Rest is not recovery. Rest is simply one branch on the extensive tree that is recovery. Proper recovery for a pitcher requires forethought, attention to detail and the uncommon sacrifice of time. The renowned and widely respected President/Founder of Driveline Baseball, Kyle Boddy, asserts that recovery “should be 40% or more of your training”. Throughout the article we will discuss various types of active recovery protocols in regards to athletic fitness and, more specifically, throwing populations. Movement and active recovery is imperative to activate the lymphatic system, elevated circulation levels and begin the process of tissue quality renewal and regeneration. It is well known that muscle activity and contractions further assist blood vessels in filtering in new blood while pulling out the old. There is simply no better avenue that the body employs to rejuvenate tissue and continue the recovery process than movement. Mike Boyle coined the term Movement as Medicine and, personally, I can't imagine a better perspective on recovery. Recovery is unique to each individual and limiting your experiences by not testing new modalities is a shame. Recovery is far from just sleeping and eating.
Post Throwing Recovery
When it comes to post throwing recovery there are many serviceable protocols to increase localized blood flow, restore range of motion and reduce inflammation and trauma. Basically, as a simple cool down, The Four Finger Advantage, The Arm Farm’s premium membership package, prescribes catch play with an under load ball (3 or 4oz) immediately following pitching or intensive throwing. Interestingly, across the board, our athletes have been very satisfied with under load tossing post pitching and report positive experiences with it. After under load catch play is completed, the recovery process begins which includes many of the listed forms of recovery.
Body Blade/ Shoulder Tube/ PVC Pipe
Performing a series of shoulder tube movements can be a great form of rhythmic stabilization. It helps with neuromuscular recruitment and tri-plane functionality. This form of oscillation therapy is not only a post throwing protocol, but is often used as a warm up technique too. Shoulder Tube exercises do a great job of creating positive blood flow and reinforcing structural integrity of the joints. Arm Farm athletes are often encouraged to engage in multiple forms of rhythmic stabilization drills, with and without, a partner or a shoulder tube. If you're operating on a limited budget a great option is to buy an 8-12 foot PVC pipe and use it just as you would a name brand shoulder tube. The PVC pipe is a cost effective great way to maximize your training for roughly four dollars.
Force Acceptance Rebounders
Force acceptance training has been around for many years and has been employed and studied by various research institutes, including NASA. The theory behind Force Acceptance training is that the upward rebounding ball accelerates after the point of contact with the trampoline. The ball possesses a G-Force, which produces excess weight of the ball as it travels back toward the hand. At the point of contact between the ball and the hand, using Newton’s second law we can gauge that the force acting upon the ball and hand is rather substantial. Rebounders do a great job of reinforcing stability through multiple joints and around the rotator cuff. Rebounders employ the kinetic chain and allow the body to figure out a way to accept and deliver force through ballistic means and protocols. There are many different techniques and types of force acceptance rebounders. Below you will find a video of one type of rebounders performed by Casey Weathers at Driveline Baseball. Various rebounding techniques and other forms of force acceptance training are a large component of The Arm Farm.
Proprioception is similar to an athlete's kinesthetic awareness. Kinesthetic awareness can be compared to making a decision (which is conscious), whereas, propriopection can be closer compared to a subconscious instinct, yet they are not mutually exclusive. It is almost a sixth sense of subconcious immediate athletic cognition that is not quantifiable, yet is clear as day to see. Knowing where you are in space and heightened awareness in competition likely falls under the umbrella of proprioception. The exact mechanism of proprioception is not 100% understood. In fact, some of the best minds in the world differ in their beliefs regarding the system operation. When talking with a biomechanical analyst about proprioception, he mentioned to me that proprioception is the summation of position awareness, instinctual awareness and neuromuscular capabilities. Ever wonder how a super funky submarine pitcher or a pitcher with multiple arm slots can always throw strikes? More often than not, those guys have a high level of proprioception. One of my favorite college pitchers of all time, Ross Mitchell , mentioned that despite his success at Mississippi State he barely remembers throwing bullpens in-season and could just go out there at throw strikes. Obviously, Ross is an elite competitor and a memorable college arm, but he is an also an example of a guy who can just go out and throw strikes day in and day out due in large part to his heightened level of proprioception.
How does all this relate to recovery? When the brain sends messages and instructions to the intended muscles, the response time is so close to being immediate that it is considered a reflex rather than a reaction. The muscle and tissue masses of the body house sensory and motor nerves that directly interact with the central and peripheral nervous system called proprioreceptors. The proper channels and pathways utilized for proprioception can be trained through implemented balance work, variable coordination drills, contra-lateral limb progressions, throwing overload and underload balls, dynamic balance work and many other fun strategies like doing advanced dribbling drills with a basketball. Get creative and enjoy proprioception training as a way of improving performance and helping the body progress through recovery.
Flossing is a recovery modality that aims to increase functional range of motion (ROM) and initiate proper sequencing for the body to recover. This practice involves tissue compression (wrapping a band around a limb or joint) coupled with active movement through full ROM. Forcing the affected area through compression imposed ROM will allow the fascial tissue masses to slide, thereby, releasing fibrosis (scar tissue) and beginning the intramuscular healing process. When the compression wrap is removed, blood (and the healing nutrients within the blood) are redistributed throughout the limb/joint flushing new/fresh blood to the intended area. Kelly Starrett, Founder of MobilityWOD, refers to this process as “Garbage Out, Groceries in”. Personally, my experiences and members' experiences with flossing have been outstanding with much positive feedback. The video below is a fun and great video featuring Kelly Starett and Jesse Burdick.
Jaeger Bands are a great tool to warm up with and for recovery. Although many folks use Jaeger Bands immediately after throwing, which I have no issue with if a pitcher feels comfortable with that routine, according to Alan Jaeger's J-Band Manual the J-Band exercises are recommended to be done prior to throwing. With that in mind, Alan Jaeger's J-Bands are a must have for any and every overhead throwing athlete. I could not give a higher recommendation for any product on the market. J-bands should be a staple for every baseball program in the country. If you do not already own a pair, I strongly urge you to visit the above links to learn more about how practical and useful they can be. View the video below where Alan Jaeger outlines the exercises and movements while incorporating effective cues of sports psychology.
Foam rolling is a form of self myofascial relase (SMR). Foam rolling targets the soft tissue masses in the body and helps repair the quality of fascia. Fatigue isn't forgotten by the body and fascia quality is affected greatly by athletic performance, weight lifting and general wear and tear. Fascia can get cross linked and bind to other structures which impair functionality and may actually cause an increase in pain. Conversely, if efficient and proper movements are frequent in an athletes daily life, facial tissue quality can increase. Foam rolling also increases the intramuscular temperature in the body by way of elevating blood flow which is a contributing factor to consider when warming up for competition, practice or conditioning. A baseball coach once told me that foam rolling stretched your muscles. When I responded and said that a foam roller can be used as a prop for stretching, but foam rolling itself does not actually stretch the muscle per se, he looked at me like I was out of my mind. As a coach, there is no shame in not understanding what a tool or certain practice does. However, there is great shame in having your athletes participate in a function that you do not understand or have not already done yourself.
When injured, SMR is especially important. When an athlete is injured, the site of trauma undergoes a process that creates new sheaths of fascia. The new myofascial structures must be addressed and properly treated to avoid the onset of fibrosis, poor functionality and a decrease of ROM. For more acute targeted areas (such as the posterior shoulder, subclavious, pec minor, lower traps, etc), I recommend using a lacrosse ball or a similar implement. Foam rolling, however, as uncomfortable it may be, is a true game changer. Anyone who has ever consistently used a foam roller or PVC pipe, can and will likely attest to that. Below, you'll find a video of Eric Cressey going through an well executed foam rolling series. Eric Cressey is the owner of Cressey Sports Performance and is arguably the most respected strength coach in the country.
Graston is a tool assisted soft tissue mobilization protocol designed to maintain and increase ROM, treat chronic inflammation and counteract fibrosis. The instruments used in Graston technique are used to manipulate injured, dysfunctional or fatigued soft tissue in an attempt to restore full tissue functionality. Graston can cause micro trauma and, at times, trigger an inflammatory response in the treated area, which is why Graston is not suggested to be practiced on back to back days on the same area. Graston technique is growing in popularity and some employ it as a post throwing protocol to isolate fascial trigger points while creating positive blood flow to re-enrich the treated area.
Cupping is a debated therapeutic form of healing and blood restoration protocol for affected areas. A suction cup of sorts is placed on the athlete's skin creating a vacuum that pulls the skin upwards and promotes superficial blood flow while mobilizing the myofascial sheaths below the skin. The cups can be placed on a single space and left there for an extended period of time or can be moved about the affected area for an added benefit.There are many different forms of cupping, included heated cupping, and it is practiced widespread throughout the world.
Ask most coaches in America why distance running is good for a pitcher. He'll likely say "to flush the lactic acid", "blood flow", "it keeps you healthy" as if he was reciting the Holy Bible of Arm Care 101. Needless to say, it is not that simple and ,unfortunately, it is not always beneficial. I have many thoughts regarding running( distance, sprint, interval and other forms) but I would like to share Rob Rabena's outstanding work exploring If Pitchers Should Distance Run. Rob did a really nice job, so I wanted to show appreciation for his hard work by sharing his efforts with you all. I invite you to follow the link above. It is a must read for anyone who is interested in well written thought provoking content.
Cryotherapy is a low temperature therapy that is intended for heeling. Cryotherapy can include ice packs, ice cupping, cryotherapy chambers, ice baths and many more forms. I will go out an a limb and state that I do not recommend icing as a form of regulating inflammation to a fairly healthy body. For example, throwing, as we know, causes micro trauma throughout the body( yet does not significantly produce lactate) . One issue with icing local acute injuries is that the body becomes inflamed when injured. The inflammatory response occurs to call on regenerative stem cells, white blood cells and other healing mechanisms of the body to assist and address the situation. Due to the cold nature of cryotherapy, a disconnect occurs between the inflamed area and the responsive protocols of the body. Also, applying ice to a local area can cause back flow of the lymphatic track and clog the interstitial space, which, simply put is No Bueno. If an athlete is set on icing and believes it to works for him, then in no way would I want to make him uncomfortable and disrupt his routine. I would, however, provide him with information and let him make the best decision for himself since after all, it is his career, and my job is support him and provide him with the best information available- not force him into my beliefs. I do not ice nor do I recommend icing. Instead I recommend compression (which will be discussed in a later post) or high temperature immersion (dependent on the case). Everyone appreciates and employs different methods of recovery and cryotherapy is just one tool to keep in your tool belt.
Marc Pro is a hand held muscle conditioning device used to draw on the benefits of training, decrease the rate of injury, improve muscle functionality and maximize recovery. Marc Pro has gained much popularity as a leader in the electrical muscle stimulation community. Electrodes are strategically placed on the skin creating impulses that trigger non fatiguing contractions across muscle masses which triggers a Muscle Activated Recovery Cascade, hence the name “MARC®”. Interestingly enough, another point which sets The Marc Pro apart is that the pads are often strategically placed along the lymphatic track of the body, unlike tens units or traditional STEM units. For example, to do The Marc Pro's "global arm flush" the pads should be placed along the lymphatic track of the hand and arm in order to speed up and encourage the natural recovery mechanisms of the body. The Marc Pro essentially accelerates the process of recovery by mimicking the action potential signals of the nervous system causing non fatiguing muscle contractions and engaging the lymphatic system. The Marc Pro, in my opinion, is an amazing tool for recovery, waste removal in the body, improved functionality and overall well being! If you have access to it, I suggest you take full advantage and make it a mainstay for post throwing recovery and recovery in general. The Marc Pro site is very informative and there is also a boat of insight and information online about The Marc Pro that is ready for you to access. If you end up purchasing a Marc Pro, I recommend that you buy the MobilityWOD edition. Every unit purchase helps Kelly Starrett's charitable intent to donate Marc Pro units to active duty soldiers and veterans through his Resiliency Project.
I am not a huge advocate of anti-inflammatory meds as means to temper acute pain. My reasoning for that is because non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs( NSAID) basically shut down the prostaglandins that create inflammation as a means of natural recovery. NSAIDs do limit inflammation, but that comes with that with a cost. Eliminating the body's natural methodology for healing is not the ideal way to go about proper recovery. Since the first day human life began, our bodies have been evolving and perfecting it's methods. I'm just not sure it is always wise to discount our bodies' natural order of operations.
Is Recovery a Work Out?
Recovery is an exciting and integral part of performance. It is a separating factor among athletes and should not be discredited, in the least. Active recovery is a must. Get some blood flow! Move around! Contract some muscles! Use some compression! On a traditional "rest day", I implore you to consider experimenting and going through some series of movements like thoracic mobility , work outside the sagittal plane and allow your intellectual curiosities to guide you into finding a recovery routine that is yours. Busting your tail at practice and working out, is only the BARE MINIMUM requirement for all ball players.