Nearly 50% of all baseball pitchers experience shoulder or elbow pain that limits participation at some point in their careers.¬† The repetitive stress of overhead throwing leads to overuse injuries of the shoulder and elbow. ¬†However, many of these overuse injuries are preventable.¬† Exercises targeting the rotator cuff are one such approach.¬† In a previous article (Part 1) we wrote about free weight exercises for the rotator cuff.¬† Resistance band or tubing exercises are also commonly used to assist in reducing injury risk.¬† This article discusses the role of band exercises for the rotator cuff as part of a warm-up or conditioning program.
Band or tubing exercises are an important part of pre-throwing warm-up routines for some baseball players.¬† There are several solid products designed specifically for baseball players.¬† I recommend any of these: J-Bands, ArmCare2Go, and Kbands.¬† Band or tubing programs typically include several exercises to activate muscles important in the throwing motion.¬† They are conveniently performed in the bullpen, dugout, and locker room or on the sidelines.¬† These same exercises are also important components of rehabilitation and long-term arm care conditioning programs.¬† The goal of these programs is to maintain high levels of strength and endurance in the shoulder muscles.¬† Particular attention is given to the rotator cuff and scapular stabilizers because they play a key role in reducing injury risk.
Overview of Band Rotator Cuff Exercises for Baseball Players
During the throwing motion, large forces are generated from the lower body.¬† Energy is then transferred through the core to the arm.¬† The arm‚Äôs primary function is to dissipate these forces in order to minimize stress to the shoulder and elbow.¬† Band exercises are a great way to prepare the upper body muscles prior to throwing.¬† Under these circumstances, 5-7 exercises are performed as part of a warm-up.¬† One set of 30 repetitions performed in a controlled fashion is recommended.
As part of a conditioning program, these same exercises can be performed for multiple sets 3 to 4 times per week.¬† It is important to keep in mind; arm care exercises are integrated into a total body conditioning program including the lower body and core. ¬†The following 5 rotator cuff exercises can be integrated into a long-term conditioning program or as part of an individualized warm-up.
Band Diagonal Flexion Pattern
Stand or kneel with a band anchored to a solid base at the side.¬† The hand begins positioned in front of the opposite hip with the palm facing the body.¬† The movement of this exercise resembles drawing a sword.¬† The hand moves across the body and upwards.¬† The finish position includes rotating the arm so the thumb is pointing behind the body.¬† As you lower the arm back to the starting position the palm rotates back to face the body. ¬†¬†This exercise activates all rotator cuff muscles at moderate to high levels.¬† It also performed in a fashion similar to the throwing motion.¬† This makes it ideal to incorporate into any pre-throwing warm-up.
Band Internal Rotation @90 Degrees
Stand or kneel with your back to the band anchored to a solid base. With the shoulder elevated and the elbow bent, begin with the shoulder in external rotation similar to the arm cocking phase of throwing.¬† Move the shoulder into full internal rotation and then return to the starting position while maintaining the shoulder and elbow positions. ¬†¬†A common mistake is to gradually allow the arm to drop during the exercise. ¬†¬†This exercise results in high activation of the subscapularis muscle.¬† This rotator cuff muscle functions to stabilize the shoulder joint and accelerate the arm towards home plate.
Band External Rotation @ 90 Degrees
Stand or kneel facing a band anchored to a solid base. With the shoulder abducted and the elbow bent, begin with the shoulder in internal rotation.¬† Move the shoulder into full external rotation similar to the arm cocking phase of throwing.¬† Slowly return to the starting position while maintaining the shoulder and elbow positions. ¬†¬†A common mistake is to gradually allow the arm to drop during the exercise.¬† This exercise activates all rotator cuff muscles at moderate to very high levels.¬† It is performed in a position similar to the arm cocking and early acceleration phase of throwing where high stress is imparted on the shoulder and elbow.
Band Throwing Acceleration
Stand in a lunge stance holding the band or tubing with the throwing arm in a position of abduction and external rotation.¬† This is similar to the arm cocking phase of throwing.¬† Begin the exercise by moving the arm across the body similar to the acceleration phase of throwing.¬† Shift your body weight from the rear to the front leg as you perform the throwing motion.¬† Return to the starting position in controlled fashion shifting your bodyweight back to the rear leg.¬† This exercise results in very high activation of the subscapularis and teres minor of the rotator cuff.¬† The subscapularis functions to accelerate the arm towards home plate.¬† The teres minor acts to stabilize the shoulder and control the upper arm during the acceleration and follow-through phases of throwing.
Band Throwing Deceleration
Stand in a lunge stance holding the band or tubing with the throwing arm in a low position.¬† This is similar to the follow-through or ending phase of the throwing motion.¬† Begin the exercise by moving the arm back and up towards a position of abduction and external rotation (arm cocking position). ¬†Shift your body weight from the front to the rear leg as you perform this motion.¬† Return to the starting position in controlled fashion shifting your bodyweight back to the front leg. ¬†¬†This exercise results in very high activation of the teres minor.¬† The teres minor acts to stabilize the shoulder and control the upper arm during the acceleration and follow-through phases of throwing.¬† This exercise emphasizes an eccentric muscle action similar to how the rotator cuff functions during throwing.
Closing Thoughts on Band Rotator Cuff Exercises for Baseball Players
Arm overuse throwing injuries for the baseball player can derail a career. ¬†However, many of these injuries are preventable. These 5 exercises are only a small sample of band rotator cuff exercises for baseball players which can be helpful. They can be performed during any part of a pre-throwing warm-up or year-round training program. Your physical therapist can perform an individual assessment and design an exercise program based on your deficiencies and goals. The objective is to increase the baseball player‚Äôs likelihood of a long injury-free and successful career. Contact us today if you questions about which exercises are right for you.