Overhead pressing, Dips & Benching for Baseball?

overhead press baseball

Question: 

Ive been training under Matt Wichlinski for a little over 2 years now. I love throwing shit around everytime i go to train with him. However, since i am a pitcher in college, i constantly hear from my teammates who had the tommy john surgery on their elbow, that their physical therpaists told them pitchers cant bench, do anything overhead, and dips. Ive always done these movements when i go to the shop and honestly it doesnt bother me at all and i havent experienced any arm problems. Do you think these movements will hurt me or if it doesnt bother me then just keep on going?-Chase

Chase, Matt Wichlinski is a top notch strength coach. While I don’t know him personally, I have  herd a ton of great things about him. I have a problem with physical therapists telling you what to do. First off, most physical therapists do not understand the demands of the sport. In addition to that, chances are they have never even thrown a baseball! While this doesn’t apply to all physical therapists, it definitely applies to the masses. Make sure the information your getting is coming from somebody who understands the demands of your sport and preferably somebody who has played the sport. On top of that, I have a HUGE problem with the training mentality in the baseball community.

There are 6 different types of baseball players:

1)The Physical Therapy Patient- The player that does nothing but foo foo shoulder and ab exercises for 45 minutes straight

2)Team Beach Body-Tthe player that focuses on nothing but the beach mucles. A typical workout for him is bench press and curls.

3) The Long distance runner- The player that believes running long distance will improve their stamina and throwing velocity like magic

5) ALL THE ABOVE-90% of what most baseball players do

And finally…

6) The Real Deal Baseball Player-How all baseball players should train

Real Deal Baseball Training

Chances are your teammates that are telling you to cut these lifts out because they train like physical therapy patients. I would guess that their workouts consist of 45 minutes of rotator cuff exercises & ab circuits coupled with long distance running. Somehow baseball coaches and players think that this is an effective way of training…But this is another post for another day.

A wise man named Eric Cressey, who is one of the top strength coaches in the world and the go to guy for baseball training, uses this outline for baseball players:

Avoid:

  • Straight Bar Bench Press
  • Overhead Press
  • Side/front raises
  • Upright rows

Do These:

  • Swiss Bar Bench Press
  • Dumbbell Bench Press with Neutral Grip
  • Push-up Variations (weighted, decline, close grip, TRX, plyo)
  • Chin-ups (preferably with neutral grip)
  • Rows (1 arm, chest supported, seated, bent over)
  • Upper Back work (dumbbell carries, reverse cable flyes, cable external rotation, side-lying external rotation)

While this approach may be different than what you are doing, it just shows that there is more than one way to skin a cat. I’ve talked with coaches who have had success with their ballplayers pressing overhead and benching with a straight bar. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with pressing overhead or benching but the problem is most people haven’t earned the right to perform these lifts. You need to have the proper mobility and stability in certain joints to press overhead effectively.

From my perspective, the shoulders already take a beating on the baseball field, I don’t feel the need to compound this problem in the weight room. But hey, that is just my point of view. I can tell you personally that when I played college baseball I use to press overhead and bench press regularly. Even though I was improving my absolute strength in my pressing exercises, it did little for my performance. It wasn’t until I got extremely strong in the lower half and explosive in the transverse plane that my performance started to improve.

So don’t worry about what your teammates are telling you and let them do their foo foo workouts. Keep training hard, believe in what you do and get after it!

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Leave A Reply (13 comments so far)

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  • Joe

    The only thing I would avoid are dips most athletes do not perform them properly and complain about shoulders and chest ( Feels like chest is splitting). The close grip bench is much better I feel. I use push-ups of all kinds for my footballplayers as well as the close grip.

  • Kevin Brower

    Thanks Joe.
    I really like that philosophy of training, especially when it comes to baseball. Too many baseball players, and trainers, are reluctant to treat it as an explosive sport. It may not have the contact or physicality or football, but baseball requires a lot of force production, and rotator cuff exercises and/or distance running just doesn’t get it done. I played in college and professionally and have seen a lot of teammates have success with simple shoulder prehabilitation and road work, but who knows how much potential they left on the table. My goal now with baseball players is to get the most force production and power out of every athlete, while maintaining stable joints and maximum RoM. I even let them do some straight bar bench press in limited time frames. Since most of my high school players also play other sports, I know they’re going to do flat bench at some point. So in November I allow them to get it out of their system under my supervision. That way I can keep an eye on their shoulder and elbow joints, help them get their strength back, and let them do it early in the training cycle. As pitchers in college, we were never allowed to do straight bar bench, so many of the guys would do it at the rec center on their own. They way I look at it, let my guys with proper shoulder health get it out of the way for 3 weeks in October/early November, and then we can get to the PB press, push-ups, TRX work from Thanksgiving to February. Thanks for the article Joe! Looking forward to reading more from you!
    All the best,
    Kevin

  • Joe,

    Thanks for your comment. Push-up variations are staples in my program because I generally prefer closed chain exercises opposed to open chain for shoulder health. Have you ever tried the swiss bar for your football players? I would also consider using Fat Gripz or a thick bar for shoulder health.

  • Kevin,

    Thanks for your comment. I agree with you . Have you checked out my past posts on baseball training? I definitely think you will dig them. Sounds like we are on the same page when it comes to baseball training. Do you do any med ball throws with your baseball players?

  • Great post and recommendations Joe. I pretty much follow the same guidelines you do with my baseball athletes, but we actually do some overhead farmer walk variations with my field guys, just to help keep the shoulder strong without stressing it with presses, but with pitchers I even cut those out.

    I’m not a big fan of close grip bench even not just for baseball athletes, but overall just because it puts the wrist and elbow in such an unnatural position. Even if the athletes grip isn’t super close.

    Neutral grip close grip bench is better, but I still would rather have my baseball guys close grip push-ups off a medball instead.

    Keep up the great work and love reading what you got when I can.

  • Thanks for your comment David! I love overhead farmer walk variations with my field guys as well-we do mixed farmer carries as a variation. I think farmer walks should be a staple in all baseball players training. Its a great bang for your buck exercise.

    Agree with the close grip. I’ve never had my baseball guys do close grip benches. I always prefer a closed chain exercise like the push-ups you suggested over a open chain bench press. For baseball performance, it just isn’t necessary to bench, especially since they don’t get tested in it.

    Thanks for your kind words David! Keep checking in!

  • Tim Casey

    I resent your coments on physical therapists. Most physical therapist are very aware of the demands of throwing a baseball. The fact that PTs are more apt to proceed with caution when working exercises is a positive aspect and not a negative. We spend a lot of time trying to undo the damage that careless trainers inflict by pushing clients to fast without developing a sound foundation for the exercises to come.

  • Tim,

    I respect your opinion but I can tell you first hand from my experience as a physical therapy patient, plus hearing horror stories of baseball players that go to PT, that not all of them understand the demands of the sport, Especially athletic trainers who basically act as physical therapists for colleges. Obviously there are a lot of great physical therapists out there and I think a good physical therapist is invaluable but just like any other professional-strength coach, chiropractor, athletic trainer etc… there are some great ones and then there are some that are unqualified no matter what degree or certification they have.

    Anyway, here is my experience with physical therapists. You go in and the PT will put heat on you for 10 minutes. They then hand you off to their assistant, who is NOT the most knowledgable professional. The assistant directs you on what exercise to do (without displaying great form) and how many reps (usually a # like 30 reps, not how many sets and reps per set). At the end of the appointment the PT will send 5-10 minutes doing ultra sound or ice. Okay, so while this may not be how all physical therapist operate, unfortunately the ones I have come across operate this way.

    In addition to this, I’ve personally whiteness athletic trainers and PT’s perform external rotation stretches on baseball players which makes absolutely no sense given the abnormal amount of external rotation most baseball players have. I’ve also seen them prescribe exercises like empty cans, leg extensions on machines and other exercises that are either dangerous and/or unproductive.

    Don’t get me wrong, there are a ton of great physical therapist out there, just like there are some great strength coaches out there. But it would be naive to say that all physics therapists understand the demands of all sports. While a lot of them certainly do, there are a good amount that don’t.

    And BTW I agree with you that there are a lot of careless trainniers out there, especially since there is really no regulation in the industry. I’ve seen a ton of coaches who have a CSCS or Exercise Science degree do a ton of stupid shit I shake my head at. Thanks for your comment Tim and hopefully you can see where I am coming from with this.

    Coach Megz

  • Kevin Brower

    Joe,
    Yes we do a lot of medecine ball work, both for rotational and linear core power, as well as prehabilitation for the shoulder. I do more in some phases of training, and less when the athletes have higher volumes either in the weightroom or in their throwing programs. I also like to do some load/explode core exercises with the MB, where they help speed up their rotation and generate some more speed. Again, depending on what phase they are in with other parts of the training.
    Tim, I agree there are some great PTs out there. We are affiliated with a few of the local groups that we trust. I think Joe is refering to the others out there that probably deal more with sedentary clients, and then are overly precautious with baseball players. I had a client last Fall/Winter that came to me from PT after a mild (Level 1) AC joint seperation and he had lost so much of his external rotation that he could barely throw a baseball anymore. Granted, he may have had a slight deficiency previous to his injury (hockey injury), but from only doing rotator cuff work and not regaining range of motion, he had a long road to being able to throw well again. Just like many trainers out there that think kicking someone’s butt every time they enter the gym is the key to creating a great athlete, the same holds true with some PT that are in the opposite direction. However, there are some good therapists out there and hopefully they can shine through just as the good trainers do.

  • Awesome stuff Kevin, Sounds like we are on the same page with a lot of stuff. Keep checking back in! I appreciate the comments.

    Coach Megz

  • Chase

    Coach Meglio,

    Thank you for getting back to me and answering my question. i was really stuck in the middle with what to do over my winter break, however, i trust Matt and his programs have really benefited me. Also, Zach Even-Esh explained to me that these teammates of mine experienced these injuries because they are weak, unbalanced, and for the most part, are experiencing overuse injuries. Thank you for clearing this up for me so i can go into the weightroom open minded and ready to tear shit up.

    Thank you

    Chase

  • Chase,

    Glad I was able to help! Send me over any other questions you have 🙂 It makes for good content for my site. Keep training hard, but more importantly train smart! Stay connected and good luck with your season this year!

    Coach Megz

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