softball

Off-Season Training: Overhead Athletes

kiss
kiss

Last week, we laid out some general guidelines for athletes heading into their off-seasons. You should read it, if you haven't already. Today, we'll delve into some specifics for overhead athletes (i.e. baseball, softball, javelin, shot put, swimmers (though it seems as if they never have an off-season), etc.). Shoulders are rather complicated and annoyingly fickle joints that can develop irritation easily which is why proper attention MUST be paid to shoulder mechanics and care during the off-season. There is nothing "natural" about throwing a heavy object (or a light one really, really fast) and shoulders can get all kinds of whacky over a long, repetitive season. I'm going to keep it sweet and simple.

1. Restore lost mobility and improve stability

- Hips: they get locked up, especially on athletes that travel a lot during the season (helloooo long bus rides). Restoring mobility will go a long way in preventing hip impingements, angry knees, and allow for freer movements in general. Locked up hips will prevent safe, powerful throws and batting, thus, now is the time, Padawans, to regain what was lost!

- Lats: Usually tighten up on the throwing side and create a lovely posture that flares the rib cage and makes breathing not-so-efficient. Loosen up these bad boys!

- Breathing patterns: Those need to be re-trained (or trained for the first time), too. Breathing affects EVERYTHING. Learning proper breathing mechanics will do a lot to restore mobility (T-spine, shoulder, and hips), increase stability (lower back and abdominal cavity), and create a more efficient athlete (more oxygen with less energy expended to get it). I've written about it before HERE.

- Pecs and biceps: These guys are gunky and fibrotic and nasty. Self-myofacial release is good, finding a good manual therapist would be even better, to help knead that junk out! One caveat: make sure that as you release these two bad boys, you also add stability back into the shoulder. This means activating lower and mid-traps and the rotator cuff muscles to retrain them to work well again. Why? Most likely, the pecs and biceps are doing a LOT of stabilization of the shoulder (which they shouldn't be doing so much) so if you take that away through releasing them, one of two things will happen: 1) injury will occur since there's nothing holding stuff in place, 2) no injury, but the pec and/or bicep will tighten right back up again as your body's way of producing stability. So, mobilize then stabilize!

2. Improve scapula movement and stability

Along the lines of restoring mobility everywhere, the scapula need particular attention in overhead athletes as they are responsible for pain-free, overhead movements. Below is a handy-dandy chart for understanding scapula movements:

shoulder-scapular-motions
shoulder-scapular-motions

Now, over the course of the season, an overhead athlete will often get stuck in downward rotation therefore at in the early off-season (and throughout really) we want to focus on upward rotation of the scapula. Exercises like forearm wallslides are fantastic for this.

Eric Cressey notes that the scapula stabilizers often fatigue more quickly than the rotator cuff muscles. This means the scapula doesn't glide how it should on the rib cage, which leads to a mechanical disadvantage for the rotator cuff muscles, which leads to impingements/pain/unstable shoulders.

We need a freely gliding scapula to get overhead pain-free.
We need a freely gliding scapula to get overhead pain-free.

As we increase the upward rotation exercises, we want to limit exercises that will pull the athlete back into downward rotation, i.e. holding heavy dumbbells at their sides, farmer walks with the weight at sides, even deadlifts.(whoa now, I'm not saying don't deadlift, but limit the volume on the heavy pulls for a few weeks, and like I said in the last post, training speed work will limit the amount of load yanking down on those blades.) Instead, athletes can lunge or farmer carry in the goblet position (aka, one bell at their chest). 

There is more to be said, but let us move on, shall we?

3. Limit med ball work

At SAPT, we back off on aggressive med ball throwing variations for the first couple weeks post season as the athletes have been aggressively rotating all season. Instead, we'll sub in some drills that challenge the vestibular such as single-leg overhead medicine ball taps to the wall. (I don't have a video, sorry.)

Or, stability drills such as this:

If we do give them some low-intensity throws, we'll have them perform one less set on their throwing side than on the non-throwing side.

4. Limit reactive work

We don't usually program a lot of sprint work or jumps the first few weeks. If we do program jumps, we'll mitigate the deceleration component by adding band resistance:

5. Keep intensity on the lower end

As mentioned in the last post, instead of piling on weight, we enjoy utilizing isometric holds, slow negatives, and varying tempos to reap the most benefit from the least amount of weight. We also maintain lower volumes over all with total program.

There you have it! Tips to maximize the off-season and lay a strong, stable foundation for the following season!

March Madness: In-Season Training

Ah, the spring! (well, it would be if it wasn't snowing so much here in D.C.!) This means that the spring sports are ramping up. Schedules get tighter, days get longer, and the body takes a beating.

This month SAPT is going to provide stellar reasons why every athlete should continue their strength training in-season. Some of these include (but are not limited to):

- Prevention of strength and power decreases (both of which are rather important, especially during the end of the season during the play-offs. No good to be weak and slow!)

- Increase strength and power (see above reason)

- Prevention of over-use injuries. (How many times did you throw that ball today?)

- Mental breaks (ah, brain can relax.)

All that plus  a super special guest post JUST for coaches.

Check back later this week as we get rolling into a healthy, strong, and successful season!

Intro: Overhead Athlete Basics

Note: Any time I use the phrase "overhead athlete" I'm referring to an athlete who's sport requires him or her to bring their arm(s) repeatedly overhead. The most common sports falling under this umbrella are baseball, volleyball, softball, swimming, tennis, and, perhaps the most awesome of the bunch, javelin. 

In the wake of SAPT's inception, back in Summer of 2007, arrived the immediate realization that overhead athletes would be the predominant population we'd be coaching and training within the walls of our facility. In fact, you could have nearly fooled me if you told me that the only competitive sports in the Fairfax, Mclean, Tyson's Corner, Vienna, and Arlington regions were baseball and volleyball!

Sure, we had, and still have, the pleasure of working with a host of people from countless other athletic "categories" - field athletes, track, powerlifting, endurance sports, water polo, fencing (yes, fencing), and military personnel - overhead athletes were and still remain roughly 80% of the folks we get to work with at SAPT.

As such, given such a large and varied sample size, and years to work with these individuals, we've had ample time to manipulate X, Y, and Z training variables to accurately delineate which constituents of a sound training program are going to most efficiently and effectively help the overhead athlete feel and perform at their best.

Throughout the month of August, we at SAPT are going to dedicate our time to providing you with solid and applicable information that you can immediately employ, be you a strength coach, physical therapist, sport coach, or athlete. And hey, even if you don't do anything related to overhead sports, you can still pick up some quality gems related to vertical jumping, shoulder-friendly pressing variations, Olympic lifting, sprinting, and a plethora of other topics that will undoubtedly pique your interest.

The primary reason we are devoting an entire month to the topics of training and management of overhead athletes is that it remains abundantly clear that there still exists a unfortunate paucity of coaches - sport and strength coaches working with youth, amateur, Division I, or Professional athletes - who truly understand the unique demands overhead athletes face, and how to account for these demands both on the practice field and in the weight room.

Due to the awful tragedy of early sports specialization, and the lack of coaches and parents (despite being well-intentioned) who understand how to implement a sound, yearly training model (that includes time OFF the court or field), we are seeing injuries occur in players at the young age of 13 that didn't used to happen until the age of 25 (or ever). Baseball players are realizing too late that's actually not a good idea to throw year-round, and youth volleyball players are experiencing an unprecedented volume of upper and lower extremity issues that could have been prevented simply by taking a season to play a different sport, and/or immersing themselves in a solid strength & conditioning program.

The overhead athlete's arm and shoulder continually undergo insane stressors that need to be accounted for; and not only by the strength coach but the sport coach as well, as they control how many times in a practice an athlete throws, hits, or jumps.

Let's take just a quick look at what a baseball pitcher's arm is assaulted with every time he throws a baseball:

- His humerus (upper arm bone) undergoes internal rotation at roughly 7,200° per second. In case you're wondering, and would like a more scientific way of describing things: that is a crap ton of revolutions in a very short period of time. - His elbow has to deal with approximately 2,500° of elbow extension per second.His glenohumeral (ball-and-socket) joint experiences about 1.5x bodyweight in distraction forces.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg, as we haven't even dived into the other demands the wirst, elbows, and shoulders face, let alone what occurs at all the joints below the shoulder.

These demands simply won't be attenuated by doing a few hundred reps of band work before and after practice, let alone throwing the athlete into the proverbial squat-bench-deadlift program overseen by the high school football coach.

Over the next four weeks, you can expect to find us discussing:

  • Practical warm-ups for the overhead athlete
  • Why power development for baseball, softball, and volleyball players needs to be approached differently compared to many other sports
  • Olympic lifting for overhead athletes
  • The truth about vertical jump training for volleyball players
  • The myriad myths and fallacies surrounding "shoulder health" and "arm care" programs
  • Biomechanical asymmetries - both undesired and desired - that accrue in an overhead athlete's body due to the inherent nature of the sport, and what to do about them
  • Energy system training
  • Nutrition for fuel during tournaments and game day
  • And, of course, as many Star Wars and Harry Potter references that we can find room for
  • And much, much, more

All of us at SAPT are looking forward to the next month together!