Shoulder health is one of the top priorities for baseball players at all levels. No matter if you’re an Opening Day starter or a Little Leaguer making his pitching debut, shoulder health is one of the main concerns for coaches.
Due to a large risk of injury, many baseball and strength coaches have ditched shoulder pressing variations in their programs completely. Although there may be some truth that overhead pressing movements can harm a throwing athlete, that’s largely due to the athlete not being properly coached or performing the exercise with poor form. In fact, most shoulder injuries occur from under-training and over usage.
With proper form and progression, overhead pressing movements are completely safe for all athletes, especially throwing athletes. Here are a few simple tips to ensure your athletes are pressing safely and effectively:
1. Pay Attention to the Push-Pull Ratio
For every one pushing variation you do, you do one pulling movement. It’s important that when programming this ratio, the push and pull are utilizing the same movement pattern (for example: Neutral Grip Dumbbell Bench and a Neutral Grip Seated Row.) Mimic the same rep/set scheme between exercises. If you’re using a 5×5 method when pressing, use the same for pulling exercises.
2. Progress the Movement Correctly
Athletes with little or no exposure to pressing shouldn’t walk in the door and begin pressing with a barbell.
Find what works best for the athlete and start them there. A Seated, Supported Dumbbell Press is a safe way to learn the movement pattern and remain healthy. Perform this variation until the athlete perfects the form and then remove the support. Keep progressing the athlete until they are able to properly press a barbell.
3. Build the Supporting Muscles
Pressing in any variation recruits more than one muscle group. For example, the Overhead Barbell Press While Seated uses anterior/medial and posterior deltoids, traps, triceps, abs, erectors to name a few. Almost every muscle in the upper body is activated when performing an Overhead Press, so it only makes sense to strengthen these stabilizing muscles to ensure your body doesn’t overcompensate in one area. For example, if you have weak triceps, they will be the first to fatigue and the first to be injured. Injuries attack the weakest muscle first. Building a strong supporting cast will ensure that all areas will be protected.
4. Train From all Angles
Utilize a full range of motion to target every angle of your shoulders. Injury risk becomes greater when there is a weakness at any point during the full range of motion. Retract, elevate, rotate and reach as much as possible. This will ensure that you are training a complete range of motion to eliminate weaknesses.
5. Warm up before you train.
This should be a staple in all training programs, but it is often overlooked and not completed. Athletes need to prime the body for movement and exercise to lower the risk of injury. Utilize exercises that prepare the entire body but also focus on the muscles that will be used during the training session.
10 Exercises to Assure Healthy Overhead Pressing
Here’s a list of my favorite exercises to ensure healthy pressing in throwing athletes:
- Dumbbell Supported Press
- Band Pull Aparts
- Banded Blackburns
- Face Pulls
- 1 Arm Upright Rows
- Pull Ups
- Neutral Grip Rows (Seated Rows)
- Banded Rows
- Dumbbell Rows of all variations
- Neutral Grip Dumbbell Bench (lying)
Here are a few warm-up ideas to make sure you’re prepared for your next training session:
- T-spine Extension
- Band Pull Aparts
- Light Dumbbell Overhead Press (5-10 pound dumbbells)
- Pullovers using a cable or band
- Tricep Band Pushdown
Don’t fear overhead pressing for throwing athletes! When performed correctly and safely, it will help keep the shoulders strong and healthy. Include these tips in your training program to help your athletes unlock their full throwing potential.
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