Everyone wants to throw hard. If you throw 75, you want to throw 80. If you throw 80 you want to throw 85. If you throw 85, you want to throw 90. If you throw 90, you want to throw 95… and so on.
Can you get hitters out without velocity? Sure can, but velocity is the quickest way to turn heads. It is the quickest way to grab the attention of a scout or college recruiter.
Just about every baseball players live in extension. When they go to bring their arms up overhead, they compensate by arching their lower back. This leads to lower back, hip, and shoulder injuries.
This is very different from a population that sits at a desk and has the flex, rounded back posture.
The good news, though, is that you can actually change someone posture through a solid exercise program.
The first step is a proper warm up. Foam rolling is the first step to a proper warm up. Foam rolling promotes blood flow, targets fascia, and relieves trigger points throughout the body. If you don’t have a foam roller, I highly recommend investing the $10 or $15 in one.
After foam rolling, the next step is to move to a dynamic warmup. There are a number of dynamic warmup exercises you can do - I’ll discuss a few of the most common that I program for my athletes.
The deadbug is a great warmup exercise to turn “on” the anterior core muscles and help baseball players get back to a neutral spine position.
The deep squat belly breathing is another great exercises because it 1. flexes the lower back, helping athletes “feel” what its like to get out an extended, arched posture and 2. helps them get length in their lat muscles. The lats are big players in overhead athletes and need to be lengthened. See below.
Other dynamic warmup exercises include lunge variations (lateral, forward, reverse).
The adductor rockback is great for mobilizing the adductors while bracing the core.
The spiderman with a reach is a fantastic go to warmup exercise for baseball players because it stretches the hip flexors, groin, while improving thoracic (upper back) mobility. See photo below.
After the dynamic warmup, it’s time to start strength training. Compound exercises such as squat, deadlift, and lunge variations are some of the best ways to strengthen the legs and add velocity. These exercises help because they train the athlete to put force into the ground. By teaching them to increase force production, they will become better athletes, and add velocity as a result.
Which variation to do depends on the fitness level and movement patterns of the athlete. That said, I do not program back squats with my overhead athletes. The bar on the back places serious stress on the front side of the shoulder - something we have to be very careful of with overhead throwing athletes. I like the safety squat bar squat instead of the back squat. The hand position is out front so you don’t put nearly as much stress on the shoulders. See below.
I like the trap bar deadlift with overhead athletes as long as they can hinge back with their hips. They need to be able to take their hips back while keeping their back flat. See below.
Medicine ball exercises are essential to adding velocity because they transfer force from the lower body to the upper body. Rotational power is crucial to adding velocity.
Core stability exercises such as planks, deadbug variations, palloff presses, stability ball rollouts, TRX fallout variations, etc are essential to stabilizing the core and getting an extension based population back to a neutral position.
Upper body exercises such as the pushup to engage serratus anterior (upward rotator of scapula) and challenge anterior core. The landmine press is a great way to build scapula upward rotation - one thing every overhead athlete needs to throw overhead safely. Rowing variations are also great ways to ensure proper scapula movement.
Arm care exercises are essential to decreasing injury. What good is it if you add 5++ miles per hour if you can’t stay healthy?? Prone Y’s off a table are great for activating the lower and middle trap (AKA “small muscles”) around the rotator cuff that work to upwardly rotate the scapula. Bottoms up kettlebell carries challenge the rotator cuff to fire reflexively. You’ll see below how the rotator cuff has to control the perturbation cause by the kettlebell wanting to tip over.
To summarize, a well thought out program that improves athleticism and adds velocity includes:
–Foam rolling and a proper dynamic warmup.
–Compound strength training exercises.
–Medicine ball throws
–Core stability exercises
–Arm care exercises
What to Avoid
I highly recommend avoiding back squats for reasons previously noted. I like safety squat bar squats because the hand position is out front so you don’t put stress on shoulders.
I also avoid olympic lifting because of the stress it places on the wrists, elbows, and shoulders. Deadlifts, squats, and lunges are better variations with less risk and higher rewards.
I recommend going with a cross grip front squat. The clean grip puts more stress on wrists, elbows, and shoulders - body parts especially important to baseball players.
I tend to stay away from heavy bilateral squatting with older catchers, particularly in season. These guys have spent many years squatting and realize strength and mobility benefits from single leg work.