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Common Arm Care Mistakes: Installment 2

Written on December 19, 2013 at 7:29 am, by Eric Cressey

Last week, I kicked off this series on arm care with a discussion of scapular positioning.  In this week's installment, I'll cover another big mistake I commonly see throwers make:

Doing a ton of rotator cuff exercises before throwing.

Pre-throwing warm-up approaches constitute a great example of extremes.  On one hand, you have the guys who crush an energy drink and do a few arm circles and then go right to throwing – and they're obviously not doing enough.  On the other hand, you have some guys who go through 30 different exercises for the cuff and scapular stabilizers. – and before you know it, it's an hour later and they're exhausted, yet still haven't picked up a ball.  As always, the answer is somewhere in the middle.

We have many examples available across multiple sporting disciplines that show the impact of fatigue on performance and injury risk (Bill Hartman covers many of them in this great post).  At the other end of the spectrum, not warming up sufficiently can be equally problematic.  As such, it's about finding the sweet spot for every pitcher.

I generally try to "lump" each of our throwers into one of three categories: tight, loose, or middle-of-the-road.

The tight guys need to go out of their way to extend their warm-ups so that their body temperature is higher before they pick up a ball.  These are the guys who commonly don't hit their best velocity numbers until after the third inning or so.  The goal of the warm-up is primarily to get length (potentially even with some manual stretching, if indicated) – and follow it up by doing a bit of activation work to establish some good stiffness in the right places (anterior core, posterior rotator cuff, scapular upward rotators).  To me, this group requires the longest warm-up, but even still, it's 20 minutes, tops.

The loose guys are the ones who have considerable joint laxity (hypermobility). 

As a result, we really don't need to establish any new range-of-motion; we need to enhance stability in the ROM they already have.  Loose guys are always the most likely to get thrown under the bus with bad arm care programs.  Stretch them, and you'll make them worse or injured.  Do too much cuff or scapular stabilizer work before they throw, and they'll fall off early in terms of velocity and health. With this group, we don't do much ground-based mobility work; we prefer to get them standing up and moving around.  They'll work in movements like prone external rotation to "groove" true external rotation, and get some rhythmic stabilizations, too.

Again, we're talking about 15 minutes at most.

The middle-of-the-road guys are, as you might imagine, a combination of the previous two groups.  They don't need quite as much mobility work as the tight guys, nor do they need quite as much stability work as the loose guys. It's more of a balancing act, but we're still not exceeding 15-20 minutes.

If you're looking for a general guideline on what our guys might do, here's a brief synopsis:

A. foam rolling – 5 minutes
B. mobility drills – 8-10 minutes
C. scapular control drills (wall slide variations, prone trap raises, etc.) – 2 minutes
D. rotator cuff activation drills (prone external rotation, rhythmic stabilizations, and maybe 1-2 sets of band exercises) – 2 minutes
E. easy movement training and sprint build-ups (5 minutes)

As you can see, at most, this takes 24 minutes.  And, this number comes down because not everyone does every exercise.

Exchanging quantity for quality in the warm-up has been one of the most important modifications we've made in the past with injured or underperforming throwers we've seen.  The benefits are due to both the addition of valuable exercises, but more significantly, taking away an excessive amount of unproductive work that's just piling fatigue on top of the rotator cuff before throwing.

With all this in mind, if you're "that guy" who takes forever to warm up, it's probably time to cut back.  As CP pitching coordinator Matt Blake has joked, "If you need a post-workout shake after your warm-up, you're doing it all wrong."  Start thinking about ways to make the pre-throwing period more efficient – and then get your volume in at a later point in time.

Looking for more insights like this?  Check out one of our Elite Baseball Mentorships, where we discuss scapular posture and movement evaluation techniques (along with many other topics) in great detail.  We just announced our next Phase 1 (Upper Extremity) event: June 15-17 – and we also have a Phase 2 (Lower Extremity) taking place January 5-7.

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5 Responses to “Common Arm Care Mistakes: Installment 2”

  1. Bo Martino Says:

    I agree with finding an effective warmup. I have been around too many coaches that don’t have a plan and place it on the athletes to “do what you need to get loose” or take it to the extreme because they know how a football team warms up. Yet they wonder why some guys have nagging discomfort or velocity is sporadic.

  2. Joe Says:

    Eric, I love your stuff, but 99 percent of the coaches (dads) out there not only do not have 20-24 minutes to “warm up” their pitchers/position players because of time they are paying for, they do not even know how to do it, let alone buy a bunch of adjuncts (foam rollers) or are qualified to assess their players arm laxity.

    Great idea but not applicable.

  3. Eric Cressey Says:

    Joe,

    You’d be surprised at how bright kids are if you educate them once and then expect them to adhere to your recommendations.

    Additionally, you don’t have to worry about this stuff until age 14 or so, as puberty is really when you can separate who is going to be what.  Before that, they’re all completely lax/unstable.

  4. Frank Says:

    Eric,
    What do you recommend for loose guys who need rhythmic stabilizations before throwing but do not have someone who can help them. What is something they can do on their own that can help?

  5. Eric Cressey Says:

    Frank,

    Good alternatives include body blade, shoulder tube, wall dribbles with med ball, etc.

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