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Training with Rubber Tubing & Bands
11/13/2009

 

          Tubing made of rubber or similar materials is often used by baseball and softball players for strength work, usually for “smaller” muscles such as those that are associated with the rotator cuff.

          While tubing and bands are generally considered to be safe for use by players of any age, they are not without potential problems. The thing people need to remember is that these are tools for resistance training, just like free weights (barbells/dumbbells). Tubing comes in different levels of resistance or difficulty, usually denoted by their color, and develops muscles like any other type of resistance training.                    

          Personally, I prefer free weights to tubing, or anything like tubing, primarily because of the more consistent (but not perfect) force curve produced with weights.

          What this means is that the resistance is more uniform throughout the range of motion (start to finish). With tubing, depending on the movement performed, there is little or no resistance at the start of the exercise and considerably more at the end. So, with tubing, certain points in the range of motion will receive more resistance than others.

          The thing to keep in mind when training with tubing is this: it is a strength training tool just like free weights. Depending on how it’s used, it can stimulate muscle tissue and produce muscle growth just like weights. It will not make a muscle “longer” or more flexible in the process. So, tubing offers no advantage in terms of muscle development, particularly for younger players, than using free weights.

          I mention this because I often hear coaches recommending tubing over free weights for young players, as if it is somehow “safer” or better for youngsters.  I suppose if you were to drop a piece of rubber tubing on your foot, it will hurt much less than if you were to drop a 5 lb dumbbell on it!

          Yet training with tubing does requires caution. Among the hazards is that old, improperly-cared-for tubing can snap and break during use. While this usually results in a painful snap on some area of the body, there are reports of serious eye injuries resulting from broken tubing. So, I recommend doing what I do: wear a pair of safety goggles while training with tubing. Eyes are hard to replace!

  How Does Tubing Work?

          Muscles do one thing: they contract. They do not flex – this is what joints do, amongst other actions. So, when a muscle is stimulated by tubing or weights, it will grow. Training with tubing doesn’t somehow produce muscle growth that is preferable over the growth produced by weights.

If you want a muscle to be less “bulky” and “short,” other factors must also come into play. Among these are how the resistance program is designed, and especially, the presence (or lack of) flexibility work. Otherwise, muscle growth stimulated by tubing or weights will be pretty much the same.

          Another consideration when using tubing is that it should be used in a manner that is actually beneficial to throwers. For example, a common method of training with tubing is to place the arm at the throwing release point and pulling forward (internal shoulder rotation), as illustrated:

        This type of movement is done by some with the thought that training the arm against resistance will somehow “strengthen” it for throwing, thereby enabling a player to throw harder. However, this is not true.

This training movement is exactly the opposite of what an overhand thrower does, and has the potential of slowing down a throwing arm, resulting in decreased throwing velocity.

          Consider that when a thrower’s arm moves forward in its throwing range of motion to the release point, the only resistance is from the ball in the hand. After ball release, the arm continues to move forward without resistance.

The movement used in Figure 1 is similar to what swimmers do with the crawl stroke, which I also do NOT recommend for ball players. Among my concerns is that most baseball coaches know little about swimming stroke mechanics or about properly designing a swimming workout for ball players.

An even greater consideration is the potential for throwers to develop an impingement in their shoulders by swimming. Bottom line: ball players should not do any type of serious swimming training. If you want to jump in the water and cool off, great. Just do your conditioning on land!

          A simple yet effective way to train the external rotator muscles/decelerators used by overhead throwers is shown here, using a small weight. Tubing could also be used in this manner:  

                              Start Position

Finish

            Keep in mind that an exercise doesn’t have to exactly mimic a sports movement to be of benefit. With strength and conditioning, we are training the muscles and tendons used by a particular movement, not the movement mechanics. Just be sure your exercise doesn’t work in opposition to your sports movement!

          Bottom line: training with tubing for ball players is but one part of an overall strength and conditioning program. It is not required for players of a particular age or ability level, but, properly performed, can be a helpful part of a resistance training regimen.


© 2009 Baseball Fit, LLC. All Rights Reserved. Short quotations with attribution permitted. Cite source as Steve Zawrotny's BASEBALL FIT  Hitting & Pitching Conditioning www.BaseballFit.com