Throwing to Warmup

A problem I see often is athletes who dismiss the importance of a proper warm-up and none other come to mind more than pitchers.  All too often pitchers throw to warmup instead of warmup to throw.  This is still a huge problem in my eyes at all levels of play. 

Too often I see young athletes do no warmup prior to competition and begin their throwing program to warmup for their bullpen work that will precede their game. 

For years with the Angels as well as at the collegiate level I watched starting pitchers do maybe 5 min of static stretching and a couple of jogs back and forth and then start throwing a baseball at 60 feet.   What was even more annoying was on days they didn’t start they warmed up with the rest of the team which usually included a thorough dynamic warmup.   It has never made any sense to me that on the days they didn’t play the were more warmed up than the days they actually performed their sport. 

I’ve even seen pitchers warm up more for their running program on their “off days” at the professional level.  When I would bring this point up to coaches they would always answer with “They’re on their own.  They know what they need.  It’s whatever they usually do.”   The problem becomes that many of these kids come from not really having a structured program at the high school level.  So they just do what they did prior to games in H.S. 

Our starting pitchers at TCU have a specific warmup prior to their start centered around their movements and needs as an athlete.   It begins with a general body warmup but progresses to increasing movement and mobility throughout the hips, thoracic spine, and shoulder as these areas become highly important in the throwing athlete. 

We start out around the hips creating movement on the front side to the back side.  From there we will move into our thoracic spine progression.  Towards the end of our warmup we move up the kinetic chain to the glenohumeral joint and create warmth and mobility here.  Our kids are sweating heavily by the time our 12 minute session is completed. 

When I first began implementing this warmup with our staff it wasn’t uncommon to see our starting pitchers velocity up by 2-4 mph. 

The problem was that they previously weren’t preparing their body for movement, and explosive movement at that.   Even though they had thrown for 20 minutes their bodies weren’t really that prepared.

Training the Rotator Cuff to Failure

I found a couple of interesting studies done on the effect of fatigue on shoulder proprioception.  The rotator cuff has essentially two functions: to stabilize and depress the head of the humerus in the glenoid fossa.  The following studies show how fatigue can create dysfunction in the shoulder. 

Effects of Muscle Fatigue on and the Relationship of Arm Dominance to Shoulder Proprioception

The first study displays how the proprioceptive ability of the shoulder decreases with muscular fatigue.  This should really come as no surprise to most coaches out there.  The authors state that muscular endurance without overly fatigue should be the priority in training. 
 

In the second study the authors demonstrated that fatigue in the rotator cuff caused superior head migration.  In other words the ability of the rotator cuff to depress the humerus was compromised.  Allowing the humerus to move upwards decreases the sub-acromial space which isn’t a good thing.   This space was decreased by up to 40% which is hugely significant. 

The most interesting thing in this study is the authors had subjects perform one set of prone T’s with the thumbs up to failure.  Failure was noted after the subject couldn’t raise the weight past 45 deg. and at least 40% decrease in strength was noted.  Overall, the average degree of fatigue was indicated by a 54% reduction in prone horizontal abduction.  The average weight used for the protocol was 3.94 kg and the average time to fatigue was 84 seconds. 

The second study should open eyes as after one set of 90 seconds, the cuff can be fatigued enough to create sub-acromial impingement.  Now think of all the athletes with shoulder problems that get blasted with 40 sets of RTC exercises everyday in an effort to strengthen their shoulder. 

The problems are not only in a single workout but can carry over to outside of the weight room.  If the cuff is constantly fatigued stability fades and we don’t want to lose its strength and stability when a pitcher is throwing 94 mph off the mound in the 7th inning.

The problems with training the cuff to failure is that you create instability, which is something we’re trying to eliminate.  Allowing the head of the humerus to move in a joint that is already having dysfunction may eliminate all the positives that are created with actually training the RTC.