Q: One of my favorite (insert generic sarcastic look here) things to watch in the weightroom is my pitchers getting under the rack for bench presses. It’s not the fact that they’re benching that upsets mebut the “Beach Body” mindset that is behind it. What’s the most efficient way for a pitcher to work on his benchand more importantlywhat should he be trying to gain by performing the bench press correctly?
A: Okaylet’s get right to opening this can of worms.
With any exercisewe look for carryover to the functional demands of our sport. Howeverwe accept that general strength gains transfer in most cases. As an examplewe know that we can improve throwing velocity with a variety of training initiativesbut training specificity like this is stupid:
Now that we’ve all gotten a bit dumberlet’s continue…
As it relates to pitchingthe fundamental problem with the conventional barbell bench press (as performed correctlywhich it normally isn’t) is that it doesn’t really train scapular movement effectively. When we do push-up variationsthe scapulae are free to glide - just as they do when we pitch. When we benchthoughwe cue athletes to lock the shoulder blades down and back to create a great foundation from which to press. It’s considerably differentas we essentially take away most (if not all) of scapular protraction.
Additionallythe closed-chain nature of push-ups is much more shoulder friendlyeven if pitching is an open-chain exercise. In factmost rehabilitation progressions - regardless of the shoulder issue in question - will begin with push-up variations before any open-chain pressing exercises.
With dumbbell benchingwe recognize that we get better range-of-motionfreer movement of the humerus (instead of being locked into internal rotation)and increased core activation - particularly if we’re doing alternating DB presses or 1-arm db presses. There is even a bit more scapular movement in these variations (even if we don’t actually coach it).
With a barbell bench pressyou don’t really get any of these benefits - and it’s somewhat inferior from a range-of-motion standpoint. While it may allow you to jack up the weight and potentially put on muscle mass a bit more easilythe truth is that muscle mass here - particularly if it leads to restrictions in shoulder and scapular movement - won’t carry over to throwing the way the muscle mass in the lower half and upper back will. I’ve seen a ton of guys with loads of external rotation and horizontal abduction range-of-motion throw the crap out of the baseballbut can’t say that I’ve ever seen any correlation - in the research or my anecdotal experience - between a good bench press and throwing velocity.
That saidI recognize that there are still a lot of “wannabe meatheads” in the pitching worldso we do our best to meet our athletes halfway and please the bench press gods. Most of the timedumbbell bench pressing and push-up variations will be sufficientbut we will sometimes us the multipurpose bar with our pitchers because it puts them in a more shoulder-friendly neutral grip.
Add some chains to the barand you have a great stabilization challenge that works the true function of the rotator cuff.
That saidif you absolutely feel like you need to do traditional benchingkeep the volume downkeep the elbows tuckedand keep the shoulder blades pulled back and down. Andbe sure to recognize that your ego probably isn’t doing much for your success on the mound - as there are training initiatives with better returns on investment. Remember that pitchers have loads of competing demands - from throwingto flexibility trainingto soft tissue workto fielding practiceto movement training - so what you do in the weight room has to highly effective to justify its inclusion. I just struggle to consider bench pressing “highly effective” for pitchers.