Home Baseball Content Swimming for Pitchers?

Swimming for Pitchers?

Written on July 18, 2010 at 11:28 am, by Eric Cressey

Last week, I had three separate pitchers ask me what I thought about swimming between starts.  My answer was pretty straightforward: I am not a fan at all.


There are several reasons for my contention with this as a useful modality.

Like pitchers, swimmers have some of the most dysfunctional shoulders in the entire sporting world; they have glaring scapular instability, big internal rotation deficits, and insufficient dynamic stability.

Sound familiar?  These are the exact same things we work to address too keep our pitchers healthy.

For me, cross-training is about getting athletes out of pattern overload – not finding a similar means of reinforcing imbalances.  Telling a pitcher to go swim is like encouraging a distance runner with a bum Achilles tendon to go jump rope instead.  It’s an epic fail waiting to happen.


When it really comes down to it, I’d rather have guys actually throwing if they are going to develop imbalances.  Pattern overload might as well give you improved motor control and technical precision if it’s going to increase your susceptibility to injury!

Speaking of specificity, the energy systems demands of swimming (longer distances, usually) don’t reflect what we see in pitching (short bursts of intense exertion).  So, the arguments are in many ways similar to my contention with distance running for pitchers.

And, more anecdotally, while incredible athletes in the pool, most of the swimmers I have encountered have been far less than athletic on solid ground, presumably because the majority of their training takes place in the water, where stability demands are markedly different.  I’d much rather see supplemental baseball training take place with closed-chain motion on solid ground – just like it does in pitching.

Finally, I’d like to see pitchers lift more – because they simply don’t do enough of it during the season.  With limited time between outings, it’s important to get in the most important stuff first – and I just don’t see swimming as “important” when compared to flexibility training, soft tissue work, the throwing program, and strength training.

I’m sticking to my guns here.  I’d much rather see pitchers doing what I outlined HERE between starts, as it keeps them strong, gets them moving in ways that don’t further ingrain imbalances, and avoids conflicting with the metabolic demands on pitching.

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12 Responses to “Swimming for Pitchers?”

  1. Ken Rogers Says:

    Once again, a useful post. I can’t say I completely agree with it, but then again I’m no pitcher, and baseball isn’t my sport, so who am I to talk?

    I’ve always liked swimming as a great workout for anyone in any sport, but I can definitely see your connection with the shoulder problems.

  2. Paul Turner Says:

    have to agree with pitchers lifting more espically in the off season. I find it so improtant to get them out of the pitching pattern and getting them to deload it by going backwards throught the motion and doing opposite side work to rebalance them during self stretches and ROM drills to help unload them.
    Have to fully agree with swimming do not like it for pitching or racket sports. water running at times i will work in just for a lower level non weight bearing cardio workout.

    in health Paul K Turner

  3. Kevin Brower Says:

    All very good points. I think the one thing northern baseball players have going for them is they can’t throw year-round, and the majority of the elite players understand the importance of lifting programs both in-season and off. When it comes to swimming, it seems like every other swimmer that walks in the door has a shoulder issue, usually overuse related. If baseball players insist on using swimming as a form of recovery or cardio, the breast stroke is all they’re allowed to do…and fortunately most of them have no clue what that is.

  4. Scott Umberger Says:

    Great response Eric. I get asked the same question all the time as well. I deal with all these brilliant Western Pa football coaches having linemen run until they can’t pick their legs up. Nothing like 2,500 yards worth of long sprints at noon in the summer!

  5. Steve Horwitz, DC Says:

    You are spot on as usual. I have seen SO MANY shoulder injuries in middle school and elementary school age swimmers due to scapular dysfunction, weak core, etc. Even in the breaststroke, the internal rotation torque during the outsweep phase is exactly what you would want to avoid as a pitcher. The impingement potential in the freestyle stroke is huge if technique is not right on, so freestyle should be avoided as well.
    The protocols you outline (flexibility training, soft tissue work, the throwing program, and strength training) should be mandatory in all baseball leagues.
    Keep up the great work!

  6. Mark Says:


    From a front crawl and butterfly standpoint, I agree. But to dismiss using the breast stroke is a mistake, i believe.

    First, humeral elevation is more limited, minimizing impingement. Secondly, there isn’t the huge internal rotation deceleration component that you see in the previously mentioned strokes, just like there is in baseballl. Again minimizing impingement. Also, the breast stroke kick can be a great dynamic way to increase hip rotation in an unloaded position. Lastly, the arms stay in front of the swimmer for the bulk of the stroke. No migration into an apprehension position and stressing the labrum.

    I agree that some elements to swimming should be avoided for pitching, but tossing it to the side completely would be a mistake, too. Knowing when and where to place it in the development program is the key, just like anything else. You can still get a full body conditioning workout, Minimize some baseball pathomechanics while using the breast stroke and possibly work on hip flexibility and dynamic control. Just my 2 cents.

  7. Mike Says:

    Agree with the defense of the breaststroke…however, I think the point is that there are so many other things that pitchers can be doing that would rank ahead of the breaststroke, so it really comes down to an ROI of resources, particularly time, and where you think it fits in there.

    I don’t think it ranks high, but if there was a pitcher that absolutely mentally had to be in the pool, then I’d make a deal – breaststroke only, like Kevin’s rule, max 1-2 x a week, short sprints only…something along those lines…then maybe over time get the athlete to phase it out. Can’t always build Rome in a day.

    Good stuff. Thank you.

  8. Ric Chessario Says:


    I was a DII pitcher and found the backstroke to be one of the best things for my left shoulder and elbow. I realize this is anecdotal, but I figured I was using a different pattern, in a different direction, with low stress. It really seemed to bring good circulation to the area and help. Also, I completed agree with not making a long distance effort…I treated it more like intervals. I’d swim a lap almost as fast as possible, take :30-1:30 rest, and repeat 6-12x’s. I think you’re completely right to write off the strokes that increase internal rotation, but you should consider looking at the backstroke as for it’s therapeutic potential.

  9. Jeff Says:

    Swimming is similar to most activities (squatting, dead lifting, running) in that its not inherently bad, it’s poor technique and overtraining that causes injuries. A blanket statement that swimming injures shoulders isn’t necessarily accurate. Bad swimming technique and/or too much swimming injures shoulders. That being said, I agree that it’s still probably not the most valuable use of a pitcher’s time.

  10. Kerry Swick Says:

    I do not train pitchers, but I totally agree. Unfortunately, people don’t always realize that cross training means changing movement patterns, not simply changing activities.

    As an RKC II, I just had to put this out there. The person in the video did a great job with the get-ups, but he really needs to straighten his wrist. Broken wrist = less shoulder stability.

  11. charles caprarella Says:

    i swam 2 miles a day but was a position guy. i loved it as it build stamina and got me ripped and stronger. plus looked good on the beach.

    pitchers- hmmmm, if you like it, do it.

  12. Michael A Bach Says:

    What about backstroke at the end of the season? How about swimming to build synergy, teach the body to relax to perform best, and improve breathing patterns?

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