Strengthening Your Rotator Cuff

When I was a kid, rotator cuff (RC) tears were the biggest injury risk to pitchers. It seemed like everyone would have some sort of RC injury in their career, including myself. It was the “Tommy John” scare of the 80’s and 90’s. I still have issues with an injury that occurred during an attempted “comeback” season when I was 19. As soon as I had re-occurring pain in my elbow I started to throw with “more shoulder,” which caused 2 injuries that season, and ended my career, unfortunately.

Back then there really wasn’t a lot of research or developments in rotator cuff injury prevention, whereas these days it would be very rare to hear about injuries of the RC. So let’s discuss the various ways to strengthen and condition these muscles. If you’re looking for information on the rotator cuff, please check out our post here.

Since we need healthy ‘shoulders’ to have healthier, stronger rotator cuff muscles, we need to work on the entire shoulder complex. Scapular stability is extremely important when discussing the rotator cuff.

1. Bands

Personally, I use Jaeger bands these days, although I have also used simple bands like these in the past.

I used the black mountain bands in the past because they were cheaper, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they were the better choice. I actually purchased Jaeger Bands less than a year ago and haven’t looked back. The other bands are sitting in an old bag now, one that I will eventually give away to someone who wants all of that older equipment.

Jaeger actually has some great information on their site about how to use their bands, but they also have Thrive on Throwing 2, a DVD (and downloadable video) that shows their process. The reason I really recommend that video is for the long toss information, though. If you’re not familiar with Alan Jaeger, he’s basically the long toss guru these days and a very nice guy who loves what he does.

I keep the band warmup easy: curls, tricep kicks, internal and external rotation (see image below) and then they can move their arms around in a controlled manner (various ways that I’ve shown them). I also make them do scapular workouts as well. By controlling the scaps you help improve ROM and strength of the entire shoulder complex.

2. Oscillating Bars

There are a lot of options for these products, although I prefer the Total Bar for the price. But a lot of people prefer to get the much more popular Shoulder Tube by TAP.

I purchased the body blade first, but I don’t recommend it. I’m not a fan of it as it’s a bit too “floppy”, whereas the Total Bar is “tight” in movement and feels much more comfortable, while also activating the rotator cuff much faster, from my experience.

These tools are actually used in physical therapy environments for a reason. They work great. For baseball players they’re awesome for warmups and I take mine everywhere. I will be purchasing the shoulder tube by TAP down the road, but at this time I don’t have one and can only recommend them based on the great feedback by others.

3. Weighted Balls

There are 2 popular sets of weighted balls. TAP’s weighted balls (which I currently use) and PlyoCare Balls that I will eventually try out down the road.

I use weighted balls for warmups and drills, but since this is about the rotator cuff I’ll focus on the things I have my players do to keep their RC’s healthy and strong.

Internal/External rotation with 2 LB ball (green TAP ball), like this, but switch the band with a ball (10-15 times):

Internal_External_Rotation

Reverse throwing:

Underhand throws with the 2 LB ball: This is basically throwing the heaviest ball underhand against a wall or with a partner. 10-15 throws should be good.

Arm circles with 2 LB ball: simply do arm circles without the ball and then use the ball, 10 forward, 10 backwards.

Reverse pickoff throws (some refer to it as the “Marshall Drill”) is another great routine that I have kids do 20-25 throws, getting harder with each throw:

4. Simple workouts

Scapular Wall Slides: I have done these myself and I’ve also had some kids (soon to work on them with all) do these to improve their ROM and strength in their shoulders.

More on this (Evan Osar has great info):

Summary

The shoulder complex is very complicated, but by focusing on simple solutions to get Baseball players warmed up properly, as well as good strengthening workouts, we can decrease the chances of rotator cuff injuries. Tools such as the total bar or shoulder tube are great ways to get baseball players warmed up, but also great tools to help strengthen the rotator cuff.

Focusing on scapular stability is important for everyone, but especially overhead athletes such as Baseball players. Make sure that you don’t forget about the scaps to ensure healthier shoulders.