GUEST POST: JONATHAN MELTZER, DPT, RAUSCH PHYSICAL THERAPY
Jonathan is a physical therapist that we have referred out to with our special cases quite a bit in the last year or so. He does an incredible job getting baseball players back on the field.
So, you want to play baseball at the next level? Whether that means making a college team or making it to the show, the opportunities to play at a higher level are there for the taking, but it requires significant diligence, dedication and talent. It also takes training and—most importantly—you have to stay healthy.
One of the biggest big league dream killers is injury. You see it time and again; a high school player ignores an injury he suffered playing club ball as a kid, and now when it’s time for scouts and coaches to evaluate his skill, he’s stuck in the dugout on the disabled list.
As a physical therapist, nothing makes me prouder than when I help a young ballplayer rehabilitate from a potentially career-ending injury, and he then goes on to achieve his goal of playing college baseball. By taking care of your body and implementing a specific strength training program, injuries are much less likely to occur, and you can greatly expand your career longevity.
Here are four tips for getting your arm and body in the most efficient shape possible so that injuries don’t keep you from playing ball at the next level.
#1 – Be Honest
First and foremost, you have to be honest about your symptoms. Ask yourself, “Do I feel pain, discomfort, or soreness anywhere in my body that doesn’t seem to go away?” Answering yourself honestly and being able to accept that something “just doesn’t feel right” is the first step in injury prevention.
If you do notice any minor aches, pains or soreness that doesn’t seem to go away, you need to get it checked out by your physical therapist or sports physician. For example, as “the Baseball PT,” I always perform a full biomechanical analysis and assessment of the entire “baseball body” when a player comes to see me about some “minor” pain. Trust me when I say something small will usually develop into a more serious injury because of the repetitive nature of baseball mechanics (i.e. pitching, throwing and hitting.)
FOR PARENTS/COACHES: If your player is trying to be honest with you about pain, LISTEN TO HIM. I cannot tell you how many times an overzealous parent or coach will push their kid to play through pain and soreness because a scout might be in the stands, only to cause permanent damage that ends their kid’s baseball career while he’s still a teenager.
#2 – Take Care of Your Tissues
Once recognizing some ache, pain or soreness, you need to start preventative care with consistent soft tissue work. For this, I recommend every one of my athletes to get a lacrosse ball or baseball. You can either lay or stand with the ball pressed against your back/shoulder and some hard surface. Any sore or tender spots you find means there are restrictions there that must be worked out before and after every practice and game. Another great soft-tissue mobilization tool–particularly for your upper back and lats–is a foam roller. Again, you should foam roll before and after every practice and game to keep the rotational component of your body loose.
#3 – Stretch the Proper Way
Take note because this is very important: we DO NOT want to static stretch prior to performance. When you static stretch (e.g. hold arm across body, pec stretch holding on to fence, hamstring stretch, etc.) all you’re doing is tricking your brain into thinking your tissues are lengthening (i.e. getting loose) when in reality, they’re not. Your brain has told your body it’s warmed up and ready to go, but actually the tissue is still stiff and not properly prepared for action, which is what can lead to injury.
Static stretching also negatively effects your performance, as research shows that it leads to a nine percent decrease in strength for up to an hour afterwards (obviously not ideal before a game.)
Instead, before every practice and game you need to perform a dynamic warm up, which mimics the movements you’ll actually be doing while playing ball, such as active wrist movements, dynamic hugs, and throwing position rotation.
#4 – Build Entire-Body Strength
Finally, the last piece to get us to the next level and help prevent injuries is a proper strength training program. However, in this case, I’m not just talking about strengthening the arm, but rather the entire body. I really can’t emphasize enough how important it is for baseball players to work on their shoulder stabilizers to improve their back, core and lower-half strength, as well as balance.
So, as you continue to put in the work to achieve your dream of playing baseball at the next level, just remember that consistency is key. Professional athletes are all known for their consistent drive and dedication, and with that dedication comes an intense focus on daily body health maintenance. The fact is that if you’re consistent with your daily recovery routine and if you start listening to your body, you will perform better, and ultimately your shot at playing baseball at the next level is as good as anyone’s.