Fatigue among baseball pitchers is poorly recognized and improperly trained against. No wonder it's a common cause of injuries for these athletes.
The most common warning sign that a pitcher is overtired—lack of control on the mound—is pretty obvious, but many others cannot be seen with the naked eye. For example…
1. A fatigued pitcher loses some peripheral vision. A study found that a decrease in cerebral oxygenation—the amount of oxygen-rich blood fueling the brain—was associated with impaired peripheral visual perception. Athletes who had enough oxygen in their brains because of better circulation did not experience this effect. During exertion, someone who's in better shape will have better visual perception. A pitcher who can't see well can't throw strikes (or keep baserunners in check). But a properly conditioned athlete is better suited to throw strikes in the game's late innings.
2. A fatigued rotator cuff is at a greater risk for injury. When the rotator cuff gets tired, the humeral head (the top of the arm bone) migrates up, which causes pinching on the cuff. It also predisposes other structures of the shoulder, including the labrum and capsule, to potential injury. Check out these three rotator cuff exercises.
3. A fatigued pitcher will be weaker in the triceps, causing greater forces to fall on the passive structures of the elbow (think UCL or Tommy John injury).
4. Fatigue drains a pitcher's proprioception. Proprioception refers to a player's ability to feel or control a part of his body in space while not looking directly at it or watching it in a mirror. A loss of proprioception in a pitcher induces a breakdown in timing and altered mechanics, further raising his injury risk.
5. A fatigued pitcher loses some shoulder rotation and extension in the lead knee. This can be a deadly combination for your fastball, with velocity decreasing in the late innings by an average of 5 miles per hour. Pitchers often try to compensate for the loss of velocity by throwing harder, thereby increasing the demands on their bodies.
6. A fatigued pitcher throws more upright. A tired pitcher displays a more vertical trunk from ball release to follow through. This can force him to work harder to maintain velocity.
Pitchers can prepare for the demands of the mound with complex training, a multi-joint, high-load, low-rep exercise followed immediately by max effort plyometrics. This methodology has been found to significantly improve power and anaerobic endurance in athletes—two things pitchers need.
The focus of this type of training is not to work muscle groups, but energy systems. Renowned strength coach Al Vermeil once said, "You don't play with your hamstrings one play, and your pecs the next. Compound movements are key to training athletes." That is at the heart of complex training. Functional movements performed with effort will eliminate fatigue and produce greater strength and power gains.
Jogging long distances will not prepare a pitcher for the demands his body will face in the deep innings of a ball game. Distance running increases endurance, but it also lowers mobility and decreases power. Since pitching is a power activity performed repetitively, with relatively long periods of rest (the time between innings), complex training is a closer approximation of in-game demands.
Complex Training Combos for Pitchers
- Goblet Lunges followed by Med Ball Shot Put
- Safety Bar Squats followed by Box Jumps
- Deadlifts followed by Double Unders on the Jump Rope
- Lateral Sled Drags followed by Heiden Speed Skater Hops
- High Rep Pull-Ups followed by Rear Foot Elevated Hops
- High Rep Push-Ups followed by Light Sled Sprints
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock