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April 20, 2020

Why Your Arm Care Program Needs Lower Body Training

The concept of arm care was born from players coming back from rehab. Players and coaches thought…if these were the exercises players needed to do to rehab their arms, then why don’t we incorporate them as a preventative measure.

Alas…PreHab was born.

The classic form of arm care is band work for the scap and rotator cuff muscles. Although, it’s quickly evolved into more advanced programs using plyo balls, weights, and other equipment to vary the stimulus for a high-performance arm.  

Although, if we’re really after a bulletproof arm that can deliver complete games, an arm care program needs more than just shoulder work.  And missing from almost every arm care program is hip and core strengthening.  These muscles are the heart of power production and essential for both a strong and healthy arm. 

In this article, we’ll show you why hip and core training is necessary as part of a player’s program and the best way to tackle it.

Fix the Broken Chain

If you break down the throwing action, it looks a lot like a whip. It starts from the ground and builds speed as it moves sequentially through the kinetic chain.  Each segment of the chain must have adequate mobility, strength, and endurance to be effective. Less than optimal functioning of the kinetic chain hinders energy transfer.

Lost energy will cause a drop in velocity and doesn’t go without notice. The competitive athlete isn’t likely to be content with where they’re at, letting their teammates pass them up and the competition beat them down. Instead, they make up for the loss in velocity elsewhere to maintain radar gun readings.  The only option is to add force and stress later down the chain, leaving the shoulder and elbow to take the brunt of it.  

One study calculated that a 20% decrease in energy delivered from the hip and trunk required a 34% increase in the rotational velocity of the shoulder to provide the same amount of throwing force (ref).

For this reason, doing arm care without hip and core work is like trying to fill a leaky bucket.  It’ a constant fight to get more out of your arm, but if you fix the leaks, you will optimize the whole system.

Stability for Peak Torque

Part of the sequencing of throwing is the stretch that occurs as part of the motion. Exercise scientists call this the serape effect after the Mexican-style scarf.

Similar to this style of this garment, the body has a natural sling of muscle and connective tissue to create power for rotational movements like throwing. The stretch of this crossbody sling is seen as the separation of the lead hip and back shoulder, and it takes advantage of the stretch reflex of the muscles. This allows for an elastic recoil that increases power throughout the kinetic chain.

Stability is a crucial part of maximizing the serape effect. A player must be able to plant and rotate off the lead leg firmly. With poor mobility or stability at this anchor point, the slingshot through the rest of the body is less effective.  Additionally, a player who builds up his core strength will be able to take even more advantage of the serape effect.

Again, if these things are lacking, a player will be forced to rely on strategies further down the chain to gain velocity. But it also points to the intricate link between the hip, core, and shoulder.

Researchers showed that a hip and core training program significantly improved isometric shoulder strength to add stability to the arm during throwing (ref). This has strong support from a recent meta-analysis showing among multiple studies, hip and core strength and control correlates with better throwing performance (ref).

Maximizing Your Arm Care

Arm care should no longer be a coaching term for rotator cuff work. Arm care needs to be full-body care for everything required to throw hard and stay healthy.

Start by integrating work for the hips, core, and torso into the dynamic warm-up.  This will help you connect the kinetic chain by activating the hip and core muscles along with the shoulder complex (ref). 

On top of a complete warm-up, an additional focus on hip and core strength is a critical next step. This aspect should challenge strength, speed, and dynamic stability of the whole body.

The scap and rotator cuff should remain the first focus when structuring an arm care program.  But once a shoulder foundation is mastered the program should progress towards more functional drills that integrate the hips and core as well (ref). uses an assessment-based approach to prioritize targets and individualize each player’s program. Any player showing pain, indicators of fatigue, or found to have strength imbalances or asymmetries, pushes hip and core strength on the back burner. It’s not that it’s not important or gets deleted, but it’s a secondary priority to these more significant issues.

Once a player addresses these problems, the arm care program transitions into a more dynamic training plan, and integrates hip and core to a greater extent.

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