lifting is appropriate for baseball and softball players, and weight
lifting should have as its purposes improvement of on field
performance and injury prevention. Lifting for what I call cosmetic
(body building) purposes or to be the strongest guy in the gym will
very likely cause problems for ball players. Performing workouts
designed for other sports, such as football, also have the
potential to cause problems for ball players.
One of the lifts over which there is some
controversy in baseball circles is the bench press. This lift strongly
targets the following muscles:
1) Pectoralis major and minor.
3) Anterior head of the deltoid.
All of these muscles are involved in throwing.
Both pec muscles and the anterior deltoid help accelerate the arm
forward during a throw. Contraction of the triceps causes the elbow
while throwing. Clearly, it is to any thrower's advantage for all of
these muscles to be strong and flexible.
The single best lift for strengthening these
muscles is the bench press. I talk to many coaches and players,
however, who say they avoid performing this lift. My question is,
why? And the three answers I always hear are the following, or some
1) This lift can hurt your arm.
2) Someone (usually unnamed) said pitchers should never do this
3) We do the lift, but only with light weights and high reps.
Clearly there is a lot of fear associated with
this lift and ballplayers. I maintain this fear is largely unwarranted.
Have ball players hurt themselves in various ways from incorrect weight
training? Of course. But the fault is not in the bench press lift, it is
in the way that training with this lift is employed. Following are
my responses to each of these objections:
1) "This lift can hurt your arm." True. So can many other
lifts. A key cause of injury with the bench press is an over-emphasis on
this lift while neglecting others equally important. This leads to
imbalances in strength and development.
An important key to maintaining a balance of
strength between the chest and its opposite, the upper back, is to
do at least as much work on the upper back as the chest. In fact, given
the much larger size of the muscles in the chest area vs. the upper
back, I'd further recommend doing two sets of upper back work to each
set of chest work. Keep the rep ranges similar.
The amount of weight used between the chest and
upper back will be quite different, of course. While I've seen a
lot of 400 lb bench presses, I've never seen a 400 lb bent over row
(an upper back/lat lift that is exactly the opposite of the bench).
A related idea some coaches and players
advocate (that I do not!) is the idea of restricting the range of
motion of the shoulder joint by not allowing the elbows to dip
below the back when lowering the bar to the chest. This would be
like doing a bench press while lying flat on the floor. The thinking behind
this is that it can injure the shoulder capsule to lower heavy
weights to this "extreme" point in the range of motion, so
not taking the elbows below the plane of the back becomes a
safeguard for this joint.
But is it? The late great trainer Mel Siff
makes this important and interesting point:
"The shoulder joint is ballistically
thrust much further back (extended) during sprinting and fast
running than any form of barbell bench pressing, and for many more
reps at a time. The force imposed on the shoulder joint under these
conditions can exceed that experienced by the average recreational
presser, so does that mean that we should not forcefully swing the
arms back when we run?"
And of course, baseball and softball players
sprint a great deal during their games and practices, right?
Bottom line: the shoulder is made to take the
force imposed by a full range of motion bench press. Balance your
chest work with twice as much upper back work.
2) "Someone (rarely, if ever, named) said
pitchers should never do this lift."
As near as I can tell, after years of
conversations with coaches and players, this objection comes mostly
from the "old school" mentality that lifting weights is bad
for ball players. No doubt, improper weight training has and will
continue to hurt baseball and softball players, particularly baseball
pitchers. But the problem is not weight training, it is in poorly
designed weight lifting programs.
Ballplayers, parents and coaches: do not take
this issue of properly designed training programs lightly. I recently
received an email from the father of a high school pitcher who is
trying to recover from a torn labrum. As far as they can tell, the
injury resulted from "excessive lifting for football."
This young pitcher had a promising future when he sustained his injury -
as a high school sophomore, he was clocked by a Phillies scout at 88
mph. Now he faces a very difficult re-hab process, and the
prognosis for recovery is not particularly good.
So, ballplayers - lift, but do a lifting
program designed for your sport! Doing so will likely make you a
better player while reducing your chances of injury.
3) "We do the lift, but only with light
weights and high reps."
This approach is taken with the idea that if
you're lifting lightweights, you likely can't hurt yourself. Or, that by
lifting light weights, you won't get too big, thereby damaging your throwing
Training this way, you also won't develop much
strength that would be helpful to throwers. Both overhand and underhand throwers
use the aforementioned rotator muscles. You want them to be
powerful and flexible - but not necessarily big.
Strong and developed yes - huge and cosmetically
impressive - no!
Lifting heavy weights (85-95% of 1 RM - max
lift) for 3 sets of 2-5 reps is where this power and strength is
developed. Doing sets of 12 or more reps will not produce the
At the same
time, lifting periodically at this 85-90% 1RM range will not
produce big muscles (hypertrophy). There will be some growth, of course,
but rep ranges of 8-12 are more effective for
increasing muscle size.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Lifting
in the 85-95% of 1 RM applies only to players of 16 years of age
and older, due to issues with epiphyseal plate (growth plate)
To illustrate, look at world-class low and
middle weight Olympic and Power lifters. While they are obviously
strong and well developed, their muscles are not particularly big
compared to world-class body builders of the same body weight.
The same with lower and middle-weight boxers.
Again, they are strong and well-developed, but few, if any of them
would win a body-building contest contest.
Notice in my example I mentioned light and
middle-weight lifters and boxers, not the heavier guys. This is
because the athletes in these heavier divisions are obviously quite
large - but this would likely be the case even if they weren't
competing in their various sports. They're just big dudes, thanks
to their genes.
The key is to do a well rounded, periodized
workout which includes some heavy lifting. You can learn more about
such a workout at this link:
or click on the "Get in Shape" link on the left side of
the page at www.BaseballFit.com
To sum up: the bench press, performed properly
and as part of a well designed baseball/softball workout, is an
excellent lift for all ball players to perform.
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as Steve Zawrotny's BASEBALL FIT Hitting & Pitching Academy - www.BaseballFit.com
The information contained herein is the opinion of the author
based on his personal observations and years of experience.
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