From the ArmCare IQ: Why Pitchers Get Hurt (and It’s NOT Overuse,) we found that fatigue is the #1 cause of throwing injuries.
The primary reason fatigue is such a factor is that it results in compensations in a pitcher’s biomechanics and movement patterns, exposing the arm to excessive loads. We also learned that fatigue contributes to muscular imbalances that increase the forces on tendons and ligaments of the shoulder and elbow. Fatigue also affects a pitcher’s command, resulting in throwing more pitches and giving up runs.
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The big question then is what to do with this hearty understanding of muscular ratios and fatigue indicators? Because ultimately, if nothing changes by this information, the injury epidemic in baseball will continue to trend upwards.
The thing is that it’s not just up to one person. Everyone involved has a role in keeping players healthy and developing in the field. So here are some specific applications on the topic of fatigue for usable integrations into a pitching program, whether you are a player, parent, or coach.
While pitch counts are a piece of the puzzle, they are not the whole puzzle. Because if pitch counts were the key to keeping players healthy, there would be a reduction in injury, not an increase.
Instead of only relying on an arbitrary number, a coach can deliver customized programs and pitch guidelines with strength testing.
By consistently testing your players and knowing where they are, you can alternate workloads in your throwing programs and bullpen work to increase the intensity when ready or focus on recovery needed for the throwing arm when necessary.
Testing your players not only determines how many pitches you want to prescribe for a starting pitcher, but you can also understand which of your bullpen arms are fresh and who is most likely to underperform. Knowing the recovery of your bullpen not only keeps players healthier but also increases your chance for wins.
But most importantly, as a coach, you are the guide to ensuring a player is well equipped with the knowledge and information to meet their full potential. Regular strength testing and daily player reports can provide deeper insights into what a player is missing and the opportunity for you to be their best guide in optimizing recovery.
Parents and caregivers are usually the top-tier advocates for their child’s wellbeing. Still, unfortunately, when it comes to protecting a player’s arms on the field, there’s a ton of uncertainty around what’s best for a young athlete, which is why parents can benefit from strength testing as well.
It’s not uncommon for a player to play on multiple teams, travel to different showcases, or work with various coaches, and all of these variables fluctuate over a year. These constant changes make it hard to keep track of spikes in workloads and know when a player is overreaching.
Strength testing reduces the need to worry about when to advocate for time off because it provides a specific fatigue point for an athlete.
By completing an ArmCare strength test before bullpens, games, or tournaments, a parent will know precisely how recovered their athletes are before a competition or training session. A decrease in strength means it’s time to reduce workloads or possibly even skip a bullpen session or scheduled in-game appearance. Or, if it’s a chronic or significant loss, it may indicate the need for some extended time off.
Conversely, if strength is up from their average, it’s clear that there’s little need for concern. The player is strong and developing well and should continue to compete with the freedom to reach maximum pitch counts.
Ultimately, strength testing provides a tool to help open conversations between everyone involved in keeping a player healthy. Yet, these conversations are entirely different when backed by objective data showing the real concerns rather than coming off as an overly cautious parent.
The most significant reduction in injury rates most likely comes from players taking better ownership of their performance. At all levels, young athletes need to be held accountable for their training to help meet their goals.
So how can this be done through fatigue monitoring?
The previous paragraphs to parents and coaches say that players who test consistently will know how much they should be throwing on a given day. And by engaging in the Fresh and Post Throwing Exams within the app, players will understand just how taxing and tiring a throwing session was following a bullpen, high intensity throwing day or game.
For example, losing more than 15% strength from a throwing session means the workload was too heavy. On the other hand, if you don’t see any or very little strength change after a throwing session, it indicates that you may be undertraining the throwing arm.
It is essential to understand just how taxing your throwing sessions are regardless of the time of the year because throwing too little is just as ineffective as throwing too much when it comes to conditioning the throwing arm.
But the most significant thing that strength testing and the ArmCare App provides is that it allows players to take responsibility for their fitness. Seeing how their daily habits, such as sleep, rest, exercise, and nutrition, impact their recovery and performance can instill what’s needed to optimize performance from an early age.
Objective data allows coaches, parents, and players to know when it is time to make program adjustments. At times, the athlete can reach goals faster and healthier with allocated recovery and adjustments to the athlete’s strength program. When strength plummets, injury risk goes up and the cost of surgery and rehab is a lot more expensive than missing an outing during a tournament. More importantly, an injury can cost an athlete the current season and potentially miss the following season as well. Ultimately the most important statistics are innings pitched and plate appearances, as athletes need to gain game experience and they do that by being on the field.
Blanket guidelines for pitch counts and off-season breaks leave a ton up to guessing. It can unnecessarily take a player out of commission, thus losing out on experiences, improvements in their game, and missing out on what they love.
With so much to lose and a lot to gain, the best plan is to have solid data to make a sound decision. Using the strength testing with the ArmCare app, coaches, parents, and players can all play an essential role in stopping the growing injury epidemic and helping every player meet their maximum potential to advance health, velocity, and command.