By Steven Ellis, former Chicago Cubs pitching pro
One of the big misconceptions in baseball is that playing the game keeps you in shape to pitch. I wish that was true. It's not.
Just playing the game of baseball is a poor way to develop and maintain pitching fitness. It does not keep you "in shape" for baseball. That has to happen in practice and in the weight room in-season and during the off-season.
In the Chicago Cubs organization, where I played professionally, we strength trained during the off-season and in-season. The off-season is used to develop strength. In-season strength training is for maintaining it.
|The off-season is used to develop strength. In-season strength training is for maintaining it. (See pictures and videos below!)|
We hit our core (abdominal and lower-back muscles). We trained our legs by running short sprints and performing various squats, lunges, step-ups, etc. We strengthened our shoulders performing tubing and light dumbbell exercises. We performed agility drills and plyometric bounding and jumping. We stretched (after workouts as well as before workouts).
During the season, make it a point to get your throwing done first. That's the most important part of pitching: throwing a baseball.
Then maintain your strength in-season a few times a week by doing some pitcher-specific training. It'll help you remain strong and healthy.
Want a complete in-season and off-season pitching workout program? Check out the TUFFCUFF program, my new strength and conditioning manual for baseball pitchers ages 13 and up.
How to know when a young pitcher is ready to start functional strength training
There are two requirements that any kid must have in order to workout with weights:
- He should be mentally mature enough to know what they are doing and why they are training. (The ability to concentrate is an important factor in a resistance training program.)
- He should be physically mature, beyond puberty, which for some kids happens later than others.
With the above factors in mind, it is possible for younger pitchers (Little League and junior high school age) to gain strength through training, but it must be kept within reason. Parents and coaches need to make informed decisions for their players. With younger pitchers, the emphasis should be on overall conditioning and strengthening the ligaments and tendons. Ligaments connect bone to bone and tendons connect muscle to bone.
|With younger pitchers, the emphasis should be on overall conditioning and strengthening the ligaments and tendons.|
A junior high pitcher should concentrate on proper technique, which comes from performing movements with light weights or no resistance.
That's because exercise habits formed at a young age are more likely to be carried over into adult years. If movements are performed incorrectly at a young age, it's much more difficult to correct the movements later in a boy's baseball career. (The same principle holds true for the necessity of developing proper pitching mechanics at an early age, by the way.)
A modified off-season workout program for junior high pitchers should be prepared on an individual basis. I have done that for you in The TUFFCUFF Strength and Conditioning Manual for Baseball Pitchers, but additional precautions may need to be followed.
My TUFFCUFF program for this age group involves predominately lightweight or bodyweight exercises, and a high number of repetitions. This helps to prevent injury by not overworking young, growing joints with "bulk" workouts.
As a pitcher, you need to be lean and powerful, not bulky.
Junior high school age is a good time to develop general coordination in pitchers through creative, active games. Participate in numerous sports and physical activities throughout the year other than baseball.
If you're the parent of a junior high school pitcher looking for pitching-specific workout guidance this off-season, check out TheTUFFCUFF Strength and Conditioning Manual for Baseball Pitchers.
Free pitching workout videos (Flash required)
Check out our free baseball pitching workout videos.
This 5 lb weight program strengthens the all-important rotator cuff muscles of the shoulder and shoulder be used as part of a complete strength training program to increase velocity, and remain injury free both in-season and during the off-season. As the name states, these exercises are performed using no more than 5 lbs. in each hand.
Beginners should use 3 lbs. and increase weight by 1 lb. only after three sets of 15 repetitions can be performed with comfort and ease. Remember, the purpose of the 5 lb. weight program is to isolate and strengthen the rotator cuff muscles, not the stronger muscles surrounding the shoulder. This program should be performed no more than three times a week. See the video »
This tubing program gives pitchers of all ages the ability to strengthen and maintain stamina in the all-important rotator cuff region of the shoulder, while having the mobility to set up a workout station anywhere. the tubing cords can easily be tied to a fence, doorknob, pole, etc., and the tubes pack easily in a baseball bag or backpack. Big league pitchers perform these exercises both in-season and during the off-season.
During the season, perform three sets of 10 reps, two times a week to maintain strength. During the off-season, the tubing workouts can be performed four to five times a week, for up to 25 reps (three times each) to build strength. See the video »
This core program focuses on strengthening the all-important trunk muscles that "link" the lower body to the upper body and throwing arm. The core can be strengthened four or five times a week, using 5 to 8 kg. medicine balls (where needed).
Beginners should perform the exercises using body weight, advancing by 1 kg. (with the med ball) only after the prescribed exercises can be performed three consecutive weeks without difficulty. Typically, the very best time to perform the core exercises shown here is immediately after a run.
The core is important in the pitching motion because it's where a pitcher generates power during the coiling phase of his delivery. See the video »
This Bodyblade program is an oscillating resistance program designed specifically for pitchers who are looking to enhance strength through the stabilization of the smaller rotator cuff muscles of the throwing shoulder. Because the Bodyblade can generate hundreds of muscle contractions per minute, it provides the very best mechanics to condition to condition the throwing shoulder in a biomechanically similar way to the throwing motion itself.
To begin, stand erect with good posture and keep your core tight with a slight bend in your knees. Hold the handle of the Bodyblade firmly in the hand of the involved side. Oscillate the Bodyblade in a controlled back and forth motion while simultaneously keeping the involved are as still and stable as possible.
Beginners will start by slightly oscillating the bodyblade with a couple of inches of displacement. More advanced pitchers will oscillate the implement 6 to 12 inches, all the while keeping the involved side firm and motionless as possible in the extremity. See the video »
Sample baseball pitching exercises
Rotator cuff exercises: Full can raise: Standing straight. Squeeze shoulder blades together and raise weight, thumbs up, to shoulder height at a 45° angle. Return to start position in a slow, controlled manner. These shoulder conditioning exercises are sometimes called Jobe or Jobes exercises. A complete series of these exercises start on page 35 in TUFFCUFF.
Rotator cuff exercises: Anterior raise: Standing straight, squeeze shoulder blades together and raise weight straight forward from side to shoulder height. Return to start position in a slow, controlled manner. These shoulder conditioning exercises are sometimes called Jobe or Jobes exercises. A complete series of these exercises start on page 35 in TUFFCUFF.
Rotator cuff exercises: Lateral raise: Standing straight, squeeze shoulder blades together and raise weight straight outward from side to shoulder height and return to start position in a slow, controlled manner. These shoulder conditioning exercises are sometimes called Jobe or Jobes exercises. A complete series of these exercises start on page 35 in TUFFCUFF.
Rotator cuff exercises: Post delt: Bending at waist, arms hanging down freely. Squeeze shoulder blades together and bring weight straight out to shoulder height. Return to start position in a slow, controlled manner.
Bent-knee hamstring stretch: Start with your leg bent. Extend your target leg with quadriceps (front thigh) muscles by pulling rope with both hands. Stabilize thigh with elbows (as shown) if needed. End position with target leg straight. As flexibility improves, move knee closer to the chest. Return to start position and repeat. This exercise, found on page 77 of TUFFCUFF, is part of a post-workout stretching program of nine flexibility exercises using rope or stretch cords.
Wrist curls with elastic tubing: Sit on an physioball ball so that your knees are bent at a 90-degree angle and your feet are flat on the floor. Secure a circular piece of elastic tubing underneath the ball of your foot and hold the other end in the palm of your hand. With your palm facing the ceiling and your forearm flat against your thigh, curl your wrist up and down as shown. Switch. You should feel the exercise in your wrist and forearm. This is part of the forearm, elbow,and wrist strength section of TUFFCUFF, which begins on page 57.
Single-leg Romanian dead lift (RDL): Balance on one foot using one arm to hold the dumbbell and the other to balance. Your foot should be flat on the floor. Your knee should be slightly bent and your back should be straight. Keep your eyes focused straight ahead and your shoulder blades pinched together. Lower the dumbbell down your opposite leg until you feel a stretch in the hamstrings by pushing the hips back, keeping your knee slightly bent. This should be somewhere between your knee and the middle of your shin. Your back should remain straight, chest and shoulders will be ahead of the bar, and arms are straight. Stand up tall by contracting the hamstrings and lower back, pulling the dumbbell upward to the starting position. Repeat. This is an advanced exercise for older, more mature pitchers. It's part of the college and pro pitcher's lower-body workout section in TUFFCUFF on page 62.
Related Pitching Materials
Want to learn more about baseball pitching workout programs? Arm yourself with the most innovative and up-to-date baseball pitching training available. These related pitching materials from former Chicago Cubs pitching pro Steven Ellis are guaranteed to help you or the players you coach pitch better and reach the next level faster!