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  • It’s Time For A Revolution in Throwing Rehab: By Randy Sullivan

    One night last winter my friend, Alan Jaeger called me with a major concern about the current state of UCL reconstruction post-operative rehabilitation and throwing protocols.  We talked for about an hour, and the discussion ignited a thought eruption that had been smoldering in my head for over 10 years.

    At the Florida Baseball Ranch® we train and develop high-caliber throwing athletes, improving velocity, command, secondary stuff, and arm health. This past summer, 161 high school and college baseball players made the trek to Lakeland, FL to begin their own relentless pursuit of excellence in our Complete Game Summer Training Program,  They trained up to five hours per day, five days per week and they stayed anywhere from 2-10 weeks.  The energy, intensity, and focus was palpable and he the results were incredible.

    It has been our honor to assist players in achieving performance levels they have heretofore only dreamed of. However, we also serve as the rehab wing of the Baseball Ranch consortium.  Like our sister company, the Texas Baseball Ranch®, hyper-individualization of multifaceted training is the keystone of our process.  At the Ranch, we frequently advise our students, “If you find yourself involved in a training experience  where everyone in the program does the same thing all the time, RUN!!!  If you “google return to throwing programs” the first 10 pages (notice I said “pages”, not “articles).”

    I believe it’s time for UCL rehabilitation to undergo a radical change.

    At the core of any rehabilitation process are 2 fundamental laws of physiology:

    1) Wolff’s Law states that bone grows and remodels in response to the forces that are placed upon it in a healthy person.
    2) Davis’s Law is a physiological principle (the corollary to Wolff’s Law) stating that soft tissue continually remodels and heals according to how they are mechanically stressed.

    Rehab Protocols Must Adhere To Known Principles of Tissue Organization

    Many esteemed members of the medical profession appear to ascribe to the idea that nearly all throwing injuries are due to “overuse” and that “you only have so many bullets in the gun, so you have to save them.” Those who do so are either denying or ignoring Davis’s law which applies to all human connective tissue that has a blood supply. While the UCL, Labrum, and rotator cuff aren’t the most highly vascularized tissues, they do receive some blood flow, and therefore under the right conditions, they are capable of remodeling themselves to resist the stresses under which they are placed.

    I’ve had the privilege of scrubbing in for surgery with Dr. Koko Eaton, the Tampa Bay Rays team physician, who during a few different UCL reconstructions lifted the fragment of a torn UCL and said, “look at how thick this ligament has gotten. This injury has been coming on for a long time.” My thoughts immediately turned to Davis’s law. “That confirms it,” I thought. “A thickened ligament indicates that it was attempting to remodel itself to resist the stress.” Unfortunately for this guy, it wasn’t able to remodel fast enough to keep up with the pace of the stress.

    During one particular surgery, Dr. Eaton had harvested an exceptionally long portion of the patient’s palmaris longus tendon (to be used as the replacement UCL). He drilled four holes in the in the bone and wrapped the tendon through in 3 full figure 8’s. Next, Dr. Eaton tested the stability of the graft with an aggressive valgus stress maneuver. I mean, he really popped it hard. I almost fell over from the startle reflex. I was shocked. In physical therapy, we had always treated our post-UCLR patients with kid gloves, gingerly handling the elbow and avoiding all valgus stress. After I had regained my senses, I said, “Wow. That looks like a pretty stable repair (I know. Brilliant, right?).” Dr. Eaton nodded and stated, “You know, Randy. This new ligament isn’t really the main stabilizer of the elbow. It’s just the lattice for the scar tissue. As it forms around the ligament, the scar will become the primary stabilizer.” He added, “Whenever we have to go back in for a second repair, “It looks like a grenade went off in the guy’s elbow. There is just this massive blowout of scar tissue.”

    Well, that really got me thinking.

    In physical therapy, we’ve used the same universal UCL rehab program for as long as I can remember. A surgeon might add a few nuances, or choose a preferred brace, but early physical therapy is pretty much a one-size-fits-all approach that involves minimal motion – even bracing – for the first several days/weeks. We progress through isolated, guarded ranges of motion in unidirectional planes (flexion and extension, supination/pronation), avoiding any valgus stress for at least eight weeks. We don’t begin any movement that simulates the kinematics of throwing until at least 16 weeks post-op. During that time, the stabilizing scar is forming without any guidance. If you’re not interested in the biological processes in the body, skip the next section. If this kind of stuff interests you, here’s how the scar is formed:


    The Physiology of Tissue Healing

    Immediately (within seconds or minutes) after the surgery there is a brief constriction of blood vessels followed by rapid vasodilation. Vessels that were shut down are re-opened and widened as the tissue is infused with fresh blood – blood that contains many of the necessary healing agents for recovery and the ever-important undifferentiated mesenchymal cells (UMCs) that begin forming the scar. UMCs are like over-the-counter stem cells that run in the platelets of the blood. They have no real job until tissue is injured. When they receive what is assumed to be a chemical signal about tissue injury or death, they have the miraculous ability to morph themselves into whatever kind of cells they need to become to replace the injured or dead cells. UMCs are the same cells involved in the PRP (platelet-rich plasma) injection procedure that has become popular in the last 8-10 years.

    After this period of vasodilation and infusion, the rate of blood flow diminishes. This increases the hydrostatic pressure which causes fluid to leak out of the blood vessels and into the surrounding tissue. The fluid that leaks out is called transudate, and it consists of fluid, scant amounts of protein, but it no intact cells. The migration of this watery fluid out of the vessels increases the viscosity of the blood. This condition is known as haemoconcentration (thickening of the blood).

    If the flow slows to a crawl or even stops, endothelial cells that make up the inner lining of the blood vessels begin to die for two reasons: 1) the roughness of the blood due to increased viscosity which scrapes the cells off the inner wall, and 2) hypoxia (lack of oxygen) as they are physically separated from blood cells carrying much-needed oxygen.

    When endothelial cells die or become dysfunctional, a critical process for evacuating cellular debris is disrupted, and constipation or backflow occurs. This is a primary reason we believe ice to be contraindicated immediately postoperatively. Ice causes vasoconstriction and impedes blood flow. Continued or enhanced blood flow will avoid the traffic jam that could result in permanent damage to endothelial cells and could cascade into more widespread necrosis (or cell death). For more problem with icing as a therapeutic modality, see the works of Gary Reinl, the author of Iced: The Illusionary Treatment Option.

    When epithelial cells are preserved, the clean-up can begin. White blood cells (also called leukocytes) roll along the inside of the epithelial cell wall adhering transiently to form what looks like white brick pavement along the edge of the vessel wall. The white blood cells that manage to stick to the inner wall then shoot out little “pseudopods” that become what are known as polymorphs. These polymorphs lift up the endothelial barrier and squeeze through to produce holes in the membrane. At this point, white blood cells migrate through the holes and secrete a protein that locks on to a corresponding protein on the pseudopod on the outside of the endothelial wall. The process of passing through the vessel wall is called emigration. When the protein bond is complete, emigrated white blood cells/pseudopods begin to move toward the injury site for cleanup. Remarkably, they travel against the concentration gradient, like a salmon swimming upstream, in a process known as chemotaxis. When healthy cells are injured, they release 3 chemotactic agents (C5a, C3a, and C567). These agents send a powerful signal to the white blood cells that attract them to the site of the injury. This reaction is facilitated by magnesium and calcium ions.

    When the white blood cells (also known as phagocytes) arrive on the scene, they don’t strike right away. They gather in a process called aggregation, then they recognize and engulf any unwanted debris, wrapping the garbage in a well-contained cellular trash bag before being passively transported into the lymphatic system for evacuation.

    The lymphatic system can be thought of like the waste management service of the body. It’s like the trash man, hauling off and disposing of unwanted garbage. But, the lymphatic system is passive. It doesn’t send trash men out to pick up the trash; it waits for the phagocytes full of dead debris to wander near the lymph nodes. As they diffuse into the lymph system, they are evacuated through the kidneys. The passive nature of the lymphatic system is why early movement and muscle pumping such as that produced by Marc Pro® electrical stimulation and the pressure gradient created by Rocket Wrap® a both valuable parts of our rehabilitation and recovery programs.



    Disorganized Tissue

    Once the clean-up is complete, the road is clear for the UMCs to do their thing. They morph into the appropriate replacement cells and, like fresh recruits on the battlefield, assume their new position.
    However, there is one more step they need to achieve an optimal outcome – a mechanical signal to direct their alignment. Following Davis’s Law, if we don’t provide a mechanical signal, by adding controlled stress to the new tissue, it forms in a disorganized fashion, like a plate spaghetti noodles left out in the sink all night. Disorganized tissue is unstable. Disorganized tissue is vulnerable. Disorganized tissue adheres to anything it can cling to, including, in the case of UCL reconstruction, the tendon graft that serves as the lattice for the newly forming scar.


    IASTM

    In the current universal UCL rehabilitation protocol, we wait at least 16 weeks before we expose the elbow to any stresses that even remotely resemble the demands of actual throwing. During the entire process, in nearly every case, we fight a common enemy – scar tissue. Fearful of imparting any level of valgus load, we attempt to eliminate functional stress and try in vain to manage the scar from the outside with modalities like cross friction massage, instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization (IASTM), and a collection of vaguely defined manual therapy techniques commonly known as “soft tissue work.” Please don’t get me wrong here, I’m not averse to these modalities, I’m certified in IASTM and use it sparingly as a pain management intervention and in cases where we might a have a gnarly, adherent scar. Nonetheless, in my opinion, those who believe we can impart order on tissue from outside of the body are sorely mistaken. That’s not the way Davis’s Law works. We might be able to break some of the superficial fibers loose, but even then, without internally activated stress created by movement, we can never achieve optimal scar tissue organization.

    The Moment


    The Moment

    When I teach physical therapy continuing education classes on UCL rehabilitation, one of the slides I post is the image of a guy looking like he’s stressed and about to vomit. I call it “the moment.” The message is that as therapists and coaches we should prepare our players for an inevitable moment that nearly every recovering UCLR experiences. It usually happens at about 7-9 months post-operation. As the player begins to ramp up his throwing program toward more game-like intensity, he/she feels that dreaded and infernal “pop”! The immediate and terrifying thought is that they’ve re-injured the elbow, but more times than not, it’s just scar tissue breaking free. After about 7-10 days, the elbow starts feeling better, and the throwing program may be resumed. Why does this occur? I would suggest that the reason we fight scar tissue like this is that we allow it to become severely disorganized during our first 16 weeks of rehab.

    Could it be that the for the lucky athletes, the frightening “pop” represents the tearing of tissue that is not directly attached to the graft? But, for the unlucky ones, the story is different. When a scar is allowed to heal unchecked and unguided, it adheres to anything upon which it can find a foothold — including, in many cases, the tender new tendon graft. If the scar happens to anchor tightly to the graft site, when the athlete begins adding the stress of throwing, it could cause the disorganized, randomly-oriented repair to explode into the “grenade” scene described by Dr. Eaton.

    I believe we could be making a colossal mistake by eliminating all valgus stress and by avoiding any movements that mimic throwing in the early stages of rehab. Our efforts to protect the surgical repair by practically immobilizing the arm could be setting the stage for tissue failure. Within the limits of repair site integrity, establishing and maintaining scar tissue order should be the first order of business in any legitimate UCLR or Labrum repair rehabilitation. This can only be accomplished through controlled variable movement that adds the low-grade stress necessary to align the newly forming tissue effectively.

    Rehab Programs Must Address Tissue Physiology AND Motor Control Simultaneously

    What we’ve talked about so far is the physiology of the process. But, we haven’t yet discussed the impact of the extended rest and protection on motor control and coordination. As Dr. Eaton explained, the scar is an important stabilizer of the post-UCLR elbow. But, the number one stabilizing component of the system is dynamic motor control. The passive restraints provided by to the labrum and the UCL are the last line of defense. If your labrum and UCL are the points of primary stability, you’re probably already in trouble. The timing, sequencing, and synergy of surrounding musculature must be optimized to attenuate the stress on the UCL and labrum. Just like any other physiological system, the motor control system adapts precisely to the neuromuscular coordination demands it experiences. Lack of demand equals no adaptation. No coordinative demand equals no motor control. And, according to the SAID principle of rehab and training (Specific Adaptation to an Imposed Demand), the system will adapt directly in accordance with the stresses under which it is placed. When rehabilitating our players, the training experience we choose in every phase of recovery must keep tissue integrity paramount, but that experience must also be specific to the adaptation we are trying to elicit. It must mimic, as closely as possible, the parameters of the conditions our players will face in life and when they return to games.

    And, one thing we know for sure is that the stress our players must handle in life and in games will be largely unpredictable. To bulletproof our players against the variability and unpredictability they will eventually face, we must introduce incrementally increasing variability, or unpredictability as early and as safely as possible. When introduced slowly and within the limits of tissue integrity, variability will allow physiological and neurological self-organization of coordinated movement to progress simultaneously.

    As healing tissue organizes to withstand stress, it presents new coordinative demands. If we help an athlete develop the capacity to handle a given level of physiological stress, but we don’t also incorporate a motor control plan to keep the movement within the boundaries of safety, yet highly resistant to perturbation, we may be dooming them to failure. Connective tissue, whether healthy or healing, must remain physiologically and neurologically organized at all times.

    Return-to-throwing protocols that feature mindless adherence to a pre-scripted regimen of throws ignore many of the factors that contributed to the injury in the first place. It’s vital that we employ a thorough multi-faceted assessment process to identify possible contributors. When deficits are noted, we must incorporate training strategies that influence the athlete to achieve efficiency in all 6 types of contributors to sub-par performance and/or pain.

    Rehab Programs Must Be Individualized

    As stated frequently by Coach Ron Wolforth, our mantra at the Florida and Texas Baseball Ranches® has long been, “One-size-fits-all fits none.” Training plans must be customized to meet the individual needs of every player, and they must be changed as the condition of the athlete changes. Cookie-cutter recipes for rehab will never be adequate for optimizing outcomes. Rehabilitation protocols should should illuminate overall principles and goals, and they should serve as general guides and . But, they should never be viewed as a governor, and they should never replace or limit the sound professional judgment of an experienced and qualified rehabilitation professional or coach.

    Additionally, rehab protocols must be remain contemporary and should be changed and updated with the times.

    As new information emerges, our approach to rehabilitation should be modified to reflect the most current training concepts. The current approach to rehabilitating injured throwing athletes is based on a program first introduced in the late 1970s. It is antiquated, ineffective and it stifles the creativity and adjustability necessary to achieve consistently positive outcomes.

    We believe it is time for a change.


    Our recommendations:

    1. As soon as intra-operative bleeding is curtailed, remove the bulky dressing and eliminate all post-operative icing.
    2. Start Marc Pro for at least 16 hours per day to assist with exudate evacuation, thereby creating a more optimal healing environment.
    3. Add multidimensional low amplitude oscillations and gradually increase intensity as early as tissue integrity will allow.
    4. Begin early progressions of functional range of motion including active movements in multiple planes and in “throwing-like” exercises performed within pain limits. High-frequency, low-intensity motion should begin the day after surgery.
    5. Challenge all non-throwing arm attractors with light perturbations, variability and unpredictable loads ASAP after surgery.
    6. Incrementally challenge the Throwing Arm Attractor as soon as tissue integrity allows. use low grade
    7. Integrate variability/unpredictability early in the rehab process and influence more efficient movement patterns using self-organization techniques.
    8. Utilize technology such as MOTUS® and MuscleSound® to measure stress and fatigue objectively, but teach our patients/players to become intimately familiar with how their arms feel. Let that be the ultimate guide for the process.
    9. Design return to throwing and rehabilitative processes that allow each player to modulate his training experience based on how his arm and body feel on any given day, at any given moment.
    10. Use pain as the boundary marker, but allow each athlete progress as quickly, or as slowly as his body prefers. Be prepared to adjust the plan daily based on each athlete’s subjective report on the status of pain, weakness, tightness, fatigue, etc.

    Before publishing this article, I shared it with three trusted friends and colleagues, FBR Director of Player Development, Wes McGuire , Dr. Stephen Osterer, and Alan Jaeger. They added some important thoughts.

    Wes McGuire: We need to reconsider the value and potential corruptive nature of the initial throws in the traditional return to throwing protocol. Having experienced my own UCL recovery in high school, I am certain that the mechanics of a 50% effort throw are completely alien and might contribute to disconnections later in the rehab process. So many people (me included when I was recovering from a UCLR) develop some degree of ‘The Yips’ during UCL recovery. Could it be that these super-low intensity post surgical throws are offering disrupted sensory information that result in bad movement patterns?”

    Dr. Stephen Osterer: Something that would interest me in writing would be going into a bit more depth on how tissue loading directs directionality and composition of tissue, how all connective tissue is interconnected (van der Waals continuum), collagen deposition & type, and provide just a bit more insight into the importance of loading in general.

    I’d love to explore the concept of how variability in stress can lead to robustness, and that robustness is critical to resiliency – all from a rehabilitation standpoint. Consider how the majority of ‘return to throw’ is repetitive drill work, repetitive exercises, etc. Narrow bandwidth of solutions = narrow bandwidth of tissue resiliency.  This includes restoring joint range of motion (and proprioception) to increase the space of the elemental variables (a la UCM hypothesis) & that variability of load within that space may enhance the size of that space.

    Another interesting topic would be inducing fatigue on purpose to drive physiological adaptation, but in controlled frequency and duration. 

    Interested in the pain science component? 

    The effect of fear and tight coupling / freezing of degrees of freedom and how variability and novelty in task ‘free’ that? 

    Kinesiophobia would be an interesting avenue to walk down – not sure that I’ve found or read much about it elsewhere in baseball.” 


    I’d like to invite and welcome Ron Wolforth, Stephen Osterer, Wes McGuire, Alan Jaeger, Dr. Ed Fehringer, and anyone else who wants to join us, as we investigate the current state of injury risk management, post-surgical rehab, and return to throwing programs in baseball.

    When the current universal UCLR protocol was written, it was still ok for guys to smoke cigarettes in the dugout. I think it’s time to take another look. I think it’s time for a change.


    Randy Sullivan, MPT, CSCS
    CEO, Florida Baseball Ranch
  • Maximizing Your Off-Season Throwing: By Coach Flint Wallace

    I read a quote from Eric Cressey the other day, “The most important preparation for a successful OFF-SEASON is an effective IN SEASON training plan. You’ll never make optimal long-term progress if you struggle once a year to get back to the same initial starting point.”

     

    He is inferring that the best way to make continual gains in strength during the off-season is to not regress during the season from the gains made in the previous off-season.

     

    At the Texas Baseball Ranch, we believe the same is true when it comes to throwing, but in a little different sense… taking time off during the off-season.

     

    If we take a significant amount of time off from throwing completely in the off-season, like it often is suggested, then it is going to be extremely hard to continually make gains from one year to the next.

     

    For example, if a pitcher takes 6 weeks completely off from throwing, it’s going to take him at least 6 more weeks (if not longer) just to get back to where he was before. This is now 12+ weeks (3+ months) until the player is ready to try to improve upon his velocity, command, secondary stuff, etc.

     

    Because of that, he has drastically reduced or even eliminated the amount of time he has to get better before the next season starts.

     

    Rest is not the same as recovery. Rest causes atrophy.

     

    We are not saying a pitcher should pitch year-round, throw bullpens, or do a Velocity Enhancement Program for the entire off-season, but we do believe that a pitcher should continue to throw year-round while cycling in an active recovery period of throwing for a few weeks after the season.

     

    This is a period where he continues to throw, just not in a max-effort or high-volume manner that could cause trauma. Instead, in a manner that is working on connection and restoring proper throwing movements.

     

    An example would be playing catch or throwing in the Durathro™ Sock using drills that limit your degrees of freedom, like Marshall 1 and Walking Torques, for a few weeks.

     

    This way, the ramp up back to where he was beforehand should only take a few weeks.

     

    Now he has added 6 extra weeks or more to make improvements before he has to go into preseason mode and start getting ready for the next season.

     

    So, if you are struggling to make optimal long-term progress in your throwing, then making sure you maximize your off-season training is critical. And the best way to do that is to continue to throw.

     

    If you did stop throwing completely, don’t panic! Just start back up ASAP and allow your ramp up to be at least as long as your time off was. We see a lot of injuries happen because the ramp up time in the off-season is too short to be ready for the season.

     

    Until Next Time… Keep Getting After It!

     

    – – – – – – – – – – –

     

    There are some very specific ways for you to get involved with us at the Texas Baseball Ranch over the next couple months. We’d love to have you join us for one of them…

     

    For Pitchers: We have 3 Elite Pitchers Bootcamp dates (Thanksgiving Break, Christmas Break & Martin Luther King Holiday.  For more information go to: https://www.texasbaseballranch.com/elite-pitchers-bootcamp/

     

    For Catchers: (Yes, you read that right!) We’re excited to announce our first Elite Catchers Boot Camp for catchers ages 14 & up. The camp is full but you can be added to a wait list should someone cancel. More information on this event and the amazing group of instructors can be found at: https://www.texasbaseballranch.com/catcher

     

    For Coaches: Order the DVDs for our upcoming (December) Ultimate Pitching Coaches Bootcamp.  The event itself has sold out but you can still purchase the DVDs at the regular rate until Oct. 31st (Save $100).   This event is known as the Gold Standard in the industry and this year’s lineup of speakers is incredible!  Check it out at www.coachesbootcamp.com

  • 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:

     

    1. Their team has historically done a very good job avoiding arm issues and surgical interventions.

     

    1. 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.

     

    1. 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.

     

    1. 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.

     

    Bottom Line:

     

    • 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.

     

    – – – – – – – – – –

     

    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.

  • Command, It’s Not Just for Breakfast Anymore – Part 2 By: Coach Flint Wallace

    (This is Part 2 of a 2-part series.  Part 1 gave an overview on the subject and presented the first two of six training options. If you missed Part 1, CLICK HERE to access to it.  In Part 2, the remaining four training options are covered.)

     

    Variable Distance

    The Variable Distance is designed to work on making adjustments from pitch to pitch or to blend movement patterns into a full distance pitch.

    Set Up:

    • Place 3 targets at varying distances, 4-6 feet difference.  (Pictured here, the use of  the Command Trainer.  It can be found at OatesSpecialties.com/TBR)
    • This can be done on 3 separate mounds or can be done on 1 mound.

    How to Perform:

    • Start at the first target and deliver a pitch or perform a drill if blending.
    • Then move to the next target and deliver a pitch or if blending, perform the next drill in the blend.
    • Finally, move to the last target and do the same.

     

    V-Flex

    • The purpose of the V-Flex is to make your brain have to create a three-dimensional image of the strike zone.
    • It provides spatialinformation for the brain, so the strike zone is created inside the brain instead of as an external hard target outside the brain.
    • This allows for more cognitive feedback.

    Set Up:

    • Place the small V-Flex frame at home plate with the black back drop directly behind it.
    • Then, when ready, add the next size frame about 15-20 feet in front of the small frame to create a visual tunnel from the mound.
    • Finally, you can add the third size (largest) frame about 15-20 feet in front on the middle frame.

     

    How to Perform:

    • Just make pitches from the mound, executing inside and outside the strike zone.
    • Start with all 3 frames, then you can subtract a frame and so on.
    • Also, take a frame away for a few pitches then add it back, and go back and forth.

     

    Strings

    If you want to make it easier to track command in a bullpen or whenever a pitcher is throwing to a catcher, like in a flat ground or short distance work, use a string set up: