4 Safe Pressing Exercises For Baseball Players
When it comes to baseball (and softball) training the upper body is of major importance. Unfortunately, many baseball and softball coaches still believe the bench press is the holy grail to improving throwing velocity. While I am a powerlifter and love the bench press myself, it’s just not the most ideal pressing variation for overhead athletes like baseball, softball, lacrosse, tennis, and volleyball. For these athletes, part of what makes them great is the ability to throw or hit things which requires the scapula to move freely across the rib-cage and perform upward rotation and elevation (like at the end of a throw).
Another major consideration we need to take into account is that the bench press (with a standard barbell) forces the humerus into internal rotation, which can lead to long-term shoulder problems. With how much baseball and softball players throw, they are typically performing internal rotation hundreds of times in sport, and when that is compounded with the lifestyle of sitting hunched over and massive cellphone use (an internal rotated position) it just does not make sense to put an athlete into that position even more. This is why we’re so big on training the upper back for our athletes at Terre Haute Intensity Resistance and Sports Training (THIRST). Not only can it help with improved posture and performance, but many athletes are just weak in this area because coaches are emphasizing pushing tremendously more than pulling exercises. We will have an article about pulling in near future to discuss this in much more detail.
The final important aspect to consider is having a unilateral component into the exercises if possible. Very few athletes actually press things with both arms in sport, and throwing for baseball and softball is a unilateral motion, so it only makes since to train each arm independently. The added benefit to this is the smaller musculature in the shoulder and scapula region have increased demands (rotator cuff, serratus anterior, rhomoids, levator scapulae) which helps ensure they get trained as well.
For more information on training baseball and softball players, I highly suggest this podcast with Chris Bartl.
Below are just four pressing exercises we use at THIRST with our overhead population to help train that musculature but also improve performance by keeping the shoulder healthy and functioning properly.
I’m sure you’re wondering why we’ve got such a simple exercise like the push up on this list. The push up is probably one of the most common exercises performed incorrectly. However, when done correctly, it’s one of the most adaptable upper body pressing exercises that you will find. Here are just a couple different options that you have access to:
- Bar Push Up
- Band Assisted Push Up
- Traditional Push Up (add weight if needed)
- Blast Strap Push Up (add weight if needed)
- Feet Elevated Push Up
All of these have some different benefits that you could make a case for, but the ease of adjustment per athlete is so simple it’s almost stupid to not have push ups in most athlete training programs. But as we mentioned earlier, the push up allows for the scapula to move freely about the rib-cage, which is why it’s our first choice for a safe exercise. When done correctly, we also get abdominal and trunk work static position while using the arms. You can also add weight, chains, bands, and other loading parameters to train your desired rep range. If you’re a baseball or softball player, ditch the bench press for push ups and watch your pitching or throwing velocity increase with a healthier shoulder.
While it might seem trivial, I would highly suggest you watch the video below on how to properly do a push up. I see them butchered all the time, so let’s make sure we really know what a good push up looks like.
Half Kneeling Landmine Overhead Press
The second major issue we commonly see is too much direct overhead pressing. Again, while the overhead press is great for strength sports (like strongman), it’s not a great exercise option for the overhead athlete. It presents many issues just like the bench press, but now overhead. Compound those problems with most athletes (especially youth athletes) going into lumbar extension (arching through their low back) we really set the athlete up for an unathletic position that could cause lower back problems. The overhead press is also a movement that requires a lot of mobility through the thoracic spine and shoulder joint, which many athletes lack.
This is where the Half Kneeling Landmine Overhead Press comes in. This exercise let’s the athlete press overhead at an angle to still train the shoulder musculature but in a safe position and not fully overhead. Add in the half kneeling position which gets the hip flexor to lengthen and tax the abdominals and trunk harder, we have a great pressing exercise option. Just like with the push up, the scapula is free to move around the rib-cage, and pressing up and into the bar in the landmine actually teaches this very well. You can also perform this exercise in the tall kneeling position. This is a staple exercise for our baseball and softball players at THIRST.
Half Kneeling Bottoms Up KB Overhead Press
While we don’t do a ton of direct overhead pressing, the Half Kneeling Bottoms-Up KB Overhead Press has been one we’ve used with great success for our overhead athletes. This particular variation doesn’t let the athlete use heavy loads unless they have the rotator cuff and shoulder stabilizing musculature to own the load and position. By squeezing the kettlebell by the handle and holding it upside-down, reaching overhead requires ownership of the scapula. This is a very challenging exercise, and many youth athletes struggle with it. While it’s technically an overhead press option, the low load, high stabilization component in a half kneeling position gets the athlete moving well and safely. Strengthening the rotator cuff in this fashion is much different than performing the standard ER/IR work you see in most high school weightrooms, and has better on-field performance while optimizing training time.
While our last exercise isn’t a traditional pressing exercise, it has many pressing properties. It’s actually an upper back, shoulder pre-hab/rehab exercise, but has been another staple in our high school baseball and softball training programs. Like our other pressing exercises it gets the shoulders reaching and even overhead, but the key to getting them overhead is ownership of the scapula, especially the lower trap. Many athletes have a weak upper back, but a VERY weak low trap. The Serrano Press trains the low trap, but also adds in a component of reaching overhead to get the upper trap working as well to elevate the scapula.
The nice thing about this exercise is that when the tempo of the exercise is slowed down, the athlete likely doesn’t need any weight, making it a great warm-up before practices or throwing sessions. They can merely lay face down on the ground and perform 10-15 repetitions and have the shoulder warmed up while having the upper back musculature activated and ready to go.
While the bench press and other barbell pressing exercises are great for building strength, baseball and softball players have some unique demands because of the use of their shoulders in sport. The four exercises we’ve presented have some different qualities that allow the baseball and softball player to optimize their shoulder health and performance to aid in improved velocity and throwing mechanics. Pressing alone will not do everything for the athlete, but it is a piece of the puzzle. Pair this with plenty of pulling exercises (especially rows) and you’ll be on your way to improving your baseball and softball players on the field.
Feeling confused? Have questions? Did we blow your mind with something? Let us know in the comments section.