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Arm Strength and Conditioning Program
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Thrive on Throwing: Arm Strength and Conditioning Program
Alan JaegerThrowing is a lost art. Throwing isn't something that we should do "just" to get our arms loose. Throwing should be done to maximize that skill; to develop it like any other skill to be a strength rather than a potential career threatening weakness. There isn't any reason why a player should have a chronically sore, weak, or injury-prone arm. If the arm would get the same kind of attention that our hitting, defense or pitching gets than it too would have a chance to thrive on a daily basis. Unfortunately, most baseball players neglect their arms or take them for granted. The reality of it is that a baseball player needs to have a strong, well-conditioned and healthy arm to play baseball. Period. There is no substitution. Baseball players can simply not afford to allow their arm to be a liability - it must be an asset. In case you forgot, you can't play baseball if you can't throw a baseball. For example, how many players do you know that are drafted as Designated Hitters? How many pitchers do you know that are drafted out of a rehab facility? Well I have news for you: your arm is your life line if you are a baseball player, no matter what position you play. If you question this at all, then why do you think that scouts have an entire section on their player information cards devoted to arm strength, accuracy, mechanics, etc. It's because it is an integral part of your package as a player. It can be the deciding factor as to whether your arm allows you to move on to the next level (by maintaining its skill level relative to your other skills). On the other hand, wouldn't it be nice to show up to the field every day and appreciate your arm? I mean really love to throw, love taking pre-game infield/outfield everyday, love putting your arm on display, love throwing the ball with authority through (not to) the cutoff man's target, from deep in the hole, when turning the double play, from behind the plate? Wouldn't it be nice if the arm thrived on throwing everyday? The arm is a skill and like any other skill it just needs committed attention. However, as long as we neglect this area of the game we are going to be limited as players. What could easily become an asset in this wonderful game can ultimately become a liability and limit your baseball career. Though we haven't grown accustomed to putting this much emphasis on throwing, you now have been given an opportunity to make a difference. Your arm can either complete you as a player or be something that you try to hide. The following arm strength and conditioning program is designed to build a strong base or foundation in the off-season (fall/winter), and to establish a maintenance program during the season (spring) through arm circles, surgical tubing, mechanics and a committed long toss throwing program. Note: The amount, timing and pace will vary from player to player.
When: In vs Out of SeasonThe most important time to establish a throwing program is "out" of season. There are several reasons why, so let's examine these first:
Building a BaseIt is just this simple, if you want to have a strong and healthy arm that sustains itself throughout the season, then you have to establish a strong foundation in the off-season. When a player spends a minimum of four to six weeks developing his base, this base will begin to deepen and fortify through the winter months and sustain itself through the demands of the season. Because his arm has been stretched out and his stamina built up over a period of time, he can go into the season with a base that will greatly reduce recovery period time (swelling/tightness) and allow him to actually thrive on throwing distance (conditioning) between bullpen/game situations. Aches, pains, swelling and irritation are virtually eliminated and so are the vulnerability to arm injuries. In fact, the majority of position players and pitchers that I work with feel as strong at the end of the season as they do at the beginning of the season.
Getting Started: Arm PreparationThere are two exercises that must always supercede picking up baseball: 1) Arm Circles and 2) Surgical Tubing exercises Arm Circles
A set of arm circles is the first exercise that is done to warm up the smaller muscles in the shoulder so that the subsequent surgical tubing exercises (i.e. Jobe exercises) can be maximized. Arm Circles will also build up flexibility, balance, strength and stamina in the rotator cuff muscle group (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, subscapularis) independent of the surgical tubing exercises. Notes:
Warms and oxygenates the shoulder (like any other muscle) Provides good flexibility and range of motion and strengthens the smaller, weaker rotator cuff muscles by isolating them (the most vulnerable part of the shoulder) Provides muscle balance Creates endurance Promotes better recovery period Prepares arm for surgical tubing exercises Surgical Tubing
Surgical tubing exercises are an important part of setting the tone for long tossing. The surgical tubing exercises are designed to isolate specific muscles in the rotator cuff so that they can be stretched and strengthened. Because certain muscles in the back of your shoulder (deceleraters) are more vulnerable to breaking down, these exercises are designed to balance the rotator cuff muscle group. As a compliment to the arm circles, the surgical tubing exercises will provide you with a deeper, more efficient stretch that may not be attainable by physical methods. These same exercises that are used to rehabilitate arms can be used to "develop" and prepare the arm before you throw. These exercises were made popular by the renowned orthopedist Dr. Frank Jobe. Notes:
Surgical tubing exercises provide an even deeper, more isolated workout for the rotator cuff muscles (which are most vulnerable to breaking down) Strengthens the shoulder from "inside out" Maximizes elasticity, flexibility and range of motion Provides rotator cuff muscle balance, strength and endurance and promotes recovery period in the short term (game to game) and long term (season) As a compliment to the arm circles, the surgical tubing exercises will provide you with a deeper, more efficient stretch that may not be attainable by physical methods Surgical tubing exercises are an important part of setting the tone for long tossing Mechanics: Hip Drill
Now that we've put the arm in an ideal space to throw, we need to make sure that our mechanics are going to further support, rather than inhibit, the arm for our throwing program. Though some players may be resistant to changing mechanics, all players must learn that some mechanical adjustments may be essential to avoiding injuries and providing long term health. Without sound and consistent throwing mechanics, a player can significantly limit the amount of strength, endurance and accuracy that can otherwise be greatly improved. (Note: throwing mechanics may be slightly different for position players rather than pitchers when long tossing.) Notes:
Maximizes arm health, efficiency (injury prevention) Provides support for the shoulder/elbow Creates consistency (accuracy) Arm should be loose and relaxed
Getting to Know Your Arm, The Stretching Out PhaseThe first key to conditioning your arm is learning how to build your base at the right pace. Because it will take you four to six weeks to establish a solid base (possibly twice that long if you've never been on a long toss program) you must learn how to "listen" to your arm. One of the most important things you can do as a player is know your arm. Long tossing will give you this opportunity because you have to follow the pace of your arm, rather than throw just for the sake of throwing. For example, I will often give players three major check points:
As the arm begins to develop endurance it will not only want to throw more often but it will want to throw for more distance. The stretching phase of throwing will commonly go from, per se, 150 feet to 250 feet in a few weeks time. Again, everyone is different and some players may take several weeks to stretch out to 250 feet or more. Either way, the length and distance will come in time as long as smart and consistent throwing is maintained. Also, it should be noted that when a player goes beyond 150 feet, he should use his legs to "crow hop." This will help take pressure off the arm. The stretching out phase of the long toss is critical for a number of reasons:
Where stretching out the arm creates warmth, length and extension. The pull down phase helps to generate arm speed, arm strength, lower release point and acceleration or "finish" through the release point. Because the muscles have been lengthened, the arm loosened, there is more space and freedom for the arm to generate a quicker response. As the arm opens up there is more "freedom" in the arm to maximize a natural whip. In effect, pulling down is not a grinding action because the arm has length in it. The pulling down phase becomes an acceleration through a stretch. Arm strength becomes a by-product of pulling down because the additional distance provides the arm with an opportunity to generate more arm speed on longer, looser and well conditioned muscles. The amount of throws during the pull down phase will vary but a rule of thumb is to come in 10 feet at a time with each throw. That equates to about 19 throws from 250 feet. Once you get to about 60 or 70 feet, you are free to pull down as long as the arm "welcomes" the sensation. For some players this may last for several minutes after the base has been established. Naturally, you can take a few minutes to warm down once you are satisfied with the amount of pull downs. After peaking out through your stretch, you will come back toward your throwing partner in a very methodical manner. This is to maximize the length that you have created in your arm (that will eventually lead to arm speed). As you come in you will notice that it will take a great deal of concentration to pull through your stretch without decelerating your arm. If you decelerate or ease up on your throw you will have missed an opportunity to increase your arm speed and enhance arm strength. In order to pull down correctly you must learn to accelerate through your release point by taking your maximum effort throw (i.e. 300 feet) into each throw on the way back in toward your throwing partner. For example, each throw on the way in is still a "300 foot throw," the difference is that the length of your throw is happening at a shorter and shorter distance. Though you will be throwing the ball a lot harder, if done correctly, you will be throwing through a stretch without any additional effort. For this to happen correctly you must stay relaxed over your balance point, have great downward extension through your release point, and stay mechanically sound or you will launch the ball over your partners head.
Long toss is a systematic throwing routine that is designed to provide the arm with maximum health, strength, endurance, accuracy, and recovery period. The key to a good throwing program is learning how to listen or "follow" your arm. Because your arm will eventually want to throw with more regularity you must learn how to build a base from which to work from. Post Throwing Conditioning
Conditioning is based predominately on arm care. If your throwing program completes your throwing for the day you should plan on running immediately after your last throw. If you plan on throwing a bullpen session or taking a pre-game than naturally it is not necessary to do your running until you are finished for the day. A light set of post-throwing arm circles and surgical tubing exercises (especially external rotation) may also be done. Running, arm circles and tubing exercises minimize swelling, promote better circulation and significantly improve recovery period.
Alan Jaeger is the founder of the Jaeger Baseball Academy in Woodland Hills, CA and has worked with several High School and College players, as well as over 70 professional players, including Major Leaguers Barry Zito, Randy Wolf, John Snyder, Mike Lieberthal, and Glendon Rusch. He holds a degree in psychological training from California State University at Northridge and his post-graduate studies include a certificate from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Develop a Strength Program That Fits Your Needs
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