Baseball Flexibility Exercises – Flexibility Shortages in Pitchers.
The Big Ones: What I see all the time.
Glenohumeral (shoulder) Internal Rotation Deficit (GIRD)/posterior rotator cuff tightness
This is the most popular. You will hear the GIRD acronym a lot playing America’s past time. The deficit into internal rotation can come from three things: 1. Muscle (posterior rotator cuff tightness) 2. Capsular (posterior shoulder capsule tightness) 3. Retroversion of the humeral head/neck–the twisting of bone overtime.
It is believed that overtime, baseball pitchers’ humeral head and neck rotate posteriorly from the repetitive stress that it encounters over a sports-lifetime of explosive pitching1,2. This posterior torsion or rotation causes an increase in shoulder external rotation, and thus a compensatory reduced shoulder internal rotation. There is nothing we can do, or should do to fix this. It’s what naturally happens.
Some people feel that it is crucial to differentiate muscular tightness from capsular tightness when we’re talking about the posterior shoulder. I like to think I can tell muscular tightness from capsular tightness when I perform an examination, but the truth is I’m probably correct 50% of the time. And as of right now, it doesn’t matter. There has been no concrete study undertaken to determine which techniques or positions best stretch the posterior cuff vs. posterior capsule. There has been some recent work on cadavers, but I have my own opinions on these studies. If I’m looking to stretch the posterior portion of the shoulder, I personally like the Sleeper Stretch, but the Cross Body Stretch works just as well if you can stabilize the scapula3. (both pictured below). When I manually stretch out the posterior shoulder I like to use high-grade posterior glenohumeral glides4.
Posterior shoulder tightness after a game or throughout the season occurs from the massive amount of eccentric strain going through the posterior rotator cuff/capsule. If you’re not sure what an eccentric contraction is, or how an eccentric contraction affect your baseball performance go here and read this short article I wrote. While you’re at it, read this article on long toss: my expert opinion. The two go hand in hand.
If you have been deemed a person with GIRD, you have a reduced total arc of motion compared to your opposite side. The discrepancy is an internal rotation deficit, and this deficit also puts you at significant risk of a UCL (Ulnar Collateral Ligament) or Tommy John injury5. If we look at the total arc of rotational motion for your shoulders, they should be equal—In other words it is natural to have excessive external rotation and less internal rotation on your throwing shoulder, but the total arc of motion needs to be the same if you are a baseball pitcher. Not sure how to tell yourself?—No worries. Ask a physical therapist or athletic trainer to measure you.
Here are the ways to stretch your posterior shoulder. Hold each stretch for 30 seconds, repeat 5x, each repetition pushing a little further. A “stretching-pain” is okay to feel, but you don’t want to recreate your current pain or feel any kind of hurtful pain. Repeat 3x per day (morning, afternoon, before bed).
Sleeper Stretch Demo:
Stride leg femoral (hip) internal rotation deficit/glute and hip external rotator tightness
The stride leg glutes and external rotators get tight because they accept a lot of force, 150-200% of body weight, when the stride leg contacts the ground.6,7 These muscles are responsible for not letting the knee fall into Valgus, or hip adduction and internal rotation, or too rapid trunk-on-hip hip flexion. If this does happen, much power is lost, and your ball velocity drops. Overtime, as these muscles get tight, they limit the amount of hip internal rotation you can produce..and you need good hip internal rotation to come through on your throw and to also come through on a swing while batting.
This is a simple way to stretch the hip external rotators to increase your hip internal rotation.
Throwing Elbow Extension Deficit/ bicep, brachioradialis, and brachialis tightness
The triceps forcefully contracts so hard, and you would think that because of this you would have no problem getting your elbow straight. Wrong! This exemplifies how much eccentric activity is going through the elbow flexors; the bicep, brachioradialis, and brachialis8. Just like at the shoulder, the anterior elbow is a critical point of eccentric strain8. If you lack full extension at the elbow, you set yourself up for a UCL or Tommy John injury at the elbow (We test this medial elbow ligament for stability in a small amount of elbow flexion because it has the potential for great laxity here). Thus, the naturally occurring valgus force during throwing going through a slightly flexed elbow will strain the UCL more. Put this together with posterior shoulder tightness, and it creates the perfect storm for a UCL injury.
Tight elbow flexors can also put more strain on the biceps anchor in the superior labrum, and also on the long bicep tendon itself. When you move into the late cocking phase, if the bicep is tight it will have a greater ability to tear your superior labrum with a “peel back mechanism,” a primary action that causes a SLAP tear9. Have a SLAP tear now? Are you rehabbing it correctly? Find out here with my guideline to a seamless recovery from SLAP surgery.
Here is an easy way to stretch the elbow flexors and increase elbow extension range of motion to reduce your risk of injury.
Throwing Forearm Supination Deficit/forearm flexor-pronator group tightness
This comes from a powerful wrist snap. We know that ball velocity and wrist velocity have been correlated; the faster the wrist moves, the faster the ball flies6. The flexor and pronator muscles also offer medial elbow stability, and thus help protect the UCL. This concentric activity that occurs at the forearm pronators and wrist flexors also predisposes you to tightness here, and a reduced ability to perform supination and wrist extension range of motion.
When you have reduced motion at a joint that is required to move fast, you lose velocity because it lacks power throughout that lost range of motion. Imagine racing someone on foot; you stand up tall at the starting line, and your opponent gets in an athletic sprinter-stance on his toes and hands. He’s gonna beat you because he can generate more power by way of his increased range of motion he will be using to start.
Here’s a simple wrist stretch to increase wrist extension and supination ROM.
Thoracic Spine Extension and Rotation Restriction
In the end of the acceleration phase through the follow through phase of throwing, your thoracic spine moves into flexion forcefully to create a powerful pitch. Since you explosively move into thoracic flexion, and as part of your pitch you gradually place your thoracic spine into extension, which movement do you think dominates? Yup, thoracic flexion and chest tightness.
Here is an excellent way to improve chest mobility. And in this other post, you will see a fantastic way to improve thoracic spine extension and rotation at the joints on the spine.
Potentials: What can occur, to a lesser extent, over the course of a season.
Stride Leg Hip Flexor Tightness—because of your trunk always coming overtop of your thigh in the acceleration and follow through phases of pitching
Stride Leg Quad Tightness—the amount trunk motion just described is a function of how much you straighten your knee to transfer power into your core. When the knee explodes straight at 150-200% of body weight, it concentrically tightens your quad. Overtime you can get a tight quad on your stride leg.
Bilateral Ankle/Calf tightness—from just about every terminal posture at the foot/ankle in the pitching motion.
Throwing Wrist Extension tightness—from eccentric activity going through the wrist extensors just at ball release.
Did you like this article? Try a stretch or two, then come back and comment below and let me know what you think of it?
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- Crocket, H., Gross, L. Wilk, K., Andrews, J. et al. Osseous Adaptation and Range of Motion at the Glenohumeral Joint in Professional Baseball Pitchers. Am J Sports Med. 2002, 30:1: 20-26
- Oshbar, D. et al. Retroversion of the humerus in the throwing shoulder of college baseball players. Am J Sports Med. 2002, 30:3: 347-353
- McClure P. et al. A randomized controlled comparison of stretching procedures for posterior shoulder tightness. Journ of Ortho Sports Phys Ther. 2007. 37:3 108-114
- Manske, R. et al. A randomized controlled single blinded comparison of stretching versus stretching and joint mobilization for posterior shoulder tightness measured by internal rotation motion loss. Sports Health. 2010, 2:2: 94-100
- Kibler, WB, Sciascia, A. Kinetic chain contributions to elbow function and dysfunction in sports. Clin Sports Med. 2004, 23: 545-552.
- MacWilliams, B. A. et al. Characteristic ground reaction force in baseball pitching. Am J of Sports Med. 1998. 26: 66-71.
- Guido Jr., J.; Werner, S. L. Lower-Extremity Ground Reaction Forces in Collegiate Baseball Pitchers. J Strength Cond Res. 2012. 26:7: 1782–1785
- Andrews, J., Carson, W., McLeod, W. Glenoid labrum tears related to the long head of the biceps. Am J Sports Med. 1985 13:5: 337-341
- Burkhart, S., Morgan, C. The peel back mechanism: its role in producing and extending posterior type II SLAP lessons and its effect on SLAP rehabilitation. 1998. Arthroscopy 14:6: 637-640