Strengthening Exercises to Prevent the Most Common Baseball and Softball Injuries
By: Meggan Brunette, CSCS Certified Athlete Performance Coach, Champion’s QUEST
Baseball and Softball injuries may occur in different forms depending on the different disciplines of pitching, throwing, batting, and fielding. Each part of the game comes with its own injury risks! Pitchers in particular are at risk for tearing their rotator cuff and experiencing pain from shoulder tendonitis. Prolonged periods of batting can lead to serious back injuries, including herniated discs and muscle strains. ACL and other knee injuries may occur during fielding or running, which includes any sudden change of direction.
Chronic shoulder pain is a common consequence of repetitive overhead activity. Usually this is caused by damage to the rotator cuff muscles. Shoulder tendonitis, or “impingement syndrome” occurs when there is inflammation of the rotator cuff tendons and the bursa that surrounds these tendons. Shoulder tendonitis and rotator cuff injuries are related to weak rotator cuff musculature and an imbalance of strength about the shoulder.
The rotator cuff consists of four muscles, subscapularis, teres minor, infraspinatus, and supraspinatus, which are positioned around the shoulder joint. These muscles serve to keep the shoulder joint stable during movements of the arm. Three exercises to strengthen the rotator cuff include lateral raise with internal rotation, internal rotation, and external rotation. These can all be performed using a set of light dumbbells. You also want to keep repetitions low, about three sets of ten repetitions, for all three exercises.
1. Lateral Raise with Internal Rotation – Holding dumbbells, stand with hands by the side. Internally rotate your arm so that thumbs point downwards. Then raise arms out to the side until your elbows are just below shoulder height. Make sure to keep your thumbs down as you raise the weights.
2. Internal Rotation Exercise- Holding dumbbell, stand with elbows bent at side, to a 90-degree angle. Keeping the elbows tight to the body, slowly rotate dumbbell towards the body. Pause, and return to starting position. Repeat exercise on other side.
3. External Rotation Exercise – Holding dumbbell, stand with elbows bent at side, to a 90-degree angle. Keeping elbows tight to the body, slowly rotate dumbbell away from the body until back of hand faces backward. Pause, and return to starting position. Repeat exercise on other side.
Core strength and stabilization is a vital factor in preventing back injuries caused by the rotational movements of batting and throwing, required for Baseball and Softball. Working both abdominal and postural muscles are important for maintaining ideal alignment and obtaining a balance of strength to support the core. Athletes can strengthen their core muscles quickly with Planks, Bicycle, and Bridging exercises.
1. Planks- Lie face down on the floor. Balancing only on your forearms and toes, push yourself up and hold. The important part of the plank is to hold your torso rigid, without sticking your bottom up in the air. Work up to three sets of two-minute holds.
2. Bicycle – While lying on your back with your arms folded behind your head, bring one elbow to the opposite knee. Relax, and bring the opposite elbow to the other knee. As you become more comfortable, speed up the process to resemble a bicycle peddling motion.
3. Abdominal Bridge- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Try to put each heel in alignment with hips, knees, and toes. Check your posture to make sure your trunk makes a straight line. Place arms straight down by your side. Keeping your arms flat to the floor by your side, press feet into the floor, tighten abdominal muscles, and lift posterior up. For increased difficulty, you may add a march or leg extension to the Bridge.
Many Baseball and Softball players will unfortunately experience a knee injury at some point in their career. A very common injury results in a tear of the ACL, or the anterior cruciate ligament. In common terms, it’s the ligament that connects your thighbone to your tibia, located to your shin. An ACL injury can occur when a person suddenly twists the knee or suddenly changes direction. Two exercises to help strengthen the quadriceps and hamstring muscles of the lower body include Walking Lunges and Hamstring Curls. These serve to stabilize the knee, preventing such knee injuries. Three sets of ten repetitions of these exercises may be completed.
1. Walking Lunges- Lunge forward, dropping the back knee straight down. Make sure that your front knee is over your ankle, knees and toes are in alignment pointing straight forward, abdominals are tight, and chest is up. Control the motion and avoid the knee from caving inward. Push off and repeat forward lunge with opposite leg.
2. Hamstring Curls with Partner- Kneel on the ground with hands at your side. Have a partner firmly hold at your ankles. With a straight back, lean forward leading with your hips. Your knee, hip and shoulder should be in a straight line as you lean toward the ground. Do not bend at the waist. Hold position for two to three seconds and repeat.
Tips to avoid overuse injuries are for coaches to emphasize control, accuracy, and good body mechanics through all movements. It is always important to warm up properly by stretching, running, before beginning easy gradual throwing and specific sport skill work.
Once an injury occurs, the most obvious treatment for overuse injuries is rest. It is encouraged to ice any injuries to reduce soreness and inflammation. If there is a lack of full joint range of motion, the athlete must then be evaluated by a physician.
For additional questions regarding injury prevention, recovery or softball performance programs, please contact Meggan Brunette.
Office: (562) 598-2600 Email: MegganB@ChampionsQUEST.com.