Most baseball players who seek out therapy do so because they are in pain and chiropractic care does help the majority of those patients. However, what if I told you that seeing a qualified therapist would actually increase your performance on the field? Players are often working on their swing to increase their batting average, lifting weights to increase their power, working on their pitching mechanics to decrease their ERA, and fielding ground balls to improve their defense. All of these practice strategies will help baseball players improve, but there is something missing in this equation that can make or break the athlete and that is PROPER MOVEMENT PATTERNS. This blog will go through how these movement patterns are essential to allowing the athlete not only to train better, but also to express his athletic potential to the fullest on the baseball field.
First, let’s break down what movement patterns are. There are many, many different patterns practitioners look for and they involve movements that show up either in daily life or are required on the field. The basic ones are the squat, lunge, hinge, locomotion (walking), etc. However, if we tailor this more towards the baseball player we have to include rotational movements as well as cross-body movements, such as movements that require left shoulder and right hip activation, etc. If these movement patterns are poorly coordinated, the athlete’s performance will suffer. For example, if a player’s locomotion is uncoordinated, his sprinting will also be uncoordinated and he will lose speed. If a player can’t coordinate between his throwing shoulder and his opposite hip, then his throwing accuracy and/or velocity will be negatively affected. If he can’t coordinate his rotational movement, then his swing will suffer. All of these will also decrease a player’s ability to train optimally because the player will compensate when forced to be in these positions/movements. In addition, each time a player moves poorly, that poor movement becomes further ingrained in the athlete and can lead to further difficulty. Most coaches understand this when it comes to poor mechanics. However, we can’t clean up mechanics on the mound or in the box without first cleaning up the movement patterns, but how do we know if we have a motor pattern deficiency?
To see if a player has a motor pattern deficiency, we must assess the athlete. An easy one to do is a squat. Have the athlete squat down as far as possible, hold it for 5-10 seconds, then come up. Can the athlete squat all the way to the ground? Does it look smooth and effortless going down and coming back up? If not, then we have some work to do. For baseball players, have the athlete perform a bird dog. Start in a quadruped position on hands and knees and extend one arm and the opposite leg straight out. Does the low back sink down? Do the hips stay level? Does the movement look smooth and effortless? If we have a deficiency here, then throwing and swinging will be negatively affected until it is cleaned up. A practitioner will be able to have a baseball player go through a full assessment and assign exercises and/or manual therapy to help improve the movements. Once the movement patterns improve, then the next step becomes having the player be able to transition in and out of different movement patterns effectively. This is where even high level players struggle and the transitions are huge when it comes to baseball performance demands. How often do we see a player make a great diving play and then overthrow the first baseman? How often do we see great hitters struggle to run the bases? How often do we see pitchers who can’t field their position? These transition issues can also be cleaned up by a trained practitioner who understands the demands of the game and dynamic movement systems and guides the athlete through them.
The future role of baseball chiropractors and physical therapists will not just be in the treatment room treating an athlete’s injuries. They will be involved with every player on the roster on how to improve their performance through coordinated movement. Baseball has seen an incredible change in the last decade with studying spin rate and exit velocity through high speed video analysis and swing mechanics adaptations. As baseball coaches get more information they begin to talk more and more about the body’s anatomy and physiology and sound a lot like a physical therapist or chiropractor. Movement patterns and the ability to move in and out of them on demand is the next phase of baseball performance, and it is time for more players to be exposed to it so that they can take their baseball ability to another level. Whether players are in Little League or are playing in the pros, this is something that all players can benefit from and I am excited to see what happens in the next decade of baseball performance. We might just see some of the most athletic and dynamic players to ever play the game.