Upper Body Workout for Baseball


Baseball Has Specific Needs Which Must be Taken into Account

upper body training for baseball

Baseball has specific needs that must be taken into account. The two objectives we seek with baseball training are to optimize performance and reduce the risk of injury. These goals can only be achieved with an understanding of the unique physical demands of the sport and how these demands relate to performance and injuries. We must also differentiate the stage of the season we are in and the athlete’s needs according to that stage and their position on the field.

Sports periodization is the overarching part of programming in baseball and any sport. By looking at the season as a sequence of linked stages, we will properly design upper-body training for baseball, which is the focus of this article (Ebben et al., 2005; Szymanski, 2007). In this Vitruve article, we explain in detail the fundamentals of sports periodization that we must consider to accurately design a season.

In broad terms, a normal linear periodization (Figure (a) in the following image) starts the preseason with very high volume and low intensity, with little focus on technique. This is where athletes will return from vacation and we will begin to perform anatomical adaptation training and generic exercises such as bench press or landmine press, among others, for our upper body training for baseball.

The difference baseball has with other disciplines that have a shorter competition period is that it requires a more abrupt transition from the preseason to the competition period (Figure (b) in the following image). Therefore, in addition to this specific need for baseball, we must also take into account the details that maximize performance and prevent injuries when performing upper body training for baseball.

that maximize performance and prevent injuries baseball


Rotation as a Differentiating Element of Baseball and Specific Injuries

Traditional programs designed to improve performance in other sports, such as soccer and athletics, may not maximize the necessary qualities in a rotational sport. To design the most effective program for improving baseball players’ performance, strength coaches must understand the unique needs of the sport. Emphasis should be placed on improving mobility, increasing strength, and appropriate progressions of workload for specific baseball activities such as sprinting, hitting, and pitching.

Furthermore, common injuries according to the sport and the player’s specific position should be identified to design interventions that reduce the risk of those injuries. Ultimately, each sport has key performance indicators that will determine success or failure in the implementation of our upper body training for baseball.

Next, we will discuss the main groups of exercises according to the objective that can be carried out to prevent common upper body injuries in baseball, as well as to improve key performance indicators such as bat exit velocity, pitcher throwing velocity, running speed, linear power, rotational power, and body mass (Crotin et al., 2014; Lehman et al., 2013; Szymanski et al., 2009).


Supplementary Baseball Training to Prevent Upper Body Injuries

supplementary baseball training upper body

Programs should not only be designed to improve performance but also to reduce the risk of injuries. The most common injuries in baseball include hamstring strains, throwing arm injuries, lower back muscle strains, hip adductor strains, and oblique muscle strains (Klein et al., 2021). Programs should be designed with these injuries in mind, in addition to emphasizing mobility improvement, which will help prevent injuries and improve performance.

In upper body training for baseball, we must not forget about complementary work to prevent injuries to the arms from the repetitive throwing of balls, as well as problems in muscles responsible for trunk rotation, such as the obliques, thus also eliminating discomfort in back muscles that share the same rotational function (Okoroha et al., 2019; Posner et al., 2011). Field players are more susceptible to hamstring injuries, so we will focus more on lower-body training to reduce the risk of these common injuries (Okoroha et al., 2019).

Pulls for Shoulder Care

Pitchers have a high risk of shoulder and elbow injuries (Posner et al., 2011). We cannot prevent them from practicing throws, as this arm-whip motion will be present hundreds of times each day in training. What we can do is mitigate the damage caused by such repetitive motion and take care of shoulder and elbow health with complementary exercises.

All rowing exercises will be a good strategy to improve the push-to-pull ratio, which is usually almost always skewed towards pushes, leading to shoulder discomfort. Some authors propose a 1:2 ratio, and even 1:3 in favor of pulls if we want to avoid shoulder discomfort and injuries. For this reason, upper body training for baseball should include various types of rows, such as inverted rows, barbell rows, face pulls, etc.

In addition, external rotation work of the shoulders will also be part of the strategy to shift the ratio towards pulls. Exercises like shoulder rotations with a 30º arm abduction, or the well-known 90/90 rotations, will be very useful for shoulder health, as they always work in the internal rotation when throwing, so we have to compensate with these external rotations.

Mobility of Key Joints

Optimal mobility during functional baseball movements is one of the qualities to work on, both to prevent injuries and due to the influence of such mobility on athlete performance (Laudner et al., 2018). Restoring both active and passive range of motion after daily physical requirements will help promote efficient athletic movements on the field and facilitate adaptations to resistance training. For this purpose, we will carry out thoracic spine mobility, myofascial release, and shoulder mobility and stability work, as it is a complex joint that requires both mobility and stability.

There are countless mobility and myofascial release exercises, but we propose some that cannot be missing for the upper body of baseball players. When mobilizing the thoracic spine, including the shoulder, the ‘3D strap quadruped thoracic spine mobility‘ exercise, which consists of performing thoracic rotations with a band placed on the shoulder joint, cannot be missed. We can also perform ‘Side Lying Thoracic Rotation‘ and ‘sleeper stretch‘ as complementary work for thoracic and shoulder mobility.

Myofascial release increases blood flow and tissue muscle temperature, which reduces muscular restrictions and improves the range of motion (Stroiney et al., 2020). Myofascial release techniques include foam rolling placed on muscle areas such as the lower back and pectoral, although it is ideal to perform a full-body circuit. Rotator cuff release uses a hard ball to focus more on specific areas, which in our case will be the insertions of muscles such as the pectoral and deltoid in the shoulder joint.

As mentioned earlier, the shoulder should have good mobility, but above all, it should be stable. The exercise that cannot be missing in this objective is ‘isometric prone “Y” with perturbations‘, with which we will achieve shoulder and scapular stability, which will directly transfer into better shoulder health, as well as greater muscle activation and strength development (Kibler & Sciascia, 2019). We can also perform many others such as ‘prone snow angels‘ or shoulder stability work on a fitball.

Continuous Athlete Assessment to See Their Fatigue Levels

Daily fatigue makes it necessary to continuously measure the athlete’s strength. Load and velocity have a linear inverse relationship that allows predicting maximum values from submaximal loads using devices like Vitruve (Banyard et al., 2018). In addition, load-velocity profiles can be created from relative loads between 20 and 90% of 1RM to prescribe average propulsion and mean velocities (Hughes et al., 2018). With this data, we can know if our athlete is recovered from previous sessions or is fatigued, thus prescribing sessions of higher intensity if they are recovered, or using measurement results to give the athlete rest.

Something as simple as measuring exercises like bench presses in each warm-up with a measurement device like Vitruve will give us information about the upper body strength status of the player. Upper body training for baseball should always, or at least almost always, start with an evaluation of the athlete’s fatigue status with tests such as increasing series in bench press, and an evaluation of shoulder range of motion at certain times when execution speed data is below normal.

Strength and Hypertrophy Training: Applying More Force in Less Time

how throw faster and harder baseball workout

General Upper Body Strength Training with Basic Exercises

Pure strength training has a place in baseball to establish the strength foundations that will later transfer to the explosive movements inherent in the sport. Additionally, gaining quality muscle mass will aid in the application of that strength, as it has been demonstrated that the best offensive players in MLB are heavier than the average MLB players (Crotin et al., 2014) and minor league players (Hoffman et al., 2009). In this section, basic upper body pushing exercises such as bench press will be performed, but we must be cautious with overhead pushing exercises, such as military press. If our athlete experiences shoulder discomfort, we will do a floor bench press instead of a bench press to limit the range of motion and prevent further discomfort.

Instead, diagonal pushes will be more interesting, as they are a mix between bench press and military press. The exercise ‘half kneeling landmine press‘ or ‘standing landmine press‘ cannot be missing in upper body training for baseball. We will choose heavier weights for maximal strength development and lighter weights to focus more on speed than load, thus passing through different zones of the force-velocity curve. To measure the speed at which athletes move the load, speed measurement devices such as Vitruve can be used to check if upper body training for baseball is effective, if the athlete is fatigued, or if we need to adjust loads.

Olympic Movements in Baseball?

Olympic lifts are key movements in developing power in many sports. However, in addition to the significant amount of time required to learn them if the athlete has not internalized them from a young age, there is the concern for arm care in baseball. Both pitchers and other players throw the ball hundreds of times each day. Olympic lifts add more stress to the shoulder, elbow, and wrist by putting the arm in disadvantageous positions, such as excessive shoulder flexion in the snatch that many baseball players do not have (Chan et al., 2020) or the forced elbow position in the clean reception that can damage tissues in that joint (Freehill & Safran, 2011).

In a review of common practices carried out by different MLB coaches, almost all of them used upper-body plyometrics in their athletes (Hoffman et al., 2009). Instead of using Olympic movements, plyometrics is a very interesting method for training upper body explosive strength. Plyometrics can be used with plyometric push-ups, medicine ball throws and catches, landmine throws and pickups, and similar exercises. Of course, any upper body exercise with a moderate load moved at the maximum possible speed will be useful for improving the explosive strength of the upper body necessary in baseball.

Rotational Training as an Element that Connects the Lower Body with the Upper Body

Rotational Training for upper body training baseball


Traditional strength and conditioning exercises, such as squats and deadlifts, primarily train movement in the sagittal plane, while movements in the frontal and transverse planes are likely equally important for baseball players (Klein et al., 2021). Biomechanical studies have shown that trunk rotation power has the greatest influence on pitching velocity for pitchers, as we explain in this Vitruve article.

Trunk rotation power is one of the key performance indicators that has the most influence on baseball gameplay. To train this quality, two exercises have shown their association with improving it: the ‘lateral to medial jump‘ and the ‘medicine ball scoop toss‘ (Lehman et al., 2013). The list of rotational exercises for sports like baseball or others that share characteristics such as golf due to their swinging motion is endless. Specific trunk rotations can be performed with exercises like ‘3D Strap Explosive Thoracic Rotation‘, many other cable movements like the well-known ‘woodchop‘, and some explosive exercises like the aforementioned ‘medicine ball scoop toss‘.

Anterior Crossed Chain

Our body is not designed for isolated actions, but rather we are connected from head to toe by different tissues such as fascia. That’s why in baseball we have to train the lower body not only to run faster but also to throw at higher speeds. There are different crossed chains like the anterior and posterior crossed chains that connect muscles of the upper body and lower body. The anterior crossed chain helps accelerate and decelerate the body in movements such as throwing the ball or batting, as well as changes of direction when moving from one base to another.

To specifically train this anterior crossed chain, we must practice exercises that engage muscles such as the serratus anterior and external obliques on one side, but also the internal obliques and adductor complex on the opposite side, all connected by the adductor abdominal fascia. Some exercises that work the anterior crossed chain include: ‘Band Lateral Squat w/ Pallof Press‘, ‘Cable Split Squat w/ Straight 1-Arm Pull Down‘, ‘Cable Mid 180 1-Arm Press w/ Hand-Off‘, ‘single arm dumbbell bench press‘, and other rotational exercise variations.

Specific Baseball Training with Loaded Implements

baseball training with loaded implements

The last group of exercises for upper body training in baseball is found within specific loaded implement work. This type of work is individualized for pitchers and hitters, using sleds for lower body work that players engage in when running from base to base or fielding a ball after batting. In a previous Vitruve article, we discussed the use of heavier and lighter balls to throw faster.

Throwing with heavier baseballs can improve throwing mechanics, as well as arm strength and speed, leading to increased throwing velocity. However, caution must be taken with load and fatigue management as this strategy can significantly increase the risk of injury. The use of lighter baseballs is another technique used by athletes seeking to throw faster in baseball. Throwing with three- and four-ounce (85 – 113 grams) baseballs is also effective in gaining ball velocity by allowing higher angular velocities at the shoulder and elbow. Therefore, using both heavier-than-normal and lighter baseballs can help us throw faster. However, we must be careful with the potential injuries it may cause.

In another previous article, we proposed the same concept but with heavier and lighter bats in upper body training for baseball to achieve a faster ball exit speed:

Heavier bats than the ones we usually use help develop specific strength in the swing. Lighter bats are used to give a feeling of moving more explosively and to make the muscles contract more quickly than they normally do. Properly programmed training will introduce one type of bat or another according to the athlete’s demands, as well as other bats that concentrate weight on a thicker handle with the same goal of increasing strength in swing movements and bat exit speed as the final result.

Therefore, using balls and bats of different weights will also be part of upper-body training for baseball.

Conclusion & Example Training Session Tables for Upper Body Training for Baseball:

It is not possible to offer a closed program that works for any athlete, whether in baseball or any other sport. Throughout the article, we have seen that we must choose exercises from various groups depending on the athlete, the time of the season, and the goal. Supplementary work is equally or more important than the rest, as an injured athlete will not improve no matter how good our exercises are. Rowing and pulling work to increase the push-to-pull ratio in favor of the latter should be part of upper body training for baseball, as well as mobility exercises and fatigue management to know when to push and when to ease off.

As in any sport, pure strength must be worked on with the classic exercises we all know; in the case of upper body training in baseball, it will be bench presses and pushes where we pay attention to the position of the arms above the head. We will perform work with high loads and lower speeds and also with lower loads and higher speeds. Plyometrics will be an appropriate strategy to train the strength-speed zone with very low loads and very high speeds. The following table encompasses the recommended strength exercises to work on strength during the baseball season (Szymanski, 2007). As you can see, they are classic strength exercises to work on the most important muscles involved in this sport.

Tabla extraída de (Szymanski, 2007)

Baseball features a rotational pattern that doesn’t exist to the same extent as other sports. That’s why we should perform rotational exercises to ensure that lower body strength transfers to the upper body for faster pitching or hitting, but also more effective changes of direction. The last important group of exercises for upper body training in baseball will make use of balls and bats of different weights with which we work specifically on baseball gestures. The following table shows an example of a five-day program focused on rotation work for a pitcher (Szymanski, 2007)

Tabla extraída de (Szymanski, 2007)
Table from (Szymanski, 2007)


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