Today I’d like to take some time to discuss an alternative to traditional pitcher recovery strategies (in terms of strength and conditioning); methods that I believe hold the potential for more goal-oriented recovery — the Recovery Circuit.
Below I will explain what the Recovery Circuit consists of (and why), provide sample clips, and suggest some applications for baseball pitchers.
Note: these thoughts, opinions, and ideas are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of my current, past, or future employers.
What is the Recovery Circuit and What is its Purpose?
Essentially, the goal of the Recovery Circuit is to expedite/foster enhanced recovery. I’m certainly not an elite athlete, nor is my training extreme, but I do train hard, and I train often, thus the Recovery Circuit was born out of a desire to feel better, quicker.
So, what is the Recovery Circuit? It is a 20-30 minute continuous circuit (meaning it is performed for 20-30 minutes straight with no structured rest periods) composed of a variety of exercises. Generally, it would include 2-3 of each of the following:
- Mobility Exercise
- Stability Exercise
- Heart Rate Component Exercise
- SMR Exercise
I’m obviously not the first person to ever suggest doing a circuit made up of mobility or stability exercises, nor am I the first to create a circuit with the following objectives in mind. Regardless, I still wanted to share the objectives and rationale for how I conduct my recovery circuits, and moreover, how it could help a starting pitcher recover in between outings.
We already said that the goal is to expedite recovery, but what objectives must be met in order to make this happen?
First, we want to address any regions of the body that needs attention, whether it is due to soreness or due to specific limitations/restrictions. For example, if an athlete were to complete a tough total-body training session on Monday, and on Tuesday he/she is feeling particularly sore in the shoulders and lats, adding in some low-intensity mobility exercises (such as a yoga-push-up) may help these muscles recover from that soreness quicker.
Also, if an athlete knows that they have a particularly difficult lower-body training the next day, they can begin to prepare the lower-half for that lift through some low-intensity mobility exercises or movements. For example, if an athlete had difficult sumo-deadlifts on Monday, and on Wednesday they are expected to Squat, they could include some adductor and glute movements to prepare the lower-half for Wednesday’s session.
Finally, an athlete may have specific movement needs – whether they be mobility or stability – that they need to address. While they can use correctives within their training sessions and warm-ups themselves, they can also include them in the Recovery Circuit to give them additional exposure to those much-needed movements. For instance, if an athlete needs to work on trunk stability, they can easily address this quality by including it in the circuit.
While none of my videos include soft-tissue work, the athlete who performs the Recovery Circuit can very easily integrate some into their own routine as needed/desired. Obviously, for the sake of time and convenience, the simplest way to address soft-tissue work in this fashion would be through SMR, thus a foam roller or LAX ball/Baseball can be brought into the mix.
Although some will debate the actual efficacy of specific SMR outcomes, I like it for two reasons – parasympathetic response and perceived recovery. A friend of mine, Chris Lowe (@SA_ChrisLowe) of Texas A&M-Kingsville Strength & Conditioning, did his Graduate thesis work on SMR, and while I don’t want to give any of his findings away, I will say that he pointed me in the direction of some SMR studies that he collected during his literature review phase. Of these studies, one that stuck out to me discussed the authors’ findings that SMR provided an enhanced perception of recovery for the subjects involved.
If it makes you perceive that you’re recovering, and you feel better, then I see plenty reason to include it in a recovery process such as a Recovery Circuit, if you so desire.
Although many in baseball will vehemently tell you that any conditioning besides sprints is detrimental to the baseball pitcher, if you have read my thoughts on this topic, you already know that I believe aerobic training is an important part of the training process for everyone, including pitchers. This is because part of the recovery process is to regulate the autonomic nervous system.
Simply put, a sympathetic response controls the fight-or-flight mechanism, shifting our body’s focus and abilities toward surviving (and performing/competing). The parasympathetic response shifts the body back into relaxation or recovery mode, thus allowing for better sleep, digestion, etc.
Intuitively, we know that training or competing hard (i.e. intense strength training, conditioning, competition) initiates a shift toward a sympathetic response. This sympathetic response can affect heart rate, digestion, sleep, elimination of bodily wastes, fatigue, and overall recovery (more on pitching, below), and this response can initially last a few days. If training and competition is intense, and fatigue accumulates over a prolonged period of time without any dissipation, performance can suffer.
But, research has shown that low-intensity aerobic training can help regulate the parasympathetic response, thus restoring balance. This is exactly why I have made my recovery circuits 20-30 minutes of continuous low-intensity exercise, including a couple of “Heart Rate Components.” These HR Component exercises, while still low-intensity in nature (e.g. a lightly loaded Kettlebell Swing), serve to keep the heart rate elevated at a steady level, as some mobility and SMR drills are so low-intensity that the heart rate will naturally begin to subside.
How Can Pitchers Utilize the Recovery Circuit, and Why Should They?
As stated in the introduction, the Recovery Circuit, for me personally, is more general in nature. I am not an athlete anymore. I simply want to move and feel well on a daily basis.
Pitchers, like any athletes, need more direct and goal-oriented training processes, and recovery is no exception. So, the recovery circuit should include exercises that either, a) address their specific/personal needs, or b) address the demands imposed by pitching.
The Demands Imposed on the Pitcher, and Recovery Needs:
Research has shown that pitchers tend to lose scapular upward rotation as the season progresses and volume accumulates. They also generally lose hip range of motion. We also know that thoracic spine rotation is vital to safe and effective pitching, as is core stability/stiffness. Finally, we know that certain regions need soft-tissue attention, such as the pec minor, muscles of the posterior shoulder, as well as the forearm.
Brand new research has found that professional baseball starting pitchers (Single-A) experience decreased Heart Rate Variability (HRV) the day after pitching. Since decreased HRV is believed to mean an increased sympathetic response, this means global recovery has yet to “kick in” for the starting pitcher following their highly stressful outing the night before. This makes sense because, as we already said, above, intense training and competition fatigues the body and creates an imbalance of the autonomic nervous system, moving it toward sympathetic tone.
While this same research showed restoration to normal HRV by day 3 (2 days following the outing), I still believe that this study lends support to the idea of aerobic training as a recovery modality following a starting pitcher’s outing. While HRV may be restored by day 3, what if we could have it restored by the beginning of day 2 (by performing aerobic training IMMEDIATELY after being removed from the mound) or later in day 2 (by performing it early on day 2)? While this is all theoretical, if there is a chance that we can improve recovery sooner, allowing for more/better practice/training time in between starts, shouldn’t we explore that avenue?
As a friend and former co-worker of mine , Matt Haug (@matthaug18), always reminded me: conditioning and recovery isn’t always about being in shape or prepared for the game itself. Rather, it is just as important to be in shape and prepared for practice/training.
Matt attributes a lot of his incredible wealth of knowledge to the time he spent working under Mike Robertson at IFAST. Mike, one of the top experts in our field, wrote a great article on the topic of low-intensity cardio here. I highly recommend reading it.
Furthermore, utilizing a recovery modality that regulates autonomic nervous system activity may be a great way to ensure that the sympathetic response doesn’t insidiously accumulate and grow throughout the season/life-cycle, ultimately shortening the recovery and training window for the athlete. Again, this is all in theory, but if it isn’t harmful or excessive, why not give it a try and see how the athlete feels? Or, in the very least, conduct more research.
An additional side benefit would be to break up training monotony by alleviating the pitcher of the “flush run” the day after pitching.
Sample Recovery Circuit for a Starting Pitcher:
To summarize some of the recovery needs of a general starting pitcher, the following should serve as a guide for components to address:
- Range of motion of the scaps
- Range of motion of the hips
- Range of motion of the thoracic spine
- Trunk stability
- Soft-tissue quality of the anterior and posterior shoulder
- Autonomic nervous system balance
It should also be noted that most professional teams generally throw in a “Shoulder Program” of sorts immediately post-start and/or the day after, so some of these exercises can be thrown in as well.
A corresponding Recovery Circuit might look like:
20 Continuous Minutes:
- Jump Rope x 50 (HR Component)
- Back to Wall Shoulder Flexion x 5 (Scap mobility)
- High Plank Shoulder Taps x 5 each (Trunk Stability)
- Kneeling T-Spine Rotation x 5 each (T-Spine Mobility)
- SMR Posterior Shoulder
- Goblet Squat x 10 (Heart Rate Component)
- Bretzel 2.0 x 3 each (Hip and T-Spine Mobility)
- Rotational Lunge x 5 each (Hip Mobility)
- SMR Back
One additional note: as this is a Recovery Circuit, speed of movements or rounds is not a focus whatsoever. I don’t care how many rounds you can perform in 20 minutes. Take your time (while keeping your heart rate elevated), take small breaks for water when needed (10-30s max) – heck, listen to some relaxing music (I choose country). This is supposed to be recovery; a break from intense exercise and competition. Treat it as such.