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Tubing Vs. Pulley For Arm Conditioning

 First Appeared in the March 10, 2006 issue of Collegiate Baseball

 TUCSON, Ariz. — Not only is the use of surgical tubing safe and effective for conditioning baseball players, but over 100 published clinical trials have proven the benefits of this material in exercise and rehabilitation, according to physical therapist Phil Page of Thera-Band.

In the Feb. 10 edition of Collegiate Baseball, charges were leveled by Dan Cassidy, former physical therapist for the Oakland A’s, that utilizing surgical tubing is not the most effective way to train and maintain strength in the rotator cuff muscles of the shoulder.

Cassidy, who has over 20 years of experience in this field, firmly believes that using a pulley device is the most effective way of conditioning and maintaining the arms and shoulders of baseball players.

In fact, he went so far as to say that the long-term effects of using surgical tubing are more detrimental than beneficial. He pointed to the difference between the acceleration and deceleration of the movements used with tubing versus pulleys.

For a complete look at what Cassidy said, see page eight of the Feb. 10 edition of Collegiate Baseball.

For over 25 years, surgical tubing has been a staple of baseball, and has been recommended by leading orthopedic surgeons, physical therapists, and athletic trainers across the nation to rehabilitate shoulder and elbow injuries after surgery on pitchers, according to Page.

“My background includes athletic training for Louisiana St. University baseball (87-89) and Mississippi St. baseball (90-92),” said Page.

“My Masters thesis was on training baseball pitchers using Thera-Band. After I graduated from physical therapy school, I did research on elastic resistance simply to dispel the myths perpetuated by some pulley manufacturers.

“There are many misconceptions about elastic resistance that have been perpetuated by the pulley industry. Unfortunately, we hadn’t done a good job in researching elastic resistance in terms of the science and outcomes of elastic resistance until recently through the Thera-Band Academy.

“We all knew elastic resistance had worked clinically for 20 years, but therapists were being told that pulleys were better. That’s why I started my quest to learn more about elastics, and to put scientific evidence behind clinical practice.

“In short, I’ve personally done both the basic biomechanical research on elastics, as well as the outcomes research. I have written two books on elastic resistance, including a chapter just on baseball programs. I maintain a large database on elastic resistance training (check out

“I put together a document to dispel the myths of elastics and pulleys. I don’t want to begin a ‘war of words’, or make a personal attack, but just want to set the record straight. I’m not going to say that elastics are better than pulleys – I think they are both useful, but we need to support claims with scientific evidence.

“The bottom line is that research proves that elastic resistance training is beneficial for baseball players, and there is no research showing that pulleys are better than elastics.” In fact, the biomechanical descriptions of pulley and elastic resistance mentioned by Cassidy are quiet false, as indicated in a research article on titled, 10 Myths Of Elastic Resistance: The Truth Exposed With Evidence!

“One of the most important points is to be sure you differentiate force and torque. Many confuse the two terms. Remember that torque is actually ‘strength’ and represents force x distance. Force is either constant (pulley) or increasing (elastic).

“When that force is imparted on a limb, you multiply the distance from the joint times the force. However, the angle of insertion of the resistance changes (Force Angle) at the hand for example, so we need to compute the ‘sine’ of that angle in the formula to calculate torque: T = F x D x sin (Force Angle). This is true of both elastics & pulleys.

“Now, generally speaking, the torque curve of human joints is ‘ascending-descending’, meaning it’s least at the beginning and end of  motion, and peaks in the middle.

“Some pulley manufacturers claim their devices produce these ‘bell-shaped’ curves during exercise, while elastics don’t. We proved this to be untrue. Elastics do produce a bell-shaped strength curve, similar to pulleys and dumbbells. Unfortunately, many people mistakenly compare force and torque when describing the two modes of resistance.

“In fact, I found that pulley resistance (force) is two times as much concentrically as it is eccentrically, and that the force remains constant (it does not ‘decrease’ as Cassidy says, due to the mechanical advantage). The eccentric torque produced by a pulley is half as much as the concentric torque due to friction of the pulley and inertia of the weight-stack. This is inappropriate for training physiologically, because we can generate more force eccentrically than concentrically!

“So, there is no ‘simulation of the concentric-eccentric’ action with pulley exercise in one direction. The descriptions he uses in terms of acceleration/deceleration are misleading as well. Simply performing a throwing motion with tubing or a pulley will not train the entire throwing mechanism. We need to train the phases specifically to the muscle activation required.

“Elastics provide another training advantage for baseball players. Because of the high velocity of throwing, we should include high-speed training for specificity, such as plyometrics. This is not possible with pulleys because of the inertia.

“I’ve never seen any research to support his claims that pulleys lead to better and more efficient speed of contraction, or are more beneficial to maintain or gain strength.”

Evidence Is Conclusive

Page said there is a mountain of evidence to support the safety and effectiveness of elastic resistance exercise.

“There are over 100 published clinical trials that have used elastic resistance. In fact, half of these are randomized, controlled clinical trials, the highest level of evidence available. In addition, there are over 40 basic and applied studies that have been published to describe the scientific foundation for elastic resistance.”

Page said there is a common misconception that elastic resistance doesn’t offer enough stimulus to increase strength.

“In nearly every clinical trial in the literature, elastic resistance has been shown to increase strength. This increase ranges from 10 to 130 percent and occurs in a variety of populations, from athletes to older adults. The key is to dose the appropriate resistance levels with the individual, rather than prescribing the same resistance for everyone since everyone’s strength capacity is different.

“In addition, elastic resistance training has been reported to increase gait and mobility, balance, function, and reduce pain.”

Page has written a book with Todd Ellenbecker called, The Scientific And Clinical Application Of Elastic Resistance. It includes an entire chapter on training baseball players, including pitching and hitting. It can be obtained by going to the following web site:

Page said elastics have been around for over 100 years.

“I collect antique exercisers. Around 1910, people were utilizing rubber tubing. During the 1960s, astronauts used elastic resistance exercises.

“When I did my Master’s thesis, it was done at Mississippi St. All of the pitchers were on our training program. I had one group utilize tennis cans filled with sand or dumbbells. Another group did this program but also used resistance bands in addition to help stimulate their deceleration (posterior rotator cuff) muscles. When it was done, the group that used the resistance bands increased their strength on the back side of the rotator cuff by 20 percent more than the other group. This supported the safety and effectiveness of elastic resistance training in baseball players.

“For whatever reason, despite the mountain of information that is available through clinical trials and research, some pulley manufacturers try to brainwash people into believing that resistance bands and tubing can cause harm to people. That is far from the truth. There has never been published research that shows pulleys are better than elastics. Simply put, pulley exercise lacks solid clinical research compared to elastics.”

Can Both Co-Exist?

Several well known baseball teams on the collegiate level utilize resistance tubing as well as pulley devises to help strengthen and condition pitcher arms and shoulders.

Jerry Weinstein, well known pitching coach at Cal Poly SLO, utilizes both systems for his pitchers in addition to long toss, weighted balls and other strength training methods such as kettlebells (see in-depth article in Oct. 1, 2005 edition.)

“Surgical tubing provides eccentric and concentric work on the shoulder and allows for a specific range of motion and graduated resistance,” said Weinstein.

“Tubing is not as graduated as a pulley where resistance is relative to the pull. I like the pulley. But tubing has good qualities as well. With tubing, you want the greatest resistance when everything starts forward. From there, you want explosive work forward with the arm.

“One thing that is important when using tubing is that many players bring the tubing forward in front of their bodies. When they stretch their arm back, the stretched out tubing pulls the arm back quickly. It is important to allow the arm to go back slowly to help work the deceleration muscles when doing this.

“One device that I like a lot is the Mini-Gym ( which has been used by NASA for their astronauts, NFL football teams and a number of college programs. It provides isokinetic work.”

Isokinetic training with this machine accommodates or adjusts to the individual and his or her needs. However much pressure is exerted by the user, whether it be one pound or one hundred pounds, a matching amount of resistance is developed.

The key to isokinetics is that the speed of exercise is preset and the actual resistance comes from the user. One of the benefits of this method is that a person can realize maximum resistance throughout a full range of motion.

Ron Wolforth, one of the most respected pitching coaches in the business from Houston, Tex. who designed “The Athletic Pitcher” program which has increased the velocity of numerous pitchers through the nation, utilizes both tubing and pulley devices.

“It might be beneficial for you to know that for over a year we have included much of Dan Cassidy’s pulley program, modified of course, into our daily arm care routine,” said Wolforth.

“We have a weight room with pulleys. We really like it, but it has not and will not replace our cord work. In my opinion, both cords and pulleys have important roles to play.”

“Frankly, I don’t get caught up in any ideology of well known pitching coaches or those who offer training and conditioning devices. But after I listened to Dan Cassidy’s talk at the 2005 American Baseball Coaches Association convention, I was intrigued. So I purchased his program, along with his pulley and integrated it into our program.

“We utilize surgical tubing at our facility primarily as a warmup to throwing and use the pulley for our arm care. Using both tubing and pulleys makes our program world class. If you take one or the other out, it lessens the whole program.

“When you get into the debate of whether pulleys or tubing are better, you night use the analogy of working with a batting tee. It is a tool. If used improperly, it will not help a hitter. Based on intent or purpose of the exercise, a coach should make a wise choice. Is he primarily trying to gain strength or utilize it to warm up the arm and shoulder?”



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