Is your season starting up soon? Has your schedule been released? Do you have 2+ games per week? And 3+ practices per week?
If you answered “yes” to several of the above, then I have a follow-up question for you: Is your arm and body prepared for that?
If you’ve been stuck at home over the past several months due to covid-19 restrictions, odds are the answer to that question is a definitive “no”.
Our founder wrote an article a few years ago titled: “Taking Time Off Before Fall Ball: A Good Idea?”
An excerpt from that piece details an analogy:
“If I told you that I’m not a runner but that I’m going to wake up next Monday and crush a marathon, you’d probably advise me that it’s a terrible idea. That my body just isn’t going to handle that very well. Similarly, if I told you that I haven’t pitched competitively in 10 years but I signed up to throw a few innings in a men’s league, I think that you’d advise me all the same.”
I believe that analogy carries relevance now more than ever, as players and teams begin to viciously ramp up their training in the coming weeks/months.
The research on injury prevalence and timing of the year supports the common-sense analogies quoted above, in that baseball players sustain more injuries in Spring Training and early parts of the year than any other time. This has been demonstrated extensively in the literature, as seen here, here, and here.
As you can see from the figure below taken from one of the articles, more time is spent on the IL in the first few months of the season compared to the later stages of the season.
(In fact, there is some indication that the altered schedules of the shortened season last year created an unprecedented spike in early season injury rates that has leaked into this year (figure below), though this hasn’t been fully dissected yet. Derek Rhoads – @drhoa3 on Twitter is a great resource for this type of material.)
Why is this happening? If players are subjected to too much mechanical load and strain relative to what they’re ready for, their tissues cannot handle it.
Their demand exceeds their capacity.
Put differently, the required outputs from the system (your body and tissues) are greater than their current capabilities. Players are taxing themselves too much in the early part of the season.
As humans, our biology is in a constant state of adaptation. We will adapt to the loads that we consistently encounter. This strain can come in many formats, including mechanical, psychological, emotional, etc. Research has shown us that our body tissues (muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia) respond explicitly to these types of strain. Their entire structure, strength, and internal organization responds accordingly.
For our athletes, this involves the principles of progressive overload that predominate our offseason training programs. The periodized mechanical strain of baseball specific loads, and the specific adaptations to those imposed stimuli.
However, our body’s can also adapt to the opposite – a lack of progressive overload. In this case, rather than building stronger and more capable tissues for our system (able to handle more strain), we have likely been lowering our threshold for performance (able to handle less strain).
That’s not exactly a recipe for success if we start ramping up our activity out of nowhere. This year, players have not been able to practice with their teammates indoors or outdoors until very, very recently. Some athletes will have been training throughout this amorphous offseason at home with what they have available. But, as evidenced by the scarcity of home weight equipment, throwing equipment, and hitting equipment access our remote athletes demonstrated this year- not everyone has had equal opportunities.
The offseason is usually a time to reset the mind, set new goals, train, and add size and strength to an athlete’s frame. As the snow melts and it warms up outside, the offseason bleeds into spring outdoor practices, which usually start slow and build in volume and intensity as the first game of the season steadily marches closer. Players get their reps in. They continue to adapt to the strain of baseball specific loads (thanks in part to their offseason training). Most recognize this period as the amateur equivalent of Spring Training.
This year in Canada (specifically in Ontario), our “Spring Training” does not exist.
Teams and players alike are salivating with the opportunity to finally play some games. So are we. It’s been a hell of a long journey to get where we are today. But don’t rush into things at 100mph and expect to feel great after.
Recall our marathon analogy?
Adaptation takes time. Your tissues need adequate strain and recovery in order to improve your capabilities (known scientifically as the supercompensation theory of training adaptation).
In this case, small but reasonable increases in strain above the system’s capabilities are followed by periods of rest, which then recalibrates the system to a slightly greater capacity. By reaching just beyond the current means, the system can rebuild itself beyond it’s previous baseline.
By gradually raising your tolerance to distance running, you will eventually be able to handle the strain without breaking down.
By steadily increasing intensity and volume of baseball specific loads, you will achieve something similar.
So What Should you Do? Players: I am not telling you to skip practices, avoid throwing too much, and feel scared about hurting yourself.
What I am advocating for is for you to listen to your body. If you start to notice your arm is getting tired or sore, let your coach know and see if you can shag balls or play first base. There is no sense in pushing past pain and fatigue just so that you can practice with your team. Especially early in the season.
Recall that strain can come in more forms than just the mechanical load of baseball. If you don’t sleep well, break up with your significant other, have a hard day at work/school – you’re still subjecting your body to strain.
Your body needs to be prepared for what you’re asking it to do. Get outside, play catch with your teammates, and find your normal. Have fun.
Coaches: talk to your players. Ask them how they’re feeling. Ask about how much throwing and lifting they did this winter. Did they have access to training? How ready are they, realistically, to practice/play 5x per week? To throw 4 innings 2 weeks in?
Players are going to be amped to get back onto the ballfield, and are going to try and convince you to let them play whenever they can. Manage them accordingly. Build them up gradually. Ensure that your practices are getting progressively harder, and give them time to recover.
If you’re a parent, coach, player, and all of this sounds confusing – reach out.
We’re happy to help.