Healthy Shoulders and Arms (Part 2)… Training the Shoulder

By Nunzio Signore (B.A., CPT, NASM, PES, FMS)

Shoulders and Arms - Image 1In today’s post we are covering Part 2 of Healthy Shoulders and Arms.  In case you missed Part 1 please click here.

If you want to throw 90+ MPH, there is no magic pill.  It takes hard work and training to:

1) Increase your overall strength (head to toe),

2) Improve your mobility and stability in the hip, spine, arms, shoulders and legs, and

3) Take #’s 1 and 2 above and add great pitching mechanics to achieve maximum thrust on the baseball.

In case you missed it, #’s 1 and 2 are what we do at RPP.

In this second part of “Healthy Shoulders and Arms” article, we’ll cover some of the variables (as they specifically relate to #2 above) in a comprehensive shoulder program.  For the scope of this article we will assume an assessment (please click here for more on this topic) has been performed and the results exhibited a generally healthy shoulder without any pain.

First, I’ll break down what I feel are a few of the biggest components of a great shoulder care program.  Although the lower body (especially lead leg internal rotation) can play a huge role in shoulder mobility and health, for this article we will be dealing with the upper body only. Ready?  Here we go:

    1. Breathing
    2. Improving tissue quality
    3. Improving thoracic spine mobility
    4. Improving stability and timing of the rotator cuff and scapula (covered in the next blog, Part 3 of this series)
    5. Creating dynamic stability, putting it all together (covered in the next blog, Part 3 of this series)

1. Breathing: One of my biggest “ah-ha” moments in the last 5 years has been connecting with the power of correct breathing. The Postural Restoration Institute (P.R.I.) has changed the game of movement and mobility with their insight into breathing correctly.

Why: Clients who breathe incorrectly (quick, shallow breaths) never allow for full exhalation and usually live in Lumbar “extension”. This usually presents with a lack of shoulder flexion due to tight lats. We’ve also found that by coaching the ribs “down” upon exhaling we’ve been able to add as much as 5-15 degrees of internal rotation to an athlete’s arm in 5 minutes.  We call these breathing drills “resets “ and do them at the beginning of every workout because they help open up the body and get the athlete ready to workout. Here’s an example:

2. Improving tissue quality (foam rolling): We do a lot of foam rolling especially with pitchers who have a lot of laxity and don’t really need to be stretched.  Foam rolling is another way to get elasticity in “short” or tight muscles without stretching them and possibly creating a problem.  Here is an example:

3. Thoracic spine mobility: The T-Spine is composed of 12 vertebrae situated between the lumbar and cervical vertebrae.  Here is an image of the T-Spine:

Shoulders and Arms - Image 2

Why: Good thoracic mobility is needed to create good separation as athletes transfer force from the lower body to the upper extremities (swings, throws, and change of direction).  If a pitcher lacks sufficient thoracic rotation, he’s going to find it in another place. Unfortunately, this often involves using the lower back or cranking on the elbow instead.

In the early off-season (months 1 and 2), we need to emphasize T-Spine mobility while keeping arm movement at a minimum.

As the off-season progresses, we begin to integrate more arm movement in our T-Spine drills:

In our pitcher’s programs, we perform these drills after our breathing and before any scap or rotator cuff  work.  Bottom line is that if you want to throw harder, you have to train the shoulder to create a maximum amount of force quickly and safely.

Please stay tuned for Part 3 of this “Healthy Shoulders and Arms” series continuing with the scap and rotator cuff work (numbers #4 and #5 in the above list).