Today, I’ve got a guest post from Strength and Conditioning Coach, Rick Kompf. Rick interned with Eric Cressey at Cressey Sports Performance in Hudson, MA and provides his excellent expertise in assessing and strengthening shoulders in this weeks blog post.
When you look at a pitcher right before they’re going to throw a pitch like in the picture above, there’s a lot of stuff going on. A pitch is one of the most violent movements in sports. When you repeatedly throw a baseball at a high velocity, it causes a lot of wear and tear on your shoulder. When talking about preventing injury in a pitcher, it’s as simple as strengthening the areas that need to be strengthened, and mobilizing the areas that need to be mobile.
Lower Back Stability
The first thing to look at is the lumbar region of the back (the lower back). You’ll notice in the picture below, the lower back is hyper extended. This allows pitchers to bring their arm back further, and get what I call “false external rotation” in the arm. Pitchers can get pretty close to end range of motion in their lumbar spine during a pitch. This can lead to spinal fractures overtime and an overly extended standing posture that greatly affects how the shoulder moves. This type of standing posture is called lumbar lordosis, and can be seen in the picture below. To address this you should be strengthening the anterior portion of the core (the front). Having more anterior core control allows you to get movement in your hips instead of in the lower back.
The picture on the left has a lordotic posture where the picture on the right is more neutral.
The next thing that you will notice are his hips. On the left side the hip is overly extended, just like the back, and the right leg is flexed and way out in front of him. To do this, requires a great deal of mobility in the hips. If you do not have enough hip mobility, it will cause compensations up the chain that will affect the mechanics of the shoulder. If a pitcher cannot get full hip extension on the back leg for example, he will have to extend more in the lower back in order to make up for the range of motion he lacks in the hips. This will contribute to all the issues discussed above with hyper-extending the lower back. The Thoracic spine (upper back) also has to extend more and rotate more in order to make up for the range of motion lost. As a pitcher, you want to be able to fully extend your hips without over extending your lower back. More often than not if you have a lordotic posture like in the picture shown above, you probably have a hard time doing this.
Upper Back Mobility
This leads me into my next area, which is the Thoracic spine (upper back). This area has a direct relationship to how the scapula and whole shoulder joint moves. The scapula sits on the ribcage of the thoracic spine region. The resting position of the upper back, and it’s ability to move will directly influence how the shoulder joint moves. When we look at a pitcher, from a biomechanical stand point we want him to execute the safest pitch possible. You want to be able to fully extend the hips, have enough core activation where you prevent too much hyper-extension and rotation in the lower back, while getting as much extension and rotation in the upper back as you can. Unfortunately, over time most pitchers end up losing the ability to fully extend the hips and stiffen up in the upper back region preventing good shoulder mechanics during a throw.
How to use this?
Now you may have a little bit of information overload right now and don’t know what to do or how to apply this information, so I’m going help you out. If you look below there is a handful of stability and mobility exercises that address the restrictions that hold most pitchers back. You can perform these exercises before your training sessions, and before practices and games, or whenever you want! The more frequently you do this the better!
Lumbar Pelvic Control
Make sure your lower back is flat on the floor throughout the whole range of motion.
Don’t let the lower back arch, keep abs tight the whole time.
- Reverse Crunches into Deadbug
Lower back must be flat on the floor during the deadbug portion, when performing the reverse crunch do not use any momentum with the legs and pull the hips up with your abs.
Thoracic Spine Mobility (Extension and Rotation)
- Bench T-Spine Extension
- Side-Lying Windmill
Follow the hand with the eyes throughout the whole range of motion and don’t let the leg come off the pad.
- All 4’s Belly Breathing
- Quadhipflexor Rocks
- Adductor Rock Backs
- Breztel 2.0
Bringing it All Together
- Spiderman Lunge
- Inchworm into Yoga Push-Up into Spiderman in Place
- Yoga Plex
- Squat to Stand
These are 13 exercises that address what a pitcher needs in order to stay healthy, and help reduce the risk of injury. There will always be wear and tear playing a sport, but there are always ways to make your body more resilient to the wear and tear. These exercises aren’t the end all be all of physical preparation exercises for pitchers, but it’s a really good start that addresses what the majority of pitchers lack. Try it out in your routine, be consistent and see the difference it can make.
About the Author
Rick Kompf graduated from SUNY Cortland with a degree in Kinesiology and a concentration in fitness development. After completing his degree he went on to intern at Cressey Sport Performance and is currently a Strength and Conditioning Coach with Vinny Scollo at Pacific Health Club in Liverpool, NY.