The COVID-19 pandemic has caused either the indefinite suspension or cancellation of baseball seasons. Meanwhile, social distancing measures and stay-at-home orders have prevented players from working out in public facilities or participating in outdoor team activities like they normally would.
Considering those obstacles and the uncertainty of when, or if, Major League Baseball and other age levels in summer leagues will resume, how do pitchers keep their arms in shape? And if they don’t, are they more susceptible to injuries?
Ron Wolforth, a long-time pitching trainer who is founder of Texas Baseball Ranch and author of Pitching with Confidence: A Parent’s Guide To Giving Your Elite Pitcher An Edge, says too much inactivity during the prolonged disruption can have physical consequences for pitchers when competition resumes – and there are plenty of ways to keep up their conditioning even when in isolation.
“A new threat to throwing athletes will emerge amidst the COVID-19 outbreak,” Wolforth says. “Soft tissue needs preparation for the stresses of high-intensity throwing, and now the normal ramp-up time has been interrupted, so the risk to soft tissue could increase.
“Pitchers need to take a work-while-you-wait approach. The old saying, ‘If you don’t use it, you will lose it’ is 100 percent true. To minimize the risk of injuries, purposeful throwing must be maintained, and a consistent overall conditioning program should be adhered to.”
Wolforth offers tips for pitchers to stay in shape and stay sharp during the wait:
Don’t take extended periods off
“Just playing catch on a regular basis is far better than a shutdown,” Wolforth says. “You can maintain social distance in a yard with one other person and keep your arm loose. Too much inactivity puts you in catchup mode. If you take a week off it will take you two weeks to get back to the conditioning level you were at before the time off. Take off a month and it will take you six weeks.”
Cycle workouts of varying intensity
“The pitching athlete cycles when he is in season, and he should in fact be cycling right now,” Wolforth says. “Have two intense days in a seven-day period, separated by a minimum of 48 hours between intense pitching sessions. Have two light days and three medium days within that seven-day frame.”
Use pitching tools
“Wrist weights, a throwing sock, or a hand-speed trainer can be used inside the home as a bridge to keeping your arm and shoulder healthy and durable,” Wolforth says. “Throwing to a training screen or pitchback in fairly closed quarters can help improve control.”
Use the extra time to focus on weak areas
“This time is a great opportunity to get better at certain things that you otherwise wouldn’t have the time to invest,” Wolforth says. “Mobility and flexibility, strength, balance, and stability, structural alignment, mechanical efficiency, and different pitches. Some of these are things you can work on in your house; others you can work on outside at a safe distance with a throwing partner.
“Studying replays or tutorials of elite pitchers in action will build you a library of knowledge,” Wolforth says. “Spending a lot of time inside currently gives you a great opportunity to learn from the best, then simulate it.”
“This is not a time to over-rest the arm and let the soft tissue atrophy,” Wolforth says. “The longer and more gradual the ramp-up to pitching competitively, all things being equal, is the safest approach to health and durability of the arm.”
Pitching with Confidence: A Parent’s Guide To Giving Your Elite Pitcher An Edge
Ron Wolforth is the founder and CEO of Texas Baseball Ranch in Montgomery, Texas. A long-time pitching trainer who’s been a consultant to numerous Major League Baseball organizations and NCAA baseball programs, Wolforth has written five books on pitching. His latest is Pitching with Confidence: A Parent’s Guide To Giving Your Elite Pitcher An Edge. Known as America’s “Go-To Guy” on pitching, Wolforth has created groundbreaking training programs. Since 2003, 121 of his clients have been drafted by MLB teams. In that same period, Wolforth has helped 425 pitchers break the 90 miles-per-hour barrier. Wolforth and his Texas Baseball Ranch have been featured in Sports Illustrated, ESPN the Magazine, Men’s Journal, Baseball Digest, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.