Q: I attended the baseball strength training clinic you gave in Long Island. I have a question for you about push-ups for pitchers. I am using push-ups with all player, and one of the parents has been concerned that push-ups are not good for pitchers. I was wondering if you could help me explain why push-ups are good for pitchers.
A: No problem. The two big “players” in scapular dysfunction are lower trapezius and serratus anterior. These muscles work in conjunction with the upper trapezius to upwardly rotate the scapula, which allows for safe overhead movements. Research has shown that baseball pitchers have less scapular upward rotation compared with position players and non-athletes - so it’s definitely an adaptive change that we need to work to address.
Push-ups (when done correctly) can be useful for activating the serratus anterior, and as a closed-chain exercise, it has proprioceptive benefits at the shoulder girdle. Plus, you get a considerable effect in terms of core stability training, as you’re resisting the effects of gravity in the “plank” position where the lumbar spine wants to slip into extension.
That said, if you’re dealing with high school athletes, I’ll warn you that over 90% of them (in my experience) need to be coached on how to do a push-up correctly. It isn’t as simple as “just do this,” as most of them will resort to incorrect technique. With a good pushup, the upper arms should be tucked to a 45-degree angle to the torso, and the athlete should actively “pull” himself down to the bottom position with the scapular retractors. The hips shouldn’t sag, and there shouldn’t be a forward head posture. Essentially, the chest - not the chin or hips - should get to the ground first.