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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Arm Health and Conditioning

Arm Health and Conditioning
By guest author: Sita Ram

Arm injuries have become a major issue in youth sports. With the development of year-round baseball, travel teams, playing on multiple teams and a complete dedication to baseball specialization, issues caused by repetitive stress are becoming both more prevalent and more severe. With the arrival of Major League Baseball opening day and youth baseball in full swing, examining overall arm health is more important now than ever. That's why I want to share with everybody the teachings of Alan Jaeger and his viewpoint on arm strength and conditioning.

Mr. Jaeger, as a personal trainer and consultant for nearly 20 years, has worked with over 70 professional baseball players, including Barry Zito, Andrew Bailey and Dan Haren, and countless amateur athletes. There are three significant components to the complete Jaeger Program:

1. The Mental Game
2. Yoga
3. Arm Development

Obviously, all three elements are highly interrelated and the ultimate accomplishments in each facet will contribute to the overall success of each athlete in the program. Yet, because of its unique aspects, after touching on Alan's philosophy on the Mental Game and yoga, the focus of this article will be on the Arm Conditioning curriculum.

The Mental Game. As previously discussed, baseball is the ultimate "spotlight sport" (Pressure in Youth Sports, May 2005) and creates tremendous stress on young kids. As players continue to develop and mature, they are separated less by physical differences and more on mental differences. The ability to stay focused during their preparation and throughout the game is the missing link between having potential and realizing potential. To maximize performance, Jaeger emphasizes meditation, breathing and visualization. These calming techniques work to simplify the game and can be transferred, through breathing, from practice into game situations thereby enhancing focus and performance.

Yoga. Yoga provides the bridge between mental preparation and game performance by coordinating breathing, flexibility, balance, strength and endurance. Alan notes that "if a player wants to maximize their arm strength, then they also need to build strength in their lower back and core muscle groups that are all a critical part of the kinetic chain." The core of Yoga is proper breathing, allowing increased concentration and focus, which provides the connection between physical and mental well being. The increased physical conditioning, along with better oxygenation, will help in injury prevention. In addition to the obvious strength and flexibility benefits, Jaeger also believes that properly incorporating yoga into the program will add at least 3 MPH to a pitcher's fastball since a relaxed muscle is obviously quicker and more efficient.

Pros Learning New Yoga Techniques from Alan

Arm Strength and Conditioning. A cornerstone of the Jaeger Program is the idiom that players shouldn't be throwing to warm-up, but should instead be warming-up to throw. Arm strength is a key element of any complete player and is just as important to work on as hitting or fielding. Unfortunately, most players, especially kids, neglect their arms. The goal of the Jaeger Program is to have players "thrive on throwing" by following a strength and conditioning agenda designed to build a strong base in the off-season and to establish a maintenance program in season by using a series of arm circles, J-Bands, mechanics, and a committed long toss plan.

Arm Circles. Arm circles must be completed properly before there can even be a thought of picking up a baseball. General physiology now requires a dynamic warm-up before any type of static stretching can take place. A set of arm circles is the first exercise that is done to warm up the smaller muscles in the shoulder to maximize the benefits of the J-Bands. Essentially, arm circles consist of 16-20 revolutions in progressively larger rotations, from very small, 1/4, 1/2, 3/4 and then full circles. This should be done both forward and backward to build flexibility, balance, strength and stamina in the rotator cuff muscle group.

J-Bands. Exercises with surgical tubing (J-Bands) are an important part of preparing for long tossing. Originally made popular by the renowned orthopedist, Dr. Frank Jobe, J-Band exercises are a series of strength, conditioning, and flexibility movements designed to isolate the specific muscles in the arm, back and shoulder that are used while throwing. The purpose of these exercises is to rehabilitate, develop and prepare the arm before any throwing takes place.

Long Toss. There are two main phases to this part of the program:

1) stretching out; and
2) pull-downs.

While stretching out, the goal is to "massage" the arm as you move further away from your throwing partner. This is done by listening to the muscles and throwing as far as your arm allows. Rather than straight baseball throws, each repetition should be made up in the air and allowing the arm to make a full range of motion. As distance is added, throws should be with proper mechanics and using a "crow-hop" to reduce any stress on the arm. As each player opens-up, the muscles begin to lengthen. It may take a few weeks to build up a solid base and substantially increase distance, but that is the goal of this part of the exercise. During the pull-down phase, you'll throw on a line as you move back toward your partner about 10 feet each toss. This will help generate arm speed, strength, and acceleration through the release point. Doing this program regularly will certainly help any players arm health and strength. Alan Jaeger states that "arm health is about being proactive, being really smart about a few things, including using proper mechanics and what you're trying to accomplish with long toss".

Pros Focus on Alan Jaeger's J-Band Workout

Throwing so much (a solid long toss session may take 45 minutes or longer) seems to contradict much of the current philosophy relating to repetitive stress arm injuries. Yet, Jaeger contends that properly conditioning the arm by throwing is preventative, not causational. If a proper base is built in the offseason and maintained, a player can consistently throw. However, Alan also acknowledges that it is imperative to understand the variables related to pitch counts and the suggested American Sports Medicine Institute ("ASMI") recovery periods, which among other things, recommend no overhand throwing at all for 2-3 months a year. Perhaps most importantly, Jaeger states that kids need to try to be more aware and that they should not be throwing on sore or fatigued arms.

The training program should be done frequently. While throwing off a mound is contingent on pitch counts and recovery, for the most part, everybody should simply throw at least five times each week, but at least three times each week if they want to develop their arms. While it may take 3-6 weeks to get into shape and build the base, after that it is okay to throw almost every day. Jaeger explains it this way: "runners want to run, bowlers want to bowl, the muscles want to work and the more a player throws the better they will feel".

Alan's message to kids is that if they're truly committed to finding out how good they can be and care about the game, then they have to be proactive in some of the more neglected parts of baseball. While each player has to hit and take grounders, the truly successful players are the ones that work hard at the more subtle parts of the game. Kids need to know, if they want a future in baseball that they can't play if they can't throw so they need to learn how to take care of their arm. Also, they cannot ignore the mental part of the game, which becomes even more important as they get older. So, they need to learn about breathing and mental conditioning. Given the busy schedules that all kids have, make the mental game a priority, even if it's only for five minutes a day.

Coaches and parents have to be more aware as well as begin to understand that all sports performances should be evaluated on the "process" rather than the "results". This will allow for a healthier mental approach to baseball. The bottom line is that today's players have a tremendous amount of information on how to improve and stay healthier. The Jaeger Program is a great example of how kids can stay healthy, improve arm strength and begin to truly excel through mental conditioning and yoga. Needless to say, other than a glove and a bat, the most important baseball-throwing arm conditioning equipment belonging in your baseball bag is the J-Bands.


sitaram has been actively involved in coaching youth sports for many years. Focused primarily on coaching and teaching baseball, football and basketball, Kaiserman has served on the Board of Directors for the Beverly Hills Little League, the Beverly Hills Basketball League and the Rancho Park Advisory Board. After graduating from UCLA, Ken obtained his JD/MBA from USC. He practiced law at the prestigious, Houston based, law firm of Fulbright & Jaworski before founding the biggest sports products for kids website for SportsKids is a leading website focusing on sports for kids and their families featuring coaching tips, a Sports Camp Directory, Youth League Sponsorship Program, featuring uniform sales and free youth league websites, sports games and the biggest store for sports products for kids where there are more than 250,000 sporting goods products including all types Fan Gear, and all major league beddings for all teams.

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