Your Guide to Baseball Friendly Upper Body Strength

Ever heard that baseball players shouldn’t bench press? It’s an exercise as old as time and allows people to display unbelievable strength. There are people who make their living bench pressing! There just seems to be this stigma that its an “evil” exercise. So why does it have this reputation in the baseball community?

The answer to the question lies in the biomechanics. Baseball/softball players must have functional shoulders in order to perform optimally and to avoid injury. In order for the shoulders to function properly, there are a few major boxes they need to check:

  • They must be able to fluidly move the arm overhead

  • They must be able to move the scapula on the rib cage. It should move FREELY and FLUIDLY in concert with the arm bone.

  • They must be able to keep the scapula “snug” on the rib cage. It should not “wing” or tilt off.

  • They must be able to internally and externally rotate the arm bone.

  • They must have adequate rotator cuff strength to control the arm bone in the “socket.”

  • They must have adequate control of the thoracic spine (It should flex, extend, and rotate).

With this blog, we wanted to outline some of the reasons we do not include barbell bench press in our baseball training!

Reason number 1: Proper bench press technique requires the shoulder blades to be locked down and therefore immobile on the rib cage. This creates the stability needed to control the bar and to keep the shoulders in a good position. Unfortunately, most people don’t understand how to do this and are not properly coached. When this position is lost during a press, the shoulder will essentially dump forward and put structures in the front of the shoulder at risk.

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Reason number 2: As I mentioned, the bench press requires tremendous technique that forces the shoulder blades to be adducted and depressed (together and down), with A LOT of spinal extension. While these positions are quite natural in and of themselves, they oppose the motions required to throw. High bench pressing frequency can cause the athlete to become adapted to this extended position. In conjunction with being “stuck” in this position, added bulk and activity at the muscles used to bench press can cause a loss of range of motion at the shoulder, particularly internal rotation. Put simply: the actions and long term adaptations involved with bench pressing are “non throwing friendly” patterns. They directly compete with the list of biomechanics throwing demands I listed above!

This is a competitive bench press. It is a great representation of the extension and technique that oppose movements required to throw.

This is a competitive bench press. It is a great representation of the extension and technique that oppose movements required to throw.

Fortunately, there are LOTS of other pressing variations that are throwing friendly and build strength. For the sake of time, we will narrow it down to two exercises: the push up and the landmine press.

The push up is one of the most under rated exercises out there. When performed and supervised correctly the push up trains scapulo-humeral rhythm (fancy science talk for shoulder blade and arm bone team work), core strength, upper body strength, and rotator cuff function. This simple exercise provides a tremendous training effect and surprises almost everyone the first time they are instructed properly. Check out this brief push up tutorial:

The other pressing exercise we tend to use frequently is the landmine press. This exercise not only trains upward rotation of the shoulder blade, but it also allows the athlete to get into a safe over head position. These two actions are CRITICAL during throwing! Like the push up, the landmine press trains rotator cuff function, sacpulo-humeral rhythm (upward rotation in this case), and requires a tremendous amount of core stability.

It’s very important the athlete control the movement of the scapula on the rib cage, while the bench press requires the opposite. The important difference is that these two exercises provide a tremendous strength training effect in a much more functional fashion. Give them a try!!