Three years ago we had a huge group of high school baseball players, mostly pitchers, train with us for the Winter. During our pre screening impingement test we found that 22 out of 29 kids were experiencing arm pain at the time. All had sought out Physical Therapist for help, but their pain never disappeared. After our 12 week strength and conditioning program, not only did their arm pain disappear, they all became much better athletes. One player was able to dunk a basketball after not being able to touch the rim.
Our approach is one that is to most baseball insiders. The old school approach to addressing arm issues boils down to using band/tubing to build strength in the rotator cuff. Bands have their place in arm care, but mainly in a rehab setting. This isolation approach would be great if you only used your arm to throw a baseball and not your lower half as well.
At DSP, we use an integrated approach that focuses on improving movement capacity, and functional mobility/stability, total body strength and explosive power training to build bulletproof shoulders.
Throwing a baseball efficiently and with velocity requires the entire body to be linked up. Performing internal and external shoulder rotations will not make you throw the ball harder. However, an exercise like the resisted bird dog where you have to maintain a stable core, while moving your opposite arm and leg in different directions will have a huge carryover.
So without further ado, here are 5 of my top exercises that will not only build strong and healthy shoulders, but will also improve on field performance for young throwers:
1. Wall Slides
We do Wall Slides everyday in our warm ups at DSP. When it comes to improving overall shoulder health and performance, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better exercise. They’re great for increasing thoracic spine mobility, strengthening the lower/mid traps and improving upward scapular rotation and posture. Generally we’ll do between 10 – 20 reps. Make sure to keep the back flat, wrist straight and add a diaphragmatic breath at the top.
2. Kettlebell Arm Bar
The Kettlebell Arm Bar is an all in one move. The arm bar is a combination of rotary stability and active hip extension to start the movement and then is asking for continued rotary stability, t – spine rotation and a stable shoulder complex. I also like it for grip strength, activating the Scaps and Lats which are key contributors in decelerating the arm after a throw. This is a major problem area for young pitchers.
3. Band Resisted Bird Dog
If I had to choose one exercise for all athletes to do before competition it would be the Resisted Bird Dog. Bird Dogs with band resistance activate the glutes, core and shoulder complex instantaneously.
A key phrase to remember and that will help you to better understand what we’re trying to accomplish with the Bird Dog is, “proximal stability for distal mobility”. Athleticism is defined by disassociation of lower & upper extremities from the core. When an athlete can move from their ball and socket joints while maintaining a stable core, they can generate more power.
4. Kettlebell Carry Variations
Kettlebell Carry variations are totally underrated when it comes to building strong shoulders.There are a number of different carries, but I have four that should be a part of everyone’s training program. All four force you to maintain a stable core, dynamic postural control, shoulder stability and grip strength while walking or marching. Double racked kettlebell walks are the toughest core exercise that I’ve ever done hands down.
5. Kettlebell Turkish Get Up
The Turkish Get Up is far and away my favorite exercise on this list. It simply does everything. We’ve done eight hour workshops on this one exercise! Here’s a small sample of what we can get out of performing just one Get Up:
- Single leg hip stability during the initial roll to press and during the bridge
- Closed and open chain shoulder stability
- Thoracic extension and rotation
- Hip and leg mobility and active flexibility
- Rotary stability
- The ability to link movement in our arms and legs to the core
Performing 5 repetitions each arm is the perfect way to prime the nervous system, mobilize the hips and shoulders while also activating the core.
I’ve seen a lot of people with beat up shoulders in my time as a coach. Put these five must – do exercises into your program right away and I guarantee that you’ll be almost as good as new!