Re-Thinking Strength work for Pitchers

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Check out any baseball facility that does strength and conditioning work, and you'll most likely see some of the same exercises when comparing them. Some of these exercises will most likely be the trap bar deadlift, safety bar squats, reverse lunge, split squats, Bulgarian split squats, etc. I want to start by saying that these are not bad exercises, but I will try to explain why they may not be the best.

For years, I have been training the baseball population. I have been using your traditional general preparation work in the strength and conditioning world for these specific athletes, as mentioned above.

But why? Because that's what I was taught and have not put much thought into why they're being used. Partly true, Partly because I saw people who are smarter than me doing them with their athletes and thought, "this must be the right exercise to use."

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Check out any baseball facility that does strength and conditioning work, and you'll most likely see some of the same exercises when comparing them. Some of these exercises will most likely be the trap bar deadlift, safety bar squats, reverse lunge, split squats, Bulgarian split squats, etc. I want to start by saying that these are not bad exercises, but I will try to explain why they may not be the best.

For years, I have been training the baseball population. I have been using your traditional general preparation work in the strength and conditioning world for these specific athletes, as mentioned above.

But why? Because that's what I was taught and have not put much thought into why they're being used. Partly true, Partly because I saw people who are smarter than me doing them with their athletes and thought, "this must be the right exercise to use."

While all of these exercises listed above are great tools for developing foundational strength in which you can transfer over to rotational power, I think they can also negatively impact programmed as main strength builders 3-4 months out from the season starting. It's time to rethink how we could develop better transfer from our GPP work (general physical preparation).

Low angle view of Hispanic baseball pitcher standing on the mound in wind-up position preparing to throw the ball.

Low angle view of Hispanic baseball pitcher standing on the mound in wind-up position preparing to throw the ball.

The Movement Of Pitching

I spoke to coaches and learned more about the common mistakes these athletes make while performing the movement. Until then, I've mainly done my education through strength and conditioning coaches who train these athletes, but I hadn't taken enough time to learn from the coaches how to teach the sport's actual skill.

It got me thinking and asking myself, is what I'm having my athletes do from a biomechanical standpoint helping them to not only have better power in rotation but is it promoting better mechanics as well? Can they see the similarities between what their pitching coach wants them to do and what I tell them to do in the gym? I realized that I could do a better job of using exercise selection as a tool to enhance their biomechanics on the mound. As a strength coach, I am not usually the one that handles teaching them how to pitch, but I can help them feel stronger in the positions they need to be in.

What I learned was that most of them become too quad-dominate on the back leg. They need to be able to sit back more into the hip vs. the knee. This looks like a vertical shin angle. I realized then that this looks more like a lateral lunge than your traditional split squat, reverse lunge, or Bulgarian. Not only that, the lateral lunge is the only lunge that is in the same plane of motion and is hip dominant when performed correctly.

Lateral Lunge To Box

Slider Lateral Lunge To Box

Goblet Slider Lateral Lunge Box Squat

Then I realized that they were required to get into these extremely wide positions at the hips. Almost trying to spread the knees apart are far as possible before performing the actual movement of rotation at the hips. This made me think that they may benefit from a more expansive stance posterior dominate exercises, such as box squats and sumo deadlifts. This would promote a strong posterior and create better adductor mobility and stability, allowing them to get into these wider stances easier and have more strength in them. This creates an environment in the hip complex that allows for great mobility in the adductor and great stability.

Box Squats

Dynamic Effort

Max Effort


Sumo Deadlifts

Dynamic Effort

Max Effort

Moving forward to the follow-through of the pitch into a single leg stiff-legged position. This is exactly why I am not a fan of how much attention the lunge variations have gotten in the pitcher community. And I am guilty of falling for using them for "specific GPP work," but if you look at the movement of pitching when they get into the lunge-like position it is in a much more posterior dominant position, you can see that with the angle of the shin. When they get into this lunge position, pitchers want to get out of it as quickly as possible to straighten out the knee, create more breaking force, and a post to rotate around to generate max velocity into the ball.

Barbell Single Leg-Deadlift

Landmine Single-Leg Deadlift Into Clean To Press

Landmine Single-Leg Deadlift

Single-Leg Deadlift With Sled Resistance

I am not saying don't lunge your pitchers. You want to be strong all-around. For that matter, we still do perform split squats, Bulgarians, and reverse lunges. I am saying there are better choices to create specific adaptations in the realm of general physical preparation. For that reason, I like using the single-leg deadlift. This does a great job of creating what I call a stable post.

Now, this is all a dumbed-down version of the pitching motion. I'm not trying to get into the nitty-gritty details of great pitching mechanics I simply what to understand the movement better so I can choose general exercises that will have a greater transfer over to the sport. If you're stronger in the positions, you need to be in a while performing the skill of pitching, it will be a lot easier to make the adjustments your skill coaches will want you to make to improve performance. These exercises become increasingly more important as our pitchers get closer to preseason and in-season. Before that, you will see your traditional lifts as mentioned above. Once they are 4-3 months out from the season, starting these "specific GPP exercises" becomes their main strength builders.

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