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Overhead Training and Throwing Athletes

Written on January 17, 2008 at 11:51 am, by Eric Cressey

Q: I had a quick question for you from the Perform Better Summit this past weekend.  I enjoyed your presentation, but was wondering why you do not do any overhead training with your throwing athletes.  Isn’t it important to maintain balance in the shoulder musculature and by eliminating that plane of movement are we not putting our athletes at a greater risk for injury?

A: First off, to be clear, I am not opposed to overhead training; that would imply that I don’t like chin-ups, face pulls, long-tossing, or throwing bullpen sessions! I’m actually really surprised at how many people think that I really exclude such training altogether from my programs for non-overhead-throwing athletes. In my presentation, I specifically noted that I was opposed to overhead pressing and the majority of the Olympic lifts in baseball players.

In a nutshell, it has a lot to do with the fact that overhead throwing athletes (and pitchers in particular) demonstrate significantly less scapular upward rotation at 60+ degrees of abduction. Here’s a reference:

Laudner KG, Stanek JM, Meister K. Differences in Scapular Upward Rotation Between Baseball Pitchers and Position Players. Am J Sports Med. 2007 Dec;35(12):2091-5.

From that study: “CLINICAL RELEVANCE: This decrease in scapular upward rotation may compromise the integrity of the glenohumeral joint and place pitchers at an increased risk of developing shoulder injuries compared with position players. As such, pitchers may benefit from periscapular stretching and strengthening exercises to assist with increasing scapular upward rotation.”

Additionally, comparing most overhead weight training movements (lower velocity, higher load) to throwing a baseball is like comparing apples and oranges.  Throwing a baseball is a significant traction (humerus pulled away from the glenoid fossa), whereas overhead pressing is approximation (humerus pushed into the glenoid fossa).  The former is markedly less stressful on the shoulder – and why chin-ups are easier on the joint than shoulder pressing.

With respect to the Olympic lifts, I’m not comfortable with the amount of forces the snatch puts on the ulnar collateral ligament, which takes a ton of stress during the valgus-extension overload cycle that dramatically changes the physical shape of most pitchers’ elbow joints. The catch on the clean isn’t something to which I’m going to subject to valuable wrists and hands that go through some serious abuse with every throw and are often injured in diving catches and sliding. I see no problem with high pull variations, though.

To take it a step further, all the research suggests that virtually all baseball players have some degree of labral fraying. The labrum deepens the shoulder “socket” to mechanically provide stability in a joint that is designed for mobility. Without optimal labral function, going to the extreme demands of stability – overhead movements – is not ideal, especially under load.

Lastly, here is a frame of reference to deter you from the “Since they encounter is in sports, we need to train it in the weight-room” mindset.  Boxers get hit in the head all the time in matches; why don’t we punch them in the head in the weight room?

The risk outweighs the benefit. Food for thought.

Results Typical

A few weeks ago, I outlined the results my business partner Pete experienced on the four-month Maximum Strength program. One of our clients, Gregg, also completed the entire program; can you start to see a trend?

-Body weight increased by one pound with significant decrease in body fat %

-Broad jump increased by 8 inches

-Vertical jump increased by 2.6 inches

-Box squat increased by 35 pounds

-Deadlift increased by 40 pounds

-Bench press increased by 20 pounds

-Chin-up increased by 25 pounds

For more information, check out Maximum Strength.

Blog Updates Quad Pulls in Baseball Labral Tears and Pitchers All the Best, EC

5 Responses to “Overhead Training and Throwing Athletes”

  1. Rich Dunno Says:

    Hi Eric….I have always had my pitchers…High School and College do a resistance band routine before they warm up (throw) before getting on the mound before a game.
    I had a ortho doctor tell one of my pitchers to stop because it will actually loosen up the surrounding ligaments and tendons to much causing problems.

    Rich Dunno

    What is your thoughts on that?

  2. Eric Cressey Says:

    Rich – it depends on the routine. I’d need to know what drills you’re doing.

  3. Chad Miller Says:

    Great question Rich! Eric I have a pitcher in our program that absolutley is hooked on his band work before picking up a baseball. Personally, I have never felt it’s necessary and I know there’s a comfort factor there. He’s doing internal/external and primarily the Jaeger program stuff. We do arm circles of various sizes as well as some elephant swings, goal posts, donley’s, cross body pulls, forearm stretches, preachers, etc… Should we be incorporating some band work in our arm prep. We also do some arm prep throws as well like 90’s. Respect your opinion and if so, what specifically? I coach in the Cape and would love to stop by your facility sometime.

  4. Eric Cressey Says:

    Hi Chad,

    First off, I’d love to meet you. Just drop me a note when you’re out here and we’ll set it up!

    Everyone is different on the warm-up front. Some guys go too long, and others don’t do enough. I think it depends a lot on congenital laxity. The looser the guy, the shorter the warm-up – and the more pure stabilization work you need to do. Stiffer guys need more ROM work and less stabilization stuff. Just remember that the goal is to simply raise body temperature and optimize neural recruitment patterns, NOT impose fatigue.

  5. Chad Miller Says:

    Thanks Eric,

    Seems like we’ve designed our arm prep with some of your thoughts in mind, however I would be interested in learning if you have or know of any good resources you use to determine things on the laxity front? And…what type of stabilization work are you referring too? A couple of examples would be great! I’ll definitely look you up when I’m back out East. Thanks!

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