Should Baseball Players Bench Press & Overhead Press?

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Alex, what is your opinion on the bench press and overhead press for pitchers? My college coach is having us do them in the fall as part of our in-season lifts between outings. Should I be doing them? Thanks man.

Cameron J. 

Cameron, at least 80% of college lifting programs (in-season & off-season) are filled with exercises that do more harm then good. I say this because I’ve played at two different colleges, and played three seasons of collegiate summer ball. Needless to say, I’ve played with hundreds of kids from all over the country, and have actually seen the programs they’re being prescribed by their coaches.

Overhead Press

For pitchers, and position players alike I see no scenario where you would want to have overhead pressing exercises in your training, ESPECIALLY in-season! Why? When you press the bar overhead your jamming the head of your humerus right up into the acromion which creates impingement of your shoulder and the tendons that run underneath that acromion. These tendons are known as, the Supraspinatus which is one of your rotator cuff muscles, and the long head of your biceps tendon which attaches to the shoulder. Every time you overhead press, these tendons are getting absolutely crushed and after awhile they will become irritated, inflamed, and perhaps eventually tear. Ever hear of a pitcher tearing their rotator cuff? This is most commonly from a Supraspinatus tendon(rotator cuff) tear. Overhead throwing athletes, especially pitchers are beating up their shoulders on the athletic field everyday by throwing. Why would you want your athletes overhead pressing too? In my opinion, the risk definitely outweighs the reward.

Bench Press

First and foremost, bench pressing IS NOT bad for baseball players (pitchers & position players) as the exercise provides tremendous strength, and muscle mass to the chest, shoulders, and triceps. The problem lies when we barbell bench too much and don’t incorporate enough variety with our horizontal pressing exercises. What I mean by that is you shouldn’t JUST be performing flat barbell bench presses all the time. When barbell benching with a flat bar our shoulders are fixed in an internally rotated position which causes some peoples shoulders to flare up and feel some discomfort. Put simply, it’s not an optimal position for your shoulders to be in ALL the time. This isn’t to say I don’t have my athletes perform flat barbell bench presses because I definitely do as it’s a fantastic upper body strengthening exercise.  However, we will never use a flat bar for longer than 3 to 4 weeks. In fact, as a baseball player if you have access to neutral grip bars at your gym I would never use flat bars. For 90% of us who don’t have access to neutral grip bars use the flat barbell bench press in moderation. Some of my favorite shoulder friendly variations are: Neutral Grip (palms in) Dumbbell Incline Press & Flat Press, Neutral Grip (palms in) Dumbbell Floor Press, Neutral Grip(palms in) Barbell Press, Neutral Bar Floor Press, Single-Arm Pressing Variations all Push-Up variations, etc. The variations are endless.

Cameron, you have to remember when you’re playing your sport (baseball) over the course of the season, whether it’s fall or spring your shoulders are getting beat up. It doesn’t make sense to keep beating up your shoulders in the weight room. Playing your sport at 100 percent should be your goal. Obviously a good in-season strength program is crucial to your on-field success as well. However, neither of these two movements(overhead press, bench press) are crucial to improving in-season performance. Like I perviously described, I like bench press variations in moderation in-season, but they are not the most important aspect of your training at this time of the year. Contrary to what your coaches goals may be for you, your goals should be centered around staying on the field, and feeling GREAT, every outing. Focus your in-season training around horizontal pulling, general strength exercises, recovery, and maintaining scapular control, as well shoulder mobility. Oh, and tell your coach to read a damn anatomy book! 😉

-Alex

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