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Q & A

Got a question about some aspect of mind-body-spirit fitness? Ask! It can be as earthly as "Can a heart monitor really enhance my workout?" (the short answer to that is yes) or as heady as, "Don't I need to sell all my worldly goods and go live on a mountain top to find enlightenment?" (the short answer here is no). Needless to say, we can't answer every question we receive, but we will take one every month and answer it here. If you've got a burning need to know about something, email us, and you may find your query featured next time around.

Can you explain what muscles are used to throw a ball? (Or, Why Fitness Is a Whole-istic Experience)

What muscles are used to throw a ball? On the surface this seems like a question someone would ask in a college course on kinesiology, not in an email to a mind-body-spirit fitness site. But dig below the surface and it creates a powerful argument in favor of making exercise a holistic (or whole-istic) experience. A lot more goes on in the simple act of throwing a ball than you might at first imagine.

(Article continued below.)

The basic question is really not answerable because the asker doesn't specify the type of throw - a professional baseball pitcher is not necessarily using all the same muscles to pitch to a batter as an outfielder who has caught a fly and is throwing to his teammate. And that's also different from the muscles used by a mother to throw a light plastic ball, underhanded, to her five-year-old child. Then there's the underhanded bowling ball throw... For all intents and purposes, though, let's just take your garden-variety throw - just pick up any old ball that will fit in your hand and throw it.

The most obvious muscles used in a throw are your deltoids, or shoulder muscles, with arm and wrist action added in. But think a little deeper. When your body is involved in an action, it is the result of a complex series of movements involving many muscles. When you're throwing, your back muscles come into play, and your abdominals are helping to stabilize you. If you're throwing with any sort of force whatsoever, you are twisting your torso, your hips and moving your legs. Your whole body is following through on a good throw. So what muscles are you using to throw a ball? Perhaps the question should be, "What muscles aren't you using?" And we've almost forgotten the most important muscles - the ones that determine whether the throw will hit its mark. What do you do first if you want to throw accurately? You look precisely where you want to throw the ball. How do your eyes work? With the help of the muscles surrounding them.

So, if you want to throw well, you can't just go to the gym and build up your shoulder and arm muscles, nor can you just practice throwing over and over again mindlessly. You need to work on the strength of all your muscle groups (although you should certainly focus on the primary movers - the muscles that do the actual throwing). When you're practicing your throwing, you need to be aware of what all the different parts of your body are doing so you can make corrections and refine your technique. And, if you want to really throw the best you can, you must be able to visualize exactly where that ball is going to land - you need to see your mark, both physically and mentally.

Mind-body fitness is not just about Yoga and Pilates. It's about every sport. It's about dance. It's about every move you make during the day. A conscious balance is necessary. Even when an activity is focused on one muscle group, there is a whole series of other muscles supporting it. And every conscious activity begins in the mind. Think about that the next time you throw a crumpled up sheet of paper into a wastebasket while pretending you're Michael Jordan!

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