Protect Your Shoulders: Add Rowing Variations to Your Baseball Exercises

STACK Expert Mo Skelton enumerates the benefits of rowing variations to build functional strength for baseball and suggests some beneficial exercises.

Photo: AP

Baseball exercises should be specific to the unique skills and attributes the sport demands. These include hand/eye coordination, timing, rotational power, flexibility to reach ground balls, strength to throw, endurance, speed and lateral agility.

That said, row variations are one of the most helpful all-around (and oft-neglected) baseball exercises. Rowing produces good movement of the scapula on the rib cage while strengthening the upper back and other areas.

Let's look at why row variations are useful for baseball players.

Core Stabilization

Ripped transverse abdominus and oblique muscles look nice, and when they are strong, they also function as stabilizers—necessary for baseball players to generate force when swinging or throwing. Their antagonist muscles (those opposite in location and action) and the spinal extensors. They hold the spine in a stable position during baseball movements and protect the lumbar spine from disc injury. They are the posterior stabilizers of the core.

Performing Single-Arm Rows works the oblique muscles, which are commonly injured in baseball players, especially early in the season.

Renegade Rows are a deadly exercise for the core. They blast your core, especially the obliques, and strengthen your upper back muscles. Begin in the plank position with your hands gripping dumbbells on the ground.  Lift one dumbbell without twisting your body. Repeat on the opposite side. Alternate.

Grip Strength

Grip strength is imperative for baseball players. Bodyweight Pull-Ups significantly test your grip. Adding resistance ups the ante. The rowing motion also strengthens the lats, which serve many purposes in baseball, including decelerating the throwing arm and stabilizing the lower back.

Inverted Rows with Towel Grips

  • Place a bar in a Power Rack about 3 feet off the ground.
  • Place a towel on each end shoulder-width apart.
  • Let each towel dangle over the bar toward the ground where you can grip them (not the bar).
  • With your feet out in front, perform reps by pulling yourself up to the bar with a rowing motion.
  • Both grip strength and upper back strength are enhanced.

Adding Mass

For baseball players, especially pitchers, adding mass can improve performance. Obviously, this is case-dependent. Adding mass around the midsection is not ideal. The lower body is the best place for a baseball player to add mass. (We'll leave that discussion for a later date.)

Adding mass to the pecs, anterior delts, biceps and triceps looks nice. Putting it on in those places does not extend contracts, but it might increase your Twitter following if you take good selfies. As long as mobility is maintained, adding mass to the upper back and lats is beneficial. These row variations do the trick. Use low-rep, high-load schemes to strengthen the supporting muscles of the shoulders and create muscle mass and strength that carries over to baseball.

Protecting the Rotator Cuff

The rotator cuff is no longer the forgotten muscle of baseball players. It now tends to be overused. But we'll add one exercise to the repertoire for functional strengthening of the cuff. Instead of internal/external rotations performed with bands, we'll use the muscles to assist in the positioning of the humerus in the socket, limiting the upper migration of the bone that can cause muscle impingment and damage. Many rowing exercises strengthen the scapular adductors and downward rotators. To balance the musculature, strengthen the upward rotators of the scapula and the rotator cuff.

That's where Face Pulls come in. They have been called the most underrated exercise in all of strength training. When performing them with a neutral grip, you stabilize the humerus in the rotator cuff, which is what a baseball player needs.

Rowing Machines

The key concept regarding machine rowing is its total-body nature. It is not simply an arm exercise. It is a fluid motion that incorporates extension of the lower body, an efficiently moving scapula and full range of motion of the upper body. Rowing machines are a significant part of CrossFit programming, and they are great for HIIT (high intensity interval training) and Tabata intervals. They allow you to generate total-body effort and power in a repeated fashion.

Few athletes fail to work their mirror muscles. But they must also work the muscles they can't see. Rowing works the muscles of the rotator cuff (functional muscles for the thrower), the core stabilizers and the power generators. In addition, they develop grip strength and build mass in the lats and spinal extensors. All this strength can carry over to the diamond.

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Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock