Travel ball, high school, college and professional baseball seasons are long and they can really take a toll on the health and longevity of throwing arms and shoulders. The off-season is a perfect time to address many physical needs of the arm & shoulder to perform at their best and avoid injury next season, but too many athletes are just doing the same old lifting routines, band exercises with their rotator cuff and are engaged in long-toss programs when there are many more specific foundational needs that need to be addressed first.
This article will focus solely on #1 above, the position and movement of the throwing arm shoulder blade. (We will address #2 and #3 above in later articles in this series).
The upper arm (the humerus) and the shoulder blade (also called the scapula) together make up the shoulder joint.
For a right handed thrower, the right shoulder blade or scapula should lay flat on top of the ribs on the backside of the body.
But for many throwers, the right scapula does not lay flat on top of the ribs and many times doesn’t move correctly, either.
This is often the result of weakness in some of the muscles underneath and below the shoulder blade. For many throwers, this ultimately reduces how hard they can throw the ball and it can be the cause of pain and can lead to shoulder injuries as well.
When the shoulder blade lays flat on the rib cage and moves correctly, the shoulder blade and upper arm move into a position where the right pectoralis major chest muscle is stretched (loaded) which allows the thrower to use the great strength of this large and powerful chest muscle to throw with more force, power and arm speed.
Winged, Tipped & Rotated Scaps
So many young developing throwers have shoulder blades that, instead of laying flat down against their ribs, are rotated forwards or inwards or just aren’t positioned on the ribs as they should or don’t move over the ribs as they should.
Look at the position of your throwers scaps and look for these very common issues with the scaps:
1. Winged Scaps - the scapula is rotated inwards so the back of the scapula looks like a little wing coming out of the athlete’s ribs.
2. Tipped Scaps - the scapula is rotated forwards so the bottom of the scap is tipped forwards off of the athlete’s ribs.
If you see these winged or tipped scaps, ideally the athlete needs to learn how to use the correct small muscles to make the scapula sit flat down on the rib cage as the athlete throws. This will dramatically improve their throwing mechanics, increase arm speed and allow the athlete to exert a lot less effort to create greater throwing power and speed, and maybe most importantly, reduce the stress on the throwing shoulder and arm.
“Scap Load” - Connecting the Scapula and Rib Cage
We teach athletes to feel how to move the right scap (scapula) and position it where it lies flat down against the rib cage. When this happens correctly, we tell them that the scap is “connected” to their rib cage and want them to learn the FEEL for how to connect it for part of their throwing motion.
We typically see 2-4 mph increases in ball velocity when the athlete learns how to stay connected and the athlete can feel the difference in their ability to throw at higher velocities with much dramatically less effort.
In the first part of the throwing motion, a right handed thrower turns the shoulders to their right in a motion many call the load phase. This turn of the shoulders and load stretches many big powerful muscles and other elastic tissues of the spine, core and upper body that will help the athlete develop more arm & ball speed.
Initiate the Shoulder Turn with the Right Scap
We teach throwers to initiate the shoulder turn to their right with their right shoulder blade.
We simply stand behind them and place a hand on their right scap and have them push the right scap into our hand to initiate the right shoulder turn.
The next step is to engage the muscles of the right scap to pull it down flat against the rib cage as they complete their turn and move their right arm and shoulder into what’s called “external rotation”.
Throwers are instructed to keep their right scap connected to their rib cage until they get to the ball release point in their throwing motion. At the release point, the shoulder blade should naturally move forwards, so the athlete is instructed to allow the right scap to disconnect from the rib cage.
We place a PC360 arm cuff above the athlete’s throwing elbow and connect a resistance band to the cuff to train the athlete how to engage and strengthen the correct muscles to move the right scapula down flat against the ribs as they go through the throwing motion.
Activate then Throw
As soon as the thrower learns how to connect the right scap, using the resistance bands to activate the correct muscles, we have them immediately go throw so they learn how to actually get and stay connected while actually throwing.
The muscles that stretch and load as the shoulders turn to the right are spine and core muscles and they should be trained at the same time with the scap connection muscles.
We use the PC360 Torso Harness and Arm Cuffs connected to resistance bands to strengthen the spine, core and shoulder blade muscles at the same time. This allows the athlete to build mechanics, strength, power and speed at the same time.
In the next part of this series, we will show you how we teach & train throwers to use their core, hips, legs and feet to create even more effortless power, arm & ball speed.
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