“In Season” Arm Health and Strength for the High School and Colleigate Pitcher:
Integrating Long Toss into Bull-Pens and In-season Pitching
In the previous article, we addressed the importance of the timing and format of an “Off Season Throwing Program”, and the need of establishing a “rest” (2-4 weeks) and “rebuild” period (approximately 4 weeks) after a long summer (remember that it is crucial to stay off the mound for this initial 4 week phase). The idea was that the better you build your base in the Fall/Winter months, the better you are able to maximize your health, strength and endurance “in season”. As you may recall from that article, the key to optimizing the health, strength and endurance of your arm “in season” is significantly reflected by how well you are able to maintain this base throughout the Fall/Winter and translate it into the Spring.
Once a pitcher has gone through the initial 6-8 week stage of resting his arm and rebuilding his base correctly through among other things, Surgical Tubing and Long Toss, there are 2 more stages to go through before pitchers transition into the “in-season” training or maintenance. Stage 1 involves the integration of mound work (bull-pens/game innings) into the Fall/Winter months leading up to the holiday break (the end of December), and Stage 2 addresses the integration of the throwing program into the Spring season, whether the pitcher is a starter or reliever.
In Stage 1, mound work becomes an “extension” of the off-season throwing program, and will allow pitchers to have effective recovery (which allows them to maintain their Long Toss program throughout the Fall/Winter months). What’s essential to understand is that Long Toss is still the priority in the Fall/Winter, and that mound work is the “culmination” of that particular days Long Toss throwing session. In the Spring, when the season begins, Long Toss may be reduced to some degree but it still plays a critical role at least twice a week (see 5 or 7 day routine at the end of this article).
Stage 1 — Fall into Winter: Bull-Pen Integration
Now that the arm has had a minimum of 6 weeks (September 1st to early/mid October) to rest and rebuild (free from the mound), the pitcher is ready to begin to integrate bull-pens into his throwing program. Because such a strong base has been built from the previous 6 weeks, bull-pens should have a dramatically less effect on the arm regarding swelling, soreness, etc. This allows the arm to recover faster, which in turn will allow the base to be minimally effected or “depleted”. This is a critical principle to understand because having great recovery is the essential ingredient to maintaining arm health, strength and endurance throughout the year.
In the case of a pitcher who has extended his Long Toss to 5 days a week leading into his first week of bull-pens (typically around early/mid October), the main priority on bull-pen days is for the pitcher to think conditioning/long toss first, and mound work second. Essentially, the bull-pen is used to “culminate” the workout, rather than be the focus of the throwing that day. The idea is that when the arm has the opportunity to “stretch out” through Long Toss it is most effectively prepared to throw off the mound. To put it another way, the focal point of each day is to condition the arm, and then use the bull-pen for pitching specific skills (ie mechanics, getting used to the decline). Many coaches make the mistake of “saving the arm” for the bullpen by minimizing the amount of throwing that day. This actually has the opposite effect on the arm — it is telling the arm to throw aggressively before it has been properly stretched out and conditioned. It’s like running only a mile each day to “save your legs” for a marathon at the end of the week. This mentality of “saving the arm for the bull-pen” is the primary reason why recovery period worsens, and the pitchers base is depleted (the same principle also applies for in-season bull-pens and game situations).
How often a pitcher integrates bullpens into the Fall/Winter months is a feel thing from player to player. But the bottom line is to integrate work load slowly and progressively into your bull-pen sessions just as you worked slowly and progressively into your Long Toss routine when you built your initial base. I would recommend 2 bull-pens a week through the Fall/Winter months, separated by as many recovery period days as possible. For example, a Monday/Friday is the most ideal format because you maximize your INTI ADV “In Season” Arm Health and Strength for the High School and Colleigate Pitcher: Integrating Long Toss into Bull-Pens and In-season Pitching Alan Jaeger Alan Jaeger “off days” from bull-pen to bull-pen. These off days away from mound work allow the arm optimal time to recover and recondition itself for the next bull-pen. The amount of pitches thrown in the bull-pen and the intensity behind it again varies from pitcher to pitcher (and the work load that preceded it). The priority is that a the arm, through Long Toss, is stretched out well prior to any mound work.
Remember, recovery period is crucial because the better your recovery period, the more the arm is going to want to “stretch it out” from day to day — stretching the arm out is what replenishes the arm. Having great recovery period leads to a “positive cycle” — a positive cycle because the arm wants to throw more rather than less from day to day because it feels good. Essentially, the arm can sustain it’s base throughout the Fall/Winter and into the Spring because bull-pens and game action have a minimal effect on recovery period. If recovery period is poor and the arm is swollen or unusually sore the arm will need to rest more often which further deprives the base from getting replenished (which is what is called a “negative cycle”).
As you go through the Fall/Winter months the primary goal is to stay in a conditioning mode as you increase the pitch counts in bull-pen situations. As bull-pens turn into Fall/Winter game action, the principle doesn’t change. For example, lets say in week 5 (your first week of bull-pens after your base is built) you threw a 15-25 pitch bull-pen session on Monday and Friday, and by week 7 (mid/late October) you graduated to 35-45 pitch sessions/ and or 1 inning of work in a game situation. Even as you approach week 9 (November) and add additional innings leading into the holiday break (end of December), the principles do not change. Bull-pens and game situations are interchangeable. So if you bull-pen/game situation on Monday/Friday, and you’ve worked up to 45 pitches in a game, your goal is to continue to Long Toss at least 1 other day thoroughly (remember, your bullpen/ game day are also relatively thorough Long Toss days).
The idea with this Fall/Winter mentality is to keep the focus on Long Toss as you increase pitch counts for bull-pens and game situations. Because a thorough Long Toss session is incorporated at least 3 days a week, the arm is best positioned to stay in a positive cycle through the end of December, despite the reality that pitch counts can elevate up to 45-60 pitches in game situations.
Note: Once a pitcher starts throwing bullpens/ innings in the Fall/Winter, he will find that the days he is going to throw off a mound are actually his best Long Toss days because he will have the most amount of recovery period days between mound work. With that said, it should be noted that the day after a pitchers mound work, Long Toss will probably consist of only the “stretching out” phase and the distance may only consist of about 50- 75% of a pitchers normal distance. This is important to understand because Long Toss is important to integrate between mound work, but days after mound work should be less aggressive with the focus being on “stretching” the arm. If done right, the second day after mound work will lead to a more normal distance of Long Toss, and the “pull-down” or more aggressive phase of Long Toss can be added. Remember, it always comes down to “listening to your arm” — once mound work begins, your focus is on stretching the arm out each day. How far you go out and how aggressive you “pull down” from day to day depends simply on how your arm feels, and how good your recovery period is.
Stage 2 — Winter into Spring
Once the Winter Holidays come and go (usually there is a 2-3 week window where kids are away from the team), and players return back to school pitchers need to be able to spend at least 2 weeks off the mound to recondition their arm. For the same reasons why pitchers use the first 4-6 weeks in the Fall to stay off the mound to condition, players need to “rebuild” the base for the first two weeks without even thinking about mound work. This is essential to understand because these two weeks allows the pitcher to reconnect to the base that was built all Fall/Winter. Fortunately, because the arm was so well “built” in the Fall/Winter period, it only takes a couple of weeks to “re-catch” the wave (especially if the pitcher spent the Winter break doing his arm care program and playing some form of catch).
Once this 2 week period has been established the pitcher is ready to integrate bull-pens and game innings into his throwing routine. This too should come quickly. A pitcher should be able to go from throwing a 35 pitch bull pen in week 3 (late January/early February) to throwing 45 pitches in an intersquad game by week 4.
Naturally, because High School and College seasons begin at different times, how you integrate bull-pens and game situations depends on a number of variables. The priority here is still about learning how to prioritize your conditioning off of the mound for 2 weeks after the Winter break so the base is reinforced and recovery period is effective once mound work is reintroduced. Remember, once the Spring starts getting close the tendencies are to ramp up the pitch count and prepare for game situations. This is an even greater reason to use the first two weeks for base building — otherwise, you may be putting the pitchers arm in harms way.
Stage 3 — The Spring Is Here — In-Season Throwing and Maintenance
Once the pitcher has reconditioned his arm in this 2 week period after the Winter break, and has built his pitch count in the subsequent few weeks leading into the season, I would assume that by the first game of the season, the pitcher is now in a position to throw 60-75 pitches or the equivalent of 4-5 innings, and 75-90 pitches by his second game. The key here is that the innings have been increased by maintaining the pitchers Long Toss program throughout the week. What has changed in season is that the pitcher will learn to adjust his long toss based on how many pitches he’s made in a game, and how much recovery period he has until his next outing.
This is where in-season training gets a little tricky based on whether or not you are a starter or a reliever. So in order to address the “in season’ training mentality for both starters and relievers, I’m going to break them down into 2 categories. This way, whatever your role is as a pitcher you will have a clearer understanding of how to keep your arm in optimal shape throughout the year.
Starting Pitchers — 5 or 7 Day Cycling
Where a reliever has to play with some unknown variables as to when and how much he is going to pitch from day to day starting pitchers have it much easier in season. Starting pitchers know exactly what day they are throwing each week and therefore can plan the other 6 days (amateur) or 4 days (professional) around their game day. For this reason, setting up a starter with an “in-season” routine is much easier than a reliever. Below, I am going to go through the format and work load for a basic 7 day routine, considering that more players are at the amateur level. Also, once you understand the principles to the 7 Day routine, adjusting to the 5 Day routine will be relatively similar. Keep in mind that the first priority is to always listen to your arm.
In Season, 7 Day Routine (Cycle)
In order to make this routine very simple to follow I’m going to pick “Monday” as the reference point as to when you are scheduled to start your game. By establishing our “game day” we can then focus on how we maintenance (cycle) the arm back in shape most effectively for your next start, the following Monday:
- Monday: Pitch
- Tuesday: Strength Training (lower body emphaiss, core and light upper body)
- Wednesday: Movement Training
- Thursday: Low Volume Medicine Ball Work, Strength Training (upper body emphaiss, plus low volume lower)
- Friday: Movement Training
- Saturday: Very light Strength Training (mostly upper and core work)
- Sunday: Off Completely
Finally, always “listen to your arm”. Only it knows from day to day what it needs and what it wants. Because you have learned to condition and maintenance it so well the reality is you will probably find yourself wanting to stretch your arm out (Long Toss) more often than you are used to — but this is a great sign. It’s a reminder that the body responds best to activity rather than nonactivity — the body (arm) wants to regenerate, not degenerate. And when the arm gets into this “positive cycle”, the arm is in the best position possible throughout the year to stay healthy, strong and durable.
Source: Performance Conditioning | Published: August 2008
By Alan Jaeger
About The Author:
Alan Jaeger is a personal trainer and consultant who has worked with hundreds of amateur athletes, including over 70 professional baseball players. His playing experience includes Los Angeles Pierce Junior College (1984-1985), California State University at Northridge, and the Wichita Broncos of the Jayhawk League (1986). His college coaching experience includes four years (1990-1993) at Los Angeles Mission Junior College/College of the Canyons and seven years as an assistant coach/consultant for the Chatham A’s of the prestigious Cape Cod League.
In 1989, Alan began Jaeger Sports, which provides a facility where athletes from a variety of sports disciplines can solidify the mental side of their game. Graduates, including 2002 Cy Young winner Barry Zito, can attest to a significant improvement in their performance.