P3 | Blog

3 Keys to Keeping Pitchers Healthy In the Off-Season

January 3, 2017 | Posted by: | pitching advice

One of the most frequently asked questions that I am asked at P3 is, “What is my biggest challenge in training our athletes?” Usually, this is asked in regards to our individualized approach to training.One of the most frequently asked questions that I am asked at P3 is, “What is my biggest challenge in training our athletes?” Usually, this is asked in regards to our individualized approach to training.

When Brian and I started P3, we knew that it was vitally important to focus on the individual and their training needs. That is still our primary goal and we refuse to waver from that approach even in our remote programming.However, with that approach comes much more to consider when putting together an off-season (or in-season) program for one of our members.These considerations include: age, height and weight, additional sports played, school work, injury history and where they are at in their recruiting process just to name a few of the easier ones to track.

Anyway, back to the original question.

I have found over time that the single most challenging thing to account for is working around other coaches or team’s off-season (or in some RARE cases in-season) programs.Now, before all of the coaches stop reading, hear me out for a minute.

Athletes these days are becoming more interested in seeking out the best information possible.  In fact, we encourage our guys to learn from the information that we give them, and to research additionally to apply that information to their training lives. The more an athlete knows about his specific training the more he will benefit from it.Enter the high school off-season strength and conditioning program. Unfortunately, the phrase “something is better than nothing” doesn’t apply to baseball training.

DISCLAIMER: Before I continue, let me just say that I have come across many great high school coaches over the years who do a really great job with their teams both on and off the field. These coaches are always great in communicating with their players and with us. If a player says they would like to come train at P3 these coaches either contact us to inquire about our program or they already know what the program consists of, and he gives that player his “blessing” to train with us.

At P3, we have an “open door policy” that allows coaches, prospective athletes, and their parents to come in to our facility and learn more about what we do. We want to have the best relationships with these people possible!

With that being said, we do come across some situations that are not so easy to work around. There are times where coaches make training mandatory, and if a player does not attend they could receive less playing time or not even make the team at all.
Obviously, this is the last thing we want to happen.

The other scenario is the weights class that the athlete signed up for to score an easy “A” and now they’re lifting like an NFL lineman.

In these situations, we find that it is easiest if we get as much information regarding the programming the player will be doing, and supplement it to help the player’s development as much as possible. Now you may be saying to yourself, “I get the weights class, but what’s wrong with a high school coach running his own off-season strength and conditioning program?” Fair question, so let me highlight a few of the things that might be overlooked.
My top three things to look for in an off-season training program.

1. Individual Assessments

“Did they assess you?” This is the first question I ask our players if they have to work with someone else. In my experience, 95% of the time the answer to that question is no. The other 5% is typically just a few movement assessments and that’s about it. I could really write an entire piece on the value of a proper physical assessment, but we’ll stick to just a couple of key points for today.

Overhead athletes, specifically pitchers, are unique individuals who require different types of exercises based off of a proper assessment. The results of these assessments will tell us rather we should stabilize or mobilize, stretch or maintain, and whether or not we should reposition and realign among other things. The problem with these types of assessments is that they typically require extensive training and schooling to be able to perform and apply them to training programs. Does a high school history teacher really have time to put together a highly individualized off-season training program encompassing 6 months in addition to the responsibilities of the season, balancing the classroom, taking care of his family, and all of this while trying to keep his sanity? I know I wouldn’t! I admire the coaches out there who are trying to run these programs, and I know that the intentions are great, but there is a strong possibility that they could be doing more harm than good.

I would much rather them establish a relationship with a responsible group of professionals who are capable of putting together a safe and effective program for the team that looks at each individual specifically.

2. Exercise Selection

Another aspect to consider when evaluating or putting together an off-season training program is the types of exercises that are being utilized. Our focus is clearly on the overhead athlete, and they have some important considerations when choosing a workout program.

There are very few black and white areas in the training world. Most of my opinions regarding exercise selection are based off of one thing, and that is the results of the assessments that we have performed. You may be starting to see the importance of a good assessment? I mean I did put it as number one on the list that should have been a clue. I’ll make this simple. If an athlete cannot raise his hands above his head without his back going into an extended posture compromising the safety of the athlete’s back and shoulders (among other things), then he shouldn’t be doing a whole lot (or any) above head lifts.

An obvious example of this would include the clean and jerk, and a not so obvious example would include a back squat. Exercises such as the back squat are not necessarily bad for baseball players, but if a guy can not get into the proper positions to do the exercise then he shouldn’t do it until he can. The majority of guys that I assess lack the mobility to perform a proper back squat, so we stick to safety bar and front squat variations to optimize injury prevention. I realize this might make some people unhappy, but I couldn’t go through a whole post without saying something at least relatively controversial could I? This is just one example of an area of the body that might restrict our selection. Keep in mind that the elimination of any exercise should be based off of the assessment. Reasons for elimination could include poor movement patterns, what sports they are participating in and what type of mobility/range of motion the athlete is capable of achieving.I have especially seen a poor selection of exercises in some of those weights classes previously mentioned. It also seems like the people who are running these classes are more difficult to deal with in refusing to change the workouts to accommodate the player’s safety.
My advice to players and coaches would be for kids to stay away from these classes if they are doing a serious off-season training program. If possible, coaches should contact the student advisors, and ask them to not recommend these classes as overtraining and injury possibilities increase when participating in these types of classes.

3. Timing

Something that seems to get lost with some people is the question of why are we training? Our athletes are trying to become the best baseball player that they can possibly be. They are not powerlifters, olympic lifters, crossfitters, or cross country runners. Therefore, we do not train them as such.

Our programs work around the throwing program that they are currently executing.

Picture this scenario: a pitcher heads to the school weight room after school and crushes a total body workout that includes squats, deadlifts, a press, fifteen minutes of core exercises, and a couple of miles of running. Here’s the kicker: an hour later they pull into the parking lot to knock out their hour long bullpen session with their pitching coach.

See anything wrong with that?

We know that fatigue plays an important role in the increase of injuries in baseball specifically to the arm and these athletes are coming into their most strenuous type of training absolutely gassed. At P3, one of the biggest things that we preach to our athletes is communication. Especially this time of year as the throwing programs increase in volume, we are constantly communicating with our guys to sync up their workout schedule around their throwing work.

Not only do we want to have an effective daily and weekly schedule, but we should be considering the phases of the off-season that are appropriate for optimal development. A proper training protocol allows an athlete to build a solid foundation of movement preparation, strength and stability to support joint integrity, and explosive power to be the best athlete they can possibly be. This could easily fit into exercise selection as well, but the timing of these phases is equally important. The last thing a pitcher should be doing is working on developing strength while throwing two bullpens a week two weeks before tryouts. So there are my big 3 (powerlifting humor). If you’ve given any thought to these points you probably have realized that there are many other factors that we didn’t even talk about. That’s kind of the point. It is extremely difficult for a coach with a full-time job to create a successful off-season training program for every individual that he coaches.

If you are an athlete or the parent of an athlete who is being given one of these “one-size-fits-all” programs you should possibly reconsider your training options. We have had tremendous success the first three years we have existed at P3 because we try to take everything into account, and create a highly individualized off-season plan for pitchers that encompasses nearly every aspect of training.

That is the type of program you want to be seeking out when it comes to something as important as your health and playing career.