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During my four decades in MLB, I have had the opportunity to work with and learn from numerous catchers and coaches who were former catchers. Most notably among these were Yogi Berra, Tony Pena, Brad Ausmus, Ivan Rodriguez, Pat Borders, Benji Molina, Bruce Bochy and Scott Servais. A few, Bochy, Ausmus and Servais, are currently Major League managers. Each of these individuals possessed a wealth of information and graciously shared some it with me. These men helped me understand and appreciate the unique physical, physiological and mental demands of the position. Armed with this information, I was able to improve my ability to create personalized, position-specific training programs that addressed the catchers
physical, physiological, mental, movement, recovery and nutritional needs of this population.

Another area in which these individuals provided valuable information was the importance of developing and maintaining a healthy, strong, durable arm from the first day of spring training through the last game of the season. This was extremely important because there is a very limited amount of valid, practical or scientific information that has been published concerning effective off-season throwing programs for catchers. While there was no universal agreement among these players and coaches as to the optimal off-season throwing program, the consensus among most was: 1) in order to have a strong, healthy arm throughout the season, you must establish a strong throwing base during the off-season; 2) for optimal arm strength, health and safety, you must progressively increase throwing workload and distance during the off-season; 3) you must have periodic built-in recovery periods; and 4) you must listen to your arm and take a day or days off when it tells you to.

While I have seen a number of effective programs over the years, the one listed below was developed and used by Brad Ausmus during his 18-year Major League career with the Padres, Tigers, Astros and Dodgers. Ausmus was recognized as one of the best receivers and most durable catchers in MLB. He had an exceptionally fast release time and an extremely strong, accurate and durable arm. He caught over 1900 games before going on the DL during his last season in the major leagues with a back injury.

The following off-season throwing program was designed by and for professional catchers. It can also be suitable for amateur players who have at least the arm strength of a typical in coming college freshman.  Players should be fully rested and recovered from the previous season before starting the program. The program starts in early January and is continued through spring training. For the first 18 days, players throw for five consecutive days, take a day off and repeat the sequence. After day 18, players repeat the throwing program outlined for day 17 for five consecutive days, take a day off and repeat this sequence until the end of spring training.

Effort is limited to no more than 50% for the first week (5 days) and gradually increased until reaching near-max effort approximately 7 to 10 days prior to the first spring game. Initially, players should rest for 12-15 seconds between throws and 5-8 minutes between sets. As arm strength and accuracy increase, rest between throws and sets should gradually decrease over time. Players should make one set of throws at each distance from a receiving position in each workout to simulate the mechanics required in game situations.

One of the most important principles of the throwing program is to “Listen to Your Arm”.  All players are different in terms of how they adapt to training programs. This is not a one size fits all program.  Players should throw according to what feels right from day to day, not blindly follow the program. The program is a guide based on years of experience at the Major League level. The workload, distance, number of throws and/or rest between throws and sets should be adjusted according to how a player’s arm feels. Remember, “Listen to Your Arm, it will let you know how quickly or slowly you can progress. You can’t throw through a sore arm. If you have any doubt as to whether you should throw or rest, consult and follow the “Soreness Rules” developed by Michael Axe, MD1.

  • If no soreness, advance one step every throwing day.
  • If sore during warm-up but soreness is gone within the first 15 throws, repeat the previous workout. If the shoulder becomes sore during this workout, stop throwing and take two days off. Upon return to throwing, drop down one step.
  • If sore more than one hour after throwing or the next day, take one day off and repeat the most recent throwing program workout.
  • If sore during warm-up and soreness continues through the first 15 throws, stop throwing and take two days off. Upon return to throwing, drop down one step.

Make sure that you warm up thoroughly before and cool down properly after throwing. Take care of your body by engaging in a regular scheduled and properly designed resistance training program. Protect your arm by performing approved training and stretching exercises for the shoulder, arm and forearm.

 

Day S x T x D Day S x T x D Day S x T x D
1 2x15x60’

2x15x90’

7 3x15x60’

3x15x90’

1x15x120’

13 3x15x90’

3x15x120’

1x15x150’

2 3x15x60’

3x15x90’

8 3x15x60’

2x15x90’

2x15x120’

14 3x15x90’

3x15x120’

2x15x150’

3 3x15x60’

3x15x90’

9 3x15x60’

3x15x90’

3x15x120’

15 3x15x90’

3x15x120’

3x15x150’

4 3x15x60’

3x15x90’

10 3x15x60’

3x15x90’

3x15x120’

16 3x15x90’

3x15x120’

3x15x150’

5 3x15x60’

3x15x90’

11 3x15x60’

3x15x90’

3x15x120’

17 3x15x90’

3x15x120’

3x15x150’

6 Off day 12 Off day 18  

 

Off day

 

 

References

 

  1. Axe, M. J., et. al. Data-based interval throwing programs for baseball position players from age 13 to college level. Sports Health, 1(2):145-153, 2009.

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Brad Ausmus is manager of the Detroit Tigers. He caught at the Major League level for 18 years for four different organizations, was a member of the 1999 AL All-Star Team, three-time Gold Glove winner (2001, 2002, 2006) and recipient of the 2007 Darryl Kile Award for Integrity and courage. He also led the league five times in fielding percentage, two times in range and percent caught stealing and once each in putouts and assists. He finished his career in 2010 ranked third in major league history with 12,839 putouts as a catcher.

 

Gene Coleman, Ed. D., RSCC-E, FACSM, was the Head S&C Coach for the Houston Astros from 1978-2012 and is currently a strength and conditioning consultant for the Texas Rangers and Professor in the Exercise and Health Sciences Program at the University of Houston – Clear Lake.

 

 

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