How to avoid playing “old man baseball” – Part I

Brett Fischer
PT, DPT, SCS, ATC

I’m a baseball player at heart – it’s part of my identity. Even when I quit playing, I’ll still be a “baseball guy.” Because of that, I still enjoy playing as competitively as I can. Around here, it’s small town amateur baseball and most guys are between the ages of 20 to 35 with a few younger and a few older. I seem to always fall into the Team “what should I do for (insert injury here) guy,” so everyone comes to me with their injuries, aches, pains or random health related questions. This article is based on a lot of those conversations I’ve had over the years with guys after they get hurt.

Fischer_Brett_WEB160x200It seems like most of the injuries I’ve seen in amateur baseball are one of the following: hamstring strains, hip flexor strains, ankle sprains, or shoulder, elbow, or biceps throwing-related pain. Keep in mind, I don’t have any formal statistics because nobody studies amateur baseball that I’m aware of. But I can say from experience, every year someone on our team (roughly 1 of 15-20 players) has a hamstring injury, 1-2 pitchers (out of 6-8) have shoulder or elbow pain, and 1-2 other guys have some other injury. I’m not sure about other teams in the area, but I see their fair share of players pulling up with injuries throughout the year, too.

Baseball is an interesting sport in that most of the time you’re standing around. You might not break into much more than a jog for a few innings, unless you’re one of those guys that sprints on and off. But that one occasion when there’s a line drive hit a few feet from you and your competitiveness kicks in, you go from a ready position to a quick step and a dive. Maybe you think stealing a base or going first to third on a single is a good idea. Better yet, you think it’d be fun to pitch for the first time since high school, oh and there aren’t any other pitchers at the game and you end up throwing a lot more than you really should. No matter which one happens, there are risks in each. The good thing is, there are a few things you can do to prepare before the season, in hopes of avoiding some aches and pains – along with maybe even some costly medical bills.

Remember…

You’re not a kid anymore. You can’t just go out and play without having to put in a little bit of work. There are some guys that get away with this, but most guys aren’t that way.

Strength training

Go get in the weight room. Do something. Because it’s better than doing nothing at all. If you aren’t specifically training with a certain goal in mind, you can probably get away with hitting the gym 2-3 times a week. There’s a good chance you’ve grown up being told to avoid lifting weights too much so you don’t get too “tight.” This is not usually the case for amateur baseball players. From a performance standard, I wouldn’t say there are any lifts you need to really avoid if you’re going to be playing summer baseball as an adult. Now that you are only playing recreationally, you can have a more general routine and it can be just as beneficial. I would surely do some chest, biceps and squats for a good start. Chest strengthening helps with some of the stabilizers of the shoulder, biceps help you decelerate your elbow after ball release, and squats can help reduce risk for hamstring injury when paired with some sprinting.

Shoulder strength

I do recommend some specific exercises to help get the rotator cuff and shoulder generally ready for throwing. Try to work up to around 3×20 with a 2-4 lb. weight for the first five exercises. It’s time consuming, but so is recovering from an actual injury, so consider that. These exercises combined with an overall strength program will help develop a great base for the season. All you really need is a kitchen table, a “believe” sign in the background, and maybe even a 2-4 lb. weight.

Running

Doing some easy distance running is a fair idea prior to the season, mostly because let’s face it, you haven’t run since last season. It’s not going to make you a better baseball player, but it will help get you going a little bit. Ideally you want to work up to running some interval sprints, maybe even out to 60 yards (the same distance as running first to third or scoring from second on a single). Try 4-8 sprints with nearly full recovery starting with 20 yards and working up to around 40-60 yards. This will help the hammy’s so they don’t bark at you the first time you miss the barrel of the bat and try to leg out an infield single.

Throwing

You need to play catch prior to the first practice or game. A good goal is to get some hitting and throwing in around 4-6 sessions before the first game or practice. Before the first game you should be able to throw out to 150-180 feet without too much issue. For the most part, this will assure you’re able to make all the throws you need to make during amateur baseball. Take your time working out to a challenging distance and try to do some actual pitching prior to pitching in a game. I would shoot for at least 2-3 bullpens working from 30-50 pitches.

I truly believe if you can muster up some motivation in the off season, these things can help you have more fun playing in the summer. Heck, you might even have a better season.

Stay tuned for part two when I’ll talk a little more about in-season and in-game effort and how that can help reduce your injury risk.

What offseason routines have you tried that have worked for you in the past?

This is part one of a three-part series on how not to get hurt playing baseball – especially when you have to work the next morning. This installment is all about offseason training. (FYI – this is not meant to be an article about a specific training plan, I’m speaking in generalities.)