In the last couple blog posts, I focused pretty heavily on pitching mechanics, specifically on the arm action. This week, I want to go in a completely different direction and talk about recovery and the role it plays in staying healthy in-season. Don’t get me wrong, pitching injuries are complex and multivariate, and it’s very difficult (if not impossible) to nail down specifically what exactly causes a given injury when a pitcher heads to the DL. One athlete could take every precaution possible in order to avoid injury and still get hurt, whereas another athlete could ignore all these precautions (i.e., stay up until 4:00 A.M. every night playing Fortnite, eat 2000 calories of processed junk food per day, and completely neglect his mobility work) and make it through the season completely healthy. However, there are certain steps we can take from a recovery standpoint to minimize this injury risk and optimize performance.
Recovery from in-season competition (and off-season training) is really a full time job when done well, and doesn’t stop when you step off the field every day. Recovery can take the form of specific modalities designed to help you feel your best day-in and day-out, and also can take the less obvious form of monitoring volume/intensity of throwing, lifting, etc. to make sure there is no build up of fatigue. With this in mind, here are some of the most important things you can do on and off the field to recover during the season:
I put this one first on the list because it’s arguably the most important (in my opinion), and one of the easiest things you can fix or improve if you don’t do it already. Stan “the Rhino” Efferding, who currently holds the title of World’s Strongest Bodybuilder and who I’ll be talking about a bit in this post, argues that it’s best for athletes to aim for 8+ hours of quality sleep each night in one of his Rhino Rhants (short informational videos about different aspects of training). He discusses the various benefits of getting enough sleep every night, and how sleep is important for making sure that your body can actually rebuild itself from the training stresses you are putting on it. In-season, it is especially critical for pitchers, as sleeping enough can help us get rid of arm soreness or fatigue faster, and thus be fresher for the next time we take the ball. As Stan also mentions at the end of this video, going to bed in the 10:00-11:00 P.M. range is best (which implies a wake-up time of around 6:00-7:00 A.M. at the earliest), as this is the time window best aligned with our Circadian rhythms, and maximizes the amount of R.E.M. sleep we can achieve.
I like to think of nutrition as a recovery mechanism: while training breaks down muscle tissue, and nutrition and other recovery modalities aid in building muscle back stronger than it was before. In-season, this is particularly important, since as pitchers we want to do everything that we possibly can to make sure that the muscles in our arm, shoulder, back, etc. are healthy. Specifically, in-season we must make sure that we’re eating enough calories in order to actually maintain the muscular size and strength developed over the course of the off-season (assuming you’re also on some kind of in-season strength maintenance program, although this is a topic for another post). This means that the 2000 calorie diet is simply not going to cut it for pretty much any competitive athlete at the high school, college, or professional level, and from personal experience I’ve needed well over 3000 calories just to maintain my current weight of (roughly) 190 lbs. While quality of food consumed is also important (for this I really like the Vertical Diet, which is the diet Stan Efferding created, and I follow this diet as closely as possible while on the meal plan here at Caltech), if you’re looking to get the most bang-for-your-buck, focus on eating enough calories first. Even if you don’t want to track your calories on a day-to-day basis, buy a scale and track your weight daily to make sure that you’re maintaining it as the season goes on.
Monitoring training intensity and volume
Nutrition and sleep are the two biggest areas to focus on off the field, but there are a lot of things we can do from a training standpoint to make sure our bodies are recovering optimally as well. One important consideration in-season is the intensity and volume of work done in the weight room. While it’s important to make sure you’re going heavy enough as to maintain the strength gains you made over the course of the offseason, you shouldn’t be doing off-season levels of volume or intensity, as this is a recipe for injury and poor performance, as Sam Briend talks about in this blog post. I like to think of in-season lifts as the equivalent of hybrid A days on the throwing side (for those of you familiar with Driveline’s terminology). On a hybrid A day, you work up to about 90% effort (depending on how you’re arm is feeling), and while it’s still a non-trivial load on your arm, its easier to recover from than a full velocity day. In-season lifts are very similar in that regard, as the lifts shouldn’t be easy, but you also shouldn’t feel like you’re in danger of missing reps on every set. While there are times to “pick your spots” and go heavier on certain lifts if you know you won’t be pitching for a few days, you really have to be smart in the weight room if you know you’re starting Saturday and you’re scheduled for a Thursday lift, for example.
This same principle applies to in-season throwing volume and intensity (outside of game day, of course). Given that the days you pitch are going to take a pretty significant toll on your arm, it becomes especially important in-season to stay within the prescribed RPE (rate of perceived exertion) range on a given day, as to avoid fatigue buildup. For example, if you’re the Friday night guy on your college team, it’s important to make sure you aren’t pulling down 3 times a week! Obviously, this is a pretty extreme example, as 3 pulldown days per week is a ton even in the off-season, but you get the idea. While players who aren’t going to contribute as much in a given year may be able to throw more aggressively during the season, high-value contributors need to put development in the back seat, as they are needed to help the team win now.
This is all pretty relevant to me right now, as my team just had our first series this past weekend, with many more games to come moving forward. As somebody who struggled to make it through the past two years healthy, I’ve so far been able to get 8+ hours of sleep almost every night, maintain my bodyweight, and manage my lifting and throwing volume better than I have in previous years. Hopefully, staying on top of all of these controllables (and others that I will talk about in my next blog post) from a recovery standpoint will result in a healthy season, in addition to monitoring the other aspects of my training well (strength, mechanics, mobility, etc.).
Unfortunately, I don’t have any video from this past week, but I’ll be taking some this week and will hopefully have some game or bullpen video as well. Also, with each outing I have this year, I want to give a recap/stat line at the end of every blog post. This past outing against Providence Christian College (Saturday 2/16/19), my stat line was:
1 IP, 1 H, 3R, 3ER, 3 BB, 2K, 0 HR, 2 HBP
Obviously, my command wasn’t great this game. That being said, I don’t really think these stats tell the full story, and I should have probably been out of this inning with only 1 run. There was a soft ground ball to my third baseman with the bases loaded that should have ended the inning, but he reached out to try and tag the runner and ended up dropping the ball (it would have been a pretty good play if he held on), which let the inning continue and allowed two more runs to score. On the positive side, the hitters were pretty overmatched by my stuff, and they swung and missed late on a majority of fastballs that I threw in the zone. Although this team wasn’t as good as pretty much all of the conference teams we’ll face in the coming weeks, the fact that my arm felt good and I was able to throw fastballs by pretty much everyone in their lineup is definitely a good sign moving forward, and my command will improve in the coming weeks with more game reps. Hopefully next weekend I’ll have some video of my outing to upload here, as well as radar readings!