Superstitions are as synonymous with baseball as pine tar and sunflower seeds. Some superstitions, like not washing your lucky socks, are harmless (though smelly). But some beliefs, such as that baseball players shouldn't lift weights, are downright unfounded and could be holding you back.
With many players and coaches stuck in the past concerning strength training, it's important to keep an open mind and to separate fact from fiction. At Cressey Sports Performance, we see the benefits of baseball strength training on a daily basis. From Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber to hundreds of minor league players and even more college and high school athletes, we've disproved the myth that lifting weights makes baseball players tight and un-athletic.
Even so, plenty of myths about baseball strength training cloud the minds of hard-working players. Here are five strength training misconceptions that must be avoided if you want your hard work in the weight room to pay off.
1. Baseball Players Shouldn't Lift Overhead
Baseball players are overhead athletes. Logically, they need to be strong and stable with their arms overhead. So why on earth would they avoid going overhead in the weight room
Getting overhead is necessary, but we're not talking about exercises like the Overhead Press and Snatch. These require a degree of shoulder stability and core control that most baseball players simply don't have. Combine that with heavy weight and high movement speed and the exercise poses more risk than reward. Check out the video player above to learn more about whether athletes should press overhead from renowned strength and conditioning coach Mike Boyle.
Baseball players should choose exercises that allow the core to create a solid ribcage position, which increases shoulder stability. The scapulae (shoulder blades) glide along the ribcage, and if the lower back arches excessively (as it often does during the Overhead Press and Olympic lifts), the scapula and humerus (upper arm bone) fail to move in harmony. This can lead to shoulder irritation and injury.
Try a Half-Kneeling Dumbbell Press to develop upper-body strength without putting your shoulder in a dangerous position. Squeeze your abs and glutes to keep your ribs down, and squeeze the dumbbell firmly to engage your rotator cuff.
2. Olympic Lifts Are Best for Power Development
Speaking of overhead exercises, the Olympic lifts (the Snatch, Clean and Jerk and their variations) are constantly praised as the most powerful exercises known to man. And although football and basketball players may benefit from Olympic lifts, baseball players should avoid them, for a few reasons.
First, as previously mentioned, most baseball players lack the shoulder and core stability to perform these lifts safely. Second, Olympic lifts build power in the wrong direction. Baseball players need rotational and side-to-side explosiveness, which is better developed with medicine ball throws.
To power up your throws and swings, try the Step-Back Medicine Ball Shot Put. This exercise teaches you to shift your weight to your back hip and explode out of it, building the power you need to hit bombs and throw gas.
3. Do More Pulling than Pushing to Keep Your Shoulders Healthy
You commonly hear coaches recommend doing two "pulling" exercises (like Rows and Pull-Ups) for every "pushing" exercise (like a Bench Press or Push-Up) to balance out the front and back sides of the body. In theory, this will keep your shoulders healthy by maintaining good posture.
It's a good concept, but only if you're pulling with pristine form. Unfortunately, many athletes butcher their Pull-Up and Row technique to the point where they may actually hurt their shoulders.
When pulling, the shoulder blades and arms must move together. Think of them as dance partners; when one moves, the other has to move with it. Rather than pinching the shoulders "down and back" first and then pulling with your arm, let the two movements blend together smoothly. Check out the following video by Eric Cressey for tips on proper rowing technique:
On top of that, baseball players need plenty of exercises that upwardly rotate the scapula (move the shoulder blades up on the ribcage) and externally rotate the humerus (similar to the action of the shoulder when a pitcher cocks his arm back to throw). Rows and Pull-Ups, despite being thought of as "shoulder friendly," actually internally rotate the shoulder to a degree. The Face Pull exercise accomplishes upward rotation and external rotation, so be sure to include it with your Rows and Pull-Ups.
4. Pitchers Should Run to Build Endurance
Many pitchers run long distance to build up endurance, but all endurance is not created equal. Sure, pitchers need to be able to throw upwards of 100 pitches per game, but training like an endurance athlete won't build baseball-specific stamina.
And while aerobic training can help with recovery (as we'll discuss later), the cons of distance running simply outweigh the pros. Repeatedly pounding on the pavement can bother the knees, hips, ankles and lower back. Plus, moderate intensity running is not specific to baseball, a sport that alternates between all-out sprints and simply standing around. Finally, high-volume running burns too many calories, which can lead to weight loss and, in turn, decreased throwing velocity.
What's the best way to build pitching endurance? Pitch! Building up your pitch count with a progressive throwing program will do more to get you into the ninth inning than running for miles on end.
5. Aerobic Exercise Will Make You Weak
Building on the last point, not all aerobic training is bad for baseball players. Running long distances might not be ideal, but building a strong aerobic base will enhance recovery from game to game, workout to workout and even pitch to pitch.
Unfortunately, as mentioned, most baseball players aren't actually performing aerobic exercise when they think they are. They run just a bit too hard or too fast, which develops more anaerobic qualities and does little to improve their aerobic base.
So how do you build an aerobic base without wasting your time with distance running? Try tempo runs (bouts of submaximal sprinting with active rest) or mobility circuits (several mobility drills paired with limited rest.)
For more info on baseball-specific conditioning methods, check out my previous article, Condition to Perform: Baseball Conditioning.
Now that we've busted these five myths, you can attack your off-season training knowing that you're developing the right strength and power attributes to make yourself a force on the field. Let go of these old superstitions and stick with what we've proven to work season after season.
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