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:
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.
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!
In my last article, I talked about the need for correct mobility in your exercises and workout. Mobility is extremely important and should always be addressed early on to ensure good positioning and a full range of motion in your lift. Mobility, however is only one part of the puzzle. There’s another aspect that the yogis don’t like to talk about and many people get confused with a BOSU ball: Stability
Mobility and Stability are the two components that provide the frame-work of movement. Mobility is the ability of a joint to move through a given range of motion, whereas stability is the ability to resist being moved. From a biomechanics stand-point they are like yin and yang, positive and negative, peanut butter and jelly. One cannot exist without the other. They are both equally important in training, however the body will always choose stability over mobility for safety and compensations.
Dr. Perry of Stop Chasing Pain is known for his saying, “stability rules the road.” What he means by that is that your body will always give up mobility in whatever joint it needs to create a stable environment if there is dysfunction(muscles not working properly). Will that cause pain and compensation patterns? Probably, but not always. If muscles aren’t working right, then they will not be able to control the motions in joints, and your body doesn’t trust that, so it will lock it down. It’s very similar to walking on ice. When you’re on the ice, you naturally stiffen up, and you consciously will keep your legs in and tight, not using big strides.
So essentially, if you lose stability, you will lose mobility somewhere else. It follows the joint by joint approach just as mobility did in my last article. This is why it doesn’t make sense to just stretch or just to weight train. When I talked about how to create proper mobility, step 4 was ACTIVATE. This is where stability is created, in the hopes that it will start to become automatic when used with movement.
Stiffness is the Same as Stability
Many people confuse this notion of creating stability with creating stiffness. For an area to be stable, you want it to be tense/active during the appropriate movement and yet supple when not in use.
If you’re doing 50 reverse hyperextensions a day to keep your low back, “stable,” then you’re just creating stiffness by overusing the muscles and there for doing it wrong. If you want to create true stability in a particular area, then you must train that muscle/area as a stabilizer.
Stability training is done on bosus and wobble boards
Creating true stability in a joint DOES NOT need to be done on an unstable surface. It is done by creating mobility and then using a particular area as a stabilizer to hold a particular position. This is not to say that using a BOSU or wobble-board is always wrong. They do have their time and place for rehab, but that’s another topic for a blog post.
Anyway, an example of using a muscle as a stabilizer that I like is using the ½ knealing position for variations on exercises to help create some glute stability and open up the front of the hips. What about the guy doing the 50 hyperextensions? Well how about just try some simple plank variations or maybe even a kettlebell halo instead.