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Importance of Lower Extremity Strengthening for Overhead Athletes

by Tara Hackney, PT, DPT, OCS, KTTPLeave a Comment

Overhead athletes play a variety of sports, including baseball, lacrosse, football, volleyball and even tennis. These athletes require power and strength in their dominant extremity for overhead positions. However, it is important to also consider the lower extremities of these athletes in a strengthening program.

Shoulder injuries are the most common throwing-related injury.1 Baseball has emerged as the sport with the highest rate of shoulder injuries among overhead throwing sports.2 Pitchers suffer the majority of these baseball injuries.

Mechanics for Throwing

In biomechanical terms, physical therapists look at the kinetic chain or rather how the body connects to itself and transfers energy from one segment to another. For overhead throwers, more than 50 percent of kinetic energy is transferred to the upper extremity from the legs and core.2 Any deficit in that kinetic chain is considered a “weak link” and these weak links are commonly found in the core, spine, hips or shoulder.

It is important to have coordinated movement between the lower and upper body to help prevent injury, including proper timing for muscle activation and coordination to safely transfer energy from the lower extremities. When this is not operating optimally, stress can develop on areas that are not used to accommodating these stresses.

Factors that can alter the kinetic chain:

  • Poor muscle flexibility
  • Poor muscle endurance
  • Decreased hip range of motion
  • Decreased shoulder range of motion
  • Poor spinal mobility
  • Weakness in rotator cuff muscles

Ways to Help Overhead Athletes Succeed

Strong and properly functioning core, hips and legs are essential to overhead athletes. Exercises for these athletes should focus on linking the shoulder and lower extremity to facilitate the transfer of energy and power from the lower extremity to the upper extremity.3.In many adolescent and pre-adolescent athletes, the posterior musculature (gluteals, hamstrings) are underdeveloped and lack control with decreased activation during basic athletic movements.3

Tips to Strengthen Core and Lower Extremities3

  • Exercises can be performed on a stability ball to challenge the core and hips
  • Planks or pushups incorporate more core activation and can be advanced to be performed on tilt board
  • Perform shoulder strengthening exercises in split stance position similar to throwing
  • Perform squats and single leg squats for lower extremity strengthening
  • Plyometric drills for lower extremities help progress dynamic stability of the whole chain
  • Endurance training
  • Stretching of lower extremities, including hamstrings, gluteals and quad muscles

Improve Your Performance

If you are an overhead athlete looking to improve your performance, consider scheduling a Video Throwing Analysis at Athletico. Through this analysis, our team of physical therapists, occupational therapists, certified athletic trainers and physical therapist assistants combine their expertise with slow-motion video to refine an athlete’s mechanics. Click the link below to schedule an appointment today.

Request an Appointment Today

The Athletico blog is an educational resource written by Athletico employees. Athletico bloggers are licensed professionals who abide by the code of ethics outlined by their respective professional associations. The content published in blog posts represents the opinion of the individual author based on their expertise and experience. The content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice and should not be relied on for making personal health decisions.


  1. Copeland, S. Throwing injuries of the shoulder. Br. J. Sports Med. 1993; 27: 221-7.
  2. Zaremski JL, Wasser JG, Vincent HK. Mechanisms and Treatments for Shoulder Injuries in Overhead Throwing Athletes. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2017;16(3):179-188.
  3. Wilk KE, Arrigo CA, Hooks TR, Andrews JR. Rehabilitation of the Overhead Throwing Athlete: There Is More to It Than Just External Rotation/Internal Rotation Strengthening. PM R. 2016;8(3 Suppl):S78-90.
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About the Author:
Tara Hackney, a physical therapist in Marion, IA, enjoys working with all patient types, especially gymnasts, cheerleaders, and dancers. She is the prominent blogger for Athletico's Gymnastic/Cheer Program. With an orthopedic specialization and training in dry needling and Graston technique, Tara hopes to answer your questions about injuries and injury prevention in an easy-to-understand manner. She hopes to ease fears surrounding pain and injuries, address concerns about recovery, and provide tips to prevent injury. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her dog, reading, and watching her nephews play sports.

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