5 Musts for Pitchers Strength and Mobility – Part 1

By Nunzio Signore (BA, CPT, NASM, PES, FMS)

Arm Care - Part 1 Top Joint Image

I love this time of year. With many of my guys out playing ball, I get to kick back and watch the results of all their hard work in the off-season. In doing so, it brought to mind a crucial point I’ve tried to hammer home before. Imagine this, a high school pitcher’s body that throws a baseball at 80+ mph achieves that speed from hand break to finish in 1.5-2 seconds.  That’s comparable to some of the fastest Italian sports cars out there.  How you could NOT get young pitchers physically prepared for this type of explosive movement is frankly beyond my comprehension. In looking back and reflecting on what we offer young athletes, I think a lot of folks don’t totally understand what we do. Let me give it a try.

When talking about arm strength and endurance, it’s not just about strengthening each cuff muscle individually – we have to look at movement as a whole.   Here are 5 different areas that need to be addressed when training the shoulder to ensure overall health.  I will attempt to cover these in a 3 Part Series on pitchers strength and mobility.

  1. Rotator Cuff Strength
  2. Firing Time of the Cuff
  3. Improving Scapular Stability
  4. Thoracic Spine Mobility
  5. Proper Breathing Patterns

Let’s take a deeper look into, not only what these points mean to athletes in regards to arm care, but some things we can do from the training side of things to improve performance and help prevent injury. I’ll try and keep the anatomy lesson down to a minimum.

1. Improving Rotator Cuff Strength: The importance here is that we ensure that each of the individual rotator cuff muscles are strong enough independently so that they can help contribute to overall shoulder health.  First let’s meet the “Big 4” and talk a little about their roles.

A. The External Rotators (Infraspinatus, Teres Minor and Supraspinatus)

What they do: The Infraspinatus and Teres Minor make up the posterior cuff, which enables them to produce external rotation, which in-turn allows you as a thrower to get your arm into external rotation or the “lay back” (gas) position. They also provide compression to the glenohumeral joint in order to resist both superior and anterior migration. Two major culprits of impingements and labral tears.

Arm Care - Part 1 Image 3

Strengthening Exercises for Infraspinatus and Teres Minor:

  1. Side Lying ER @ 30 Degrees of Abduction
  2. Band “No Money” Drill
  3. ER @ 90 Degrees

Training Note: The Side Lying External Rotation with the Arm at Zero Degrees of Abduction does the best job of the three.  Adding a towel between your rib cage and arm allows you to perform the exercise with perfect technique since it provides immediate feedback (thanks Mike Reinold!). The addition of the towel increases the effectiveness of this exercise by 20-25% as indicated by EMG feedback from both the infraspinatus and teres minor (Reinold et al. 2004).

(Side Lying ER at 30 Degrees of Abduction)

The Supraspinatus, while it is an external rotator, also helps initiate the first 30 degrees of horizontal abduction (raising the arms overhead).

Arm Care - Part 1 Image 4

Strengthening Exercises for the Supraspinatus:

  1. Band Scaption
  2. Prone Trap Raise

Training Note: Another name for the Band Scaption is the “full can”, I much prefer this to the “empty can” mainly because of the provocative position the latter places the shoulder in.                                                   

(Band Scaption)

B. The Internal Rotator (Subscapularis)

What it does: The Subscap is the largest muscle of the rotator cuff allowing it the most internal rotation force at 90 degrees. During the throwing motion the subscapularis helps depress the humeral head to prevent anterior migration of the humerus, but it also contributes to the act of throwing by providing some internal rotation power (pronation) for when your arm starts to rotate at ball release.

MLB Baseball - Philadelphia Phillies at Houston Astros - April 11, 2010

Strengthening Exercises for the Subscap:

  1. IR @ 90 degrees of Abduction – Because it’s done at 90 degrees, this exercise has the benefit of not having the bigger internal rotators like the pecs and lats take over, allowing you to target the subscapularis specifically. But be careful with form, this position isn’t as stable compared to the others.
  2. Serratus Jabs – I love this one because it not only works on IR (subscap), but it hits the serratus (a major stabilizer we’ll be getting into in Part 2 of this series).

(Band Serratus Jabs)

Training Note: Of the rotator cuff muscles, the subscap is the least likely to be weak due to its size and the fact that it gets used every time you throw – so be sure that you hit the other rotator cuff muscles prior to training the subscap.

Strengthening the cuff muscles is only the beginning. Stay tuned for Part 2 where we’ll talk about cuff “timing” and scapular stability. While having strong rotator cuff muscles is paramount to performance, it means nothing without having these in check as well.

See ya in the gym…

 

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