The terms “scap retraction” and “scap load” are in vogue for many athletes looking to boost velocity and improve throwing output.
Scap retraction, or shoulder horizontal abduction, refers to the upper arm moving behind the plane of the shoulders. We often see athletes in the gym spending extra time trying to feel takeaway, generating high max scap retraction in their plyocare work, and having mixed results.
For us, to start the process with someone focused on a critical element to the delivery is a huge win. We can help a lot in a short time span by clarifying the role of scap retraction in the delivery and adding in minor adjustments to improve throwing output.
The role of scap retraction in the delivery
What we look for in athletes in-gym is scap retraction at front foot strike.
This is the final piece of the body’s coil that gets unleashed by the force of front foot strike, and has been shown in biomechanical research by Driveline Baseball and others to be highly correlated with velocity.
With this in mind, athletes who focus intently on driving their elbow back behind them often do not effectively accomplish their goal of “loading” or “getting into” their scap because they do not fully understand what the end goal is.
We see plenty of guys sending their arms back behind them, only to dump that move immediately in an effort to bring their hand up to throw.
Effective communication of what exactly we’re looking for will frequently lead to the athlete self-organizing into better movement patterns. Some cues that we have had success with are “elbow back and hand up” for throwers with a short, or elbow first arm action, and “take the outside track” for throwers with a longer, hand first arm action.
In both cases these cues are intended to convey the need for scap retraction to be maximized at foot plant, rather than simply after takeaway.
The power of hand position
Depending on the arm action of the thrower in question, their wrist and hand should either be pronated, supinated or neutral through takeaway to maximize scap retraction at foot plant.
- For throwers with a short arm action (elbow first), their wrist and hand should be neutral or slightly supinated through takeaway.
- Throwers with a longer arm action should pronate through takeaway.
This minor change can make a huge difference for the athlete’s feeling of looseness of his or her arm action, as improper hand and wrist position can feel like getting stuck in the scap, forcing the athlete to dump scap retraction to get their arm up in a position to throw.
On the other hand, proper hand and wrist position through takeaway feels like being in a “groove” and the body does a much better job of retaining scap retraction as the arm gets up into the throwing position.
Most of our athletes do Scap Retraction throws during their plyocare routines to either reinforce or re-map their takeaway phase. When performed properly this drill will feel so good for the thrower that they will chase that feeling, consciously or unconsciously, in the rest of their throwing.
Proper foundation matters
High level of scap retraction at front foot strike is largely a byproduct of efficient movement, mobility, and strength, and not something we actively cue.
This is why we focus on the takeaway phase of the delivery, as well as efficient lower body rotation later on, as well as including those movement patterns in a lot of what we do in the weight room.
As throwers we have very little bandwidth for too many cues in the delivery, so we try to simplify as much as possible. One of our favorite goals for athletes throw-to-throw on the plyo wall or on the mound is to “win the first move.”
If we can do that consistently, we put ourselves in a powerful position to move well without sacrificing intent, command, or competitiveness.
Learn more about how to set up a proper strength program to reach your full potential today.