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!
Table of Contents
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.
Focus on having perfect form, keeping the core engaged, and training the chest, triceps, and shoulder muscles.
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.
If you’re not ready for the pull-up, don’t worry! You can start with inverted rows and lat pull downs 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.
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.
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.
1-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!
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 this movement 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.
Half Kneeling Single-Arm Dumbbell Press
One of my favorite shoulder-friendly pressing movements, the half kneeling single-arm 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, core tight, glutes engaged, and get your dumbbell in a neutral position (palms facing in). If your right knee is up, press with your left arm. Keep your non-pressing hand on your waist or on your stomach. This will give you feedback to help you keep your core engaged and not slouch. Press the dumbbell straight overhead.
At the top of the position, your bicep should be near your ear. Slowly lower the dumbbell and complete all reps before changing arms.
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.
With dumbbells at your side, hinge at the waist, and slightly bend the knees until you can grab your dumbbells. Keep a neutral spine, eyes focused just in front, flat back, core tight. Hold the dumbbells with a neutral grip (palms facing each other).
Row the dumbbells in toward your sides, squeeze and hold the rep for about 1 second, and then slowly lower the dumbbells back to the start.
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!