For a long time there has been the stigma that you should never use exercises that go above your head when training baseball or softball players. To a degree this has some merit but, isn’t exactly true. All rotational athletes have high repetitions of overhead movements within their practices so to say that they may be in that position too often is worth considering. During periods of practice where volume of overhead movement is high I would avoid these types of exercises but, what about outside these times? Off-season training is the time to work on skills that make you stronger for your season. Being strong in overhead movements and rowing variations is the key to having a healthy shoulder. Common questions we get are, when to do these exercises, what are the exercises and what is the proper technique.
When should I Incorporate Most of my Overhead Movements?
I already semi answered this question but I will reiterate it. In general you want to work on qualities that enhance performance in the off-season and do the opposite in-season to keep athletes strong and healthy. The reason for the switch is during periods of high volume is when fatigue can set in and athletes become susceptible to injuries. The majority of their overhead work in-season will be coming from their sport (practice and games). For example we may do overhead work and rotational work off-season but switch to anti-rotational movements, stability or horizontal rowing variations for in-season.
What are the Exercises and what is the Proper Technique?
In my opinion there are not a lot of exercises you can rule out because any exercise can be potentially harmful if not done with good technique. This would be predicated on the individuals’ mobility, strength and motor control just to name a few factors that could potentially make an exercise harmful. These will dictate which type of exercises would best benefit the athlete. Some athletes may have great positions during overhead movements and can handle more complex exercises, others may have terrible T-Spine mobility and would be better suited with mobility exercises, it’s really an “It Depends” type of scenario.
As far as technique is concerned this is also an “It Depends” scenario. If an athlete has kyphosis (Shoulders rounded forward) than we would work on getting more use of his scapula by retracting his blades together during rowing variations. This is harder said than done. Most people think they are rowing correctly but lack posture which negates any scapular movement and causes common problems such as excessive shrugging or rowing in that rounded position. These athlete’s need to understand how to depress and retract there shoulder blades when they row. On the other end, athletes that are over extended (big chest, arched low back) need to row in a more organized position. Athlete’s that are overextended are usually very lat dominant so cue that can be ineffective for them is the “Big Chest” cue. These athletes live in extension and getting them into more extension leads to a very lat dominant row and creates an anterior shoulder glide (Humorous coming forward excessively) during rowing variations. This is extremely important to watch for baseball and softball players because most throwers are lat dominant already and have shoulders that are overly stretched anteriorly, so doing more of this could lead to shoulder problems. If we want the shoulder blade to move well we need to maintain a neutral posture and row until our elbow is equal or slightly behind our body.
When referring to any overhead movements when the scapula upwardly rotates it needs to sit tight on the ribcage to move properly. If our athletes have kyphosis or lordosis (shoulders rounded forward or over arched lower back) than we know that they will compensate when the arm goes above the head. To help athletes move overhead properly they have to understand what correct posture is and learn how to move proximally to distally (Core to outside the body). Mobility drills will help but if the compensation isn’t terrible we may look at loading them with lighter weights, splitting there stance during overhead pressing and giving them movements without fixed positions (Dumbbells instead of barbells). Any rotational athlete needs to be strong overhead to remain durable through a season we just have to take a case by case approach to help certain athlete’s with movement restrictions.
All athletes’ need to move in organized positions to reduce compensation patterns. The better the position the more efficiently you can move and produce force and any movement in the gym is no different. We need to constantly be cueing our athlete’s about position first, load second and especially with baseball/softball players because the shoulder has become such an issue. At Total Performance we try to put our athlete’s in the best position possible by taking a case by case basis when referring to any overhead movements. These need to be done but, when to do them is critically important for the health of our athletes.