Athletes are always looking for ways to use the weight room to improve their athleticism. With regards to throwing and striking, elevating our movement efficacy by targeting the body’s slings or subsystems and their supporting structures with a few specific exercises can go a long way. Whether you’re a pitcher looking to throw harder or a combat athlete looking to punch faster, these four exercises can work wonders.
1. The Anterior Oblique Sling
This “sling” is responsible for rotating the torso or lower body during throwing and striking activities. It deals with the interdependent relationship between the groin and the obliques (kicking), and the shoulder and the obliques (throwing). The shoulder part speaks for itself, but what is often a missing link in people’s ability to throw are oblique muscles that do not fire in sequence.
The obliques help to rotate the torso and capitalize on the stretch-reflex that allows us to whip an object through the air. When the obliques don’t work, the muscles surrounding the shoulder or hip have to work extra hard, and this can lead to long-term repercussions.
Training the obliques to activate better during rotary activities can help to groove a safer and more efficient throwing pattern. This means there is more to the picture than performing set after set of Side Planks or Pallof Presses.
Use the Oblique Swiss Ball Roll (which I call the “Baby Drill”) to engage the rectus abdominus and target the obliques in a pattern that will better translate to rotation. In this drill, crush the Swiss ball between your palms and knees in the 90/90 position. Maintain the “crush” while rotating the body (including the head and neck) as far to the side as you can manage without tipping over, and return to the center position. All limbs must remain in contact with the ball at all times.
2. The Cable Press
Although hardly a novel exercise, the Cable Press is a great tool because it helps to build stability and resilience at the extreme end-range of throwing. Because much of our pressing movements in training require us to retract and squeeze the scapulae, we miss out on improving the scapulae’s ability to protract. Considering the strength-endurance relationship, this exercise is a great solution to this problem because it provides the opportunity to prepare for the rigors of high-velocity repetition at the end range protraction (or point of release) that occurs in throwing.
The exercise also doubles as an anti-rotation and anti-extension exercise, which adds to its throwing-performance value. Furthermore, because it teaches healthy scapula protraction it can also help guard against excessive torque at the elbows and shoulder that tend to plague individuals who do not get good scapulae movement.
3. The Facepull
The Facepull is an underused tool for improving throwing performance. Because hyperactive lats tugging downward on the scapula and humerus are common in throwers, the Facepull can help quiet the lats and teach the scapula to move along the ribcage with less restriction. Unlike a typical Row the Facepull is performed with the elbows at shoulder height. This reduces the activity of the lats on the humerus and allows the rhomboids and traps to regain control over the movement of the scapulae. It also provides a passive “stretch” to the rhomboids and other thoracic extensors at the bottom position, giving the scapulae more practice protracting along the ribcage. Moreover, the extension-type postures seen in individuals with hyperactive lats can be reduced simply because the lats are encouraged to disengage and carry less tone.
4. Supine Rolling
This exercise is another look at the anterior oblique sling. When it comes to striking and throwing, supine rolling is another helpful tool which can identify issues that are already present in the shoulders or hips as well as preventing them from appearing later.
This exercise analyzes upper- and lower-body rotation and can expose where the individual may strain extra hard at the pecs/shoulder or groin/hip-flexors to generate enough force to rotate the body (punch/throw or kick). Instead of straining at those areas what we would like to see is for the obliques to engage and help to flip the body over with much less overall effort.
To perform the exercise for the upper body, lie on your back with your arms up and head slightly off the floor. Pretend to be paralyzed from the waist down. From here, initiate the rotation of your upper body with your arm and attempt to roll over onto your stomach.
To perform the exercise for the lower body, lie on your back with the arms relaxed on the ground overhead and pretend to be paralyzed from the waist up. From here, flex the hip of the working leg and attempt to use it to lead the rest of the body into rolling over onto your stomach.
For those who get stuck on the way over (as I do in the first example while going to my right) or who exemplify a lot of strain along the way, having a coach analyze where you have trouble in the movement can help you better hone your training to improve your overall ability to rotate and prevent problems in athletic performance down the line.
Photo Credit: LightFieldStudios/iStock, Bliznetsov/iStock