In order to maximize performance while minimizing the risk of injury, the overhead throwing athlete faces a very demanding dynamic relationship between mobility and stability in the thoracic/shoulder girdle/humerus complex in the pitching arm side (PAS). Scapular stability is a very important characteristic in the PAS of an elite baseball athlete as the humerus is faced with extreme mobility requirements during the pitching delivery. However, not including the humerus, the scapula has only one bony connection with the clavicle through the acromioclavicular joint. So scapular stability is almost exclusively provided through muscular actions.
Additionally, the acromioclavicular joint moves substantially relative to the thorax, and this upper thoracic mobility is an often under valued requirement of the overhead throwing athlete. If thoracic mobility is limited, then the resultant scapulohumeral kinematics may be compromised leading to decreased performance and/or increased risk of injury.
So how does an athlete develop scapular upward rotation and elevation? Following are a list of of exercises (most from Eric Cressey, aka the “Shoulder Guy”) that can be done as part of a warm-up (after foam rolling) or used as fillers during a resistance training program. While many of the exercises focus on glenohumeral joint mobility and stability, it is important to assess and improve thoracic mobility first as this completes the kinetic chain between the pelvis/core and the shoulders.
Thoracic Spine Mobility Exercises
Side Lying Extension-Rotation (thoracic spine extension/rotation driving scapular retraction/depression)
Side Lying Windmill (thoracic spine movement with appropriate scapular retraction/posterior tilt)
For those athletes that have good internal rotation (no GIRD restrictions described below), this is another good stretch:
Quadruped Extension-Rotation w/ Internal Rotation
Bench T-Spine Mobilizations (targets not only thoracic spine, but also lats and long head of triceps)
Scapular Rotation Exercises
Back to Wall Shoulder Flexion (more of a dynamic assessment than anything; If you can’t pass the test, make sure you’re foam rolling and stretching your lats out regularly)
Forearm Wall Slide with Scapular Retraction
Wall Slide with Overhead Shrug
Forearm Wall Slide with Band (targets lower trapezius / serratus anterior)
Alternating Lateral Lunge with Overhead Reach (helps to target imbalance at the shoulder girdle from too much extension in lower back and not enough upward scapular rotation common in overhead throwing athletes)