Off-Season Workout Guidelines for Little League & High School Pitchers
Many parents want to know what pitchers should do during the off-season to improve their pitching mechanics, their overall pitching skills as well as their workouts, training and conditioning?
Many are told not to do anything for fear of a pitching arm injury from overuse.
But does this make sense? I don’t think so. As long as a pitcher is not hurt and does not have a sore arm there is no evidence that pitching during the off-season while practicing improved mechanics is harmful. Just use common sense. Do not over-pitch but rather spend time videotaping and throwing just more quality pitches focused on using the body more effectively so the arm is just “along for the ride”, as Giants 5’10” 170 lb. RH pitcher Tim Lincecum often emphasizes.
Focus on improving mechanics during the off-season, making sure you get videotaped regularly. As you get close to the practice season, start focusing on ball control and getting all your pitches ready.
Focus On Using The Body For Velocity And The Arm For Control
After all isn’t pitching a skill activity? If skills lie dormant or remain the same then how does the pitcher improve his pitching mechanics so that he is using his body instead of just his arm to not only improve pitching performance but actually reduce his risk of injury for the next season? Studies have proven that the body produces velocity and the arm is for control.
One of the reasons why I do not like fall and winter baseball is that pitchers are not investing time improving mechanics but instead continue with their habitual ways which simply build in bad habits which actually go even deeper, making it even more difficult to make changes later.
Remember, pitching in games do not necessarily create improved performance. In fact, fall and winter baseball can actually make things worse because the pitcher is not making changes that are the only way he will improve.
Practice Away From Competition Improves Pitchers – Not Pitching In Games
Practice away from competition is the best way to improve, change habitually poor mechanics and allow the pitcher to get a better feel of new pitching mechanics and new movement patterns.
A Typical Weekly Practice Routine
My recommendation is for a high school pitcher is to throw two 50-75 pitch, game intensity bullpens twice a week after you have improved your mechanics, while being videotaped to insure that mechanics are improving. That adds up to 100-150 pitches per week minimum, or 600 a month. That is how you build skill. If every pitch is focused on producing a specific result, whether it’s fixing a mechanical issue or focusing on mastering down and away or throwing inside strikes, any pitcher will dramatically improve doing that 600 times per month. However, if mechanics are poor then the more you pitch the closer you get to an injury. Fix mechanics first
If the pitcher is not being videotaped how does the instructor or parent know that changes are actually occuring for the better. It could be that all during the off-season the pitcher is actually getting worse and closer to an injury.
On days that pitcher is not throwing a practice bullpen he can be focused on his function training for improved explosiveness and better flexibility, which he cannot gain during weight training. Remember, pitching is not a strength activity. You do not need much strength to throw a 5 oz. baseball. You need explosiveness and speed of movement. Strength or weight training cannot provide those benefits. The research is clear on that.
Here are some factors to consider for off-season training:
- Little League pitchers can use body-weight exercises initially and for high school pitchers. After about four or five weeks of weight training to build some general strength, any additional strength training is a waste of time and may increase the risk of injury. After building some general strength then immediately switch to functional-explosive exercises that are specific to pitching which not only build strength but improve flexibility throughout the entire body.
- Do not waste time on long toss as it has not been proven to increase velocity and studies have proven that arm strength is not a factor for improving velocity or reducing the risk of arm injuries. Long toss has proven to increase stress to the elbow.
- Do not waste time on pitching drills. A drill may have some value for a beginner but not to improve a fault. Drills have proven to build slow and robotic pitchers who over-think about their mechanics.
- Once you have corrected some mechanical faults, try to throw only game intensity pitches to get ready for the season. Studies again have proven that less than game intensity pitching like throwing at 70-80% is considered by the body to be a totally different movement than 100% game intensity pitching.
- Finally, pitching should be done from a mound, not from flat ground as mechanics are completely different than mound pitching. Do you really want a pitcher to have two different sets of mechanics, one for practice and then another set for games when the pitcher is throwing downhill?
The key for off-season training is to focus on two things: build improved pitching mechanics skills and possibly work on improving specific pitches. The second thing is to focus on functional training not weight training. Weight training has proven to create slow moving pitchers whose added strength from weights cannot be used when throwing a 5 oz. baseball since pitching is not a strength activity but a speed of movement activity.