I don’t actually hate the bands themselves – what I do hate is the prescribed high volume of band exercises prior to throwing, as well as the execution of said exercises being performed that you see 99% of the time.
Reason #1: RTC Fatigue Can Increase Impingement Risk
Research shows that rotator cuff fatigue causes the subacromial space to close. This study showed that superior migration of the humeral head increased, on average, by 0.79 mm after the rotator cuff was fatigued. This might sound insignificant, but some subacromial spaces are only 2 mm in total, so this fatigue caused a 40 percent decrease in that space!
As you can see, the subacromial space is very small – and pushing the rotator cuff to high enough levels of fatigue will compromise it enough and can lead to subacromial impingement.
We must also appreciate that different individuals possess different types of acromion. Some people are more vulnerable to impingement due to the genetic makeup of their bony structures.
Why would we fatigue the rotator cuff by doing dozens to a hundred reps of bands prior to throwing? You’re drastically increasing your chance of creating impingment by doing so.
Additionally, we should NEVER train the rotator cuff to failure. Once it’s fatigued to that point what’s going to stabilize the humeral head when you raise your arm up overhead? This point is why I’m also against high volume ITYW’s that you see in a lot of strength and conditioning programs for throwers, and leads me into my second reason I’m opposed to high volume bands in these athlete’s warm-ups.
Reason #2: Further Ingraining Dysfunctional Scapular-Glenohumeral Athrokinematics
What is the Rotator Cuff’s Job, Anyway?
The rotator cuff is made up of four muscles: the infraspinatus, supraspinatus, subscapularis, and teres minor. The true function of these four muscles is to stabilize the humerus. In a movement as violent as throwing, it’s essential the cuff does a good job of keeping the humeral head (ball) centred in the glenoid (socket).
The shoulder is universally referred to as a ball-in-socket joint, but in reality the socket is quite shallow and a more accurate description of it is a golf ball on a tee.
Hopefully this analogy gives you a better understanding of what we are up against in keeping the shoulder healthy as we help guys pursue throwing a five ounce object incredibly hard.
The Big Picture
We must also come to appreciate how intricate the entire shoulder complex is. There are seventeen muscles that attach to the scapula, and a ton of soft tissue, vascular, and neural structures in a very small area.
Scapular movement is integral to keeping the ball on the socket when you go overhead (aka throw). If the shoulder blade doesn’t move how it should when you elevate your arm, the glenohumeral joint is going to have to pick up the slack.
The above sentence is also why I do not like a high volume band routine prior to throwing. Poorly executed reps will further ingrain faulty scapular patterns thereby forcing the glenohumeral joint to compensate. Furthermore, this dysfunctional pattern will be how your body gets your arm up over head when you throw which will eventually lead to a host of problems.
Every arm care rep is an opportunity to either establish a good habit – or further ingrain a faulty pattern. If you do lots of band work improperly, you’re just training your body to do things poorly.
An Alternative Solution
Here’s an example of a current high school senior pitcher’s warm-up at AHP.
Deep Squat Focused Breathing w/Lat Stretch: 6 breaths
Side Plank: x15s/side
Side-Lying Windmill w/Exhale: x5/side
Quadruped Hip CARS: x3/side
Serratus Slides w/Roller: 1×8
Kb Windmill: x5/side
Lateral Lunge w/OH Reach: x4/side
*I’d much prefer to do variations like the above getting good external rotation. A set or two properly is far superior.
J-Band Y: x8
Banded Horizontal Abduction + Press: x8/side
In closing, as coaches we can do absolutely everything right (nail the assessment, prescribe the right exercises for each individual) but if the exercises aren’t done correctly with mindful precision, we won’t create the positive adaptations we’re looking for with our athletes. I strongly believe in quality over quantity when it comes to warm-ups and arm care routines because of what the research says about how fatigue impacts the rotator cuff, and the vital importance of creating good habits when it comes to scapular function.
This resource has given me a ten-fold better understanding of the shoulder and how to train the overhead athlete better. Couldn’t recommend it more.