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Baseball players need strong glutes to throw hard and avoid injury while pitching, but it’s not just the backside that needs beefing up. The hip adductors also play an essential role in stabilizing the hip during the explosive drive off the mound. If you don’t currently involve hip adduction exercises in your training routine, then read on because you’ll be surprised to find that weak adductors are putting your arm at risk.
The Importance of Adductor Strength
Most baseball players emphasize the strength of hip abduction (e.g., glute) to push out and away from the mound in the pitching delivery. Although hip abductors help increase kinetic energy generated by the drive leg going into foot plant, the hip adductors (muscles used to bring your knees together) balance these forces. These smaller muscles tend to be weaker and exposed to strains.
Among Major League and Minor League players, approximately 20% of all hip-related baseball injuries are due to pitching, and 40% are groin-related. So it’s important to note that groin injuries do not have to be sprint or agility-related (ref).
Specifically, the 2021 season has had a rash of hip adductor strains that remains unexplained. It is possible that chronic conditioning has a carryover effect from the pandemic shortened season. As a result, athletes may have been interrupted in training consistently during quarantine. Age could also be a factor, given that our ability to recover lessens as we get older and our tissues become less elastic. Another hypothesis is that pitchers may not sprint as often as they should, and the adductor is not trained enough with high rates of force with short ground contacts from running at high velocities. In any event, these injuries are likely not a result of inflexibility but rather weakness.
In speaking with hockey sports specialists, hip adduction strength should be 80% of the hip abduction strength, and if not, groin injury risk will rise. Baseball should be no different, but most players have no idea if they are on the verge of a groin injury or have hip adduction to hip abduction imbalances.
The Groin-Arm Connection
Although pitchers need to have a sound arm care process first and foremost, if the lower body musculature weakens, this could expose them to greater surgical risk for the elbow as well.
In a study published by the American Journal of Sports Medicine, MLB pitchers who required Tommy John surgery were found to sustain a higher frequency of groin and hip injuries before and after surgery than the control group who did not undergo surgical reconstruction of the ulnar collateral ligament (ref). The association to Tommy John surgery is not always the resulting hip-related injury but the build-up process that manifests as a result of them.
Following rehab from hip adductor strains, a throwing progression is needed to build up pitchers’ throwing arms, which significantly reduces competitive time in a season. Unfortunately, pitchers during rehabilitation are often impatient and rush the build-up phase, and in such cases, the risk of throwing arm injury rises. Although these results are intuitive, it cannot be overstated that keeping your hips strong both inside and outside reduces the risk of a lower-body injury, and this is important to maintain strength and conditioning for throwing arm health.
Once Again…Fatigue is a Major Factor
Fatigue is the number one reason for the loss in hip adduction strength that can lead to injury in a season. Only one known study evaluating hip strength changes with increasing pitching counts has been published. Over 117 pitches (13 pitches per inning), ball velocity decreases, and hip adduction weakness were all strongly correlated. This means that hip adduction strength is important to maintain high-velocity throwing effort and to endure the rigors of an extended outing (ref).
As a side note to this study, hip adduction was measured seated with the hip flexed at 90 degrees. Therefore, even greater weakness may occur when testing hip adduction strength with the hip and knee extended, which is the same joint orientation that occurs in pitching that has the greatest knee to knee separation (adductor stretch) in the delivery.
Do Your Groin Work
The bottom line, we need more research, but if you are an athlete focused on your glutes without attention to your groin, it’s about time to change things up. If you have been unfortunate and sustained an adductor injury, when you are going through the rehabilitation process, be sure to use the ArmCare app to help build your strength back as you return to throwing.
By involving our platform, you can ensure that your throwing arm strength is optimized and lessen the threat of sustaining a second injury to your arm as you return to performance. This blog is just another message sent out to the baseball universe that strength matters most!
Dive in Deeper
For more on ways to prevent hip injuries and training to develop strong adductors, check out this ArmCare IQ where you’ll get some advanced workout tools.