Baseball Stretches and Flexibility Exercises
Baseball stretching exercises to improve your performance and do away with baseball injuries for good.
Baseball is a bat-and-ball game played between two teams, usually involving nine players each. The object is for the batter to hit a leather-covered baseball – rapidly thrown by the opposing team’s pitcher – with a cylindrical wooden bat. Following a successful hit, the player then runs around the baseball diamond (a ninety foot square, with bases at each of the square’s corners) in a counterclockwise direction. Points are accrued when a runner completes a circuit of all four bases, arriving at his starting point, or home base.
If you’re looking to improve your baseball game or just seeking to prevent baseball injuries it is important to follow the information in this article. In addition, adding a few simple stretches to your fitness program will also help. To get started on a safe and effective stretching routine that’s just right for you, check out the Ultimate Guide to Stretching & Flexibility.
The game is structured around nine segments or innings, played without time restriction. Each team has the chance in each inning to score points by hitting the ball and completing runs. If the baseball is caught in midair by the opposing team or if a runner is “tagged” with the ball between bases, he is declared “out” and no points accrue to the batting team. The same is true if the batter fails to hit the ball in three strikes. A team’s half inning at bat ends when the team has received three outs.
Baseball in its current form appears to have evolved from an earlier game known as rounders, though some controversy remains. Early references to some form of the game are found in English and American documents dating to the early eighteenth century. A publication dating to 1744 for example, makes reference to what appears to be the modern sport of baseball and includes woodcut illustrations. The game reappears in Jane Austin’s novel Northanger Abbey, written between 1798 and 1803.
Later, in the United States, Alexander Cartwright drew up an early list of rules – known as the Knickerbocker Rules in 1845, from which the modern rules of the game are derived. Cartwright also suggested the replacement of the larger softball used in rounders with a smaller, hard ball. The first official baseball game in U.S. history took place on June 19, 1846, in Hoboken, New Jersey, between the “New York Nine” and the Knickerbockers. The latter were defeated 23-1, in four innings.
While players rely on running bases to score points (and are therefore subject to sprains, fractures and other running-related injuries), the upper body anatomy is the most critical in the game. Pitching in particular makes use of a variety of muscles belonging to four complexes: scapular, glenohumeral, elbow and forearm, and wrist and fingers.
The proper pitch occurs in six stages: wind up, stride, arm-cocking, arm acceleration, arm deceleration, and follow through. Primary muscles on either side of the upper body are involved in the arm movements required in the baseball pitch: pectoralis major, posterior deltoid, teres major and latissimus dorsi. Transfer of energy from the pitcher to the ball for example, relies most heavily on the pectoralis major.
Pitching requires considerable shoulder abduction and internal rotation, while stabilization of the scapula is enhanced with the serratus anterior muscle. Tremendous stress is placed on the shoulder joint as the pitching power is transferred from the lower extremities, trunk, and back in the last stage of the pitch. The rapid acceleration and deceleration of this activity produces significant stress to the soft tissue of the shoulder and elbow.
Abduction or the external rotation assumed when the baseball is cocked in preparation for the pitch, causes compression to the posterior labrum and posterior rotator cuff. This position can produce a variety of internal impingement injuries. Further, a rapid deceleration of the arm following release of the ball produces extreme tension on the anterior elbow capsule and the distal biceps. Many of the same structures are used when hitting the baseball, though stresses are less severe and injuries less frequent.
Most Common Baseball Injuries
Baseball players are vulnerable to a range of acute injuries, a few (such as being struck in the chest with the ball) occasionally fatal. Collision with the ball or another player can cause contusions or fractures in the face, upper or lower body.
Acute injuries in the lower body include:
More commonly, baseball players suffer from a range of overuse injuries, including:
- Rotator cuff tendinitis, an acute irritation of the tendons and muscles of the shoulder. The injury is most common in pitchers
- Knee tendinitis, an irritation of the tendons and muscles of the knee. The frequent stops and starts involved in the game are particularly stressful.
Overuse injuries tend to produce sore or aching discomfort which worsens with continuation of the activity. Pain is due to inflammation and swelling. Rotator cuff tendinitis is one of the most common injuries in both baseball and softball. Elbow injuries on the other hand are largely restricted to baseball, due to the different nature of the pitch. Leg and ankle sprains and various contusions are quite common but often – unlike overuse injuries – do not require any significant time off the field.
Diagnosis of injuries may initially be based on the nature of pain involved. When upper body pain is stabbing or acute (rather than a dull ache), a mechanical problem is often to blame. Such pain is often the result of tearing injuries, including the labrum of the shoulder, the posterior capsule, or the ulnar collateral ligament of the elbow.
Mild overuse injury may be treated with anti-inflammatory medication, rest and analgesics, as well as with alternating ice and heat on the affected area. Chronic overuse injuries may require avoidance of stressful activity in the injuries region and in some cases, surgical intervention. Fractures and more severe sprains likewise necessitate medical care.
Injury Prevention Strategies
Musculotendinous overuse injuries, generally of the shoulder and elbow are common afflictions for baseball players. Pre-season training and conditioning are critically important in helping to prevent both overuse injuries and traumatic or sudden injuries like sprains. Strength training and attention to cardiovascular fitness are believed to reduce overuse injuries by over 50% while diminishing the severity of injuries which do occur. Attention to proper technique, particularly during throwing activity can help reduce the likelihood of overuse injuries as well as sudden injuries including muscle or ligament tearing.
The following tips can also help avoid injury:
- Always warm up muscles and properly stretch, prior to play. Equipment should fit properly and be worn correctly.
- Wear proper protection, including a batting helmet.
- To avoid overuse injuries, do not exceed 80 to 100 pitches in a game or 30 to 40 pitches in a practice.
- Catchers require a helmet with facial protection, as well as padding for the throat and chest.
- Wear properly fitting, cleated footwear.
- Be certain the playing area is free of debris.
The Top 3 Baseball Stretches
Stretching is one of the most under-utilized techniques for improving athletic performance, preventing sports injury and properly rehabilitating sprain and strain injury. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that something as simple as stretching won’t be effective. Below are 3 very beneficial stretches for baseball; obviously there are a lot more, but these are a great place to start. Please make special note of the instructions beside each stretch.
Lying Knee Roll-over Stretch: While lying on your back, bend your knees and let them fall to one side. Keep your arms out to the side and let your back and hips rotate with your knees.
Elbow-out Rotator Stretch: Stand with your hand behind the middle of your back and your elbow pointing out. Reach over with your other hand and gently pull your elbow forward.
Rotating Wrist Stretch: Place one arm straight out in front and parallel to the ground. Rotate your wrist down and outwards and then use your other hand to further rotate your hand upwards.
Looking at photos and watching videos on your computer is fine, but to really take advantage of all the stretching exercises on offer, grab a free copy of my Stretching DVD & CD-ROM.
The exercises and recommendations on this page are just a small sample of the many stretching exercises presented on my free Stretching DVD. In total, you'll get 44 video demonstrations of unique stretching exercises for every major muscle group in your body. Plus, over 80 printable stretching routines for 22 sports and 19 different muscle groups.
The DVD includes 3 customized stretching routines (8 minutes each) for the Upper Body; the Lower Body; and the Neck, Back & Core, plus a bonus CD-ROM that allows you to print out over 80 stretching routines that you can take with you where ever you go.
The Stretching DVD will show you, step-by-step, how to perform each stretch correctly. Plus, you'll also learn the 7 critical rules for safe stretching; the benefits of flexibility; and how to stretch properly. Check out my free Stretching DVD & CD-ROM for yourself.
About the Author: Brad is often referred to as the Stretch Coach and has even been called the Stretching Guru. Magazines such as Runners World, Bicycling, Triathlete, Swimming & Fitness, and Triathlon Sports have all featured his work. Amazon has listed his books on five Best-Seller lists. Google cites over 100,000 references to him and his work on the internet. And satisfied customers from 122 countries have sent 100's of testimonials. If you want to know about stretching, flexibility or sports injury management, Brad Walker is the go-to-guy.