Glass Boxes and Softball Players

Billy Wagner

The other day I was perusing my Facebook inbox, and read over the following message:

Mike –

I have been enjoying your Assess and Correct program and learning lots. Thanks so much.

Had a little problem with a group of 8th and 9th grade softball girls that just started with us. They all are very weak and none of them could do one good push-up. We started them with Blast Strap rows and Incline BB Push-ups and got this email:

“This is Dad X, Player Y’s dad. Player Ys pitching coach (TC) believes that push-ups and pull-ups put to much stress on the rotor cuff. Any chance the coaches could give her a different exercise/drill? Could you please pass this on.

Thanks for your help and time.

Dad X”

This coach was looking for some insight, so my first thought was to ask Eric Cressey, who works almost exclusively with baseball players these days.  This first snippet is a quote from his upcoming chapter on baseball testing and assessment:

“One thing I mention to all my baseball players is that it is important to realize throwing a baseball can hardly be considered a natural act.  In fact, the velocities one encounters during overhead throwing of the baseball are actually the fastest encountered in sports.  During acceleration, the humerus internally can rotate at velocities faster than 7,000°/s (1), while the elbow may extend at greater than 2,300°/s (2).  This act of acceleration imposes tremendous stresses on osseous, musculotendinous, ligamentous, and labral structures at the elbow and shoulder girdle.  These stresses are magnified with throwing off the mound as compared with flat-ground throwing.”

But Eric goes a little further as well:

7,000 degrees per second is the SINGLE FASTEST MOTION IN SPORTS!!!!  And they’re worried about pull-ups and push-ups?  The cuff really takes the most abuse in the extreme cocking/lay-back postion and at ball release (although it is working in the middle a lot, too) – both of which constitute an end-range-of-motion. Pull-ups and push-ups don’t hit those extremes.

It’s shocking to me that some coaches still buy into myths such as this one.  Assuming that a properly executed push-up is possibly more injurious than throwing is ludicrous.  If we want to take it to the extreme, how are we going to tell kids to get up off the floor?  You’d better not lay on your stomach and do a push-up to get up, lest you injure your rotator cuff in the process!

But, I digress.

It’s interesting that exercises such as push-ups and pull-ups (closed-chain activities which actually increase ‘cuff and stabilizer activation) are demonized, while bench presses and lat pulldowns are key constituents of many beginner training programs.  For almost any athlete, push-ups and pull-ups should be key components of their general preparation.  As mentioned above they are actually quite “shoulder friendly,” but they also build total body-awareness, strength, and motor control.

If you (or the pitching coach) wants to have a better understanding of how the scapulae and rotator cuff work together to promote functional, pain-free movement at the shoulder I’d highly recommend checking out Bill and I’s previous article Push-ups, Face Pulls and Shrugs.  Not only do we look at the biomechanics and functional anatomy, but we review quite a bit of research as well.

If I could make only one suggestion with regards to this coaches programming, I would remove the blast strap rows for the time being.  If these girls are really this week, I would imagine that their core stability/strength is poor, as is their upper back strength.  Give them a stable environment (such as a traditional inverted row) to begin with until their strength comes around.

Good luck with your training, and hopefully the girls understand what a great coach they have!




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