Shut It Down Or Keep Throwing? Maybe There’s an Alternative- by Randy Sullivan
Yesterday I got a call from a minor leaguer who said he was interested in coming in for training before next season, but he was planning on going into complete shutdown mode for about 2-3 months. After I hung up, I had a penetrating thought that stopped me dead in my tracks. It was the kind of thought that makes you wonder what you’ve been thinking for all these years.
A lot of pro guys just finished their seasons.The “shut it down” police and the “just keep throwing” crowd are out in full force and the debate is raging.
One side demands absolute avoidance of all throwing for 2-3 months to allow the UCL, the anterior shoulder capsule and other connective tissue to tighten down and regain passive stiffness after being stressed and stretched throughout the season.
Supporters of “keep throwing” approach argue that “rest is rust” and that a complete shutdown will lead to atrophy and loss of mechanical efficiency. This group contends that you can’t improve or maintain your ability without throwing, so you cannot afford to shut it down for too long.
I get asked frequently to choose a side… And I never do…
Because in my opinion, the answer is not that simple. It’s not so black and white.
Keep throwing, or shut it down…
Those seem to be the only options.
But what if there was an alternative, a compromise between full-on continuance of throwing and complete cessation.
Typically, in the shutdown approach, a pitcher fires his last pitch in the final game of the season, says goodbye to all his teammates, cleans out his locker and packs it in, not touching a baseball for the next 2-3 months. The guy has spent the last 7-8 months micro and macroscopically traumatizing all the connective tissue in his arm. Then he simply stops throwing completely. Meanwhile, his body begins the healing process.
So how does the body repair itself?
Floating in the platelets of the blood, along with other healing agents are specialized cells called undifferentiated mesenchymal cells (UMCs). These cells have no form or function until they sense cell damage. Once triggered, they have the miraculous ability to morph themselves into whatever kind of cell they need to become. If a tendon is damaged, they change into tendon cells. If a ligament, bone, cartilage or muscle is damaged, they transform into whatever kind of cell is needed. UMCs are like stem cells, only stem cells are like UMCs on steroids.
But there’s a slight problem.
UMCs need a mechanical signal to tell them where to stand.
When UMCs first lay down to form the foundations of new tissue, they do so in a chaotic or disorganized pattern, like a plate of spaghetti noodles you left in the sink all night.
But connective tissue has a grain or a pattern to it, and its cells always align themselves along the lines of stress to which they are exposed.
Newly forming replacement cells must have a mechanical signal to guide their alignment.
This is known as Davis’s Law. According to Wikipedia, “Davis’s law is used in anatomy and physiology to describe how soft tissue models along imposed demands. It is the corollary to Wolff’s law, which applies to osseous tissue. It is a physiological principle stating that soft tissue heals according to the manner in which they are mechanically stressed.”
So if you totally shut it down — with no stress at all for 2-3 months — when you start throwing again, your disorganized connective tissue is the most vulnerable to compromise. Combining disorganized connective tissue, unaddressed physical constraints, biomechanical inefficiencies, and poor preparation/ramp-up could create the perfect storm for tissue failure. This would explain the rash of injuries we see early in spring training as guys are starting to get it going.
Wouldn’t it be a better idea to implement an off-ramping/cool down period including a tapered cessation of pitching? Then you could continue with low intensity “throwing like” movements throughout the off-season to keep your connective tissue organized all winter.
If you’re about to shut it down for the fall/winter, here’s an idea.
This off-season instead of stopping cold turkey, gradually wean from your typical intensity and workload. Continue to throw light bullpens and easy long toss for a few weeks. This will allow your new scar tissue to start forming along functional lines. Then you can implement a low intensity off-season maintenance plan including sub-maximal throwing using tools like the DurathroTM Training Sock, weighted balls or bell clubs.
When you’re ready to start ramping it up, your connective tissue will be better organized. Instead of starting from scratch, you’ll have a rolling start into your ramp up which will allow you to start faster, while reducing your risk of injury.
If you’re planning on shutting it down this off-season, that’s fine. But before you stop completely, get to The Florida Baseball Ranch and receive a full head-to-toe physical assessment to identify all the physical constraints that most assuredly have crept in over the long season – things like shoulder internal rotation deficits, scapular dyskinesia, thoracic mobility, hip mobility, ankle mobility, or motor control deficits.
Let us do a video analysis of your throwing pattern, and we’ll design an active rest program that will include customized corrective exercises and sub-maximal throwing drills you can perform in the DurathroTM Training Sock all winter long to keep your soft tissue organized and ready for action.
You’ll have a head start to your normal pre-season throwing plan and you’ll be far ahead of where you have been in previous years – far ahead your peers and competitors.
Call us at 1-866-STRIKE3 (866-787-4533) and schedule a Precision Strike One Day, One-On-One Evaluation and Training Session and get a customized, multi-faceted off-season training plan that will have you ready to press your foot to the accelerator when it’s time to go..
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See you at The Ranch!
Randy Sullivan, MPT
CEO, Florida BaseballRanch