My team had our first (and only) away trip this past weekend, traveling to Tuscon, AZ to play in an invitational tournament there, and in this blog post I want to talk about how to make the most out of limited resources (e.g., constrained time, not having all of your equipment with you, etc.) during an away series. While everybody loves to train with unlimited time, their entire array of shoulder tube, J-bands, etc. in front of them, and a solid, obstruction-free wall to throw plyos against, sometimes you don’t have access to one or more of these things on an away trip! If this is the case, can you even get a sufficient warm-up, recovery, etc. routine in?
The answer, fortunately, is yes in pretty much all reasonable cases. If your team gets to the game 15 minutes before game time and you don’t have any of your equipment (as an extreme example), there’s probably not a whole lot you can do, but in most scenarios you’ll be able to get in some variation of your warm up and recovery routines in before and after the game. The key to dealing with these scenarios is creativity and ingenuity, because every away field is different and every team’s schedule is different. I’ll try to give some of my more general thoughts as to what I’ve done in the past, but keep in mind that you’ll probably have to adapt and modify what I’m saying to your particular situation.
Scenario 1: your team gets to the field with limited time before the game
Ideally, you would know that this scenario is going to happen ahead of time (for example, you’re playing a team that’s far away, or your coach just wants to get to the field later for some reason, etc.), and can plan accordingly. If this happens to you, then you could do some of your lighter mobility work, corrective exercise work, etc. before getting on the bus, and then save the exercises that are really going to get you loose to pitch (or hit) for when you get to the field. You could also have a conversation with your coach about leaving earlier and making sure everyone has enough time to get their pregame routines in, which could stop the limited time scenario from happening before it happens. As always, be respectful and understand where the coach is coming from, because no coach likes the guy who is constantly in his ear about every little thing.
If you get to the field late because of unforeseen circumstances, then there are still solutions and ways to get in abbreviated versions of your routine. This is more common than you would think, and I’ve dealt with late busses, bus drivers taking wrong turns or driving to the wrong place, and more, and it’s really frustrating, but you can still make the most out of the situation. The best solution to this scenario is focusing on the aspects of your warm up that are absolutely vital first, and either abbreviating or cropping out the less important aspects. For example, I would argue that J-bands, shoulder tube work, plyos etc. (for those of you that use Driveline equipment) are pretty important, whereas you could probably get away with skipping a day of a specific passive mobility exercise if you had to (don’t get me wrong, mobility is important, as I wrote about in my last blog post, but missing one day because you don’t have enough time to do it before a game probably isn’t going to kill you in the long run). In all cases, it is important to keep track of the time and determine how much of your routine you’ll have to cut out or abbreviate.
Scenario 2: you’re missing certain pieces of equipment
This scenario is actually really common, especially on farther, overnight trips, but even on (relatively) close, single day trips. Chances are if you’re flying across the country to play, it’s going to be pretty difficult to bring your 5-foot long shoulder tube and irregularly shaped recovery trampoline (unless you have one of the smaller Driveline brand ones) with you. In this case, it’s worth noting that there are a lot of things you can do to substitute or modify these aspects of your routine in order to deal with the constraints. In the worst-case scenario, you can always just skip certain aspects of your routine that require pieces of equipment you don’t have if you absolutely can’t think of a substitute, and instead just supplement by adding a few sets and reps of something else (e.g., if you don’t have your shoulder tube, supplement by adding more reps to your J-band routine).
For the shoulder tube, a pretty good trick I saw on twitter a year or two ago (I forgot where I saw this unfortunately) is to just use a green or black plyo ball, and either shake it up and down or drop and immediately catch it again in the positions that you normally do your shoulder tubing in. I’ve used this trick before when I haven’t had a shoulder tube available, and it works pretty well. For the recovery trampoline case, a trick I’ve seen employed in this video (skip to 5:44) is using a foam balance pad (something like this I think) to bounce plyos off of, which I have yet to try but might consider ordering this spring. Assuming you can bring this mat with you, you can essentially do recovery trampoline work as normal in this case, although if you don’t have access to a recovery trampoline or a mat, you can always just mix in a different recovery exercise instead of rebounders for the day, which is what I’ve done in the past.
Scenario 3: no wall to throw plyos against
This is another very common scenario you’ll run into at a lot of fields. Unless you’re at the level of a major D1 school or above, chances are a lot of the fields you’ll play on will have primarily chain-link fence enclosing them, and won’t have a hard surface to throw plyos against. I’m lucky enough that Caltech has a gigantic cement wall down the third base line that I can throw against (take a look at the picture here if you want to see what I mean), and that pretty much all of the other SCIAC fields have something I can throw against (even if it’s not ideal), but what do you do if this isn’t the case?
The best solution to this problem is Driveline’s yoga mat hack. You buy a yoga mat and some clips and just clip the yoga mat to the fence, giving you an effective plyo wall to throw against. While it isn’t ideal (nor as satisfying as throwing against an actual wall), it gets the job done. When we played against Pomona (a school that does a team-wide Driveline program) a couple weeks ago at our place, they had about 2 or 3 yoga mats up at once against the chain-link fence next to their dugout. An important point with this yoga mat hack, however, is to make sure that the yoga mat you get is going to be able to withstand repeated plyo throws, since I’ve tried it before with a crappy yoga mat and it ended up breaking after about 15-20 light throws.
In our trip to Tuscon this past weekend, I didn’t have access to my shoulder tube or recovery trampoline, or a wall to throw against, but I worked around these constraints by using a green plyo for shoulder work, and substituting upward tosses for rebounders. Thankfully, there were a lot of screens lying around at the facility that I could throw plyos against. My elbow also finally felt good enough to get back into games this weekend, and I had some decent results:
Game 1 vs. Carthage College: 1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 0 HR, 0 HBP
Game 2 vs. Gustavus Adolphus College: 1+ IP, 1 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 0 HR, 2 HBP
On the whole my elbow still isn’t at 100%, but it felt just good enough to go out and compete in games, even if my velo might have been a little down (I went out with the intent to sit around 84-85, although I could have been throwing harder than that based on how the hitters looked…unfortunately there was no radar gun). The first game I came in with a runner on 2nd and nobody out, and I gave up a ground ball up the middle that allowed him to score, but worked out of the inning after that, allowing just a bunt single afterwards. Here’s a quick video of how my mechanics looked:
In the second game, which I wasn’t even really expecting to pitch in, I walked and hit the first two batters, but then I settled in and basically just threw fastballs by everyone to strike out the side. Again, wasn’t trying to throw at normal game intensity, but it’s possible the ball was coming out harder than I thought, especially based on how the hitters just swung and missed at everything. I probably shouldn’t have gone out for another inning, as my elbow was bothering me a bit at this point and I sort of had to talk my coach into it, but I did and I ended up giving up a weak ground ball up the middle, followed by a walk and hit batter. I then got pulled from the game and two of my three inherited runners scored. Thankfully, my elbow is feeling a lot better now, and hopefully it will feel 100% by our next game on Saturday!
Overall, I thought this was another outing where the stats didn’t really tell the full story, especially based on how my arm felt this weekend, and how I pitched in back to back games (I also ended up throwing 40+ warm up pitches in the pen during the 2nd game). In future games, my arm will (knock on wood) feel better, and I’ll be able to throw deeper into games while remaining effective, and my command will likely improve as well the better that my arm feels. If I’m able to generate consistent strikeouts and/or weak contact now against solid teams (both Carthage and Gustavus Adolphus could compete in the SCIAC in my opinion, and Gustavus would probably be at least a middle of the pack kind of team), especially on an elbow that’s not 100%, it bodes well for the future.