core muscles

Training the Core to Prevent Back Injury and Improve Performance in Baseball

Baseball and softball are highly repetitive sports in which both throwing and hitting can place a great deal of stress on the lower back.  In younger populations, these repetitive actions can lead to injuries such as muscle strains and stress fractures. In older populations, the stress can lead to disc herniations or disc degeneration.  Proper training of the core not only reduces the likelihood of injury, but also improves performance.

In baseball and softball, two primary functions of the core muscles are to 1.) stabilize and protect the spine and surrounding structures and 2.) transmit force generated from the legs to the shoulders and, ultimately, to the bat or the ball.  To perform these tasks, all the muscles of the core, including the gluteal muscles, the lower back muscles, the obliques (or muscles on the side of the trunk) and the rectus abdominis or ab muscles, must work together.

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Training these muscles in the traditional way with sit ups or oblique twists does not tend to be as effective for injury prevention or performance in baseball and softball.  Sit ups and oblique twists train the muscles as movers not stabilizers. The following exercises will help you train your core properly. If you have had back problems in the past or are currently having back problems, please consult a medical professional before trying any of these exercises.

Posture and Position

Before you begin core training, check your resting posture.  If your lower back is too arched, you are at higher risk for stress fractures.  If it is too flat, you are at higher risk for disc problems. For the best function, you need proper resting position with all your core muscles.  A simple self check of your back position is to stand up against a wall with your head, shoulders and butt back against the wall and your feet out about six inches from the wall.  You should have about a hand width of space between your lower back and the wall. More than a hand width means that the arch in your lower back is too big; less means your back it too flat.  Think about maintaining that position of one hand width of space with all exercises.

Bridge

The back bridge is a great exercise that focuses on the glutes.  Laying on your back with your knees bent, first tighten your core, then squeeze your glutes and, finally, lift your hips so there is a straight line from your shoulder to your knee.  You should feel most of the effort in your glutes and only slightly in your hamstrings. You should not feel it in your lower back.

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Side Plank

The side plank is a good exercise for the lateral spine stabilizers.  Laying on your side propped up on your elbow (make sure your elbow is directly under your shoulder), lift your hips so your body is in a straight line.  Make sure your hips don’t drift too far forward or back.

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Bird Dog

This is a great exercise for the anterior and posterior stabilizers of the spine and also gets  the arms and legs working together while stabilizing. Start from your hands and knees and, while keeping your core tight, slowly extend the opposite arm and leg.

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These exercises can help reduce your likelihood of back injury and improve performance.  For any questions, please contact Greg or Andy at Complete Game Physical Therapy 978-710-7204 or gcrossman@completegamept.com.