This article was provided by Training-Conditioning
Zach Dechant, SCCC, USAW, is a Senior Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at Texas Christian University, where he oversees athlete performance for the baseball team and assists with football.
The development of baseball pitchers poses interesting questions for a strength and conditioning coach. Should they follow the same program as the rest of the team? Should they do upper body exercises with weights? Should they even be in the weightroom at all during the season?
Here at Texas Christian University, we firmly believe that pitchers aren’t made of glass, as some baseball team coaches seem to think. They are athletes, and we treat them as such. The act of pitching is an explosive total-body movement, and there is nothing slow about it. Thus, our overarching goal in training pitchers is to make them fast, powerful, and explosive–so that’s how we train.
Depending on the time of year, our pitchers perform anywhere from four to seven total body movements during their weight lifting sessions. Including warmup and our speed and movement work, total training time for high-intensity sessions is generally 70 to 90 minutes, three days a week.
Though each lifting session is a total-body workout, we alternate between an upper-body and lower-body emphasis. The foundation of our lower-body movements includes the back squat, front squat, and Romanian deadlift. However, we often individualize programs, especially for our pitchers who are unable to back squat due to shoulder injuries. These athletes will usually use the safety squat bar instead.
Our main upper-body movements include the reverse pull-up (also known as the inverted row) and pushups. I believe reverse pull-ups are one of the best posterior upper-body exercises a pitcher can perform. Not only does it teach proper scapula movement, but the move also requires stability throughout the entire trunk along with glute activation.
And I believe pushups–provided they are done correctly–are one of the best overall exercises any throwing athlete can perform because of the benefits for core stability. I especially like using pushups with a DB row and rotation. While they are great for the serratus anterior, when pushups aren’t fully completed at the top, the serratus isn’t activated. I also always make sure athletes aren’t letting their hips and core sag at any point during the movement.
Our pitchers’ shoulder health is key, so we take major precautions in the weightroom. For example, our pitchers don’t do any overhead moves in the “high five” position. Most of our exercises utilize a neutral grip including all of our pull-ups, pushups, and any dumbbell pressing variations we may do.
For back work, we always perform at least a 2:1 ratio of posterior upper-body movements to anterior. Depending on the time of year, we will sometimes work at a 3:1 ratio. Also, some athletes’ imbalances will dictate that they do nothing on the front side and focus all of their work on strengthening the posterior muscles.
Nearly every pulling movement we do is taught with retraction and depression of the scapula. We put an emphasis on stabilizing the scapula in these movements so that the shoulder complex doesn’t become compromised. When training the scapula, we make sure to emphasize the lower and middle trap and serratus anterior. These muscles are very important in stabilization and safe upward rotation, which is hugely important for an overhead-throwing athlete.
The thoracic spine receives a lot of attention as well. Training mobility throughout the thoracic spine should be a high priority in any throwing athlete. Being able to rotate and fully extend eliminates compensations that can cause low back issues, as well as problems related to the shoulder and elbow.
Recovery sessions include soft tissue massage work using foam rollers, sticks, tennis balls, or lacrosse balls. Each athlete will then perform their specific movement training, which is based on their screening results. One athlete may perform specific thoracic spine mobility work with an exercise like a reverse lunge with a rotation, while another athlete works on increasing torso stability through a bird dog pattern or modified pushup.
Next is a rotator cuff, scapula, hip, and core activation circuit. This is low-intensity work that includes exercises such as hip raises and clamshells for the glutes, some type of stabilization work such as Iso Abs or planks for the torso, and some form of scapular or rotator cuff work like Y’s, or any number of external rotation variants. The entire circuit lasts about 10 to 15 minutes.
Finally, the athletes finish with any specific corrective mobility and flexibility work that we have assigned based on their screening results. This is an example of where each athlete’s training program differs slightly. In total, our recovery training sessions are only about 30 to 40 minutes long, depending on each pitcher’s needs.