Study Links Glute to Preventing Arm Injury for Pitchers

Glute Strength Reduces Pitching Arm InjuryAt this point in my coaching career, arm injury for the pitcher is no longer a mystery for me and it shouldn’t be for you after joining the 3X Pitching Programs. I survived a rotator cuff tear in my pitching career in 1995, in my first college appearance, when at the same time one of the first MLB pitchers to ever survive it and play again, Jimmy Key, was making his comeback. The difference from me and Jimmy Key, was he had an MLB team helping him through the process and I had pretty much myself as a young freshman at a local Junior College.

It took a lot longer for me than Jimmy Key but I made it back to pitching again in college when doctors advised me to quit. I also was able to get my fastball to 94mph and play some professional baseball with it, which was unheard of at the time. Now that I have studied what went wrong in my career which lead to the serious injury, I can help those in this game today prevent this possible career ending injury.

In this article, I will talk about a recent study that really puts it all together and truly defines what is critical in the pitching delivery to preventing shoulder injury. This is one of those articles that will change your game. After learning from this article, I highly recommend you get started with the 3X Pitching Velocity Program and start implementing this cutting edge information immediately.

Preventing Arm Injury for the Pitcher

In a recent study called , Gluteus medius and scapula muscle activations in youth baseball pitchers, the researches discovered how critical the lower half is in protecting the arm. To really understand how this works we need to first understand how a heathy shoulder functions and what goes wrong when it doesn’t function correctly. This study does an excellent job doing this for us:

The scapula is a critical component of the throwing kinetic chain. It is the link that provides for the transfer of velocity, energy, and forces to the upper extremity, through proper timing and coordination (15). During baseball pitching, the scapula must fully retract to allow for the cocking position. In addition to retraction, the scapula must also upwardly rotate and elevate when the humerus is abducted to 90 degrees (18). This positioning of the scapula maximizes the subacromial space in which the rotator cuff tendons pass. An inability of the scapular stabilizing muscles to position the scapula appropriately can lead to subacromial impingement of the rotator cuff tendons causing pain and dysfunction in the shoulder.

So how does the lower half support the healthy function of the scaps to protect the shoulder? The study gives us another excellent understanding of the link between the shoulder stabilizers and the lower half.

In an attempt to transfer forces from the lower extremity to the upper extremity, the pelvis must possess stability for fluid force transfer, through the trunk, to the scapula and distally (17, 20).With the lower extremity generating much of the force and energy for baseball pitching, dynamic and efficient movement of the upper extremity is dependent on neuromuscular interaction with the lower extremity….

It is a general consensus that the lower and upper trapezius along with the serratus anterior act as the primary force couple that provides dynamic stability to the scapula (6,10,15,18). The serratus anterior functions to pull the scapula lateral around the thoracic cavity, whereas the lower trapezius acts to stabilize and upwardly rotate the scapula at the same time the upper trapezius produces an upward rotation force complementing the serratus anterior (7). Thus, it is the lower trapezius that tries to maintain vertical and horizontal equilibrium thereby contributing to the dynamic stability of the scapula. It has been reported that often the stabilization function of the lower trapezius is slower to activate than the upper trapezius (7), so the stimulation of the lower trapezius and gluteus medius may assist in the stability of the scapula. The gluteal and scapular stabilizing musculature relationship reiterates the need for optimal activation of the gluteus medius to stabilize the pelvis in an attempt to allow for efficient scapula stabilization.

Hopefully this information will open your eyes to arm health for the pitcher and motivate you to build in some squats, deadlifts, hip thrusters, olympic cleans into your training programs, like we do with the 3X Pitching Velocity Program, to really protect your pitching career. This means, shoulder routines and forearm routines are not enough for arm health. You need to more importantly develop the lower half if you want to build an iron arm!

The 3 Phases of the Pitching Delivery that Protect the Arm

This wasn’t the only study to link the glutes to the scaps for injury prevention of the shoulder:

Pearson’s product-moment correlation revealed significant relationships between bilateral gluteus medius and the force couples about the scapula during all 3 phases of the pitching motion. These findings of gluteus medius activation are in agreement with Plummer and Oliver (30) who examined gluteus medius activation of catchers throwing down to second base, as well as studies examining baseball (26) and softball pitching (28).

The current study defined the pitching delivery in three phases when it comes to injury prevention. This gives us a good understanding of how the glutes function to support the arm or scaps biomechanically.

Phase 1 – Throughout phase 1, the ipsilateral leg (stance leg) must have adequate hip internal rotation to properly position the pelvis (33). It is the role of the gluteus medius to perform both hip abduction and internal rotation. Additionally, the gluteus medius must create an abduction moment for the pelvis to remain level during single leg support. It has been reported that maximum internal rotation of the stance leg occurs during this phase (4)

Phase 2 (Triple Extension: 3X) – The abduction moment of the ipsilateral hip must progress from maintaining a level pelvis to moving into abduction of the hip, and assist in the forward momentum of the body toward the target. This study revealed strong ipsilateral gluteus medius activation (67 + 17% MVIC), which was again in agreement with the literature examining gluteus medius activation during throwing (26,28,30). In addition, the scapular stabilizers of the upper trapezius and serratus anterior were moderately strong (45 + 22% MVIC) and moderate (32 + 13% MVIC), respectively. Furthermore, the increased activity in the upper trapezius and serratus anterior suggests that these muscles have transitioned into more of a stabilizing role and not a positional role.

Phase 3 – Stance hip internal rotation occurs again as the stance hip has to internally rotate and extend, as the pelvis and trunk assist in energy dissipation and follow through (24). As the stance hip is internally rotating, the stride hip must externally rotate in an attempt to keep the stride foot in line with home plate (12,22). These hip functions are evident by the activations presented in this study as the ipsilateral (stance hip) gluteus medius exhibited moderate to moderately strong activation (32 + 9% MVIC), whereas stride leg gluteus medius only revealed low activation (6 + 1% MVIC). The scapular stabilizing muscles exhibited similar activations as presented in phase 2. The muscle activations presented by the scapular stabilizing musculature display the need for adequate scapular protraction if there is going to be efficient acceleration of the shoulder into internal rotation during phase 3.

The brilliance behind this 3 phase delivery is that you will never optimize your internal rotation speeds of your throwing arm without fully stabilizing your glutes at front foot strike. The documentation also shows that once the glutes are stable the trunk must transfer this energy to the arm.

As Kibler and Livingston (16) have documented, the lower extremity, pelvis, and trunk provide the stable base for efficient arm movement and energy transfer. However, for efficiency of coordination between the lower and upper extremity, the spine must have appropriate movement in both the sagittal and transverse plane for any energy transfer (21).

Now the glutes are more than just for injury prevention, they are also important to increase pitching velocity.

Don’t stop to think that well this is just one study linking the lower half to the stability of the arm in the pitching delivery. There are more:

The strong relationships between the gluteus medius and scapular stabilizing musculature presented in this study are in support of previous works (16,17,21–24) indicating the importance of pelvic and scapular stability in pitching.

I hope this article motivates you to do like I did after rotator cuff surgery and start to think outside of the box with baseball. Baseball isn’t telling you everything that your body needs to have a long career, that is why you need to learn about more case studies like this one and to start searching for unconventional baseball training programs like we have here at TopVelocity.net.

Glute to Arm Injury Pitching Reference:

  1. Oliver GD1, Weimar WH, Plummer HA. – Gluteus medius and scapula muscle activations in youth baseball pitchers. – J Strength Cond Res. 2015 Jun;29(6):1494-9.
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