Organized sports is a wonderful experience for the young people our communities. It teaches teamwork, provides fitness and increased activity levels. It also helps kids develop skills and more self-worth. In fact, the Aspen Institute estimates that there are nearly 22,000,000 kids between the ages of 6-12 are participating in some sort of organized athletic activity. With each of the sports and activities, there are drills and exercises commonly used but often are performed incorrectly.
In our home, we are in the middle of baseball season and I came across a very common exercise that was being performed incorrectly by 90% of the kids I observed. Baseball and softball are the second most popular youth sports in America with 4.2 million participants in the young age group at 6-12 years old.
As I ran the simple math in my head, I began to realize that there are potentially 3.5 million kids doing this exercise incorrectly and I suspect most adults are also! I wanted to take a few minutes today and discuss with you how your young baseball player has probably been doing this common exercise wrong!
Resistance bands and tubing are very common in physical therapy and rehabilitation. They are part of fundamental exercises for most shoulder injury management and rehabilitation. We have found in the sport’s medicine world that strengthening the rotator cuff muscles around the shoulder that an improve and athlete’s overall shoulder strength, improve they’re throwing speed and endurance, and also decrease the risk of shoulder injury.
Because this is been so common, many of these exercises have found their way into coaching techniques, team workouts, and for performance improvement. For these exercises to be effective, some critical thinking must be applied.
I do not want to bore you with the anatomy and physiology details, but a simple concept is crucial for you to understand. The goal of throwing is to project a ball at target has accurately and powerfully as possible. As I strengthen my chest and shoulder muscles, I can accelerate the ball to throw it faster and harder. However, the posterior shoulder muscles, particularly the posterior rotator cuff, have to slow the shoulder down so that the arm does not spin off of the body or get injured. A weak posterior rotator cuff will get strained easily or will prematurely try to slow the shoulder rotation down to avoid injury which results in decreasing speed, power, and accuracy. To maintain a healthy throwing shoulder, you have to maintain a healthy strong posterior rotator cuff.
Nearly everyone in baseball or softball have seen the resistance baseball. This is essentially a ball connected to tubing or elastic bands that usually connects to a chainlink fence or sturdy object. You will commonly see athletes take this baseball and pretend to throw forward with it. The resistance of the elastic tubing strengthens the shoulder in this motion. Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with doing an exercise like this other than the fact that it is not helping your posterior shoulder!
In a recent competitive baseball game, I noticed my 11-year-old son and a group of other boys admiring a new resistance baseball system one of the young men had brought with him. They each took turns grabbing the elastic and the baseball and exaggerated a throwing motion trying to pull was much resistance with the elastic tubing
as they could. Most of them are quite successful doing this. When I explained to them that they were doing this wrong and had them face the fence and do a reverse throwing type motion, very few of them could accomplish this task. They became aware very quickly how weak their shoulders really were and I had the opportunity to teach them
the new and better technique.
Here’s how you should do it correctly and more consistently!
First, connect the baseball to the fence or fixation point of your choice. Your arm should be out to the side with your elbow at shoulder height and your hand holding the baseball in front of you. You will then bring the baseball back keeping your elbow square and your shoulder and elbow parallel to the ground. Slowly bring the baseball back and tell your arm is at the square and then slowly allow it to return to the starting point. Do not allow the shoulder to snap or to bounce through the motion. It should be slow and consistent coming back up into square and then returning back down to parallel.
One common point to remember is that the rotator cuff holds the ball off the socket in the joint and allows it rotate… The rotator cuff rotates. You should make sure that the shoulder joint is rotating and not moving forward, backward, up, or down while doing this exercise.
With a young athlete, usually 10 good repetitions is sufficient to start with and they can work towards 30 repetitions. If they are consistent with this exercise they will soon find that their shoulder is more resistant to injury, stronger, and the shoulder can generate more force and speed on the baseball. In short, they will throw harder and faster simply by strengthening the posterior shoulder!
If your young baseball players can do this exercise correctly, they will stay healthier with overhead activities and be better throwers!
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Thanks for taking time with me today.