Home Baseball Content 11 Random Thoughts on Baseball Strength and Conditioning

11 Random Thoughts on Baseball Strength and Conditioning

Written on September 20, 2012 at 8:05 am, by Eric Cressey

With the off-season at hand, I thought I’d type up some random thoughts that have come up in conversations with professional, college, and high school players over the past few weeks as they’ve wrapped up their seasons and transitioned to off-season mode.

1. Arm care drills don’t really provide arm care when you do the exercises incorrectly. When you do eight exercises for three sets of 15 reps each every single day, but you do all the exercises incorrectly, you’re really just turning yourself into 360 reps worth of suck.

2. Piggybacking on #1, if you think you need 360 reps of arm care exercises per day, you really need to educate yourself on how the arm actually works. Also, when you eventually realize that you probably don’t even need ¼ of that volume to keep your arm healthy, you should definitely pick up a new hobby with all that newly discovered free time. Maybe you’ll even wind up kissing a girl for the first time.

3. In the battle to increase pitching velocity, all anyone seems to talk about is how to increase arm speed, which is a function of how much force can be produced and how quickly it can be applied.  So, we focus heavily on long toss, weighted ball programs, and mound work to try to produce more force.  The inherent problem with this strategy is that it ignores the importance of accepting force.  I’ll give you an example.

Imagine two people side-by-side holding slingshots, each of which has the same thickness rubber band.  They both pull the band back with the right hand and hold the other end with the left. One guy has a limp left hand and his left forearm “gives” as he pulls the band back, and the other guy keeps the left side firm.  They both shoot the rock; which one goes farther?  Obviously, it’s the one with the firm front side; that stiffness enables the arm to accept force.

This is a common problem with many young pitchers who haven’t built a foundation of strength, as well as advanced pitchers whose velocity dips over the course of a season, usually when they lose body weight. If your lower-body strength and power diminishes, you’ll collapse on that front side and leak energy.  And, you’ll commonly miss up and arm side. 

Basically, you need to be strong eccentrically into hip flexion, adduction, and internal rotation – which is why the glutes are so important for pitching (check out this post from a while back for more information on the functional anatomy side of things).  Think of pitching with a weak landing leg as throwing like a guy with a slight hamstrings strain; in order to protect yourself, you flop instead of planting.

4. Has an accomplished marathoner every thrown 95mph? Actually, has an accomplished marathoner ever done anything athletic other than running?

5. We definitely need to get John Clayton to cover MLB instead of the NFL.

Baseball hasn’t seen this kind of talent in a non-player since this Fenway Park security guard put the Terry Tate on this deserving schmuck:

6. It amazes me how many baseball players don’t take care of their eyes. They are your livelihood, people! Yearly check-ups are a good start, but if you’ve heard some of the stories I’ve heard about how terrible guys are with taking care of their contact lenses, you’d be astounded. Example: I once had an athlete come in with terribly red eyes, so I sent him to see my wife, Anna, who is (conveniently) an optometrist. He informed her that he’d been putting his contacts in the same solution at night for two weeks. That’s like reusing the same bath water for 14 days – except the eyes are worse because they’re more prone to infection.

7. Why do professional teams spend anywhere from $484,000 to $30,000,000 per year on a single player, yet try to save money by letting clubbies feed all their minor leaguers pizza, fried chicken, PB&J, and salami sandwiches on white bread?

8. This kid has a full scholarship to train at Cressey Performance whenever he opts to pursue it.

See what I just did there? It wasn’t baseball-related at all, but I just tied it in.

9. Strength and conditioning has “changed the game” with respect to early sports specialization as it relates to baseball development. Kids can get away with specializing earlier if they’re involved in a well-rounded strength and conditioning program because these programs afford as much and, sometimes, more variety than playing a traditional sport. This approach to development does, however, depend heavily on the self-restraint of players, parents, and coaches to get kids 2-3 months per year without a ball in their hands. And, they need to seek out opportunities to play pick-up basketball, ultimate Frisbee, and other random games.

10. If you’re already taking 150 ground balls per day during the season, do you really need to do extra agility work? This is like a NASCAR champ hitting up the go-karts on the way home from the race track.

11. The other day, I read a review in the International Journal of Athletic Training that focused on the different biomechanics and pathology of various pitching styles.  The authors (Truedson et al) made a strong case for modifications to training programs – particularly with respect to core stability – based on trunk tilt angles at ball release.  Overhand and three-quarters guys tilt away from the throwing arm, sidearm guys stand upright, and submarine guys tilt toward the throwing arm. Folks have long discussed the concept of posture from a mechanics standpoint, but I haven’t seen anyone who has utilized this information to modify an intended training outcome from a strength and conditioning standpoint.  Obviously, you could easily make the case that submarine pitchers need more rotary and lateral core stability than all other pitchers.

Lateral core stability exercises teach you how to resist lateral flexion; in other words, your goal is to avoid tipping over. These drills may start with basic side bridging drills and progress all the way up through more advanced TRX drills and 1-arm carrying variations. Rotary core stability exercises educate folks on how to resist excessive rotation through the lumbar spine. Examples include drills like landmines, lifts, and chops.

Sidearm pitchers are much more upright with the torso, so they likely need more anterior core than rotary/lateral core stability.  Of course, you’re still going to train all three.

Anterior core stability exercises teach the body to resist excessive lumbar spine extension, and encompass a variety of drills, starting with dead bug, curl-up, and prone bridging activities. In prepared individuals, they progress all the way up through more advanced exercises like reverse crunches, stability ball rollouts, and TRX flutters and fallouts.

Finally, the overhand and 3/4 guys – which are obviously the largest segment – likely just need an equal dose of the three approaches.

For more thoughts on core stability training for health and performance, I’d encourage you to check out our Functional Stability Training DVD set.

That concludes this little glimpse into my mind as we enter the off-season.  I’ll probably wind up doing this again every 4-6 weeks as I have discussions on various topics with our pro guys as they return.

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17 Responses to “11 Random Thoughts on Baseball Strength and Conditioning”

  1. Drew Says:

    Nice article Eric. Was that you shooting the video at the Red Sox game? I also like turtles.

  2. Ted Says:

    Analogies work to make the message stick. Love the slingshot example. Laughed out loud at the zombie kid’s comment.

  3. Brandon Says:

    Great point on #11. I have been trying to make this point for years. I was just discussing this with a pitcher that I am seeing in the end stages of Tommy John Rehab. I utilize some of the same principles in how I strengthen the lead hip and in more advanced scapular & rotator cuff work.

  4. Mark Says:

    @ Eric Cressey – WOW You just made my day with those 2 videos the zombie kid and john clayton one. LMAO. I cannot stop laughing thinking about those videos hahahaha

  5. Eric Cressey Says:

    Not me! Wish I could take credit for it, though!

  6. Paul Says:

    Hey Eric,

    If I remember correctly, you have been adamant that youth not specialize in baseball because of the the debilitating rotational forces and the related imbalances created within the young body. In the above article it seems that your philosophy has shifted, allowing for specialization IF a proper strength and conditioning program is employed. What has changed to allow for the shift? Is it not a bit risky, considering the crazy kid sports world that exists today, to suggest this course?

    I realize you are saying that a proper strength and conditioning program needs to be put in place to allow for baseball specialization, but I can see many travel ball folks misinterpreting this and considering it as a ‘stamp of approval’ for the debilitating year round craziness that exists out there. I’ve been battling the year round mindset out here in California for the past year, using your writings (and others) as supporting evidence.If your stance has changed, it would be good for me (and others) to know the rationale behind the philosophical shift.

    Thanks- I always look forward to your thoughts; they help keep some perspective in the bizarre kids sports times that we live in.

    Also, out of curiosity, how come you aren’t participating in the Wolforth coaches clinic anymore?

  7. Christian O. Says:

    On #1/2, do you think all shoulder/arm care drills are bad? Personally I have some scapular issues and use blackburns. These exercises are meant to fix scapular issues (improper scapular movement), are you opposed to these as well?

  8. Ben Heller Says:

    Hey Eric,
    I just had a question regarding #1… In the offseason it is certainly easy to take it easy on the arm care drills, but what would you recommend for in season arm care/throwing warm up? My college coach has us do tubing, “jobe” dumbell exercises, and bodyblade exercises every single day before we throw, usually adding up to at least 60 – 80 reps per day. Do you think that is too much? Thanks!

  9. Eric Cressey Says:


    Absolutely not. There are a lot of drills we use.

    RE: blackburns, it depends on how your shoulders move and how you perform the exercises.

  10. Eric Cressey Says:


    It’s a little bit different for everyone. A generalized dynamic flexibility warm-up and some easy sprinting progressions are a good start regardless of the person in question. However, what comes next is a hotly debated point in the industry. I don’t like the idea of doing arm care before you throw; the goal should instead be just to turn the cuff and scapular stabilizers on and prepare them for what’s ahead. If you fatigue them excessively, it’s much more difficult to maintain the instantaneous center of rotation – meaning the ball on socket congruency is more easy disrupted.

    In really lax guys, I like two sets of rhythmic stabilization drills (or Bodyblade). I don’t think there’s much need for this in guys who are stiffer and it likely would interfere with velocity, according to some unpublished research I’ve encountered.

    The rest of someone’s work should take place after throwing or on a separate day.

  11. Eric Cressey Says:


    I’m still very adamant that sports specialization is something we avoid, but I think strength and conditioning has made it possible for kids to specialize slightly earlier (15-16) than they have in the past. I love our freshman/sophomores to play a bunch of different sports, but as crunch time rolls around, it is nice to get a bit more specific development for them.

    This observation was actually more directed at younger kids who simply don’t like other sports. I’d rather have a kid enjoy strength and conditioning than be forced to play soccer, football, hockey, etc. and hate it, you know?

    Always like chatting with Ron and his crew; we email frequently. I just spoke two years in a row there, so he’s getting some new blood in. Plus, it’s tough to escape CP during the pro baseball off-season training crew.

  12. Greg Justice Says:


    What are your thoughts about using resistance bands, instead of cables, for the lateral core stability exercises?

  13. Eric Cressey Says:


    It’s a great option for those with limited equipment.

  14. Scott Says:

    Eric, good stuff. You talk about making sure we keep a ball out of kids hands for 2-3 months. What about a bat? Is it ok, or benfeficail to keep hitting during the “off season” or take the time completely off?

  15. Eric Cressey Says:


    I think you can get away with swinging a bat more during this period, but I do think it’s advantageous to get it out of their hands for a while.

  16. Anthony Says:

    when I do the shoulder scratch test my right arm (throwing arm) is very tight and I can barely reach halfway up my back. Yet with my left arm it is much easier. Would you know what shoulder disfunction would cause this and what I should specifically focus on to increase that ROM?

  17. Eric Cressey Says:


    This is an EXTREMELY loaded question. Could be a number of things limiting your ability to get your hand up your back…lack of internal rotation, scapular instability, insufficient left thoracic rotation, or just retroversion (a bony adaptation that is normal in throwers). Complete symmetry is not something you want; you’re just looking for an acceptable level of asymmetry.

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