It has been well-documented in the scientific literature and through years of practical experience that a strong posterior chain is essential for successful, injury free performance in all sports. Research has also shown that there are numerous exercises with which to effectively train the posterior chain, each with a slightly different amount and type of stress on the various links within the chain. While exercises with free weights such as squats, deadlifts, RDLs, hip thrusts, KB swings, etc. are all effective, there are times when one or more of these are not applicable. If you are working with an athlete with a low back, hip, knee or ankle issue, for example, it may not be feasible to load the spine and therefor many or all of these exercises might be contraindicated. Likewise if you are the visiting team and there are limited or no free weights available, you might have to find alternative methods such as bands or tubing to load the chain.
In baseball, the starting catcher provides a unique problem. While it’s essential that he maintain a strong posterior chain, the volume of up and down and side-to-side movements that he makes over the course of a single game, week or season usually contraindicates loading the spine on a regular basis during the season. A starting catcher will usually play four out of every five games or approximately 130 games per season. Salvador Perez the starting catcher for the Kansas City Royals for example has averaged playing in 142 games per season for the past four years. If you assume that he will catch approximately 200 pitches per game including pre-game and between inning warm-up pitches, he will be getting up and down approximately 200 times or more per game, 1200 times per week (catching 6 out of 7 games per week) and over 28,000 times per season. Given this extremely high volume of work it makes little sense to load his spine in order to maintain strength in his posterior chain.
The key to in-season training for catchers, therefore, is to find an effective exercise that requires a minimum amount of equipment with which you can maintain posterior chain strength and mobility while reducing stress on the spine. The Royals’ answer is the cable pull through. At home, we use an adjustable pulley machine. On the road, we use bands if an adjustable pulley machine is not available.
How to do it:
- Affix a triceps rope to an adjustable pulley unit and drop it to the bottom position.
- Face away from the cable unit, assume a wide stance with a slight knee bend and grab the rope between your legs.
- Begin each rep by reaching through the legs while maintaining a neutral spine position.
- Don’t revert to a squat pattern. Sit back into the “stretch” or hip hinge pattern. It’s not an up and down motion; it’s a back and forth motion.
- Push your hips or hamstrings back as if you’re trying to tap a wall with your butt. Keep doing so until your hands are past your knees. Many lifters make the mistake of crowding their groin and omit the reaching-through portion.
- Maintain a neutral spine at all times, i.e., maintain the natural curvature of your upper and lower back by not allowing the upper back to round while the lower back stays arched.
- Pull forward by forcefully extending your hips, not pulling with your arms and finish
- Your head follows the hinge to ensure a packed or chin-tucked pattern throughout. You are less likely to hyperextend the neck and cause undue stress when you move this way.
- At lockout, don’t hyperextend the hips. Concentrate on “finishing with the hips” and squeezing the glutes at the top, making sure to lock out the knees.
The cable pull through is an excellent exercise to train the posterior chain (glutes and hamstrings) while reducing the stress on the spine. Do 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps each 2 times per week.
Ryan Stoneberg, RSCC is the Major League Strength and Conditioning Coordinator for the Kansas City Royals.