Arm Health and Conditioning

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 kids condition 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:

  • The Mental Game
  • Yoga
  • 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.