The fall is usually the start of the off-season for baseball players. Most of them have been playing games since February or March and have put their bodies through a lot. However, after some recovery time, it’s time to begin off-season workouts to prepare for next season. Great baseball strength training programs have many components, and one of them is exercise selection.
When choosing exercises for a strength and conditioning program, each exercise should meet two criteria: it should improve performance and it should be safe. If both are not met, leave the exercise out of the program. Baseball, like any other sport, has unique training demands. In particular, players need to maintain proper posture and shoulder positioning during training to ensure the greatest performance gains and stay healthy.
The following five exercises put baseball players at risk of injury and do not have much, if any, carryover to performance. Therefore, they should be avoided in a sound baseball strength and conditioning program.
1. Upright Rows
Most baseball players have a lack of internal rotation in their throwing shoulders. This is a natural adaptation that allows throwers to gain more external rotation, and in turn, increase velocity. However, the adaptation must be accounted for in training. The Upright Row puts the shoulder into an extreme internally rotated position, closing down the space within the joint. Most players cannot get to this position without compensating and putting tremendous stress on the shoulder.
Alternative: Dumbbell Rows
A much more shoulder-friendly exercise, DB Rows allow the scapula (shoulder blade) and the humerus (upper arm bone) to maintain proper positioning throughout the movement.
2. Empty Cans
Just like Upright Rows, this exercise puts excessive stress on the shoulder. The Empty Can puts the shoulder in a compromised position of extreme internal rotation. In addition, it is a provocative test done by doctors and physical therapists to assess shoulder impingement, so loading this move is not wise.
Alternative: Side-Lying Dumbbell External Rotation
A great exercise to strengthen the rotator cuff.
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The role of the core is to transfer energy between the lower body and upper body. Baseball players, like many other athletes, tend to be in an extended (arched) posture in their lower backs. This can limit power transfer and increase injury risk. This exercise only serves to add more stress by hyperextending the lumbar spine and helping to cement the incorrect posture.
Alternative: Dead Bugs
Dead Bugs allow for movement to occur in the arms and legs without compensation from the lumbar spine.
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During the throwing motion, the head of the humerus (upper arm bone) can glide into the soft tissue structures in the front of the shoulder. This can cause the anterior shoulder capsule to become too loose and irritate the biceps tendon, leading to increased shoulder instability and a higher risk of injury. Dips push the head of the humerus against the supporting structures in the front of the shoulder, furthering the damage done by throwing.
In addition to being a great strength builder, Push-Ups allow for the scapula and humerus to work in sync.
5. Barbell Bench Press
The Bench Press is the king of upper-body weightlifting exercises. However, the traditional barbell Bench Press can put the shoulder in a compromised position for baseball players. Like the Upright Row and Empty Can, it puts the humerus into a position of internal rotation, which closes the space the humerus has to move within the joint, increasing the chance for impingement of the rotator cuff. In addition, this exercise pins the shoulder blades to the bench and does not allow for scapular upward rotation, a must-have for shoulder health.
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Alternative: Dumbell Bench Press
This exercise allows for a neutral grip that is much friendlier on the shoulders.