Sara Stites DPT, ATC
In a previous blog post, 5 Tips for Preventing Fast Pitch Softball Pitching Injuries , I touched on the importance of lower body and core strength for windmill pitchers. Now we are going to go a little more in depth and review some simple exercises that can help build core and hip stability. This post is geared toward softball players, but the concepts and exercises can really be beneficial for all overhead athletes such as baseball players, volleyball players, and tennis players.
The number of females participating in fast pitch softball is on the rise and so are the injury rates. Research shows that 45-50% of softball injuries are to the shoulder or elbow. While most injuries to softball pitchers are in their throwing arm, more than 50% of the power generated during their pitch comes from the lower extremities. Oliver1 reports, “Although most injuries affect upper extremity structures, the efficiency of energy transfer from the lower to upper extremity is probably an important factor in injury susceptibility”. A lot of the focus on pitch analysis and injury prevention is focused on the throwing arm. Looking at the entire body is a better approach because the hips control the pelvis, the pelvis controls the torso, the torso controls the shoulder blade, and the shoulder blade controls the arm. The shoulder is the weakest link in this chain, and any breakdown along the chain makes the shoulder more susceptible to injury, especially when these athletes are throwing up to 2000 pitches in a three day tournament.1-4
The gluteal muscles of the hip and pelvis have been shown to have the greatest level of activation during the entire windmill pitch.2-3 These muscles work along with the core muscles of the torso to make a stable base for the shoulder. Overuse injuries in fast pitch softball pitchers can be decreased or prevented by addressing not only upper body mechanics, but lower body mechanics and core strength/stability. The following exercises are just a few of the many exercises that can help improve gluteal and core strength.2,4 The key to any exercise is correct technique.
1) Plank- Keep core tight and back flat. Hold 3-5 times for as long as you can keep goodform. Stop and reset yourself if your back starts to dip or your hips start to twist. Try holding for 30 seconds.
2) Side plank- Stack feet and position bottom elbow directly under you shoulder. Lift your hips and try to keep your body straight. 3 times per side and shoot for up to a 30 second hold. You can start with 10-15 seconds and build up your endurance. Stop and reset yourself if your form breaks.3) Single leg Bridge- While lying on your back with one leg bent and the other leg straight press down with your foot of the bent knee and raise your hips. Keep your hips level. Start with 10-15 reps per side and increase reps as the exercise becomes easier for you.
4) Clamshell- Lay on your side with hips and shoulders stacked. Bend both knees. Keeping your feet together, rotate your top knee up. This can be progressed by placing a resistance band around you knees.
5) Side Stepping with Band- Get into a small squat with a resistance band around your knees. Take steps sideways keeping your upper body as still as possible and toes pointing forward. Start with 10 steps to the right and then to the left and increase the number of steps or the level of resistance as the exercise gets easier for you.
Above are just a few exercises that can help increase hip and core strength in softball pitchers and other overhead athletes. These exercises should not cause any pain. Lower extremity and core exercises combined with shoulder strengthening and flexibility exercises may help to decrease an athlete’s risk of shoulder and arm overuse injuries. Athletes that are having pain with pitching or throwing that persists after rest would benefit from visiting a sports medicine health care provider. The health care provider will help with diagnosis and treatment the injury and return them to sports safely. Athletes that want to improve on-the-field performance may benefit from working with an exercise specialist to implement a strength and conditioning program. CHKD Sports Medicine offers medical services for athletes dealing with acute or overuse injuries along with strength and conditioning programs tailored toward young athletes. For more information visit our website, http://www.chkd.org/Services/SportsMedicine/, or call (757) 668-PLAY (7529).
1) Oliver G. The Windmill Softball Pitch: Optimal Mechanics and Pathomechanics of Injury. Human Kinetics. 2010;15:28-31.
2) Oliver G. The Windmill Softball Pitch Part 2: Injury Prevention. Human Kinetics. 2011;16:28-31.
3) Oliver, G. Powering the Windmill: Lower Body Mechanics of Softball Pitching. Journal of Foot and Ankle Research. 2011; 6.
4) Selkowitz D., Beneck G., Powers C. Which Exercises Target the Gluteal Muscles While Minimizing Activation of the Tensor Fascia Lata? Electromylographic Assessment Using Fine- Wire Electrodes. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2013; 43: 54-65.