Stretching For Baseball – It’s A Whole Body Approach

Stretching For Baseball – It’s A Whole Body Approach

There isn’t a single muscle that isn’t tested when it comes to the sports of baseball and softball. Every aspect of these games is both mentally and physically demanding. The mental aspect demands that players have a wealth of knowledge and strategy about the game i.e. pitch selection, hitting for contact or power, knowing when to steal, etc. However, if your body is not flexible, mobile, stable, and strong, then a high baseball or softball IQ will only get you so far. At LYMBR, we hope to assist fellow baseball and softball players in their recovery and performance by mobilizing muscles, joints, and tissue involved in the three movements of the sports: swinging, throwing, and running. 

THE SWING

When you swing a bat you use a multitude of muscles to complete the swing. These include but are not limited to your deltoids, infraspinatus, wrist pronators/supinators, psoas, hip rotators, lats, pecs, etc. However, the function of any and all successful swings begin in the same place: the hips. Bat speed, point of contact, and how far that contact will go is determined by the rotational force of your lower body. It doesn’t matter how strong your upper body is, you will never be able to hit it as far as someone with better lower body rotation. The muscles listed above are consequently lengthened and shortened to complete the motion of the swing. If even one of those muscles is tight from overuse, stress, injury, or over-sitting then your ability to produce optimal swings mechanics is negatively impacted. The likelihood of this is fairly high since you’re doing this multiple times a day, every day, for years on end, and muscles will adapt to the length and motion you’ve made it comfortable with. It’s repetitive action, and it’s one of the most common muscular adaptations we see at LYMBR. By stretching out the back, shoulders, hips, wrists, and forearms we relax your connective tissues and lengthen your muscles back to its original length. This creates muscle balance. Swinging a bat at a tiny ball moving between 60-100 mph is hard enough without a tight, imbalanced body. 

PITCHING AND THROWING

At its most base, you’re just playing catch with your teammate. However, pitching and throwing at its heart is primal, ruthless, and steeped in strategy. You must understand pitch variance, changing your delivery times, hitting your cut-off man from the outfield, or whether or not to risk the far throw to home. What sets great arms apart from good arms is the overall comprehension of the throw itself. This is another motion dictated by the force production of your lower body. We are using similar muscles that we used in the swing such as the hip flexors, hip rotators, rotator cuff musculature, deltoids, lats, and wrist pronators, pectoral muscles, quads, glutes, hamstrings, and the muscles responsible for flexion in your back. If these muscles are tight or deconditioned, then they have a higher chance of misfiring creating a much higher probability of injury. By loosening these muscles, we improve the range of motion of the joint and associated muscles. This allows the joint to move in it’s normal range, rather than a limited range created by repetitive movement or overuse. This will reduce tissue trauma, inflammation/ lactic acid build up, or spasm. By increasing the range of the joint, we allow for proper motion which will reduce injury prevalence. When it comes to pitching, whether it be baseball or softball, sustainability is the name of the game. 

RUNNING

Running is undervalued in softball and baseball. Often for a good reason. This sport is highly technical and extremely strategic. If you are a power hitter with a cannon for an arm and a very high baseball IQ, then running and speed is not a prerequisite for greatness. However, a decent majority of baseball and softball players are not power hitters with cannon arms, and use speed as a way to get on base, make tough plays in the gap, and allow for more ground to be covered in the infield. Most of the athletes we see at LYMBR are not solely athletes. They’re students, they’re kids, they’re hunched over A LOT, and very rarely do we find they have proper posture. Improper posture will lead to a pelvic tilt either anterior or posterior. When our pelvis is not aligned with the rest of the body, force production from the legs will be drastically cut. By realigning the pelvis, we put our legs in proper position for power and force. This could be the difference between a stolen base and an out, a double play and an error, or a diving catch and a face plant. Baseball is not an endurance sport so to speak.

The games can be grueling and tiresome, but the movements are usually Quick and explosive, followed by periods of rest. These quick movements can become problematic if the muscles responsible are tight or unconditioned. It will increase your chance of injury, and your central nervous systems response to the play will be slower. By stretching out the muscles responsible for running like the psoas, IT band, calf, glute, hamstring, and ankle muscles we can improve flexibility which will increase blood flow, energy levels, and provide more oxygenated blood and nutrients to your body. Stretching also primes the central nervous system for movement, so the quickness at which you respond during activity will subsequently increase. 

The winter months were long with the lingering cold, the biting wind, and the decreased access to outdoor activities, especially with the pandemic. But spring is here, which means that sports like softball and baseball are in full swing. A sport that combines physical activities such as swinging, throwing, and running. Activities that, without optimal flexibility, mobility, stability, and strength could cause a season ending, or career ending injury. If you’re ready to start your season now, if you’re ready to create the most efficient version of yourself, if you’re ready to reduce injury and increase performance, then please join us at one of our LYMBR studios. 

A Note from an injured ball player: Listen to your body, if something doesn’t feel right, please get yourself checked. Take one game, or one season off, rather than dealing with an injury for the rest of your life. It takes 4-6 minutes to stretch your shoulder, and rotator cuff muscles to prevent injury and inflammation. Inversely, it could take up to 4-6 months,often longer, for a full rotator cuff recovery. Do the math, take the time, talk to experts, and take care of yourself. There is nothing more demoralizing than hurting yourself on the field, and never being able to come back from it.

Written by Conner Fritchley. Conner is a Stretch Therapist in our Darien studio, a LYMBR Academy Instructor, and he played High School Baseball.

Preventing Neck Pain While Working From Home

Preventing Neck Pain While Working From Home

After a long day of sitting in your kitchen chair, staring at a computer on an unusual table, is your spine feeling stuck? Are your shoulders rounded forward, leaving you wondering why your neck hurts? 

We know that poor posture can lead to neck and back discomfort, but coupled with incorrect equipment and workplace stress, this is a recipe for pain. Straining your body all day during work will decrease productivity and minimize your capacity for mental concentration. Both physical and mental stressors increase activation of the upper trapezius more than any other neck muscle. According to The Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology, studies suggest that the upper trapezius muscles are activated by psychosocial stress independent of changes in concentration or posture. The Journal explains studies done by University of Colorado’s Physical Therapy Program comparing the effects of mentally challenging computer work performed with and without exposure to a psychosocial stressor on neck muscle activity and posture. The cervical flexor and extensor muscles (pictured below) however, do not experience a change in activity when adding workplace stress. It is important that we know the specific area that is being overworked in response to stress so that we can stretch that muscle and keep it relaxed throughout our day. Taking breaks in between work may be hard for you, so these practical tips will alleviate neck and back pain WHILE you work.   

1. Keep your neck from straining forward for prolonged periods of time 

  • Raise your screen to eye level 
  • Change your font to your eye’s preferred text size 
  • Lead movements with your eyes more than your whole head and slouching with your shoulders and neck 
  • 20/20/20 rule: look at something about 20 feet away every 20 minutes for 20 seconds at a time 

2. Reset your postural habits 

  • Lean back in your chair, rest your shoulders directly over your hips, keep your chest open and feet flat on the ground 
  • Adjust your screen and chair to an appropriate distance apart without compromising your new seated position 
  • Avoid pinning your phone between your shoulder and head while multitasking 

3. Break up the stiffness from staying still all day

  • Incorporate movement during work (i.e. walking during calls) 
  • Stretch! Take 6-8 seconds in every rep. Perform 3-5 reps on each muscle. After a brief break (up to 10 seconds) you can perform a second set! 

*As you stretch, remember to exhale during the stretch and inhale as you come out of the stretch. This will help you see the most progress in your range of motion with each repetition.  

Move as far as your body will allow by itself before using assistance. This will allow for a more functional and impactful session.  

Below are some stretches you can perform to improve your posture and relieve pain: 

Neck Extensors 

Bring your chin down toward your chest and release back to neutral position. Try with your hands behind your head, adding light assistance. 

Neck Flexors

Start leaning forward to disengage the muscles that hold your head up, resting your elbows on your knees. Leading with your eyes, look up towards the ceiling. Keeping your mouth closed and teeth together will allow for a deeper stretch. 

Try taking your elbows off your knees and use either your fingers or palms to assist at the end of your range of motion on your forehead.  

Scalenes 

Sitting upright with your head facing forward, gently bring your ear down to the shoulder. Try bringing your hand to the top of the head to provide light assistance towards the end range of motion. Keep your opposite shoulder down. 

Levator Scapula 

Turn your head 45 degrees away from the stretching side (or until your chin is slightly outside the knees). Bring only your chin and head forward toward your chest.  Bringing your hand to the back of your head, perform the stretch and provide light assistance at the end of the range of motion.

Trapezius

Turn your head 45 degrees towards the stretching side. Bring your ear forward and down toward your chest. Perform the same stretch with your hand on the top of your head, bringing your elbow down toward the floor.  

Back Flexion 

Sitting toward the front of your chair, tuck your chin toward your chest and reach your hands in between your knees, down to the floor. If you can, reach your hands towards the back legs of the chair or pull on your own legs to add assistance. 

Thoracic Extension 

Place your hands on your knees for balance. Extend your back, lifting your breast bone, head, and eyes to the ceiling. Try to arch your spine during this movement, be careful to not just lean back in the chair  

Pecs

Start by placing one arm against a wall edge or door frame. Keep your elbow straight and palm against the wall with the arm at shoulder height. Pinch the shoulder blades together. Engaging the back muscles inhibits (turns off) the pec muscle. Turn your shoulders away from the wall. 

Written by Cierra Chamberlain, LYMBR Stretch Therapist.

References:  
Bahar Shahidi, Ashley Haight, Katrina Maluf, Differential effects of mental concentration and acute psychosocial stress on cervical muscle activity and posture, Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology, Volume 23, Issue 5, 2013, Pages 1082-1089, ISSN 1050-6411, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jelekin.2013.05.009 (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1050641113001235)  

The Best Stretches To Warm Up For Golf

The Best Stretches To Warm Up For Golf

“Warming up” is by far the most overlooked part of physical exercise and movement, particularly when it comes to the game of golf. This tends to happen for a multitude of reasons, but for the most part I think it’s the general excitement to get out onto the course as quickly as possible. Immediately hitting the driving range or getting right onto the course is extremely tempting, but I encourage you to give yourself enough time to properly warm up. I guarantee that you will feel better, and play better throughout your round.

Warming up lubricates your joints, warms your muscles and connective tissues, activates your nervous system, and helps sharpen your senses resulting in an increase in performance and athletic potential. This is especially important for the golf athlete as most golfers, and people in general, do not have the level of flexibility needed for proper swing mechanics. There’s plenty of factors that go into “why” flexibility falls short, but for most it’s increased periods of sitting, orthopedic injuries, or everyday aches and pains that can tighten people back up in a matter of hours. The best way to combat this is by performing something called “pre-event stretching” and undergoing a warm up. It is important to note that specific stretching techniques should be applied to pre-event stretching and warmups to reduce the likelihood of injury or decrease in performance. Static stretching, or holding stretches, is not recommended before a day on the course. This is because holding stretches can actually sedate the muscles, compromise muscle stabilizer functions, and lengthen muscle spindle cells without the brain being able to effectively monitor that change. You’ve probably had a feeling like this in your swing, you go to swing, and as you move through the motion something just doesn’t feel right and it impacts your ability to hit the ball properly. This is the brain responding to the change in length, and then altering the muscle length to match the pattern it’s used to. All in all: not good. 

BE DYNAMIC

Dynamic warmups and muscle energy exercises like the ones we use in LYMBR have been found to be the most effective at warming up the body, engaging muscles that will optimize swing mechanics, increase performance, and will reduce the likelihood of injury. This means that you will stretch into your target muscles without holding the stretch, and move in and out of the stretch until you loosen up. The repetitive nature and the minimal holding time is more effective as the brain can actively monitor the change in muscle length. This prevents the negative impacts of static stretching for pre-event such as joint destabilization and coordination deficits. In fact the body may actively tighten itself up during static stretching exercises as a way to protect the joint, especially if the joint is already sore.

Dynamic stretching does not put the body into a “threatened” state as the body responds better to being actively moved, and tends to allow the joints to move more freely. Typically, the golf athlete will respond better to this stimulus than trying to stretch across tight joints, especially in golfers over the age of 40. This is because aging creates degenerative tendencies in joints which decreases mobility unless there is focused flexibility practice to maintain or increase joint ROM (range of motion). This style of stretching and warmup not only lasts longer in most cases, but is also more effective for the body to learn how to move through an increased range of motion. 

4 STRETCHES TO GET WARMED UP

To make the most of these stretches, figure out where your biggest area of concern is for you and your swing (i.e. hips, shoulders, spine, pelvis, etc.) and pick the exercises that will help loosen these areas up. To assess which exercises make the greatest amount of difference, take out a club and swing it a few times before you stretch and mobilize. This will give you a solid starting point to reference as you move through your warm up and pre-event stretch. Indicators of improved range of motion from the exercises are as follows:

  1. Increased range of motion in spine, pelvis, and shoulders
  2. Reduced effort in swing, enhanced fluidity of motion
  3. Possible heightening of sense such as hearing, sight, and movement awareness. 

#1: SEATED BACK ROTATION WITH THUMBS UP

Take a seat in a chair with your legs shoulder width apart. Lift up your right arm with your thumb up. Turn your body with your arm and keep your eyes on your thumb. Return to the starting position and repeat for 5 repetitions. Repeat on the left side for 5 repetitions. Take a rest before repeating another set. Keeping the thumb up is great for hand eye coordination, it helps loosen up the shoulders, mid back, neck, and hip rotators. 

#2: SIDE LYING BACK ROTATION 

Laying down on your side, place your bottom hand on your knee to prevent the leg from coming up. Rotate backwards gently and hold for 2 seconds. Return to starting position before repeating the stretch for another 4 reps. Turn onto the other side and repeat on that side for 5 reps. Rest before repeating the exercise for another set. This is a great way to mobilize the upper back, neck, and shoulders. 

#3: HORIZONTAL GLUTE

Laying on your back, bring your leg up to a 90 degree angle. Use your opposite arm to bring your leg across your body. Try and keep your low back on the table. Bring the leg back to starting position and repeat for 5 total reps. Repeat on the other side for 5 reps, and rest before doing another set. This will help with your hip drive through your swing. 

#4: HIP FLEXORS

Grab a pillow and kneel down onto the pillow in a lunge position. Squeeze your glute, and drive your front knee forward until you feel a stretch on the front of your hip. Hold for 2 seconds, return to starting position and repeat for 5 total repetitions. Switch legs, and repeat on the other side for 5 repetitions. Rest before repeating another set. This will help with your hip drive through your swing and will prevent any compensations in the hips and lower back. 

WARM UP TO WIN

Add these 4 stretches as part of your pre-round routine. The few minutes you invest in a proper warm up will make the hours on the course more enjoyable and successful.

Written by Conner Fritchley, LYMBR Stretch Therapist and Academy Instructor.

Stretching For Skiing And Snowboarding

Stretching For Skiing And Snowboarding

During the winter season, there is a transition in the air that seems to affect everyone differently. Some tend to become more sedentary and stay inside where it is cozy and warm. Others rush outdoors and travel to the mountains for skiing and snowboarding. Researchers have observed decreased levels of physical activity and total daily energy expenditure during the winter months (Niebauer, 2016). It is important to consider activities like skiing and snowboarding as new alternatives to other forms of exercise. These snow sports have the potential to increase or at least maintain fitness levels during the winter. Professionals in the field also praise skiing for its positive influence on wellbeing and quality of life.

SNOW SPORTS AND THE HUMAN BODY

According to a recent article in Time (2018), skiing and snowboarding can be a ridiculously good workout. The combination of high altitude and low temperature challenges the heart, lungs, and muscles to work hard on each run down the mountain. A professor of sports medicine and cardiology expressed how the sport can have positive effects on your leg muscles, as well as the heart and blood circulation. Additionally, researchers observed improved insulin resistance, body composition, and glucose metabolism, whereas a drop in blood pressure, blood lipids, and heart rate. Each of these physiological benefits will improve your quality of life and long-term health. All of which are observed in individuals who ski or snowboard on a regular basis.

Individuals participating in these sports should consider following an exercise program before hitting the mountain, as the energy requirements of the sport is similar to high intensity interval training (HIIT).  Depending on factors like the individual’s skill level, exertion, and terrain of the slope, the body is working at a high level for roughly 15-20 minutes. Once the run is finished, skiers and snowboarders enjoy a rest period while on the lift back up the mountain. Skiing and snowboarding are challenging sports, especially to those who are untrained. The exercise program, designed by a fitness professional, may include aspects of cardiorespiratory, strength, plyometric, and flexibility training. 

The muscular system serves as the core of each movement while on the mountain. Functioning to counteract the effects of gravity and other external forces to maintain body alignment and to realign body segments while performing movements. The detailed movements in skiing and snowboarding utilize all muscle actions, resulting either in smooth motion for experts or sloppy motion for beginners. Depending on body awareness and skill level, the individual may move with more efficient muscle contractions.

THE IMPORTANCE OF FLEXIBILITY TRAINING

Injury prevention for skiing and snowboarding is highly valuable for both short-term and long-term success. Maintaining optimal conditioning and flexibility of the muscles in the trunk, hips, and ankles through regular stretching is recommended. According to Vagners (1995), lower body flexibility is extremely important for efficient skiing, and may be necessary to perform more advanced movements in modern ski technique. An important note is that flexibility is specific to each joint – whereby significant differences in flexibility may be observed in left and right extremities, unless stretches are carefully balanced according to the individual’s needs. Each individual varies in abilities and will need a personalized stretching routine to address their own needs. Be mindful of tracking progress from the starting point – this is important to highlight which areas are improving and keeps you motivated to continue practice.

Focusing on skiing and snowboarding, we begin to identify the importance of stretching for these sports. Stretching may reduce the risk for injury, which should be of top priority for all ages. Mainly in the lower body, the muscles are performing countless contractions, and muscle soreness will surely follow. In order to manage the discomfort, skiers and snowboarders should perform stretching routines to maintain prime conditions of the muscles. Specific environmental factors such as cold temperatures limit performance of the muscles due to reduced blood and oxygen supply. Stretching counteracts this by enhancing your body’s ability to deliver oxygen-rich blood to the muscles. Similarly, stretching helps to clear out metabolic waste like lactic acid build up. LYMBR stretching fuels the body by improving blood flow, oxygen and nutrition delivery to the working muscles. By moving these muscles beyond resting length, LYMBR stretching can keep the body ready to perform at a high level.

Skiing and snowboarding challenges the body to work through different ranges of motion. The muscles of the upper and lower body could benefit from stretching, as many of the movements will be replicated on the mountain. From the fundamentals to the advanced tricks, the body requires a high degree of flexibility when performed. Being able to flex, extend, and rotate different areas of the body are essential to these sports. For example, when snowboarders attempt a ‘180’ or ‘360’ the ability to move the back and hips is key. Stretching can help improve and maintain the range of motion required for these movements. Working with a professional at LYMBR can be useful to identify which areas need the most attention.

HOW TO STRETCH

If stretching before activity, the tempo of stretching should be matched to that of the activity to serve as a warmup. Whereas, stretching after activity should be of a slower nature to allow for a cool down. Breathing will be important throughout every stretch – inhale at the start of stretch and exhale all the way through the most intense part of the stretch. Allow the breath to help move the body through a full range of motion. Do not rush through the more difficult stretches. Give the body time to process so that the nervous system can develop confidence and understanding of the movement. Stretching should be dynamic – make sure to move through an active range before assisting. By following these principles, it ensures that every movement is both safe and efficient. Every stretch performed is an assessment of the body’s range of motion – be gradual by starting shallow and progressing to a deeper stretch. 

With our present knowledge on the topic, it can be concluded that stretching should be recommended for skiers and snowboarders of all ages and skill levels. Whether self-stretching or assisted stretching, there are clear benefits to this practice. Stretching plays a big role in the fitness and wellness routines of the winter months. Taking the time to stretch will keep the body going strong for the next run down the mountain. If done properly, a stretching routine can go hand in hand with a skiing or snowboarding hobby.

Written by Cesar Garcia, LYMBR Stretch Therapist and Academy Instructor.

References:
Heid (2018) – Time: Health – Exercise & Fitness Article Why skiing is a ridiculously good workout.
Niebauer (2016) – A comparison between alpine skiing, cross country skiing, and indoor cycling on cardiorespiratory and metabolic response
Vagners (1995) – A ski instructor’s guide to the physics and biomechanics of skiing.