Unfortunately, the baseball season has been put on hold for high school and colleges around the country. But, baseball will be back! In the meantime, while we all stay home, it will be important for baseball pitchers and all fielders to keep their arms in good shape so that you’ll be ready when it is time to get back on the baseball field. Here, we discuss the demands that throwing places on the baseball pitcher’s shoulder and provide a number of exercises you can perform at home to increase shoulder strength and endurance. I have also included important supplemental exercises for baseball throwers.
The Demands on Baseball Pitchers
The majority of sport-related shoulder injuries come from repetitive overhead movement. While all athletes who participate in overhead sports are at risk for sustaining a shoulder injury, research has shown that baseball has the highest incidence. This is largely due to the physical demands that throwing places on the musculoskeletal system.
Of all overhead athletes, baseball pitchers experience the highest shoulder angular velocity. Studies have shown that the shoulder rotates between 6000 and 8000 degrees/second during the acceleration phase of the throwing motion! In order to decelerate the arm during the later phases of throwing, the net force at the shoulder often exceeds a baseball pitcher’s body weight. When strength and endurance is deficient, the forces generated during the throwing motion can lead to improper throwing mechanics and increased tissue stress.
Fortunately, abnormal movement of the shoulder joint during the throwing motion is limited by both “static” and “dynamic” stabilizers. Static stabilizers, which include the labrum and joint capsule, are non-contractile tissue. Contractile tissue, on the other hand, consists of the muscles that surround the shoulder joint. These muscles activate (or contract) during the throwing motion to help counteract the large forces placed on the upper extremity.
Arm Care Programs
Comprehensive arm care programs should incorporate strengthening and endurance exercises for two important groups of dynamic stabilizers: the rotator cuff and the scapular musculature. These groups activate at important times during the throwing motion to provide stability and decrease the stresses placed on the shoulder. In order for an overhead athlete to maintain proper mechanics and reduce injury risk, strengthening these muscles is essential.
What You Can Do While You Are Home
The following exercises target the rotator cuff and scapular musculature. These are performed using a small 2-3lb weight. You can use household objects, like a can or hammer, to perform these exercises if a weight is not available. Perform 2 sets of each exercise 10 times in a slow, controlled manner. If the exercise is too challenging, perform the exercise without a weight. You can increase the weight to 4-5lb if you are able to maintain proper form after 10 repetitions and the exercise feels easy.
Standing Full Can
While standing, hold a free weight in your throwing hand with the elbow straight and thumb up. Then, raise your arm to shoulder level at a 30-degree angle in front of your body. Avoid shrugging your shoulder. Do not go above shoulder height. Pause and then slowly return to the starting position.
Side Lying External Rotation
Lie on side with throwing arm up and towel between trunk and upper arm. While keeping the elbow bent to 90-degrees, rotate the arm upwards. Pause and then lower the weight in a slow and controlled manner. Make sure your shoulder does not roll forward.
Lie face down on a bed or table with your arm hanging straight towards the floor. Raise your arm out to the side and pull your shoulder blade towards your spine. Avoid shrugging your shoulder. Slowly lower your arm down to the starting position.
Lie face down on a bed or table with your arm hanging straight towards the floor. With your thumb rotated up, raise your arm out to the side and slightly in front of your shoulder at about a 45 degree ankgle. Squeeze your shoulder blade down towards your spine. Do not move arm beyond your body. Slowly lower your arm down to the starting position.
Lie face down on a bed or table with your arm hanging straight towards the floor. With the weight in your hand, bend your elbow and bring it up to the height of your trunk. Squeeze your shoulder blade towards your spine, but do not shrug your shoulder. Try not to let the weight go beyond your body. Pause at the top and slowly lower.
Prone External Rotation
Lie face down on a bed or table with your arm hanging straight towards the floor. With the weight in your hand, raise your elbow towards the ceiling to the height of the body. Your upper arm should be 90 degrees away from your side. Pause briefly in this position. Then, rotate the arm so that the weight moves toward the ceiling to the height of your body, keeping the elbow at 90 degrees. Pause at the top, and then slowly rotate your arm back to the middle position. Repeat this motion.
Begin in a normal push-up position from the floor. If this it too hard for you, then start with your knees on the floor instead of feet. Push up away from the floor into a plank position using your whole body. Then, push your chest even farther away from the floor as far as you can almost rounding the upper back. Return to starting position.
While strengthening the shoulder musculature is very important, baseball pitchers must consider the surrounding body structures that are involved during the throwing motion. After all, throwing is a full-body movement. Comprehensive arm care programs for baseball pitchers and throwers should also contain exercises that promote forearm strength and endurance and thoracic mobility as well as hip and core strength. Here are a few additional exercises.
Wrist Flexion & Extension
Flexion: Place your forearm on a stable surface like your desk or table with the weight in your hand and palm up. Slowly lower the weight towards the floor. Then, bring the weight up toward the ceiling in a controlled manner. Slowly return to starting position.
Extension: Place your forearm on a stable surface like your desk or table with the weight in your hand and palm down. Slowly lower the weight towards the floor. Then, bring the weight up towards the ceiling in a controlled manner. Slowly return to starting position.
Begin by holding a weight pointed towards the ceiling. Slowly lower the weight until you are in a palm down position. Then, slowly rotate the weight until you are in a palm up position. Return to the starting position. If you don’t have a weight, you can use a hammer like shown in the photos.
Start on your hands and knees with your weight shifted towards your heels. Place one arm behind head. Then, rotate your trunk as far as you can towards the ceiling without moving your hips. Return to starting position. Perform exercise on both sides 5 times.
Dr. Thomas (TJ) Joyce, PT, DPT, SCS joins One on One Physical Therapy after completing the Sports Physical Therapy Residency at The Ohio State University. While at OSU, his research focused on the influence of shoulder range of motion on shoulder and elbow kinetics in baseball pitchers. Dr. TJ received his Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from Duke University and has a passion for working with high school, recreational, collegiate, and professional athletes across many sports and enjoys working with athletes of all ages. He is a Georgia native who earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy and religious studies from Rhodes College in 2011. During his time at Rhodes, he ran track and played middle infield for the baseball team. He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and a Certified Olympic Weightlifting Coach. When Dr. TJ is not working with his patients, he enjoys lifting weights, playing sports, and cheering on his Georgia Bulldogs.
- Weber, Alexander E., et al. “The Biomechanics of Throwing: Simplified and Cogent.” Sports Medicine and Arthroscopy Review, vol. 22, no. 2, 2014, pp. 72–79.
- Park, Samuel S., et al. “The shoulder in baseball pitching: biomechanics and related injuries–Part 1.” Bulletin of the NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases, vol. 61, no. 1-2, 2002, p. 68.
- Dines, Joshua S., et al. Sports Medicine of Baseball. Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2012.