A Simple Guide to Arm Care for Athletes
Throwing a baseball and the repetitive overhand motion it requires is not a natural movement for the arm, shoulder, and associated muscles and tendons. Muscle strains, rotator cuff tears, tendonitis, and torn labrums are at the top of the list of the most common injuries suffered by baseball players. However, there are steps that athletes can incorporate into their off-season training and in-season warm-up routines to build up the muscles and prepare them for the stresses of throwing. These steps minimize injuries that keep them off the field. The staff at Kinetic Performance Institute prioritizes arm care for each of the baseball and softball players who train with us.
Following the Right Arm Care Program
When considering a proper arm care program, the first step is to understand that no two athletes are alike. Each one will have a different anatomical structure and physiological nature of movement, which must be considered when building an effective routine. Pitchers’ arms go through the most stress due to the constant movement the position requires. However, our programs can be tailored to all positions and any athlete experiencing an arm injury or discomfort.
Many old-school coaches believe a little static stretching for a couple of minutes followed by catch and long toss with a partner is an adequate warm-up. However, that method leaves out some critical steps, and as mentioned, not every athlete should follow the same routine. We break down warm-ups into different phases with the type of athlete the training is designed for.
Traditional arm stretches can be helpful for players who are experiencing tightness in muscles. However, it is not required for those who don't have any tightness but have a wide range of motion in their shoulders.
Release work is performed with a massage gun, massage ball, or lacrosse ball, and it helps alleviate tight muscles. Common focuses for pitchers and throwers include pecs (chest), lats (sides and back), and rhomboids (upper neck). This should be included for just about every athlete in a warm-up routine. For tight arms that start with static stretching, release work should follow that step. Athletes who have an above-average range of motion can begin with this step and skip static stretches.
Activation includes common exercises, such as arm circles, wrist weights, shoulder tubes, and resistance cords. The purpose of activation work is to stimulate positive blood flow, which increases the body's core temperature to prepare it for use and stress. Activation work is a key component for any warm-up routine, whether an athlete is feeling tight or has a wide range of motion. Athletes must follow the warm-up steps in proper order and complete all recommended phases for them before moving onto activation.
Players should dedicate about 20-30 minutes to their warm-up routine before picking up a ball to throw. Newer tools, such as plyo balls, can be used based on individualized needs. These balls are available at various weights and can build arm strength, improve connection work, or be used in arm path drills. Whether throwing is done with plyo balls or playing catch, a proper warm-up is essential.
The recovery aspect is as critical as the warm-up. Proper sleep and diet play the biggest roles in a good recovery for any athlete. Sleep is when the body and mind do all of their recovery, and a proper diet will supply the muscles, tendons, and bones with the right nutrients for healthy function. In addition to these two, more activation work to improve blood flow to the stressed area should be completed. We do not recommend using ice as part of a recovery routine.
Proper Preparation for the Season
The success of any in-season warm-up routine will depend on an athlete’s preparation for the season. A proper prep program should begin at least six to eight weeks before the spring season. As the weeks go by, repetition and volume should be added to the routine so that pitchers throw at high velocity and live batting practice for weeks before the start of the season. Most arm injuries happen within the first couple of months due to a lack of good pre-season preparation.