Superior Biceps pain is one of the top instigators that cause pitchers to lose playing time. Often times this pain can be disguised as anterior shoulder pain. A 2009 study by Shanley, found a 45% incidence (11/24) of time-loss injuries in a single season among softball pitchers. Of the time-loss, injuries were to the shoulder and elbow. Including bicipital and rotator cuff tendinitis and strain—both examples of repetitive load and abrasive wear and tear.Read More
Recently had the opportunity to sit down and talk shop with Grit Gym owner and operator Adam Rees.
What did we talk about?
- Similarities and differences between male and female strength training
- Why adults should use med ball training more frequently
- Learn a little more about me and how I ended up working at Cressey Sports Performance
Strength coaches should assess before assuming that every athlete that walks through their door has the ability to work overhead safely. Learn how to detect and manage those athletes who have tight lats.Read More
Main Takeaway: There are other solid alternatives to help increase upper body strength that are safer on the anterior shoulder and more user-friendly for novice lifters than the bench press.
Unfortunately, in many (not all) college weight rooms the bench press is a regular tool strength and conditioning coaches use to help increase upper body strength in softball players.
Why is the bench press a poor choice?
Issue 1: The bench press is not suited for a novice lifter but rather a selection more appropriate for intermediate and advanced lifters (2-3 years of training experience).
Due to the fact that many college freshmen get their first experience strength training EVER at team lifts is a fact that all coaches need to consider before implementing the bench press into their programs.
Issue 2: Novice bench pressers tend to use zero upper back arch to help stabilize the shoulder joint or if they do arch it's from the lumbar spine and not the thoracic (upper back).
Bench pressing with poor technique over a long period of time can cause nagging anterior shoulder and low back pain, two overuse injuries some softball players tend to accumulate over the course of the season. So why risk it when there are safer alternatives?
Issue 3: Many young women have not EARNED the right to use the bench press simply because they are not strong enough to do more than 5-8 easy reps with just the bar.
With that being said, the majority of athletes are better off mastering various dumbell and push-up variations to help gain strength and increase confidence.
Note** My rule of thumb is to make sure my female athletes can crush a 35-40lb dumbell bench press for sets of heavy doubles or triples and crush 10 solid push-ups before tossing them on the rack.
Why the Dumbell Bench Press is a better variation to help novice lifters get stronger
Reason 1: Theres no barrier to entry
With the bench press, you NEED to be able to press 45 pounds no ands ifs or buts about it. With the dumbell bench press its more efficient to meet the athlete where their current strength levels are and build from there.
Reason 2: Grooves technique and helps build context for the bench press
The dumbell bench press or floor press requires a solid upper back arch, full body tension and control to perform correctly. Check out this video to get a quick tutorial on why I coach the floor press this way.
Reason 3: Builds proprioception
Have you ever handed a new lifter a dumbell and asked them to perform a floor press?
If you have, you understand that newer lifters lack a true sense of where the body is in space. For their first few times its not uncommon to see their arms flying all over the place.
Note** Use tempos ( 3 seconds lowering, 1-second pause, 1-second up) to help them learn how to create tension, start and end in the same spot.
Reason 4: Dumbells allow the wrist and elbow to rotate if needed
With some athletes, they have hypermobile ulnar nerves and when they do various pulling or pressing variations it can aggravate the ulnar nerve when it slides over the medial aspect of the elbow.
The dumbell bench press gives the individual a wider range of hand positions and degrees of freedom to travel. This freedom allows athletes to find a hand position that best works for them. Verses the bench press athletes are locked in with a pronated grip which does not suit all lifters and their individual anatomy.
Be Safe, Not Sorry
The barbell bench press is a great tool to help increase upper body strength for experienced lifters who have earned the right to use it. For novice lifters start implementing dumbell bench press variations. These variations are safer on the anterior shoulder and easier for novice lifters to learn.
Well developed forearms are a statement of strength and power. In softball, whether pitching, hitting or throwing for distance the muscles of the forearm and the hand should not be overlooked.
These tiny but powerful muscles can help stabilize the elbow joint, protect the ulnar collateral ligament, and help improve bat speed through the zone. Here are 5 simple tools to help build stronger forearms.
1. Seated PVC Pipe Supination and Pronation
2. Hex Carries
3. Plate Pinches
4. Finger Extensions with Rubber Bands
5. KB or DB Farmers Carries
How often should direct forearm work be implemented?
The majority of young females with about a year of training experience can start benefitting from 2-4x a week of direct forearm training.
How should I implement forearm work in my current training?
Implement forearm work at the end of your training session. These accessory drills should be separate from your main lifts (squat, deadlift, push, pull variations). Here are some options to consider!
Option 1: You can work against time.
4 sets of 25 second DB Hex Holds @ 15lbs
Option 2: You can work against distance?
4-5 sets of Plate Pinch Carries for 20yds @10lbs
Option 3: You can work for time under tension
3 sets of 12/side PVC Pipe Supination and Pronation
Stay on Top of Soft Tissue Work
Each day before you go to lift take at least 2-3 minutes to roll out your forearms and triceps with a stick to help enhance tissue quality.
Get a Grip
The benefit to training the muscles of the forearm are two-fold. Forearm training not only keeps the lower arm and elbow healthy but can enhance ones skills both at the plate and on the diamond.
We all know medicine ball work is great for developing rotational power. Despite that, many coaches get hung up on deciding what drills to program. This week I discuss my personal philosophy on how I go about choosing specific drills for my softball players. Check it out below!
Below is a small list of frequent mistakes athletes tend to make with medicine ball work, specifically with the rotational scoop and shotput toss.
***Many players could struggle with one or more of these items below***
Not aggressive with their lower half
- Step-Behind Rotational Scoop/Shotput
- Double Play Med Ball Shotput
- Overhead Stomp to Rotational Shotput
- Rotational Med Ball Shotput from a knee
- Create chalk lines where their foot should land
Weight Transfer or Tempo
- Figure 8 Med Ball Shotput
- Drop Lunge to Rotational Scoop Toss
- Step Back Rotational Scoop Toss
- Hot Feet Rotational Shotput
Shin Angle/Sitting into hip
- Hookems Rotational Scoop Toss
- Rotational Med Ball Shotput from a knee
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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