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The Limits Of Conditioning


I am a big believer in the idea that pitchers should constantly work on conditioning their bodies.
     I believe that by improving the strength of their legs, torsos, shoulders, and arms pitchers can improve the ability of their body both to generate force and to tolerate the stresses of pitching. I don't think it's a coincidence that Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, and Roger Clemens were both big believers in (some would say fanatics about) conditioning and pitchers who had long, generally injury-free careers.
     The problem is that conditioning, while invaluable for adults, is of only of limited value when it comes to pitchers who are younger than 16 or 17 (biologically speaking). In fact, in some cases putting a young pitcher on a conditioning program can increase the risk they will injure themselves rather than reduce that risk.
     Let me use an analogy to explain the logic that lies behind that statement.
     As the saying goes, any chain is only as strong as its weakest link. If you try to lift a 2,000 pound rock, and the S-hook that you use to connect the chain to the sling is only rated to 1,000 pounds, it doesn't matter that the crane that you use is rated at 20,000 pounds, the chain that you use is rated at 10,000 pounds, and the sling is rated at 5,000 pounds. You won't be able to lift the rock (for long) because the S-hook will fail.
     The same thing holds for the Medial Epicondyle of the elbow (the bony bump on the inside of the elbow to which the UCL and many of the muscles of the forearm attach). The problem is that, while the UCL and the muscles of the forearm may be rated at 300 pounds, the growth cartilage that holds the Medial Epicondyle to the Humerus bone is only rated at something like 200 pounds. If you apply too much force to the Medial Epicondyle, then one of two things will happen. Either the Medial Epicondyle will pull off of the Humerus or the growth plate that attaches the Medial Epicondyle to the Humerus will close prematurely.
     In either case, the result is a permanent injury.
     Bulking up the muscles of the forearm will not do any good because at the end of the day they attach to the Medial Epicondyle, which is made up of inherently weak growth cartilage until the player is biologically 16 or 17. The only thing you can do is limit the amount of stress that is applied to the Medial Epicondyle. That means never throwing so hard as to pull the Medial Epicondyle off of the Humerus and not throwing so much as to cause the growth plate to close prematurely.

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