Should Baseball Players Bench Press

There will always be an ongoing debate as to whether or not baseball players, particularly pitchers, should bench press. On one side, the bench press is the king of all upper body lifts and many people believe it should be included into every athletes training program. The haters believe that the bench press is not “sport specific” and that it will eventually lead to shoulder injuries.

My stance is that the bench press is a great upper body exercise for most athletes, however when it comes to baseball, the risk vs. reward is too great. Unless an athlete is skinny and weak, there are more effective exercises that will give you a better bang for your buck. The bench is a great lift to pack on size and increase strength in the upper body, no question about it. Most high level baseball players do not lack in these areas, therefore the focus needs to put elsewhere.

I don’t buy into the idea that the bench press isn’t “sport specific” because no exercise is truly “sport specific”. With that said, trying to imitate baseball motions, like swinging or throwing, with cable machines or other heavy objects will be detrimental to a player’s performance. Thats a conversation for another day.

Instead of bench pressing, our athletes will perform a ton of plyo push ups with medicine balls and their bodyweight. They will also do weighted push ups wiht chains, gymnastic rings and blast straps. They also perform dumbbell presses with neutral grips. My favorite presses for baseball players are 1 arm dumbbell presses and alternating dumbbell bench press. Push up and dumbbell pressing variations are superior to straight bar bench pressing because they are more shoulder friendly, teach the scapular to move, activate the core more, and improve shoulder range of motion. Also pushups and dumbbell bench pressing are much less of a risk when compared to the bench press. They are much easier to learn, alleviate any shoulder problems, and you can also bump up the volume.

As power athletes, we still need to train heavy with low repetitions. To accomplish this goal we substitute max effort bench pressing with max effort chin ups. This keeps my baseball players healthy, while also getting them strong and teaching them how to handle their own bodyweight.

So does this mean that my baseball players never bench press? Not exactly, however we modify the regular bench press. Instead of using the straight bar, we will use a Swiss bar that allows the shoulders to remain neutral. This max effort movement is great for baseball players who feel like they need to bench press. It is also great for non pitchers who have healthy shoulders and elbows.

While I believe the bench press is a great exercise for most athletes, when it comes to baseball players, there are more important training considerations to focus on. If strength is the main concern than the bench press is an awesome option.

Joe Meglio
Performance Enhancement Coach

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  • Great Article, Joe! Just for the sake of conversation, I would ask what you see as the perceived “risk” in your risk vs. reward scenario? Also would you think that push press might be a better pressing movement for baseball, since it works them on their feat, has a core component to it, and is less likely to increase pattern overload? Or maybe the log press since it has a neutral grip that seems to work better for ball players?

  • I will give you a quick answer Don. The main risk is having my baseball players being forced into internal rotation. Also, most athletes have horrible technique on the bench. They do not understand what it means to be tight in the upper back, how to drive with their legs, how to keep the bar inline with the wrist and elbows and cannot get a proper arch in their back. Don’t get me wrong, the bench is one of the best upper body exercises no question about it. Just realize that baseball players shoulders already take a pounding from the grind of their sport, why contribute to this issue?

    I honestly prefer an overhead press instead of bench press because it can be less riskier. You also get a greater bang for your buck because pressing overhead will increase your bench but bench pressing will not increase your overhead press.