As much as we can find many different reasons arm injuries are climbing in all levels of baseball today, like in these top ten ways to prevent a UCL tear, there is one reason which is a major part of the problem and that is overuse. With all year round travel ball becoming all the rage and it becoming more common for 12 and 13-year-olds to play over 60-70 games per season, we definitely have an overuse issue in baseball today and it needs to be addressed because children are the many who are being abused.
The American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI) also credits poor physical fitness to the rise in throwing injuries in their youth position statement. That includes weight training which freaks most parents and coaches out. I totally understand why parents and coaches are scared of letting their boys weight train when they are playing this much baseball but are you really more worried about your boy lifting a barbell a few times a week over letting him throw a 50z baseball as hard as he can a few hundred times a week? A baseball does way more damage than a barbell to a pitchers arm. You can learn the science behind this claim in my article called, Baseball More Dangerous Than Olympic Lifting.
The point of the matter is if we do not reduce the number of games played in a season and a year, for especially youth to high school pitchers while also helping them strengthen and condition their bodies for this wear and tear, then we just need to get used to prepping our children for surgery. I don't know about you but I am not going to accept this abusive mentality of developing the youth of this game. We must stop the abuse and start to implement an off-season strength and conditioning regime along with their skills training programs for all levels of pitching again.
In this article, I will go over the science showing the links of overuse to arm injury at all levels of pitching. I will then give you the top 10 reasons you desperately need an off-season and follow it up by defining what an off-season should include for a pitcher at all levels to improve pitching mechanics while building the body up for the new season.
Overuse Science in Baseball
Here are some studies below linking shoulder and elbow pain to the number of pitches thrown in an appearance.
Petty et al surveyed 27 high school baseball players who had ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction to determine the prevalence of proposed risk factors. They noted that self-reported pitch speed greater than 80 mph (72%), throwing 10 or more months per year (69%), using curveballs before age 14 years (67%), and seasonal overuse (defined as routinely violating the USA Baseball recommendations for maximum pitch count and minimum rest; 62%) were common in this group (1).
The current study has demonstrated that the number of game pitches thrown during a season is a significant risk factor for elbow and shoulder pain. For elbow pain there was a steadily increasing risk up to the 601-to-800 pitch level. For shoulder pain, this steadily increasing risk went beyond the 800-pitch level. This suggests that the number of cumulative pitches should be limited (2).
Here is ASMI's Position Statement for Youth Baseball Pitchers which defines the ideal pitch count limits to protect the pitcher from overuse. For example, it is advised that a 13-14-year-old pitcher throw no more than 3000 pitchers per year. That includes pre-game warm-up pitches. If a 13-14-year-old pitcher is a current starting pitcher that is about 30 games a year of 100 pitches thrown per game. ASMI also advises:
No overhead throwing of any kind for at least 2-3 months per year (4 months is preferred). No competitive baseball pitching for at least 4 months per year.
This is called an off-season and that is why the 3X Pitching Velocity Program uses a 4-month calendar for the off-season training programs. The only way we can help counter this rise in overuse arm injuries at all levels of the game is by fighting back against this all year playing trend in baseball by popularizing off-season training again. Who is coming with me?
Top Ten Reasons You Desperately Need an Off-Season Pitchers
These are a list of the top 10 reasons an off-season is definitely needed for any level of pitching.
- Because of ASMI Said So! - ASMI is driving most of the research behind baseball and especially pitching injury. They are also operating on most of the pitchers who are having these overuse pitching injuries at all levels of the game. ASMI states in their youth position statement that pitchers should take 4 months off per year of overhead throwing.
- Give the Body Time to Rest, Recover and Rebuild, Especially the Throwing Arm - Your body is not getting enough time to heal in between appearances during a season. It is continuously in an inflamed state and protecting itself from more harm than working to fully heal itself. Taking a good amount of time off from pitching in games gives the body the time it needs to heal completely.
- Prevent Burnout - You can pretty much guarantee you will burn out both mentally and physically when playing all year round. You not only need to give your joints and central nervous system a reset but your mentality needs one as well.
- Train Athleticism - When you spend most of your days doing tubing exercises for your armor hitting ground balls to infielders or running poles this really doesn't challenge you athletically. You do get a challenge on the mound but this is only ever 3-5 days at best. Athleticism is what drives high-velocity pitchers and this can be best developed in an off-season with a training program 5 days a week with a Fusion of lifts, drills and exercises like with the 3X Pitching Velocity Program.
- Build Elite Power - When in-season your body must use all of its resources to help you recover for the next appearance. Over taxing the body with an Olympic style approach, which has been proven the best training to maximize muscular power and dynamic athletic performance (3), when in-season can work against your in-season recovery period. You need an off-season so you can allocate all of your resources to build this elite power.
- Gain Lean Muscle Mass - If you haven't noticed already, you loss lean muscle mass during a season. This is because you are spending a lot of time sitting on the bench and not training with resistance. You also don't eat as well, especially when you are on the road. This loss in lean muscle mass will also cause your force production to decrease which could potentially decrease your pitching velocity as well. You need an off-season so you can build your lean muscle mass up for the next season. Most injury occurs in-season because the body gets smaller and weaker as the season drags on which makes the joints more vulnerable to injury.
- Develop New Motor Coordination - You will never significantly replace poor pitching mechanics if you are using these poor pitching mechanics to pitch with every 3-5 days at best. You need a good chunk of time away from using the old pitching mechanics to develop new movement patterns or motor coordination through an effective set of pitching drills that is reinforcing the better mechanics. The 3X Pitching Velocity Program has tons of pitching velocity drills to train this new motor control.
- Reset Your Mental Game - Your mental game is more than likely ready to take a hiatus from baseball which it should. You need an off-season to put your mind on other things like accomplishing goals in the weight room, or beating your buddies at poker. You need time away from baseball, not just screwing around, but putting your focus on other challenging sports or games, so when you come back to the game you are a new man.
- Increase Pitching Velocity - It is extremely difficult to make mechanical changes or build power in-season so you can increase pitching velocity. You need an off-season to put it all together, so you can go into your next season with a significant jump in ball speed.
- Set New Goals - Setting goals shouldn't just be to help reset your mental game but to help you get closure to your reason for playing this game. We all need a purpose in life and if you want it to be baseball you need to establish an end game. Some places that you want to reach in this game, like playing in the state championship in high school or making it to pro ball or through 95mph one day. Whatever it is you need to set these goals in your off-season and define your path to achieving them. If not then you will never get where you want to go fast enough.
Off-Season Training Protocol
I know Bryce Harper in the picture above is not a pitcher anymore but he was one in college and was a mid 90's guy. Harper like Dylan Bundy of the Orioles and Aroldis Chapman of the Reds are big off-season lifters to name a few. One thing all these pitchers have in common is they are extremely hard throwers. You do not have to lift like these guys if you either have the genetics to throw as hard as them or you do not want to develop their pitching velocity but you still need to take an off-season to improve your game.
This would be the ideal off-season protocol for a pitcher:
- Take 2-4 weeks off of any throwing depending on the length of the previous season.
- Take only 2 weeks off from lifting or conditioning your body.
- Focus on good sleep and diet for this rest period.
- Follow a nutritional plan like the 3X Performance Enhancement Guide here. This includes a meal and supplement plan.
- Set your training goals that you want to accomplish before the beginning of the new season.
- Start an Olympic Style strength and conditioning program like the Fusion System in the 3X Pitching Velocity Program.
- Use a periodization model to load and unload the body which is most effective to preventing overtraining.
- Start your motor coordination drills to train elite pitching mechanics like the 3X Mechanics with the 3X Velocity System.
- Play some pick up basketball, football or poker with your friends to develop your competitive edge away from the game of baseball and to give your body some different movements.
- At the end of the off-season start to set your goals for the new season.
Overuse Pitching Reference:
- Petty DH, Andrews JR, Fleisig GS, Cain EL. - Ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction in high school baseball players: clinical results and injury risk factors. - Am J Sports Med. 2004;32:1158-1164.
- Lyman S1, Fleisig GS, Andrews JR, Osinski ED. - Effect of pitch type, pitch count, and pitching mechanics on risk of elbow and shoulder pain in youth baseball pitchers. - Am J Sports Med. 2002 Jul-Aug;30(4):463-8.
- Kawamori N, Haff GG. – The optimal training load for the development of muscular power. – Department of Kinesiology, Midwestern State University, Wichita Falls, Texas 76308, USA. – J Strength Cond Res. 2004 Aug;18(3):675-84.
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