Protecting The Pitcher: A Plan To Stave Off Injury To Pitchers.

While this article does not plan to revolutionize injury prevention in the major leagues, it should provide a decent framework for coaches and players at the teenage level to prevent damaging injuries. Learn more...

You hear it all the time: You can never have enough pitching. Did you ever think about the origin of what caused baseball managers and executives to come up with this phrase? While it would be every armchair baseball manager's dream to have a pitcher's rotation of 10 all-stars, that isn't what the phrase is getting at.

The phrase is directed toward one of the most prevalent trends in baseball today: pitchers have a high attrition rate.

It seems like very few pitchers coming up in the minors remain unscathed from pitching problems during their ascent to the major leagues. While this article does not plan to revolutionize injury prevention in the major leagues, it should provide a decent framework for coaches and players at the teenage level to prevent damaging injuries.

Injury Prone Areas For A Pitcher

The most common areas for a pitcher to injure are all part of the energy chain involved with throwing.

The Elbow:

    Starting at the most distal (farthest away) point of injury, the elbow often can become inflamed, and worse, ligaments can be torn. Moving up the arm, the bicep can experience some indirect pain resulting from a muscle imbalance or improper throwing motion.

The Glenohumeral Joint:

    Continuing, the glenohumeral joint (where the humerus inserts into the glenoid cavity of the shoulder blade) can become unstable because of bad technique, with the surrounding connective tissue being damaged in some way due to throwing.

The Rotator Cuff:

    And finally, the grandest of throwing injuries, is damage to the rotator cuff.


    The surgical procedure most associated with repairing an injured arm is Tommy John Surgery, named after the first pitcher, Tommy John, who had the surgery on his arm.

    The operation is done to repair a frayed or torn UCL (ulnar collateral ligament) in the elbow, usually in a pitcher's throwing arm. A lot of pitchers report that they throw with increased velocity after getting the surgery, but many experts attribute this added throwing strength to the rehab they do after the surgery.

    Tommy John
    In the 1974 season, Tommy John permanently damaged the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching arm and a revolutionary surgical operation was performed.

    This operation, known as Tommy John surgery, replaced the elbow tendon of his pitching arm with a tendon from his right wrist. The surgery was performed by Dr. Frank Jobe on September 25, 1974, and although it seemed unlikely he would ever be able to pitch again, he spent the entire 1975 season in recovery and returned to the Dodgers in 1976.

    John went on to pitch until 1989, winning 164 games after his surgeryâ€"one fewer game than all-time great Sandy Koufax won in his career.

    So the question is, to you the coach or young pitcher, why wait until you seriously injure your arm to do exercises that can strengthen and prevent injury to your arm?

Warming Up On The Field

While the bulk of this article will deal with weight training, I feel it is important to talk about the proper way (in my opinion) to warm-up your arm (and body) before a game or practice.

Before you even pick up your glove, you need to get warmed up. Contrary to the average high school coach's generic warm-up routine, this one should get you prepared to throw properly.

The first thing you need to do is get the blood pumping, so a couple times jogging down and back from the dugout to the fence should get the job done. From there you should run progressively shorter distances at progressively faster speeds. Also remember to jog backward and carioca 10 yards.

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From here, I recommend getting the body primed to perform the basic movements in all sports, and for that I suggest buying Mark Verstegen's Core Performance, which has a wealth of movement prep stretches that will get you loose in no time. After that, finish up the warm-up with some general calisthenics like jumping jacks, push-ups and burpees.


Now it's time to throw! Get a throwing partner, and stand about 5-10 feet apart. Get down on one knee, point the arm out perpendicular from the front of the body, keep the elbow at a 90-degree angle, and use only wrist and slight elbow action to "flick" the ball to your partner.

Next, back up another 10-20 feet and use an easy throwing motion to get the ball to your partner. No need to use a step with your throw yet, just angle your body into the correct throwing position, and throw it.

From then on, keep backing up a few feet after several throws between you and your partner. Once the distance gets beyond 45 yards, start using the crow-hop to get more oomph on your throws, and to lessen any strain that could be put on your throwing arm.

Work on slowly increasing the distance of your throws. Long toss can significantly strengthen your throwing arm, but only if you have the right technique. Unfortunately, teaching technique is virtually impossible over the Internet, especially with all the varying body types and throwing styles out there. Try to seek out critiques on your technique from your coach and other qualified baseball evaluators.

Resistance Training & "Pre-Hab"

I have talked about pre-hab in some of my previous articles, and it is especially important for pitchers. The basic idea is to use certain exercises to prevent injuries (barring some freak accident) from happening. What can you do to prevent throwing related injuries? Quite a lot, actually.


    The simplest form of pre-hab that I like can be summed up by one word: balance. Pitchers are notorious for having a muscle imbalance, whether it is from internal vs. external rotation, or even left vs. right limbs in terms of strength (I was, and still am guilty of this).


      Let's talk about internal and external rotation. Most athletes and gym rats love to work on the mirror muscles. This includes the triceps, biceps and pectorals. Unfortunately, this type of vanity training can work against pitchers. The bench press, ubiquitous in gyms across the nation, is a form of internal rotation.

      If the internal rotator muscles have a disproportionate amount of strength and size compared to the external rotators, then a serious muscle pull or connective tissue injury can result.

      The best way to remedy this situation is to do a set of an exercise that involves external rotators for every set of an exercise that involves internal rotators.

    Size & Strength:

      If you have a size or strength imbalance for one of your limbs, it is in your best interests to correct it. Let's say that your right arm, leg and rotational torque for your right side are much stronger than your left side. This can cause injuries in the weak side because the weak side cannot handle the stimulus as well as the strong side.

      Or, the strong side could get injured because the weak side was not strong enough to inhibit too much motion on the strong side, or to put it simpler, the weak side cannot "apply the brakes."

      The remedy for this is to test limb strength in several unilateral exercises, such as unilateral dumbbell bench presses, one-legged squat, one-leg Romanian deadlift (shown two-legged), one-armed dumbbell row and so on. After determining whether one side is significantly weaker, use unilateral exercises to bring up the weak limb.

      For example, if you can lift a 25lb dumbbell in a unilateral bench press, then use the same weight for the strong side, even though you could probably lift more with that limb.

Exercises To Incorporate Into Your Routine:

    Here are several exercises you can use to improve shoulder health:

    • Cuban Press

      This exercise will strengthen the external rotators in a big way, which can increase shoulder health, and even indirectly increase your bench press numbers.

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      Cuban Press.

    • External Rotation

      This exercise can be done with a cable, dumbbell or even rubber tubing (which is favored by many pitchers). This will, as the exercise itself is named, improve external rotation.

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    External Rotation.

    • Rear Deltoid and Lateral Deltoid raises

      This will help strengthen the two weaker parts of the shoulder muscle (with the anterior deltoid being the strongest).

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      Lateral Deltoid Raise.

    • For other great shoulder health-related exercises, Core Performance has some excellent moves that have helped me in the past.

Exercises To Avoid Or Limit:

    Here are some exercises you need to avoid or severely limit in your lifting routine to keep shoulder health at a maximum and to prevent impingement.

    • Heavy Vertical Pressing

    • While I think these types of shoulder presses are fine for the normal lifter, it is good to be cautious when it comes to overhead presses. If you must do these, use 60% or less of your max.


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The Results:
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60% 1 RM

    • Lat Pulldowns To The Back Of The Neck
    • This also should be fine for normal lifters, but there is the chance of shoulder impingement for pitchers, so avoid this exercise.

    • Vertical Rows
    • This exercise has sparked numerous debates in online fitness forums, and again, this is fine for everyday lifters, but pitchers need to be careful with this exercise.


Now that you have the information, it is time to implement this into your routine. Hopefully this will provide you with a great base for shoulder health in the near and distant future!