Home Posts tagged "Oblique Strain"

6 Reasons Anterior Core Stability Exercises Are Essential

This time of year, I'm doing a lot of assessments on college baseball players who are just wrapping up their seasons.  One of the biggest issues that I note in just about every "new" athlete I see is a lack of anterior core control. In other words, these athletes sit in an exaggerated extension pattern that usually looks something like this:

APT-250x300

And, when they take their arms overhead, they usually can't do so without the ribs "flaring" up like crazy.

This is really just one way an athlete will demonstrate an extension posture, though. Some athletes will stand in knee hyperextension. Others will live in a forward head posture. Others may have elbows that sit behind their body at rest because their lats are so "on" all the time.

latsPosture

This isn't just about resting posture, though; most of these athletes will have faulty compensatory movement patterns, too. Once we've educated them on what better posture actually is for them, we need to include drills to make these changes "stick." Anterior core drills - ranging from prone bridges, to positional breathing, to dead bugs, to reverse crunches, to rollouts/fallouts - are a great place to start. Here's why they're so important:

1. Breathing

The muscles of your anterior core are incredibly important for getting air out. The folks at the Postural Restoration Institute often discuss how individuals are stuck in a state of inhalation, with each faulty breath creating problematic accessory tone in muscles like scalenes, lats, sternocleidomastoid, pec minor, etc. These muscles aren't really meant to do the bulk of the breathing work; we should be using our diaphragm. Unfortunately, when the rib cage flies up like we saw earlier, we lose our Zone of Apposition (ZOA), a term the PRI folks have coined to describe the region into which our diaphragm must expand to function.

Zone-of-Apposition-300x220

(Source: PosturalRestoration.com)

Step 1 is to get the ribs down and pelvis into some posterior tilt to reestablish this good zone. Step 2 is to learn how to breathe in this position, emphasizing full exhalation.

Step 3, as you may have guessed, is to strengthen these "newly rediscovered" patterns with good anterior core training.

2. Resisting extension.

This one is the most obvious benefit, as the muscles of the anterior core directly combat too much arching of the lower back. If you aren't controlling excessive lumbar extension, it's only a matter of time until you wind up with lower back irritation - whether it's just annoying tightness, a stress fracture, a disc issue, or something else.

3. Better force transfer and lower back injury risk reduction.

The research on core function is pretty clear: its job is to transfer force between the lower and upper body. Spine expert Dr. Stuart McGill has spoken at length about how spine range of motion and power are positively correlated with injury risk. In other words, the more your spine moves (to create force, as opposed to simply transferring it), the more likely you are to get hurt. How do you prevent your spine from moving excessively? You stabilize your core.

4. Indirect effects on rotary stability.

For a long time, I looked at control of extension as "separate" from control of rotation at the spine. In other words, we did our anterior core drills to manage the front of the body, and our chops, lifts, side bridges, etc. to resist unwanted rotation. However, the truth is that these two approaches need to be treated as synergistic.

As an example, every time I've seen an athlete come our way with an oblique strain, he's sat in an extension posture and had poor anterior core control - even though an oblique strain is an injury that occurs during excessive rotation. All you need to do is take a quick glance at the anatomy, and you'll see that external obliques (like many, many other muscles) don't function only in one plane of motion; they have implications in all threes - including resisting excessive anterior pelvic tilt and extension of the lower back.

Gray392

What this means is that you can't simply ignore coaching in one plane when you think you're training in another one. When you do your chops and lifts, you need to prevent lumbar hyperextension (arching) . And, when you do your rollouts, you can't allow twisting as the athlete descends. Finally, you can add full exhales (a predominantly anterior core challenge) to increase the difficulty on rotary stability exercises.

5. Improved lower extremity function and injury risk reduction.

Lack of anterior core control directly interferes with lower extremity function, too. If the pelvis "dumps" too far forward into anterior tilt, the front of the hip can get closed down. As I described at length here, this can lead to hip impingement.

With a squat variation, while some athletes will stop dead in their tracks with this hip "block," others will slam into posterior tilt to continue descending. This is the "butt wink" we've come to see over and over again in lifting populations. When neutral core positioning is introduced and athletes also learn to manage other extension-based compensations, the squat pattern often improves dramatically. This can "artificially" be created transiently elevating the heels, turning the toes out, or by having an athlete hold a weight in front as a counterbalance.

Additionally, athletes in heavy extension patterns often carry their weight too far forward, throwing more shear stress on the knees during lunging and squatting. The more we can keep their weight back to effectively recruit the posterior chain, the better.

6. Improved shoulder function and injury risk reduction.

The lats can be your best friend and worst enemy. On one hand, they have tremendous implications for athletic performance and aesthetics. On the other hand, if they're "on" all the time (as we often see in extension-based postures), you can't get to important positions with the right movement quality. Overactive lats will limit not only shoulder flexion (overhead reaching), but also upward rotation of the shoulder blades. I covered this in quite a bit of detail in Are Pull-ups THAT Essential?. Moreover, with respect to elbow function, overactive lats can be a big issue with allowing throwers to get true external rotation, as I discussed here:

If you're using your lats as an "all the time" core stabilizer, you aren't just at risk of extension-based low back pain, but also problems at the shoulder and elbow. If you can get your anterior core control under control and normalize the length and tone of the lats, your "healthy exercise pool" for the upper body expands dramatically. Getting overhead is easier, and you'll feel stronger in that position. The same goes for external rotation; not surprisingly, pitchers always say that their lay-back feels smoother after soft tissue work on the lats, as an example.

Wrap-up

These are just six benefits of training the anterior core, but the truth is that they could have been broken down in much more detail as they relate to specific injuries and functional deficits. If you're looking to learn more on this front - and get a feel for how I like to train the anterior core - I'd encourage you to check out my presentation, Understanding and Coaching the Anterior Core. It's on sale for 40% off this week; just enter the coupon code SPRING at checkout to get the discount.

AnteriorCore

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The Best of 2011: Stuff that was Fun to Write/Video

Today, I'll wrap up my "Best of 2011" series by highlighting the pieces that I enjoyed creating.  Check them out: 1. 11 Years, 11 Lessons, 100 Pounds - This T-Nation article recapped my long journey in the strength and conditioning world to get to where I am.  It was definitely one of my most popular articles of all time at T-Nation. 2. The Fitness Business Blueprint - This product was a blast to create because I think it filled a gaping hole in the market.  Until we launched it, nobody had created a fitness business product that didn't just discuss how to grow a business, but also how to improve as a trainer/coach.  I had a blast collaborating with Pat Rigsby and Mike Robertson on it.

3. What I Learned in 2010 - I enjoy writing these articles every year, because they serve as a great opportunity to revisit some of the most valuable lessons from the previous year.  And, as the saying goes, the best way to master something is to teach it to others. 4. Strength and Conditioning Program Success: The Little Things Matter - This was a fun blog to write, as I did so right around the time when several of our athletes were recognized for some awesome achievements.  It gave me a chance to reflect on why they were successful - and why many other folks aren't.  There will be some valuable takeaways for you, regardless of your athletic or fitness goals. 5. Oblique Strains in Baseball: 2011 Update - I'd written about oblique strains in the past, but they continue to be the big fat white elephant in the corner that is being ignored in the context of baseball development.  Hopefully this article got some people to start paying attention to the fact that it's just the fallout of a lot of things that are wrong with the current approaches being employed with respect to baseball strength and conditioning. 6. The IYCA High School Strength and Conditioning Coach Certification - I was fortunate to be a contributor on this awesome resource that will hopefully change the tide of how high school athletes are trained.  Based on the feedback we've received thus far, it's already helped tremendously in this regard.

7. Strength Training Program Success: How Dr. P did at 47 What He Couldn't Do at 20 or 30 - This blog (and accompanying video) were awesome because our entire gym got involved on this goal - and were there to see our good friend accomplish it. 8. The Everything Elbow In-Service - This was an in-service I filmed for our staff this summer to prepare them for all the elbow issues that may come through our doors.  It lasted 32 minutes, and sold far better than I would have imagined - and led to a lot of requests for us to continue filming staff in-services and making them available for sale.

9. Strength and Conditioning Programs: Think the Opposite - This has a few tips about a counterintuitive way to achieve success in training and in business. 10. Hip Pain in Athletes: The Origin of Femoroacetabular Impingement - FAI is becoming more and more common (especially in young athletes), and in this blog, I talk about some of the reasons why. That wraps up our "Best of 2011" series.  Thank you very much for your support of EricCressey.com in 2011; I'm looking forward to making 2012 even more memorable! Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter and receive a four-part video series on how to deadlift!
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Oblique Strains in Baseball: 2011 Update

Just over three years ago, during a period where oblique strains were on the rise in professional baseball and the USA Today profiled this "new" injury, I wrote an article on what I perceived to be the causes of the issue.  Check it out: Oblique Strains and Rotational Power. This year, the topic has come back to the forefront, as players like Joba Chamberlain, Sergio Mitre, Curtis Granderson, and Brian Wilson have experienced the injury this spring training alone.

While my thoughts from the initial article are still very much applicable, I do have some additional thoughts on the matter for 2011:

1. Is anyone surprised that the rise in oblique injuries in baseball is paralleled by the exponential rise in hip injuries and lower back pain? I don't care whether you work in a factory or play a professional sport; violent, repetitive, and persistently unilateral-dominant rotation (especially if it is uncontrolled) will eventually chew up a hip, low back, or oblique; it's just a matter of where people break down.

In other words, pro athletes are generating a tremendous amount of power from the hips - moreso, in fact, than they ever have before thanks to the advances in strength training, nutrition, supplementation, and, unfortunately, in some cases, illegal "pharmaceutical interventions."  Assuming mechanics are relative good (as they should be in a professional athlete), rotate a hip faster and you'll improve bat speed and throwing velocity; it's that simple.  This force production alone is enough to chew up a labrum, irritate a hip capsule, and deliver enough localized eccentric stress to cause a loss in range of motion.  The Cliff's Notes version is that we've increased hip strength and power (more on this in a bit), but most folks have overlooked tissue quality (foam rolling, massage, and more focal approaches like Active Release and Graston) and mobility training.

If the hips stiffen up, the lumbar spine will move excessively in all planes of motion - and, in turn, affect the positioning of the thoracic spine.  Throw off the thoracic spine, and you'll negatively impact scapular (and shoulder), respiratory (via the rib cage), and cervical spine.  Hips that are strong - but have short or stiff musculature can throw off the whole shebang.

2. "Strong" isn't a detailed enough description. I think that it goes beyond that, as you have to consider that a big part of this is a discrepancy between concentric and eccentric strength.  Concentrically, you have the trailing leg hip generating tremendous rotational power, and eccentrically, you have the lead leg musculature decelerating that rotation.

Moreover, because the front hip can't be expected to dissipate all that rotational velocity - and because the thoracic spine is rotating from the drive of the upper extremities - you put the muscles acting at the lumbar spine in a situation where they must provide incredible stiffness to resist rotation.  It is essentially the opposite of being between a rock and a hard place; they are the rock between two moving parts.  Structurally, though, they're well equipped to handle this responsibility; just look at how the line of pull of each of these muscles (as well as the tendinous inscriptions of the rectus abdominus) runs horizontally to resist rotation.  That's eccentric control.

How do we train it?  Definitely not with sit-ups, crunches, or sidebends.  The former are too sagittal plane oriented and not particularly functional at all.  The latter really doesn't reflect the stability-oriented nature of our "core."  The bulk of our oblique strain prevention core training program should be movements that resist rotation:

While on the topic, it's also important to resist lumbar hypextension, as poor anterior core strength can allow the rib cage to flare up (increases the stretch on the most commonly injured area of the obliques: at the attachment to the 11th rib on the non-throwing side) and even interfere with ideal respiratory function (the diaphragm can't take  on its optimal dome shape, so we overuse accessory breathing muscles like pec minor, sternocleidomastoid, scalenes, etc).

So, to recap: I don't think oblique strains are a new injury epidemic or the result of team doctors just getting better with diagnostics.  Rather, I think that we're talking about a movement dysfunction that has been prevalent for quite some time - but we just happen to have had several of them in a short amount of time that has made the media more alert to the issue.  The truth is that if we worried more about "inefficiency" and not pathology," journalists could have "broken" this story a long time ago.

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The Hips in Baseball Hitting

In just the past few days, I've had two separate conversations with some really knowledgeable CP "dads" who also happen to have a ton of experience with coaching youth baseball players, particularly hitters.  In both conversations, a (paraphrased) line that stood out was "improving as a hitter in the teenage years is largely about learning to use the hips."

In contrast, have the same hitting conversation with just about any professional baseball player, and he'll tell you "I hit with my hands."

So who is right?  Do professional players not use their hips?  Or, do kids not use their hands?

Actually, both parties are right.  You don't get to professional baseball in the first place if you don't use your hips well when hitting.  And, you don't succeed (and stick around) in professional baseball unless you use your hands efficiently and have remarkable hand-eye coordination.  It's just multiple levels of natural selection that set the best apart - and they may sometimes forgot about the early stages of progress.

Need proof?  Watch a little league batting practice session, and then go to a big-league game to watch their batting practice.  The young players all pull the ball on every pitch, whereas the big-leaguers usually spray the ball all over the field, moving from the opposite field to the pull side.  They do this with their hands and wrists, all the while taking the hips for granted.

batting-practice

Think about this: how many more TFCC (wrist) injuries and hamate (hand) fractures do we see in professionals when compared to teenagers?  There are a lot more - because this area gets used a ton more.  Kids, on the other hand, get stress fractures if they misuse their hips.  It's no surprise, given the crazy rotational velocities and ranges of motion we see in hitters (outlined in my old articles, Oblique Strains and Rotational Power and Oblique Strains in Baseball: A 2011 Update).

What is a surprise, though, is that nobody has caught on to the ramifications of what this means for the youth baseball player who is learning to hit.

If a kid wanted to be a NASCAR driver, would we start him with a few 200mph laps at the Speedway amongst dozens of other drivers?  Of course not.

kid_driving_car1252453542

Why, then, do we have kids playing 180-200 games per year between school teams, AAU, fall ball, and even winter ball?  Where is the opportunity to learn how to hit in a controlled environment (closed loop), as opposed to trying to learn how to hit in live situations off of kids with no control (open loop).  Don't get me wrong; many programs do a tremendous job with instruction and really do build outstanding technical hitters - but as much as I hate to say it, the occupation of "hitting coach" seems to be a dying profession.  Why?

1. Schools are starting to put batting cages on campus for year-round hitting, and some kids don't appreciate that they need to learn to hit.

2. Some people see more money in AAU programs than individual instruction.  If a hitting lesson is personal training, running a team practice is semi-private training: more money in less time (and it's usually cheaper for the players).  This strategy can work if it's executed properly with sufficient coaching on-hand and the right demographic in mind; I have seen some AAU programs that are run with outstanding organization and excellent individual instruction at crucial parts of the year.

kidbatting

What is the right demographic?  I can't say for sure - but I can tell you that we need to be really careful in dealing with kids in the 11-17 year-old range.  They're learning to use their hips in an incredibly technically precise motion while their bodies are changing rapidly thanks to growth spurts and the fact that they spend 20 hours a day on their cans, thanks to sleeping, sitting at school desks, and playing around on Facebook and Instant Messenger.  We're giving more physically demanding challenges to less physically prepared (and, many times, less motivated) kids.

Kids need good hitting instruction early.  They also need targeted mobility work, foam rolling, and appropriate resistance training.

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Hip Injuries In Baseball

Q&A: Hip Injuries in Baseball Q: On Sunday, The New York Times published this article that discusses the dramatic increase in hip injuries in Major League Baseball in recent years.  I know you work with a ton of baseball players and was curious about your thoughts on the article.  Do you agree with their theories? A: As always, my answer is "kind of" or "maybe."  I think they make some great points in the article, but as is the case with mainstream media articles, they're written by reporters with word count limits, so a lot of the most important points get omitted.  For example, with respect to the hips, it isn't as simple as "weak or strong."  You can have guys with ridiculously strong adductors that are completely overused, balled up, and short - but terribly weak hip extensors and abductors.  So, part of the problem is that journalists don't even qualify as casual observers to exercise physiology, so the public only gets part of the story.

(Sorry, but that digression was totally worth it.) First, I agree that one of the reasons we are seeing more of these issues is because doctors have become better at diagnosing the problems.  The "corollary" to this would be that the issues are perceived as more severe because so few physical therapists, athletic trainers, and strength and conditioning coaches are comfortable treating and preventing the problems.  That's not to say that hip issues aren't serious in nature; it simply implies that there is a divide between diagnostic capabilities and treatment/prevention strategies. Second, I agree wholeheartedly that early specialization at the youth levels can lead to injuries down the road.  We're dealing with some significant rotational velocities at the hips.  In previous analyses of professional hitters, the hips rotated at a velocity of 714°/second.  This same velocity isn't the same with little leaguers, but with skeletally immature children, it doesn't take as much stress to impose the same kind of damage.  So, I don't see it as at all remarkable that some pro ballplayers have hip problems after they may have played baseball year-round from age 9 all the way to the time they got drafted.  They also have bad shoulders, elbows, knees, and lower backs that have taked years to reach threshold.  It just so happens that folks are getting better at diagnosing these problems, so we now have an "epidemic," in some folks' eyes. What I can tell you, though, is that it's borderline idiocy to think that strength training is responsible for these problems.  Injuries don't occur simply because you enhance strength. In fact, muscular strength reduces the time to threshold for tendinopathies, and takes stress off passive restraints such as ligaments, menisci, labrums, and discs. Making this assumption is like saying that strength training drills to bolster scapular stability may be the reason we see more shoulder and elbow injuries nowadays.  Um, no.  Shoulders and elbows crap out because of faulty mechanics, poor flexibility (e.g., shoulder internal rotation ROM), bad tissue quality, and muscular weakness.  Granted, the shoulder (non-weight-bearing) and hips (weight-bearing) have different demands, but nobody ever tried to pin the exorbitant amount of arm problems in pitchers on "the advent of strength training." That said, injuries occur when you ignore things that need to be addressed: pure and simple. To that end, I can tell you that a large percentage of the baseball players I see - including position players, pitchers, and catchers - have some signficant hip ROM and tissue quality problems.  In terms of range of motion, the most common culprints are hip internal rotation deficit (HIRD) and a lack of hip extension and knee flexion (rectus femoris shortness).  Pitchers are often asymmetrical in hip flexion, too, with the front leg having much more ROM. In terms of tissue quality, the hip external rotations, hip flexors, and adductors are usually very restricted. This is has proven true of guys who lift and guys who don't lift.  The latter group just so happens to be skinny and weak, too! Done appropriately, strength training isn't causing the problem - particularly when we are talking about huge contracts that restrict how aggressive programming can be.  Trust me; guys with $20 million/year contracts aren't squatting 500 pounds very often...or ever. The risk-reward is way out of whack, and no pro strength coach is going to put his job on the line with programming like that. However, strength training may be indirectly contributing to the problem by shifting an athlete's focus away from flexibility training and foam rolling/massage.  Pro athletes are like everyone else in this world in that they have a limited time to devote to training, but to take it a step further, they have a lot of competing demands for their attention: hitting, throwing, lifting, sprinting, stretching, and soft tissue work.  So, they have to pick the modalities that give them the biggest return on time investment and prioritize accordingly in terms of how much time they devote to these initiatives.  Some guys make bad choices in this regard, and hip flexibility and tissue quality get ignored.

mm1

Baseball is a sport that doesn't permit ignorance, unfortunately, and this is one of many reasons why it has one of the highest injury rates in all of professional sports.  We are talking about an extremely long competitive season with near daily games - a schedule that makes it challenging to maintain/build strength, flexibility, and tissue quality.  Throwing a baseball is also the fastest motion in all of sports.  Rotational sports have the pelvis and torso rotating in opposite directions at the same time.  And, as I noted in Oblique Strains and Rotational Power, most professional ballplayers have a stride length of about 380% of hip width during hitting.  It is really just a matter of which joint will break down first: hip, knee, or lower back.  Taking immobile hips with poor tissue quality out into a long season with these demands is like doing calf raises in the power rack when someone is around with a video camera: you are just asking for a world of hurt.

So, what to do?  Well, first, get cracking on tissue quality with regular foam rolling and massage (the more an athlete can afford, the better).  Here is the sequence all Cressey Performance athletes go through before training.

In many of our guys, we also add in extra adductor rolling on the stretching table.

Second, you've got to hammer on flexibility.  We spend a ton of time with both static stretching and dynamic flexibility.  Here are a few of the static stretching favorites (the first to gain hip internal rotation, and the second to gain hip extension and knee flexion ROM):

lyingknee-to-kneestretch

kneelingheeltobuttstretch

Third, as Dr. Eric Cobb has written, you use resistance training to "cement neural patterns."    This includes all sorts of lower-body lifting variations - from single-leg movements, to glute-ham raise, to deadlifting and squatting variations - and multi-directional core stability drills.  And, often overlooked is the valuable role of medicine ball training in teaching good hip (and scap) loading patterns:

For more information, check out my previous newsletter, Medicine Ball Madness, which describes our off-season medicine ball programs in considerable detail.

All taken together, my take is that the increase in hip injuries at the MLB level has everything to do with early baseball specialization and improved diagnostic capabilities.  However, when you examine hip dysfunction under a broader scope, you'll see that this joint breaks down for many of the same reasons that lower backs and knees reach threshold: inattention to tissue quality and targeted flexibility training.  Strength training works synergistically with these other components of an effective program just like it would at any other joint.

*A special thanks goes out to Tony "Explosive Calves" Gentilcore for being a good sport in the videos in this newsletter.

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Oblique Strains and Rotational Power

On Monday night, Josh Hamilton put on an amazing show with 28 homeruns in the first round of the MLB Homerun Derby. While he went on to lose to Justin Morneau in the finals of the contest, Hamilton did smash four 500+ ft. shots - and stole the hearts of a lot of New York fans. It's an incredible story; Hamilton has bounced back from eight trips to rehabilitation for drugs and alcohol to get to where he is today.

Geek that I am, though, I spent much of the time focusing on the incredible hip rotation and power these guys display on every swing. According to previous research, the rotational position of the lead leg changes a ton from foot off to ball contact. After hitting a maximal external rotation of 28° during the foot off “coiling” that takes place, those hips go through some violent internal rotation as the front leg gets stiff to serve as a “block” over which crazy rotational velocities are applied.

How crazy are we talking? How about 714°/s at the hips? This research on minor leaguers also showed that stride length averaged 85cm - or roughly 380% of hip width. So, you need some pretty crazy abduction and internal rotation range-of-motion (ROM) to stay healthy. And, of course, you need some awesome deceleration strength – and plenty of ROM in which to apply it – to finish like this.

Meanwhile, players are dealing with a maximum shoulder and arm segment rotational velocities of 937°/s and 1160°/s, respectively. All of this happens within a matter of 0.57 seconds. Yes, about a half a second.

These numbers in themselves are pretty astounding – and probably rivaled only by the crazy stuff that pitchers encounter on each throw. All these athletes face comparable demands, though, in the sense that these motions take a tremendous timing to sequence optimally. In particular, in both the hitting and pitching motions, the hip segment begins counterclockwise (forward) movement before the shoulder segment (which is still in the cocking/coiling phase). Check out this photo of Tim Hudson (more on this later):

Many of you have probably heard about a “new” injury in major league baseball – oblique strains – which have left a lot of people looking for answers. In fact, the USA Today published a great article on this exact topic earlier this season. Guys like Hudson, Chris Young, Manny Ramirez, Albert Pujols, Chipper Jones and Carlos Beltran (among others) have dealt with this painful injury in recent years. You know the best line in this entire article? With respect to Hudson:

“After the 2005 season, he stopped doing core work and hasn't had a problem. Could that be the solution?”

I happen to agree with the mindset that some core work actually contributes to the dysfunction – and the answer (to me, at least) rests with where the injury is occurring: “always on the opposite side of their throwing arm and often with the muscle detaching from the 11th rib.” If I’m a right-handed pitcher (or hitter) and my left hip is already going into counter-clockwise movement as my upper body is still cocking/coiling in clockwise motion – both with some crazy rotational velocities – it makes sense that the area that is stretched the most is going to be affected if I’m lacking in ROM at the hips or thoracic spine.

I touched on the need for hip rotation ROM, but the thoracic spine component ties right into the “core work” issue. Think about it this way: if I do thousands of crunches and/or sit-ups over the course of my career – and the attachment points of the rectus abdominus (“abs”) are on the rib cage and pelvis – won’t I just be pulling that rib cage down with chronic shortening of the rectus, thus reducing my thoracic spine ROM in the process?

Go take another look at the picture of Tim Hudson above. If he lacks thoracic spine ROM, he’s either going to jack his lower back into lumbar hyperextension and rotation as he tries to “lay back” during the late cocking phase, or he’s just going to strain an oblique. It’s going to be even worse if he has poor hip mobility and poor rotary stability – or the ability to resist rotation where you don’t want it.

Now, I’m going to take another bold statement – but first some quick background information:

1. Approximately 50-55% of pitching velocity comes from the lower extremity.

2. Upper extremity EMG activity during the baseball swing is nothing compared to what goes on in the lower body. In fact, Shaffer et al. commented, “The relatively low level of activity in the four scapulohumeral muscles tested indicated that emphasis should be placed on the trunk and hip muscles for a batter's strengthening program.”

So, the legs are really important; that 714°/s at the hips has to come from somewhere. And, more importantly, it’s my firm belief that it has to stay within a reasonable range of the shoulder and arm segment rotational velocities of 937°/s and 1160°/s (respectively). So, what happens when we give a professional baseball player a foo-foo training program that does little to build or even maintain lower-body strength and power? And, what happens when we have that player run miles at a time to “build up leg strength?” How many marathoners do you know who throw 95mph and need those kind of rotational velocities or ranges of motion? Apparently, bigger contracts equate to weaker, tighter legs…

Meanwhile, guys receive elaborate throwing programs to condition their arms – and they obviously never miss an upper-body day (also known as a “beach workout"). However, the lower-body is never brought up to snuff – and it lags off even more in-season when lifting frequency is lower and guys do all sorts of running to “flush their muscles.” The end result is that the difference between 714°/s (hips) and 937°/s and 1160°/s (shoulders and arms) gets bigger and bigger. Guys also lose lead-leg hip internal rotation over the course of the season if they aren’t diligent with their hip mobility work.

So, in my opinion, here’s what we need to do avoid these issues:

1. Optimize hip mobility – particularly with respect to hip internal rotation and extension. It is also extremely important to realize the effect that poor ankle mobility has on hip mobility; you need to have both, so don’t just stretch your hip muscles and then walk around in giant high-tops with big heel-lifts all day.

2. Improve thoracic spine range of motion into extension and rotation.

3. Get rid of the conventional “ab training/core work” and any yoga or stretching positions that involve lumbar rotation or hyperextension and instead focus exclusively on optimizing rotary stability and the ability to isometrically resist lumbar hyperextension.

4. Get guys strong in the lower body, not just the upper body.

5. Don’t overlook the importance of reactive work both in the lower and upper-body. I’ve read estimates that approximately 25-30% of velocity comes from elastic energy. So, sprint, jump, and throw the medicine balls.

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