Should pitchers deadlift?

Posted on August 7, 2017

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When assessing the stability and laxity of the shoulder, there is something called a sulcus sign. It is a noticeable divot between the top and bottom of the shoulder.

Sulcus sign shoulder instability

Credit: https://thesportsphysio.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/wpid-photo-25-nov-2003-0540.jpg

Between the AC joint and the humeral head.

Another lighter example:

And here is a more extreme:

It’s important to recognize the ease with which this happens. A simple tug of the shoulder downwards.

As you can surmise, the idea is the more easily the shoulder can be basically pulled out of the socket, the less stable it is. But the rub…

61% of professional pitchers have been found to have this (47% positional players), with 89% of those having it in both arms. Indicating a solid argument it’s genetic; not developmental. (Also indicates you don’t have to have this trait to be a professional.)

When you’re trying to get your arm to do something like this:

External rotation pitching

You don’t want it to be too stable. You want some laxity. Some instability. If you’re a linebacker looking to hit someone, to have a robust body when hitting the ground over and over, tackle people with outstretched arms, then you want a damn stable shoulder. But when you’re trying to whip your arm back so you can throw harder, some extra range of motion can really help.

With 61% of professional pitchers having a positive sulcus sign, we’re seeing some Darwinism. In other words, pitchers are inherently flexible people. Inherently unstable. At least when it comes to the joint. When it comes to injury prevention -paramount with this population- you tend to not need to work on joint flexibility much. There can certainly be instances (rehab / posterior capsule stiffness are common) where specific stretches are required, but shoulder joint laxity is something these people usually already have, and already work on everytime they throw a ball.

Deadlifting

Here is a heavy ass deadlift:

Heavy deadlift shoulder laxity Heavy deadlift shoulder sulcus sign Heavy deadlift shoulder sulcus sign 2

Do you see it? This?

Heavy deadlift shoulder sulcus sign 3

Deadlift sulcus sign close up 1

A deadlift pulls the ever loving expletive expletive expletive out of the shoulder downwards. The weight is attempting to pull the shoulder out of the socket. Should we really be doing this exercise in a population which already can do this so easily? Do we want to make an inherently unstable shoulder less stable?

Some love the deadlift so much one wonders if the choice came between picking a particular woman to lay next to them on their deathbed or a barbell, if it’s even a contemplation (the barbell). They’re probably thinking “39% of pitchers don’t have a positive sulcus sign, they can still deadlift.”

But baseball players are a population who spends their days violently pulling their arms DOWN. There has a been a misunderstanding baseball players are overhead athletes so they don’t need any more overhead work. Many don’t get their arms above their head. This elbow doesn’t even reach the ear!

Baseball throw lack of tricep activity GIF

Which is why so many with a throwing history have a resting low shoulder.

Neal Low Shoulder Line

Muscular flexibility may very well need to be worked on, but in a getting the arm UP kind of manner.

When you spend so much time pulling your arm down, baseball player or everyday person, you probably want to spend some time pushing your arm up to offset that, and think about avoiding extra downward motion.

“But what about strengthening the arm? Couldn’t it help to deadlift to strengthen that instability?”

1) Promoting a movement is promoting a movement. Do a movement a ton and you don’t get better at avoiding that movement!

2) Look at how big and strong the deadlifter above is. Bigger and stronger than any pitcher will be. You can still see the divot where his arm is being pulled out.

3) If you’re in season where it takes 5-7 days to recover from a pitching start, when are you going to deadlift? By the time your rotator cuff is fully recovered, you’re pitching again. Do we really want to throw in a day in the middle where the cuff gets beat up from having to prevent this from happening?

supraspinatus-back-view-deadlift-gif

Supraspinatus in red.

It’s an awful lot to ask of guys this little-

coracohumeral ligament with supraspinatus4) Why not strengthen the shoulder without doing that to the arm?

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