Every Thanksgiving morning, I start my day running the Turkey Trot.

It’s an eight-year family tradition. For some reason, I really enjoy it. Maybe it’s the feeling of catharsis. Maybe it’s the alleviation of guilt for the food and beer I’ll consume later. Whatever it is, I manage to get sucked into a 5K at least once per year. 

I don’t run long distance anymore. For more reasons than not, I find it a waste of time and resources. My body doesn’t respond well to it. I’d rather lift weights, play basketball, or just simply walk. There are much more enjoyable – and joint friendly – ways to maintain my aerobic capacity than weekly 5Ks.

As a result, the residue from my yearly Turkey Trot is far from enjoyable. My feet, calves, and hips hurt. I’m unbelievably sore for days. It’s difficult to walk.  Does this stop me from doing it every year? No. I’ve come to terms with the consequences. My decision to eliminate long distance running from my training routine is the reason why my one-per-year 5K destroys my body. It’s not prepared for what it’s about to handle. When stress exceeds current capacity, your body lets you know. 

For a lot of pitchers, this situation happens every single spring. When the season ends in October/November, a good chunk of arms don’t even want to look at a baseball. Instead of continuing to throw, they block off a period of time where they specifically do not throw. The reasons vary. The consequence, however, becomes the problem I run into every Thanksgiving. 

If you don’t “vaccinate” your arm every offseason, it’s not going to handle the quick ramp up of throwing demands when spring comes around. It’s going to break down. When it does, you’ll have plenty of “off” time. 

It’s a lot tougher to ramp it back up at this point…

If you’ve been following the arm injury epidemic, this chart above should be no surprise. The majority of arm injuries at the MLB level do not occur from the wear and tear of a 162 game season. They happen before it starts. They’re not over use injuries. They’re under-prepared injuries. There’s a huge difference between the two.

While prevailing logic tells us overuse and throwing too much causes injury, this charts actually illustrates the opposite. Most guys don’t get hurt because they throw too much. they get hurt because they don’t throw enough. When it’s time to return in the spring, their body hasn’t been built up to handle the demands of consistent throwing. Time off requires a ramp up period. The arm needs to acclimate. Not throwing doesn’t help you get better at throwing. It makes you worse. If you don’t give your arm time to get back up to speed, it’s going to break down. You’re forcing it to handle added stress it simply does not have the capacity to.

The reason why my body breaks down every Thanksgiving morning isn’t because I’m out of shape. It’s because I’m out of long distance running shape. My training hasn’t prepared my body for the demands of running 3.1 miles. It’s not specific to the task at hand. If you’re not preparing your body for what it’s about to go through, you’re not going to handle the residue well. This is the problem pitchers are running into every spring. They’re throwing a lot without being in throwing shape. This isn’t a sustainable solution. It’s not to say you can’t take time off at the end of the year. You can. You just need to give yourself time to ramp back up to speed.

In the spirit of current world events, you need to take the time and get vaccinated.

Training while underprepared is a great way to run yourself sick. As a player and a coach, your job is to make sure you’re never in a position where you can.

If you’re not sure about your current “vaccination” status for this spring, below are some questions to ponder:

  • How much time did you take off this past winter?
  • When did you start throwing?
  • Was your ramp up period gradual, or did you rush back up to speed?
  • How consistently are you throwing? 
  • How well are you bouncing back after your throwing sessions?
  • Have you thrown off of a mound? At what intensity? To hitters?
  • Have you mixed other pitches? 
  • If the season started today, how many game pitches would you be able to throw? 

Injuries are not accidents. When stress exceeds capacity, something is going to break. If you didn’t take the time to “vaccinate” your arm this past offseason, don’t rush back and start throwing high effort bullpens day one. You haven’t earned that right. Your arm is not ready for it.

If you want your arm to last over the course of the year, take the time and do it right from the start. Get into throwing shape before you rush into pitching shape. Don’t be like me every Thanksgiving. Show your arm you care by getting it vaccinated (metaphorically). 

Before you know it, you’ll need your booster next year (alright, I’m done). 

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