Six Exercises Your Catcher Needs to Be Doing

Catching is painful; from the bruises to the ever constant joint pain, it stays with you long after you catch your last pitch. It is a brutal position that is physically taxing on the body. So, before I continue with this article, I want to make a point – HAVE YOUR CATCHERS WEAR KNEE SAVERS. They do just that – save your knees. It is not weak, it is smart. Conceptually, most individuals and researchers will say that you should be strong enough to sit in that position. Research takes anecdotal perspectives in a given situation and not the whole experience. Instead, I challenge you to think about it from this perspective. One game is on average two hours. Split in half and estimate one hour is spent on defense. Now, multiply that by five to six games (at a minimum) a weekend for 32 weeks. That’s 160 hours of sitting in a squat position!! Now, multiply that by countless practices and training sessions and the hours pile up on the individual’s knees. When interpreting the studies conducted on this topic, researchers are just considering the one game, not all of the excess hours put into the craft. But here is the catch. Regardless of whether you utilize knee savers or not, catchers still tend to have hip, knee and lower back discomfort. So, how do we address this issue?

3 Stretching Activities Your Catcher Needs to Do

    1. Hip CARs (controlled articular rotations) – 

       

      1. Known as an FRC (Functional Range Conditioning) exercise, hip CARs challenge the athlete to go through the full range of motion at the hip joint. In concurrence with the “use it or lose it” mentality, when we do not challenge ourselves to go into certain ranges of motion, our body’s ability to get there deteriorates. Flexibility at the hip joint is imperative to a catcher’s physical health. As the range of motion breaks down, the body will adjust to an inferior position. Catchers tend to rotate their hips internally which places excess stress on the knees and lower back.
      2. Directions – Bring knee as high up as it can go. Open “the door” of the hip without rotating at the torso. Then rotate the foot at the knee joint (internal rotation). From this position, work the knee back with hip into extension. Reverse the process with as much control and precision as possible.
    2. 90/90 Switches – 
    1. Here we are focusing on opening up the hip joint and working on the internal and external rotational ability of the joint. Being able to control and move through this range of motion is imperative to full body health of a catcher. We are working postural awareness in conjunction with hip mobility. Another function of a healthy hip: taking pressure off of the lower back.
      1. Directions – Driving the open leg down into the ground, try to lift the closed leg into the air. Drive both legs in the opposite direction and eventually switch.
  1. Talus Slide Lunge Stretch 
    1. Dorsiflexion is the ability to flex the foot in the upward direction thus allowing the shin angle to decrease to a more acute angle while squatting. Ankle mobility is extremely important in catchers. Often, they are stuck in an elevated position, similar to a calf raise, for a majority of their time catching. It is important to provide flexibility and the opposite range of motion to avoid extreme stiffness which can lead to injuries up the chain. If a catcher does not possess the adequate dorsiflexion needed to achieve the most effective position it is important to note that this will not inhibit the athlete from sitting in a squat but instead will cause the athlete to compensate into ineffective positions in order to get into that position. 
      1. Directions – While maintaining contact between the heel and the ground, go into a lunge position. Drive the shin forward while still maintaining heel contact with the ground. Work to avoid shifting hips and instead keep torso and hips in line while driving forward.

3 Strength Exercises Your Catcher Needs to Do

  1. Internal/External Hip Lift Offs 
    1. Mobility is one aspect of injury prevention, strength is the other. Being able to get through the full range of motion can be just as dangerous if you do not have the strength to stabilize the joint. These isometric holds at the hip joint provide strength to the hip abductors and adductors which are responsible for holding the ball and socket of the hip joint in place.
      1. Directions – In the 90/90 position, lift the front knee and foot off of the ground. Hold for 10 seconds. Next, lift the back knee and foot off of the ground. Hold for 10 seconds. If actively achieving these positions is not possible, work to find a passive range of motion as well.
  2. Deadbug Variations 
    1. Core strength is important for every aspect of athletic movement. In catchers, it provides stabilization to the pelvis in a squatting position. The deadbug forces the athlete to contract their midline, activating erector muscles of their back into the ground, while either holding the position or going through small, controlled movements. The key here is to push your lower back into the ground while maintaining the ability to breathe. Being able to contract the core and breathe is important for athletes of all sports and positions as it ensures the muscles surrounding the diaphragm are responsible for breathing and not the muscles that are supposed to be stabilizing the spine.
      1. Directions – While pushing hands  into the wall, drive the lower back into the ground while maintaining the 90-degree angle at the hips and knees. Drive one foot out, leading with the heel, work to breath while simultaneously maintaining ground contact with the lower back.
  3. Supermans 
    1. When constantly being positioned in lower back flexion, think about a catcher’s squat with a rounded back. In order to combat this, we need to strengthen the catcher’s back in the opposite end range – extension. Supermans provide posterior chain activation in the gluteal, hamstring, and spinal levator muscles along the posterior chain. Whether it is in the contracted hold or constant movement range, this exercise provides stabilization to the area catchers tend to be underactive in.
      1. Directions – Driving the belly button into the floor – lift your arms, using your lower trap muscle structure, and your legs by flexing your glute and hamstrings. Hold for 3 seconds and then relax.

While there are far more exercises your catchers should be doing, these are ones they can do on their own at home. These should be done at least three times a week for both the stretches and the strength exercises. Before performing any catching activity, the stretches should be done. Providing flexibility and mobility to a position that generally results in extreme stiffness is imperative to preventing injury. But, as stated before, mobility should only be given with the intention of providing strength to stabilize the mobility. Finding the optimal balance between strength and mobility is the first step to preventing injury in any athlete.

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Cassidy Boyle

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