Pick up a ball, throw routes. Rinse, repeat. This was how my throwing workouts were structured as a high school and college player. No thought was put into undulating volume to ensure my arm did not fall off, when and how to integrate game-like movements into my throwing, pre and post throw arm tissue preparation and repair, sequencing my throwing motion with plyometric balls, and isometric + eccentric + dynamic arm care throughout the weekly grind. I started to integrate some of these elements during my first year in the NFL, and have since integrated all of them. The rationale being that I am a longshot, undrafted free agent and I do not have the luxury of relying solely on arm talent. Therefore, it's imperative to my livelihood to stay on the cutting edge of the sports science for throwing. For context, most NFL quarterbacks do what I do, but with varying degrees of specificity.
This blog series seeks to explain the aforementioned elements of an NFL offseason throwing program. Part 1 will explain volume undulation and when and how to integrate game-like drills into throwing. It will explain what these are and the science behind them.
Part 2 will explain key training elements, from arm care, to arm sequencing with plyometric balls, to pre and post throw protocols. It will explain what these are and the science behind them.
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Off-Season Volume Undulation
What it is:
Volume undulation is a complex way of describing throw count. At a macro level, my throw volume will increase throughout the offseason (roughly 5.5 months) to prep my arm for the overloaded volume of training camp. Each month the total volume of throws will go up. For example, in month one, I will throw roughly 960 balls in a month. By month five, I will throw around 1400 balls for the month.
In contrast, on a weekly basis within those five months, throw counts typically undulate. For example, if I was in Week 4 of the first month of my offseason, throw volume would undulate as follows over three sessions:
Session 1: Medium volume - 60 to 70 throws.
Session 2: Low Volume - 45 to 55 throws.
Session 3: High Volume - 85 to 95 throws.
Macro volume is linear. Weekly volume oscillates. Note that total volume changes depending on your experience. I am at the highest level, and my full time job is to train; therefore, the intensity and volume of my workouts will be high.
Science behind it: Undulating or creating waves of volume and or intensity allows for micro specificity within a workout, as well as, being shown to better manage fatigue. For days where total throw volume may be lower, the goal should be to attack the more stressful and intense routes (routes that require more arm speed or higher valgus stress). In contrast, the daily undulation that has high volume will usually correspond with less stressful routes and a faster pace. Volume can be grown week over week, while the daily undulations account for more frequent exposures with less fatigue and in turn better performance intra-session.
When and How to Integrate Game-Like Throwing Drills
What it is: Game-like throwing drills include movement drills, visual impairment drills and decision making drills. I have written a blog on these three which you can find here. The important point is that you should not start off the offseason by fully integrating these complex drills. There should be a gradual progression so that you first build a foundation and then increase complexity. For example, for the first four weeks of an NFL offseason, quarterbacks will typically just focus on biomechanics, solely throwing spotted up routes and mixing in one of the aforementioned drills here and there. As the offseason progresses, so does the frequency of the game-like drills. Simply put, the closer you get to the season, the more intense and game-like your throwing workouts should be.
Caveat: If you find yourself off, i.e., ball isn’t accurate or spinning how it normally does. Then it’s rational to scale it back for that day and focus on mechanics, regardless of where you are at in the offseason.
Science behind the progression: As mentioned in previous blogs, the concept of incorporating open environment decision making drills is the final step to building automaticity and recall of improved motor skills. Once an athlete has ingrained an improved movement, enhanced movement quality, or developed a new skill you must add visual, cognitive, and decision making components when practicing the new motor ability. These drills can start with decision making while still having the drill be relatively “known” to the quarterback but should progress into “open” or random environments as the season approaches. Watch for a breakdown of mechanical positioning once chaos is introduced to the system.
In summary, structuring an offseason throwing program requires a strategic approach, considering both the physical and mental aspects of the game. Through volume management and the gradual integration of game-like drills, a quarterback will optimize their performance, ensuring they are at their best when the season arrives. Stay tuned for Part 2, where we will delve deeper into the critical elements of arm care and training protocols to further enhance your offseason.
** This blog was written in the summer of 2023 in tandem with Dr. Tom Gormely. My focus is currently on the 2023 season.