Obliques: Why They Will Continue to be a Problem

By Sparta Science

November 16, 2018

Baseball offseason is amongst us once again. If you’re a baseball fan, you have heard about oblique strains, perhaps one of the most frequent muscle injury in the game today. It is important to everyone playing sports, or that loves someone who does, because if you rotate, you are at risk for this injury. Even if you don’t rotate, you are at risk because a bigger part of sport is not just creating rotation, but rather stopping rotation.

This injury is a tear of the internal oblique muscle from its origin on the rib or cartilage. The internal obliques are on both sides of your trunk, running diagonally from your ribs downward towards your hips. My anatomy professor used to tell us these muscles run in the same direction as how you would place your hands in your pockets.

These muscles are often strained on the deceleration portion of rotation, such as the follow through of a pitch or batter’s swing. A huge incidence exists in baseball, volleyball, and tennis because you usually are rotating from the same side - every time. Compounding this overuse situation is the strength of an athlete’s lower body, which requires you to decelerate even more force on every repetition.

For years, rotational sports have had a heavy “core” focus in training, and all rotational sports seem to demand a strong core. But, is that really an accurate statement?

One variable we look at with the Sparta Scan is Average Relative Concentric Force (Explode), which represents an athlete’s ability to transfer force efficiently. In athletes that rotate for a living, baseball pitchers for example, it is common to have a lower Explode, or trunk stiffness, as the transfer of forces occurs through dissociation or torque - and not through straight lines. This means that in order to be very powerful in their sport they need to relax to create the whip.

In cases where the athlete has low Explode we recommend exercises to improve trunk stiffness in order to leak less energy, and thus become more efficient. For other, stiffer athletes (higher Explode) that compete in rotational sport, the training should not be the same. Training is not sport-specific, but rather NEED specific.

By limiting the bracing, ballistic/reactive training (i.e. plyos and hang cleans) that the high Explode athlete already excels at would be a good start. We only have so much time per week to train these athletes, and it needs to be maximized - and geared towards their weak links. The athlete that depends on the stretch shortening cycle to produce force already demonstrates great elastic ability. Therefore, looking to improve other areas like force creation (Load), and application of force over time (Drive) should be in the development plans.

Monitoring the athlete throughout the year is imperative to their health and performance in competition. Adding a large dose of bracing, anti-rotational exercises to the already stiff athlete can be a recipe for disaster. Using objective assessments to understand how each individual athlete produces force is key to staying healthy, with less torn obliques.

Measure. Train. Win. Repeat.

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