Every baseball player wants their training to pay off on the field.
Although most players will get some benefit out of following a general athlete program they downloaded from the internet, there are some key tweaks that can be made to classic exercises to make them both more effective and more safe for baseball players.
This article outlines five common exercise substitutions to consider when you’re programming for baseball players.
Disclaimer: Always program workouts based on the athlete, not the sport. Though these exercise substitutions have relevance to be included in a baseball program, a training program is created in response to the athlete’s unique needs, not the sport. These substitutions are for athletes who require similar training adaptations to the original exercise, which will be many baseball players, but not necessarily all of them.
1. Front-Load Split Squat Instead of Back Squat
The Back Squat has been a staple in training programs since the advent of the barbell. Recently, many strength coaches are moving away from it in favor of front-loaded exercises that better position players to utilize core musculature during workouts. This avoids gross lumbar extension patterns and cranky shoulders that have to hold the bar in place.
In my eyes, the Front-Loaded Split Squat holds two key advantages over a Barbell Back Squat for baseball players.
First, it allows an athlete to “feel” getting in and out of their lead hip. This is vital for players in transferring rotational force from the ground up.
Secondly, this exercise moves the muscular “weak link” from the middle of the body to the legs, a valuable safety consideration.
Failure during a Front-Loaded Split Squat is normally due to inadequate lower-body strength. Failure during a Back Squat is often due to insufficient core bracing, which puts the lower back at risk during fatigued reps.
By replacing the Back Squat with the Front-Loaded Split Squat, we train toward a pattern that athletes more commonly use on the playing field. We also reduce the risk of injury during heavy and fatigued training sets.
2. Resisted Push-Ups Instead of Bench Press
The Bench Press can help almost anyone gain muscle in their chest and shoulders.
While muscular development is generally great for a baseball player, the Bench Press does have its drawbacks.
While lying on a bench, the scapulae are pressed between the athlete and the pad, compressed and immobile. The limited range of motion needed for the exercise means most lifters complete repetitions without their scapulae ever moving. As throwing and hitting require above average scapular movement, training done with fixed scaps inhibits the player from training vital movement quality that will be demanded of them in competition.
Resisted Push-Ups solve this problem by allowing the scapulae to freely move on the ribcage during pressing. Push-Ups require a more neutral bracing strategy, guiding an athlete out of the lumbar extension pattern and into a more neutral, back-friendly position for pressing.
3. Landmine Press Instead of Overhead Press
Historically, baseball players struggle with overhead exercises.
Throwing sports place great demands on the latissimus dorsi and pectoralis, musculature that opposes overhead motion.
However, not training any sort of overhead motion is a missed opportunity.
The throwing motion demands the ability to upwardly rotate the scapula and rotate the arm overhead at rates greater than 7,000 degrees/second. Recently in baseball-specific training, a greater emphasis has been placed on overhead mobility and strength exercises, but ballplayers still often struggle to achieve the 150-180 degrees of shoulder flexion needed to create a good Dumbbell Overhead Press.
The Landmine Press demands smaller angles and can be used as a regression to achieve the overhead training effect without loading a pattern the athlete can’t perform with quality.
By adjusting from half-kneeling to standing, a trainer can progress an athlete safely and effectively, challenging shoulder flexion as the athlete improves.
4. 3-Point Row Instead of Bent-Over Row
Although baseball demands a strong upper back, the common Bent-Over Row can negatively impact athletes for a variety of reasons.
Challenging the row pattern in the bottom half of a hip hinge can hamper loading by placing undue stress on the lower back while neglecting the true purpose of training the row pattern.
By replacing the Bent-Over Row with a Single-Arm Row variation, we achieve a unilateral training effect and can load the pull aggressively without sacrificing lumbar health.
5. Zottman Curl Instead of Barbell Bicep Curl
Direct arm training is a topic of debate among coaches, but the fact is most players will want to train their biceps. And when done right, it can definitely benefit the athlete.
The Zottman Curl is an upgrade over the Barbell Bicep Curl for two key reasons.
First, the exercise allows for the hands to rotate, allowing a natural flexion/extension pattern at the elbow joint.
Secondly, this technique trains isometric wrist extension, an often-overlooked training effect that can stabilize the elbow during high velocity throwing and hitting.
With these techniques arising in prominence for baseball training, these five exercises can bring value and variety to your program. While sport-specific training only goes as far as the athlete’s unique needs, paying attention to what the sport of baseball demands can help make these critical exercise selection decisions.
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