Youth baseball injuries are increasing at an alarming rate, despite our better understanding of how injuries occur. I’ve worked with 1000’s of injured and healthy baseball players ranging from Little League to Major League Baseball, including players from all 30 MLB teams, All-Stars, Cy Young winners, and World Series Champions. Over my career I have studied every aspect of baseball players to determine the best programs to enhance performance and reduce injuries. It is possible to safely enhance performance.
I say “youth,” but realistically, everything I am going to discuss is applicable for baseball players of any age. This information is geared towards Little League and High School aged athletes, but it is based off all of the same programs that I use on my collegiate and professional players.
Before we discuss how to enhance performance and prevent injuries, you need to understand how injuries occur and what you can do about it.
How Youth Baseball Injuries Occur
There is one very overwhelming reason why youth baseball players get injured – overuse. Reports have shown that over 50% of youth sports injuries are from overuse and can be easily prevented. Based on a a series of scientific studies published in medical journals, the following all has been proved to correlate to an increase in injuries:
- Pitching competitively for more than 8 months of the year
- Pitching on back-to-back days
- Pitching for more than one game in the same day.
- Pitching for more than one team during the same season
- Pitching and also playing catcher on the same teams
These findings prompted Little League Baseball and USA Baseball to implement pitch count rules in an attempt to reduce injuries, however a recent survey showed that a large percentage of youth baseball players are still putting themselves at risk:
- 40% pitched in a league without pitch counts or limits
- 13% of pitchers pitched competitively for more than 8 months of the year
- 57% pitched on back-to-back days
- 19% pitched more than one game in the same day.
- Nearly 33% of these pitchers pitched for more than one team during the same season
- 10% also played catcher on the same team
So injury prevention begins with awareness. Understanding the factors that have been scientifically proven to increase your chance of getting injured is the first step in avoid overuse.
Baseball Pitchers Get Hurt When They are Tight or Tired
Now that we know “how” youth baseball pitchers get hurt, the next concept to understand is “when” they get hurt. Over the years, I have come to realize that baseball pitchers get hurt when they are tight or when they are tired. Let me explain.
Throwing a baseball is an aggressive thing to do to your body. The speed of your arm is the fastest human motion possible. If your arm went around in a full circle during pitching, it would do almost 20 full circles in 1 second. That is how fast your arm moves when you throw.
Over the course of a baseball season, I have researched that baseball players lose motion and strength in their arm. It is a natural occurrence. The more you throw, the tighter your get and the more tired you get. I’ve always followed the philosophy that I want you to be as close to 100% each time your pick up a ball. Realistically, as the spring and summer go on, you become less and less 100%.
When you think of it this way, it becomes very clear that injury prevention is performance enhancement. Some of the programs we use to prevent injuries are designed to keep you strong, stable, and flexible to be as close to 100% as possible. Do you think you’ll pitch as well at 90% strength and endurance that you would at 100%? Of course not. Any limitations in strength or mobility will limit your performance.
There are two things you can do to help this:
- Start the season as optimal as possible. You really need to assure you have put the work in during the offseason. You will get tight and tired, the more optimal you are at the start of the season, the better your chances of succeeding.
- Maintain your strength and motion during the season. MLB players get work everyday to stay as close to 100% as possible, the programs I have developed have been proved to maintain strength and motion over a long season.
Unfortunately these are the two areas I see most youth baseball players miss. They start the season a little below average and do nothing to slow down the effect of throwing during the season. That is likely why injuries to both High School and MLB pitchers mostly occur during the first month of the season.
Getting on a great offseason program and then an even better inseason maintenance program will maximize your chances to succeed.
Three Things You Need to Maximize Your Performance
Based on all of this information, there are three things I think every baseball needs if they are serious about taking their game to the next level:
- Work with a great strength and conditioning coach
- Work with a great physical therapist
- Work with a great pitching coach
We tend to often chose to focus on one of these three areas, but putting them all together has an amazing impact on your success. This is why my programs have always utilized all three working together to develop an integrated program for all my players.
A strength coach will assure you get as strong and powerful as possible. A physical therapist will optimize your flexibility, movement, recovery, and ability to stabilize your arm. A pitching coach will assure you integrate all of this to develop the arm strength, velocity, and the ability repeat your delivery and throw strikes.
What You Should Focus on Throughout the Year for Long Term Athletic Development
Long term athletic development for baseball players may be more important than any other sport. There are certain things you need to focus on throughout every stage of your development to perform at your best.
For example, when you are developing and your growth plates are open, several adaptations occur that are unique to baseball players. If you do not throw a baseball at the appropriate volume and intensity during certain stage of development, your chances of maximizing your performance are reduced.
Your baseball performance programs should focus on long term athletic development and should be specific to your current age and development level. However, we can simplify this a little a summarize all of this info be discussing specific things you can do during the Offseason and Inseason to reach peak performance.
What to Focus on During the Offseason
- Rest. The offseason begins with rest. You need to recover to build back up to be even stronger
- Get an Assessment. I usually begin the offseason with a thorough assessment to determine how your body handled the stress of the season. This to me is the key to get the most out of your offseason training.
- Optimize Your Body. Once you understand how your body handled the season, you can focus on optimizing your body and focusing on cleaning up old injuries, bad movement patterns, and any imbalances that normally occur from a baseball season. This could be the most critical component. Don’t just put strength on top of dysfunction. Use the early part of the offseason to get assessed and optimize your body.
- Get Strong and Powerful. This includes your entire body. Most of your velocity is developed in the legs and trunk.
- Make Your Arm Bulletproof. In addition to a strength and conditioning program, an arm program will maximize your strength and stability of your arm. You get your body strong to produce force and your arm strong to withstand injury.
- Perform a Throwing Program. Once you have laid the groundwork, it’s time to start throwing. Gradually progress through throwing program that includes long toss and a mound progress with a pitching coach that can fine tune your mechanics. This throwing program MUST be individualized based on your age, development level, strength, past injury history, and pitching mechanics.
What to Focus on During the Inseason
- Play Ball. Once the season starts, your volume and intensity during the games will increase dramatically. Your programs need to adjust to assure you are not doing too much.
- Avoid Overuse. See above!
- Warm Up Properly. I think the worst thing you can do is just pick up a ball without warming up. I have a simple warmup program that takes 3 minutes and only needs a piece for exercise tubing (See below). You really should stretch before you throw.
- Maintain What You Developed. A proper inseason strength program will assure you maintain what you have gained during the offseason. Inseason programs are tricky, I’ve learned a lot by helping guys get through a full MLB season.
- Perform Arm Care. This may be the most important in my mind, but get regular arm care including manual therapy and soft tissue work to maintain your mobility and keep your arm stable during the season. This is the key to my program for MLB players and the most often missing component for youth.
My Warmup Program Before Throwing
Perform this 3-minute arm warm up program prior to starting your throwing program for the day. It is quick and easy and can be performed on the field before practice. Look out into the bullpen next time you are at a MLB game and you’ll see many players performing this during the game.
Here is a link purchase a pair of J-Band Juniors, these are great bands to perform your warm up and just the right resistance your youth players:
You can attach the band to a fence or post, or take turns holding with a partner.
Our programs are developed based on this information and years of experience working with elite baseball players. If you are interested in learning more about our offseason or inseason programs, including strength and conditioning, physical therapy for baseball injuries, arm care programs, and pitching mechanics analysis please contact us today. You can learn more by visiting Champion Physical Therapy and Performance.
Want to Learn More?
I have an awesome new website at EliteBaseballPerformance.com that you need to check out. EBP was built to provide a comprehensive resource of trustworthy information to advance the game of baseball. If you’re a player, we’re here to help you get to the next level. If your a coach, strength specialist, or rehab specialist, we’re here to help you get the most out of your players.
There is a lot of garbage on the internet right now when it comes to baseball performance. Who do you turn to? Who can you trust? What actually works? What is safe?
EBP is here to help.
As a special thanks for becoming a free EBP Insider, I have a free 45-minute video on How Baseball Players Can Safely Enhance Performance While Reducing Injuries. Enter your name and email below to become an EBP Insider and I will send you access to the video as well as a handout of the above arm care warm-up exercises that you can take to the field: