Arm care has become commonplace in baseball. Players and coaches at all levels now appreciate the importance of a good dynamic warm-up and strengthening the shoulder, which is lightyears ahead of where we once were. In case you don’t remember, running poles and a bag of ice was the extent of arm care not too long ago.
Much of the change is from developing research showing that both velocity and risk of injury are associated with arm strength and range of motion. The problem is that most arm care is a cookie-cutter approach with the hopes to cover it all with broad strokes.
It’s better than nothing, but if you’re going to dedicate the time and effort, why not optimize it for maximum return. To meet the specific needs of a player, an assessment based approach is necessary to customize a player’s program rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.
In this article, we’ll highlight the importance of assessment based arm care, and how it’s refining this vital aspect of a player’s routine.
The Birthplace of Assessment Based Arm Care
We didn’t pioneer the idea that players need assessments to guide their arm care.
All 30 MLB organizations test their player’s shoulder strength & range of motion regularly. They’re not likely to share their secrets or methods since it’s something that gives them a competitive advantage. Yet, we know that it’s getting done based on the latest research and our relationships with the medical staff involved.
What caught our attention is that arm assessments were only happening with the elite few. And despite the evidence showing its importance, college, high school and youth players were being left out to dry.
As with everything, a lot of it comes down to time and money. Organizations with million-dollar budgets and a staff of medical professionals and strength trainers can support this kind of expense. But for the coach who’s building a team with limited time and money, conducting arm assessments on every player can be a tough pill to swallow.
Even if a coach does decide to make it a priority, it needs constant monitoring and analysis to break down the good and bad, and to make actionable recommendations based on the issues that come up. It’s a whole lot to ask, especially from coaches and players without the background and expertise in arm assessments and human performance.
These challenges had to be overcome to bring the professional level of treatment to all players.
The Arm Care App guides players through a shoulder strength and range of motion exam to create individualized arm care programs designed to build stronger and more durable arms.
The Tools for Testing
Delivering assessment based arm care to the masses first requires the right tools to make it happen—starting with a measuring device. To accurately measure strength requires a dynamometer, which is a tool for measuring force.
A medical-grade dynamometer runs about a thousand dollars. This cost prohibits all but a select few from getting their hands on this important testing equipment.
We have found that it can be done with a product at a fraction of the price. Enter the Activ5 dynamometer. The Active5 is a highly accurate handheld dynamometer just like it’s expensive counterparts. We know because we tested it against the medical-grade dynamometers.
The difference is that its original design as a consumer-based workout tool rather than a testing device for strength makes it very affordable but measures force just the same.
At only $220 for the Activ5 dynamometer, attachment straps, range of motion chart, and a one year access to the Arm Care App, a player can get an accurate and real-time gauge for their arm health and strength.
Although assessment-based arm care isn’t merely collecting numbers. It’s about making actionable decisions based on those measurements. Those decisions require an understanding of the mountain of research currently available and then a system for decision making.
It can be a difficult conundrum, and due to the amount of data, it’s best fit into a computer for its speed, accuracy, and processing ability.
Advanced Testing Equipment for a Fraction of the Cost
Medical-grade strength testing devices usually cost over a thousand dollars.
The ground breaking Activ5 dynamometer is just as accurate and at a price anyone can afford.
Using Assessments to Build the Perfect Arm Care Plan
The basis for assessment based arm care is to use objective data and player feedback to build and prioritize a training plan.
There are four variables to consider in customizing a player’s program:
- Player Profile- This accounts for the player and their current circumstances. Some are very simple and grow with time, such as the player’s age and their arm care experience. Other characteristics fluctuate, such as their current season. This will impact the training volume and frequency that is prescribed.
- Exam Results- Strength and range of motion data provide a wealth of information regarding a player and their needs.
- Strength- The ability to base a program off of actual strength numbers, allows a player to work on specific weaknesses and then push their training harder when ready. For example, if a player’s strength measures a deficiency or imbalance for their posterior rotator cuff (the decelerators), training should prioritize this until corrected. Whereas, a player with good arm strength that’s well balanced, a functional program that prioritizes other links in the chain is most appropriate. Some may not consider things like hip and core training as part of arm care, but the evidence shows that it’s important to consider [Link to Hip & Core Article].
- Range of Motion- It’s been well established that range of motion changes are common with baseball players due to the stresses of throwing. These changes can limit a player’s performance and put them at greater risk for injury if left unaddressed. Assessing discrepancies such as comparing the throwing arm to the non-throwing arm, show how a player is adapting to both their acute and chronic workloads and helps to adjust the plan.
- Player Feedback- We can’t just use the objective results from a players assessment to deliver individualized arm care protocols. Factoring in ingredients like schedules, throwing workloads and how players’ arms are feeling are critical to deliver the right exercises/stretches at the right time.To deliver the proper program, we need to know if the player pitched today (or had a heavy throwing workload). If they did, they would get a recovery based post throwing arm care program. In addition to the active recovery program, the player would be put on a program to restore their internal rotation range of motion (unless they have excessive ROM) for the next few days. It is well known that players lose significant internal rotation range of motion following an outing. If it is not properly addressed, the deficit can accumulate throughout the season and put the player at a higher risk for injury.We also need to know if they are pitching tomorrow. The last thing you want to do is crush the rotator cuff with strengthening exercises the day before an outing.Player feedback is also essential for managing sore or tight arms. This cannot be overlooked and needs to be addressed in real time. For example, if a player says they are sore or tight in their medial elbow (inside), they will be asked a follow up question on the app to see if they are tender on the medial epicondyle (bone) or the UCL (Tommy John ligament). If they are tender, the player needs to see a sports medicine professional for evaluation as this could be a growth plate or ligament injury. This is one of about 20 notices that are built into the App, in which uninjured players are proactively advised to visit a medical professional with the ultimate goal of preventing the injury.If the player reports no tenderness on these two areas, they will receive a custom warm up that includes stretches and releases to address the flexor-pronator mass and help loosen up the inside of their elbow.
- Risk Monitoring- Frequent testing provides insight to the changes occurring within the arm. Changes to strength or range of motion are likely to occur throughout the season. Sometimes it’s good news and indicates progress. Sometimes it could show a drop in strength or change in range of motion. These can be early indicators of fatigue. Pitching while fatigue is the number one risk factor for throwing related injuries. ASMI found that adolescent pitchers who undergo elbow or shoulder surgery are 36 times more likely to have routinely pitched with arm fatigue.
The Assessment Process
The Arm Care assessment only takes 6-minutes and it doesn’t require any assistance from a medical professional or a coach.
The exam can be completed at home or at the field using the testing equipment (Activ5 dynamometer & ROM Chart) and following the videos and audio prompts on the App. The assessment is performed weekly during the season to continue to monitor progress and fatigue.
Following the assessment, a player will receive a detailed report card with metrics on their strength and symmetry as well as trends based on previous exams.
For players who are wanting to engage in a weighted ball velocity program, the report card also provides a 20 point arm diagnostic. The Pre-Velocity Program Screen provides a simple Pass or Fail as well as a detailed description for each diagnostic.
Maximize Your Arm Care Plan
The most effective arm care program extends far beyond simple band work to prep for throwing. A daily assessment should dictate the prep, recovery, and strengthening to address the most pertinent issues affecting a player’s arm that day. Treating the acute problems and then layering in the necessary strength training at the optimal times, for the ideal plan to build a high-performance arm.
The 3 Phase of an Assessment-Based Arm Care Program include:
- Prep- Specific prep work is necessary to address any sore and tight areas for a player to meet their training demands that day. Following the individualize prep, a dynamic warm-up will activate essential muscles for total body performance.
- Recovery- A high-level training program must also include techniques to promote rejuvenation and to keep the arm and body fresh. These strategies include stretches, massage, exercises, nutrition, hydration, and sleep.
- Strength- It’s important to build strength, speed, and conditioning of the key stabilizers to protect and develop the arm. For some players, this can fit alongside a strength training program completed at the gym, whereas others may do this when at the field. Either way, the assessment process should be used to identify any weak links and to push training when the time is right.
The Future of Arm Care
Baseball players are currently flying blind when it comes to knowing what their arm needs. For most, the solution to Arm Care is a plan of exercises found online, or provided by their coach, and hoping that it’s specific to their arm’s needs.
But as the old adage goes, “If you’re not assessing, you’re guessing.”
Guessing leaves a player at greater risk of injury and limits their potential despite the desire to put in the hard work. Players at all levels should have the ability to accurately assess and know how to manage their arm care to meet the maximum potential.
The Arm Care App will add Assessment Based Arm Care to every single player’s program. Guiding and monitoring their arm to ensure their arm care program is specifically tailored to their needs every single day.