Another excellent article by Eric Cressey is available here: Should Pitchers Bench Press?
Most of my clients are interested in throwing hard, hitting a ball farther, and developing as a baseball player. However, most of my clients are also high school or college players who have egos and dreams of being able to bench a 225 lb. bar 24 times like Brady Quinn did in 2008. A bad comparison? Not really – consider that Brady Quinn is a quarterback who hasn’t exactly had a lot of success in Cleveland (and yes, his surrounding team isn’t helping much), and at the end of the day, he is throwing a ball for a living. Sound like a position in baseball to you?
At any rate, I understand the desire to have a big straight-bar bench press. It’s the lift that gets the most attention in the gym by men and women alike, and it’s typically the first question anyone asks you when you say that you work out four times a week. (Incidentally, I ask how much they squat – or if I’m being funny, deadlift – and always get a stammering answer.) It builds big pecs and arms and all those other beach muscles that we’re big fans of. However, all of this musculature has very little (if any) carryover to throwing (or hitting!) a baseball hard. Sorry, guys. Here’s what Eric said in his article:
With dumbbell benching, we recognize that we get better range-of-motion, freer movement of the humerus (instead of being locked into internal rotation), and increased core activation – particularly if we’re doing alternating DB presses or 1-arm db presses. There is even a bit more scapular movement in these variations (even if we don’t actually coach it).
With a barbell bench press, you don’t really get any of these benefits – and it’s somewhat inferior from a range-of-motion standpoint. While it may allow you to jack up the weight and potentially put on muscle mass a bit more easily, the truth is that muscle mass here – particularly if it leads to restrictions in shoulder and scapular movement – won’t carry over to throwing the way the muscle mass in the lower half and upper back will. I’ve seen a ton of guys with loads of external rotation and horizontal abduction range-of-motion throw the crap out of the baseball, but can’t say that I’ve ever seen any correlation – in the research or my anecdotal experience – between a good bench press and throwing velocity.
This is exactly why my pitchers use the dumbbell neutral-grip bench press movement as their primary upper body pressing movement in addition to push-ups that are balanced out by chin-ups and pull-ups (vertical pulling is very helpful for pitchers).
So, to all you pitchers out there: While the squat and the deadlift aren’t as sexy as the bench press, they’re simply more useful for sport-specific and general strength purposes. Unfortunately, my guys still love to straight-bar bench press, so we do it once a week. In return, they promise to do a dumbbell neutral-grip bench press day on their other upper body day as well, and bang out a lot of chin-ups and pull-ups along the way. Some of them bench more than I do (which isn’t saying much). But I’ve still got them all in the squat and deadlift. For now.