Preseason Throwing for Softball Pitchers and Position Players

It’s that time of year again. The holidays are over and everyone is getting back into their routines. Many athletes have taken a break over the past couple weeks perhaps even the past couple months and are just starting to get back into their training regimens. Other athletes have been working throughout that entire time. Whether it’s a college team, travel team, or a high school or middle school team, athletes are often required to throw either a very long distances, very high volumes or very high intensities either immediately upon return or in the short weeks after. Unfortunately, this is also the time of year when we start to see the foundations laid that lead to injuries early in the season. Instead of easing back into it, athletes throw as  hard as they can as often as they can without any real ramping up of the strength and conditioning in their arm. Here at the VeloLab we take a different approach with both our overhand and underhand throwers. Understanding where every single one of our athletes is in terms of their throwing load over the past couple months allows us to adjust our programming so that each athlete gets what he or she needs and has the best opportunity to start the year healthy and stay that way as they perform throughout the season. So what does a “good” program look like? For the coaches that do have some kind of program, and unfortunately most don’t, the general format is usually increasing the distance or number of throws with the softball every practice. For pitchers we often see an increase in the number of pitches, starting early in the year with fastballs and adding in offspeed pitches as we get closer the season. Either way it’s almost always center around one thing: a softball. In contrast, at the VeloLab we use our softball plyoball set in conjunction with drill work to both create more efficient movements (throws/pitches), and condition the arm for the rigors of the upcoming season. Click HERE for sample on ramp programs
that we use for both our pitchers and our position players. The outline and videos for each individual exercise can be found in our free 8-week program manual Throw Hard, Throw Healthy. Access to this resource can be found at the bottom of this page.
Some things of note when looking at these programs: We do allow a slightly higher volume with our pitchers than with our overhand players as there is more stress on the arm through the overhand throw. However we do not subscribe to the idea that softball pitching is a “natural” motion, or somehow free from the stress that over hand motions bring. As such, deliberate planning in terms of on ramping an arm pays huge dividends throughout the season and career of the players that we work with. – RPE stands for rate of perceived exertion. Basically we are asking the athlete how hard he or she  is trying to throw with 0% being absolutely no effort and 100% being all out competition in a game like scenario. It’s very important to stick close to these guidelines so that athletes do not overtrain in the offseason. – There is a lot of flexibility in a program like this. For example – we change up the way we throw bullpens using things like smaller/bigger or lighter/heavier balls mixed in with normal softballs. We do the same for overhand throwers and have them hit a target with a radar gun to keep track of their intent. Be creative and challenge your players. – Programs can be completed in a similar time frame as what coaches normally give athletes to warm up. As long as an athlete is intentional and focused on what they’re doing they can normally get through the warm up including band work,  wrist weights, and plyoballs in 15-20 minutes. Drill work can be done in stations alongside other work at practice or… – Athletes are also able to take this home with them and do daily throwing or  pitching work. As long as they have a net or some kind of sturdy wall (wood or concrete block) to throw into. This is a way that coaches can work on their athletes movements and conditioning without having to take out a ton of time at practice
– Heavy throwing should not be done on recovery days. This isn’t just bullpens for pitchers, but includes large amounts of throwing while fielding. Recovery days are specifically designed to give athletes time to adequately recover while helping to promote more efficient motor patterns. We encourage coaches and athletes to add in more movement prep work, or footwork drills, etc. – Athletes should always be screened before starting any kind of throwing program. If you are unsure of where to go, you can probably call your nearest sports physical therapist office or possibly even some of the bigger gyms in the area that are more sports performance centered. We will post our methods in subsequent posts. It’s important to make sure that athletes have the right amount of mobility and strength to perform the tasks that they are asked to.
A program like this is a compliment to any coach/player/parent who knows the performance side in terms of what their athletes need to be able to do on the field, but would like to help athletes stay healthy and get to those performance metrics quicker. The warm up and recovery routines can be used before and after practices as well as before and after games. This allows this program to not only be an on ramp to the season,  but a maintenance program throughout the entirety of the season. The idea isn’t just to build the arm up in the off-season and slowly ride the wave of breaking down all year. Rather we want to build it up and maintain as much as possible throughout the playing season. Whether you follow this plan exactly or make slight adjustments that are appropriate for your athletes, hopefully this gives you some ideas about how to structure a play preseason throwing program. At the end of the day, training is all about helping you perform at as high of a level as possible, and it’s very hard to do that if the athlete can’t stay healthy in the first place. If you have any questions, would like to discuss thoughts on this post, or have a suggestion for future posts, email me at kyle@velolabsoftball.com.

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