Posts

4 Pressing Exercise Variations For Baseball Players

Developing a strong back is important for baseball players.

In the past I have talked about some general tips to use in order to grow a strong and big upper back. I have also given you some of my favorite exercises for the upper back and how to develop it.

This got me to thinking and I realized that not many coaches and athletes know how much of an importance should be placed on the role of the upper back when programming pressing movements for baseball players.

Many people neglect the involvement of the scapulae (shoulder blades) in their pressing variations and fail to see how much they can develop this aspect of their body if they simply focused on a few key details.

This would provide a multitude of benefits for athletes as their upper back plays a huge role in their health and performance.

For baseball players and rotational athletes (hockey, lacrosse, golf etc.) the upper back plays a huge role in not only their swing or shot, but it can also limit shoulder injuries if trained effectively. A strong upper back can help improve posture and limit the internal rotation of the shoulder (internal rotation can lead to labrum injuries due to the compression and force constantly placed on the acromioclavicular (AC) joint). So, not only can we contribute to an aesthetically pleasing upper back by making some adjustments in our pressing, but we can also limit injury and contribute to increases in performance for baseball players.

Here is a quick breakdown of external rotation, how to promote the use of the scapulae for presses with baseball players and my favorite exercise variations to do so!

What is External Rotation?

In my opinion, the best analogy to use to explain external rotation of the shoulders would be to have someone imagine that their arms are outstretched and fully extended with their hands on a wall. On that wall is a big sheet of paper, and your goal is to tear the paper down the middle without moving your hands. How exactly do we do that? Well, think as if you are trying to “screw” your hands into the wall, only without moving your hands outwards.

External rotation is created when we drive our right hand clockwise and our left hand counterclockwise. If we do this without actually moving our hands then we create torque, and that imaginary paper is now torn!

The shoulder is a ball and socket joint, meaning that the humeral head rotates about inside the cup-like socket of the shoulder blade. When we create proper torque the humeral rotates outward, hence “external rotation.”

Many of us perform presses without external rotation, which not only leaves us susceptible to injury but also does not allow us to develop the upper back and shoulder blades to the best of their ability. This has been said many times before, yet I still see baseball players utilizing presses that do not let the upper back work freely and independently of a bench. This is due to a number of factors, which include hand and grip positioning and the side effects of performing presses on a bench.

Basically, when our back is on a bench the bench itself does not allow for full scapula activation and retraction, which can limit external rotation and use of the upper back. Experienced lifters know how to properly activate the upper back and can get around this, but many others struggle.

Lastly, bilateral movements (presses with two hands) can negate the need to isolate each individual shoulder blade due to the fact that using both hands does not require as much stabilization as unilateral movements.

With that being said, here are a few variations that make use of these fundamental principles.

Dumbbell Piston Press

As I mentioned above, unilateral presses allow the shoulder blades to work independently of each other. In addition, they require more external rotation to be created in order to stabilize fully.

If I have a baseball player perform a bench press it will be with dumbbells due to the fact that they require more focused stabilization of the scapulae then barbell presses, and allow for a neutral grip to prevent stress on the shoulders. However, an even better way to guarantee shoulder blade activation and external rotation is to perform dumbbell presses in a piston-like manner. That is, perform each press individually (one side at a time) so that the athlete has to pay attention to activating the upper back and externally rotating at the shoulder in order to properly stabilize the weight.

I will also utilize these presses at lower weights for dynamic/speed repetitions as well for power development.

 

Barbell Push-Up

The barbell push-up not only is a great tool to use in order to teach the art of pressing but also it eliminates the use of the bench (as I mentioned), which can teach an athlete how to cue and activate the upper back while letting the upper back work independently.

Since we are performing presses without the support of the bench we can fully retract the shoulder blades with each repetition and learn how to activate the upper back. This is a simple movement for advanced athletes, so I will usually implement slower movements, isometric holds and even increase the load (with chains) in order to progress the movement and make it more challenging. Any type of push-up variation is great to use for baseball players.

Cable or Band Presses

Similarly to push-up variations, cable and/or band presses allow the athlete to perform pushes that allow the scapulae to work independently of one another. They also help place less stress on the shoulders.

Bottoms-Up Kettle Bell Presses

This last variation is the most advanced and ties in all the principles I have previously mentioned.

Holding the kettle bells in a bottoms-up position makes external rotation a necessity, and is why I love this variation. If you do not properly externally rotate it is almost impossible to stabilize the kettle bell. In addition, we are once again removing the bench from the equation and requiring true activation of the upper back and retraction (pinching) of the shoulder blades.

Lastly, if you really want to advance this variation and take it to the next level you can perform the presses unilaterally (one hand at a time), and tie in the same principles you would be when performing the dumbbell bench press in a piston manner!

 

Download our Free Arm Care Program for Baseball Players

One of the foundational pillars of any program for baseball players is an arm care program. Yet, this is often one of the most neglected areas I’ve seen. Many collegiate baseball players, let alone high school and youth baseball players, have never performed an appropriate arm care program.

Here’s a simple fact… If you are a baseball player, you must be performing an arm care program. All the big leaguers do, why aren’t you?

More importantly, if you are performing a strength training program, getting pitching lessons, or participating in a long toss or weighted ball program and do NOT perform an arm care program, your priorities are reversed.

I always say, you are focusing on the frosting before you’ve baked your cake.

But I get it, some people have never heard of an arm care program and some people do not have access to a good one.

Well, I want to change that.

Our mission here at Elite Baseball Performance is to advance the game of baseball through trustworthy and scientifically proven information and programs.

Download the the EBP Arm Care Program for FREE

EBP Reinold Throwers Arm Care ProgramI want every baseball player in the world to perform an appropriate arm care program, that’s why I am giving mine away for free here at EBP.

I’ve developed this program over the course of two decades based on the science of throwing a baseball and the science behind exercise selection. This is the foundational program that we have used at Champion PT and Performance on everyone from Little League pitchers to Cy Young winners. Sure, the programs we do with our athletes in person are far more comprehensive, but I consider this to be the mandatory foundational program you should be performing.

In exchange, I only ask for your help spreading the word. Please share this page with all your friends, teammates, coaches, parents, and anyone else that wants to help baseball players enhance their performance while reducing their chance for injury!

Start performing this today and you will be well ahead of the curve. Countless big leaguers perform this exact program, get it here for free today!

 

 

Arm Care Starts with the Scaps

The two most commonly reported areas of pain in baseball players are the shoulder and elbow.

However, the area in pain may not actually be causing the pain itself.

The body is a chain and weakness in one link of that chain can cause pain in another area. This is certainly the case when it comes to arm pain. Often when pain is felt in the arm it is due to a lack of mobility elsewhere in the body. That “elsewhere” is often from the scapulothoracic joint.

In order to understand the importance of the scapulothoracic joint, which is comprised of the scapula (shoulder blade) and the rib cage, we have to appreciate the functional. The shoulder joint is made up of the head of the humerus and the glenoid cavity of the scapula. The humeral head sits right on top of the glenoid cavity like a golf ball on a tee. As the shoulder joint goes through various motions, the scapula has to move with it. It does this by gliding on top of the rib cage. For every two degrees that the shoulder moves, the scapula should move one degree (2:1 ratio).

Here’s a great video showing the anatomy of this movement:

If the scapula is unable to move close to a 2:1 ratio with the shoulder, then we are going to be limited with how far we can move our arm. This limit, when trying to throw a baseball, is problematic, as the thrower will place undue pressure on the shoulder and elbow in an attempt to reach the proper range of motion.

Scapula Exercises for Baseball Pitchers

As you can see, it’s pretty important to not just focus on the arm, but also the scapula.  Below are my four favorite correctional exercises to develop scapulothoracic movement.

Side Lying Half Moon Thoracic Stretch

In addition to mobilizing the thoracic spine, the lying half moon stretch is exceptional at promoting scapulothoracic range of motion.

Have the athlete flex their top knee at 90° and sit it on top of either a medball or a foam roller. This will keep their spine aligned properly. The athlete should try to drag their fingers along the ground as they progress throughout the motion. It is important to note that athletes who lack ST mobility will not be able to get their hand all the way to the ground initially.

As the athlete moves their arm through the motion the scapula will go through all of its movement patterns.

 

Back to Wall Shoulder Flexion

For baseball players it is critical that the scapula is able to elevate and upwardly rotate as the arm extends forward towards ball release. This drill is an example of how an assessment test can also be used as a corrective exercise.

Have the athlete stand with their feet 4-6 inches away from the wall and cue them to keep their back completely flat against the wall. With the amount of lumber extension we see across the population this may be very challenging for some athletes. If the athletes cannot keep their lower back flat on the wall, instruct them to bend their knees and active their core.

Forearm Wall Slides

As the athlete slides their hands up the wall they are getting more elevation and upward rotation of the scapula; but as they pull their hands off of the wall, they’re going to retract the scapula and get some slight posterior tilt as well.

Make sure that athlete engages their core and doesn’t fall into lumbar extension as they bring their hands off of the wall as this should be an exclusively scapulothoracic movement.

Prone 1-Arm Trap Raise

The last exercise in my scapulothoracic joint mobilization series is very similar to the classic Blackburn’s exercises.

I prefer to have athletes do these exercises unilaterally and on a table because when done bilaterally and on the floor we often see more spine movement than actual ST movement. This is another good exercise for developing posterior tilt of the scapula by allowing the lower trap to get involved.

The beautiful thing about all of these exercises is that they require very little to no equipment at all. This means that athletes can do these exercises in the gym, on the field, or at home.

Give these scapular exercises for baseball pitchers a try and keep that arm healthy this season!

 

Want EBP’s FREE Arm Care Program?

EBP Reinold Throwers Arm Care ProgramOur mission at EBP is to provide the best and most trustworthy information.  That’s why we now are offering Mike Reinold’s recommended arm care protocol for absolutely FREE.  A proper arm care program should be one of the foundations of injury prevention and performance enhancement programs.  The EBP Arm Care program is the perfect program to set the foundation for success that EVERY baseball player should perform.