baseball players: how to train smart and avoid the injury bug

baseball players: how to train smart and avoid the injury bug


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With any sport, regardless of it being played professionally, at the intramural level in college or little league, you run the risk of injury.






Most NBA injuries we think of tend to be ankle, knee or leg-related; see Derrick Rose.  He has had two knee surgeries in as many years.








While in the NFL, you run a whole gamut of possibilities due to the high impact collisions that take place on the field every down.  In baseball, we typically think of arm-related injuries; elbow (Tommy John), shoulder, rotator cuff, etc.


Today I want to talk to you about some safe ways for baseball players to strength train in the weight room.  We’ll talk about exercises they should and shouldn’t be doing, along with some “prehab” work they should do to help prevent these common sport-related injuries.




Before we get into arm-specific work, we need to talk briefly about the importance of balance.  johnnyventersLet’s say I’m a pitcher.  Which side of my body am I going to use more heavily every day?  If I’m a lefty, my left arm / shoulder are going to be used much more frequently and intensely than my right.  Just as my left leg when pushing off the mound is going to be used much more frequently than my right.  So what happens?  I’ve created a muscle imbalance.  This can be a common cause for injury, even just trying to perform everyday tasks.  How do we remedy this?  Unilateral work.  Think (alternating) dumbbell bench press, dumbbell row, split squats, reverse lunge, etc. Practice these exercises to make sure you don’t have one side of your body lagging from the other.


Strengthen your weaker side to increase stability.


Elbow-Joint Recovery


When you say baseball injury, the first thing that comes to mind is Tommy John surgery.  Being that this is an article for a baseball forum, I won’t spend any time talking about the what this entails. Preventative and rehab work for your elbow primarily include exercises that work your lower arm.


What exercises can we do to strengthen the forearm and elbow?

What exercises should we not be doing?


Let’s start with one that you should not be doing, and that’s standard chinups (or pullups).


Everyone has their own methodology when it comes to training programs.  I am on the wagon that says compound movements are the most efficient form of workouts.  Enter: squats, deadlifts, bench, overhead press, chinups, rows and on it goes.  Whether it’s your first day in the gym or you have been training ten years, these moves should be the foundation of any successful training program. While I may prescribe these primary workouts for most clients with solid mobility, no pre-existing ailments and just wants to shed some fat and look sexy, I wouldn’t recommend half of these to a baseball player.


So chinups are a great exercise, but I should not do them, why?  While chinups probably won’t be the cause of an arm injury, if you have an existing injury, performing standard chinups will be very painful. This is because in the supinated grip (palms facing you), you are overloading your elbow flexors and bringing more relator-muscles into action.


So if you want to keep chins (or pullups) in your routine but possibly have a wrist injury, what’s the answer?  Simple – use a neutral grip.  Find a neutral grip bar and you can rock out chins daily to train around  your injury.  The stress on your wrist and forearms is drastically minimized with the neutral grip.  I can say with certainty this helps as I have been training around a wrist injury for almost two months so I’ve switched to neutral grip only to perform the exercise pain-free.


Another exercise I’d be weary of is the straight barbell curl.  Some coaches (myself, included) would suggest the straight bar curl is the best direct-bicep exercise (excluding deadlifts and [weighted]chins, of course).  But, if you are lifting through a lower arm injury, steer clear of the straight bar.  Opt for the EZ curl bar, or dumbbells, instead.  This will take pressure off your forearms when performing the lift.


It should be noted that these exercises do not necessarily need to be completely excluded from your routine.  Just know there are safer alternatives that yield equally-beneficial results with less pain to perform.  I would suggest rotating in the straight bar curl for your other bicep exercises once a month.


How can we stress our elbow?  Throw a baseball really hard.  Then do it again. And again.  And again.


Elbow “Prehab”


The best way to prevent elbow injuries starts with strengthening your elbow flexors.  The ideal way to do this is do heavy grip exercises.


Grip strength is absolutely critical in a strength training program and should be even more so in a baseball players strength program.  Train for grip strength!  I always tell clients to finish every workout with a grip strength exercise.


For such a key component, the exercises are really simple (conceptually). Essentially, you pickup something really heavy and start walking.  The most common exercise is the farmers walk with dumbbells.  In this exercise you carry a heavy dumbbell in each hand and walk for a predetermined distance or amount of time.


A good starting point would be dumbbells equal to half your deadlift max.


You can also do other variations such as the goblet carry, yoke or overhead carry.  Also, if you have a set of FatGripz you can use these as well to improve grip.  The carry-over (pun intended) from grip training to the rest of your strength training routine is very high and cannot be neglected.  Grip strength is a must.


Shouldering the load


As we age, shoulder issues inevitably become part of life, especially for a baseball player.  However, shoulder health doesn’t have to be complicated.  How we can build and maintain healthy shoulders?


To determine shoulder mobility, see this article from Jordan Syatt of Syatt Fitness on how to perform an easy shoulder health assessment.


Almost half of all injuries among strength athletes involve the shoulder joint. This is partly because we tend to focus on the larger, more visible muscles such as the chest and back, neglecting the smaller shoulder joint.


Below are things that we should and should not be doing in regards to training our shoulder joints:


Shoulder Do’s


  • Do more pulling exercises than pushing.
  • Do 100 band pull-aparts every day.  band-pull-apartsThis will resolve any posture problems you may have, and is great for overall shoulder / upper back health.
  • Use neutral grip variations (dumbbell presses, machine presses, etc) when possible to place less stress on the shoulder joint
  • Do LOTS of internal and external rotation exercises

In my earlier training days I had a lot of pain in my right shoulder when I would do bench press.  Once I started doing rotations ALL pain went away.  I do band rotations as part of every workout, and at least once a month will also include heavier cable rotations to build strength to the stabilizer muscles.


Shoulder Don’ts


  • You should not be doing any heavy overhead presses.  Period.
  • This article states barbell bench press is pointless.  I won’t agree completely, but will agree that in the case of a ball player, it should be avoided at all costs.  Here are a few problems;  one, when you’re benching, your upper back is against the bench so your shoulder blades cannot freely move.  You’re putting your shoulder / rotator cuff at higher risk of injury.  Two, when you lower the bar to your chest, your elbows are probably below the bench, putting your shoulders in a vulnerable position.  Opt for pushups instead.
  • I LOVE deadlifts, but wouldn’t advise any heavy pulling from the floor.
  • Some folks would argue direct rotator cuff work is unncessary since it is a stabilizer muscle. They suggest to just squeeze the bar as tight as you can on your lifts to engage the rotator cuff and that is all the training you need for it.  I think some work is necessary, so don’t neglect your rotator cuff.  I do agree that, in each (applicable) exercise, it is important to concentrate on squeezing the bar as tightly as possible throughout the lift.
  • Don’t fear upright rows.  I posted this article on my Facebook page last month, showing the correct form to use.
  • Last, and this should be common sense, but if what you are doing hurts, don’t do it.  Know the difference between pain and soreness.  Soreness you can work through / around, pain you need to stop and seek help.


Putting it all together


Regardless of where you are at in your baseball career, intelligent strength training is of utmost importance (which is why it is important for beginner’s to seek out a coach).  While you may be able to get away with lack luster form or poor exercise choices when you are younger, this will not be the case as you get older.


Be smart and train with purpose and intent and you will set yourself up for long-term success.


A few key takeaways to remember; training for grip strength is a must.  You will see all your lifts increase with a stronger grip.  Barbell strength training isn’t always the best for baseball players.  Opt for neutral grip exercises when available, both pushing (overhead press, bench press) and pulling (chins, cable rows).


Always, always, always, warm up before you lift weights.


This wouldn’t be a baseball article without a reference to Eric Cressey.  Eric is the be-all, end-all when it comes to baseball performance, injury prevention, rehab, etc.  For an unlimited supply of information on the topic, this is your go-to site.


As mentioned in the beginning of this article, I am an online fitness coach. Perhaps you aren’t a baseball player, but you are interested in getting into better shape.  

tomahawkConsultations are always free, so don’t hesitate to reach out with questions.  For a week from this posting, I am offering a special rate for online coaching to TomahawkTake readers.  So when you fill out the intro form, please be sure to note that in the comments.  And, click here if you have any questions about what online fitness coaching is all about.


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