Individualizing the 5-day Starting Rotation

A pitchers’ weekly schedule is something that should take on a very individualized approach.  What works for one doesn’t necessarily work for all.  Some athletes are very sympathetic dominant and may struggle to recover after outings.  These athletes may require less in the way of high intensity training means throughout the week with more recovery dominant work.  On the flip side, other pitchers may actually need to have frequent high intensity means closer to when they take the mound.

Pitchers moving from the college game into pro ball find themselves in unfamiliar territory.  7 day rotations drop to 5 days and the week quickly becomes condensed.  Recovery can take on a more significant importance for any pro pitcher as the turnaround is rapid and any lag in the system could be detrimental to future starts.  Determining what works for each athlete is an important facet to development over the course of a professional career.  If a pitcher doesn’t figure out what works for them they may soon find their career in real estate instead of on the diamond.

There are many options and variations when it comes to not only training but the throwing schedule throughout the weekly rotation.  Bullpens usually occur Day 2 or Day 3 depending on the athlete.  Some will opt for a Day 2 pen and come back with another light side on Day 3 or even Day 4.  The throwing I have included in is nothing more than a generalization of common throwing throughout the week with an understanding that each pitcher also individualizes this aspect as well.

Option 1 – 2x Total Body 

This is the option that I have utilized the most with our pro starting pitchers.  This is a total body template with built in recovery between high intensity days.  Most pitchers usually opt for a lower body emphasis after their start. However, I do know several pitchers that prefer to start day 1 with upper body.  They want their upper body lift as far away from their next start as possible.   They feel it also gives them the opportunity to quickly eliminate left over soreness with plenty of blood flow and movement.  One of the limitations with this option is in a perfect world we may want a day of recovery post start instead of a high intensity session.   With 2 total body sessions in the 5-day rotation an athlete can use less volume because of multiple stimuli versus an upper or lower only session.

One alternative for advanced athletes that can be used in this and some of the other formats is alternating a heavier total body Rep/Max Effort on the first total body day with Dynamic Effort total body lift on the 2nd training day.  This puts a heavier, volume day further out from the next start.  The dynamic effort day can serve somewhat as a lighter volume, CNS prime session.  I’ll save the details on the more advanced methods for another time and stick to the basic outlines for the rest of this article.

Day 0 – Start

Day 1
Throwing: Feel Based / Tolerance
Training: Total Body / Upper or Lower Emphasis
Alternative: Rep Effort

Day 2
Throwing: Long Toss
Training: Recovery

Day 3
Throwing: Bullpen
Training: Total Body / Upper or Lower Emphasis
Alternative: Dynamic Effort

Day 4
Throwing: Feel Based / Long Toss
Training: Recovery

Day 5 – Start


Total / Lower Dominant

  1. Squat Pattern
    Sets 3-5 Sets
    Front Squat
    Back Squat
    Safety Bar
    Trap Bar Deadlift
  2. a. Core – Anti Rotation
    b. Pushup Variation
    2-3 Sets
  3. a. Posterior Chain
    b. Horizontal Pull / Scapula
    2-4 Sets

Total / Upper Dominant

  1. Pull / Push Pattern
    3-5 Sets
    Low Row Variation

    Loaded Pushups
    Neutral Grip DB Bench
    Neutral Grip Pullup
  2. a. Core – Anti Extension
    b. Single Leg Mobility Variation
    2-3 Sets
  3. a. Posterior Chain
    b. Horizontal Pull / Scapula
    2-4 Sets

Option 2 – Upper Lower Split

Option 2 is using a traditional upper/lower split early in the week.  This option condenses training in the early part of the week with more opportunity to recover later.  Again, most pitchers prefer training the lower half after their start and saving upper body for Day 2 post bullpen.  Bullpens again become very individualized and those that may throw a pen on Day 3 will move their upper body work accordingly.  Again, a limitation to this method is no recovery post throw.  Placing both workouts early in the week does help recovery and preparation for the next start.

Day 0 – Start

Day 1
Throwing: Feel Based / Tolerance
Training: Lower or Upper only

Day 2
Throwing: Bullpen
Training: Upper or Lower only

Day 3
Throwing: Long Toss
Training: Off

Day 4
Throwing: Feel Based
Training: Recovery or CNS Prime

Day 5 – Start


Lower Only

  1. Squat or Deadlift Pattern
    3-6 Sets
  2. Posterior Chain
    3-5 Sets
  3. Single Leg Variation
    2-4 Sets
  4. a. Core – Anti-Extension
    b. Glute – Rotational
    Can be added as active rest as well
    2-3 Sets

Upper Only

  1. Horizontal Pull
    3-5 Sets
  2. Push or Pull Variations
    3-4 Sets
    Pushup Variations

    Neutral DB Bench Variations
    Low Row Variations
    Neutral Grip Pullups
  3. a. Core – Anti-Rotation (Pushup Mobility Variation)
    b. Scapulae
    c. Rotator Cuff / Accessory Arm Work
    2-3 Sets through rotation

Option 2a – Upper/Lower Recovery

Another option within an upper/lower split is adding a recovery day on Day 1 to facilitate restoration post start.   From there Day 2 and Day 3 become training days with Day 4 as a day to recover prior to starting Day 5.

Day 0 – Start

Day 1
Throwing: Feel Based / Tolerance
Training: Recovery

Day 2
Throwing: Bullpen or Long Toss
Training: Lower or Upper

Day 3
Throwing: Bullpen or Long Toss
Training: Lower or Upper

Day 4
Throwing: Feel Based / Long Toss
Training: Recovery

Day 5 – Start


Option 3 – Total Body Recovery

One of my favorite options for athletes that struggle to recover is a total body lift on Day 2.  This allows athletes to get quality recovery on Day 1 post start.  One of the places I believe recovery needs to be placed is 24 hrs. after pitching.  Due to scheduling we are often forced to lift an athlete post start but recovery of the body is most likely the best option.  Starts, especially deep, or difficult innings are high stress on the nervous system.  Placing only one workout in the 5-day rotation assists the athlete’s ability to recover.  The total body session paired up with a bullpen combines CNS efforts and allows for 2 full days of recovery prior to the next start.  The day prior to pitching some athletes will respond well to a very light nervous system activation to get the body going.  An example may be small volume of medball throws, jumps, light dynamic work, bodyweight mobility circuits, etc.

Day 0 – Start

Day 1
Throwing: Feel Based / Tolerance
Training: Recovery

Day 2
Throwing: Bullpen
Training: Total Body

Day 3
Throwing: Long Toss
Training: Off / Recovery

Day 4
Throwing: Feel Based
Training: Recovery or CNS Prime

Day 5 – Start


Total Body

  1. Squat or Deadlift Pattern
    3-6 sets
  2. Push or Pull Pattern
    3-5 sets
  3. a. Posterior Chain / Glutes
    Horizontal Pull / Scapulae
    3-4 sets through rotations
  4. a. Core – Anti-Rotation / Extension
    b. Single Leg Variation
    c. Pushup Variation or Pull/Scap (dependent upon main upper body selection)
    2-3 sets through rotation

Option 4 – Start + Lift

As we’ve seen through the templates above, it can become tough condensing a 5 day week with high intensity lifts interspersed with appropriate recovery days.  One way that I haven’t discussed that some pitchers will opt for is to train immediately after throwing.  The places all high intensity means on one day giving 1-2 days recovery before their next mound, training session.  It then allows for 1-2 more days recovery prior to the next start.  This allows for both training sessions to be placed post throwing joining all high intensity means on one day.  While this appears like the best option it doesn’t always play out like it seems.  One reason can often be limited access to facilities, especially for minor league pitchers.  Many don’t have access to a weight room, especially on the road.  And many are just dog tired post start.  In theory it seems well placed but many pitchers struggle to get much out of a lift post start.  Muscular fatigue matched with stressful situations that create nervous fatigue often make training an afterthought when a pitcher gets pulled.  Many times the best thing for a pitcher after starting is simply rest.  Let the body begin to repair itself and recover instead of knocking it down more into depletion.  When pitchers are able to do this variation it makes for a good system of alternating high and low intensity means with several days for recovery in between.

Day 0 – Start
Training: Total/Lower or Lower only

Day 1
Throwing: Feel Based / Tolerance
Training: Recovery

Day 2
Throwing: Bullpen
Training: Total/Upper or Upper Only

Day 3
Throwing: Long Toss
Training: Off

Day 4
Throwing: Feel Based
Training: Recovery

Day 5 – Start


Recovery / CNS Prime

Restoring the body after a pitchers last start or prior to the next should take an important role throughout the weekly routine.

  1. Aerobic Capacity <20 mins
  2. Soft Tissue General Time: 5 mins
  3. Mobility
    Specific
    Time: 5 mins
  4. Movement Series
    Hip / T-Spine / Shoulder
    Time: 5 mins
  5. Activation Series
    Time: 5-10 mins
    Core/Scap/Cuff/Glutes

A CNS prime the day before a start can be a light training day to get the athlete firing on all cylinders again.  These can be used if all high intensity means are early in the week on Day 1 and Day 2.  When programmed we want this day to be short, and fast.  Programming bodyweight movements, jumps, medball throws can get the nervous system going.   Even a light lift can be effective.  Several of our position players use this method in the morning of a night game.

In-season is the time to give pitchers some of the freedoms to choose movements when it comes to their body and their arm.  After all it is their career and they know their arm better than you ever can.  Take their opinion seriously when it is offered.  We have guys who thrive with weighted pushups during the season while other perform horizontal and/or vertical pull variations.  Others perform combinations of both means.  Knowing that pitchers will respond differently to movements is paramount as a coach.  Finding a weekly routine that keeps pitchers strong, mobile, healthy, and restored for their next start should be of primary importance throughout the year.  These are just some of the variations of a weekly routine that can be utilized with the 5-day rotation.  This list is not exhaustive of all examples but should serve to help understand the many possibilities and look outside the box.