Why is Flexibility Important for Pitchers?
What is Flexibility?
First, it is essential to know that flexibility is the ability for your joints to move through an unrestricted, pain-free range of motion. It can also allow you to move with more agility and protect your joints, essential for a professional athlete. Not everyone has to be the most flexible person in the world, but a minimum amount of flexibility should be achieved to keep your body in its best condition. The range of motion is influenced by the mobility of soft tissues surrounding the joint. These soft tissues consist of: muscles, ligaments, tendons, joint capsules, and skin. A lack of stretching can lead to worn out and shortened tissue over time, leading to injuries if you are still active; an example would be when you are playing a sport and not stretching.
Importance of Flexibility:
No matter your position in baseball, flexibility is one of the most critical factors to keep a player safe and in top-tier condition. Flexibility is also crucial in helping pitchers stay at peak performance. With consistent stretching and increased flexibility in their shoulder, pitchers can throw their pitches at a higher velocity and with more accuracy. Stretching, however, is sometimes overlooked in athletes' sports conditioning, putting them at risk for a severe injury. Pitchers can avoid damage and keep the muscles and connective tissues in their shoulders healthy by including stretching in their programs.
Some of the most common injuries occur from the elbow to the shoulder due to lack of flexibility, poor technique, and not enough rest in between games. This increased risk of injury can cause a pitcher's season and sometimes even careers to be cut short. If a pitcher is out with an injury for a part of the season, it can be challenging to pitch the same as they did before their injury. If an injury isn't severe enough to end their whole career, players still have to face missing an abundance of games for surgery or physical therapy. For a pitcher, missing games is the last thing they want to do, and when they come back, their shoulder will never be the same, and they will have to take extra precautions to avoid injuring the shoulder again, or else they will never be able to play again. To avoid worst-case scenarios happening to pitchers, they must implement stretching into their throwing programs. With a program set in place of stretching every single day, their shoulder can adapt to the rigorous motion it has to go through almost daily during their season. Pitchers mustn't be only stretching during the season, but they are also stretching during the off-season. If they do not stretch during the off-season, all their progress in flexibility during their season will be lost, and they will have to start back at square one. Putting the stress on their shoulder to keep starting over can also lead to the pitcher forming an injury.
Another negative of having stiff joints is you can tire out much faster. When these main joints in your shoulder fatigue quickly, the stress is put on other muscles in your arm to keep your pitches accurate and at a high velocity. If you feel yourself fighting through a sore shoulder and putting all of the stress on other areas of the arm, they can also become fatigued, and this can cause a domino effect of more and more muscles becoming worn out. With stress put on all of these other muscles, the chance of a severe injury raises significantly and, in some cases, could cause a career-ending injury.
Lastly, pitchers should also be focusing on the flexibility in their legs. Their legs are where a majority of their power comes from, and if they are trying to achieve a high velocity, they need to follow the pitch through their whole body. It is also essential because they do have to play their field if they have a ball hit towards them or have to cover another player to make the out. They need to be flexible and fast on their feet to turn in any direction, and without flexibility in their legs, this can also lead to injury.
Below I have given examples of both stretches you can do as a pitcher to increase flexibility and stretches to avoid and their alternatives that you can do instead.
Best Stretches for The Throwing Arm:
Shoulder CirclesTo do this stretch, you start with your arms at your sides and make circular moves with your shoulders. Make sure your feet are shoulder-width apart and do not move your arms or your head; you can also do this movement forward and then switch in the opposite direction to make sure your shoulder is loosened up.
Arm CirclesThis stretch is very similar to shoulder circles. You put your arms out to your sides and make circular motions with them, identical to the movement used in the last stretch. Start with smaller circles and then gradually move on to larger circles. This stretch is crucial for the pitcher and every player on the team to avoid injury when throwing.
With this stretch, you can use a towel or a workout band. Put the towel in one hand and then put that same hand over your back to do this one. You then grab the other end of the towel with your other hand and gently pull to stretch your bicep, but do not stretch too far or force it, or else you could hurt yourself. Eventually, you should be able to interlock your fingers behind your back if your shoulders and triceps are loose.
This stretch will require you to have a partner. You have to raise your arms sideways and away from your body to shoulder height and then turn your palms forward. Your partner has to stand behind you, holding your wrists, and pull your arms back simultaneously. You should only do this stretch for 10 seconds and nothing more than that to avoid injury.
HugsThe last stretch can warm up your back and rotator cuffs. Hold your arms out to your side at shoulder height and then swing your arms across your body and hug yourself. Your hands will reach behind you, and then you hold the back of your shoulders. Only keep this position for a second and then repeat as many times as needed.
Best Leg Stretches for Pitchers:
To have increased velocity, it also helps to have your hips flexible and unlocked. The butterfly stretch is when you sit on the ground with your knees bent, almost like sitting criss-cross when you were in elementary school, but the bottom of your feet are touching each other instead of overlapping. Once you have more flexibility, you can also lean your body forward to get more of a stretch.
For this stretch, all you have to do is stand with your feet together and bend down and touch your toes, knees can be bent if you have not reached that level of flexibility yet, but eventually, you should be able to touch your toes without bending at the knee.
Stretches to Avoid and Their Alternatives:
Upright Rows- Dumbbell Rows
A majority of pitchers lack internal rotation in their throwing shoulder. This is because their shoulder has adapted for throwers to have a more external process, so the ball is thrown at a higher velocity. The upright rows pull the shoulder into an internal rotation, putting stress on the shoulder. An alternative to vertical rows in dumbbell rows is because it allows the shoulder to maintain proper positioning.
Empty Cans- Side-Lying Dumbbell External Rotation
This exercise also puts a tremendous amount of stress on the shoulder with extreme internal rotation. Instead, the side-lying dumbbell is a better option because it does not put stress on the shoulder and strengthens the rotator cuff.
Dips can push the humerus bone against the front of your shoulder. Since there is already damage done to the front of your shoulder from throwing, dips can further the damage and create a higher risk for injury. A better exercise would be push-ups because the humerus and front of the shoulder can work in sync instead of hitting them together.
Barbell Bench Press- Dumbbell Bench Press
The barbell bench press is a primary exercise for many of those who go to the gym regularly. Still, for baseball players, it can do more harm than good because it can, again, put the shoulder in a compromised position by putting all the stress on internal rotation. Instead, the dumbbell bench press should be used because it allows a neutral grip, putting less pressure on the shoulders.
In the end, flexibility is a lot more critical than many people think. Being a successful pitcher includes more than just practicing to pitch accurately with a high velocity; you also need to make sure you are taking care of your throwing arm, or else all of the practice will be for nothing once you form an injury. No pitcher wants their season or career to be cut short. Playing baseball has been a dream for many of those who find themselves stepping onto the mound one day in the MiLB or MLB Baseball games; to stay in the position, they must STRETCH STRETCH, and you guessed it... STRETCH.