Building upper-body strength is essential if you want to increase your pitching velocity and keep your shoulder healthy. Most of your power comes from your lower body—as discussed in Part 1 of this pitching velocity series—but a strong and stable upper body will transfer this power to your arm and to the ball. If your muscles are weak, you will lose power or risk injuring your shoulder muscles or other supporting structures.
Perform the following four upper-body exercises in your pre-season strength workouts to continue building your pitching speed.
No other exercise addresses the three main weaknesses in baseball players—grip, core and upper back strength—like Farmer's Walks. Perform these by walking with heavy dumbbells, kettlebells or Farmer's Walk handles.
- Hold heavy dumbbell or kettlebell in each hand
- Keep arms straight next to sides
- Walk in straight line for specified distance; maintain good posture
- Keep core muscles tight
Sets/Reps: 3-4x20-40 yards
Many pitchers underestimate the power of the Push-Up. Don't let this exercise fool you. Push-Ups are perfect for pitchers, because the shoulder blades can move freely (not locked down on a bench), similar to when you throw a ball. Lots of different variations can make Push-Ups more challenging, like Plyo Push-Ups or Push-Ups with resistance from a weighted vest, resistance band or chains. Performing them on straps or gymnastic rings will also dial up the intensity and challenge your shoulder stability.
- Assume Push-Up position with hands slightly wider than shoulder-width
- Bend elbows and lower until chest is two inches above ground; keep elbows to sides and core tight
- Forcefully push up against ground to return to starting position
- Repeat for specified reps
Pull-Ups are the best indicator of relative body strength and overall athleticism. For pitchers, Neutral-Grip Pull-Ups are among the best exercises to strengthen the lats and other back muscles, which are critical to shoulder health. This version of the Pull-Up also eliminates rotation of the shoulder to limit stress on the joint—an important consideration for pitchers.
If you can perform 12 or more Neutral-Grip Pull-Ups, don't be afraid to add weight. However, to prevent potential issues with your biceps tendon, make sure it's light enough that you can perform at least six reps. If Pull-Ups are difficult for you, start building volume slowly by performing one to five Pull-Ups between other sets of your workout. If you can't perform any Pull-Ups, try Isometric Pull-Up Holds or Assisted Pull-Ups with Bands.
- Place hands on neutral-grip bars with palms facing together
- Pull up until chin is over or even with bar
- Lower until arms are fully extended
- Do not swing body or use legs for momentum
Sets and Reps depend on how many Pull-Ups you can perform, so use the above recommendations only as a guide. Some pitchers experience a tugging sensation in their elbow when performing Pull-Ups. If this happens, avoid Neutral-Grip Pull-Ups and focus on Chest-Supported Dumbbell Rows.
Chest-Supported Dumbbell Row
Along with Pull-Ups, Chest-Supported Dumbbell Rows are one of the best exercises you can perform to strengthen the pulling muscles of the back. I prefer them over other rowing exercises, because they isolate the back muscles by preventing you from using momentum to pull the dumbbells.
- Lie with stomach on incline bench, holding dumbbells with arms extended below chest and palms facing together
- Pull shoulder blades together and flex elbows to row dumbbells to armpits; keep elbows close to sides
- Slowly lower dumbbells to start position; repeat for specified reps
Upper Back Exercises
Pitchers also need to perform specific exercises that strengthen the small muscles of the shoulder, particular the external rotators. These muscles are responsible for decelerating the arm during the throwing motion and are often injured if weak. Check out the video below for exercises that will strengthen these critical shoulder muscles.
Joe Meglio is a strength and conditioning coach at the Underground Strength Gym in Edison, N.J. Mentored by one of the brightest minds in the strength and conditioning industry, Zach Even-Esh, Meglio has worked with athletes at the high school, college and professional level. He specializes in training baseball players. Besides being a strength coach, Meglio competed in his first powerlifting meet in 2010, setting the New Jersey state record for Squat, Deadlift and total in his weight class and division. He graduated from Fairleigh Dickinson University in May 2011, following his final season as captain of the baseball team. For more information, please go to MeglioFitness.com.