Jan 29, 2015
Strain Trend Explained

By Vern Gambetta

Oblique strains and pulls and intercostal strains are injuries that you seldom saw or heard of 15 or 20 years ago. Though the two injuries are different, and I think it’s a mistake to group them together, they are both very common occurrences in baseball–both in pitchers and hitters. If you look closely at the mechanism of the injuries based on the demands placed on the body in the activities that cause these strains, it is clear that both are force-reduction injuries. They occur during deceleration of the trunk after the violent ballistic action of swinging a bat or throwing a pitch.

As with any injury, it is important to thoroughly assess what is being done in the training/prevention area and what is not. My observation is that the ratio of actually preparing to pitch and hit is out of balance.

For hitters, there is too much swinging of the bat without the requisite lead-up activities that prepare for the deceleration forces exerted in a diagonal, rotational pattern. With pitchers, they pitch more but throw less. By that I mean a structured, long-toss program where they have to extend themselves through ranges of motion outside of their normal pitching motion is not emphasized enough. The same would be true with striking and swinging activities to prepare for hitting. In addition, there is more emphasis on weight training that is not specific enough to the demands of hitting and pitching.

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There are still too many traditional weight exercises that emphasize load and force production, mostly in sagittal plane. In addition, too much of the “core work” is still done in prone and supine postures and too isolated. There is not enough emphasis on catching and activities that force the trunk to decelerate.

The ultimate reason for these injuries goes far back to what the current generation of players did and did not do when they were kids growing up. Most began playing baseball at an early age and were identified as being talented, so they probably specialized early and prepared by pitching and/or swinging the bat more. In essence, they were accumulating stress without any preparation for the imposed stresses. Most did not have regular physical education, as that has gone the way of the dinosaur.

The surest way to strengthen the intercostals and obliques is to climb, hang, swing from overhead ladders, and crawl–all activities inherent in play and work in past generations. The current generation of players did not get this in free play or physical education. This should force us to reconsider how we train and prepare these athletes from younger ages on up to the professional level.

I know this sounds old school, but take a step back and think about how it can be done. It can be done, but it must be done in a systematic manner beginning at the youngest ages with comprehensive preparation-to-play activities that are structured into the start of practices at every level. These activities should be as movement rich as possible, including climbing, hanging, suspended swings, and crawls.

I don’t believe this needs to be done in a boot camp environment but rather as part of a structured, playful, teaching environment regardless of the level of development. It is not very complicated; it is very basic but necessary. That is both the long-term and short-term solution.

Vern Gambetta, MA, is President of Gambetta Sports Training Systems in Sarasota, Fla. The former Director of Conditioning for the Chicago White Sox, he has also worked extensively with basketball, soccer, and track and field athletes. He is a frequent contributor to Training & Conditioning. Vern also maintains his own blog.

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