RETURNING FROM INJURY

Fear had very rarely been a term I would have ever used when it came to playing sports. I loved them, had a passion for them; they became a safe haven for me as I got older. Between softball and basketball, I felt fearless while playing – like nothing could touch me. It created a sense of exhilaration that only those who played would truly understand. Hitting a three-pointer with the shot clock winding down or making the crazy, incredible play would have me feeling on top of the world. When I got to play college softball, that feeling was only exaggerated. The feeling of having a crowd of over 1,000 people cheering for you is incredible. Fear would have been the last word in my repertoire in this moment.

Fast-forward to my senior year. I was recovering from my second shoulder surgery with a small likelihood of ever being the same player I was before them.

Fearful was the only word I could think of to describe how I felt.  

For as long as I can remember, I had always been gifted with an exceptional arm. I started as a baseball pitcher and then slowly transferred into the sport of softball, around age 13, where I became a shortstop and catcher. If you ask any coach of mine, they would agree with the statement that I was not gifted with the power of speed (even if I felt like I was). Because of this, I was not always thought to have potential as a shortstop until a coach saw my arm strength. I was able to adapt to my lack of speed with deeper angles because I had the arm strength to make the play deep in the whole. When I got to college, throwing off my back foot or on the run became my staple play as the speed of the game was ridiculous. My arm strength became my safety mechanism.

The First Hurdle

After my shoulder labral repair surgery, I remember looking up the statistics on throwing velocity post surgery (probably not the smartest decision for anyone in this situation). Some of the studies said the athlete would only get 80% of their velocity back. 80 PERCENT! I felt defeated before I even started the rehabilitation process. While in the process of my throwing program, I had a moment of clarity with my assistant coach, Jessica Moore. I had begun the section of throwing a softball from 90 feet and I thought it was going to be the hardest thing in the world – mind you, in order to complete the program I had to throw from 150 feet. It had been so long that I was struggling to understand how far 90 feet was. She set me up like I was throwing down on a steal to second base and I went after the first throw – it flew over her head. Now, for anyone who knows Coach Jess, she is quite sarcastic. I will never forget the stare she gave me with the, “and you were freaking out for what, Boyle?” look. I thought that was it; I thought I had gotten over my major mental hurdle coming back from an injury. Then came February 9th….

February 9th

Game Day. First game back. Emotions are running high with excitement as the season is about to kick off. This team gets to start to define what they are about today. We go through warm-ups and batting practice then go back to the locker room to get ready. Down to the field, we walk and the nerves start to set in. What if my arm gives out again? What if the anchors don’t hold? It’s my senior year. I can’t go through this again.

Luckily, I run into Dr. Lee, our Behavioral Health Coordinator at USF. I have been working with him throughout the entire injury recovery process and at that moment, I knew I was beginning to freak out with fear and needed help to calm down.

“Cassidy, take it pitch by pitch and just breathe. You got this.”

First inning. No ground balls – awesome, we can do this. Second inning – pop up, great we are okay.

Third inning. Ground ball bouncing over the pitcher’s head. Bare-hand, throw on the run. No pop. No pain. The umpire calls out and a smile erupts across my face, my coaches faces, my teammate’s faces. I was back, in Cassidy Boyle fashion. But the true test was still to come. Two more innings pass. Ground ball in the 5-6 hole. Backhand, throw off the back foot. It was the moment we all were worried about; we didn’t know what was about to happen. An absolute cannon across the diamond and the girl is out by a step. WITH NO PAIN. Last out of the inning.

Moments.

There are moments in our career that we never forget. This was one of mine. It was the realization that not only my effort but the help and aid of those around me all paid off. I trotted off the field and was swarmed in a hug by my head coach, Ken Eriksen. My teammates were all around me in excitement because we had just gotten out of a huge inning. Amidst this, I looked into the crowd to find my dad. Grinning ear to ear, with his quivering lip of love and relief, I gave him the thumbs up sign that he always looked for when watching the games the past 4 years. I walk into the dugout, finishing up the high fives, and put my glove down and just took in the moment. I turned around to find my best friend just standing there. We didn’t say anything, just a quick hug with enough understanding that no words were necessary. Fear was no longer in my mind but instead family. These people went through my journey with me. They were there for the good days and the bad ones. They pushed me to get back on the field and made me want to be out there with them again.

You see, I was lucky. I was lucky to be at a University that understands the importance of Student-Athlete Mental Health enough to have a Behavioral Health Coordinator in the department. Lucky enough to have a coaching staff that allowed him, the team doctor, and Sports Medicine Staff in our dugout for moments like February 9th. We are all under the presumption that sports are 90% mental and 10% physical. That 90% is way too important not to take care of. Dr. Lee is one of the most influential individuals in our Athletic Department. Without him, this moment may not have occurred. Returning from an injury is almost all mental. The mental battle needs to start during the physical recovery, but it doesn’t stop when we get cleared physically. In fact, that is when that battle revs its engine. It is one thing to practice post injury where you always have in the back of your head that you aren’t ready to go all out yet; it is another thing to play in a game where you are going all out to the point where there is no second thought of “what if.” I am so grateful to have had an individual during my process dedicate a portion of their time specifically to this aspect of injury recovery.

Remain resilient,

Cassidy

WHY THE PRONE TRAP RAISE IS SO DIFFICULT FOR ATHLETES?

The prone trap raise is a fantastic exercise for not just any athlete but for most of the population as well. However, as alluded to in the title, the prone trap raise is a difficult exercise to master. The article below will touch on a few reasons why this exercise, that appears simple, is actually one of our more complex movements we complete with our athletes.

What is the prone trap raise?

In this video, you’ll see Coach Brandon completing a prone trap raise on an incline bench. The exercise can be done on a table as well where the athlete is laying flat. Coaching cues for the exercise:

    1. Begin by having the athlete lay flat on the incline bench and crush their anterior core into the bench (there should be no excessive extension at the lumbar spine.)

    1. Cue to keep the chin tucked and pressed into the bench. This will prevent excessive forward head push. If the athlete were on a table, they should have their head turned toward the direction of the arm being used in order to decrease activation of the upper trapezius musculature (more about which muscles we target below).

    1. Have the athlete ‘scap load’ meaning, they will pull their shoulder blade into a retracted and posteriorly tilted position. Most of the time, this will be done so with the aid of a coaches guidance in order to ensure the athlete is setting up properly.

  1. The athlete should then raise his or her arm up at approximately a 135-degree angle in order to activate the lower trapezius regions. See picture below for the pennation angle of the striations in the trapezius muscle.

*Due to the many areas of focus for this exercise, we will typically begin each athlete by just utilizing the weight of their arm.

Why is this all important?

Attention to detail with this exercise is paramount to making sure we as coaches are not just prescribing exercises because they make sense on paper. As an industry, we need to take pride in knowing the why behind everything we do. This will allow us as practitioners to provide the best for our athlete as well as be able to educate the athlete on the importance of taking pride in the finer details of the movement. The prone trap raise is an important exercise because the exercise works to put the scapula in the proper position by activating the lower trapezius muscle fibers. Many times, the body is used to relying on the upper trapezius in order to complete movements. The lower regions of the trapezius are important for balancing this dominance by the upper trapezius as well as allowing the shoulder to get into an upwardly rotated position. In addition, utilization of the lower trapezius will aid in stabilizing once in the overhead position. Most sports such as (but not limited to) baseball, softball, tennis, volleyball, lacrosse, and weightlifting involve a heavy reliance on the ability to raise the arm overhead. Understand that our body, especially as an overhead athlete, will not shut down once we fatigue. Even when improper muscle sequencing begins to take over, we will still find a way to throw, shoot, spike, and lift. As athletes, we will compensate and reach for a different part of our body that is less than optimal for completing the movement in order to get the job done. This repetitive compensation will overtime set us up for injury.

Why is this exercise is so difficult?

Posture

Not just as athletes, but as a society, our posture is pretty terrible. Take for example how we find ourselves in front of our electronic devices:

Typically, we have a very shortened and tight front side of our body. If we look at the upper body alone, the shortened pectoralis region can lead to an anteriorly tilted scapula. [insert picture of anteriorly tilted scapula]

This poor scapular position can lead to a multitude of dysfunctions with athletic movement. One of the more pressing issues is the inability to get into a proper upwardly rotated position. In order to help correct for this, we can add prone trap raises into the athletes exercise routine. Remember though, the very first thing we had to do in order to properly complete the prone trap raise was scap load our athlete into a posteriorly tilted position. But what if the athlete lives in an anterior position? What if the front side of his or her body is so shortened that they cannot get into the correct position in the first place? They’ll complete the prone trap raise but they’ll crank on their upper trapezius in order to get the job done. This is just further exacerbating their dysfunction! Instead of helping the athlete, we as coaches have put them in a position to hurt themselves. This is when a properly trained eye and guidance from a coach can aid in helping this athlete accomplish the purpose of the exercise.

Let’s take it one step further. So the athlete has a shorted front side of their chest. Why? What if there is a lower body dysfunction that is causing the upper body to compensate? In some cases, we observe individuals with extremely tight hip flexors. This tight hip flexor position pulls their low back into an extreme lordotic curvature. Over time, the body will compensate for this lordosis by developing a kyphotic curvature of the upper back (see image below). So, let’s say we as coaches try to get an athlete to posteriorly tilt their scapula by lengthening the front side of their chest but we are still missing the bigger picture which is that their lower half is a mess to start with. Working on releasing the tight hip flexors that are pulling the hips forward and causing thoracic flexion in the first place may be step one to correct these movement and posture deficiencies.

Posture is a bit of a rabbit hole and I hope I didn’t disrespect the topic too much by briefly going over general issues. It is important for someone who has chosen to study the human body as their career to keep in mind that there can always be more than one explanation for a movement dysfunction. Our role as coaches and specialists is to honor the complexities of the body and continue to educate our athletes on proper movement. By doing so, we will be able to better correct for issues in the human body and not only will you as a coach pay closer attention to movement but your athlete will too resulting in accelerated improvements.

DEALING WITH AN INJURY

Being injured isn’t easy. Ask any player, in any sport, who has dealt with an injury and they will probably all respond the same: It is one of the hardest challenges you can face as an athlete. Through this article, I can’t speak for every athlete that was ever injured, but I can speak for myself.

My Story

Heading into college I had never dealt with a major injury. I had broken a few bones but never suffered from a major injury. Then came the winter offseason of my freshman year. I was at USA Junior National Team tryouts when I felt like every muscle in my upper back had just cramped. Luckily, the USA National Team athletic trainer, Michele Latimer, was also a Senior Athletic Trainer at the University of South Florida, where I was attending. When we got back to campus, she was able to work on it and loosen it up but I started noticing a weird sensation in my right (throwing) hand. I would go throughout my day and my arm and fingers would tingle, like the pins and needles you feel when you notice a limb was “asleep.” Then, I would be practicing and I would struggle with knowing when the ball was in my hand – I couldn’t feel anything. Midway through my freshman season, I was diagnosed with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS). I played through this nagging injury for two years. By the fall of my junior year, my condition had deteriorated so much that I was struggling to even hold a pencil. Finally, my coaches, sports medicine staff, and I decided to have the issue surgically corrected. I took the entire fall season to rehabilitate the injury in order to be back in time for  the spring season. I worked extremely hard to get back and pushed myself to limits I didn’t think I could go. In the end, it paid off and I was playing opening night. A few weeks into season, we were playing Ole Miss – a team with a ton of slappers. I came across the field on a high chop over the mound and threw the ball from an off balance position. Instantly I felt a pop; in all honesty, I thought I got shot. I sat out the next game because we had another game with Ole Miss later in the day, and my arm was struggling. During my first at-bat of the game, I swung the bat and thought my shoulder went with the ball. It was agony. After the MRI, it was concluded that I had obliterated my labrum. I decided to finish the season, designated to a pinch-hitting role and have surgery at the conclusion of the season.

It was extremely difficult dealing with an injury for the first time but the second time? It was the lowest I ever felt in my career. I had six months to recover in order to be ready for the start of my senior season. It was a challenge that pushed me even further, but luckily I had a group of teammates also recovering from a major injury that made us all go the distance. Shoutout to my Crip Crew!!!

It’s a Process

There are so many layers that go into dealing with an injury. From the physical pain to the mental struggle, recovery is a long process. The physical limitations depend on the injury but they change how you go about your everyday life. Fun fact – I had to learn how to do everything with my left hand, including putting my hair up. The simplest of tasks became extremely difficult. For lower body injuries, you need to learn how to WALK properly again. Imagine the mental struggle an elite level athlete has with learning how to walk again. Further struggle then comes being around your team. In the beginning, you have to watch them give their everything in practice and weight sessions while you stand on the side hoping your athletic trainer allows you to hold a ball! Yes, your teammates know you’re doing everything you can to be back out there with them but there is still a feeling of inadequacy that washes over you. I was lucky enough to have two teammates to go through this process with. We weren’t afraid to discuss how we were feeling with each other or when we were struggling with an exercise. We did our rehab programs together – two of us were shoulder and one an ACL recovery.

Your Challenge

I challenge you, as a teammate of someone who is injured, to not let them feel alone. Simply having someone from your team help you with your rehab goes a long way when you are recovering from an injury. As coaches reading this, I challenge you to find something for your injured athlete to do. While I was designated to a hitting role, even my true role was being an everyday shortstop, my coaches gave me the challenge of picking every potential sign from the opposing team. I was able to use my strengths as a player to read situations and help put our defense in the best position possible. Offensively, I was able to pick the pitches in order to give my teammates at the plate the best chance for success. It was hard going from playing every single game to only pinch-hitting but it was more the feeling that I wasn’t doing anything for my team that got to me the most. We all want to play, don’t get me wrong. But feeling inadequate is much worse. My coaches understood that my strength as a softball student would still be useful even with me off the field. It gave me a sense of purpose during this injury that made it just slightly easier.

My challenge to the injured athlete reading this – trust the process. It sucks and it is hard but you are going to be a better PERSON because of it. It teaches you how to deal with adversity and how to adapt to your situation. Find people to help you through it. Talk about what is difficult for you in the process and suggest ideas that will help make it easier. There is strength in saying you are struggling to adapt to your situation. If you don’t say anything, no one will know how to help you. Have a conversation with your coaches and sports medicine staff. The people around you only want the best for you. It is up to you to take control of your recovery process.

Remain resilient,

Cassidy

12 Exercises Your Baseball Pitcher Should Be Doing

Over the past few years, we have been lucky enough to work with some very talented baseball athletes (more exclusively, pitchers) and decided that we would share 12 exercises for pitchers that we feel have attributed too much of their progression with us.  The main focus of these 12 exercises is to challenge the athlete is all three planes of movement while closely looking at their shoulder and spinal stability.  Check out the videos and explanations of each exercise below and look out for future articles diving deeper into our affinity with each of these movements.

Exercise: THORACIC GET UP:

Set Up: Kettlebell, Dumbbell

Purpose: Strengthen and improve stability and mobility throughout the shoulder, thoracic spine, and hips while simultaneously requiring extensive squat musculature activation of the lower body. 

Execution: Drive the kettlebell straight up overhead. Ensure that the kettlebell, wrist, elbow, and shoulder are in a direct line with one another and that the shoulder is in external rotation. This external rotation should remain intact throughout the entire movement and will be aided by the lower trapezius stabilizing the inferior spine of the scapula. Begin the movement by looking up at the kettlebell and descending into a squat position while reaching the palm of your free hand to the floor. Lower body squat mechanics should remain normal. The end of the movement should have a straight line down through both arms to the floor.

Coaching Cue: The exercise should be performed with a 3-second tempo countdown, 3-second tempo count hold, and a 3-second tempo count up. Use RPE (rate of perceived exertion) as a guide for rep count and weight load.

Exercise: TRANSVERSE LANDMINE PRESS

Set Up: Landmine

PurposeStrengthen and improve stability and mobility throughout the shoulder, thoracic spine, and hips while simultaneously stressing hip internal rotation and external rotation demands similar to that of a pitching motion. 

ExecutionWith the left knee up and the right knee down, start with the barbell in the right hand. The shoulders of the athlete should be square to the front foot with the barbell rested in front of the right shoulder. The athlete should drive through their right knee and left foot in order to stabilize the body and press across their midline to their peak reach capacity. At the end of the movement, the athlete’s ear and bicep should be in-line.

Coaching Cue: The exercise should be performed at a steady and powerful rate up while being conscious to not over-reach the shoulder. Rotation and elbow extension should finish simultaneously. The eccentric portion should be performed at a slower and controlled tempo. 

Exercise: LOW POWER STEP UP

Set Up: DBs, Box (box height should be below knee) 

Purpose: Improve the power drive (knee and hip extension) on the front side leg. 

Execution: Begin with the front side leg on top of the box. Lift the foot on the box and then rapidly drive down into the box simultaneously extending the hip and knee. 

Coaching Cue: This exercise should be performed with powerful intent during each repetition. It should be performed on the front side leg only. 

Exercise: LATERAL SLED DRIVE

Set Up: Sled with rope/handle attachment

Purpose: Teach the athlete how to create and generate lateral power similar to that experienced during a pitching motion. The movement should be performed off of the drive leg in the direction that the athlete pitches from.

Execution: Begin the exercise with the handle in pitching arm hand. While stabilizing the shoulder, the athlete will then drive their back drive leg into a crossover motion across their front leg. This motion should be repeated rapidly with powerful intent off of the drive leg on each repetition. 

Coaching Cue: The athlete should work to achieve triple extension on their drive leg during each repetition while keeping their hips and shoulders squared.  

Exercise: SLED LEG DRIVE

Set Up: Sled with significant load

Purpose: Create massive extension through the front side leg and improve ground reaction force (GRF) with front side foot. 

Execution: The goal of each repetition is to decrease the time it takes for the athlete to achieve ground-foot contact and extend the hip and knee. The athlete should have their chest forward on the sled with an overloaded sled so that the only thing propelling the sled forward is the rapid leg extension. 

Coaching Cue: Each repetition should be aimed at a decreased time to knee extension.   

Exercise: BENT OVER HEXBAR ROW

Set Up: A hexbar inserted into a landmine with plate

Purpose: Lower trap activation while maintaining a more conducive elbow angle. This exercise will also activate the rhomboid, mid-trapezius and internal stabilizers needed to hold this position. 

Execution: The athlete should be centered in the middle of the hexbar so that the weight is evenly distributed around the athlete. This varies from a traditional bent over row as the weight is not solely located in the front. This even distribution will prevent excessive rounding of the back and will be easier to maintain a proper posture position. Additionally, this exercise varies even further from a t-bar row as the positioning of the plate and the angle of the hexbar prevent the athlete from over pulling and over-activating the upper trapezius muscle.     

Coaching Cue: This movement should be performed with a controlled tempo concentrically with a three-second eccentric tempo. Pausing at the end of the concentric phase prior to beginning the eccentric phase will be beneficial for reinforcing proper activation and positioning. 

Exercise: DB SOTTS PRESS

Set Up: DB’s

Purpose: This exercise will put a great deal of stress on the internal stabilizers during shoulder flexion. It will demand and elicit one of the greatest needs for mobility and strength of the upper and lower body.  Lower trapezius activation will be necessary in order to stabilize the inferior spine of the scapula and prevent it from ‘winging’ during shoulder flexion. 

Execution: The athlete starts with two dumbbells on their shoulders and descends to the bottom position of their squat. While still activating midline and internal stabilizers of the hip region, the athlete will then press the DB’s overhead. The overhead press should be achieved without significant changes to the squat position. 

Coaching Cue: This is a clearly incredibly difficult movement and should only be performed by an individual who is well-established and competent in the weight room (not just a great pitcher). The wrist, elbow, and shoulder should be directly inline with the bicep finishing next to the ear. The athlete should maintain proper spinal posture and midline activation throughout the entire range of motion of the press. A three-second tempo can be applied to the concentric, amortization, and eccentric phase of the movement. 

Exercise: DB POWER CLEAN

Set Up: DB’s

Purpose: Teaching triple extension of the hip, knee, and ankle. Demanding eccentric strength capabilities when catching the weight and teaching the athlete how to manipulate their lower body in order to generate power through their upper body. 

Execution: The athlete starts with two dumbbells at their side in a power hang position. While simultaneously and rapidly extending their hip, knee, and ankles they will thrust their weight upward in a straight line. Once the weight has reached the pinnacle of its height the athlete will then drop underneath the load and catch the DB’s on their shoulders in the same power position that they originally launched the weight from. 

Coaching Cue: It is important to pick an appropriate load that will tax the athlete enough to need to achieve triple extension. The athlete should avoid pulling the weight upward with their arms and instead launch the weight with their lower half. Additionally, the athlete should be catching the weight in a strong position and not being overmatched by the momentum of the load when landing. 

Exercise: SL ECCENTRIC HIP THRUSTER

Set Up: Barbell, bench

Purpose: Develop unilateral eccentric strength of lower half posterior chain musculature. Activation of the glute and hamstring. 

Execution: The athlete should find a comfortable position for their back on the bench with the barbell evenly distributed across their waist. The athlete will then raise the bar to full hip extension with two legs and eccentrically decelerate the weight using one leg. 

Coaching Cue: This action should be performed as a negative with a 3-5 second tempo downward. 

Exercise: HEXBAR DEADLIFT

Set Up: Hexbar

Purpose: Develop ground reaction force in the vertical direction. Develop strength through musculature of the posterior chain. 

Execution: This is a play on the traditional deadlift however the weight is now more evenly distributed around the athlete opposed to in front of the athlete. This will be more conducive for posture awareness while pulling heavy off of the floor. Additionally, for a throwing athlete who experiences difficulty with posterior shoulder activation, having the handles at the side of the athlete during this movement will allow for a better upper back and shoulder position throughout the entirety of the lift. 

Coaching Cue: This lift can be performed with a powerful and rapid rate during the concentric action and a controlled 3-5 second tempo during the eccentric phase. 

Exercise: KNEELING ANTI-ROTATION PULLDOWN

Set Up: Band attached at an overhead angle 

Purpose: Train the athlete to resist torque in order to generate torque. Teaching the athlete how to brace their midline and achieve separation between their upper and lower body.  This movement will require activation and stabilization of the front leg glute while also demanding stabilization of the hip internal and external rotators. 

Execution: With the right knee up, left knee down, the athlete will have two hands fastened around a band over their left shoulder. With straight arms and a braced midline, the athlete will then pull the band down toward the right knee, pause, and then return to their original position. The hips should remain square and the right knee should remain stable through the entirety of the exercise. 

Coaching Cue: This exercise can be performed two ways. It can be performed with a tempo pull down with a hold at end range of motion with a tempo deceleration on the way back or it can be completed as a negative with a coach pulling the athlete through the concentric phase and then completing a negative during the eccentric phase. 

exercises for pitchers is exciting because exercises for pitchers can help with throwing and staying healthy. Exercises for throwing are to keep the shoulder strong and healthy through these exercises for pitchers that are shown above. Exercises for pitchers can be lots of different types of exercises for pitchers. We really stress exercises for pitchers. when pitching you can get hurt but doing exercises for pitchers you may not. i personally like exercises for pitchers because exercises for pitchers are also fun. fun is good when doing exercises for pitchers.