The off-season is a great time for pitchers to gain size, strength, and power. The combination of intentionally focused work on the mound, intelligent training in the weight room, and recovering properly will benefit the pitcher by enhancing their performance.
Selecting the correct weight room exercises is critical to help improve strength and power that correlates to throwing harder.
In this article, I will be going over the 7 best exercises for pitchers in the off-season, a message from a pro, and more!
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Best Off-Season Exercises For Pitchers
1. Trap Bar Deadlift
The trap bar deadlift is by far one of my favorite exercises for pitchers to gain total body strength. This compound movement provides all of the strength benefits of deadlifting with little to no risk.
The hip hinge, leg drive, core stiffness, grip, and upper body engagement check all the right boxes for pitchers. Increased force development will help pitchers drive off the mound and throw harder.
- Step inside the trap bar.
- Place feet roughly shoulder width apart.
- Slightly turn their feet outward (engaging the glutes).
- Take a deep breath to brace the abdominal muscles.
- Hinge at the waist and bend at the knee simultaneously until you’re able to grab the bar handles.
- As you pull yourself down into the setup position, maintain a neutral head posture, with eyes fixed on something about 1-2 feet in front of you.
- In the final setup position, pull the chest up, and shoulder blades back, while still maintaining a brace in the abdominal muscles and get ready to lift.
- Start by pulling the “slack” out of the bar. This is where the lifter needs to create tension by slightly pulling into the bar and pushing their feet into the floor before maximal contraction/attempts.
- Once this tension is created, the lifter drives their feet through the floor, drives the hips forward, keeping tension in the abdomen and upper back (DO NOT ROUND YOUR BACK), maintaining the hand position over the midfoot, the lifter stands tall with the barbell, and locks the repetition in.
Easily the most common mistake for deadlifts of any kind is allowing the back to round, placing unnecessary stress on the back. Keep the back flat throughout the movement and the core braced.
Do not bounce the bar off the floor between reps. Yes, bouncing the plates off the floor into the next rep may make the lift easier to do, but it’s also a good way to allow your technique to break down. Reset for each rep.
Unlike barbells which have a standard weight, hex bars weight can vary from one bar to the next. Keep this in mind if using set weights off of your training program.
2. Bulgarian Split Squat
Single-leg training is obviously critical to pitching. Driving off the mound with one leg and planting hard on the front leg are important considerations when selecting exercises for the off-season.
The Bulgarian Split Squat benefits from this single-leg training idea. This movement trains lower-body strength, core and upper-body stability, grip strength if you choose to hold dumbbells at each side, sport-specific shin angles, and mobility.
- Grab two dumbbells, one in each hand
- Get set up in front of your bench, reach one foot back and place it on the bench. Make sure you feel comfortable and balanced before proceeding.
- Squeeze the shoulder blades and engage the lats to create a stable back to help with bracing the upper body and to keep the dumbbells from swinging unnecessarily.
- Keep the chest as upright as possible and drop the back knee to roughly one inch from the floor.
- Now drive through the heel and midfoot of the front foot to drive yourself back up tall.
- Repeat until all reps are completed on that leg and then switch sides.
Coaching Points (Fixes to Common Mistakes)
When you step out, make sure to keep the feet shoulder-width apart. If you’re feeling very off-balance in your set up there is a good chance that you are placing the lead foot directly in front of the back foot (essentially placing yourself on a tight rope).
Keep the front foot flat on the floor when in the lunge position. One of the most common mistakes is raising up onto the ball of the front foot.
Make sure to take a big enough step. Often times I see athletes give themselves way too little distance from the bench. This leads to lunge being extremely cramped and can lead to a whole host of other issues.
3. Feet Elevated Inverted Rows (From Rings or TRX)
One of my favorite upper body pulling movements, the feet elevated inverted row from rings or TRX straps is a great option for pitchers. By elevating the feet, you are challenging your core to stay rigid and straight from your head to your toes, which engages the body to work as one unit. The inverted row strengthens the posterior chain (upper back, rear delts, rotator cuff muscles, lats).
A full range of motion is critical here.
The reason I prefer rings and TRX straps are that this allows pitchers to row with a varying grip.
I like to queue pitchers to start with a knuckles-up grip (pronated) and as you row, rotate your grip so that your thumbs are toward the ceiling. This is the opposite motion we see in throwing, thus building our posterior chain to be resilient to injury and increase performance.
- Start by setting up a TRX Strap on a sturdy anchor point.
- The higher the handles are placed, the easier the rows will be. The lower the handles are placed, the harder the rows will be. (Just make sure to leave yourself enough room to fully extend your arms at the bottom of the rep)
- Lay down underneath the handles and place your feet up on a box or bench.
- Grab the handles, brace the core and make sure your body is fully extended – including your legs.
- You should be positioned to where when you pull yourself up towards the handles, your hands end up beside the top of the stomach, bottom of the chest. Slide up or down to adjust accordingly.
- Now, keeping your body in a straight line, pull your chest up to the bar and lower back down until your arms are fully extended.
Athletes I coach love to either try to pull their faces to the handles or even raise their chin up and over the handles like a pull-up. These are both wrong. You should think of the TRX Row as a reverse bench press. Keep your head back, chest out and pull your chest directly to the bar. Pull the shoulder blades down and back at the top of the rep and squeeze the back.
4. Single-Arm Dumbbell Bench Press
My favorite horizontal pressing movement for pitchers is the single-arm dumbbell bench press. This is a great movement that can be trained and you can increase weight and reps over time. This pressing challenges cross-body tension since one hand is empty while the other presses.
The single-arm variation is great for pitchers who need to focus on one arm being the prime mover at a time. This exercise will strengthen the chest, shoulders, triceps, and core.
- Grab your dumbbell, sit on the edge of the bench, and sit the dumbbell on your thigh vertically.
- Take a deep breath, lie flat on your back on the bench, and get your dumbbell in position ready to press.
- Lay your free hand on your stomach. Placing your hand on your hip (as shown in the featured image above) will help balance you more is a more beginner-friendly hand placement.
- Keep your feet flat on the floor.
- Keep your butt on the bench.
- Pull your shoulder blades together and keep the back of your head on the bench. You will slightly arch your back. Keep your core tight and keep the shoulder blades pulled back tight.
- The dumbbells should be slightly angled at roughly a 45-degree angle to the torso. (representative of the path you are descending with your elbows).
- Press the dumbbell up.
- Control the dumbbell down during the eccentric movement and draw the dumbbell in, keeping the elbow at that 45-degree angle from the torso.
- The dumbbell will make contact with your torso right at the nipple line on the chest.
- Once contact is made, drive the dumbbell back up.
- Complete the designated number of reps and then switch sides.
If you’re familiar with Dumbbell Bench Press but are new to this single-arm variation, you’ll probably be pretty surprised by just how much you need to brace your core to keep from literally rotating off the bench.
5. 1-Arm Dumbbell Row
The 1-arm dumbbell row is a fantastic compound rowing variation for pitchers. This movement is great for implementing, pauses, and eccentric tempos to really challenge the posterior chain movers.
With one arm rowing and the other hand on the bench, you will have to stabilize the core, lower back, and non-moving shoulder. This is a fantastic exercise to get strong in during the off-season.
- Grab a dumbbell and a bench*.
- Place the dumbbell next to the bench and set yourself up.
- If rowing with the right arm, place the left knee and left hand on the bench. Keep the right foot flat on the ground.
- Make sure the back is flat (neutral) to slightly arched.
- Brace the core and pick the dumbbell up.
- Row the dumbbell up, keeping the elbow close to the body as the dumbbell raises.
- Squeeze the back at the top of the rep and then lower the dumbbell down until the arm is fully extended.
- Repeat for the designated number of reps and then switch sides.
The most common mistake I see athletes make when doing One Arm Rows is not maintaining a flat back. The back should stay engaged and slightly arched – similar to the starting position of a Power Clean. Do not let the back round as this can cause unnecessary stress on the spine.
6. Single-Leg Overhead Med Ball Stomp
One of my favorite overhead slamming variations, the single-leg overhead med ball stomp is sport-specific for pitchers.
Take a med ball and have a very similar approach that you would have in your delivery on the mound. The idea is to open the hips, rotate with the med ball overhead, brace hard on that front leg, and drive the med ball into the ground as hard as you can.
This is a great sport-specific movement for pitchers to train. I like doing these movements early in the lifting session when the body is fresh. The idea is to be explosive so take pride in breaking some med balls here!
7. Med Ball Shot Put (For Distance)
The Med Ball Shot Put is probably my favorite med ball exercises for pitchers. The idea is to utilize the stretch-shortening cycle, open the hips, and “put” the ball as far as you can. You are not throwing the ball and there should be no stress in the shoulder here.
It’s a great movement for developing both lower body and rotational power.
- Begin by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart in a good athletic position, holding a medicine ball at chest height with both hands.
- Take a step forward with one foot while simultaneously pivoting on the other foot. This movement should rotate your torso to face the direction you want to throw the ball.
- As you step forward, begin to lower your hips and bend your knees, preparing to generate power for the throw.
- As you push off your back foot, aggressively extend your back arm and drive the medicine ball forward. Use your legs, hips, and upper body to generate power and momentum.
- Release the ball as you follow through with your arm. Keep your eyes on the target and aim for maximum distance or height.
- Have a partner throw the ball back (or throw it against a wall) and repeat.
- Repeat the exercise for the desired number of repetitions or sets.
Keep your core engaged as you throw the ball.
Keeping your core tight will not help you throw the ball further by enhancing the transfer of power from your lower body to your upper body. Even more importantly, maintaining a braced core will help to protect your low back as you rotate and drive the medicine ball.
Balancing Throwing and Lifting
One of the biggest lessons I learned working with pitchers was balance. Especially with pitchers who threw 80-100 pitches in a game.
It is very important to balance throwing, lifting, and life. Balancing these things will improve your performance, your quality of life, and avoid overuse injuries.
Throw First – “Keep The Main Thing, The Main Thing”
I am a big believer in throwing first. The most important thing you are doing is throwing on the mound. Get your work in on the mound/throwing program first, THEN do your lower body plyos, sprints, and weight training.
This allows you to focus on throwing with the freshest legs and upper body possible. I know some pitchers don’t mind lifting before throwing, but I have found most pitchers like to throw first.
Lower Body Strength, Hip-Shoulder Mobility, Med Ball Work
Lower body strength is extremely important to throwing hard. Creating force and pushing off the mound and stabilizing the front leg are critical. Hip-shoulder separation is also critical.
Never sacrifice your flexibility or mobility for more weight in the weight room.
Your ability to separate the hip and shoulder to create that torque is what allows those pitches to snap. Med ball work is a game changer. Keep your med ball work explosive and as fast as possible so that it correlates to the mound.
3 Pulls To 1 Push
I also want to take the time here to reiterate a 3:1 pull-to-push ratio. When developing your program, count your pulls and your pushes and try to stay in this range. This ratio is associated with healthier shoulders (think rotator cuff), elbows, and wrists.
Pitchers already spend so much time working on their front side. It is important to build back that posterior chain and avoid overuse injuries. This is not cookie-cutter. Some pitchers don’t need 3 to 1.
But if you start to notice a nagging bicep or a sore elbow, it is important to analyze every aspect of your training.
A Message From A Pro
“The weight room was a great place for me to gain strength. I loved the dumbbell bench press. I always loved how my arm felt, it was good for my range of motion, and pure pressing strength. I also loved split squats. I felt these helped my glutes and front leg strength so that I could throw as hard as possible.”
- Elon University
- Perfect Game, National Player of the Week, Conference Player of the Week (2-21-2017)
- Detroit Tigers Organization 2019-2021
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