Subpar shoulder health is often the primary reason pitchers will miss games. A recent study by Shanley et al compared injury patterns in high school sports, reporting that 80% of all girls playing softball reported an injury, with shoulder injuries being the most common.
Nonetheless, here are 6 essential strategies to help improve shoulder health for the long run.
Routinely Get The Shoulder blades moving
Healthy shoulder blade movement includes adduction, abduction and having the ability to go wherever the humerus goes. With exercises such as the dumbell bench press or floor press, the shoulder blades are pinned down not allowing fluid movement of the shoulder blades. Now, the bench press is a great exercise to help build strength and even proprioception for beginner lifters but you need to make sure for every "glued" shoulder blade movement you have at least two exercises that help groove good scapulohumeral rhythm such as rows or landmine presses.
Check out these quick coaching cues to help clean up common mistakes people make when rowing.
Strengthen The Serratus
The serratus is a small muscle that originates on the upper eight ribs and inserts into the medial border of the scapula. In many athletes, this muscle tends to be weak which can hurt one's ability to successfully get up overhead or even manifest into anterior shoulder discomfort or pain down the road.
I'm a huge fan of this muscle because many (not all) softball players I work with have flat thoracic spines, rounded shoulders, and anteriorly tilted shoulder blades. The job of the serratus is to keep the shoulder blade snug to the rib cage to allow for good upward rotation to take place.
On another note, an added benefit to adding in direct serratus work is that many of the serratus exercises you perform will need to be in more of a thoracic flexion allowing the athlete to gain some good curvature to the thoracic spine.
Challenge The Cuff In Various Ways
The rotator cuff is a batch of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder joint. Its primary job is to keep the humerus centered in the joint while minimizing movement too far anteriorly, posteriorly, superiorly and even inferiorly.
There are four basic ways to challenge the cuff.
Eccentrically: controlling or decelerating a load
Concentrically: controlling a load through external rotation
Isometrics: creating constant tension for a specific amount of time (one second) relaxing and repeating
Reactive Ability: manual perturbations or bottoms up kettlebell carries.
Here is a quick video on how to perform some of the most common rotator cuff drills I tend to use.
Get On All Fours
Bodyweight movements like bear crawls, birddogs, push-ups, and inchworms not only challenge the entire body when done correctly but allow you to gain upward rotation, thoracic flexion, and crush the serratus! These movements are great to use in the warm-up since they are simple to perform and you don't need any equipment.
Daily Soft Tissue Work
Here's a quick analogy my good friend Scotty J Simpson uses to explain the importance of soft tissue work.
"Daily soft tissue work is like doing the dishes. Every single day you use dishes. If you wash the dishes after you use it when your finished at the end of the week you won't have a stack of dishes staring at your face. If you routinely use dishes and not wash them they can pile up quickly."
Softball is extremely repetitive in nature and odds are your pitching or throwing almost every single day. A high throwing volume can cause muscle tissue to become dense and fibrotic (dishes stacking up). Performing daily soft tissue work (washing the dishes) helps enhance tissue quality and improve joint range of motion.
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