Navigating the Maze of Off-Season Throwing Options

It is that time of year again when all the marketing emails hit your inbox regarding an X-week long throwing program that will get the arm in shape for spring. This post is an effort to help clients sift through some of the marketing and get down to critically evaluating where they are spending their hard earned money.

The Price of Long Toss

The long toss programs are often the most popular as they demand the least amount of resources, time and money. Long toss in and of itself is a wonderful concept to pursue as when implemented in the way that it was designed, it allows the arm to gradually open up and build the arm up and slowly incorporate more aggressiveness over time. The biggest concern with most long toss programs that are available at this point is that they do not offer a high enough frequency for the physical adaptations to actually take place in order to build for the season and protect against injury. Well respected trainer and owner of Rockland Peak Performance Nunzio Signore does a really nice job of outlining some of the pitfalls of a 1X per week throwing program for athletes that are looking to be high level and why it simply does not cut it in this blog post (http://rocklandpeakperformance.com/throwing-1x-week-simply-doesnt-cut/).

That in itself will hopefully be enough for parents to expect more out of their throwing programs that claim to prepare them for the season as 1X per week clearly does not. In my opinion, the biggest take away should be that if the arm is not properly managed during the off-season the tissue will be at its most vulnerable as the season begins and throwing volume and intensity simultaneously increase at a rampant rate. This acute:chronic workload ratio will be the subject of another post, but it is an essential piece of staying healthy in the short and long term and is often the most overlooked component of training. One thing that Nunzio does not address, is that if players are jumping right into throwing bullpens once a week, that plan does not even take into account the need for an on-ramping phase to get the arm in shape for such high intensity throwing. That accompanied with not throwing enough between sessions to maintain arm fitness and provide enough stress for the connective tissue to adapt is a far too common recipe for potential injury. A gross overlook of the proper acute:chronic workload relationship on both accounts.

Another consideration to make when it comes to long toss is that it simply should not cost that much money to execute a simple concept. Long toss in its nature is an auto-regulated endeavor, which means that each player will be in tune with how their arm is feeling any given day and within proper guidelines, decide when he has had enough throwing for a given day. The role of the coach is to understand the proper workload ratio that each player should be under and provide those boundaries and enough information for each player to then determine when they have played the appropriate amount of long toss for them on that given day. Each player is going to be under different circumstances of sleep, nutrition, stress, etc. and therefore each of them needs a slightly different volume and intensity each day. With the proper setup and guidance in an on-ramping phase players can build their work capacity at an appropriate pace to the point where they will be ready for the more aggressive phases. Alan Jaeger, the godfather of the long toss revolution, outlines all of this information in his year round throwing manual that is easily digestible for all parents and only carries a $30 price tag versus the multiple hundreds of dollars that most training companies gouge families for (https://www.jaegersports.com/product/year-round-throwing-manual/). Using this manual and finding space in the basement, garage, or even at a facility to execute the days should be all players need when it comes to an auto-regulated program. Unless there is significant improvement in throwing patterns during the course of these long toss programs, their value simply does not match their price tag, especially when there are many alternatives that provide similar or better value for a fraction of the cost.

The One-Size Fits All Program

Another pitfall of many off-season throwing programs is the attempt to fit every athlete that comes into the program into the same template for training. For anyone familiar with statistics, the bell curve of normal distributions comes to mind when you hear of situations like this. In essence, you would expect that 68% of the participating body will stay stagnant or get moderately better because the program hits some of their needs, 16% will get markedly better because the program fits their needs well, and 16% will take steps backwards because it addressed few of their needs. For those 16% that see a huge improvement, the investment is well worth the time and money but for the remaining 84% it is hard to come to grips with the limited return on investment.

The issue that many of the programs have is there is no attempt to determine where a player is at the beginning of the program physically that will allow for their program to fit their individual needs. Whether players have strength, mobility, stability, or skeletal limitations that need to be addressed through appropriate programming so they are able to get the most out of their time. A 6’ thrower that is 200lbs with significant muscle and requisite strength is going to need a very different program than a 6’ thrower that is 140lbs with very minimal strength and stability, yet in many throwing programs these two athletes will be doing the same routine on the same schedule. As discussed above, the time it is going to take for one of these athletes to be physically ready for high intensity throwing is going to vary greatly from the other but if there is no attempt to make changes in their programs, they will be risking injury or at best limited development from the program.

The bottom line is, any athlete that is training is going to have specific needs and they need to be addressed with proper programming for that athlete. There may be groups of individuals with similar needs but if there is no attempt to at least create those smaller groups, the program and athlete is destined for limited long term success. For those that do seek to find out their baseline levels also need to keep in mind that there needs to be check-ins every 30-60 days to make certain that the programming is effective. Enough with throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks. It is time to measure improvements and treat each athlete as the individual they are with the needs that they have.

A Place For Strength Training

For most athletes seeking programs in the off-season, the larger need for many of them is a structured strength training program. Few athletes have the requisite strength to create elite level throwing patterns, maintain stability as they are throwing more aggressively in the off-season, and carry that through their season. Taking on an aggressive throwing program that does not provide an initial assessment of baseline strength and movement quality is a dangerous endeavor that is not recommended. If movement inefficiency is not attacked through proper strength training and an athlete is being asked to throw max effort long toss or maximum velocity anything, their inefficient patterns will likely result in pain in their elbow or shoulder as the weakest of the links in the kinetic chain.

Proper strength training before, during, and after any throwing program and competitive season is hugely important to performance as well as health. If the body cannot create and accept force appropriately through proper strength and movement patterns they are at risk of decreased performance or even worse, succumbing to injury.

Ultimately, these throwing programs need to be evaluated critically for what they actually provide versus what the marketing says. As you are sifting through the flashy emails, the first question to be answered is how many times per week is this going to meet. If the answer is 1 time, then it won’t be enough to elicit the physical adaptations that one searches for in their programming and a better option should be sought. The second question to address would be to determine how much of the programming is built to help improve the movement quality of each individual thrower and how they determine the needs of those players at the onset of the program. If there is no sort of baseline evaluation of throwing and movement patterns as well as mobility and strength limitations, there won’t be any way to use the program to address the individual needs of each athlete enrolled and therefore the development will be diminished. The last question, but certainly a very important one in its own right, is to determine if there is any sort of offering of strength development within the program. The frontier that many young athletes are missing is proper strength training to provide them a platform to groove good movement patterns, build great habits for their long term development, and improve their strength which not only positively impacts performance, but health as well. It is time that consumers feel empowered to ask more questions about the development that they are investing in and if the answers do not satisfy the price tag, feel confident to seek alternatives. There is an abundance of quality content available for those willing to ask the right questions and make informed decisions.

 

This article was written by owner Casey Jacobson and edited by owner Tyler Peterson

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