You can't reduce the risk of pitching injuries to zero.
We are huge believers in healthy arms, and everything we do is based on the principle that good health is priority number one. Having said that, there will always be a risk involved in pitching from a mound, especially when high velocities are involved. The forces present in the body and arm during a pitch are dangerous, and there is no way to fully mitigate the stresses which are naturally occurring during a pitch.
It's important to understand however, that just because we can't eliminate all chances of pitching injury, that doesn't mean there aren't healthier ways to pitch. While it's important to never buy in to any coach or pitching system which claims a pitcher will be 100% safe from injury, it's equally as important to seek out good and smart information about how to be as healthy as possible as a pitcher.
This article, and the many that will follow it will be about some of the best ways for a pitcher to prevent injury.
Preventing pitching injuries starts at the beginning
This article will focus on something that is mismanaged throughout baseball at all levels, the warm up. This does not include catch play or a throwing progression, we will discuss that in a different article as we have enough to say about that to fill many separate pieces. For now, we're discussing how baseball players warm up their bodies before they play catch.
A routine that we see implemented for most baseball teams is to begin with a short jog or some simple calisthenics, followed by a brief period of stretching. From there, they stand ten feet from each other and toss the ball, and slowly back up to their desired distance before coming back in and beginning the performance portion of the practice or game.
The fact that the warm up and throwing progression are typically regarded as pre-practice, or pre-game is a big part of the problem in our opinion. This mishandled and mistaught portion of baseball training is just as important, if not far more important, than any other part of the baseball day. The body's ability to move in a healthy and correct way comes from being trained in a healthy and correct way. Just as each swing is a rep that trains a hitter, every warm up routine is a rep that trains the body. If it's lazy and inefficient, the body will be under-trained and less mobile.
While this article is targeted at pitchers and pitching injuries, this advice is crucial for all baseball players. Swinging a bat and throwing a baseball are very powerful and explosive actions. The body must be physically prepared to engage in them with full force and proper technique in order to remain healthy and perform at high levels.
Here are a few tips to improve the warm up routine to prevent pitching injuries:
- Be more efficient with your time: We could easily say "spend more time on it" as the number one thing on the list, but most programs truly don't need to. Instead, they simply need to use their time a lot more wisely. Ten minutes is absolutely enough time to warm the body up properly if the athlete is giving it all he has and there's a coherent and smart plan in place to warm up most effectively.
- Create a baseball warm up plan, and stick to it: Don't assume that a baseball team will line up on their own and conduct a perfect warm up. There must be a written plan for them to follow, and there must be supervision to ensure that the plan is followed everyday. Coaches shouldn't get in the habit of ignoring their team's warm ups, and players shouldn't become complacent about preparing to perform.
- Add drills that teach the body how to move correctly: Don't just jog back and forth, do things that improve the player's body and prepare it for specific baseball actions. It's not as hard as many people think to create a dynamic warm up plan for a baseball team. Simply incorporate the footwork and body movements that a baseball player needs to be good at. Lateral movement, quick feet, rotational core movements, explosive linear-to-rotational actions, these all need to be included in a good baseball warm up.
- Work harder than most people work: Most baseball players finish the dynamic warm up and are not truly warmed up. Baseball players need to be more than warm before they start throwing, they need to be hot. Again, our warm ups are more than just warm ups, they are training sessions. They are the crucial first drill session in all of our practices and games. At the end of a warm up session, a baseball player should feel like he couldn't do much more. One of our tests that we use with our coaches is the following: If your players did your dynamic warm up only for two weeks, would they be better athletes at the end of it. For most coaches out there, the honest answer is no. For smart programs the answer is absolutely yes. They're in better shape, they're better at baseball's core movements, and they experience far less soreness and health issues related to not being fully prepared.
- Less static, more dynamic: There are many ongoing debates about the best way to stretch for baseball players, we won't take sides here totally. We will say however, that dynamic stretches are better than static stretches for the most part. If your team is only doing static stretching, it would be very wise to replace half of that with dynamic movements. If a player has particular sticky muscles or other issues, there is plenty of time and room for static stretches. Even then, we prefer them after practice and not before.
We'll leave you with one more tool we use religiously, the shoulder tube. It's a great tool to warm up and strengthen the rotator cuff and associated musculature in the posterior shoulder and upper back. Click on the picture for details:
That's all we have for now in our "Ways To Prevent Pitching Injuries" series. We truly believe that most baseball teams do not adhere to these guidelines nearly as well as they should. If they did, they would generate better players, more healthy humans, and higher level athletes in general.