Pitching Paradox Part 3: (S)Train Those Shoulders

In Part 2 I hoped to impress upon you the idea that traditional "arm care" like the Throwers Ten may be of some benefit but is quite limited in scope. Since throwing is a high velocity, asymmetrical, total body movement, the best a pitcher can do to keep his arm healthy and strong is to train the entire body as a functional unit. The specifics of what such a training program would look like is somewhat variable and should be based off a detailed assessment.
Pitcher one needs to improve his scapular protraction and anterior pelvic tilt if he wants to stop overloading the anterior shoulder. Pitcher two needs to establish hip strength and internal rotation if he is to stop straining his lower back. In order to build velocity, pitcher three needs to build leg and rotational core strength, and learn how to decelerate on his lead leg.

These are a few real-life examples of what an assessment can tell you.

In this installment, we turn our attention to the question of exactly what is and is not safe and beneficial for pitchers. Since most (but certainly not all) pitching injuries are related to the elbow and shoulder, I'm going to focus in on a few of the most common methods of training the upper body.

Should pitchers bench press? Overhead press? Avoid training the upper body at all?

The Traditional:

The traditional approach to training pitchers has been covered in the intro above and in part 2 of this series. Run poles, throw, mindlessly rep through some general tubing and upper body resistance work. The Throwers 10 is likely better than doing nothing at all. Wait, the Throwers 10 includes seated dips? Like, on of the best exercises to provoke and precipitate anterior shoulder instability? Never mind, I take that back.

Suffice to say that we can and should do better than the Traditional approach to preparing pitchers.

The Lift Some Weights, Bro:

This mentality treats everyone like a fitness competitor and fails to consider the demands of pitching and the common patterns of adaptation in a pitchers body. It may work well for some, will injure some, and be sup-optimal for many.

Upper body exercises that are (questionably) acceptable for the general population may not be a great idea for pitchers who acquire multiple structural and dynamic adaptations from years of throwing. Loading up resistance with faulty movement patterns only leads to further ingraining of the poor pattern.
This is not acceptable training for most athletes, much less pitchers.

The Guillotine Press, where the elbows flare and the bar is lowered to the front of the neck.
Great mass builder for the "upper chest." Who needs a rotator cuff, anyway?

The Do Not Disturb:

The mentality is to be careful with a fragile 38-year old Major League All-Star who has accumulated years wear and tear and various asymmetry. For the far majority of athletes (all those without the million dollar contract) paralysis of analysis gets in the way of any training effect.

Treating every 15-year old with a desire to pitch as if he already has the million dollar arm with a well controlled, mid-90s fast ball is not doing the athlete any favors. All the corrective work and precaution is getting in the way of what they probably need most: getting bigger and stronger with sound fundamental movement patterns.

We don't all need to pretend that we're working on Eric Cressey's clients (many of whom do happen to be million dollar throwing arms).

The Narrow Way

The best approach to training, of course, combines the best of the elements above. Someday it too will have portions discarded while other parts are passed down.

Once again, exactly what exercises are warranted and safe depends on the athlete. A collegiate level pitcher who can already bench press 300 pounds will probably do well to focus his efforts elsewhere. A middle schooler who wants to gain weight and throw harder should learn how to bench press appropriately.

As they level-up over the years, many pitchers do develop muscular and joint imbalances that predispose them to injury while pitching. Most of the Olympic lifts are just not worth the risk to this population. Pitchers (and anyone who sits for the majority of the day) should also avoid resistance machines that lock you into a seated position with a fixed line of movement (like the seated overhead press or abduction machines). They should use great caution with dips and overhead barbell presses (though not avoid them at all costs).

The details of precisely HOW the exercise is performed also is relevant. Even the safest of movements can be problematic or ineffective if appropriate form and control is not attended to. A pitcher with tight lats and a GIRD (glenohumeral inernal rotation deficit) may want to be careful regarding how he does simple activities like pull-ups and push-ups.

Landmine Press: YES!

For some pitchers, a standing barbell press may not be out of the question, depending on what their movement screen looks like. One of my favorites is a standing unilateral dumbbell or kettlebell shoulder press where the shoulder can be maintained in a neutral position. As with all standing and kneeling presses, athletes are naturally prohibited from using any more weight than their hips and core muscles can support.

Lastly, I find it helpful to remind the more motivated trainees that they are using weights as a tool to be better elsewhere, not simply for the sake of lifting weights. This helps them check their ego and gives more incentive to train with intensity, intelligence, and purpose.

Factors favoring use in pitchers:

unilateral lift
neutral arm position
core muscles engaged to support
upper arm does not extend far past the torso
free resistance that must be controlled

Factors favoring avoidance in pitchers:

bilateral lift
pronated (palms forward or down) arm position
upper arm goes far into extension or horizontal abduction
seated or supine (less core engagement)
machine-based (locked into one movement arc)

- - - - -

No comments:

Post a Comment