Baseball Training Topic #4
Throwing Arm Pain & Travel Baseball
How We Can Improve Our Youth and High School Throwing Arms…and Ultimately Their Overall Experience!
Many travel baseball tournaments enforce inning and pitch count limits on pitchers. On the surface, this is a nice idea- winning at the youth level means very little, especially in comparison to long term development of players. Issues begin to arise in the overzealous and under-prepared approach from coaches, as they will push players to the limit regardless of how the kid’s arm feels. Pair this with poor warm-up and recovery work and little to non-existent training routines, and you have some big problems waiting in the wings. Sound like a problem you dealt with this past season?
“That coach ruined my arm!”
This is a phrase I’ve heard probably 10 times in the past month of players coming to Dream Big Athletics from various travel ball organizations. The stories of 100+ pitch bullpens, pitching entire games and pitching multiple games per week seem to be infinite. However, the more of these stories I hear, the more I begin to realize that a bad coach is not the only party to blame here. Every player is responsible for their own health. With that being said, this is how we at Dream Big Athletics address the various areas to help improve arm health and development long term for ALL of our baseball players.
Warm-up and Recovery Routines
Most parents and coaches do not find this to be very important for young players as most kids can just show up, play and not have any injury issues. The problem is that you’ve created an acceptable habit for that player as they turn 13 or 14 years old and start throwing 70+ mph… which could turn into some serious arm issues. Build these habits at a young age to ensure that the structures around the elbow and shoulder can handle the higher forces placed upon them down the road.
· Warmup: Basic exercises like the Bodyweight Squat and Lunge, High Knees and Shuffles will help increase body temperature and heart rate. After that general warm-up, a more specific warm up addressing scapular mobility can be done with band-resisted upper back strengthening exercises. Control the movement through full ranges of motion. This helps to ensure the shoulder blades glide as the hand moves and will ensure that the ball-and-socket shoulder joint stays in a safe position when throwing. For older individuals with more muscle mass, I also recommend soft tissue massage with a foam roller or lacrosse ball as needed. The older kids will also perform Plyo Ball Reverse throws as well… Then you can begin a throwing progression, slowly building up to 100% intensity. This whole process typically takes 20 minutes at our facility.
· Recovery: “Ice and jog” is not good enough. Upper back stability exercises with bands and light weights are a better place to start. Waiter Walks and Band No Money’s are great exercises to start. Forearm/grip strengthening exercises are also very important for strengthening the structures surrounding the elbow- a place that typically gets sore from overuse after throwing. The next step is to promote blood flow to the arm to promote healing through soft tissue massage. Heat and ice do work in short doses as well, but have been shown to be less effective than many have thought in the past. Older kids can use other methods like Voodoo Flossing for the arm as well as Plyo Ball Rebounder Exercises and Rhythmic Stabilization exercises for the rotator cuff. This typically takes 20 minutes.
· Training: Full body strengthening exercises like the Push-up and Lunge are great places to start for younger kids to learn exercises with healthy ranges of motion. The body needs to produce force and accept force when throwing. If the body can’t handle the forces placed upon it, it will break down and likely become injured wherever the weakest link is (typically shoulder or elbow in throwers).
· Train the Press and Row through full ranges of motion. This trains the scapular mobility I touched on earlier, which is one of the most important pieces to the puzzle in keeping the arm healthy.
· Train the core through Max Tension Planks, Pallof Press and other movements forcing the core to have as much stability as possible.
· Train the legs to be strong through full ranges of motion. Hip mobility plays a big role in creating efficient whip and energy transfer when throwing. Every coach says “use your legs” well, make sure to train them properly first!
· Shut down throwing at certain times of the year to allow for full arm recovery and address strength training in higher capacities. I recommend a 6–8 week off-season from throwing before resuming throwing sessions. Allow for fluctuations in throwing intensities as well to ensure the arm does not get overused- a “more, more, more” throwing approach is usually a recipe for disaster.
Encourage Open Communication
Rather than the coach/parent instilling their will on the players, I encourage athletes to speak up about arm pain. No kid ever wants to disappoint their parents or coaches. Creating the environment that says “Telling me your arm hurts is not going to disappoint me” is a good place as a coach or parent. If the arm is sore, shut down throwing for the day, go through exercises for recovery and see how it feels over the next few days. If pain persists after sticking with proper training routines, then it’s time to consult a doctor. Typically, doctors will prescribe exercises such as Band Pull-Aparts, Rows, Grip Strength and Rotator Cuff Stability exercises with minor injuries to the arm. As you may notice, these are exercises you should already be doing on a consistent basis!
The player-coach relationship can get messy at times with the stresses of competition. We’re all human- we all want to win. The competition is why we fell in love with baseball to begin with. But, with you and baseball, there always needs to be the understanding that these games and practices are all for long term player development; getting them ready for varsity high school and college ball someday. An overuse injury from trying to win a plastic tournament trophy could inhibit a player’s long-term development. Keep players safe, give them the tools to be great for a long time.
This article was written by Dream Big Athletics Head Strength and Conditioning Coach and Lead Professional Baseball Instructor Bill Miller, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).
Dream Big Athletics is hosting a variety of weekday and weekend training camps for youth and high school players this November and December.
Dream Big Athletics is also hosting its 3rd Annual Keep Swinging Pro-Collegiate Showcase for sophomore, junior, and senior HS Baseball Players, sponsored by Keep Swinging Stix, on Sunday, December 16th, 2018.
For Even More Training Insight
Contact Coach Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a training session with him today!
Contact a Dream Big Athletics Staff Member at email@example.com regarding various upcoming training programs, our 3rd Annual Keep Swinging Showcase held Sunday, December 16th, as well as our competitive travel baseball organization the Illinois Patriots.