Are We Forgetting Something?
Throwing is like running. If you are pitching you are essentially sprinting. If you are throwing at low intensity for long periods, you are essentially running long distance. The difference is extremely important because we may be missing something in the conditioning of our arms.
Let’s look at a runner who runs the 100 yard dash. If he continually runs 100 yard dashes, he will eventually slow down as he gets tired. He is not used to the conditioning aspect of running so many consecutive 100 yard dashes and will ultimately either increase his times or not complete the 100 yard dash.
By contrast, a cross country runner can run a long time if allowed to go at a slow speed. He is conditioned for endurance. However, if the cross country runner is asked to run multiple sprints, he will also break down as he is not conditioned for the high speed task.
In this day and age, our pitchers are throwing at 100% capacity (sprinting) every pitch much like a sprinter running 100 yard dashes. In fact, many starting pitchers are asked to throw 100% (sprinting) for 100 pitches or more a game (endurance). Do you see where I am going with this? Today’s pitchers have to be both sprinters and cross country runners. But, how we train our pitchers is one sided. Our training for pitchers centers mainly only on velocity development (sprinting). It’s my opinion that we are missing a vital link in the development of the pitcher today. We have to develop endurance within our pitcher’s training programs.
Listen, I get it. Velo is king and I totally agree. You can’t get your foot in the door unless you can show some velo. I’m a big believer of weighted ball training, strength training, plyometrics and mobility training. But, I think we need to look at the endurance side of the equation.
Arm fatigue is real and it needs to be accounted for. The conditioning of the arm is absolutely vital to a pitcher’s long term health. When you look at most arm injuries, there are a plethora of injuries that happen at the beginning of the season with the second most happening toward the end. Why is this? It’s my contention that early in the season the arm is not conditioned for the workload we ask of it. Later int eh season fatigue is the major culprit for late season injuries. So, if our arms aren’t ready for the stress we are asking of it, don’t we have to condition it more to handle the stress? Doesn’t it make sense to work the endurance side of the equation when preparing our pitchers for the season? The lack of arm conditioning, more than anything else, is responsible for the UCL tears and torn labrums our pitchers are suffering. We have to do more than just throw pens and increase innings if we want to put a dent into the pitcher injury rate.
So what’s the solution? Well, just like a cross country runner has to train at low intensities for long distances, our pitchers need to incorporate throwing at low intensities for a high amount of volume. I’m not saying we scrap high intensity throws from our programming. All I’m saying is we need to use low-intensity throwing at high volumes to help our pitchers condition their arms to handle the endurance side of the equation. Multiple throws at 50-75% should be worked into our throwing programs.
I strongly believe that if we throw live game situations and a bullpen every week, we need to make sure we are building in a high volume, low-intensity day for endurance purposes. Maybe even twice a week or a combination with long toss days. Ultimately, we need to make sure our pitcher’s arms are conditioned to handle the stress of throwing 100% capacity but also 100% volume. Otherwise, we will continue to see our pitchers breaking down. Whether it’s because of strength issues, fatigue issues or mechanics issues, being able to handle the stress load on our pitchers' arms is ultimately the main goal. We can’t throw harder until our arms are ready to throw harder and we can’t throw longer until our arms are ready to throw longer. Throwing longer bullpens and extending game innings help, but maybe the answer lies in our ability to train our arms with simple low intensity throws for multiple minutes/throws.
So, let’s make sure our rotator cuffs and forearm muscles are strong via resistance training. Let’s make sure our arms are trained to can handle the increased velocity demands we need via weighted ball training. And let’s make sure our arms can handle the endurance side of the equation with low intensity/high volume throws coupled with long toss. Let’s train our arms to handle stress levels above our current needs not at our current needs. Because once we become fatigued, our needs change. The stress levels change and our ability to handle those stress levels change. Whether you throw 80 mph, 85 mph, 90 mph or 95 mph, it doesn’t matter. 100% capacity is 100% capacity. That’s why pitchers of all velocities tear UCLs and get labrum tears. Raw velocity doesn’t matter. High velocity pitchers don’t have a monopoly on UCL tears. Because if you are throwing at 100% and you can’t handle 100%, you break down. Be committed to train above capacity (both from a velocity side and an endurance side) so that we don’t hurt ourselves throwing at capacity!