[Ed. Note: Shaun wrote this great piece last week and I’ve been a bit late getting it up online!]
Last week, Dustin McGowan came out and said he was feeling fatigued around the 60-65 pitch mark. He’ll make his next start, but the Blue Jays are monitoring him to see if he can go deep into games. My initial reaction to this news was that there was something wrong with his arm. That is not the case. He is a diabetic who is just trying to get used to long outings. Of course, considering his history, you can’t blame me for jumping to that conclusion. Add to that, the fact that there have been a freakishly high number of players going down with injuries, most of whom end up needing Tommy John Surgery. A list of 15 pitchers needing Tommy John surgery can be found in an interesting piece by Eric Schaal at WallStCheatSheet.com. Some of them include: Ivan Nova of the New York Yankees, Josh Johnson of the San Diego Padres and Matt Moore of the Tampa Bay Rays. Four players on that list, including Johnson, are having their second surgery. I started thinking: What if there was a way to avoid these injuries?
Immediately, Steve Delabar popped into my head. His work to recover from injury and adopt a program that has resulted in him becoming an All Star and a very reliable arm from the Blue Jays bullpen. What exactly is involved with his program? What if his program could be adopted by others? In order to find the answers to these questions, I went right to the source. What started out as an opinion piece about Blue Jays injuries, turned into me going to the source of an incredibly popular and effective program: Velocity Plus Arm Care.
According to The Velocity Plus Arm Care program website (velocityplusarmcare.com) the program was started by Dr Tom House and has been validated by the USC School of Medicine. I sat down for a phone conversation with Joe Newton to discuss the Velocity program. Joe is the Ambassador and leading promoter of the Velocity Plus Arm Care Program. He is the president and founder of The Players’ Dugout Baseball/Softball Academy and a member of The National Pitching Association Advisory Board. Along with Joe, the board consists of Dr James Andrews, Dr Tom House, Drew Brees, Mark Prior, Randy Johnson, Orel Hershiser and Nolan Ryan among others. Joe provided me with insight into the program and its potential benefits to not only pitchers, but all athletes. Here is a summary of our conversation:
An interview with Joe Newton of Velocity Plus Arm Care
Shaun Doyle: Can you describe the velocity program?
Joe Newton: Oh, boy. It is difficult to sum up briefly. We like to work on arm care before the program is actually used. We work on lactic acid in the shoulder. Promoting aerobic, anaerobic exercise and alternating the two into a regimen for the shoulder and arm. We use arm care everyday as a routine prior to throwing. Velocity offers arm care in season and off season. Just because an athlete is in season, he still needs to continue training on top of his side sessions, in game work, etc. Velocity is a personalized program that is adopted after evaluations.
In order to have the right results from the program, the player needs to be properly evaluated. Velocity uses over-loading and under-loading with heavy or light balls. You can’t just call it the “weighted ball” and that’s it. You have to follow the program and get players acclimated. We consider age, height, weight when adapting the program to the player. We like to put them through an evaluation and then acclimate them to the program. We do look at mechanics of the player as well. We look at the functionality of pitching and try to adapt it to each person. The Velocity program does not get kids hurt. If they follow the program properly (functionally and mechanically), it prevents injuries. Players get hurt when they jump in and start using the program without the proper training associated with it. Some players may also have a mechanical issue already. These players could get hurt regardless of what they use: bands, weights, etc. depending on their genetics or mechanics. Often regular training is not tailored to mechanics and the functionality of sports. The Velocity program can be adapted to anyone who throws a baseball or softball.
It’s like the idea behind killing rabbits. If you’re starving in the woods and all you have to hunt with is a rock, you want to be able to throw the object and kill the rabbit. There is not going to be anyone there to tell you to adjust your arm angle, etc. You just naturally throw the rock as hard as you can. That motion (which is different for everybody) is the natural motion the program attempts to work with. Within that, the program also addresses mechanics, balance, etc. Young players are a puzzle. They need to figure out their own puzzle and the Velocity program can work with that.
SD: What are the programs origins?
JN: It was created by Dr Tom House. A lot of people think that Jaime Evans created the program, but it was Tom. Jamie did not create the program, but he works with the Blue Jays. Velocity Arm Care was a pre-hab shoulder injury program to begin with. It is based on the GIRD study [(Glenohumeral Interanal Rotation Deficit) which looked at the range of motion difference in shoulders, specifically side to side differences in range of motion, laxity, and humeral retroversion. You can find more about the study here]. Once the study was done, it became a pre-hab, rehab and then a strengthening program to balance and strengthen the shoulder. Over time, we have been able to adapt it to match the needs of individuals and teams.
SD: Who is this program designed for? Just pitchers or position players?
JN: It doesn’t matter if you’re a starter, reliever, hard thrower, soft thrower. This program is for everyone. Actually, there a very large number of catchers who use the program. Catchers have to throw from the ear and never get the full range of motion when they throw. They can’t use their natural arm slot. We work with catchers to be able to throw the ball as naturally as throwing a rock. It is designed for anyone who throws. Tom Brady and Drew Brees use it, baseball players, girls softball players use it. Anyone who throws. It is difficult for people to order the program online and use it properly, though. Obviously, having a qualified instructor meet and teach the program is preferable. The personal, tailored approach is difficult to attain buying online. [Author’s Note: The Velocity Arm Care Program has had great results and success via online sales. Through the internet, a personalized program can still be developed with the same information gathered in person and have the same effective results. Mr Newton wanted it clarified that nothing is as good as seeing someone in person, but the program can still be tailored and used effectively.]
SD: Is there a specific age that you target? When should people start using it?
JN: Kids can start at 8/9 years old. There are a lot of people using it from youth through high school, college and major leagues. Several colleges are using the program: Lousiville, Kentucky, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Baylor boys and girls. We’re looking to expand into Michigan and Texas. Several Division 2 Division 3 and junior colleges also use it. Another example is St John’s River in Florida. In a conversation I had with the coach from Vanderbilt he told me probably 35% of players may be coming in already hurt. That’s sad.
SD: How has this program impacted pitchers? How can pitchers benefit from this?
JN: We’ve helped a lot of guys and kids. We’ve helped them avoid injuries. We’ve helped them come back from injuries. Mostly, I just want to help them stay healthy. Last year, possibly, a 100 players who’ve had Tommy John surgery have come to us for rehab. Labrum injuries too. Coaches of young players are over using their players and they get hurt. They want to win at all costs. They’re pushing young arms too much; not warming up players properly. Players get hurt from being overworked. Young kids are not as athletically prepared for the rigors of sports. Kids today don’t play, they don’t exercise. They go from the couch or the computer to the mound. The demands on their body to perform at the extreme end of pitching is going to get them hurt if they do not have the exercise and training put in between time. The injuries that are popping up these days are far more frequent than in the past. The program provides them with the preparation to be ready go on to the mound and endure the physical demands of pitching. Right now there are far too many injuries that the Velocity program can help with.
I think “travel ball” is an issue. Kids go on long trips to play in long tournaments causing kids to play too much and not train enough. Kids are over used and under trained. This happens a lot in warm climate areas like Texas and California. That is not to take anything away from “travel ball”, it is just to say that they should be monitoring kids’ throwing and training more. Kids themselves need to learn to listen to their bodies more. Often, we only listen to our bodies when we are hurt. We need to start listening when we feel good. Reflect on what you did to feel good just as much as what you did to feel hurt. At the end of the day, we just want to help kids. We want them to stay healthy.
SD: How has this program impacted the Toronto Blue Jays?
JN: Steve Delabar uses the program with me. I work with him. Other (most) relievers may be using it with the team. I hope that others will be contacting me this season or the off season. At the professional level, the onus is on the player to adopt this training program. It is hard to implement one program as an organization because players are their own people and have their own methods. As more players see the success and value of the program, more and more will jump on board.
SD: Are you getting more calls or orders from professional players (or teams) with the recognition Steve Delabar has garnered with his success after injury?
JN: There has been some recognition of the work Steve Delabar has done with the program. But, there are a lot of professional players using the program. Word gets out through them. Look at Louisville, not because they got to the College World Series, but because they were able to do so with fewer injuries to their players. The word gets out because college coaches want their players to stay healthy for a better chance to win. The MLB players and colleges have contacted the Velocity team to have the program tailored to them. There have been others that have tried to copy the program. The “copy” programs can teach a video or a certain program, but they don’t personalize the program and acclimate the player the way Velocity does. The Velocity program also has over 60 academies.
While Dustin McGowan’s recent fatigue issues don’t seem to have anything to do with his arm, thankfully, I can’t help but wonder if he could have been on the mound for the last few years instead of fighting various injuries. There are, at least, 15 players that should be paying a visit to the Velocity Plus Arm Care team. Those are the ones we know of. How many countless other injuries can be avoided by adopting such a personalized, mechanical approach to training and preparation? More and more, young kids will be chasing their dreams and Clayton Kershaw kind of money. It would behoove them to adopt a program like Velocity Plus Arm Care as a means to ensuring they stay healthy enough to see that kind of paycheck. It is much preferable to chasing the dream whilst coming back from a serious injury. Better safe than sorry.
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