This article was written by BHP provider Dr. Dale Bartek PT, DPT, FRCms
Virtually, no baseball specific activity can be done successfully if you have a weak (or worse yet, an injured arm). You can’t make accurate throws if you’re an infielder. You can’t gun down a runner from the outfield. You certainly can’t pitch. The bottom line is that a baseball player needs to have a strong, well conditioned, and healthy arm to play the game any level.
“Baseball players can simply not afford to allow their arm to be a liability -- it must be an asset. In case you forgot, you can’t play baseball if you can’t throw a baseball.”
The shoulder accelerates between 6,000 and 8,000 degrees per second when you throw a baseball, the fastest motion in sports. 17 small and large muscles attach to the scapula, creating a synergistic relationship through co‐contraction to stabilize the shoulder complex and guide this high velocity movement.
Because of this, even the most talented arm is vulnerable to serious injury if not properly cared for with functional rotator cuff and scapular stabilization exercises.
Visit any baseball field in America, and you'll find players working on arm care routines using Jaeger Bands (J-Bands). On these same fields, you’ll find these same players using them incorrectly and missing out on some of the huge training benefit that they provide.
One of the biggest benefits of using J-Bands as opposed to traditional bands is the wrist cuffs. When using them correctly (wrist cuffs actually on your wrists) we get a huge training benefit by negating the law of irradiation. This allows for greater muscle activation of the specific muscles needed during high velocity activities such as throwing.
Let me explain:
The law of Irradiation
Irradiation is the ability of one muscle when it tenses strongly to recruit the tension of nearby muscles.
When it comes to strength and power output, promoting tension in your muscles is absolutely necessary. Muscles contract to generate force which in turn produces movement. In other words, the harder you can tense your muscles the more force you can produce.
To better understand this concept, give it a try:
Squeeze your fist as tightly as possible, then engage your biceps, shoulders, and back. You’ll notice the muscles begin to tense on their own simply because they’re getting a signal from your fist, which will get even tighter as a result.
The tension created along the kinetic chain from several muscle groups contracting strongly together will magnify your overall strength and muscle recruitment.
However, when it comes to band work maybe this isn't such a good thing…
The law of irradiation functions as a very effective strength training strength technique with free weight compound movements that require maximum muscle recruitment.
But it’s important to understand how this can can actually impede your ability to strengthen and activate muscle groups in isolation which is our goal when using bands.
Improper Use of J-Bands
One of the biggest mistakes I see even the best athletes and coaches using J-Bands is not using the wrist cuffs.
One of the most neurologically dense sensory areas in the human body is the hands. As soon as tension is initiated at a neurologically dense region such as the hands, all the other sequential muscles up the arm including the flexors and extensors of the wrist and forearm, the biceps and triceps, trapezius and so on get activated to assist in the targeted motion being trained. Nearly every strength/power movement in the gym can benefit from tapping into the effects of irradiation coming from the hands.
However, this irradiation effect can actually negate some of the potential benefits of training the shoulder complex in isolation during our arm care routines using bands.
A solution to this problem is in the design of the wrist cuff on our J-Bands. By attaching the load to the wrists instead of gripping with the hands, there is no neurological input coming from our hands that will recruit unwanted tension up chain. The hands can stay relaxed, allowing the our movements to be performed by the muscles of the scapula and the rotator cuff at the highest degree without compensations coming from secondary muscles assisting with the action.
Anatomically speaking, it's important to note the difference in the overall strength, size and muscle density of the forearms and upper arms compared the smaller rotator cuff and scapular muscles. When these larger muscles are brought into a movement through irradiation, they have a tendency to overtake the movement.
If your goal is to improve muscular activation and recruitment around the shoulder girdle in isolation, we need to minimize the irradiation effect, NOT maximize it.
Skill Specific Training vs. Traditional Strength Training
The reality is baseball performance training must consist of both strength and power development as well as skill specific training.
There's no doubt that foundational strength and power training have a pivotal role in baseball performance.
With that being said, there's a also a reason why strongmen and bodybuilders don't play the game of baseball. Its because they lack the skill specific training to be able to perform baseball related movements such as throwing a ball with a loose and coordinated arm motion or swinging a bat with proper mechanical efficiency.
Try throwing a baseball with a death grip on the ball. The law of irradiation won’t help us much here, Not only will you look ridiculous but you probably won’t have much success.
Skill specific movements such as throwing require a combination of strength coordination and neuromuscular control. Enhancing this skill though isolated muscle activation should be the focus of our band routines, not building raw power.
Sorry to inform you, you are not enhancing grip strength by gripping the loop incorrectly either. Form, technique and execution with precise attention to detail matters when it comes to training optimal skill specific training.
“More load is NOT always better, when it comes to isolation movements, better contraction quality is indeed better.”
Let's make sure we are getting the full benefit of our arm care routines, start by putting on your wrist cuffs!
You can find Dale on twitter @drdalebartekdpt and on Instagram @dr.dalebartekdpt