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I get this kind of questions a lot: “What should my son be doing between games to keep his arm healthy this season?”

Pitching is a pretty high risk/high reward pursuit. When things are going right, there’s nothing better… but as any pitcher who’s ever been injured can tell you, it doesn’t take much for that to all come to a screeching halt.

A lot of factors come into play here, but one thing you can do to give yourself the best shot at staying healthy performing your best is improving how well you recover between games.

This means addressing the entire body – not just your arm – and really every part of the process – before, during and after you pitch.

Conventional approaches like running and icing are fine (click here for more on why distance running might not be the best idea), but if that’s all you do, you’re missing out on some things that can really help you get back to full strength more quickly. So here are 3 simple tips for improving your recovery process.

[h3]1. Improve Your Warm Up[/h3]

What you do before you throw can have a big impact on how well you recover after you throw… There’s a great expression I use all the time with my guys: “Warm up to throw, don’t throw to warm up.” Too often, I’ve seen youth baseball games where the players just show up, grab their gloves and start throwing… this is basically how they “get loose.” No good… here are some tips for improving your warm-up.

Pre-Warmup Soft Tissue work (foam roller, etc): Soft tissue work like foam rolling can be great prep work and has been shown to aid in recovery. Joe Hashey with Synergy Athletics gives a nice foam roller demo in this video:

Dynamic Warm-Up: Go through a dynamic warm-up with an emphasis on mobility and good movement patterns… this doesn’t need to take forever, but a good rule of thumb is you want to at least warm up to the point of light perspiration.

In the Ballistic Pitching Blueprint, I provide a complete Dynamic Warm-Up you can do anywhere in just 5 minutes. We follow that with a light performance bands routine to continue the warm-up and activate all the muscles in and around the throwing arm.

[h3]2. Monitor Your Pitches[/h3]

This should be fairly obvious, but one of the best ways to avoid becoming overly sore after you pitch is limiting your pitches (ASMI and Little League have put out recommended guidelines, and these are certainly a good place to start). This responsibility generally falls on the coaches (they’re the ones deciding who pitches and who doesn’t, after all).

But if you’re serious about your future in pitching, you owe it to yourself to take ownership of this process. Have someone you trust, whether a parent, friend or teammate, keep track of your pitches.

pitch-counter

When I was in the Indians organization, if you threw more than 30 pitches in an inning you were done – you weren’t going back out there next inning. So if you were a starter, and you maxed with 30+ pitches in the 1st inning, you headed to the bullpen and got the rest of your work in down there – in a controlled environment – to get to your desired pitch count.

Now there’s something to be said for letting young pitchers get out of jams, and not babying them… but there’s also being smart when it comes to understanding the risk factors that increase the chance of injury. Plus knowing we had that 30 pitches/inning limit was pretty good incentive to stay focused on attacking the strike zone and being economical with your pitches.

As I’ve discussed before, the #1 risk factor for youth pitching injuries is pitching with fatigue. One way to minimize fatigue is making sure you’re properly conditioned to pitch. But often times, fatigue stems from overuse… or as Mike Reinold points out in this recent article, flat-out abuse:

Are We Putting Our Kids at Risk for Youth Baseball Injuries?

[h3]3. Improve your Post-Pitching Routine[/h3]

What you do immediately after you throw can also have a meaningful impact on how well you recover. Here are some simple suggestions for maximizing your post-throwing routine.

Light Cardio: Nice and easy, just working on increasing bloodflow and getting some good deep breathing to increase oxygen intake. The idea here is to circulate the blood and deliver nutrients where they’re needed. In the minors, they used to put us on a stationary bike in the training room, but a light 5 minute jog works just fine, too.

Mobility Exercises: Another option I really like is just going through a full Dynamic Warmup routine after you throw. You engage your whole body, get the arms, legs and core working, and get bloodflow to the areas it’s needed most.

Post-Throwing Stretching: Key here is understanding what you’re trying to accomplish… the goal is maintaining range of motion by addressing areas that get tight after pitching. So don’t go stretching things that are already loose – for example, stretching for more external rotation after you pitch is pretty counter-productive.

Pitchers tend to lose internal rotation from pitching, so the Sleeper Stretch can be an effective way to maintain or regain any lost range of motion.


Mike Reinold demonstrating the right way to perform the Sleeper Stretch

Eric Cressey also offers a free “Post-Throwing Stretching Series” on his site – just scroll down to the bottom for the download (there’s a ton of great content there, too).

Icing: This has become a little controversial (some guys avoid it, others swear by it), but the bottom line for me is that icing can help reduce inflammation – for many, icing may not be necessary, but I personally always felt better when I iced. Perhaps I’ll dig more into the debate in a future piece, but basically, inflammation is bad for recovery… icing prevents inflammation when done appropriately.

Some tips when icing:
1. Use a large bag with a lot of ice (crushed ice is best)
2. Avoid placing ice directly on the ulnar nerve (funny bone) – you can line with a towel to prevent freezing
3. 10-15 minutes on, 20 minutes off is a good rule of thumb (repeat as desired). Leaving ice on longer than that can be counter-productive.

*Special Note: since writing this post, more and more evidence continues to point towards icing being unnecessary in many cases (or even potentially counterproductive to the recovery process). If there’s any step in this “post-pitching routine” I’d be okay skipping, it would be icing. Here’s a good post from Josh Heenan that goes into more detail: Should You Use Ice, Aleve, or Ibuprofen After You Throw?

Refuel Better! This is pretty common sense stuff, but when pitching you’re exerting a lot of energy – short bursts of power, again and again. This takes a toll on your muscles and tendons. And just like with weight training or any other high performance activity, what you put in your body immediately afterwards can have a big impact on your recovery.

Some common sense tips for refueling after you pitch:

1. Get some carbs and protein within 30-40 minutes: Have a high carbohydrates meal (restores glycogen), followed by a high protein source (aids in the rebuilding & recovery process). An energy bar and protein shake are a pretty good combo.
2. Hydrate: Drink a lot of water… water’s a pretty amazing thing, plus its FREE so there’s really no excuse for skipping this step.

And lastly…. Get plenty of sleep!

 

Looking to keep your arm Healthy this season?

Go Here to Grab Your EZ Arm Care Program (It's Free!)

EZ_Arm-Care-2

 

 

When I was coming up as a young pitcher, it was pretty well accepted that pitchers should run long distance. So in college and in the minors we ran poles, poles and more poles… For those unfamiliar with this, running poles usually consists of slow or moderate running out on the warning track, foul pole to foul pole (pretty tedious stuff).

And on one hand, it seemed to make sense. As a pitcher, you want to be strong for 9 innings (or 6 or 7, whatever level you’re playing at), so you need to build up your endurance… and what’s the best way to do that, steady-state cardio (i.e. jogging), right?

[h5]Well, turns out maybe not (more on that in a minute).[/h5]  
Even if it sounded like a good idea for starting pitchers, what about relievers? They don’t need the same endurance as a starter, do they? True, so the common approach: relievers would still run poles, just not as many…

For a long time this was the prevailing mindset among most pitching coaches. And so, when pitchers weren’t pitching, shagging BP or doing PFP’s (pitchers fielding practice), they would run, run, run.

But recently, more and more has been written about the drawbacks and potential harmful effects of distance running when it comes to pitching performance.

Basically, long, slow distance running and pitching are two very different athletic activities. Pitching involves high intensity, explosive movements repeated again and again – short bursts of power, followed by short periods of recovery between pitches. In many ways, pitching is much more similar to sprinting than it is to distance running…

chapman-pitching-usain-bolt
 
[h5]You’re training the wrong energy system![/h5]  
Now this is a little outside my comfort zone (I’m a former pitcher turned pitching coach, not an athletic trainer or strength coach), so I’ll defer to some experts in a minute. But put simply, distance running is an aerobic activity, pitching is anaerobic (if you really want to dig into energy systems – aerobic, anaerobic, ATP – give this article a read).

Bottom line, you don’t need to be able to run 9 miles to be able to pitch 9 innings. Just ask David Wells and C.C. Sabathia…

David-Wells-CC-Sabathia
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

One of my favorite David Wells quotes: “You don’t run the ball up to the plate.”

Disclaimer: please don’t take this as license to eat like crap and get overweight.

So as I mentioned, aside from my direct experience with running in my playing days and its effect on my own performance (usually a drop in weight, power and velocity over the course of a season), I’m not an expert on this. So for more on why distance running isn’t a great idea for pitchers looking to maximize performance, I highly recommend giving these a read:

A New Model for Training Between Starts: Part 1 – Eric Cressey

Should Pitchers Run Long Distance? – Joe Meglio

Now to be fair, this understanding was making its way into pro ball when I was still playing. In the minors we did a lot less long-distance running and a lot more sprint work. But there was still some form of running pretty much every day, and the day after your start you were expected to do a 20-30 minute jog… in the 90 degree heat (and 1000% humidity) of Columbus, GA, that takes a toll.

[h5]So, does this mean pitchers should ditch long distance running completely?[/h5] [h5]Not necessarily…[/h5]  
This is a tough one for me, because personally I’ve always enjoyed running. Not so much the monotony of running poles, but more the endurance challenge of a good long run appeals to me – it’s great mental toughness training. I almost always feel better after running, both mentally and physically….

So it was refreshing to read an article recently that actually talked about the benefits of aerobic conditioning! This is a fantastic piece by Mike Robertson, well worth a read for anyone serious about their health and athletic performance:

You NEED Long Duration, Low Intensity Cardio

See, while maybe not the best thing for maximizing explosiveness during the season, some level of cardio training has some serious benefits.

I’m mainly talking about the effects on your heart and your mind… two pretty important things for any pitcher!

Some key benefits of distance running:

  • It leads to positive physical changes to your heart
  • It can lower your resting heart rate, helping you stay calm and relaxed.
  • It builds mental toughness.

So while it isn’t ideal for building and maintaining power on the mound, and should probably be kept to a minimum during the season, I still think distance running has its place…

And in closing, I leave you with some words of wisdom from Will Smith.

In honor of Mother’s Day, I’m doing things a little different today. As I look at where I am today with my coaching and the work I do with young pitchers, I can’t help but think back to the first pitching lesson I ever gave…

[h5]My mother was my first student[/h5]

I don’t remember my exact age, but I must have been 8, maybe 9 years old. My brother and I used to give her kind of a hard time (in a loving, joking way) for “throwing like a girl.” I’m not sure what prompted me, but I guess I felt bad, and one day I decided I would try to help her out.

I still remember throwing the ball back and forth, sharing some of my 8 year old pitching wisdom, and watching her gradually get better. I think the reason this memory is so indelible has to do with the obvious role reversal… Like most kids growing up, my mother was my biggest teacher… and here I was actually teaching her something!

So with Mother’s Day coming up, today I’m going to share just a small sampling of the many lessons I learned from my mother over the years.

[h4]4 things my mom taught me that made me a better pitcher & coach[/h4] [h5]1. Do your daily duty[/h5]

Whenever things got tough, my mom had a way of putting things in perspective… She’d remind me that there were people a lot worse off, that we had a responsibility of sorts…

In life, you can’t always control the circumstances that surround you. The important thing is to face life head-on, and do what you can in your current situation to move forward in a positive way.

She called this “doing your daily duty.” What are you in a position to do right now that can have a positive impact on your life and others? This could mean all sorts of things… focusing on your training, doing your school work, or lending a helping hand to someone who needs it.

The lesson for pitchers is simple: Stop making excuses, start taking action.

[h5]2. Treat people with respect[/h5]

This is something that was basically just bred in me from the time I was a small boy. I can’t really point to a specific moment or incident where my mom imparted this lesson to me; it was more just the cumulative effect of her words and actions, again and again. But regardless, the message was always clear:

Other peoples’ feelings matter. Treat them with respect.

For pitchers, this means treating your coaches with respect (even if you don’t see eye to eye), treating your teammates with respect (pick them up, don’t knock them down), and even treating the umpire with respect (that’s right, they’re people, too).

I know I sometimes I fall short of this ideal, but I do my best… and as she would probably tell me, that’s all you can do.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” – attributed to Plato

[h5]3. Keep learning, keep growing[/h5]

My mom is one of the most curious people I know (my dad’s right up there, too, actually… probably why they’re such a good team). If you ever asked her something and she wasn’t sure the answer, she wouldn’t just shrug her shoulders or try to come up with some incomplete answer to appease me.

More often than not we’d head over to the Encyclopedia (remember those?), and she wouldn’t rest until we’d found the answer, and we’d learned something together.

That approach had a big impact on me. It told me that it’s okay if you don’t have all the answers… the world is a fascinating place, keep learning, keep growing… That’s the approach I took with my pitching and I apply it every day with my work as a coach.

The lesson for pitchers: Keep Learning. Keep Growing. Get Better.

[h5]4. “Have Fun!”[/h5]

I think we all know playing baseball’s supposed to be fun – it is a game, after all. This was my mother’s send-off to me before every game I ever played: “Have fun!”

As I got older, I’d tell her that my goal wasn’t just to go out there and “have fun.” I wanted to go out and play well! Playing well was fun. But that didn’t stop her, and I’m thankful for that. It reminded me that my mother didn’t really care if I was a star pitcher; that’s not what mattered to her. All she cared about was having a happy, healthy son.

And at the end of the day, I knew that whether I pitched lights out or got lit up, my mom would be right there with a big hug and a warm heart. And nothing that ever happened out there playing a game could change the way she felt about me.

[h5]Thanks for all the lessons, Mom. Happy Mother’s Day![/h5] [hr] photo source: hardballtalk.nbcsports.com

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