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How to Prepare Before You Throw – Part 1: Prepare Your Body

Working with so many injured pitchers over my career, one common theme that I often hear when players describe how they got hurt was that they did not properly warm up and prepare themselves to throw.  I’m not sure if this is always the true cause of the players’ injuries, however, I hear it often enough that it has to have some significance.

throwing long toss programThis seems to make sense, though.  Throwing is very dynamic and aggressive on the body.  In fact, it is the fastest known motion that the human body performs!  If it could, your shoulder would rotate a full 360 degrees around up to 27 times in 1 second!  That is unbelievable.

I often say injury is just a simple physics equation.  Force = mass x acceleration.  The faster your body moves and the harder you throw, the more forceful it is on your body.

Because of this, you can see how just grabbing a baseball and starting to throw can be stressful on the body.  Throwing is so dynamic and forceful that you want to do your best to put yourself in a position to succeed before you start throwing.  This will help foster a long and healthy career.

To prepare before your throwing program, you really need to do two things: 1) Prepare your body and 2) Prepare your throwing.  In this two part article I will discuss both.

 

How to Prepare Before Your Throwing Program – Part 1 – Prepare Your Body

It’s funny how common sense tells us to prepare our body for common athletic activities, like running and jumping, yet people often neglect throwing.  The first three steps to prepare before your throwing program involve getting your body ready.

 

Prepare to Throw Step 1 – Get Loose

The first step in preparing your body to throw is to get loose and work on your mobility.  We’ve studied 1000’s of baseball pitchers and have found a few things when it comes to throwing a baseball:

  1. Throwing a baseball causes your muscles to tighten and you loose mobility of your shoulder and elbow
  2. Not addressing this becomes cumulative and you eventually get a little tighter and tighter over the course of a season
  3. Working to maintain your motion is effective and can prevent lose of motion

One of the phrases I use a lot with my athletes is “I want you to be you BEFORE you pick up a ball.”  What that means is, if you just threw 100 pitches yesterday in a game, I know you are tight.  If you ignore it and pick up and ball and try to throw, you are setting yourself up for trauma.  Throwing will loosen you up (before you tighten up again), but it’s a much more aggressive way to get your mobility back.

Rather, perform some self-myofascial release by using a foam roller, massage stick, and baseball ball.  Here are the ones I use the most on Amazon and because the foam roller is hollow, you can put your other tools inside and all fit nicely in your gear bag:

  • Foam roller – One of the best and hollow to put your other tools in it in your gear bag.
  • Massage stick – The best one on the market, the other more popular ones don’t compare.
  • Trigger point ball – You can use a baseball, but I also like the reaction balls.  The nubs help you get in there and hold it in position on the wall.

How to prepare before your throwing programYou should focus on the entire body with particular emphasis on your lat, back of the shoulder, rotator cuff, pec, biceps, and forearm.  You should avoid the front of your shoulder.  There really aren’t a lot of muscles there and your just smashing your rotator cuff and biceps tendons.

Hit each spot for 30-60 seconds and hold on any really tender spots for 10 seconds.

Notice how I intentionally didn’t say to “stretch” your arm or perform a “sleeper stretch” (here is why you shouldn’t perform the sleeper stretch).  Most baseball pitchers are too loose to stretch effectively and they end up torquing themselves too much and making things worse.  There is a difference between muscles and joints, it’s possible to have tight muscles and loose joints.

There is one shoulder stretch that is effective on the muscles and not too aggressive on the joint, the cross body stretch I call the Genie Stretch.  This can be enhanced even more by using a trigger point ball in the posterior shoulder muscles.  You can and should stretch your forearm, you can’t really hurt yourself here.

 

Prepare to Throw Step 2 – Warm-Up Your Muscles

Now that you have worked on restoring mobility back to your baseline BEFORE you throw, it is time to get your muscles ready to throw.  In the strength and conditioning world, we refer to this as “activating” the muscles.

You want to hit all the muscles and movement patterns that are need to accelerate and decelerate your arm.  These essentially include the scapula and rotator cuff muscles.  By turning on these muscles, the body will be better prepared for the upcoming activities and throwing.

Shoulder activation throwing programThe simplest way to do this is with resistance tubing.  We use a combination of tools at Champion, but tubing is quick, easy, and portable.

You do need to be careful of your volume of exercises.  These warm-ups are designed to prepare the muscle, not fatigue them, and are not a substitute for strengthening the muscles.  That is a completely different program to be performed at a different time.  We use tubing to simply activate the muscles with low volume sets and reps of 2×10

I use Theraband tubing with handles.  They are the best and far superior to the cheap bands you can buy at the local stores, which have odd resistance and can lose resistance over time.  They are even ~$15 on Amazon.  You can attach the band to a fence or post, or take turns holding with a partner.

I like the tubing with handles and want you to have to grip the tubing, rather that velcro strap them around your wrist.  Grip the tubing helps warm up your grip and forearm muscles and also has a reflexive stimulus to your rotator cuff to engage.

Here is a link to Amazon.com to purchase the Theraband Exercise Tubing I use in the video at the end of this article.  I recommend the green band for Little League age, the blue band for middle school and early high school age, and the black band for the older or experienced pitcher:

 

Prepare to Throw Step 3 – Getting Moving

The third step to prepare to throw now involves dynamic movements.  You can see that we are building on a logical progression here: restore mobility, activate the muscles, and perform dynamic mobility exercises for movement prep.

Throwing is a very dynamic activity, obviously, that needs elasticity of the muscles.  Stretching and mobility work alone will not turn on the elastic components of your muscles.  Similar to my comments above on stretching, I don’t want a baseball being the first elastic stimulus your body faces.  I want to slowly work up to that so it is less traumatic and aggressive of a jump in stress on the tissue.

We want to dynamically move the joints and have the muscles produce quick contractions,.  This helps prepare the muscle for  by improving mobility and activation.

At Champion, our athletes have a whole portion of their program dedicated to these three steps and assuring that the entire body is prepared to throw, however, I demonstrate a simple arm version of this in the video below.  Perform this and you’ll be head and shoulders above most other athletes.

For pitchers, we use movement prep exercises that mobilize and activate the muscles groups needed to throw, like the chest, posterior shoulder, and rotator cuff.  It doesn’t take a lot of repetitions to prepare the body.

 

My Warmup Program Before Throwing

Perform this 3-minute arm warm up program prior to starting your throwing program for the day.  This is our bare minimum program that we teach our athletes that are new to the concepts of preparing their body before throwing.  As you can see, you don’t need dozens of exercises or many sets and reps, even just performing this quick warm-up will put you in a more advantageous position to throw than most other athletes.

It is quick and easy and can be performed on the field before practice.  Look out into the bullpen next time you are at a MLB game and you’ll see many players performing this during the game.

I’ve adjusted the order of how I prepare the body a little bit since the filming of this video, so it is a little out of order per the above information, but serves as a great example of a quick and easy 3-minute warm up to be performed after your self-myofascial release and before throwing.

 

In part 2, which will available next week, I will discuss the next three steps involved in preparing to throw and how I actually start off my throwing programs.

 

Want to Learn More?

This month’s Inner Circle webinar will be on How to Prepare Before a Throwing Program.  I’m going to dive into these topics in even more depth, including showing more of the specific drills I perform, for those that want to learn even more.  The live webinar will on Tuesday 2/24/15 at 8:00 PM EST but I will also record and upload soon after.  Inner Circle members can sign up for the webinar in the Inner Circle Dashboard

 

I also have a free 45-minute video on How Baseball Players Can Safely Enhance Performance While Reducing Injuries.  Enter your name and email below and I will send you access to the video as well as a handout of the above arm care warm-up exercises that you can take to the field:

A New Exercise for Strength and Stability of the Shoulder

The PronatorThere is not doubt that we need a strong and stable shoulder to maximize performance.  I recently started playing with a new device called The Pronator.  It’s a device designed to strengthen the forearm musculature.  Honestly, this little thing is a fantastic device for grip and forearm strength, but I also started using it with my shoulder exercises and think this may be a game changer!

Take a look at the video below.

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I see this very similar to performing bottom-up kettlebell exercises.  By having an offset weight, you need to work the shoulder in 3D to stabilize and move at the same time.  Pretty cool.  It essentially allows you to:

  • Develop stability in one plane of motion and strength in another
  • Train the cuff to fire and stabilize while moving the scapula

The product is brand new and very affordable at only $55.   I don’t often tell my audience that they need to buy a product, but I really think everyone should have this one.  I like it that much!

 

5 Tips for Treating Scapular Winging

The latest Inner Circle webinar recording on the 5 Tips for Treating Scapular Winging is now available.

5 Tips for Treating Scapular Winging

5 Tips for Treating Scapular WingingLast month’s Inner Circle webinar was on 5 Tips for Treating Scapular Winging.

In this presentation, I discuss how I treat some of the difficult patients with scapular winging.  I’ll overview 5 tips I use to facilitate better scapular movement and reduce winging.  These are great tips that really work when you have a significant amount of winging.

How to Cue the Scapula During Shoulder Exercises

In today’s video, I share my thoughts on the common cue of retracting your scapulae together while performing shoulder exercises.  I’m not sure this is the most advantageous cue, despite it’s popularity.  Instead, I focus on facilitating normal scapulohumeral motion.  I don’t want to restrict the scapula while moving the arm.

Learn more about how to cue the scapula during shoulder exercises in the video below.

 

How to Cue the Scapula During Shoulder Exercises

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Learn How I Evaluate and Treat the Shoulder

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ShoulderSeminar.com is on sale this month for $150 off.  This huge sale goes until the end of October 31st at midnight EST.  Sign up today and also get access to RehabWebinars.com for free for 1-month.  Click here to enroll in the program today, the sale ends at the end of the month!

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The Influence of Pain on Shoulder Biomechanics

The influence of pain on how well the shoulder moves and functions has been researched several times in the past.  It is often though that impaired movement patterns may lead to pain the shoulder.

A recent two part study published in JOSPT analyzed the biomechanics of the shoulder, scapula, and clavicle in people with and without shoulder pain to determine in differences existed between the groups.  Part one assessed the scapula and clavicle.  Part two assess the shoulder.

The subjects with pain were not in acute pain, but rather had chronic issues with their shoulders for an average of 10 years.  The authors used electromagnetic sensors that were rigidly fixed to transcortical bone screws and inserted into each of the bones to accurately track motion analysis.

The studies were interesting and worth a full read, but I wanted to discuss some of the highlights.

 

The Influence of Pain on Shoulder Biomechanics

In regard to the scapula, the authors found:

  • Upward rotation of the scapula less in subjects with pain
  • This decrease in upward rotation was present at lower angles of elevation, not in the overhead position

It is important to assess scapular upward rotation in people with shoulder pain, particularly emphasizing the beginning of motion.  Realize that no differences were observed in upward rotation past 60 degrees of elevation, implying that the symptomatic group’s upward rotation caught up to the asymptomatic group.  This may imply that there is a timing issue, more than a true lack of scapular upward elevation issue.  They are upwardly rotating, but perhaps just too late?

The study also found the following in regard to shoulder motion:

  • Shoulder elevation was greater in subjects with pain
  • This increase in shoulder elevation was present at lower angles of elevation, not in the overhead position

Noticed how I intentionally presented it similar to the scapula findings?  if you put the two finings together, it appears that people with shoulder pain have a higher ratio of shoulder movement in comparison to scapular movement at the beginning of arm elevation.  The shoulder caught up again overhead, so it appears that the timing between shoulder and scapular movement may have an impact.

The Influence of Pain on Shoulder Mechanics

As you can see, it is important to assess both shoulder and scapular movement together, and not in isolation, as movement impairments at one join likely influence the other.  The brain is exceptionally good at getting from point A to point B and finding the path of least resistance to get there.

I should note that in studies like this, it is impossible to tell if the pain caused the movement changes or the movement changes caused the pain.  So keep that in mind.  Regardless of causation, our treatment programs should be designed with these findings in mind.

There are so many other great findings in the study that I encourage everyone to explore these further, but I thought these findings were worth discussing.  Based on these findings, it appears worthwhile to assess the relative contribution of scapular and shoulder movement during the initial phases of shoulder elevation.

Interested in advancing your understanding of the shoulder?  My extensive online program teaching you exactly how I evaluate and treat the shoulder at ShoulderSeminar.com is on sale now for $150 off!  That is a huge discount that you don’t want to miss!  Click here to enroll in the program today, the sale ends at the end of the month!

ShoulderSeminar.com

 

 

 

Great Exercise to Enhance Posterior Shoulder Strength, Endurance, and Overhead Stability

I wanted to share an exercise I have been incorporating into my programs lately to develop posterior shoulder strength, endurance, and overhead stability.  I call it the ER Press as it combines shoulder external rotation in an abducted position with an overhead press.  When performed with exercise tubing, it provides an anterior force that the posterior musculature must resist during the movement.  The key is to resist the pull of the band while you press overhead.

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I use this drill a lot with my baseball players and overhead athletes.  I think it’s a great drill that hits many of the areas that I focus on when training a strong posterior chain of the trunk and arm.

It’s also becoming a favorite of my Crossfit and olympic lifting athletes, who are reporting that they feel more comfortable overhead and have more stability with their snatches and overhead squats.

There are numerous progressions that can be performed by simply changing the position the athlete is in, including tall kneeling, half kneel, and split squat stances.  You can also perform some rhythmic stabilizations at the top range of motion once to increase the challenge.

 

Assessing Scapular Position

The latest Inner Circle webinar recording on the Assessing Scapular Position is now available.

Assessing Scapular Position

Assessing_Scapular_PositionThis month’s Inner Circle webinar was on Assessing Scapular Position.  While I have openly stated in the past that assessing scapular position is not as significant as looking at dynamic mobility, I do feel it is worth starting your assessment with position.  You have to know where to start to know where to go.  This is a great follow up to my past talk on Scapular Dyskinesis.

Here is how I assess scapular position, but more importantly how I integrate it into my assessment.

To access the webinar, please be sure you are logged in and are a member 0f the Inner Circle program.

A New Exercise for Shoulder, Scapula, and Core Control

Today’s post in a guest post from my friend Tad Sayce, who is a strength coach in the Boston area that specializes in swimmers.  Tad shares a great exercise video that works shoulder, scapula, and core control.  I’m a big fan of “big bang for your buck” exercises that promote strength and stability in one exercise, which is something we talk a lot about in Functional Stability Training.  Tad came up with one that I am going start trying with my athletes.

Band Resisted Horizontal Abduction with a Press

As a former competitive swimmer, I can closely relate to the overhead athlete and the complications that can arise at the shoulder. As a strength and conditioning coach working predominately with swimmers, I am constantly looking to improve the durability of the shoulder. It is widely accepted that the shoulder operates at maximum efficiency in the presence of a stable base at the core. While I am a believer in the use of isolated exercises, today’s focus will be that of a more integrated effort. The video below demonstrates an exercise that facilitates shoulder, scapular and core activation: Band Resisted Horizontal Abduction with a Press. 

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As the name implies, the exercise combines resisted horizontal abduction with an anti-rotation press. It is encouraged to first master each exercise in isolation before attempting to combine them. This exercise is great for educating athletes about proper scapular movement, and also demonstrating the ability to maintain position in the presence of increasing tension. I particularly like this exercise because it incorporates both dynamic and static efforts. I typically program this exercise for sets of 5 holding for 5 seconds, or sets of 8 holding for 2 seconds.

About Tad Sayce

tad-sayceTad Sayce, Head Coach and Owner of Sayco Performance Athletics, located in Waltham, MA. Tad is a Strength and Conditioning specialist with a strong interest in the sport of swimming. Formerly, Tad was a competitive swimmer in the Big 10 Conference and Olympic Trials qualifier, as well as a USA Swimming club coach.  For more information please visit www.saycoperformance.com.