stages to go through before pitchers transition into the inseason training or maintenance phase.

  • Stage 1 involves the integration of mound work, bullpens, and live batting practice
  • Stage 2 addresses the transition into the spring inseason maintenance period

The goal of this article is to understand the importance of maintaining your base and optimizing your recovery time once throwing off a mound is introduced in the offseason. This is best accomplished by understanding that throwing off a mound is an extension of your Long Toss throwing program, rather than the primary focus. In other words, Long Toss is the key to your workload each day, and if you get on a mound, it is simply the culmination of your throwing program.

As you will see throughout this article Long Toss is what most effectively replenishes the base and significantly improves recovery period after any form of “mound work.” Maintaining a strong base and optimizing recovery time are the key factors in optimizing health, strength, and endurance throughout the year. This article is written with this in mind.

 

Stage 1 – Integrating Bullpens into Your Offseason Throwing

After the arm has had a minimum of 4-6 week offseason period to rest and rebuild without throwing off the mound, the pitcher is ready to begin to integrate bullpens into his throwing program.

Because such a strong base was built from the previous phase, bullpens should have a dramatically less effect on producing arm soreness. The arm will recover faster, which in turn will allow the base to be minimally affected or “depleted.” This is a critical principle to understand because having great recovery is the essential ingredient to maintaining arm health, strength and endurance throughout the year.

In the case of a pitcher who has extended his Long Toss to 5 days a week leading into his first week of bullpens, the main priority on bullpen days is for the pitcher to think conditioning and long toss first, and mound work second.

Essentially, the bullpen is used to “culminate” the workout, rather than be the focus of the throwing that day.

The idea is that when the arm can “stretch out” through Long Toss, it is most effectively prepared to throw off the mound. To put it another way, the focal point of each day is to condition the arm, and then use the bullpen for pitching specific skills, such as working on mechanics or getting used to throwing with the decline of the mound.

Many coaches make the mistake of “saving the arm” for the bullpen by minimizing the amount of throwing on “bullpen days.” In my experience, this has the opposite effect on the arm — it is telling the arm to throw aggressively before it has been properly stretched out and conditioned. It’s like running only a mile each day to “save your legs” for a marathon at the end of the week. This mentality of “saving the arm for the bullpen” is the primary reason why recovery periods worsen, and the pitcher’s base becomes depleted.  The same principle also applies to inseason bullpens and game situations.

How often a pitcher integrates bullpens into the offseason months is a feel thing from player to player. But the bottom line is to integrate workload slowly and progressively into your bullpen sessions just as you worked slowly and incrementally into your Long Toss routine when you built your initial base. I would recommend two bullpens a week through the offseason months, separated by as many recovery period days as possible. For example, a Monday/Friday is an ideal format because you maximize your “off days” from bullpen to bullpen. These off days away from mound work allow the arm optimal time to recover and recondition itself for the next bullpen. The amount of pitches thrown in the bullpen and the intensity behind it again varies from pitcher to pitcher (and the workload that preceded it).

The priority is that the arm is stretched out thoroughly through a Long Toss program before any mound work.  Remember, the recovery period between bullpens is crucial because the better your recovery period, the more the arm is going to want to “stretch it out” from day to day.

Stretching the arm out is what replenishes the arm.

Having great recovery periods leads to what I call a “positive cycle” – a positive cycle because the arm wants to throw more rather than less from day-to-day because it feels good. Essentially, the arm can sustain it’s base throughout the offseason and into the season because bullpens and game action have a minimal effect on recovery period. If the recovery period between pens is poor, and the arm is unusually sore, the arm will need to rest more often, which further deprives the base from getting replenished.  This is what we call a “negative cycle” which exposes the arm to breaking down.

As you go through the offseason months, the primary goal is to stay in a conditioning mode as you increase the pitch counts in bullpen situations. As bullpens turn into game action, the principle doesn’t change. Bullpens and game situations are interchangeable. So if you throw a bullpen or pitch in a game situation on Monday/Friday, your goal is to continue to Long Toss at least one other day of the week. Remember, your bullpen/game day are also relatively thorough Long Toss days.

The idea with this offseason mentality is to keep the focus on Long Toss as you increase pitch counts for bullpens and game situations. Because a thorough Long Toss session is incorporated at least three days a week, the arm is best positioned to stay in a positive cycle through the end of offseason, despite the reality that pitch counts can elevate up to 45-60 pitches in game situations.

Once a pitcher starts throwing bullpens in the offseason, he will find that the days he is going to throw off a mound are his best Long Toss days because he will have the most amount of recovery period days between mound work. With that said, it should be noted that the day after a pitcher’s mound work, Long Toss will probably consist of only the “stretching out” phase and the distance may only consist of about 50-75% of a pitcher’s normal distance. This is important to understand because Long Toss after mound work should be less aggressive with the focus being on “stretching” the arm out.

If done right, the second day after mound work will lead to a more typical distance of Long Toss, and the “pull-down” or more aggressive phase of Long Toss can be added if it feels right. Remember, it always comes down to “listening to your arm.”  Once mound work begins, your focus is on stretching the arm out each day. How far you go out and how aggressive you “pull down” from day-to-day depends simply on how your arm feels, and how good your recovery period is.

 

Phase 2 – Transition Throwing from the Offseason into the Inseason

Once the Winter Holidays come and go (this is traditionally a 2-3 week window) and players return to school, pitchers need to be able to spend at least two weeks off the mound to recondition their arm. For the same reasons why pitchers use the first 4-6 weeks in the Fall to stay off the mound to condition, players need to “rebuild” the base for the first two weeks without even thinking about mound work. This is essential to understand because these two weeks allows the pitcher to reconnect to the base that was built all offseason. Fortunately, because the arm was so well “built” in the offseason, it only takes a couple of weeks to “re-catch” the wave, especially if the pitcher spent the Winter break doing his arm care program and playing some form of catch.

Once this two week period has been established the pitcher is ready to integrate bullpens and game innings into his throwing routine. This should come quickly. A pitcher should be able to go from throwing a 25 pitch bullpen in week 3 (late January/early February) to throwing 35 pitches in an inter-squad game by week 4.

Naturally, because High School and College seasons begin at different times, how you integrate bullpens and game situations depends on many variables. The priority here is still about learning how to prioritize your conditioning off of the mound for two weeks after the Winter break so the base is reinforced and the recovery period is sufficient once mound work is reintroduced. Remember, once the Spring starts getting close, the tendencies are to ramp up the pitch count and prepare for game situations. This is an even greater reason to use the first two weeks for base building — otherwise, you may be putting the pitcher’s arm in harm’s way.

 

The Key to Preparing the Arm for the Season

Remember, the ideal way to maintain an arm inseason is to have a great base in place from the offseason.

This offseason base is the key to having a great recovery period, which in turn allows the arm to recondition itself most effectively as mound work is integrated into the offseason months, and eventually into the Spring season. This ability to maintain good recovery periods and a Long Toss program as bullpens and game situations are integrated is the key to not only maintaining a healthy arm throughout the offseason but also to positioning your arm to get more durable and possibly even stronger throughout the season.

Finally, always “listen to your arm.”

Only it knows from day to day what it needs and what it wants. Because you have learned to condition and maintenance it so well the reality is you will probably find yourself wanting to stretch your arm out with Long Toss more often than you have in the past. But this is a great sign. It’s a reminder that the body responds best to activity rather than inactivity.  The arm wants to regenerate, not degenerate.  And when the arm gets into this “positive cycle,” the arm is in the best position possible throughout the year to stay healthy, strong and durable.

 

Learn the Jaeger Long Toss Program

Jaeger Thrive on ThrowingFor those interested in learning more, we have teamed up with Elite Baseball Performance to offer a brand new online version of our popular Thrive on Throwing 2 video.  In this program, we teach you exactly how to perform a proper arm care, warm-up, long toss, and pull down program to maximize your arm.

We also have a more detailed Year Round Throwing Manual that builds off this article in much more detail and shows you exactly what to do for a throwing program throughout the entire year.

If you don’t have a structured throwing program that you follow, this is an essential place to start: