Should Baseball Players Lift Overhead?

Overhead Pressing for Throwing Athletes

Overhead pressing for throwing athletes is a topic that is sure to draw some controversy. There are some coaches that say “there is absolutely no way am I going have my baseball player lift overhead” while others have no problem doing military presses, push presses or any other variation of overhead pressing.

From my experience training baseball players, there is no right answer to this question. It varies from athlete to athlete depending on a number of factors. The question that you must ask yourself is, is the risk worth the reward? It really comes down to a number of key factors that need to need to be addressed. In order to answer this question, a number of key factors need to be addressed.

One of the major problems with overhead pressing for baseball players is pattern overload. Pattern overload is caused from constantly repeating the same motion over and over again. When pattern overload occurs, there are injuries to soft tissues. Performing overhead lifts in the gym when an athlete is already suffering from pattern overload will only lead to further injury. Overhead lifting can also contribute to the onset of pattern overload if it has not yet set in.

The throwing motion in baseball leads to pattern overload which also results in muscular imbalances within the shoulder and the hip. Pitchers are especially prone to pattern overload due to the volume on intensity that they throw at. That is why I do not have any of my pitchers lift overhead. Instead, I will do stability work with them to help stabilize their shoulder. Some examples include walking lunges holding a plate or sandbag overhead, lunges holding a kettlebell overhead, and overhead kettlebell carries.

Another consideration is the AGE of the athlete. What level of baseball is the athlete playing at? Generally speaking, the younger athletes are, the more overhead pressing they will do. The question that needs to be answered is, “is the risk worth the reward?” I have my high school athletes press overhead because they have a lot to gain from over pressing. Most of these athletes can afford to pack on some muscle mass and also need to increase their overall strength. One of the best ways to accomplish these goals is through overhead pressing. As I progress up the ladder I am more cautious with college and especially pro athletes. These baseball players already take enough pounding from throwing 8 months out of the year so overhead pressing may not be the best option for them. The only way I will press with these high level athletes is if they have a clean injury history and they have enough mobility and stability throughout the body to perform this motion effectively. Check out this video below on how to increase the mobility in the thoracic spine

A certain level of general physical preparedness is needed to press overhead effectively. Athletes need adequate mobility in the t-spine, adequate stability and mobility within the scapula as well as stability and mobility throughout the rest of the shoulder. Athletes that have one or more of these deficiencies will be prone to injury if they press overhead. This goes go both overhead throwing athletes and non overhead throwing athletes.

How to incorporate overhead pressing into your program?

I prefer to use the Swiss bar whenever possible because it is shoulder friendly. This takes the shoulders out of internal rotation and allows for pressing with a neutral grip. Baseball players are not tested in the bench press or military press so if  you have access to a Swiss bar, I do not see any reason to ever use a straight bar. Kettlebells, dumbbells and bodyweight are also good choices for overhead pressing.

Volume & Intensity

In my experience I have found low volume to be the key because it is the safest option and it also allows the athlete to handle heavier loads (intensity). Three to four sets of reps less than 6 has worked best for my athletes. I try and keep the total reps around 20. By keeping the reps super low, athletes should be able to maintain solid technique throughout the whole lift.

Exercise selection

Swiss Bar Press (military or push)

Double Kettlebell Press (push or military)

Double Kettlebell Clean & Press

Double Kettlebell alternating press

1 arm kettlebell Press (push or military)

1 arm kettlebell Clean & Press

*All kettlebell presses can be done with a dumbbell*

Handstand push ups

Handwalking

Wall walks

Conclusion

Hopefully by now you understand that understand the right circumstances it is okay to have baseball players perform overhead pressing. As long as there is no prior injury, no deficiencies in the shoulder girdle and thoracic spine I don’t see why baseball players can’t press overhead. However, the exceptions to the rule are pitchers because their throwing shoulders take enough stress from the volume and intensity they throw at. Whether or not athletes press overhead, it is important to improve the stability of the shoulder. If you found this post interesting, check out my post on whether or not baseball players should bench press.

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Leave A Reply (3 comments so far)

  • gerry

    i believe throwing athletes should overhead press.. shoulder pain comes from the lack of upper back training. to many athletes today strictly bench and press while doing very limited upper back work. my shoulder used to have extreme pain while throwing. i never really did back.. by doing more pullups and back work the pain is now gone. i overhead press weekly heavy weight without any pain.

  • Gerry,

    The upper back is definitely a weak chain in most athletes. Rows and pull ups should be a staple in any athletes program. I am glad to hear your shoulder pain is gone. If any athlete is going to press overhead there has to be a balance between pushing and pulling-on both planes (vertically and horizontally). Most my athletes pull more than they push because they are so chest bound from their early lifting days.

    All the best,

    Joe

  • I love that you address the mobility of the thoracic spine. Many people do not understand the importance of t-spine mobility as it relates to shoulder problems, not just in athletes but in the general population. In fact, the last 10-15 degree of shoulder flexion is actually coming from the thoraic spine. Trying to do an overhead press without adequate thoracic extension will do two things, cause impingement of the shoulder and/or hurt your lower back.

    I also appreciate that you talk about scapular mobility and specifically scapular stability. Again, the scapula forms part of the shoulder articulation and all too often, it is overlooked.

    Great advice!

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