Home Baseball Content Strength and Conditioning Programs: Crossfit for Baseball?

Strength and Conditioning Programs: Crossfit for Baseball?

Written on September 14, 2009 at 7:25 pm, by Eric Cressey

I've received a lot of emails just recently (as well as some in-person questions) asking me what I think of Crossfit for strength and conditioning programs with baseball players and, more specifically, pitchers.

Let me preface this email with a few qualifying statements.  First, the only exercise "system" with which I agree wholeheartedly is my own.  Cressey Sports Performance programming may be similar in some respects to those of everyone from Mike Boyle, to Louis Simmons, to Ron Wolforth, to the Crossfit folks - but taken as a whole, it's entirely unique to me.  In other words, I will never agree completely with anyone (just ask my wife!).


Second, in spite of the criticism Crossfit has received from some people I really respect, I do feel that there are some things they're doing correctly.  For starters, I think that the camaraderie and enthusiasm that typifies their training groups is fantastic; anything that gets people (who might otherwise be sedentary) motivated to exercise is a plus.  Moreover, they aren't proponents of steady-state cardio for fat loss, and they tend to gravitate toward compound movements.  So, good on them for those favorable traits. Additionally, I know some outstanding coaches who run Crossfit franchises, so their excellent skill sets may be overshadowed by what less prepared coaches are doing simply because they have the same affiliation.

However, there are several issues that concern me with applying a Crossfit mentality to the baseball world:

1) The randomness of the "workout of the day" is simply not appropriate for a sport that has quite possibly the most specific sport-imposed asymmetries in the world of athletics.  I've written about these asymmetries in the past, and they can only be corrected with specific corrective training modalities.

I'm reminded of this constantly at this time of year, as we get new baseball players at all levels now that seasons are wrapping up. When a player presents with a 45-degree glenohumeral internal rotation deficit, a prominent scapular dyskinesis, terrible right thoracic rotation, a big left rib flair, a right hip that's stuck in adduction, and a complete lack of rotary stability, the last thing he needs to do is a 15-minute tri-set of cleans, kipping pull-ups, and push-ups - following by some 400m sprints. It not only undermines specificity of exercise selection, but also the entire concept of periodization.

Getting guys strong isn't hard.  Neither is getting them powerful or building better endurance.  Finding the right mix to accomplish all these initiatives while keeping them healthy is the challenge.

2) The energy systems development found in Crossfit is inconsistent with the demands of baseball.  I wrote extensively about my complete and utter distaste for distance running in the baseball world, and while Crossfit doesn't go this far, in my eyes, anything over 60yds is "excessive distance" for baseball guys.  Most of my guys sprint two times a week during the off-season, and occasionally we'll go to three with certain athletes.  Let's just say that elite sprinters aren't doing Crossfit, and the energy systems demands of baseball players aren't much different than those of elite sprinters.

3) I have huge concerns about poor exercise technique in conditions of fatigue in anyone, but these situations concern me even more in a population like baseball players that has a remarkably high injury rate as-is.  The fact that 57% of pitchers suffer some sort of shoulder injury during each season says something.  Just think of what that rate is when you factor in problems in other areas, too!  The primary goal should not be entertainment or variety (or "muscle confusion," for all the morons in pro baseball who call P90X their "hardcore" off-season program).  Rather, the goals should be a) keeping guys on the field and b) safe performance enhancement strategies (in that order).


As an example, all I need to do is look back on a program we used in one of our first pro pitchers back for the off-season last fall.  He had a total of 20 pull-up and 64 push-up variation reps per week (in addition to some dumbbell bench pressing and loads of horizontal pulling/scapular stability/cuff work).  This 84-rep figure might be on the low-end of a Crossfit program for a single day.  Just like with throwing, it's important to do things RIGHT before even considering doing them A LOT.

4) Several of the exercises in typical Crossfit programs (if there is such a thing) concern me in light of what we know about baseball players.  I'll cover this in a lot more detail in an article within the next few weeks, but suffice it to say that most have significant shoulder (if not full-body) laxity (acquired and congenital), abnormal labral features, partial thickness supraspinatus tears, poor scapular upward rotation, retroversion (gives rise to greater external rotation), and diminished rotator cuff strength in the throwing shoulder (particularly after a long season).  Most pro pitchers will have more than 190 degrees of total motion at the shoulder, whereas many of the general population folks I encounter rarely exceed 160 degrees.


In short, the shoulders you are training when working with baseball players (and pitchers, in particular) are not the same as the ones you see when you walk into a regular ol' gym.  Want proof? Back in 2007, on my first day working with a guy who is now a middle reliever in the big leagues, I started to teach him to front squat.  He told me that with only the bar across his shoulder girdle, he felt like his humerus was going to pop out of the socket.  Not surprisingly, he could contort his spine and wrists like a 14-year-old female gymnast.  This laxity helps make him a great pitcher, but it would destroy him in a program where even the most conservative exercises are done to the point that fatigue compromises ideal form.  And, let's be honest; if I was dumb enough to let someone with a multi-million dollar arm do this, I'd have agents and GMs and athletic trainers from a lot of major league systems coming after me with baseball bats!

5) Beyond just "acts of commission" with inappropriate exercise selection and volume, there are also "acts of omission."  For example, a rotational sport like baseball requires a lot of dedicated work to address thoracic spine and hip mobility and anti-extension and anti-rotatoin core stability.  If you exhaust your training time and recovery capacity with other things, there may not be enough time or energy to pay attention to these important components.

All that said, I would encourage anyone who deals with baseball players to learn to borrow bits and pieces from a variety of methods available today.   Along the way, take into account the unique characteristics of the overhead throwing athlete and manage accordingly.  Simply saying "I'm a Crossfit guy"  and adhering to an approach that was never intended for a baseball population does a huge disservice to the athletes that count on you to bring them the most up-to-date, cutting-edge training practices available.

If you're interested in learning more about some of the asymmetries and training techniques I noted above, I'd strongly encourage you to check out Optimal Shoulder Performance, where both Mike Reinold and I go into some detail on assessment and corrective exercise for pitchers in this seminar (and there's also a lot more fantastic information for anyone looking to develop pitchers). You can buy it HERE, or learn more about it HERE.


Sign-up Today for our FREE Baseball Newsletter and Receive Instant Access to a 47-minute Presentation from Eric Cressey on Individualizing the Management of Overhead Athletes!


70 Responses to “Strength and Conditioning Programs: Crossfit for Baseball?”

  1. Jenn Reiner Says:

    Great article, Eric. Very valid points not only for baseball players but the everyday population. I recently wrote a similar article based on a 2 month trial of CF to get the full picture. I found very similar concerns. http://dbstrength.com/the-crossfit-conundrum/

  2. Byron Pranger Says:


    I have one of your DVD’s and read most of your articles. This is the first time I heard mention of a left rib flair. I have always been insecure about my left rib flair and thought it was just bad genetics. So, are you saying something can be done?

  3. Eric Cressey Says:

    Yes, Byron; check out http://www.posturalrestoration.com. Great ideas there; we’ve had excellent success implementing their methods.

  4. baseballplayer Says:

    For those of you wondering who would even suggest to use CrossFit for baseball, there are many high schools and junior college programs, like my own, that wrongly believe CrossFit is the way to go when it is not for baseball

  5. Diego Says:

    Great Article, Eric. Sport-specif demands is more than a “workout of the day”. I think we have to study the sport and plan what the athlete needs. Some times they need to get mobility, stability, strength and the only way is screen your athletes to see what is necessary… Crossfit don´t work with screening.. it´s just a fitness program.

  6. Greg Justice Says:


    I loved this post when I read it the first time around and enjoyed re-reading it again, along with all the comments.

  7. Keith Says:

    My wife attended a Crossfit gym for about 6 months and while I applauded CF for getting her motivated to exercise regularly and intensely, I didn’t believe it was correct to push people to doing exercises to complete failure. Usually this occurs while lifting heavy loads and a complete breakdown of form. Seemed like a recipe for injuries. In fact, my wife has a nagging shoulder injury now and she refuses to stop working out to treat it properly. Blind adherence to CF mentality also seems to be a common outcome.

  8. Ron Torres Says:

    Good article and thank you for always sharing educated and well researched information.

  9. Eric Cressey Says:

    Agreed, Diego. Thanks for your input.

  10. Joy Says:

    Happy Labor Day Eric,

    I have been following you for some time, but after reading today’s post response(s); yours and theirs…decided it was time to thank you for all the info you share. Your credentials speak for themselves; still I have always thought so highly of your writing, not only that you share all you do, but in your articulation. And now today, in handling your response to those posts that came off like “fightin’ words”, well…your well-poised response just really impressed me all the more.

    Some of the “battle” seems so silly as the “title” of this specifically states “Crossfit for Baseball?” and your first paragraph specifically addresses that you have had many inquiries; hence, the article (ie., answering a question)! So people read what it says; and calm down…

    Again, I thank you Eric. You are a quality trainer, educator and professional. And after today’s reading I have gained even more respect for you as a quality human being.

    Lastly, congrats on the new facility! It looks great; job well done.

    Keep it coming! …you have a wealth of knowledge! …and again, a talent in sharing it and educating others. And I personally THANK YOU!

    P.S. I concur…. :0D

    Best, Joy

  11. Joy Says:

    I should of said COACH! But you get my drift…

  12. Eric Cressey Says:

    Thanks, Joy!

  13. Jim Says:

    As an ex-professional baseball player (catcher) that now crossfits, I wish I did this in the off season when I played. I would of course throw, hit and catch as well to get my “position specific” work in.

    My core, my flexability, my athleticism, and endurance has never been as good as it is now.

    The amount of body control that it takes to play baseball at the highest level goes beyond isolated lift movements and sprints. Don’t isolate muscles, train them to work in harmony to do dynamic, explosive movements.

    I’m not a “crossfit junkie” or anything like that. It’s just my take as an ex-baseball player that wishes this was available when I played.

  14. Eric Cressey Says:

    Thanks for your contribution, Jim.

  15. Dave Says:

    I love that this thread has gone on as lomg as it has. Since 2009, I would think that maybe even Eric has changed his thoughts on Crossfit as a training program. Factual or not, statements like: “I’ll keep training 25 pro baseball players at my facility each off-season (along with hundreds of high school and college guys)” are no longer relevant as there are many CrossFit gyms that train dozens of pro athletes of all sports. Those that publicly bash CrossFit usually pay the bills training a different way. The CrossFit “one size fits all” program works incredibly well for a host of previously stated reasons. However, CrossFit has also evolved in it’s understanding of sports training. Programs like CrossFit Football and CrossFit Endurance certainly prove that even CrossFitters have accepted that GPP is not the optimal way to train for the “known and knowable” demands of perticular sports. As for the contention that CrossFit causes injury, please understand that it is and always has been a sport of it’s own in implementation. To suggest that the injuries incurred by pitching are simply a part of the game but that injuries doing CrossFit are somehow as a result of poor programming is misleading. I train hundreds of athletes that play many different sports and in my experience, CrossFit is the safest of them all. Check the numbers on hockey, football even cheerleading(which is not surprisingly the most) injuries and you will find, as I did, that CrossFit is the safest sport I coach. We play these sports knowing that the risk of injury exists. We want to compete, challenge ourselves and our teammates and have fun. We know we are going to get hurt but we do it anyway. There are plenty of sport specific training facilities trying to implement Boyle/Cressy style programming and doing a less than professional job. The best sport specific coaches I know are using the CrossFit methodolgy regularly to improve performance. I bet most of them own at least one of Eric’s books(I know I do). Let’s all evolve.

  16. Steve Says:

    Not even debatable. I’ll leave it at that. Eric after spending thousands of hours researching strength and conditioning you are far and away the most knowledgeable individual in my opinion in the industry. I ‘m not here to tout my credentials but I have to give credit where it is do. Thank you very much for the wealth of information made available on your site. I h

  17. Eric Cressey Says:

    Wow, thanks, Steve!

  18. Alex Says:

    I played baseball in college, and while I can’t speak to the science of the human body and the study of exercise science, I do feel that I’m a fairly decent judge of valuable baseball specific workouts. I’ve turned to Crossfit as of recent because I enjoy the camaraderie and challenging workouts, but I’ve never finished one day and thought, “If I had done this in college I would have been such a better pitcher.”

    My general fitness might have been better had I done it back then, but I can’t see how being constantly sore would have been an advantage on game day in addition to the fact that Crossfit does nothing specific to throwing a baseball. That would be like working out for football but never actually tackling anyone.

    Now five years out of college the peak of my athletic competition is a weekly dodgeball game, so living with little “tweaks”, so to speak, in my shoulders or back that are Crossfit related are tolerable and don’t hinder my day to day life, but again, going into game day feeling any of those little pains would certainly be less than ideal.

    Great article.

  19. Eric Cressey Says:

    Well said, Alex.  Thanks for your kind words.

  20. PNC pitcher Says:

    I like this article. Inspired to tell my experienceL

    Graduated in 2003 after what I’m proud to say was a great NCAA D1 career on the mound. 2007 met crossfit, and 2008 tore my labrum on a sloppy lift. 2010 had an MRI and finally had an accurate diagnoses (had multiple guesses before that from multiple specialists). Then the PT told me he would not recommend surgery for me- threw me for a loop. 2011 decided to make another run at playing ball- gave myself a year to get into shape. 2012 went to a pro league tryout- did really well and made myself proud. I outshined the pitcher they picked up. Even matched my top speeds from 10 years earlier. Finally went for surgery Jan 2013- found out the SLAP tear was much worse than the MRI showed.

    During that whole time, the only thing I could do without pain was throw. I guess my brain just knew exactly where everything should be when I was pitching. After surgery, my healing really accelerated once I started throwing (4 months post op). Was told 14-24 month for full recovery. But I threw 100% effort at 9 months and felt awesome.

    Since then, the only time I have any any concerns is if I attempt (go figure) bench press, push ups, or dips. At the cross fit gym they just think I’m some old athlete that doesn’t have it anymore- we do those exercises constantly. But when it comes to O-lift day, then it’s my turn to shine. I couldn’t agree more that O-lifts are a great foundation for throwers. They’ve always come easily to me, and the association seems so obvious.

  • Avoid the most common deadlifting mistakes
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