How a DII Coach Used PULSE to Help Lead His Team Deep in the Playoffs
DISCLAIMER: At the time of usage and data collection, PULSE was known as Motus. We will be referring to it as PULSE throughout this blog.
This blog will be the first post in a series that highlights successful implementations of PULSE in the past. The launch of PULSE is focused around making implementation easier — the same great insights from Motus, simplified.
The 2018 Tarleton State baseball program, like many Division II programs, had limited resources to spend on staff, recruiting, and/or technology. Unable to afford losing players to injury, Bryan Conger — then-head coach at Tarleton — knew he needed to do what he could to maximize performance while keeping injuries to a minimum. He found the perfect tool for the job in PULSE.
PULSE allowed him to build individualized throwing programs for all of his pitchers. It allowed him to optimize the pre-game warmup routines of his pitchers so they weren’t blowing themselves up before a game. It allowed him to manage the fatigue and readiness of his pitchers in-season so he knew who was fresh and who wasn’t
Most of all, it allowed the under-funded, out-gunned, and out-manned Tarleton State baseball team to make a deep run into the playoffs.
Optimized Programming – Long Toss
Conger knew that long toss would be the cornerstone of his players throwing programs. While the exact definition of long toss may still be left to personal interpretation, the one recurring theme is that it prepares the athlete to throw on the mound – either that same day or down the road.
But how far is too far? How much long toss is too much?
Longtoss prepares the arm to throw at game intensities through two primary methods:
- Increasing overall arm fitness and arm strength (throwing workload)
- Exposing the player to game-level intensities
Based on these principles, the ideal long toss program should expose the athlete to progressively higher throwing intensities that approach, or even slightly surpass, the stress levels experienced in a game. Throwing beyond that threshold though, would be overly stressful for the pitcher.
Using PULSE, Conger first set a baseline for each pitcher on the staff. Pitchers wore the sleeve during an outing throwing at 100%. This established the baseline for how much stress their elbows experience when pitching.
Conger then had each pitcher go through their long toss routine while wearing the sensor. Using the stress levels from PULSE, he was able to assess when a pitcher’s stress level went above their baseline. Some pitchers were limited to 200 feet, while others were allowed to long toss from any distance.
For example, two pitchers had the same in-game stress levels. When long tossing, one pitcher reached that stress level at 250 feet, while the other never surpassed his baseline stress level.
By optimizing his players’ long toss programs, Conger could be assured that his players wouldn’t be over-throwing in their routines and were preparing to compete in the way that best suits each of them.
Optimized Programming – Workout Selection
The next problem Conger needed to solve was ensuring that his pitchers were actually completing their workouts as intended.
Most throwing programs have an undulating pattern to them – they alternate between lower intensity days and higher intensity days. The higher intensity days help pitchers build throwing fitness, while the lower intensity days allow them to recover while still getting some work in.
But there are a number of questions to consider when building programs for athletes:
- Is Athlete A actually taking it easy on his light days?
- Are all of Athlete B’s light days actually the same?
- How does Athlete C’s heavy day compare to Athlete D’s?
Using PULSE on each athlete’s workouts, he was able to get insights that allowed him to evaluate if athletes were completing their programs as intended, as well as, compare the same workout between multiple athletes.
In one specific example, one pitcher was throwing too much on his “recovery” throwing days, which prohibited him from ever recovering — he was always worn out.
In another case, Athlete D’s high intensity days are consistently significantly higher workload than Athlete C. Rather than take away throwing from Athlete D on their high intensity day, assuming they still feel good and are performing well, Athlete D would simply take an extra recovery session in order to offset the increased workload on his high output days.
This information Conger had about his pitchers’ long toss routines and typical throwing workloads enabled him to make optimized programs for each pitcher to ensure they were ready to dominate.
Preparing Pitchers for the Season
The goal of the pre-season is to make sure your pitchers are ready to compete. For pitchers, this means getting exposed to game-intensities and building overall throwing fitness — or Chronic Workload.
Using the information Conger had learned about his players’ long toss routines and how they performed their throwing workouts, he built out programs that safely on-ramped each of his pitchers using an undulating program that ensured they were safely building throwing fitness over-time.
Optimizing Pitcher Usage In-Season
In season, the goal is to maximize the on-field production of your pitchers. This means ensuring that pitchers are not only conditioned to handle the stress of pitching in a game, but also not fatigued prior to competition. Doing this for 15+ arms with multiple games, bullpens, and practices is no small feat.
Throughout the duration of the season, Conger was able to use PULSE to make any necessary adjustments to ensure that his pitchers’ throwing fitness was maintained. This allowed Conger and his coaches to plan for the week to come but also make adjustments based on the previous week.
One example is when a starting pitcher had to come out of the game early – how do you adjust his midweek throwing? Altering midweek bullpen volume/intensity or adjusting midweek catch play and long toss are just a few of the ways you can use PULSE to ensure your arms stay prepared.
In a typical week, Conger would use what he called the “W-Program” to maintain a starter’s throwing workload. This consisted of higher volume mid-week work in order to keep a high Chronic Workload, while minimizing fatigue for game day
In the event of a shortened start during the season, there would be a much larger spike in Acute Workload in these throwing workloads if the same program is followed. How did Conger avoid this?
He had the starter throw two bullpens in order to accumulate slightly more throwing volume. One bullpen was at a relatively lower intensity while the other was similar to his normal mid-week pen. This ensured that the athlete’s overall throwing fitness stayed the same.
This same idea can be applied to many different scenarios – none more impactful than during the postseason. Being able to monitor pitcher’s workloads and make any adjustments along the way allowed for Conger to keep his best arms ready to go when it mattered most — a key factor for Tarleton’s deep run in the playoffs that year.
Using PULSE, Conger was able to keep his best arms healthy and fresh, priming a program with limited resources for a run in the playoffs.
In fact, Conger himself summed it up best:
“I was able to get more innings out of my starters, my best pitchers, without overtaxing them. They had better performance and more importantly, we avoided major arm injuries all season long, into the playoffs.”
With PULSE, we aim to bring these same insights to every program, while minimizing the need for extensive leg work to get a system stood up.