Having a strong upper body is essential for softball players. A strong upper body will help you hit farther, throw harder, and be resilient to injury. It is even more important that softball players train their upper bodies intelligently.
You need to consider your shoulders, elbows, and wrists in every movement that you perform. Upper body training is not about getting jacked and pumped up like a bodybuilder. Training the upper body for softball is all about functionality, sport-specific, low risk-to-reward ratio movements, that will directly carry over to throwing and hitting.
To gain strength in the upper half, I think the best implements are barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells. These implements will engage the most musculature and can be trained and overloaded over time. Never sacrifice your form for weight!
The neurological training benefits are extremely beneficial for all athletes. These compound movements will train the muscles to gain power and strength in the upper body. You are not going to see a lot of bodybuilding or bicep and tricep exercises here. Compound movements train these muscles naturally anyways.
I recommend these movements in the early off-season, fall ball, winter, and in-season training regimen. How heavy, how often, and what exercises you are using are determined by the game schedule and your training readiness.
In this article, I will be going over the 7 best upper body exercises for softball players to help you stay healthy, hit farther, and throw harder!
Upper Body Exercises For Softball
The Push-Up is one of the most important movements a softball player can master.
Relative upper body strength is critical to upper body strength, power, and injury resilience. This is a great horizontal pushing movement that can be progressed, overloaded, and is shoulder-friendly.
I often recommend progressing with the push-up. I progress the push-up with an eccentric phase, focusing on the lowering movement of the push-up. Then the isometric phase, pausing and holding the bottom position of the push-up.
Finally, progressed to the full Push-Up movement.
As you advance, you can slow the eccentric movement down, pause at the bottom, and push yourself back up to the start all in one movement. The Push-Up can also be overloaded with an external weight on your back, called the Weighted Push-Up.
- Lie face down on the floor.
- Pull your toes in so that you’re on the tip of your shoes.
- Eyes should be focused straight down or slightly up.
- Pull your hands close to about the nipple line of the chest and bring them out about 2-3 inches away.
- Take a deep breath, engage the core and brace.
- Push yourself up in one unit. There should be no sagging of the waist. The entire body from head to toe should move up and then back down in unison.
- Feel your scapula upwardly rotate and make sure the antagonist muscles (Back and biceps) are fully engaging.
- Lock out your push-up and pause.
- Slowly lower yourself back down and get ready for the next repetition from just above the ground. Do not fully relax at the bottom of the push-up unless your program specifies.
Focus on having perfect form, keeping the core engaged, and training the chest, triceps, and shoulder muscles.
Keep the elbows at a 45-degree angle. For maximal chest, shoulder, and rotator cuff engagement, do not let the elbows flare out away from the middle. Also, do not let the elbow hug right next to the torso.
A strong posterior chain is essential for shoulder health and upper body strength. The Pull-Up trains this posterior chain (Lats, upper back, rear delt, rotator cuff) to be strong and resilient. Another added benefit of the pull-up is core and lower back stabilization.
A full range of motion in your pull-ups is critical for success here. I like to progress players into pull-ups.
We initially will start with an eccentric phase, followed by an isometric, and finally a concentric one. I sometimes have lifters use bands to help with their pull-ups initially.
I typically program pull-ups in the early off-season and winter programs. I avoid most heavy overhead movements during fall ball and in-season training regiments due to the high load on the shoulder throwing in-season.
- Approach the pull-up bar and grab the bar with a pronated grip (palms facing away).
- Use a bench to get to the bar if it is too high.
- Later in the article, I will talk about variations, alternatives, and modifications where the supinated (palms facing in) grip will be discussed.
- Squeeze the bar and engage the core muscles and do not cross your legs.
- Engage the upper back and pull up until your chin is over the bar.
- Pause for 1 second with your chin over the bar.
- Slowly lower yourself back to the starting position.
Take your time and master the Pull-Up. The benefits of doing sound Pull-Ups will pay dividends for your shoulder health and the potential to maximize your upper body strength.
If you’re not ready for the Pull-up, don’t worry!
You can start with Inverted Rows and Lat Pulldowns to gain strength. I also recommend straight arm hanging and isometric holds with your chin over the bar. These are great alternatives that will help you in the pull-up progression.
Dumbbell Bench Press
The Dumbbell Bench Press is one of my favorite exercises for softball players. This horizontal press can be progressively overloaded easily and there are lots of variations (Floor press, alternating, single-arm).
I like the dumbbell as a pressing implement more than the barbell for softball players. The dumbbell allows for more natural movement in the shoulder, is more specific to throwing (single arm training), and requires more stabilization.
- Grab your dumbbells, sit on the edge of the bench, and sit the dumbbells on your thighs vertically.
- Take a deep breath, lie flat on your back on the bench, and get your dumbbells in position ready to press.
- 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 (representative of the path you are descending with your elbows).
- Press the dumbbells up.
- Control the dumbbells down during the eccentric movement and draw the dumbbells in, keeping the elbows at about a 45-degree angle away from the torso.
- The dumbbells will make contact with your torso, level with the bottom of your sternum.
- Once contact is made, drive the dumbbells back up.
This is a very shoulder-friendly pressing movement. Because the implement is a dumbbell, the range of motion is increased, the shear force on the shoulder is decreased, and the shoulder stabilizing muscles are engaged.
You can turn the palms in and keep the elbows tighter to the body to take stress off the shoulders and put more emphasis on the triceps.
Remember to finish your sets with awareness so that you and your training partner/fellow gym members stay safe and injury-free. (aka Be careful when dropping the dumbbells!)
One Arm Dumbbell Row
A classic horizontal row that I love for softball players, is the One Arm Dumbbell Row. This is a great rowing variation for single-arm training.
An awesome benefit of this variation is the non-rowing shoulder needs to stabilize as the other performs the row. Because your positioning is perpendicular to the floor, you are also training cross-body tension, engaging that core, and resisting rotation.
We know anti-rotation in the gym will aid in our ability to display rotational power on the field, so this is a great movement to train often!
- 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.
*One Arm Rows do not have to be done with one knee on a bench. You can keep both feet flat on the ground and lean forward and brace yourself with your off-hand on something sturdy. You can even lean your off forearm on your leg for support if necessary.
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 Deadlift. Do not let the back round as this can cause unnecessary stress on the spine.
Also, do not twist and turn while rowing. You’re not starting a lawn mower. If you need to use your whole body to twist and rock the weight up then the dumbbell is too heavy. Lower the weight and maintain proper form.
Inverted Rows (From Rings)
Horizontal rows are one of the key components of a healthy softball player’s strength training routine. One of my favorite rows is the Inverted Row from the rings.
I love Inverted Rows for throwing athletes because the rings reinforce healthy shoulder movement.
Remember, a full range of motion is critical here. Hang all the way down, row your body as one unit, squeeze the shoulder blades, and lock in each rep.
Start with a grip on the rings so that your knuckles are pointing up to the ceiling, as your row, twist your fist so that your thumbs are pointed toward the ceiling at the top of the rep.
Horizontal rows help balance out the shoulder and train those posterior chain muscles to be strong and resilient.
- Start by placing a bar on the rack about waist height.
- The higher the bar is placed, the easier the rows will be. The lower the bar is 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)
- Set the bar on either the J-Hooks or the Safety Bars
- Lay down underneath the bar.
- Grab the bar with an overhand grip, 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 bar, the bar touches the same spot on the chest as it would for bench press. 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.
- Repeat until all reps are completed.
You should think of the Inverted Row like 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.
The second mistake I see all too often is tired athletes that start to look like they’re doing the worm. They start rocking and rolling their entire body to try to get their chest up to the bar. Don’t do this! Maintain a rigid body posture and continue pulling yourself as high as you can each rep.
Half Kneeling Single-Arm Dumbbell Press
One of my favorite shoulder-friendly pressing movements, the Half-Kneeling Single-Srm Dumbbell Press is a great movement for softball players to gain strength in the overhead pressing pattern.
This is a great exercise for softball players because overhead strength and stability are critical for throwing hard and being resilient to injury.
I also love dumbbells as pressing implements because they force the athlete to train with a single arm (Sport specific) and stabilize each movement.
- Take a kneeling position. One knee up and the other down. Bring your toe in on the down leg so that you are on the tip of your shoes
- If you have your right knee up, grab the dumbbell in your left hand. Face the palm toward you.
- Brace the abdomen and upper back. Make your torso as tall as possible and stay rigid throughout the entire movement.
- You may find it comfortable to put your non-pressing hand on your hip or extended out to the side for balance.
- Press the dumbbell vertically, finishing with the bicep very close to the ear. Lock in the rep at the top and slowly return to the start.
- Focus on your balance. The half-kneeling position should challenge your core control and ability to stay tall and rigid as you press.
- Once you finish your reps on one side, put the dumbbell down. Switch your knees in your kneeling stance. Perform your presses on the other side to complete the set.
I am a huge fan of the tall-kneeling position. It challenges the lifter to balance, stay tall and rigid, and disallows the legs from cheating in helping the press.
This is a great movement for novice lifters that need a progression into overhead pressing. After 2-3 weeks of training, 2 dumbbell, standing, landmine, and barbell options will fall in line for this progression.
Bent-Over Dumbbell Row
A lift that I think helps train the whole body, the Bent-Over Dumbbell Row is a great horizontal rowing exercise.
This is a great rowing variation that I think softball players can benefit from. It trains the horizontal rowing pattern, trains the posterior chain, is joint-friendly, and can be trained heavier over time.
- Stand with your dumbells at your sides on the ground.
- Hinge at the waist and bend the knee until you can grab the dumbbells.
- Always keep a flat back, a neutral spine, and keep your eyes focused slightly down about 1 foot in front of you.
- Take a deep breath, brace the abdomen, and pull the dumbbells in until they are in line with your torso.
- Pause for about 1 second. Squeeze the shoulder blades and lock in the rep.
- Slowly return the dumbbells back to the starting position (dumbbells at about the knee).
The setup here is very similar to the Deadlift. With that in mind, always remember to keep a nice neutral spine.
Another common mistake I have seen is lifters go too heavy and therefore need to “hitch or yank” into a lock-in position. Never sacrifice your form for more weight.
Upper body training is critical for softball players.
Getting strong with basic movements like push-ups and pull-ups will only benefit your health and performance. Utilizing barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells to overload your upper body work is great as well.
Balancing pushing and pulling movements is important. In general, for every 1 push repetition programmed, I would aim to have 3 pulling repetitions programmed.
Remember why you are training. Everything you do should have some type of carry-over to your sport. Training with a specific purpose will always help you stay motivated and train hard consistently over time.
Focus on proper form, progressive overload, and continue to work hard on the field and you will see your results pay off!
If you found this article helpful, make sure to check out my favorite lower-body exercises for softball as well!