I’d have to disagree with all 3. Here are my main reasons for each, and the alternatives I would use with myself and my athletes.
- Barbell Bench Press
Ask yourself why? what about the bench press is going to make you a better athlete? If you say: because a bigger chest will help me throw harder, think again. As both a horizontal adductor and internal rotator of the humerus, tight pecs potential decrease external rotation (forearm layback) as well as scapular loading (shoulder horizontal abduction). We know that high velocity throwers rely heavily on both of these mechanical components, making the high-volume chest hypertrophy work that most pitchers use the bench press for, counterproductive.
Now that we understand that chest hypertrophy is a low priority for pitchers, let’s examine the barbell bench press more closely. An open-chain exercise, the bench press fixes the scaps and limits shoulder movement. The way most pitchers perform the movement (with no upper back tension or scapular retraction), there is both limited scapular retraction and protraction, which doesn’t at all represent how the shoulder works from a functional standpoint (i.e. in the pitching motion). Even if performed properly, with upper back tension and scapular retraction to provide a stable base to press from, there is still limited protraction, making it an inferior option to closed-chain options like push-up variations that allow free scapular movement.
In addition, barbells fix the shoulders in an internally rotated position, especially when performed with elbows flared like 90% of athletes do. This shoulder position, under heavy loading (approximation as opposed to a traction force), is an injury waiting to happen. The way most athletes perform the bench press, with excessive weight, grinding reps and chest bouncing, you can see why the bench press may not be the best bet for pitcher development.
How to make the bench press less bad:
-hug the elbows into the sides to minimize the shoulder internal rotation. Even better, use a Swiss Bar which allows a neutral grip.
What you should really be doing:
-dumbbell bench pressing variations
-push-up variations that allows more natural (and functional) shoulder motion while incorporating the anterior core as well in an anti-extension movement.
-upright/half-kneeling neutral grip pressing variations (landmine presses, standing band/cable punches, etc.)
to keep this post from getting too lengthy, i’m just going to list a couple things I like about the squat and a few big problems I have with it.
What I like:
-it’s a heavy bilateral lift that (potentially) builds lower body mass fast, stimulating a ton of GH release, strengthens the low back, glutes and quads, along with the hamstrings and calves to some extent.
-if done properly, it can improve performance when it comes to sprinting, jumping and lower body explosiveness in general
What I don’t like:
-Most people aren’t ready to squat. They have piss poor ankle and thoracic mobility and poor lumbar stability. On top of that, they have never been taught how to maintain a stable position throughout the entire range of motion
-Because of the issues mentioned above, the majority of athletes end up repeating a loaded and potentially injurious movement pattern (knees collapsing in, lumbar rounding, thoracic rounding, cervical hyperextension, etc.).
-heavy spinal loading, especially when done multiple times per week with no programmed rest periods will expose the susceptible athletes over time (been there, done that).
-Barbell back squats place the shoulders in an external rotated position, placing valgus load on the medial elbow. If performed “properly,” with the elbows tucked down to promote upright posture and a neutral lumbar spine, this places the shoulders in an even more biomechanically compromised, externally rotated position.
Can the majority of athletes (especially high school) get away with loading a faulty movement pattern? Yes. Will this expose the 10 or 20% of athletes that are particularly susceptible to certain injuries? Yes. Maybe more if you have a coach that emphasizes adding weight to knock-kneed half squats before fixing form.
From a risk/reward perspective, the barbell back squat doesn’t make sense, unless you want to deal with at least 2 or 3 injuries per team per year. I’ve been there.
How to make it less bad:
-use cambered or safety square bars to place the shoulders in a less compromised position
-do front squats
-emphasize form and bar speed over weight
-don’t start loading up the squat until you have the ankle, hip, hamstring and thoracic mobility to hold an ass-to-grass squat with a neutral lumbar position indefinitely.
What you should really be focusing on:
-unilateral variations, which allow you to actually do more weight per leg (225lbs + on a reverse lunge is not uncommon, but how many people do you see repping 450lbs with perfect squatting form?
lunges, split squats, step ups and single leg (not pistol) squats allow greater loading without the extreme spinal loading - because they allow a neutral lumbar position to be maintained, the low back is no longer the limiting factor, which allows the legs to perform more work
-plyometric variations emphasizing soft landings, neutral lumbar position and minimizing knee valgus collapse (hint: no max effort box jumps followed by a hard landing back to the floor)
- Power Clean
I don’t even know where to start on this one, which is in my opinion one of the worst exercises you could have a pitcher do from a risk/reward standpoint. To start, there is very little potential reward from the movement.
Power development has been shown to be plane-specific, meaning that training hip and knee extension (i.e. sagittal plane) might make you more explosive…at activities that require linear hip and knee extension - linear sprinting, vertical and broad jumps, etc. What it won’t do, is help a rotational athlete rotate faster, which is really the only reason I can think any strength coach would put it in his program. Oh, it’s explosive! Olympic lifters are explosive. Therefore, the power clean will carry over into all other explosive activities. Wrong.
What else I hate about the power clean:
-its extremely technical: most coaches can’t teach it right, and most athletes can’t do it right. After two years of performing it (I don’t anymore), and a serious back injury later, my form was still mediocre at best.
-most athletes focus on loading over form: this is always a problem, especially since this is supposed to be an explosive movement
-The mobility and stability needed to power clean properly is quite significant, and adds a tricep and wrist flexor mobility component as well.
-Catching the bar can result in a variety of complications, from medial elbow damage due to the externally rotated position, to collar bone/shoulder bruising/damage from improperly catching the bar in the front rack position, to literally falling over backwards (I have seen this happen…twice).
How to make it less bad:
-if you’re a pitcher, don’t do any variation of the power clean because it puts your shoulders in a compromised position
-if you’re not a pitcher, hang cleans are a slightly less demanding (from a mobility standpoint) alternative that should only be done when taught by an extremely qualified strength coach who has extensive experience with the movement.
What you should really be doing instead:
-single arm dumbbell snatch: allows natural shoulder motion and a less compromised “catch” position. Still should not be done if shoulder mobility is an issue,
-kettlebell swings, speed deadlifts: train explosive hip extension without all the potential for injury. These still require a certain amount of technique and the ability to perform a proper “hip hinge”
Conclusion: stay away from the “big 3” for pitchers…there are other ways to get to the same place without the abysmal risk/reward ratio.