Keys To A Baseball Strength and Conditioning Program
In order to increase arm strength, throwing a baseball every day is not the answer. Plenty of kids always think this, but in reality, you can do more harm than good.
A proper strength program is the most efficient way to build strength in the arm and improve overall athletic performance all while decreasing the risk of injury.
In a sport like baseball, it is hard to find a college team that has 5 players without a history of injury. Whether is a UCL tear, lat strain, or one of the many shoulder pathologies, most players deal with an injury at some point in their career.
Yes, baseball players should be working out, but not at the expense of their body. Too many times, players will pick up bad habits from prior facilities or just plain naiveness. You’ll see them dumping the shoulder forward on a row or benching until the cows come home. Not performing a misguided program is more beneficial than creating poor habits and possibly injuring yourself in the process of following a misguided program.
That’s why I want to talk about two keys that I think are important for a baseball player’s strength and conditioning program. These keys are not groundbreaking, but unfortunately, not all programs emphasize while training.
Taking care of your arm, especially if you are a pitcher, is everything in this sport. In order to progress, you need to be on the field, not in the dugout with a sling on your arm, spitting seeds.
Before we speak on what most people think of when arm care comes into the conversation, we will talk about safely training overall as a baseball player in order to protect your arm. Training for baseball is not like training for football, which includes back squatting and benching in almost every phase of the program. Baseball is a rotational sport that heavily relies on overhead position, whereas football is a lot of sagittal plane and heavy hitting. Baseball players do not need their body to adapt to a lot of load overall in order to increase their performance, which certainly helps in football.
Below, is a list of t exercises players shouldn't do in order to protect their arms and exercises that are a better choice.
Back squat: This exercise puts shoulders in an internally rotated position and the humeral head can translate forward. It just is not a good idea. A better option is the front squat because it places the load in a more shoulder friendly position while taking stress off the spine.
Bench: Many players already sit in an internally rotated position, so why promote this any more? Also, for baseball players, we want to achieve sufficient scapular movement which bench does the opposite - being a fixed scapular exercise. A better option is the landmine press because it drives scapula upwards rotation and shoulder flexion.
Olympic lifts: Snatches and cleans are great exercises to help improve power output, but rely heavily on clean shoulder movement in a dynamic fashion. Wrists, elbows, and shoulders can take a beating from both of these so it is not the best answer to achieve increased power output. Med Ball exercises are a better option because you can get the rotational component baseball players need while not damaging the shoulders, wrists, or elbows if done properly.
These are just a few exercises that I think should not be included in a baseball player’s program. Some would argue otherwise, but I truly believe putting athletes at any sort of risk in order to achieve improved results, while there are other exercises that can achieve the same results without the risk, is an illogical decision.
Not only are there exercises that I think baseball players should not perform in order to reduce the risk of injury, but I also think there are exercises we can improve on.
Below, is a list of exercises we can do a better job on as a baseball player or really any athlete.
Rows: Letting the humeral head shoot forward is the best way to hurt yourself performing rows. Try pushing your shoulder forward and squeezing your upper back/lat. Probably won’t feel too much besides the front of your shoulder. Then, try to pull your shoulder back and squeeze. Now, you'll probably feel the upper back/lat. My point is to make sure you achieve shoulder retraction while you row, your shoulders will thank you. For more information, check out my previous post on rows!
Push-ups: Just like above, you do not want to allow your shoulder to shoot forward as you descend into the push-up. Keep the shoulder centered in the socket and once again, your shoulder will thank you. For more information, check out my previous post on push-ups!
Now that we got that out of the way, let’s talk about actual arm care exercises. As I often say, each athlete is different and they need to be treated differently, not one arm care program is right for every athlete.
Here is a list of just 4 arm care exercises I found are the most commonly used and benefit most athletes.
Prone Trap Raise: Start lying face down on a bench or table. Slowly raise your arm (shoulder flexion) towards the ceiling using your upper back (lower trap). It is a great exercise to achieve posterior scapular tilt. Many athletes appear to have scapular winging where their scapula does not sit on the ribcage properly. Performing this well can help get the scapula to sit better on the rib cage leading to better overall shoulder movement. Check out the featured blog photo for reference!
Wall Slides: Start by facing the wall with forearms parallel to one another and hands eye level on the wall. Then, slide the forearms up the wall emphasizing the feeling under the armpits while keeping the rib cage down. Scapula upwards rotation is generally not the best in people because we all are always sitting in a downwards position with our arms by our sides. It would be different if we always had our arms overhead, but that is not the case. Scapula upwards rotation is a critical part in proper shoulder movement while throwing a baseball. Without it, the shoulder will take a beating. Here’s a quick video of a wall slide!
Back-To-Wall Shoulder Flexion: Start with your back to the wall and feet 6-8 inches away. Maintain contact with your lower back, upper back, and head to the wall. Keeping the lower back and head on the wall is key. Athletes who sit in lumbar extension have a tough time getting into shoulder flexion without compensating using the lumbar erectors. We want the ribcage to sit over the pelvis while we go into shoulder flexion or wind up to pitch to ensure we have proper core stability. This exercise will get the anterior core recruited in order to teach the body to differentiate between shoulder flexion and lumbar extension. Here’s a quick video of a back-to-wall shoulder flexion!
Standing Shoulder External Rotation To Wall: Start with your leg up to your shoulder on the wall and elbow bent at 90 degrees. Then, place your opposite hand either on your abs or front of working shoulder to ensure sufficient movement is achieved. Externally rotate your shoulder and press into the wall feeling the posterior aspect of your shoulder working during the movement. Shoulder external rotation is a large part of throwing a ball. If an athlete has the passive range to get good layback while pitching, but not active, eventually something will break. Also, if someone doesn't have either, you will end up compensating in order to get any sort of layback. This exercise can help not only gain the mobility in external rotation, but strength as well.
These exercises are prescribed by assessing the athlete prior to the program. You can find athletes that present with all different issues or none at all. Assess and then prescribe!
Pitching, throwing (field players), and hitting are all rotational movements. So, make sure to get out of the sagittal plane and rotate while training.
Below is a list of rotational exercises that can translate straight to the baseball field for any position.
Med Ball Scoop Toss: Start either facing or perpendicular to the wall with the ball by your hips. Then, shift weight into the back hip and quickly rotate your hips towards the wall finishing an explosive throw. This is one of my favorites to produce power. It is safe and easy to teach. Achieving power from the hips with a stable trunk through this exercise can easily carry over into a swing and throw.
Rotational Bound: Start on one leg, rotate towards the opposite foot turning 90 degrees and land on the other foot. Progress by jumping further and ensuring the land leg is stable and strong. Transferring weight from one leg into the other happens constantly in baseball.
Rotational Landmine Press: Start perpendicular to the landmine and the bar in the distal hand. Then, rotate your hips and torso towards the landmine and drive the bar towards the ceiling. Emphasize upwards rotation of your scapula and maintaining a neutral trunk.
All three are great exercises that can be effective as long as they are performed correctly.
Seeking the help of a professional is usually the best way to ensure you are performing a program that is right for you. Some of the above information may not pertain to you, but if you can get one nugget from this article, it is that strength training can significantly help you improve your game as long as it is done properly.
If you have any thoughts or questions on this topic please comment below! Thanks for reading!