The sport of fast-pitch softball has become one of the most popular sports for female athletes in the United States. Female pitchers might not use a hard ball, but their injuries are just as significant as their male counterparts. Their shoulders endure the same torture and torment of training and performance, but research remains limited on prevention of shoulder injuries. Because the majority of pitching injuries occur at the shoulder, conditioning programs typically focus on the shoulder girdle muscles. However, current wisdom from the USA Softball National Team suggests shifting the training emphasis to the lower body. If the pitcher’s lower body cannot support the dynamic movements of her upper body, the weakest link, the shoulder, will be sacrificed.
At the collegiate level, fast pitch softball speeds can reach up to 72 mph. Where does all this power come from? The power behind the windmill softball pitch (WSP) is the lower body. Actually, the glutei muscles (i.e. the buttocks) have been found to have the highest level of activity during the entire sequence of the WSP.
According to Stacey Nelson, pitcher on the USA Softball National Team, the stride position is the power position. For right-handed pitchers, the stride position occurs when the pitcher steps out with her left foot. During the stride position, her right arm is in full elevation, which requires scapular (shoulder blade) stability. However, for a stable and efficient scapula, a pitcher requires proper trunk positioning (i.e. core stability), and trunk position depends on pelvic position. The pelvis forms the stable foundation that a pitcher requires to prevent rotator cuff injuries. So what stabilizes the pelvis...the glutei or butt muscles!
A pitcher’s glutei muscles stabilize her pelvis not only for scapular stability, but also to promote energy transfer from her lower body to her arm. The energy transfer chain requires proper muscular sequencing for a pitcher to deliver the ultimate WSP: hip → pelvis → trunk → scapula. Because a pitcher’s lower body supplies more than 50% of her upper extremity energy, improving gluteal muscle strength will also increase ball velocity by increasing stride length.
Even though the glutei produce the driving force for the hip, dynamic strengthening demands a stable core! Core stability exercises are initiated with isometric plank exercises:
Once isometric core stability exercises are mastered, you may begin gluteal strengthening
Sources: International Journal of Athletic Therapy and Training and Lower Extremity Review
Visit your doctor regularly and listen to your body.
CONTRIBUTING AUTHOR: Janet Caputo, PT, DPT, OCS is clinical director of physical therapy at Mackarey & Mackarey Physical Therapy Consultants, LLC in downtown Scranton where she practices orthopedic and neurological physical therapy.
Photos: Jennifer Hnatko
Photo Model: Stephanie Puckett, Keystone College Women’s Softball Team
NEXT MONDAY – Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum!” in the Scranton Times-Tribune.
This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice in Scranton, PA. He is an associate clinical professor of medicine at The Commonwealth Medical College.