Flexibility Training and Baseball
Baseball is a dynamic sport that requires participants to posses extremely high levels of flexibility, dynamic stability, strength, and power. This needs to be maintained throughout the entire kinetic chain in order to properly hit or throw a baseball. In addition to hitting and throwing, players are required to: run at high speeds, change directions quickly, and have the agility to either chase down balls hit in the air or move quickly enough in multiple directions to field ground balls.
The game of baseball requires participants to have these physical attributes in all three planes of motion. Even though baseball has a tremendous amount of transverse plane requirements (especially when either hitting or throwing a baseball is concerned), much of the game still takes place in the sagittal and frontal planes.
Let's look at a very basic scenario: When a hitter puts a baseball into play, they will have to rapidly slow down a transverse plane swing and turn that into sagittal plane as they run to first base. If the play is close at first base, they will have to rapidly decelerate from their top-speed pace to touch a base as they run by it. If they successfully put the ball in play and are able to run for more than a single, they will have to navigate running to first base (at close to full speed), hit first base with their inside foot, turn, and run to the next base without slowing down. At the base they choose to stay at, be it second or third, they will have to rapidly decelerate purely with their lower body. They can alternatively try using a method of sliding to avoid being tagged out or as a way to decelerate themselves (so that they do not run past the bag). Once a runner is on any base, they will be moving only in the frontal plane for their first few steps before the decision to once again run at full speed in the sagittal plane. This sequence of moving from plane to plane to plane happens at every position! Players either run after a ball that has been hit, or they run once they put the ball in play while batting.
These high level dynamic movements require baseball players (at any level) have to maintain optimal levels of flexibility. For example, elite pitchers will rotate their arm up to 8,500 degrees per second from the cocked position to the release position. This equates to a pitchers arm spinning around 24 times in a single second. (Popular Mechanics)
When there is such a rapid acceleration of a joint, such as the shoulder of a pitcher, there must concurrently then be a rapid deceleration of very the same joint. This is just one of the ways that achieving optimal flexibility in the shoulder joint will help to reduce injuries in pitchers. To throw a baseball, players need to rotate their glenohumeral joints.
If a baseball player lacks the appropriate motion at the shoulder to throw a baseball, they will either run out of available range of motion (limiting their ability bring their arm into the cocking position) or they will look to compensate from somewhere else in the kinetic chain in to achieve the desired placement. One common area where overhead athletes will compensate from is from their lumbar spine. If an athlete brings the arm back into external rotation (when their flexibility runs out) and more motion is required, they will (without even knowing) create lumbar extension in order to get their throwing shoulder into further external rotation. A lack of flexibility in external oration of the throwing shoulder will now place additional stress and strain on the lumbar spine. Injuries in the low back will likely occur without awareness that it is due to lack of proper flexibility in the athletes throwing shoulder.
The cocking phase of the throw is not the only position where achieving optional range of motion is key. During the acceleration and follow-through phases of throwing, the glenohumeral joint and the external rotators (Infraspinatus,supraspinatus, teres minor) will be forced to rapidly decelerate the humerus. If there is a lack of range of motion during internal rotation, the external rotators of the shoulder will have even less time to decelerate that original force. The forces on the shoulder are tremendous and have been described as unnatural for the shoulder to begin with. Therefore, having a lack of internal rotation flexibility will only place the athlete at a huge disadvantage in regards to performance and injury prevention.
The shoulder is only one area where establishing and maintaining optimal range of motion is important. As complex as the throwing motion is, the motion of swinging a bat is as complicated and requires high levels of flexibility. When a batter is in their stance and anticipating a pitch to be thrown, they will need to do the following if they decide to hit the ball: rapidly load their front leg into maximal hip internal rotation while simultaneously creating maximum thoracic rotation and hip extension of their back. Just like the acceleration of the shoulder during a pitch, the rotational forces of a professional baseball player's swing can generate bat speeds from 75-80 plus MPH. If the proper flexibility is not available at the hips and spine, compensations. These compensations can limit the potential to swing a bat or increase the possibility of injury. In more complex terms, an injury would be due to a lack of proper hip internal rotation on the lead leg / thoracic rotation is an oblique strain. As a bat is swung, if the player's lead leg does not move into maximal internal rotation, other muscles (obliques and core muscles) will work harder to pull the player through the swing. This can be too much for the muscular system to handle and can lead to a muscle strain. The rehabilitation of this particular injury must include increasing the hip internal rotation of the lead leg and increasing thoracic mobility. Far too often, the rehabilitation protocols will purely focus on core strengthening. If the lack of range of motion is not addressed, it is likely that the athlete may have a recurring injury.
Equally important as the shoulders and hips are the hamstring strains. Commonly, we see baseball players grabbing their hamstring, indicating a hamstring strain. Common belief used to be that the hamstrings were simply too tight. The rehabilitation program would commonly prescribe rest, strengthening, and aggressive stretching of the hamstring complex in order to prevent a reoccurrence of the original injury. Unfortunately, adhering to that philosophy didn't lead to much success (it maintained a high injury-recurrence rate). What is now more widely accepted and understood is that the hamstring strain could be caused from a lack of flexibility in the hip flexor complex. This can create an anterior tilt of the pelvis which causes the hamstring muscles to be in a lengthened and weakened position. This is particularly dangerous for high speed running. An appropriate prescription would include focusing on the on the hip flexor by increasing the range of motion. This would allow the hamstrings to return to their natural resting position. Appropriate rest and strengthening of the hamstring complex will still be an important part of the rehabilitation process; however, the hip flexors can't be overlooked.
Marty Miller is a National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) health and fitness educator with more than 20 years experience in sports medicine, performance enhancement and injury prevention. His academic credentials include a BS in Sports Medicine from Canisius College (NY) where he played Division I Lacrosse, a MS in Exercise Science & Injury Prevention from California University of Pennsylvania, and his Doctorate in Health Sciences from AT Still University in Mesa, AZ. Marty is a Certified Athletic Trainer (ATC) with the National Athletic Trainers' Association (NATA), a Performance Enhancement Specialist (PES), Corrective Exercise Specialist (CES), and a Mixed Martial Arts Conditioning Specialist (MMASCS). His career began in professional baseball in 1994 with the Montreal Expos organization, where as a certified athletic trainer in the minor leagues. Marty left the Expos organization after the 1997 season and was later named the Director of Fitness at the BallenIsles Country Club, a five-star golf course in Palm Beach Gardens, FL. Marty also serves as a Master Instructor for the National Academy of Sports Medicine, and Everlast. He travels extensively as a health and fitness subject matter expert for lectures and panel discussions, and is an adjunct faculty member with the California University of Pennsylvania, where he instructs online graduate-level courses in Corrective Exercise/Program Design to physical therapists, athletic trainers, and other healthcare professionals. Miller became the New York Yankees first ever Director of Performance Enhancement in the spring of 2007. His job was to evaluate and pre-determine musculo-skeletal injuries and place the players on a corrective exercise protocol while continuing their regular strength and conditioning programs. In 2008 Marty joined Woodfield Country Club in Boca Raton Florida as their Director of Fitness and Spa Operations. In 2011 Marty joined Mizner Country Club as their Director of Fitness and Spa operations. Since Marty began at Mizner Country Club it has been recognized as one of America’s Healthiest Club’s, and an Emerald Club of America. Marty’s personal interests include spending time with his 3 boys, training in mixed martial arts where he holds a second degree black belt, education, and working out.
Location: Palm Beach Gardens, Florida
Last Active: October 06, 2017 12:37 PM (EDT)
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