Pitchers: Use Kettlebells to Prevent Shoulder Injuries

STACK Expert Rick Scarpulla recommends kettlebell exercises for pitchers, who need to strengthen their shoulders to prevent injury without bulking them up.

Pitcher winding up

The human body is not designed to throw a ball. When the arm is overhead, the shoulder is in a vulnerable position. Exerting enough force to throw a fastball places tremendous stress on the supporting structure of the joint.

Yet, big league pitchers are required to throw approximately 100 pitches during a game. That's 100 times they put extreme stress on their shoulder. As they throw more pitches and their muscles fatigue, the risk of shoulder injury increases.

Rest is obviously important for pitchers—the reason they don't pitch every day. However, the primary protectors of the shoulder are the muscles that surround it. By activating and strengthening these muscles—such as the rotator cuff—pitchers can essentially build armor around the joint to help maintain its integrity and reduce the chance of an overuse injury.

It's important to develop these muscles without adding too much bulk, because bulk could limit your range of motion and impair your throwing mechanics. The smaller muscles are the ones that keep your shoulder stable and balanced, so you need to target them with exercises that use small amounts of weight and light tension.

Resistance band exercises are extremely popular with pitchers. However, I've found that adding the three kettlebell exercises shown in the following video to a pitcher's prehab routine may be a better option for preventing a shoulder injury.

Perform these exercises three days per week with a lightweight kettlebell and moderate to high reps (8-12). This volume will strengthen your muscles without overly fatiguing the joint, which would be counterproductive to your training goals. Don't use the "if a little is good, a lot must be better" approach.

Other Tips

Strengthening your shoulder muscles is critical to prolong your career, but I can't emphasize enough that you also must train your lower body and core.

Pitchers must fire their leg and hip muscles to produce the power they need to throw. If these muscles are weak, you will rely too much on your shoulder to produce power. In actuality, the shoulder's purpose is simply to transfer power from the lower body and core to the arm, not produce that power.

Follow a balanced training program. A great place to start is with the Ultimate Advantage training template.

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