On August 5th Brett Lawrie made his return to the Blue Jays lineup after missing 36 games with a broken finger, but before he could take his second at bat, he was removed from the game. Fans hearts’ were crushed yet again. He had suffered an oblique injury; the third in his short career and second in as many seasons. Since Lawrie hit the DL for a second time, I’ve stumbled across hundreds of conversations regarding the obliques and theories around his injury history. What I’ve discovered is that there is a vast misconception about oblique injuries, in how they occur, and how they can be prevented through training.
The “core” has multiple responsibilities. It not only controls all movement in the body, it also protects the hips, spine, shoulders etc. from injury. Additionally, it acts as an absorber of tremendous forces. When a player is swinging and the front leg lands, it halts the tremendous rotational velocity in the hips. The hips rotate at an incredible 714 degrees per second. Lawrie is both a right-handed hitter and thrower. We all know that he hurls his body with full force into almost everything he does. Let’s consider the extreme internal rotation during a swing such as Lawrie’s.
Oblique injuries usually occur on the opposite side of the players throwing arm or hitting side. In some cases the muscle will detach off the 11th rib.
Lawrie has had two separate oblique injuries in two years, both on his left side. Below is a GIF of Lawrie swinging.
What you will notice is the left hip out in front and rotated while the rest of the upper body is still loading or cocked. That left side is fully stretched and requires the necessary range of motion in the hips and spine to be able to withstand the violent rotational force.
This is where you will hear cries for core work from anyone with an opinion. But what exactly is core work to most people? Most will point to fitness magazines and websites telling you to do hundreds of crunches or sit ups. Consider for a moment what a crunch involves: you’re pulling the rib cage and putting too much pressure and flexion on the spine. This can lead to all kinds of issues; mainly disc problems in the back. The crunching motion is just worsening the range of motion in the thoracic spine. Crunches simply don’t help the stability of the trunk or core. Instead, ball players should be training the movement patterns that resist the rotation.
Lawrie’s issues don’t end with obliques. The “core” strength helps protect the lumbo-pelvic-hip-complex. In the last year, Lawrie has complained of hip problems such as stiffness. He blames age and the turf at the Rogers Centre. That should surprise no one, because the Blue Jays essentially play more than 80 of their games on cement. However, hip mobility issues should not simply be chalked up to age or field conditions. To counter these effects last off-season, Lawrie took up yoga. Unfortunately this is counter intuitive. Yoga incorporates far too much stretching that involves hyperextension rather than focusing on rotation stability and resisting lumbar hyperextension.
Most teams in major league baseball are doing nothing substantial to prevent or project injury. Pitch counts and other such band-aid effects aren’t helping. I often compare the strength and condition age in the MLB to the sabermetric stage. For example: I recall a vine post that Jose Bautista posted of him and Munenori Kawasaki warming up in the locker room with foam rollers. It was met with jokes and confusion. Foam rolling or self-myofascial release is all the rage in recent years. It was over a decade ago that the smartest trainers in the world introduced foam rolling. The rest of the fitness community is just lagging behind. Sadly this is the state in professional baseball. In a game where greedy owners attempt to save a nickel where ever they can, sinking money into unknown training practices isn’t going to happen anytime soon. A professor once told me that he believed an overlooked factor with athletes and treatment is the time spent on the table and commitment from your client. We can project injury to our hearts content, but the one true predictor of future injury is previous injury.
Of course, I have no way of knowing how Lawrie trains in the offseason. I did my best to try to find out more, but failed. Instead I have to depend on his daily twitter updates and interviews. With that said, his oblique injuries cannot be simply brushed off as flukes…which Alex Anthopoulos tends to do. His training needs to be looked at and changes need to be made. I would like to know how Lawrie trained while he was recuperating from a broken finger. I generally try to avoid the blame game that people put on the training staff. In this situation it’s difficult for me not to question how Lawrie’s body wasn’t ready for baseball activity. An oblique injury of this magnitude a few days after coming back from a month off should be a massive tell that something is wrong with how he trains his body. Brett Lawrie has all the potential in the world but we aren’t going to get a chance to fully experience it if he hits the 60 day DL every season.
Recently, the Blue Jays have shown some positive signs in the conditioning of their players. In the off-season a new head of strength and conditioning was brought in. They also invested in the weighted ball program for pitchers, which despite my issues with certain aspects of it, is still a fantastic program. Furthermore, the Blue Jays own Chad Jenkins trains with one of the baseball’s best trainers, Eric Cressey, in the off-season. Perhaps it’s time Chad passes around a business card. Lawrie could sure use it.