Under the Knife - The Kinetic Arm - A Look at New Baseball Training Tool
UTK Special 12/19/22
The Kinetic Arm - A Look at New Baseball Training Tool
Back in 2014, I saw a technology at the Winter Meetings that I thought would change the game. My article about it led to increased awareness for Motus and their sensors, including me going to work for the company a couple years later. While the tech, which was sold and is now known as Driveline Pulse, never got the adoption I expected and hoped for, perhaps there was a secondary effect.
That year’s Winter Meetings were in San Diego and they were back this year. So was another sleeve, but very different. Called the Kinetic Arm, this tool has a chance to make a difference in the game, and its inventor, Jason Colleran, credits my old article for some of the inspiration.
“I first thought about the concept when an article titled The Sleeve That Could Save Baseball by some guy named Will Carroll caught my attention,” Colleran said via email. “Since I suffered from arm pain for over ten years during every season, I was instantly intrigued. It immediately made me wonder why we have all of this great technology to gather data, but why is there nothing to offload stress externally so we can be more proactive with preventing injuries and have safer progressions with return to throw programs?”
“This was around the same time I finished all of the MAT Mastery courses to learn about the neuromuscular system and positional muscle testing, and also started the Resistance Training Specialist Mastery level classes to learn about resistance mechanics,” Colleran continued. “Knowing where everything attaches internally and being able to break down all aspects of applying force externally, I borrowed an industrial sewing machine to try and engineer the first external support system for throwing that can be worn in practice and games. After several years of testing and retesting to constantly improve the fit and functionality, I was finally ready to start manufacturing and launch the product.
The Kinetic Arm is an interesting technology, leveraging Colleran’s background in movement and rehab, as well as his love for pitching, into a device that can help pitchers avoid the same kind of issues that Colleran faced during his career as a pitcher through college.
At its simplest, the Kinetic Arm is a device that offloads stress. “The Kinetic Arm is easy to put on and functions like an external muscular system,” Colleran explained to me. “At end range, with throwing and swinging motions, our muscles ability to actively stabilize those involved joints decreases. More stress goes to the passive connective tissue (tendons/ligaments). Because the sleeve has varying amounts of tension in different ranges, it absorbs that stress externally through the sleeve's structure instead of that stress being absorbed internally and leading to fatigue and overuse injuries.” Most of us know the term exoskeleton, from science fiction. This is similar, but minus the bones and the bulk.
The problem, as with any product that fundamentally changes things, is that it immediately gets branded as snake oil. The Kinetic Arm looks unusual at first glance with its “MuscleWeb” of advanced fibers, arranged to offload some of the forces of throwing without constraining the arm. It looks like a bulky medical brace and that there would be no way someone could pitch with it on at first glance.
However, the Kinetic Arm is not a brace and doesn’t restrict movement. A pitcher can pitch full speed with normal mechanics wearing the brace, and that’s the intent. While it doesn’t constrain motion and becomes barely more noticeable than a simple fabric sleeve once a pitcher gets used to it, the Kinetic Arm is actually offloading some of the forces, especially the type that can damage an elbow.
Those advanced looking ‘muscle web fibers’ are doing work, rather than having the arm deal with it naturally. Tests have shown that it can take nearly fifty percent of the torque off the elbow, which was tested using the Motus/Pulse. This is without significantly changing the kinematics of the arm. Essentially, it reduces stress without changing the arm path, allowing more volume with less damage. Moreover, the external web doesn’t fatigue like natural muscles, offloading those forces consistently despite increased loading or volume.
A key point of this is that the Kinetic Arm doesn’t feel as unusual as it may look to some. While some pitchers have an issue even with a fabric sleeve, few complain about the Kinetic Arm once they get past the initial fitting. Multiple high level pitchers shared with me that they did not feel that their motion changed at all, with one saying that he questioned whether it worked because it wasn’t making a noticeable change to his mechanics.
Colleran’s drive to make the Kinetic Arm work, and to work with pitchers in general, comes from his own history. “My brothers and I played and playing baseball kept us happy,” Colleran said of his background. “I bounced around between Atlanta and Chicago several times and the arm pain started around 11-12 yrs old. That was when I started using every topical cream imaginable and was taking way too many anti inflammatories just to be able to keep playing. I went to a small AA high school in Chamblee, GA and we had a new coach every year, so it wasn't the best opportunity to play at the next level. As I started playing in college my arm pain was so bad I could barely swing a bat at times and ended up at a new program every year. I tried everything from weighted balls to throwing programs and always thought it was best to train harder than everyone else ... which definitely contributed to the arm pain and eliminated any hope of recovery.” Having been on that side of it certainly contributed to his personal roadmap. Colleran understands pain and load, and more importantly, has a different understanding of the muscles through his MAT training. Is that enough? It’s certainly a start.
As with any product of this type, I wanted to take a look at the scientific validation. There’s a lot, both in testing done by Kinetic Arm itself, and by some respected people in the field. Brittany Dowling is one of the top baseball biomechanists, having assisted in the development of Motus/Pulse, and having worked and consulted with several pro teams. She’s now at Rush Medical in Chicago, working with the orthopedic group that handles the Chicago White Sox. Dowling did a biomechanical study testing the Kinetic Arm there.
“We used Driveline Pulse on a number of pitchers and found throws using the [Kinetic Arm] had up to 30% decrease in elbow varus torque compared to throws not wearing the sleeve. Interestingly, there were no differences in shoulder rotation, arm speed, and arm slot between the two conditions,” Dowling said. While the study isn’t yet published, I was able to review the data and discuss it with her. “Wearing the Kinetic Arm device allows for the same throwing mechanics in baseball players while decreasing elbow varus torque. It sounds simple, but with that kind of reduction in torque, workloads can be managed directly and differently, allowing players to take more high intensity throws with less load on the arm.” Do more, with less stress. That’s pretty much what every pitching coach and trainer has been looking for. Now, we have the proof.
One of the key things Colleran believes the Kinetic Arm will do is allow more work. This goes counter to so many systems now, where pitch counts are the only monitor, and those clearly have issues.
“Pitch counts and inning limits have been implemented for years and there's still no noticeable impact in injury reduction,” he explained. “The Kinetic Arm will improve the systems already in place by adding protection with all of the throws that aren't accounted for during practice and warmups, in addition to protecting them in games. We often see young athletes playing in multiple leagues and with different teams, so utilizing the sleeve is the best way to reduce the risk of overstressing the arm. As young athletes experience growing pains and lose ground reaction force, the arm will have to work harder and this often results in elbow and shoulder injuries, merely from overuse.”
Colleran has been working with pitchers at all levels at his training facility near Atlanta. Called Elite Edge, the facility is top notch and well regarded by pros and coaches, especially those rehabbing from procedures. Much of the focus is on MAT, a technique Colleran really believes in and that has a lot of believers inside baseball. While it’s not well known in the mainstream, it’s well regarded by medical staffs around MLB, leading many who winter in the baseball hotbed of Atlanta, or live and train there, to use the facility. That often leads to some use of the Kinetic Arm as well, often in combo with Colleran’s rehab techniques and training. While the Kinetic Arm should be used as a preventative, it also works in rehab, protecting the arm and allowing both earlier use and reduced forces as an athlete begins to build back up.
I was able to message with an MLB pitcher who regularly uses the device, Garrett Whitlock of the Boston Red Sox. He hasn’t had an easy path to the majors, with side trips for Tommy John surgery in 2019 and then getting selected by the Sox from the Yankees in the Rule 5 draft in 2020. He hadn’t pitched competitively, due to the injury and the COVID shutdown, but the Sox took a chance. He rewarded them with a solid year in relief in 2021, with an ERA under 2.00. He signed a four year deal and worked his way into the roster before a hip injury ended his 2022.
Whitlock has used the Kinetic Arm for a couple seasons now, and is currently using it as he rehabs from the hip surgery. “ I use the kinetic arm on lighter days especially when I’m trying to give my arm a break. I definitely see it being more widely adopted, especially after people try it out,” he said via text. “The biggest benefit to me is being able to still get in all the work I want to do without putting near the amount of stress on my arm, compared to just a normal day of throwing.”
I asked Whitlock if he’d consider using the Kinetic Arm in a game. His first question was whether it would be legal in-game. One of the most interesting things about the Kinetic Arm is that it’s legal for use at any level, including the major leagues. I checked with the MLB offices and while they could not say that any specific device like this was legal, they could say that there’s no rule against a simple sleeve. Since this isn’t a medical brace or a protective device, the league simply ignores it. At worst, a pitcher would need to cover it with a sleeve and have another identical one on his glove arm, but even that is unclear and would depend on whether Cowboy Joe West was feeling ornery that day, or if Buck Showalter decided to ask for a check. On hearing this, Whitlock said that yes, he would consider using it in a game!
The Kinetic Arm currently costs $299 and comes in three sizes, which the company says covers a significant percentage of pitchers. Smaller is probably more of a problem than bigger, but at the youth level, anyone who’s small enough to be too small for a size-small might not need to be doing any sort of load. The units can be customized in terms of color and even fit, but this is seldom needed. The unit itself is very adjustable without losing the needed tensions, with the fit forcing those into the right places. It also doesn’t move much due to those tensions, even under higher level pitching stress, which can be an issue with fabric sleeves, especially after washes.
Speaking of washes, Kinetic Arm does sell a base layer for underneath, but acknowledges that any long sleeve garment that fits tightly will work. That’s needed, since the Kinetic Arm can cause a little bit of sweat to be trapped. However, simply keeping it clean will help it from being another stinky thing in the travel bag. The construction is also solid, with the company telling me they’ve had very few issues of breakage or even wearing out over time.
There are other uses for this as well. An easy one would be in football, where elbow injuries to quarterbacks are unusual, but impactful. Josh Allen has a minor UCL tear and has played through it. Given his history and how much force he puts on the arm, the Kinetic Arm would be a perfect tool to help him through the acute phase, then to protect the arm as he builds up again next spring.
Any throwing sport could use the Kinetic Arm, but where I’m excited to see it is at the youth level. We’ve seen increases in arm and elbow injuries at lower levels, even with pitch counts. The use of the Kinetic Arm could increase training load safely, allowing younger pitchers to build their chronic workload making any pitch count safer since the specific pitching-load muscles would be protected, but not underloaded. The use in long toss, where load can increase, is also very intriguing. (Looking at you, Alan Jaeger.)
Development hasn’t stopped on this and Colleran will introduce the newest version of the Kinetic Arm in January at the annual ABCA convention. Called the K2, the biggest change is a simpler strap system and smaller sizes. Colleran noted that with younger pitchers having arm issues, he’s hoping smaller sizes that fit all the way down to age-8 will help prevent these with earlier usage. There’s some other minor modifications, but both the original and newest versions have the same function.
Aside from cost and fitting, there’s really no resistance point to the use of the Kinetic Arm for any level pitcher. It requires no training, no change to routine, and can be used in all phases of pitching. Pitchers at the highest levels have used it without issue, so I believe any resistance is to change, rather than to the product itself. Yes, there’s a lot of snake oil out there, but given the scientific evidence, the anecdotal results, and the backgrounds of the people involved, this one should be getting notice. I see as many baseball technologies as anyone and I’m hard on them, but the Kinetic Arm might just succeed where many others have failed.
Full Article: https://undertheknife.substack.com/p/utk-special-121922?r=1rbvcd&utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=email
Subscribe to Under The Knife
The best injury information for sports fans and bettors.