Eight Aspects of Arm Care Baseball Rarely Gets Right
1. It's Not Just Arm Care
Arm Care is a total body preparation. It is not limited to just the arm. Throwing a baseball is an explosive total body movement that requires synchronous timing along the entire kinetic chain, lower body power to produce momentum towards home plate, upper body strength to withstand ball release, and head to toe (alternating) mobility and stability patterns to keep the arm and body in proper angles, proper speeds, and proper decelerating patterns during all three phases of pitching. Don’t just limit “arm care” to moving some bands with the shoulder and elbow.
2. Bands Are Not Everything
Hooking bands up to the fence after throwing off a mound, and rushing through a few exercises should not constitute Arm Care. As stated above, Arm Care goes FAR beyond just the demands of the arm. Does the arm need to recover and regain strength after throwing? Of course. But what happens to the upper and lower back during pitching? What about the lower half producing power in a very asymmetric motion 80-100 times in a matter of hours? Slapping some bands around the fence and arbitrarily doing some external rotations is like trying to put out a forest fire with a water hose. You’re hitting that one spot but the flame is still burning hot and seeking destruction in other areas.
I see all the time my athletes grab 10 pound cuffs and start doing Y’s, T’s, and external rotations. Either they’re the strongest kids in the world or they’re doing the exercises total wrong! 100% of the time it’s the latter. Once we break down the actual proper way to perform those exercises without any weights, they’re sore for 2 days and it takes them several weeks before they can even progress to 1 pound weights. Here is the proper way to do Y’s and T’s.
Doing these exercises, you’re looking to strengthen the low and mid traps. These muscles help in the upward rotation of the scap (getting arm up during the pitch) and helping decelerate the arm after ball release.
4. Strength Before Endurance
External rotations are a staple in any arm care protocol, and should be. The Rotator Cuff helps externally rotate the arm back, eccentrically slows down the arm after ball release, and helps keep the “ball and socket” joint congruent and stable (lowers the risk of labral tears). BUT, in order to do this the rotator cuff must be strong. When starting a training program or arm care program, an athlete should always start with strengthening the rotator cuff before performing 15-20 reps for endurance. Without strength, there is no stability. Without stability, there is no safety and the ball of the humerous can move around the glenohumeral joint effecting the integrity of the joint and the labrum. Remember strength before endurance.
5. The Lead Hip is Directly Associated with the Throwing Arm!
In pitching, if the lead hip lacks internal rotation, the throwing shoulder will reflect the same fate, and increase risk of injury. I have had several athletes with poor hip mobility and constant nagging injuries (bicep discomfort, rotator cuff stiffness, etc.) in their throwing arm. We do some simple hip mobilizations to gain a few degrees of internal rotation and miraculously their arm feels better, moves more “freely”, and improves health. Here are a few exercises we do to increase our hip internal rotation.
See, if you can create a few more degrees of rotation around the lead him while pitching, you give your body more time to slow down the kinetic chain so your other decelerators (bicep, teres minor, hamstring, etc.) don’t have to work as hard to slow down during the follow through.
6. Think Pitch Counts AND Innings, not just one or the other!
7. Think Mobility Not Flexibility
Flexibility is how much length a muscle has. Mobility is how the muscles move about the joint. I wrote a previous article about the difference between flexibility and mobility. But, as noted earlier (#5), mobility is a crucial factor in arm care. A positive sit and reach test for the hamstrings isn't necessarily a good indicator of health for a baseball player. But good hip internal mobility, thoracic mobility, shoulder internal/external rotation, and scapular upward rotation are. Flexibility and mobility are not synonymous. So instead of spending time statically stretching hamstrings, insert mobility drills for the ankles, hips, T-spine, scaps, shoulders, and wrists.
8. The Scap is Not a Muscle
I can’t tell you how many coaches I know that think the scap is a muscle. If you’re a baseball coach, especially a pitching coach, and you don’t know basic human anatomy of the shoulder, you might want to read up a little bit and become a better coach. The scap, or scapula, is a large bone in which several muscles are attached to it. These are the muscles you train when we talk “scap work”. There are many muscles that attach to the scapula. Some we train for strength and stability, some for mobility, some need to be turned “off” and some turned “on”. I will cover this more in depth later but it will require another lengthy blog post, one that is out of the scope of this one. The point of this particular post is to bring awareness that the scap is not a muscle, but a bone with a large set of muscles integral to the proper function of the scap, the arm, the throwing motion, and the entire body in general.
There are countless ways to accomplish great arm care. You have to know anatomy, pitching mechanics, your players, and how to mesh the three together. But the primary point to this article is to convey that arm care is a total body preparation.
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