Although a good strength and conditioning program would include more, these are three exercises I feel are essential to a good program for baseball players.
Squat — In terms of developing lower body strength, the squat is king. Here at Georgia State University we prefer the front squat versus back squat for several reasons. First, loading the bar in front of the body allows the athlete to maintain a more upright torso, which decreases stress on the low back. Additionally, the front-loaded bar placement usually allows athletes to get greater depth in their squat.
Second, the front squat is a self-limiting exercise. That means if technique breaks down the bar will fall forward, and the rep cannot be completed. As opposed to the back squat, where technique can break down and athletes can use their back to compensate and finish—greatly increasing the chance of injury.
Some programming advice: We never do more than 5 reps in a set during the season. As the season progresses, we decrease the amount of reps and increase the intensity. This way we can maintain strength while minimizing fatigue and soreness.
EX. 3-4 sets x 1-5 reps
Push-up — The push-up is great pressing exercise for baseball players because it allows the scapula to move freely along the ribcage. We do several different variations of the push-up depending on which phase of training we are in. In periods of low throwing volume (off-season), we will do weighted push-ups with chains or plates.
Later in the off-season, we will superset the weighted push-ups with band assisted explosives to increase upper body power. In times of high throwing volume (in/preseason), we will switch to a yoga push-up, a push-up with rotation or a partner push-up. This decreases the stress on the shoulder and allows us to challenge core stability and improve mobility.
EX. 2-3 sets x 5-10 reps
Pull-up — What the squat is to the lower body, the pull-up is to the upper body. The pull-up is one of the most effective ways to develop overall strength of the upper body. There are several benefits specific to baseball athletes. First, strengthening of the latissimus dorsi or “lats.” The act of throwing a baseball is very reliant on the lats, so acquiring/maintaining strength is important.
Second, pull-ups develop and require strength while the arms are in an overhead position. Since throwing is an overhead motion, it is vital to have stability/strength in that position. I prefer our athletes use a neutral grip for all pull-ups to put the glenohumeral joint in a more stable position.
The underhand grip is also shoulder friendly, but be aware it will require more recruitment from the biceps. In-season, we generally do 2-3 sets of 3-4 reps. Our stronger athletes will add weight via chains or weight belts/vests. Off-season we increase the total volume.
EX. 3-4 sets x 4-8 reps w/ weight if possible
Remember: Intelligence tops being smart.
Koby Kraemer MS, CSCS, is the assistant strength and conditioning coach at Georgia State University.