Rotator cuff training with upper extremity blood flow restriction produces favorable adaptations in division IA collegiate pitchers: a randomized trial

Bradley S. Lambert, Corbin Hedt, Jordan P. Ankersen, Haley Goble, Carter Taft, Joshua Daum, Richard Karasch, Michael R. Moreno, Patrick C. McCulloch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Recent evidence indicates that combined upper extremity blood flow restriction (BFR, applied distally to the shoulder) and low-load resistance exercise (LIX) augments clinically meaningful responses in shoulder region tissues proximal to the occlusion site. The purpose of this investigation was to determine the efficacy of BFR-LIX for the shoulder when added to standard offseason training in Division IA collegiate baseball pitchers. We hypothesized that BFR-LIX would augment training-induced increases in shoulder-region lean mass, rotator cuff strength, and endurance. As secondary outcomes, we sought to explore the impact of BFR-LIX rotator cuff training on pitching mechanics. Methods: Twenty-eight collegiate baseball pitchers were randomized into 2 groups (BFRN = 15 and non-BFR [NOBFR]N = 13) that, in conjunction with offseason training, performed 8 weeks of shoulder LIX (Throwing arm only; 2/week, 4 sets [30/15/15/fatigue], 20% isometric max) using 4 exercises (cable external and internal rotation [ER/IR], dumbbell scaption, and side-lying dumbbell ER). The BFR group also trained with an automated tourniquet on the proximal arm (50% occlusion). Regional lean mass (dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry), rotator cuff strength (dynamometry: IR 0 & 90, ° ER 0 & 90, ° Scaption, Flexion), and fastball biomechanics were assessed pre and post-training. Achievable workload (sets × reps × resistance) was also recorded. An ANCOVA (covaried on baseline measures) repeated on training timepoint was used to detect within-group and between-group differences in outcome measures (α = 0.05). For significant pairwise comparisons, effect size (ES) was calculated using a Cohen's d statistic and interpreted as: 0-0.1, negligible; 0.1-0.3, small; 0.3-0.5, moderate; 0.5-0.7, large; >0.7, and very large (VL). Results: Following training, the BFR group experienced greater increases in shoulder-region lean mass (BFR: ↑ 227 ± 60g, NOBFR: ↑ 75 ± 37g, P = .018, ES = 1.0 VL) and isometric strength for IR 90 ° (↑ 2.4 ± 2.3 kg, P = .041, ES = 0.9VL). The NOBFR group experienced decreased shoulder flexion ↓ 1.6 ± 0.8 kg, P = .007, ES = 1.4VL) and IR at 0 ° ↓ 2.9 ± 1.5 kg, P = .004, ES = 1.1VL). The BFR group had a greater increase in achievable workload for the scaption exercise (BFR: ↑ 190 ± 3.2 kg, NOBFR: ↑ 90 ± 3.3 kg, P = .005, ES = 0.8VL). Only the NOBFR group was observed to experience changes in pitching mechanics following training with increased shoulder external rotation at lead foot contact (↑ 9.0° ± 7.9, P = .028, ES = 0.8VL) as well as reduced forward ↓ 3.6° ± 2.1, P = .001, ES = 1.2VL) and lateral ↓ 4.6° ± 3.4, P = .007, ES = 1.0VL) trunk tilt at ball release. Conclusion: BFR-LIX rotator cuff training performed in conjunction with a collegiate offseason program augments increases in shoulder lean mass as well as muscular endurance while maintaining rotator cuff strength and possibly pitching mechanics in a manner that may contribute to favorable outcomes and injury prevention in baseball pitching athletes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e279-e292
JournalJournal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2023


  • Level I
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Shoulder
  • Treatment Study
  • endurance
  • exercise
  • rehabilitation
  • thrower
  • velocity
  • Baseball/injuries
  • Humans
  • Rotator Cuff/physiology
  • Shoulder/physiology
  • Biomechanical Phenomena/physiology
  • Upper Extremity/blood supply
  • Shoulder Joint/physiology
  • Lower Extremity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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