It's still December, but in Texas, it's already time to start thinking about your spring season on-ramping. With high school and college teams beginning practices in January and many youth leagues not far behind, the training window is already turning into the preparation window.
Sufficient preparation is essential for both performance and health. Whether you spent the off-season training your butt off or resting and recovering from a year-round schedule, you don't want to show up to that first practice -- especially if it's a tryout -- and not be ready to go.
If you've been training, on-ramping for the season will mean transitioning to focused flat-ground work and eventually throwing from a mound. The goal is to translate off-season gains into baseball-ready performance.
Professional players are still 8-10 weeks from reporting, and at Driveline Baseball near Seattle, the pros have just started high-intensity throwing:
If you've been resting, however, on-ramping for the season will mean gradually returning to throwing. Most youth pitchers will fall into this category, and nearly all year-round pitchers should fall into this category. (Some pitchers don't even give themselves time to rest, playing in fall leagues and showcases well into December!)
Traditional prehab-style on-ramping focuses on constrained throwing (wrist flicks, elbow extensions, etc.) with limited intensity and restricted distances. As part of the ramp-up, throwing constraints are removed, intensity is increased, and distances are extended.
Coming off a period of rest is a great time to introduce a plyo ball program. The low-intensity, constrained throws at the beginning of such a program will not only physically prime the body for more intense throwing, it also gives the pitcher time to learn the new movements.
Starting out with heavier implements, such as Driveline's green and black PlyoCare balls, a plyo ball program tests the brain's neurological map for throwing, challenging it to become more efficient. As lighter implements are introduced and constraints are removed, the body continues to move toward readiness while a more efficient throwing pattern begins to take hold.
On the other hand, a traditional on-ramp program that uses only a standard 5oz baseball, while it will help prepare the pitcher for the upcoming season, will generally not provide enough of a training stimulus to challenge movement efficiency.
The clock is ticking on this off-season. Make sure you're ready for 2017.