Home Baseball Content Should Pitchers Bench Press?

Should Pitchers Bench Press?

Written on February 11, 2010 at 6:18 am, by Eric Cressey

Q: One of my favorite (insert generic sarcastic look here) things to watch in the weightroom is my pitchers getting under the rack for bench presses.  It’s not the fact that they’re benching that upsets me, but the “Beach Body” mindset that is behind it.  What’s the most efficient way for a pitcher to work on his bench, and more importantly, what should he be trying to gain by performing the bench press correctly?

A: Okay, let’s get right to opening this can of worms.


With any exercise, we look for carryover to the functional demands of our sport.  However, we accept that general strength gains transfer in most cases.  As an example, we know that we can improve throwing velocity with a variety of training initiatives, but training specificity like this is stupid:

Now that we’ve all gotten a bit dumber, let’s continue…

As it relates to pitching, the fundamental problem with the conventional barbell bench press (as performed correctly, which it normally isn’t) is that it doesn’t really train scapular movement effectively.  When we do push-up variations, the scapulae are free to glide – just as they do when we pitch.  When we bench, though, we cue athletes to lock the shoulder blades down and back to create a great foundation from which to press.  It’s considerably different, as we essentially take away most (if not all) of scapular protraction.

Additionally, the closed-chain nature of push-ups is much more shoulder friendly, even if pitching is an open-chain exercise.  In fact, most rehabilitation progressions – regardless of the shoulder issue in question – will begin with push-up variations before any open-chain pressing exercises.

With dumbbell benching, we recognize that we get better range-of-motion, freer movement of the humerus (instead of being locked into internal rotation), and increased core activation – particularly if we’re doing alternating DB presses or 1-arm db presses.  There is even a bit more scapular movement in these variations (even if we don’t actually coach it).

With a barbell bench press, you don’t really get any of these benefits – and it’s somewhat inferior from a range-of-motion standpoint.  While it may allow you to jack up the weight and potentially put on muscle mass a bit more easily, the truth is that muscle mass here – particularly if it leads to restrictions in shoulder and scapular movement – won’t carry over to throwing the way the muscle mass in the lower half and upper back will.  I’ve seen a ton of guys with loads of external rotation and horizontal abduction range-of-motion throw the crap out of the baseball, but can’t say that I’ve ever seen any correlation – in the research or my anecdotal experience – between a good bench press and throwing velocity.


That said, I recognize that there are still a lot of “wannabe meatheads” in the pitching world, so we do our best to meet our athletes halfway and please the bench press gods. Most of the time, dumbbell bench pressing and push-up variations will be sufficient, but we will sometimes us the multipurpose bar with our pitchers because it puts them in a more shoulder-friendly neutral grip.

Add some chains to the bar, and you have a great stabilization challenge that works the true function of the rotator cuff.

That said, if you absolutely feel like you need to do traditional benching, keep the volume down, keep the elbows tucked, and keep the shoulder blades stable underneath you.  And, be sure to recognize that your ego probably isn’t doing much for your success on the mound – as there are training initiatives with better returns on investment.  Remember that pitchers have loads of competing demands – from throwing, to mobility training, to soft tissue work, to fielding practice, to movement training – so what you do in the weight room has to highly effective to justify its inclusion.  I just struggle to consider bench pressing “highly effective” for pitchers.


For more information on managing throwing shoulders, be sure to check out the Optimal Shoulder Performance DVD set.

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28 Responses to “Should Pitchers Bench Press?”

  1. erik petersen Says:

    More like Expert Crap! Looks more like a parody of sorts. I really think that you would get better (and safer) results using my favorite device, the Shake Weight! Ultimately, I see You Tube doing more harm than good when displaying exercise videos. The last commercial gym that will ever work in was filled with “sports specific” movements like that, including golf cable swing thingies!

  2. Donnell Boucher Says:

    phenomenal explanation of the bench press vs. push ups and all the differences in the body’s response to both. Can be such a glaring debate “why don’t we just bench press if we want upper body strength?” – there is more than 1 way to skin a cat, and in some cases there are simply MORE EFFECTIVE ways to do it.

  3. Jack Cassidy Says:

    When dealing with an athlete who is involved with 2 to 3 sports, such as Baseball/Football, I like that you have alternatives to the bench press. That seems to be the hardest point to get across to kids these days. Balance and counter balance is so important in order to improve performance and prevent injuries. I agree with your point about benchpressing.

  4. Brandon LaRue Says:

    Good stuff as always Eric; I laughed my butt off at the inclusion of the hilarious “wannabe” video. I learn more about baseball training, with respects to throwing, from you than anyone.

  5. Jeff Cubos Says:

    Nice post.

    But I have 1 question…how do you find “great” videos like that on youtube?

  6. Kyle Boddy Says:

    Great article as usual. I linked to it from my site.

    As I said over there, people always ask what your bench press is once you tell them you work out with any regularity. I love asking them how much they squat. Or if I’m feeling particularly humorous, deadlift. Since no one does that. Then again, with all the deadlifting guinea pig experiments you’re putting yourself through, I think you’ve done enough for a whole stable of bros.

  7. rick Says:

    Great post as always! I’m going to train now on my Universal machine with my arm in the “L” position. LOL Keep up the good work

  8. Skibird93 Says:

    Eric, This is a great topic. It is ashame that young athletes are taught to brag and focus on their bench, squat, and deads in order to be “good” athletes. An athlete is not a bodybuilder and sport is not played with absolute strength…its played with speed and power! I would much rather take an athlete with exceptional mobility and speed over a guy that is “strong” any day. As I am sure you believe, its not how much weight you can move when discussing performance and sport but how quickly you can move that weight. So many coaches and trainers are creating “slower” athletes by training strength without includign speed and power movements. Just my two cents. Keep up the great work EC.

  9. Bob Says:

    What about benching for boxers eric.

  10. Project Swole Says:

    Benching is really only good for pushing. There is a direct carryover into football and possibly hockey, but most other athletes would do better to train according to how their body moves when they execute sport-specific functions. It is also important to consider speed and power over strength and size. For any athlete who throws, I would much prefer to see explosive push up, and sledgehammer or ‘wood cutter’ training than any sort of max effort bench pressing. Just my $.02.

  11. mike burgener, coach b Says:

    no way….in my over 40 yrs of being a strength athlete and strength coach i have seen more shoulder injuries from bench pressing for the bb player than any other exercise. same with push ups and dips. i just would not do them. i would however do some military/push press and chins or pull ups along with the olympic lifts for explosion and power. i like ball slams, prowler drags up a 90mtr drive way, box jumps and many other crossfit syle workouts for this very powerful and conditioned athlete.

  12. Tracy Ryckaert Says:

    Great information here, and agree 100% regarding dumbbell pressing vs barbell. I am even a bigger fan of the pulleys because the shoulder has to work with the hip during the loading and follow through phases of the pitch. Why teach it to work by itself in the gym, while lying on your back and then ask these two joints to work together on the field? The only question I have here, is regarding Juan’s universal pulley exercise. When we perform pulley punching or mimic the throw with the resistance posteriorly as it is in this video, we are truly emphasizing the loading phase of the pitch. The deceleration of the pect. muscles. When this phase occurs during an exercise that mimics the pitch, the weight should be placed on the same side leg. Shoulder internal rotators are decelerated by the same side hip, and external rotators by the opposite side hip. Thanks for the great information.

  13. Josh Kauten Says:

    Coach Burgener,
    I realize who you are and your Crossfit affiliation. Getting straight to the point…did you happen to see EC’s post on Crossfit and Baseball? Just curious what your thoughts were on it?

  14. Travis Hansen Says:

    Before I begin I would just like to say that I am an avid reader and fan of yours and I mean absolutely no disrespect, but some of what you wrote seemed questionable to me, based upon my personal research endeavors and time spent studying training science. I simply have a few questions that I need too disclose to you to either refute or confirm my present beliefs, and of to course learn more.

    First, you stated in the article that the increase in muscle from barbell pressing could potentially limit shoulder and scapular movement. Now I spent sometime analyzing various movement scenario’s and came to the conclusion that the only impairments that I could perceive would be when there is an increase in size of the lateral and anterior deltoid/supraspinatus, reducing the subacromial space and increasing ones susceptibility to different forms of impingement syndrome. What other restrictions were you referring too here (Scapular adduction/horizontal abduction, and vice versa)? And what injuries should emerge locally in conjunction with these limitations?

    Secondly, you implied that you have yet to find any research that reinforces the notion that you can improve acceleration and throwing velocity from integrating a sound bench press. Looking at this logistically, what about the known increases in force production and subsequent acceleration that are derived from improving a trainee’s limit strength? I am aware that adequate flexibility and mobility in the pertinent structures, rate of force production and power development are the key ingredients to success in this activity, but I know of five actual cases, three personal, and two unaffiliated where an athlete throws extremely fast and is capable of pressing heavy as well. It could all be coincidence I suppose, but it just makes sense to think that it helps the cause. Jeff Rowe, who I currently train is a quarterback and a new addition to the New England Patriots! Jeff is able to huck a pigskin upwards of 70 yards and has recorded a press of over 300lbs. David Carr, the present backup quarterback for the New York Giants pressed over 400 lbs. at some point during his tenure at Fresno State. Colin Kaepernick, the current University of Nevada Reno quarterback presses approximately 300 lbs. and can launch a football. He is also a mlb pitching prospect with a mean fastball clocked at 95 mph and was originally recruited to play baseball collegiately, but opted to play football instead. Finally, I am presently working with two junior college baseball players that have been practicing the bench press as a part of my program, and have reported increases in both throwing velocity and shoulder health. Briefly, I would credit this last statement too proper corrective exercises for the shoulder complex, refining their movement, quality soft tissue work, sound nutrition, westside barbell, and charlie weingroff for helping me learn to program better. Nonetheless, I could certainly foresee some benefit stemming from a proficient bench press. Like you stated in the article; low volume, appropriate acute variable manipulation, and a strong emphasis on proper mechanics are all extremely vital to enhanced performance and injury prevention.

    Lastly, I am acutely aware of many of the negative repurcussions associated with training the shoulder joint in an internally rotated position, since we are normally always situated in this manner (gravity) and all of the subsequent ill effects that it has on our posture and function. But where I am having difficulty is attempting to envision this concept being detrimental to any horizontal press variation? Now In my mind I would think that this would readily activate the prime movers or horizontal adductors (lat, pec major, ant deltoid, and suscap) permitting raised force production in the attempt, and that is great for any population. Furthermore, I read in the manual of kinesiology text that you just so happened to recommend to me that typically the glenohumeral joint is capable of abducting 120 degrees before the need to upwardly rotate the scapula arises. Realistically, the upper limb is fixed at 45 to 60 degrees of abduction in the standard bench press. This would omit the possibility of certain forms of impingement (classic, and subcoracoid), and as long as eccentric motion is not excessive then you can include (PSGI and Secondary impingement) as well. The bar will make contact with chest long before this happens if your packed in at the shoulder blades, and probably even if your flat too. Also, I would bet that Type 3 acromion processes would not have an effect when the arm is this low, so my question is where exactly does the problem lie when pressing in? The only other reasonable explanation that I have considered would be the increased shear forces that are present in the open chain. I am sure you will have a wonderful rebuttal that will knock me on my ass.

    The reason this small piece hit home is because I train various athletes at all levels, but 5 of them happen to be overhead athletes and this front relates to them tremendously. My anecdotal experience has been opposite of what you have expressed with pressing, but I would gladly drop everything and revise my program in a heartbeat if meant they would become healthier and perform better with its exclusion. Keep up all of your great work!

  15. LeslieW Says:

    Thanks Eric!

    Any thoughts on offset center-of-mass military presses (kettlebell, Olympic plate, sandbag) as a different alternative for throwing athletes?

    I just wrote a blog post for UltiTraining.com titled on body, weight, and strength-training progressions which talks a little bit about this, and also links to this great article on the utility? of the bench-press for overhead throwing athletes.


  16. Muscle Warfare Says:

    I would imagine it could only be beneficial as long as like they say they aren’t “meatheads” if they are so jacked they don’t have full rotation they may be in a bad spot, but other then that a little muscle never hurt anyone.

  17. CSOleson Says:

    I know that this is an old post, but as a college athlete in a S&C lifting program, how do you shy away from bench press when it is one of the main movements that is given to you on upper body days? I’ve recently started feeling pain when benching and get the feeling after reading the article is not a good thing for me as a pitcher/outfielder.

  18. Eric Cressey Says:

    I’d just switch to working with dumbbells.

  19. Eric Dixon, DC Says:


    I realize this is an old post but I must have missed it in Feb. Great blog Eric. I am a former collegiate baseball player and now a sports chiropractor that has a masters degree in sports science and rehabilitation. I think what Eric is saying in this post is great information. The biggest positives I see in this article is the concentration of proper humeral head location, proper scapular rhythm during the exercise, and the ability of an overhead athlete to translate that motion onto the field. In my option and experience, I think athletes find a greater benefit from doing single arm bench with dumbbells or kettlebells (instead of bench press with a barbell) because it incorporates more of a global movement pattern, as well as keeps the scap stabilizers, and rotator cuff activated in the proper firing patterns. This coupled with the use of core and lower body to stabilize the motion as well makes for a great overall movement pattern that can (in my option) really translate over to the field. As we know when an overhead athlete goes to throw/strike a ball there is much more going on in the body than just the pecs firing. A great book demonstrating this is Thomas Meyers book Anatomy Trains. It shows the connections to different slings of the body and how they relate.

  20. Jeremy Lawson Says:

    Great article, what do you think of quarterbacks bench pressing?

  21. Eric Cressey Says:

    Jeremy – I think the main question is: what benefits does it afford?

  22. Eric Cressey Says:

    Great contribution, Eric. Thanks!

  23. Gary Strati Says:

    I also use chains for stability or sometimes substitute therabands around the bar and the bench.
    I much prefer dumbbells and do those presses on the stability ball for more core strength.Also, if anyone is starting back from an injury no straight bars are used for any exercise because of the restricted position of the hands,wrists and shoulders.
    Great article, thanks.
    Gary S

  24. Eric Cressey Says:

    Good contributions, Gary; thank you!

  25. Dar Forsythe Says:

    Great article, Eric.

  26. Eric Cressey Says:

    Thanks, Dar!

  27. Brad Garrard Says:

    I have a 15 year old son that is a pitcher but is also an offensive and defensive lineman. Since baseball season has been going on I have made him stop doing the traditional bench press. Prior to that he had the highest bench max in his age group for his football workouts but now he is going backwards. He is highly competitive and this is driving him nuts. I am sure it is not very common for someone that pitches to also be a lineman so we have to find the right balance for him. Will dumbbell bench and pushup variations get him strong enough on the line?

  28. chance cooley Says:

    Newton RU, McEvoy KP. Baseball throwing velocity: a comparison of medicine ball training and weight training. J Strength Cond Res. 1994; 8: 198-­203.

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