As a baseball player, you use your shoulder for power and strength—to help you pitch those blazing fastballs or throw runners out from anywhere on the diamond. But this is not what the shoulder was made for.
The shoulder was made for mobility. The shoulder capsule functions in a straightforward manner. Due to its intricate anatomy, the shoulder can withstand large amounts of force and repetitive use, making it capable of generating the power you need to pitch and throw.
But you need to protect your shoulders as much as you train them. (See Weak Link Training: Shoulder Stability.) Baseball athletes, especially those suffering from a shoulder injury, need to understand how various exercises affect and position their shoulders. That’s why baseball players are advised to avoid overhead lifting.
Shoulder Capsule Injuries Among Baseball Players
Posterior capsule tightness. Caused by the repetitive action of throwing, this is usually slow to develop, but it can lead to chronic shoulder pain, a rotator cuff tear or dead arm syndrome.
Anterior capsule instability. External rotation, which is required to throw a Major League-caliber fastball, causes the arm bone to slide forward into the anterior capsule. Repetition throughout a career causes the capsule to stretch out excessively and sometimes tear. Referred to as capsular instability, this is what caused Johan Santana to miss the entire 2011 season. It’s the most common injury among pitchers. Repair can take many forms, but it’s not always effective due to the nature of the pitching motion.
Acute or sudden injury. Most recently suffered by the Cardinals Ryan Ludwick, who dislocated his shoulder sliding headfirst into a base. Ludwick not only suffered small tears in his shoulder capsule, he also tore his labrum and dislocated a bone. A severe injury like this can push the arm bone into or even through the shoulder capsule. The capsule offers the main passive protection against a full dislocation, which is common in baseball when sliding.
Shoulder Capsule Injury Prevention, by Injury
Training the shoulder, especially for pitchers, is about what not to do as much as what to do. Proper warming up and specific training techniques are key. Here is a guide to training to prevent the injuries catalogued above.
Posterior Capsule Tightness
- Sidelying Sleeper Stretch
- Cross Body Stretch
- Internal Rotation with the Rotator
- Self-Mobilization of the Posterior Capsule in the Plank or Quadruped Position
- Lat Pulldowns
- Board Presses
- Pull-Up Variations
Anterior Capsule Instability
- Avoid the Snatch – Use Swings and Med Balls for Power
- Avoid the Back Squat – Perform Front Squats or Safety Bar Squats
- Avoid Full Bench Press – Use Dumbbells or Push-Up variations
- Avoid excessive ER Band Work – Use Manual Stabilization of the RC in Functional Positions
- Avoid the High Pull – Use a Trap Bar for Shrugs