I frequently get asked the question, “what are the best exercises for baseball players?” I typically respond with, “it depends…” It depends on the athlete, what we find in their assessment, what their training age is, etc. But today I’m going to give the people what they want and provide a list of my Top 10 baseball specific exercises!
TOP 10 BASEBALL SPECIFIC EXERCISES:
TURKISH GET UP: I don’t necessarily love the term “functional” when it comes to describing an exercise. It’s a term that has been used very loosely and is often times associated with idiotic “exercises” such as back squats on a physio ball. With that being said, the Turkish Get Up is truly one of the most functional exercises you can do. It’s what we would call a “bang for your buck” exercise because it covers so much in just one exercise. The get up offers a tremendous amount of mobility in the hip and thoracic spine. It provides stability throughout the entire shoulder girdle and anterior core. Lastly, it serves as a full body strength exercise specifically targeting your shoulders, core, and lower body. I would much rather see a baseball player be able to do a Turkish Get Up with a load of 70-80lbs instead of a 300lb bench press.
LONG LEVER INCH WORMS (Anti-Extension Anterior Core Exercises): The core musculature plays a very important role when it comes to throwing or pitching a baseball. One of the core’s number one jobs is to transfer force from your lower body to your upper body. When you think about everything that goes into throwing a baseball and the incredible amounts of speed and power that are displayed in that throwing motion, you quickly realize there is little room for error. The throwing motion is initiated by putting force into the ground from your back or trail leg. That force is then transferred further up the kinetic chain to the all-important core and then continues to travel to your upper body and finished through the arm. If the core is weak, it becomes an “energy leak” where the force or energy that was initially created then dissipates when it gets to the core and is not able to continue to carry up to the arm. When this happens, best case scenario is you throw with less velocity. The worst-case scenario is you get hurt because of the compensation strategies that will take place in your shoulder and or elbow to make up for the velocity that was lost through your weak core. I like the long lever inch worm because it not only challenges your anterior core by resisting extension the further you walk your hands out but it also provides stability and strength throughout the entire shoulder joint.
LIFTS, CHOPS, PALLOF PRESS VARIATIONS (Anti-Rotation Core Exercises): No one can argue the fact that baseball is a rotational sport that requires tremendous strength and power in the transverse plane (rotational). Anti-rotation exercises are a staple throughout our off-season training, but play a critical role early on in the offseason after our baseball athletes have just spent up to nine months living in that rotational plane. Resisting rotation and training that physical attribute will ultimately help improve your strength and power in that movement.
ROTATIONAL & OVERHEAD MED BALL THROWS: After we resist rotation early on in the offseason, we then put a heavy emphasis on training rotation. This typically takes place in phase two of our offseason training program when we start our light implement power work with rotational and overhead med ball throw variations.
KB ARM BAR: Pitching a baseball is the most violent movement in all of sport and is, quite honestly, terrible for your arm. With a proper strength and conditioning program and arm care program, these dangers can be minimized. I chose the Arm Bar to represent as my “arm care” exercise on this list. I wouldn’t necessarily classify it as strictly an arm care exercise. It’s more of a pseudo mixed exercise that can be plugged in as an arm care exercise or programmed in the actual lift. I chose to do this because I wanted “arm care” represented in this list, but I didn’t want to take a deep dive down the arm care rabbit hole right now ( I will do a separate blog on my Top 10 Arm Care Exercises another time.) The kettle bell arm bar is a unique blend of shoulder stability and thoracic mobility that challenges the athlete to maintain proper glenohumeral (ball and socket) congruency. It helps allow the athlete to gain better body awareness in understanding what that correct ball in socket position feels like. It also helps you learn how to shut off larger muscle groups such as upper traps and lats in order to turn on smaller stabilizers such as the muscles of the rotator cuff.
HEIDENS: Throwing or pitching a baseball, as well as the takeoff phase in stealing a base, is done so predominantly in the frontal plane. Just as much as baseball is a game played in the transverse plane, there are also important movements that take place in the frontal plane. Pitching is an example of this. Being able to laterally push off of the mound and generate force with that back leg is the first step in being able to produce the velocity that every young pitcher is chasing. The Heiden jump, also known as “skaters,” is a great exercise for producing force in the frontal plane as well as receiving and accepting that force in the landing phase of the jump.
SINGLE LEG RDLs: Google an image of a pitcher at their follow through and note the close resemblance between that image and someone doing a single leg RDL. It is remarkably similar. It is probably a position/exercise pitchers should get strong and sturdy in, right?
REAR FOOT ELEVATED SPLIT SQUATS: In #6, I discussed the importance of back leg power production in the frontal plane and how this creates velocity and momentum towards the plate. Equally as important is the lead leg or stride leg and its ability to decelerate or “apply the breaks.” There is plenty of research supporting the importance of the lead leg and its role in creating velocity by being able to absorb force quickly and act as the “breaks” to create a catapult like action through the arm which, in return, produces the velocity. The rear foot elevated split squat is one of my all-time favorite exercises for developing critical unilateral leg strength and stability, regardless of the sport. You can click here to read more about my love of rear foot elevated split squats as well as my thoughts on unilateral lower body training.
1 ARM LANDMINE PRESSES: I’m a huge fan of the landmine press and its ability, if done correctly, to help promote scapular upward rotation. This is important because it’s the same motion (scapula moving on the ribcage (scapulothoracic) that we are trying to encourage and create efficiency in with throwing. Another reason I really like the landmine press is that most athletes can be cleared to press at this angle even if they have not been cleared to vertically press overhead. We see a lot of athletes that really struggle to achieve true overhead shoulder flexion without compensating through the lumbar spine. Because the landmine press is pressing more at a 45-degree angle, this allows the athlete to still reap the benefits of a vertical push without compromising their core integrity and lumbar positioning.
BAND PULL APARTS: This was difficult to narrow down to just one pulling variation, but I went with the band pull apart because of it being more of a posterior deltoid and cuff focused exercise. As a bonus, you receive a lot of the same benefits of any traditional row or horizontal pulling variations.
SLEEP – 10 Hours a night is an absolute must. Plan your day accordingly so you can get to bed at a good time. Sleep is the very best time for your body to recover from training and other stressors life throws at you. While you are sleeping your body is releasing critical hormones that help build and repair muscle as well as flush out harmful toxins in your brain. Do not miss out on this opportunity for safe, natural occurring, and free performance enhancing drugs!!
NUTRITION – Eat real food and eat more of it!! You simply cannot build muscle without an adequate amount of calories. With your activity level increasing, your caloric intake needs to increase as well. We will be providing several different options to help get calories in before and after training sessions. For those athletes who are looking for some fuel pre-training we will be offering a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a ready to drink protein shake as well as several different options of protein bars. Post-training, our always popular muscle building/recovery smoothies will be available.**PARENTS – YOU HAVE THE OPTION TO PUT A CC ON FILE SO YOUR ATHLETE CAN CHARGE PRE/POST-TRAINING FOOD**
RECOVERY – Just as important as the training itself is the recovery between training sessions. Far too often we see athletes taking the approach of “if some is good then more must be better.” Although we love the driver behind that mindset, ultimately that approach will lead to overtraining which will then lead to injury, sickness, etc. Make sure you are listening to your body and recovering just as hard as you are training. Below are some recovery strategies to help speed up the process.
Soft tissue work: Foam rolling or massage
Normatec compression boots (available anytime for BSP athletes upstairs)
Low level aerobic capacity work (talk to a BSP coach about this)
Mobility Circuits (talk to a BSP coach about this)
Sympathetic shut off time / Screen-free time
HYDRATION – The formula we use and have seen a lot of success with is taking your body weight cutting that number in half and that becomes the amount of water in ounces you should be aiming to drink every single day. Find a good water bottle and always keep it with you!
CONSISTENCY – In our opinion being consistent in the weight room is the #1 PED (Performance enhancing drug) out there! And it’s not just consistent for weeks or even months….it takes years of consistent training to really see great progress!
DISCIPLINE – “Discipline is doing what needs to be done even if you don’t want to do it” Arriving early to each training session and doing your 5-10 minutes worth of performance prep requires great DISCIPLINE! Going to bed early so you can get your 10 hours requires great DISCIPLINE! Showing up to each training session even when you don’t feel like it requires great DISCIPLINE! Saying no to social peer pressures requires great DISCIPLINE! Choosing the right foods to eat requires great DISCIPLINE!
RELENTLESS WORK ETHIC – “Everyone wants to be great until it’s time to do what greatness requires!” The most successful athletes I have seen at every level have been the ones who are intrinsically motivated and are able to push themselves even when no one is watching!
STRESS IS STRESS…it doesn’t matter if it’s stress from school, family, girlfriend or boyfriend stress, and or physical stress from training or playing…your body cannot decipher the many different stressors in your life and too much of it can wreak havoc on your body and the positive physical adaptions you are chasing. Find a way to combat against the unnecessary stress in your life or else you are working against yourself. Always know that our entire coaching staff here at BSP is here to support you and ready to lend a listening ear if there is something in your life you are struggling with and need someone to talk to.
BOOST YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM
SLEEP: Easiest way to combat against sickness is to make sure you are getting enough sleep each night.
HAND WASHING: Keep your hands clean and away from your face.
EXERCISE: The right amount will boost your immune system but too much will deplete it. If you are sick, you need to rest!
EAT WELL: Fueling your body with good non-processed whole foods is critical to keep your body and all its systems functioning at optimal levels!
SUPPLEMENT NATURALLY: Instead of loading up on sugary processed lozenges, syrups, pills, and powders try to supplement with REAL earth grown foods that have their own natural occurring immune boosting properties.
COMFORT IS THE ENEMY OF PROGRESS…it’s human nature to choose the path of least resistance…unfortunately that path leads us to mediocrity! The path that will challenge you both mentally and physically is the one that will bear the most fruit at the top! Those athletes that can regularly push themselves outside their comfort zone are the ones who will be the most successful!
The modern high school athlete is more concerned with their 40 yard sprint time, vertical jump, or maximum bench press than actual performance on the field. The data driven culture on performance has driven a bias towards training to the tests. Athletes are fixated on their output rather then their movement quality. Often an athlete will lose perspective on what is of most value to improve their performance on the field. They rely on instantaneous feedback from force-plates or stopwatches and neglect internal cues of alignment, balance, and stability while performing the task at hand. Training with poor design leads to injuries and time off the field of play. The most common injuries we see in high school athletes are low back pain, hip muscle strains, anterior knee pain, and shoulder pain. All injuries that can be prevented.
Athletes and parents often do not want to hear about injury prevention, and would rather the emphasis be on increased sports performance. The reality….they are synonymous. If you train appropriately, you will move with better quality, move faster, and thus improve sport performance. Training based on movement quality will increase squat strength, jump height, and sprint speed with minimal risk. If you train with proper movement patterns, you create a more resilient system which is less prone to injury. Therefore, if you train to build a resilient injury free system you will improve your ability to perform on the field of play. INJURY PREVENTION = SPORTS PERFORMANCE.
So then what does this type of training entail? A resilient body has the capacity to perform basic fundamental movements in all planes of motions and under variable conditions. The basic movements entail rolling, crawling, hinging over, squat, lunging, pushing, and pulling. Variable conditions entail moving in multiple directions, against different resistance (bands, weights), and at different speeds. Every athlete has a different entry point into training with different goals based on their ability. This is where a skilled trainer and physical therapist are of value to help determine dysfunctions and weakness to cater a program specific to needs. Injury prevention training will include common strength building exercises, acting as a cog in the wheel of moving better.
The ideal time to implement a new training program would be 8 to 12 weeks prior to a season or after a season. These basic principles can also be incorporated year round to improve your performance and reduce injury risk. THE GOAL = Train with a purpose. Train to move well. Train to be resilient to injury or overuse.
When it comes to training for sport performance, it’s important to remember that we want our work in the weight room to closely resemble the movements that are required from us in our sport. Therefore, the old school approach of only training bilaterally (on two legs) with traditional back squats, deadlifts, leg extensions, and leg curls is not going to have nearly the same transfer to the field of play as unilateral (single leg) training will. When is the last time you saw a football player hop down the field on both legs? Have you ever seen a baseball player jump down to first base on two feet? Or what about a soccer player kick the ball with both legs at the same time? The place that you are going to spend the most time with two feet flat on the ground is when you are sitting on the bench. So, if you continue to take the old school approach to training with poor programming of only doing two-legged lower body exercises, the bench is where you are going to stay!
SPORTS ARE PLAYED ON ONE LEG!! – How many sports do you know of that are played with two feet fixed on the ground and your weight evenly distributed through each leg the entire time? Not many, right? I believe rowing/crew is the only one. Running, walking, skipping, cutting, backpedaling, shuffling, crossover running, and jumping are all sport related movements that are performed with one foot on the ground at a time. Therefore, we should be training accordingly (unilaterally) to give us the best transfer from weight room to playing field.
WE ARE NOT POWERLIFTERS!! – We need to remember that we are training to be ATHLETES and to improve performance in our respective sport. Powerlifters squat, deadlift, and bench press because THAT IS THEIR SPORT! As sports performance coaches, we do borrow some concepts of powerlifting for our athletes, but we need to remember that we are not lifting weights just to get good at lifting weights!
DON’T LET YOUR WEAK LEG HIDE!! – We all have one leg that is stronger than the other. When we have both feet fixed on the ground, like in a traditional back squat, naturally your stronger leg is going to try and do most of the work while your weak leg hides behind that stronger leg and stays weak! When you move to a single leg exercise, such as the Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat, that weak leg can no longer hide because it is now on its own and forced to do all the work and therefore gets stronger.
CHALLENGES MORE MUSCLES – When going back to the traditional back squat, we have both feet fixed on the ground, a good base of support, and our balance is not being challenged which makes our big strong prime movers (glutes, hamstrings, quads) the only muscles that are working. When we move to one leg and lose that solid base of support, the lateral side to side stability suddenly becomes an issue and some of our smaller very important stabilizing muscles (adductors & abductors) are forced to kick on and do their job.
THE BILATERAL DEFICIT – The bilateral deficit is a phenomenon where the sum of the strength you can produce on each leg individually is greater than what you can produce with both legs working together. In other words, if you were doing a rear foot elevated split squat on just your right leg and then just your left leg and you added those two weights together it would be greater than what you could do in a double legged back squat.
50% LESS SPINAL LOADING – Most people know the risks associated with excessively loading your spine. Regularly placing a barbell on your back compresses your spine and sets you up for a host of back problems now and in the future. I’ve never met a powerlifter that hasn’t had a back injury of some kind. With single leg exercises, you can basically cut the load in half. Even better, you might not need to load the exercise at all if you are doing something as challenging as a non-supported pistol squat.
INJURY PREVENTION – One of the main reasons you should be training is to prevent injuries from occurring while playing your sport. So, to put yourself in a compromised position where you are leaving yourself susceptible to injury while training for your sport is completely counterproductive and inexcusable at any level. Therefore, if we can choose a safer and more effective exercise like a split squat, lunge variation, single leg squat, etc. instead of a less effective and more dangerous exercise like that back squat, isn’t that a no brainer? There is also plenty of research supporting the use of single leg exercises to combat against ankle and knee injuries because of the proprioceptors that are turned on to balance and stabilize those particular joints.