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General  | Blog  | 12/22/2023

Wolforth Throwing Mentorship: Article 33

Ron Wolforth     

What Should Pitchers Be Doing from November to January?
Part 3: Bulletproofing the Arm 


First, a quick review of Part I and II:



In determining what you should be working on over the next three months, I recommended beginning with a simple self-assessment. 

If you have not yet done so, I urge you to complete this quick self-assessment and prioritize the list from one to five. (“One” being the thing you believe is most constraining to your performance currently and “five” being the least constraining.)

____ Arm Health and Durability. My arm is simply always barking at me. It rarely feels great, and even when it does feel pretty good, the feeling doesn’t last for long. I just know if my arm felt better regularly, I’d throw harder and more consistently in every area. I’ve tried rest, and in short order, my arm always returns to the same level of discomfort.

____ Velocity. I am behind my competitive peer group in terms of velocity. If I don’t throw it harder, I simply will not be given the opportunity to pitch in games. 

____ Command. I am behind my competitive peer group in terms of throwing strikes. If I don’t throw more strikes regularly, my opportunities to pitch in games will be limited.

____ Swing-and-Miss/Stuff. I fill up the strike zone and have decent velocity, but I can’t seem to avoid regular solid contact. I need to improve the effectiveness (sharpness, shape, tunnel, deception) of my secondary offerings (curveball, slider, cutter, changeup), or my opportunities to pitch in games will be limited.

____ Consistency. I do very well in one game, but then, in the next game, I may be quite ineffective. I appear to have wild swings in my outings; I never seem to know when I’m going to pitch “lights out” or when I’m going to pitch very poorly. If I’m not more consistent, my opportunities to pitch in games may eventually become limited.

My suggestion is to focus on intentionally addressing the items you listed as a “one” and a “two.”


In Part II, I reminded you of six basic fundamental concepts for maximizing your off-season during the months of November through January.

Six Elite Performance Training Concepts 

#1: First, Always Begin with The End in Mind
#2: Cycle Your Workweek
#3: Customize Your Work
#4: Prioritize Your Work
#5: Measure Your Work
#6: Start Again 


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In our next few segments, I will offer specific guidelines for improving each of the following five performance parameters over these critical three to four months of the off-season. This time, our discussion centers on the elements of developing a healthy and durable arm.


The Texas Baseball Ranch® Five Performance Parameters
 
1. Arm Health and Durability
2. Velocity
3. Command
4. Creating Swing-and-Miss/Stuff
5. Consistency Of Performance

Arm Health and Durability: Nothing, and I emphasize nothing, is more important to consistent performance and skill development than arm health and durability. In fact, nothing comes even a close second to the health and durability of the arm, elbow, and shoulder. 

Arm tenderness, pain, and injury stop more pitching athletes from approaching their God-given potential than any other single factor… Again, there is not a close second.

The ironic thing is that almost everyone I know will tell you that they agree wholeheartedly with this premise… And then at least 90% of them will do very little toward that end other than basic arm care and managing workloads.

So, either people:

1) Don’t truly believe this is true and just say so to be politically correct. (In my opinion, this is about 15-20% of the population.) 

2) Don’t think it is truly possible to create increased levels of arm health and durability. (“IMO”, this is about 40-50% of the population.)

-or-

3) Don’t think their current process will actually make much of an impact, and they aren’t really interested in digging deeper to improve it at this moment. Such an endeavor often seems overwhelming. (IMO, this is 15-20% of the population.) 

The concept of dedicating oneself to both high performance AND arm health just seems counterintuitive to some and too much work to others.

Most of us have heard things like this:

“Velocity is simply a matter of risk and reward. If you want to throw harder, you must accept the added risk of injury.”  While this is undoubtedly true to some degree, this rather fatalistic philosophy turns into many people’s “get-out-of-jail-free card.” I reject their use of that card. Fatalism and cynicism, in our opinion, are not great coaching. We should instead paint pictures of the possible.
  
The truth is, yes, increased velocity also accompanies a higher risk of injury. However, that doesn’t mean one can’t mitigate and/or counter that risk with intentional processes. Processes such as improved micro and macro ramp-ups, hyper-personalized arm care, improved mechanical efficiency, and enhanced utilization of the posterior chain (among many more). We can thread that needle. 

“Injuries are just a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if.’ ” This, again, is simple fatalism and, at its core, represents a surrender to me. It’s an excuse of sorts. The truth is, many high-performing, elite throwers never require UCL replacement or fixing a labrum tear. (And it’s not because they come from the planet Krypton or have superior genes.)
 
This line of thinking is simply a form of passing the buck. Of course, injuries do happen, and we can’t prevent all injuries. But that doesn’t mean we can’t influence the severity, frequency, or duration of arm issues in our throwing athletes. We absolutely can, and most importantly, we absolutely should! 

“There is a difference between regular after-throwing arm pain and injury. Of course your arm isn’t going to feel great many times over the long season. Being over-focused on arm health creates softer athletes. Suck it up, buttercup!”. 

I hear this one a lot. 

Apparently, using the above logic, a young athlete is simply incapable of differentiating between the general fatigue and discomfort created by micro trauma from real chronic and/or acute debilitating pain. Furthermore, if athletes are called upon to pay attention to their arms, it “allegedly” turns them into a softer, weaker performer. 

Sorry… I buy none of that nonsense. 

I personally believe young people indeed can (and should) be taught to discern the difference between the stiffness and tenderness of a system that has simply been taxed by throwing vs. the pain that is caused by considerable trauma to connective tissue.

Pain is simply the body’s way of telling the brain to pay attention… So… Pay attention. Ignoring how your arm feels every day seems to be the worst advice that I can think of for a pitcher.


What Are 12 Basic Steps You Can Do 
To Improve the Health and Durability of Your Arm?



Improve Your Macro Ramp-up

“Macro Ramp-up” refers to an athlete’s long-term building process from inactivity (off-season/time off) to full game-time intensity. We recommend a 10-12 week gradual, cycled ramp-up prior to your season.  

In our opinion, six weeks is the absolute minimum amount of time for soft tissue to even have a chance to adapt and accommodate to the demands placed on it at game time. 

Research has shown that the steeper the ramp-up, the greater the risk of injury. But we really don’t need research for that, do we? It only makes (common) sense. Training effects on soft tissue take time to materialize… Period. 

Ignoring the basic tenets of physiology and racing through the adaptation phase will almost never go well.   

Improve Your Micro Ramp-up  

This refers to one’s daily preparation for training or competition. Most of you have heard the statement, “Warm up to throw; don’t just throw to warm up.” Although this has become common knowledge, unfortunately, it is not yet common practice (especially in the travel ball universe).

At the Texas Baseball Ranch®, our micro warm-up process has multiple phases prior to our athletes even picking up a ball and is traditionally 20-35 minutes in length. Our objective is to fully “wake up” and bring blood flow to every part of the body that will contribute to our throwing pattern. That is especially true for the joints (ankles, knees, hips, t-spine, shoulders). 

This process is relatively easy to do, but unfortunately, it is also easy not to do. Skipping a comprehensive warm-up may “seem” to make little difference to your performance at times. I would urge you not to buy into this false narrative. The quality of your preparation does matter very much.  

My final exhortation on this topic: The body simply can’t recruit what is not fully awake. If one part of the body can’t contribute as it should, another body part will be required to pick up the slack. When this occurs, there can truly be only three results… And they are all bad:

1) The system fatigues sooner or quicker than it would if all the pieces were contributing as they should. 

2) The system will not operate at its peak effectiveness because it is not getting contributions or support from key contributors. Therefore, we under-achieve.

3) The system will break somewhere along its weakest link. For throwing athletes, that typically occurs at the soft tissue of the elbow, shoulder, or scapula. In other words, if you have a poor or substandard ramp-up, it can contribute to poor performance, poor recovery, and even injury. 

Improve The Thoroughness of Your Arm Care 

Since the early 2010s, the term “arm care” has been synonymous with “pre-game” or “pre-training arm preparation.” It has become a ubiquitous term and is now primarily a politically correct, trendy, catch-all phrase that, quite frankly, is so broad and vague that I find myself ignoring its use altogether. It doesn’t mean much. 

What I’m genuinely interested in, and I encourage you to be interested in, is how well your body and arm/shoulder/elbow are prepared to let the ball absolutely fly. 

• If you are tighter in the ankle, hips, and/or t-spine than most of your peers, are you doing extra work in that area prior to throwing? 

• If you have issues with the scapula or shoulder, for example, are you doing extra work in that area prior to throwing?

• If you have issues connecting the hips with the shoulders/trunk/spine, are you doing extra work in that area prior to throwing?

• If you have issues creating an effective deceleration pattern, are you doing extra work in that area prior to throwing?

If, for example, you like utilizing elastic tubing such as the Jaeger, Cross Over Symmetry, or Oates Specialties Bands as a part of your arm care process… That’s great! I highly encourage you to do so. However, just realize that using that tool can be a general arm care preparation, or it can be utilized very specifically.  

Very frequently, people use arm care tools as a form of checking a box. 

I did my band work - “check.”

I urge you to think deeper.

It is fantastic to have a general arm care routine and process… Well done. That already places you in the top half of your competition. What I’m recommending if you are trying to have a healthier and more durable arm is to go a step further. Create a very thorough basic arm care process, and THEN add individual pieces where you think you are lacking or have had issues in the past. 

Please remember a truth that the late Earl Nightingale referred to as the “Strangest Secret”

“If you do what you’ve always done, you are going to get what you’ve always gotten. If you do what everyone else does, you are going to get what everyone else gets.”

To be world-class, you must think and act differently. 

If you don’t know of or have never heard of the following tools used for arm care, I would encourage you to investigate them. They may be a great addition to your arm care process.

· Shoulder Tube
· Supi-Pro
· Shoulder Sphere
· 5/10 lb. Wrist Weights
· Elastic Mini Bands
· Throwing/Training Sock
· Bell Club
· Connection Club
· Weighted Forearm Sleeve 
· Khaos Shoulder Shaker
        
Improve Mechanical Efficiency 

Many folks will use the term “mechanics” when discussing a pitcher’s movement pattern. At the Texas Baseball Ranch®, we do not use that term. Instead, we intentionally use the phrase “mechanical efficiency.” It may seem like semantics, but the exact wording is important to us. Let me explain why. 

Coaches and parents will often share with me something along the lines of, “This young man has ‘perfect' or ‘great’ mechanics.” This statement implies that, from their perspective, there are only two basic distinctions of mechanical efficiency… Good… Or bad. This is obviously not the case. In fact, no two throws are absolutely identical. What they are really saying is that from their biased lens, this young man’s movement pattern is pleasing to their eye.   

“Mechanics” implies specific body positions in space and time. “Mechanical efficiency” implies movement placed on a scale of “more inefficient” to “more efficient.” In our opinion, it’s best to think of mechanical efficiency as a continuum and not a yes/no, right/wrong, good/bad distinction. The great news about using this yardstick is that everyone can improve their mechanical efficiency, and because we are human, there is no such thing as “perfect.” Therefore, perfect should never be the goal.

For our discussion here, the more inefficient the movement pattern is, the more likely the soft tissue is placed at added risk of increased trauma or stress. The more efficient, the less likely the soft tissue is placed at added risk. The risk, no matter how efficient we become, will never be zero. If we wish to stay healthy over a long three-to-six-month season, a great strategy is to reduce and/or eliminate any excess or unnecessary stress on soft tissue. 

I can just imagine a parent reading this last paragraph and saying, “Coach Wolforth, that sounds great and all, but how in the heck do you propose we do that?”. 

I understand your angst. In our view, this should be one of the primary roles of pitching instructors, trainers, and coaches. Unfortunately, the 80/20 rule seems to apply here (20% of that group have a decent idea of how to assist athletes in this manner). 

Your role as a parent is to seek out and find that 20%. I promise you, if your athlete aspires to play collegiately or professionally, such a search is well worth your time, energy, and resources.

Increase Levels of Mobility/Flexibility and Strength/Stability

Over the grind of a three-to-six-month season, many athletes will lose some degree of mobility/flexibility and/or strength/stability. Sometimes, this regression is slight and doesn’t have huge implications for health and durability. 

If an athlete is already deficient in one of these areas, a regression of any kind can prove very critical to arm health and durability during the season. 

Therefore, at TBR, we believe it absolutely imperative that athletes dedicate time and energy during the off-season to increase their levels of mobility/flexibility and strength/stability.  

Improve The Pattern of Deceleration

Some might think this topic belongs in the mechanical efficiency section we discussed one concept earlier. One could certainly argue that case. 

I separated this topic because patterns of deceleration are seldom discussed, often misunderstood, and very, very rarely addressed in training. Yet, issues with the posterior shoulder, scapula, latissimus dorsi, and lateral elbow are quite common.

Suppose your pain/discomfort occurs in the posterior shoulder, triceps, scapula, or the back of the elbow. In this case, we believe it is imperative that you at least analyze your pattern of deceleration and see if an inefficient pattern of deceleration may be contributing to your issue. The vast majority of the time, that answer is “yes!”.

The late Dr. Mike Marshal was fond of stating this factoid:

“The body will only accelerate itself to the degree that it can effectively decelerate that energy.”

This wisdom from Dr. Marshal is not only absolutely correct, but, in my opinion, it is also of profound importance to the development of the throwing athlete.

So many otherwise competent baseball people simply ignore what occurs after the moment of ball release/launch. They believe that deceleration is “natural” and, therefore, “of little consequence to arm health.” 

The truth is, of course, deceleration is 100% natural. But it still remains an efficiency, meaning our pattern can be very efficient, or it can be very inefficient. An inefficient pattern of deceleration frequently precludes the thrower from optimizing his acceleration, thus, Dr. Marshall’s prompting.

Again, we recommend finding an instructor or coach who understands the importance of patterns of deceleration, especially if your athlete is experiencing discomfort in their posterior shoulder or lateral elbow. 

Increase The Utilization of The Posterior Chain

One of my favorite things to do when working with my young professional athletes is to show my client pictures of eight MLB pitchers loading their posterior chain during their delivery. In my opinion, four of them (Group A) do so very well… And four (Group B) do so to a far lesser degree. 

I then ask my client four basic questions: 

Question #1: Which group, in your opinion, appears to utilize their posterior chain to a greater degree, Group A or B?

(Not one person has ever missed that question in my 12 years of working with professional pitchers.)

Question #2: If both groups exceed 90mph with their fastball velocity… And for the record, all eight do… Which group will have to generate a greater percentage of that velocity with their arm and upper body?

(Again, not one person has ever missed that question.)

Question #3: If you are correct with your first two assumptions, which group is almost certainly going to have more challenges with regular arm tenderness, fatigue, and recovery? 

(Once again, not one person has ever missed that question.)

Question #4: Therefore, if all these things are true… And at TBR, we fervently believe they are… How important is the loading of the posterior chain in order to have and maintain a healthy, robust, and durable arm?

The answer becomes self-evident.

One of the very best ways to protect the soft tissue of the elbow and shoulder is to optimize the utilization of the athlete’s legs, hips, trunk, and spine.

Improve Post Throwing Routine for Increased Recovery

One telltale sign that an athlete’s arm health can be improved relatively quickly is simply asking the question, “What is your arm care process AFTER you are finished pitching or training?”. It is probably safe to say seven out of 10 throwing athletes do very little to nothing after they have competed or trained. They just go home.

Creating an uncomplicated ramp-down process does absolute wonders for improving recovery and enhancing rejuvenation. A terrific rule of thumb is taking your favorite ramp-up process prior to the game or training, duplicating it, and then reducing its intensity and volume by 50-66%. 

We have experienced with our athletes that a simple ramp-down process of 10-15 minutes is exceptionally beneficial for health, durability, and recovery.  

Four Final Common-Sense Mandates

Sleep well. Get eight or more hours of good quality, restful sleep a night, especially 48 hours prior to the outing and 48 hours post-outing. 

Eat well, especially 48 hours prior to the outing and 48 hours post-outing. A snack during the outing is encouraged as well.

Hydrate well, especially 48 hours prior to the outing, during the outing, and 48 hours post-outing.

Journal your experience with details so you can best adjust, adapt, and remember best practices as you go forward. This will help you recall and discover what processes best assisted and supported your arm health, recovery, and performance.

Next time, in Part IV, I will cover the basic steps you can take to boost your velocity in these next three months.

Until then…

Stay curious and keep reaching for the stars.

Coach Wolforth  



Coach Wolforth is the founder of the Texas Baseball Ranch® and has written six books on pitching including the Amazon Best Seller, Pitching with Confidence.  Since 2013, The Texas Baseball Ranch® has had over 577 pitchers break the 90 mph barrier, 205 have toped 94mph or better, and 135 of his students have been drafted in the MLB’s June Amateur Draft.  Coach Wolforth has consulted with 13 MLB  teams, dozens of NCAA programs and has been referred to as “ America’s Go-to-Guy on Pitching” and “The Pitching Coaches Pitching Coach.”  Coach Wolforth lives in Montgomery, TX with his wife, Jill.  They are intimately familiar with youth select, travel baseball and PG events as their son Garrett (now a professional catcher) went through the process.  Garrett still holds the PG Underclass All-American Games record for catcher velocity at 89mph which he set in 2014 at the age of 16.

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