In-Season Shoulder Strength

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STRENGTHENING THE SHOULDER GIRDLE 

This article is Part 1 of a two-part series about functional training for the shoulder in baseball players.


Assuming that anyone reading this properly conditioned the arm in the offseason, this article is aimed to help that individual, whether it be a coach or an athlete.

In order for an arm to stay healthy throughout the entire season, there are some principles to consider: joint positions, scapula-glenohumeral rhythm (the shoulder blade and ball-and-socket joints), and strength.


Joint Positioning and Rhythm

If you want your arm to stay healthy, it should act like an arm. What exactly does this mean anyway?

Our shoulder blade and shoulder joint have a specific relationship. Every 2 degrees of shoulder joint movement needs 1 degree of shoulder blade movement to keep the ball comfortably in the socket joint.

The more and more you throw, we know that you will lose a few things: fully lengthening/extending your elbow, internally rotating your shoulder, and raising your arm over your head.

This is caused by the violent deceleration your arm goes through once you release the baseball. We see this in position players as well, but not on a grand scale.

However, position player or pitcher, your arm should act like an arm.

A joint should act independently before it acts interdependently. In other words, your shoulder should be able to perform a specific movement on its own without the help from another joint.

As mentioned previously, a thrower will most likely lose shoulder flexion (raising the arm overhead) as the season progresses. Without this joint movement, the body will aim to get into an end-range from another joint (probably the low back or rib cage).

Moving on to the shoulder blade, a lot of throwers will present a gross extension pattern. The violent stretch that the back muscles go through tend to shorten as a protective mechanism.

This results in the shoulder blades becoming inefficient in upward rotation and proper protraction.

Our muscles have these small receptors near the joints that tell the joints where they are in space creating a very strong signal. A fatigued muscle, however, produces a weaker signal to the joint, so the arm does not know where it is in space.

Therefore, it is SO important to perform exercises that put your arm in the most ideal biomechanical position and when the arm is not in a state of fatigue.


Strengthening Program

I think it is important to keep up with a strengthening program throughout the season if you want your arm to stay healthy. Although strength is a training residual that sticks around for a long time, I still think that it needs to be trained multiple times throughout the month.

Due to the violent nature of throwing, the arm is living on the absolute speed end of the continuum. Therefore, supplying it with different aspects of strength on the other end of the continuum can make all the difference.

First let me say that band work immediately after your game is NOT going to get you stronger. All you’re going to do is further fatigue the smaller muscles around the shoulder girdle and this will lead you to injury rather than strength.

I personally believe in letting the body does what it does best: HEAL. You’re going to have a lot of inflammation after you throw a game, so let your body take its course. Muscles can’t “remember” what they do when they’re inflamed anyway.

Your best bet is to wait for an hour or so once your body feels refreshed (or shorter or longer depending on the individual).

First we release the problem areas, actively engage those problem areas, then we strengthen them to make new ROM stick.

  1. Soft Tissue release – T-Spine, Posterior Shoulder, Lats/Teres
  2. Active Mobility – T-Spine Extension, Rotation, Shoulder Flexion and Internal Rotation
  3. Shoulder Strengthening – attack the problem areas
  • Shoulder Flexion with Scapular Upward Rotation
    • I’s, Y’s
  • Shoulder Protraction and Retraction
    • Scapular CARS
    • Foam Roller Wall Slides with Lift
    • T’s, W’s
  • Shoulder External and Internal Rotation
    • ISO holds with either tubing, manual resistance, or light dumbbells/plates
    • Using core exercises with perturbations (ie. side plank)
  • Shoulder Extension
    • Swimmers, Blackburns
    • A’s

Hopefully after reading this article by now you have adopted some principles:

  1. You only have one throwing arm. BE SELFISH WITH IT
  2. Performing “arm care” exercises will only be beneficial when the muscles are in a non-fatigued state
  3. First we release the problem areas, actively engage those problem areas, then we strengthen them to make new ROM stick.
  4. Throw flames

 

Always learning,

Jarad Vollkommer, CSCS


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