When It Comes to Arm Issues… By: Coach Ron Wolforth
In the span of 30 days, we at the Texas Baseball Ranch® had conversations with two DI pitching coaches, two DII head coaches, one DIII head coach, and an NAIA pitching coach, all about the exact same phenomenon.
I thought it might be a perfect time to address this issue.
Here is a synopsis of what they all said:
- Their team has historically done a very good job avoiding arm issues and surgical interventions.
- The last couple of years they have seen a definite upswing in the number of their pitchers coming to campus with a weighted ball throwing program and all the requisite paraphernalia.
- These young men with the choreographed throwing programs end up getting hurt, having extended periods on the shelf, or need surgery at a rather alarming rate that far exceeds the rate of their other pitchers.
- While they certainly don’t want to micromanage or forbid their pitchers from seeking outside help, they really can’t afford to lose any of their top guys to injury, and they are seriously thinking about limiting or forbidding their pitchers from such programs.
They really wanted to hear our perspective on this phenomenon.
Success Leaves Clues-
The Unsuccessful Leave Debris Scattered Across the Landscape
Here is a synopsis of our discussions with these men:
For starters, let’s take this completely out of the baseball realm for a moment. For the ailment of high blood pressure, an MD has dozens and dozens of different medications in his/her tool box that he/she can prescribe. What the doctor tries to do, based upon the patient’s histrionics, assessments, and tests, is prescribe a regimen including dosage, frequency, and duration that best fits their patient. They then schedule a follow up appointment and retest and reassess to see how the prescription worked, and if needed, change the medication (choose a different tool) or modify the dosage and frequency.
Next let’s look at world class strength coaches such as Eric Cressey or Lee Fiocchi. Eric and Lee have dozens and dozens of different options in their strength development tool box that they can prescribe. What they do, based upon the athlete’s histrionics, assessments, and tests, is prescribe a specific strength regimen including intensity, volume, and frequency that best fits the current needs of their athlete. They then closely follow the athlete’s progress and retest and reassess to see how the prescription worked, and if needed, change their program or modify the intensity, volume, and frequency.
Far too often in the medical community, some doctors get stuck or are courted by and/or financially incentivized by pharmaceuticalreps to prescribe a specific medication for a certain ailment. Thereby often giving a ‘stock solution’ to otherwise very unique individuals with similar symptoms. As we all can imagine, this rarely goes well. In the medical profession, there is a very appropriate mantra, “Diagnosis and prescription without assessment can lead to malpractice”.
Likewise, in the strength development community, some trainers prescribe a ‘one size fits all’ ‘stock solution’ to strength development. In essence, they have, in their opinion, one very, very good tool and they prescribe it to every one of their athletes. Over the years I have seen first-hand the negative repercussions and unintended detrimental consequences with homogenized strength programs. This is in large part what separates Eric and Lee. They are meticulous on performing their due diligence for the benefit of their individual clients.
In our opinion, we private instructors, pitching coaches, and head coaches should hold ourselves to the same high standard.
The Problem Is Real and It Is Not Going Away Any Time Soon
Returning now to the question surrounding the college and high school pitcher: “Should we then be surprised when an athlete shows up with a ‘stock’ weighted ball or throwing program and becomes injured or has arm issues?” Answer:I don’t believe so. In fact, I’m personally surprised more aren’t injured. ‘One size fits all’ programing, even those that are sound, will of course often have very uneven results when applied to a universal population.
By the way, I’ve learned this the hard way. In 2006 we had one regimen that we THOUGHT was extremely good. It worked very well for some, it didn’t help others at all, and some it actually took backwards. It was a very humbling lesson for us. Today, in 2019, we have literally dozens of paths an athlete can take, and we use the diagram to below as our foundation. I think it is a great guide for most people who work with groups of athletes.
#1 First we assess to find out where the athlete is currently.
#2 Then we place the athletes in the most appropriate training
category based upon their most pressing personal needs.
#3 We then customize and hyper-personalize as much of their training process as possible.
#4 We prioritize their work to make certain the main thing remains the main thing.
The Good News: There Are Things You Can Do…
A Third Option
Now let’s return to the main issue: Pitchers showing up on campus with a stock weighted ball throwing program.
Option #1-We could simply let them do their thing and HOPE they will be ok. The problem with that approach is that if this guy is supposed to be one of our key contributors this season, can we really take the risk of him being healthy and available to us when the anecdotal evidence suggests that those guys get hurt more often. Is that fair to the rest of the guys who bust their humps every day in search of a championship?
Option #2- We could put our foot down and not allow outside programs whatsoever. The problem with that approach is that it immediately creates a rift between the player and the coaches, and really places a stain on trust, rapport, and team culture. Always keep in mind that the player has consciously invested his time and money into his program, and you refusing to respect or honor his investment is a confirmation that you feel that the athlete is either incompetent, inept, or incapable of making sound training decisions on their own.
Option #3- Or you could do this. Ask the player the following questions:
- Ask the player to bring you his weekly process. (If he doesn’t have one, it’s on one sheet of paper, or on a laminated card, you know immediately it’s a stock program and what you are dealing with right away.)
- How many days total are they throwing each week in addition to your team practice?
- How many throws or how much time is spent on each segment outside of your team practice?
- How many ‘push’ days a week outside of your team practice does this process call for?
- What do they do for a wake-up, warm-up, and arm preparation outside of your team practice?
- What do they do for post throwing and recovery outside of your team practice?
- Did they previously have any assessment completed with regards to their physical structure or alignment which shaped their current process?
- Did they previously have any assessment completed with regards to their mobility/flexibility which shaped their current process?
- Did they previously have any assessment completed with regards to their strength/stability which shaped their current process?
- Did they previously have any assessment completed with regards to their mechanical efficiency which shaped their current process?
- Have they previously had any pain, arm issues, or difficulty in recovering?
- Is their current workload using this system more, less, or the same as they trained in previous seasons?
- Can they adequately explain, to your satisfaction, the specific purpose of each of their drills?
Again, I learned the importance of these questions the hard way. For the last 12 years I have roamed the facilities of the Texas and Florida Baseball Ranches, continually asking players those exact questions. While our coaches and players have improved exponentially in their ability to answer those questions over the past 12 years, some players just don’t quite grasp the concepts and/or the full magnitude of their personal training process.
The reason this is important is we obviously can’t assume just because an athlete ‘generally’ knows how to perform a specific drill and carries with him a laminated card and training paraphernalia, he therefore is a master at managing his own process over the course of the season. Subsequently, such a person who is clearly not intimately knowledgeable would, in our opinion, need and benefit from our continued guidance, mentorship, and support.
Remember: You Lead People…
You Manage Systems & Processes
Based on how each athlete answers these questions, the answers give us great insight into how we should proceed.
If indeed this is a ‘stock’ and ‘homogenized’ throwing program in which there is little or no personalization, cycling, or periodization, then we suggest you as his coach should intervene.
One of the biggest weaknesses of choreographed throwing programs is a complete lack of a ramp-up for soft tissue. Soft tissue pliability, resilience, and robustness takes a gradual increase in intensity and volume over time.
- Tell him to take his prescribed throwing program and cut it in half for the first 2 weeks.
- Tell him that if his arm is completely healthy after the first 2 weeks, for the next 2 weeks (weeks 3-4) to increase the volume to 60% of the suggested throwing program workload.
- If his arm is completely healthy after weeks 3-4, tell him for the next 2 weeks (weeks 5-6) to increase the volume to 70% of the suggested throwing program workload.
- If his arm is completely healthy after weeks 5-6, for the next 2 weeks (weeks 7-8) increase the volume to 80% of the suggested throwing program workload.
- If his arm is completely healthy after weeks 7-8, for the next 2 weeks (weeks 8-9) increase the volume to 90% of the suggested throwing program workload.
- If his arm is completely healthy after 9 weeks, he may add ONE velocity push day or one max long toss day and adopt his full program as long as you are not scrimmaging. If you are scrimmaging, pitching in competition becomes his push day. By all means long toss on a regular basis but trying to set personal all-time best distances is not recommended in our opinion during your competition phase.
- If at any time he experiences any sort of arm discomfort, he immediately reverts back to the previous week’s volume and intensity, and refrains from any velocity push days or maximum distance long toss.
- The steepness of season, training/practice, and game time ramp-ups are absolutely critical towards arm health and durability. Get that wrong at your own peril.
- There is a third option for dealing with ‘stock’, ‘one size fits all’ weighted ball throwing programs and it not only helps with the ramp-up and arm health, it also builds rapport and trust between the coaches and the player as they work together to build a healthy, more durable, more electric throwing athlete.
Until next time,
Stay curious and keep fighting the good fight.
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If you know a young man that doesn’t need more innings this summer, but instead needs to improve either his velocity, command, secondary offerings or arm health & recovery, please encourage him to join us at The Texas Baseball Ranch for our “Extended Stay Summer Development Program”. He will leave with a hyper-personalized plan to help him with HIS specific needs. More information is available at www.TexasBaseballRanch.com/events.