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At just 23 years of age, Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Drew Hutchison has already had to overcome a serious injury. Just a few pitches into a 2012 game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Hutchison felt a burning sensation in his throwing elbow. He wound up needing Tommy John surgery. After more than a year of rehab, he returned to the mound with a new element in his training regimen, one he says was especially beneficial: Yoga.
“Once I started doing yoga, I immediately noticed the effects, with how much more flexible I became, and how much better I felt,” Hutchison says. Today, he adds, “my body feels great.”
Hutchison worked throughout the winter and spring with Dana Santas of Radius Yoga Conditioning in Tampa. With athletes like Hutch, Santas focuses primarily on improving three areas of the body that are especially important for ballplayers: T-spine (mid-back) mobility; pelvic function and hip mobility (the two go hand-and-hand, and you can’t have one without the other); and core stability.
“Improving mid-back mobility allows an athlete to generate more of their upper-body rotational force from that area when they throw, which decreases stress on the elbow,” Santas says.
Below, Hutchison and Santas demonstrate a yoga mobility warm-up that includes moves the pitcher uses in his own program. You can perform them as a 10- to 15-minute warm-up before games, practices or workouts; or you can sprinkle the individual moves into your weight training sessions. “If you did Squats, rode a bike, or did something else that taxed your hip flexors, the Windshield Wipers are an awesome cool-down movement,” Santas says.
Bridge With Block and Twist
1. Set up for Glute Bridge position with your feet hip-distance apart and your toes pointed forward. Place a yoga block between your thighs to engage your adductors (groins) and help stabilize your pelvis and hips.
2. Inhale as you lift your pelvis and simultaneously reach your arm diagonally across your body to touch the floor. Exhale as you return to your original position with your arm and hips down. Fluidly synchronize the movement of your pelvis and arm. Alternate sides for 8 repetitions.
Downward Dog to Wide-Angle Lunge and Twist
1. Take a Downward Dog posture by pushing up into an inverted-V shape from all fours. Engage your triceps to straighten your arms. Broaden your upper back and try to create length in your spine. Engage your core to avoid rounding in the low back. Push your heels downward and activate your quads to straighten your legs. Take a few long, deep breaths.
2. Inhale as you lift your right leg into a “Three-Legged Dog.” Rotate from your hip to take your straight leg up and to the left.
3. Exhale as you bring your right foot forward to the outside of your right hand in a wide-angle lunge. You can increase the width by taking your left toes a little further left.
4. Drop your left knee down to the mat. Angle your right foot out diagonally to take pressure off your right knee. Place your left hand diagonally forward.
5. Reach your right arm forward and drop down through your inhale as you rotate from your shoulder and t-spine (mid-back) left hip flexors (front of the hip).
6. Inhale as you rotate from your shoulder and t-spine (mid-back) left hip flexors (front of the hip) to bring your right arm up. Hold for three long, deep breaths. Unwind from the twist and step back to Downward Dog. Repeat on the other side.
Warrior 2 to Ninja Stretch
1. To come into Warrior 2 from standing. Step your right foot back into a lunge position but drop your heel and turn your toes out to about 90 degrees. Your left knee should align directly over your ankle. Inhale as you reach your left arm forward and right arm back at shoulder height.
2. Exhale as you bring both hands down to the mat inside your left foot. Inhale as you walk your hands toward your back foot while shifting your weight to your right hip. Simultaneously bend your right leg and straighten your left leg. Exhale and return to the previous position with your hands on the inside of your forward foot. Inhale as you come back up to Warrior 2. Do three consecutive flows from Warrior 2 to Ninja Stretch on each side.
1. Lie on your back with your legs bent, feet set wide and knees inward. Open your left knee a bit to allow your right knee to drop to the left.
2. Cross your left leg high and tight across your right, allowing your left foot to slide down your right calf as far as possible.
3. Engage your deep core muscles and hip flexors to lift your feet and knees. Keep your legs crossed tightly.
4. Cross your right arm high and tight over your left arm—like your legs, but with the opposite side on top. If you can reach, place your left hand in your right palm.
5. Exhale as you use your core to bring your knees and elbows together, lifting your shoulders off the mat.
6. Inhale as you extend your arms overhead and legs out while keeping your limbs crossed. Do not let your shoulders or heels come back down to the ground. Do eight reps. Repeat with your right leg crossed over the left and your left arm over the right.
Bent-Knee Straddle Reach and Twist
1. From a straddle, fold your left foot into your right groin. With your core engaged and spine long, turn your upper body to line your chest up with your right leg.
2. Exhale as you walk your hands down toward your foot. Keep your core engaged to initiate the movement from your pelvis and hips instead of your low back. Maintain dorsiflexion of your foot and engage your quads to keep your leg straight.
3. Place your left hand under the outside of your right calf, and attempt to bend your left elbow. Exhale as you reach your right hand toward the outside of your right foot.
4. Inhale as you straighten your left arm and lift up to rotate from your t-spine to take your right arm behind you. Keep your left hand anchored along your right calf. Hold for three long, deep breaths.
Windshield Wipers With Hold and Reach
1. Use the same setup as for Glute Bridge, but take your feet out wide and drop your knees together. If you experience any pulling or pain in your knees, move your heels closer to your glutes.
2. Inhale as you lift your pelvis off the mat, but come up only half as high as you are capable.
3. Exhale as you slowly drop your knees over to the right, allowing your pelvis to come down too. Press your left knee forward and down to elongate through your hip flexors.
4. Inhale as you reach your left arm up and back to intensify the stretch along the entire left side of your body.
5. Exhale as you place your right foot on top of your left quad to further intensify the stretch. Hold for 3 to 5 long, deep breaths. Repeat on the other side.