Throwing Athletes and Finding A Healthy Training Balance

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Most training programs, particularly for athletes, are unbalanced. One of the most common examples of this is a 1:1, or worse 2:1, push to pull ratio of exercises. For example, a barbell bench press and an incline dumbbell bench press paired with a single pull exercise, such as a dumbbell row. In an ideal situation and a balanced training program, you will typically see a 2:1 pull to push ratio. So, we would flip the example to be a barbell bench press paired with a dumbbell row and a facepull.

However, circumstances change when presented with a throwing athlete. A 2:1 pull to push ratio is the minimum target with a 3:1 ratio being the goal. Some coaches strive for a 4:1 pull to push ratio, but in relation to time, effect, and effort, 3:1 is optimal. Of course with the aim of a 3:1 ratio comes the question: why?

To make everything from here simple, let’s make this about a throwing athlete who plays baseball. This specific individual is not primarily a pitcher, but can pitch if necessary.

Let’s assume they take 40 throws to be warmed-up before a practice and/or game. Let’s then assume 3-4 throws during an inning when they are warming up in the field and say it is a 6-inning game.

  • Warm-up  — 40 throws
  • On-field throws — 6 innings x 4 throws — 24 throws
  • # of extensions of the arm = 64

That’s 64 throws, which means 64 repetitions of arm extension/abduction. That means 64 repetitions of a pull to equal ONE single game of push. This doesn’t include multiple games or practices.

Now, let’s implement a ‘typical’ bench press workout you see often in the fitness world in the 5×5 scheme. That is 5 sets of 5 repetitions of bench press at ‘x’ amount of weight. If you’re applying the math correctly, that’s 25 more repetitions of extension. While the bench press isn’t as intense or forceful on the arm, it’s extension nevertheless.

Now, update the math:

  • Warm-up  — 40 throws
  • On-field throws — 6 innings x 4 throws — 24 throws
  • Bench press — 25 reps of bench
  • # of extensions = 89

If the athlete was to bench press just once that week, that would be 90 repetitions of a pull to balance out one game and one 5×5 bench press workout.

How is this relevant?

Multiple organizations such as the NCAA and MLB call for 2-3 months of continuous non-throwing time. For pitchers, they go further to say no more than 80 innings (3 outs = 1 inning) in a calendar year.  Despite recommendations and warnings, baseball is still a year-round sport with 5% of youth throwers suffering some type of arm injury by the age of 18.

Imagine putting weight after weight on one side of a barbell. With nothing to even out the bar, the bar will tip and break. Now, imagine throwing over and over with nothing to balance out all of the extension work taking place. This is when and how injuries occur. Pulling variations are needed to balance the pushing (throwing) done by the arm. When performing in-season training, a coach can and should consider minimal arm extension work in order to maximize shoulder health and save the extension when throwing occurs.

In-season training can be tough with games and practices happening, so training sessions may be limited. That’s why the pre-season and off-season are so vital to injury prevention and in-season success. While you’ll never make up the push to pull comparison in-season, you can definitely get ahead of the curve during the time that should be used for non-throwing. Take advantage of the off-season to focus on proper training protocols and recovery modalities, so that when the season starts you aren’t already behind.

Zach Bettis


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