If you are looking for a baseball upper body workout, start with considering exactly what you need. For players seeking to play at a high level, “workouts” should become a precise training plan. This distinction revolves around training for a task (your sport) rather than just “working out”. Changing your workouts this way will help you reach short and long-term goals.
Does Baseball Require Upper Body Strength?
“Where does upper body strength come into play?” is a common question for those new to baseball strength training. Upper body strength for baseball players is important because we stress our upper bodies constantly in training and on the field, and we need to prepare the body for those stresses to maximize performance. In sport, the body will go through a wide variety of positions at high speeds and under high stresses. To prepare for this, we need to develop strength and stability through wide ranges of motion.
What lifts are good for baseball?
What upper body lifts are good for baseball players will depend on the player and factors unique to their situation. Some of the factors that influence exercise selection are injury history, time of year, athlete goals, and training experience. With this in mind, we look to include exercises in both horizontal and vertical planes. In these planes, we then use both bilateral and unilateral movements. Overhead volume needs to be well managed since baseball players are overhead athletes. When building an upper body workout for baseball players, find exercises that are specific to the player’s needs. This is more important than specificity to the sport itself.
For younger or less trained baseball players, bodyweight exercises can be a great part of an upper body workout. These build foundational movement patterns and upper body strength. Pressing exercises such as push-ups and dips are a good starting place. These help achieve muscle growth for chest and triceps plus develop other muscles involved in stabilizing the trunk. When it comes to your posterior chain, inverted rows and pullups are a great entry to muscle growth and building strength. Variations of these exercises like T push-ups, neutral grip pull-ups, or using a suspension trainer for inverted rows help challenge the movements in new or different ways. Having the ability to move and control your body is needed to play at high levels.
Bench Press for Baseball Players
One of the key movements for building the upper body is the horizontal push. Among the most common horizontal push exercises you will see in the driveline weight room is the bench press.
Many baseball players have been hesitant to bench due to factors like magnitude of load or perceived injury risk. And while these fears are legitimate for some, no one exercise is right or wrong for the sport. As mentioned above, it is best to tailor the exercise to the individual based on an assessment of their short and long-term needs and goals. Bench press is just one choice for a heavy bilateral upper body push, it shouldn’t be demonized or championed. Almost every element of the bench press can be modified. This can be done by changing the range of motion, the movement path, or by making it single arm. Some examples would be switching to incline or dumbbell bench press, or by using one dumbbell at a time.
One great way to challenge upper body strength and scapular stability is the landmine press. It does this with the scapula going through upward rotation with similar stressors to a bench or overhead press. The first landmine press we start athletes out with is often the Half-Kneeling Landmine Press. From there, we can progress to a standing landmine press or further to a split stance landmine press. Performing a push press is a good way to drive a more dynamic output with the landmine. Similarly, a landmine pivot press will bring in more rotation.
As mentioned above, landmine pressing includes some overhead motion and will share some functions with true vertical presses. Vertical pressing volume and intensity should be well planned around the athlete’s current throwing and other training demands, due to its overhead nature and typically greater taxation of the shoulder.
Another Pressing Option
The jammer arm overhead press is one of our favorites for a higher load movement in this plane. Its fixed path and unilateral or bilateral options are an advantage over other options. The fixed path limits the stability demands and helps achieve the higher output. Overhead stability is still crucial and should be addressed in the training program, but not every adaptation for a muscle group needs to (or should) come from one exercise. For those without jammer arms, a smith machine or landmine can provide a more fixed path. Dumbbells or kettlebells can be a substitute for the vertical pressing strength stimulus without the fixed path.
Upper Body Pulling Exercises
When it comes to pulling exercises, the same planes apply. For horizontal pulls, our most used exercises are unilateral such as dumbbell three-point or a landmine Meadow’s row. We tend to choose single-arm over bilateral rows due to the torso stability demands of each. The rotational mobility and stability needed in the torso to execute single arm rows typically lines up better than the flexion/extension demands of an unsupported bilateral row. In your training plan, bilateral rows can still fit into a baseball upper body workout if they fit your needs. Bench supported and seal rows are our bilateral rows of choice, and don’t require the same stability demands as unsupported rows. One advantage of bilateral rowing is incorporating more rotation by making the arms alternate.
Program vertical pulling exercises carefully due to their high lat demands, just like with the shoulder in vertical pressing. The most basic vertical pull is the pull-up. Especially for younger or less experienced athletes, it is also often one of the most challenging to properly execute. Regressing the pull-up to eccentric only or band-assisted pull-ups are two common ways to address this. Our favorite option is to have the athlete complete as many full reps as they can, then switch to eccentric only pull-ups to finish the set. One way to change it up is to switch to a lat pulldown to reduce the stability component. To further modify, switch to a unilateral version such as single-arm lat pulldowns.
Training the in-between
Horizontal and vertical are not absolutes, but rather broad classifications that help when organizing these exercises. The landmine press or a high cable row are good examples of this gray area. These more diagonal movements also have greater shoulder rotation than a true horizontal press or pull. Take this into account when building upper body workouts into your baseball training plan. Athletes need to prepare their tissues in this way, as they will surely move on the field in ways that don’t fit into convenient planar buckets.
By Zach Settles, High Performance