In the current training era it’s widely accepted that mobility and flexibility are critical components of good training. Athletes must have access to appropriate ranges of motion in order to facilitate safe, fluid movement. Yet, most people either totally neglect their mobility work or half-heartedly go through a few stretches before their workout. The old adage: “well lions don’t stretch before they chase gazelles” makes sense conceptually and for a very small percentage of athletes it may hold water. However, lions don’t have to go to work, sit at desks or sit in traffic. They don’t have to take tests, they don’t have to pay bills, and they don’t spend hours playing video games and perusing Instagram. My point is: our “go-go-go” world and excessive time spent seated/immobile can often be the culprits behind aberrant movement or mobility restrictions. Some of the best athletes in the world prioritize their mobility and movement quality over all else. Baseball is a rotational sport that also requires overhead motion. In order to be both capable and effective with these movements, it is of paramount importance that adequate ranges of motion are achievable. If there is not enough active control at the articular (joint) level, aberrant movements will inevitably occur. Compensatory movements during the violent demands of baseball activities can be a recipe for injury. Here are three (of many) key areas that baseball players need to prioritize.
1. The thoracic spine.
This is often referred to as the “t-spine” and is made of the 12 vertebrae in the middle of your back (T1-T-12). The anatomy of the thoracic spine is designed to be able to move. It should flex, extend, and rotate. While most people can understand how rotation is important, the ability to flex and extend MUST occur for efficient throwing mechanics to occur. The tricky part about the thoracic spine is that most athletes are either very good at compensating (cheating with “fake movement”), or they do indeed rotate well on the table, but can’t achieve good flexion or active control of the rotation. This is why a thorough evaluation under a trained set of eyes is critical for any baseball player. The goal, therefore, is to give the athlete more of what they don’t have. These drills are designed to restore good resting posture, restore movement quality, and to achieve and control adequate range of motion.
The Side-lying windmill is a classic exercise that uses gravity’s help to create rotation at the thoracic spine. Be sure to lock in the core to resist the urge to rotate at the lumbar!
The Lazy Bear is an excellent drill that helps to restore good resting posture in athletes who are overly extended. As a bonus it recruits the serratus anterior muscles which pulls the scapulae out of an adducted (slammed together) position. This can be an “arm care” goldmine for guys who have trouble flexing the thoracic spine and controlling protraction of the scaps.
2. Shoulder mobility.
Due to the ball and socket nature of the glenohumeral (shoulder) joint, it has a large degree of movement variability. In fact, it has the most movement freedom in the body, and needs this variability in all three planes of motion, just like the thoracic spine. If movement variability is lost in throwers (i.e., the shoulder joint cannot move efficiently, either reaching overhead or rotating adequately) things start to go downhill quickly. Additionally, the baseball player should have a high degree of control of the scapula. The shoulder blade operates in conjunction with the humerus (arm bone), during normal, healthy movement. If the rhythm and coordination is lost or hindered, it is often the cause of pain for baseball players.
The prone shoulder CAR (controlled articular rotation) is one of the most efficient ways to train the entire movement of the shoulder. This drill gives the CNS (central nervous system) feedback from the joint capsules and facilitates improvements in tissue resiliency and control over newly acquired range of motion.
Supine shoulder flexion is a great way to help athletes learn proper over head movement. Many athletes either cannot “tone down” the large Latissimus muscles to get over head effectively, or cannot get over head without extension of the spine to compensate. This drill ensures a neutral position with good, clean scapulo-humeral rhythm.
3. The Hips/Hamstrings.
Can you touch your toes? Can you keep your legs straight if you lie on your back? The hips are possibly the most important tools a baseball player can develop. They are the engine that creates power. They must be able to move in all three planes of motion (notice a common theme here?). The hip, like the shoulder, is a ball and socket joint. However, because there is a deeper socket and much more muscle tissue surrounding the hip, it does not possess the same movement freedom as the shoulder. However, adequate movement MUST occur at the hips for fluid, athletic movement. Unfortunately, many athletes are missing hip flexibility and mobility, and become good compensators. This often plays a role in lower back pain presentations, or declines in performance. My favorite way to describe the importance of hamstrings flexibility and strength is the stride leg in pitchers. Pitchers who cannot straighten out the front leg and absorb the force tend to lose both velocity and control. This is because the energy traveling through the kinetic chain is “leaked” when the athlete cannot get himself or herself into the proper position!
The band assisted leg lowering is a basic stretch that provides a lot of bang for your buck. It allows the athlete to isolate one leg in a split pelvis position (one leg up, one leg down). This drill lengthens the entire posterior chain (hamstrings, calves, etc) and teaches the athlete active control of a range of motion. This drill should be done slowly and methodically, feel the stretch!
The adductor rock back is quite commonly used to help athletes lengthen the adductor muscles (groin). Be sure not to work through pain, only work with the range you have available to you!
The pidgeon stretch is one of my personal favorites. The ability to get into a hip is important for both athleticism and proper weight lifting technique. As an added bonus, you can reach across to get a stretch on the lats, which can improve shoulder mobility! Be sure you only feel the glute here, do not stretch through pain in the knee! If you are limited here, you can place a pad under the knee to reduce the required range of motion.
We hope this is helpful! Have a question or comment? Let us know what you think, and be sure to follow us on social media!