There is a belief in some baseball circles that lifting weights will make an athlete big and bulky and in turn leave them unable to play the sport effectively. This could not be further from the truth.
Baseball is a sport that requires speed and power. The sport also requires certain muscles to be strong to protect the athlete from injury. At Force Barbell we develop both of these things with an intelligently programmed strength and conditioning plan.
Still not sold?
Take a second and think back to the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. What players were dominating the sport of baseball? Names like Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, and Roger Clemens will come to mind. These guys are linked by more than just their prowess for the game of baseball, they’re linked by their association with performance enhancing drugs. What do PEDs do? They make players bigger, faster, and stronger. I am absolutely not promoting the use of illegal drugs, but what I am doing is pointing out the fact that the biggest and strongest players were the ones that were dominating the game. That’s proof enough to me that every baseball player could benefit from a strength and conditioning program.
Now before you all go and hop on the closest bench press, let us discuss what a baseball player actually needs to perform optimally.
The tendency in many strength and conditioning programs is to favor exercises that develop the musculature of the front of the body. I’m talking about the big beach muscles like the pecs, biceps, and quads. While there is nothing wrong with developing these muscles, doing so at the expense of other important areas of the body can leave the athlete underdeveloped and more injury prone. Specifically, the musculature of the upper back, the abdomen or core, and the glutes and hamstrings is of vital importance to a baseball player.
The Upper Back
There are many different muscles in what I would call the “upper back”, including the rhomboids, traps, posterior deltoid, rotator cuff, and others. I don’t want to get to deep into the anatomy, but I do want to highlight the role that this musculature plays for a baseball player.
Throwing is a very violent motion and puts a ton of stress on the shoulder joint. Many people are surprised to know the socket of the shoulder joint is a part of the shoulder blade. All the muscles that I just mentioned above attach to the shoulder blade. So guess what happens when all those muscles are weak and/or in a chronically bad position due to poor training program design? You as an athlete lose control of the shoulder joint! That’s a very big deal for a throwing athlete.
Let’s take a closer look at why that’s a big deal. The first reason has to do with the deceleration of the throwing motion. When you throw a baseball, the arm is being slung forward as fast as your body can accelerate it. That arm has to then be decelerated, otherwise the arm would fly out of the socket and just follow the ball to the catcher. That sounds crazy, but your body has to decelerate the arm for its own safety. That’s the role of the upper back in the throwing motion. The upper back has to slow the arm down right after its been fully accelerated. If the upper back is too weak to handle that job, then the extra deceleration force is placed on the front of the shoulder capsule. That’s a highly stressed area in the first place. We need to strengthen the upper back so there’s not any more pressure on that area than necessary.
The second reason that a weak upper back is a big deal has to do with the position of the shoulder blade. If the upper back is weak, the shoulder joint can slump forward. A lot of times, this can block the rotation of the shoulder joint. The throwing motion requires a lot of rotation at the shoulder joint. When that rotation isn’t there, the extra motion needed is then transferred down to the elbow joint. Every baseball player knows they don’t want extra stress on the elbow. To make sure there are no Tommy John’s in your future, it’s important to have a strong upper back that hold the shoulder in the right position.
Now we know it’s important to have a strong upper back so let’s talk about how we can strengthen the upper back. The first way is just a simple dumbbell row. Grab one dumbbell and rest other hand on a bench to support your body weight. From there, simply row the dumbbell up to your side by squeezing your shoulder blade back. It’s of crucial importance to squeeze the shoulder blade back on every rep.
The second exercise I’ll recommend is a combo of the Y-Raise, T-Raise, and Prone Row to ER. You are going to do 10 reps of each without stopping with either no weight or a very light weight. You want your thumbs toward the sky on the first two movement and your thumb toward your side on the last. Try and engage these movements by using the muscles around your shoulder blade. Check out the video below to see how this looks.
The abs are hugely important to a baseball player. The abdominal muscles can create a lot of movement, but their truest role is to stabilize the spine. In the baseball world, that means that the abs have to hold the trunk rigid to transfer the power of the lower body to the extremities of the upper body. This is applicable to both throwing and hitting.
Take a look at the two pictures in this section. In the first picture, I’m demonstrating what it looks like when the abs lose control of the midsection. You see that my rib cage has flared up and that there is a considerable arch in my low back. If this were an actual throw, my core muscles would have to “regain” a good position in order to finish the throw. Not only will this result in less power output, but the unstable atmosphere will make it much harder to maintain a consistent release point. So because of weak abs, you could be sacrificing both velocity and accuracy.
Now take a look at the picture to the right. In this picture, I’m demonstrating what a solid core looks like in the throwing motion. You can see that my rib cage has not flared open and that the lower body has “remained connected” to the upper body. Because the abs held tension the whole time, a sling shot type force will be able to build up in the midsection to propel me forward. That means more velocity!
So how can we train the ability of the abs to hold position? One of my favorite exercises for this is called “wall press abs”. To do this exercise, you’ll set up on your back with your head against the wall and hands pressing into the wall. In the video below, I demonstrate several progressively harder variations of the drill. No matter which you choose, it is very important to keep your low back pressed into the floor throughout! That’s the whole point of the drill is to resist that need to arch the lower back. To test if you’re doing the exercise correct, have a partner try and slip their hand under your low back. They should not be able to get under at all. Master the easier progressions first and then progress slowly.
Hamstrings and Glutes
The hamstrings and glutes are responsible for extending the hips. Hip extension is essentially the source of all athletic power. Therefore, this huge area of musculature on the back of the legs is very important to a baseball player. We have to train these muscles to maximize our ability to sprint fast and jump high.
The glutes are also a prime mover in lateral movements. Baseball is sport full of lateral movements. To stride at the plate, push off the mound, accelerate to steal a base, or move to cover a ball in the hole, you need your glutes to be strong and explosive.
To train the glutes and hamstrings in a way that’s beneficial for a baseball player, try these two exercises below. The first is an explosive lateral jump. You want to plant and explode off one leg and land in control on the other before repeating. The second is the classic deadlift. There is coaching in the video, but it hugely important to keep the back flat and not use weights that cause your back to round. Light weights will be enough to stimulate your glutes and hamstrings as you start out. Do not get over zealous and take your time progressing in weight!
Now that we’ve discussed all the body parts that are important to a baseball player, let’s pull it all together in one workout. Before beginning this workout, be sure to go through a thorough warm-up. Check out the “Get Mobile” section of this article for some great baseball specific mobility drills you can add to your warm-up.
1) Lateral Jumps: 3×3/side
2) Deadlift: 4×3-5
3a) Dumbbell Rows: 3×8/side
3b) Wall Press Abs: 3×10/leg
4a) Push-ups: 2×10-12 (add weight if necessary)
4b) Walking Lunges: 2×10/leg (add weight if necessary)
5) Y-T-Row/ER: 1×10/exercise
You can see above that in this one workout which shouldn’t take more than an hour, we’ve trained the whole body while prioritizing what is most important to a baseball player. Give this workout a shot and be sure to nail your technique down before progressing in weight. As you get stronger at these exercises, you should see some big improvements on the diamond! Have questions about what you just read? Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or check us out on Facebook.