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Common Arm Care Mistakes: Installment 1

Written on December 13, 2013 at 8:30 am, by Eric Cressey

As you probably already know, I see a ton of baseball players on a weekly basis.  And, the majority of them come in with some pre-existing perceptions on what good arm care really is.  These ideas relate to exercise selection, coaching cues, frequency, timing, load, and a host of other factors.  I'm a firm believer that just about everyone does some things that are appropriate, and some things that are wrong. 

This may be "right vs. wrong" in a general sense. An example would be that it's always right for baseball players to strengthen their rotator cuff and scapular stabilizers.  And, it's always wrong to do so many arm care exercises before throwing that the cuff is actually fatigued before a thrower picks up a ball.

There are, however, specific cases of right and wrong.  For instance, if someone has a ton of congenial laxity (joint hypermobility), it's wrong to stretch their shoulders out, as you're making unstable joints more unstable.  However, if it's a very stiff individual, stretching may very well be completely indicated and productive.

To that end, I want to kick off this series to educate my baseball audience on how to evaluate arm care options so that you can ensure that they're the best fit for you.  Here's our first mistake:

Assuming all shoulder blades start in the same position.

There are tens of millions of throwing shoulders around the world, and each one of them responds slightly differently to a throwing stimulus - and this has been well documented.  The problem, however, is that when creating arm care programs, not a lot of people take into account that scapular (shoulder blade) position is going to differ - sometimes dramatically - from one throwing athlete to the next.  As examples, check out these two resting scapular positioning photos:







On the left, you have an anteriorly tilted, abducted, and depressed scapular presentation.  This is what we often expect to see with throwers (usually with a bit more asymmetry, though). On the right, though, we have a very adducted scapular posture; the shoulder blades are almost touching the spine (the medial border of the scapula should be roughly three inches away from it).

The classic "down and back" cue that gets thrown out to just about everyone for every exercise could give both of these guys issues, but for different reasons.  The left example would potentially preferentially recruit lat (which is already cranking the shoulder girdle down) over lower trapezius, so we'd get more scapular depression instead of the posterior tilt and adduction we're seeking.  The right example would yank aggressively toward the spine with the rhomboids and "fight" the shoulder blades as they try to upwardly rotate.  Down and back isn't a good cue for this scapular presentation because he's literally as far back as he can possibly go.

This goes to show you that resting posture governs function, and function (or lack thereof) governs whether or not you're going to get hurt.  If you don't take resting posture into account, how can you be sure that you're creating the type of movement that you seek?

Thsi is just one more reason why I don't believe in "organizational arm care programs."  If every posture presentation and subsequent functional performance is different, why are we painting them all with the same broad stroke instead of giving them the individual attention they need?  Check out this video example, where I talk about how different folks might need different cues for the prone 1-arm trap raise, a commonly prescribed arm care exercise. 

Looking for more insights like this?  Check out one of our Elite Baseball Mentorships, where we discuss scapular posture and movement evaluation techniques (along with many other topics) in great detail.  We just announced our next Phase 1 (Upper Extremity) event: June 14-16.


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Regaining Scapular Control: Always Good Intentions, Often Bad Technique

Written on September 18, 2013 at 2:18 pm, by Eric Cressey

The prone 1-arm trap raise (also known as the prone Y) is one of my favorite arm care drills. Unfortunately, it's also a drill that can be performed incorrectly in a number of different ways.  Additionally, as with most exercises, there's a big difference between "decent" and "optimal," and when it comes to taking care of throwing arms, even the most subtle adjustment can reduce injury risk or take away someone's pain.  A key part of being able to adjust on the fly is to appreciate how an athlete's resting posture looks.

With all these important considerations in mind, check out this detailed video tutorial so that you can make the most of this awesome exercise.

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Avoid These 3 Baseball Warm-up Mistakes

Written on February 6, 2013 at 4:59 am, by Eric Cressey

At Cressey Sports Performance, we manage a ton of baseball players throughout the year.  In doing so, we often notice trends - both good and bad - that emerge in the things they start applying on their own.  Here are three warm-up mistakes I commonly see players making before they pick up a ball to throw:

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Relief Pitchers: How to Warm-up

Written on April 15, 2011 at 6:59 am, by Eric Cressey

Q: I have followed Tim Collins' story on your website and was very impressed with his quick path to the big leagues. Obviously, preparation has been a huge part of success and that’s where my question lies. Like Tim, I am a relief pitcher and often wonder what pro guys and in Tim's case knowledgeable pro guys, do for a warm-up prior to throwing in the pen to get in the game. I was wondering if maybe you can shed some light on what guys at your facility do as far as a warm-up to throwing. It seems like every time I see a pro guy throw, they get up after not moving for seven innings and just throw and come in the game blowing 96mph without their arm tearing in three different spots. Is there a warm-up routine your guys do before they might come in? I appreciate any info.

A: This is actually one of the more common questions that I receive, and I'm kind of surprised at myself for never covering it in a blog post. There are a few important prerequisite considerations to take into account before I tell you what I encourage our guys to do:

1. Sadly, most guys don't do anything. That doesn't make this right; it just means that they are setting the stage for getting hurt further down the line.  Just because you throw with sloppy mechanics  or muscular weakness doesn't mean that you'll get hurt the second you pick up a ball; you get hurt from the cumulative effect over time.  So, just because a guy can go in and throw hard with a short, insufficient warm-up doesn't mean that he'll be doing that a few years from now.

2. You can't compare professional guys to lower level guys for a lot of reasons. First, professional bullpens usually have powerful heaters in place to keep guys' body temperatures up - which makes it easier to warm up when the time is right.  Additionally, most professional pitchers (whether they make use of them or not) have plenty of access to massage therapy and manual stretching from team personnel, so their "resting state" is probably more prepared than most college pitchers I see.  High school kids tend to be the most "indestructible" of the bunch, as they haven't accumulated as much wear and tear on their bodies.

That said, regardless of experience and what you have at your fingertips for massage and other amenities, warming up to come out of the bullpen can be pretty stressful for guys.  On one hand, you kick out some serious stress hormones, which can get you fired up and ready to go, but on the other hand, it's not good to be excited and ready to roll hormonally and psychologically if you aren't there physically just yet.

With that in mind, I encourage guys to do their normal pre-game warm-ups like everyone else and try to sustain that body temperature and transient mobility increase by dressing warmly and trying to move around in the bullpen as much as possible.  Then, as it gets closer and closer to the time that they may need to enter the game (I usually just tell guys to start at the end of the fourth), I have guys start doing 2-3 multi-joint dynamic flexibility drills every half-inning.  An example would be a walking spiderman with overhead reach, which is going to take you into hip abduction and extension, thoracic spine extension and rotation, glenohumeral horizontal abduction and external rotation, and elbow extension (among other movements).

By doing a few of these each half-inning, you ensure that your body temperature and mobility never drop off transiently.  Plus, you ensure that you don't lose mobility over the course of a long season, as you're working on it even if you don't wind up pitching.

As an interesting little aside to all of this, is a reliever that much different than, say, a center fielder when it comes to needing to stay warm throughout the entire game just in case?  He might do his pre-game warm-ups and then spend the next few hours alternating standing around and sitting with bursts of 100% effort with swinging, throwing, and sprinting.  Have you ever heard of a center fielder complaining that he can't get loose enough to track down a fly ball, crow hop and throw a laser to the plate, or leg out an infield single?  Of course not!  And, it's simply because he is more active than relievers even when he isn't actively participating in the game.  Every inning, he's playing catch and jogging to and from the outfield on top of making a contribution defensively or at the plate every 20-30 minutes.

So, in summary, do a thorough pre-game warm-up, do more "fidgeting" in the bullpen, and then hit 2-3 multi-joint dynamic flexibility drills (check out Assess and Correct for dozens of examples) every half-inning starting in the 4th.  Then, go to your specific throwing warm-up and head out to start blowing 96mph...safely.

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