Baseball, perhaps more than any other sport, places a premium on fast, explosive rotational movement. Unfortunately, those movements also make baseball the sport that produces the most elbow and shoulder injuries.
It wasn’t too long ago that Major League Baseball players resisted strength training altogether, fearing such exercise would make them too big, tight, and muscular to execute proper movements. Then came the 1990s steroid era, which proved that some players could perform no matter how grotesquely their muscles developed.
Of course, many of those bulked-up players broke down because of the extra size—and that came at the expense of undue pressure on the joints. With baseball exercises, the goal is not bulk but increased rotational strength, which is the key to generating power when throwing a ball or swinging a bat.
Since baseball players move in sudden, quick bursts, they should emphasize improving acceleration. And because of the workloads they put on their shoulders, baseball players should avoid exercises that place undue pressure on that area—and focus on moves that reduce the risk of shoulder injury instead.
Here are 10 basic exercises that will help baseball players accomplish those goals.
Pete Williams is a NASM-certified personal trainer and the author or co-author of a number of books on performance and training.
Backward Lunge with a Twist
Why you should do it: This decreases the risk of injury in the lower back while stressing the hip flexors, which will give you more rotational ability each time you throw the ball.
How to do it: Step back with your left leg into a lunge. Lean back slightly and reach your left arm to the sky as you twist your torso over your front (right) leg. Step into the next lunge and repeat for 10 reps, then do 10 on the other side.
Why you should do it: To improve flexibility in the hips and glutes, which play major roles in all baseball movements.
How to do it: Turn your hips to the left and reach back with your left foot until it’s two feet outside and behind your right foot. (Your legs should effectively be crossed.) Make sure your left toes are pointing at your right heel. Finally, rotate your hips to a neutral position so you’re facing forward again. Slowly lower yourself into a squat. Drive off your right leg, stand up, and repeat for 10 reps. Switch legs and do another 10 reps.
Why you should do it: This opens up your glutes and hips, which come into play when batting, throwing, and fielding—basically every baseball movement.
How to do it: Lift your right foot off the ground and squat while standing on your left leg. Lift your right knee to your chest, placing your right hand under your right knee and your left hand under your right ankle. Pull your right leg as close as you can to your chest in a stretch while squeezing your left glute. Step forward with your right foot. Switch feet. Do 10 reps per side.
Mini-band Lateral Walks
Why you should do it: This helps you focus on shifting weight, which is crucial in baseball whether you’re throwing or batting.
How to do it: Place a mini band around your legs, positioned just above the knees. Move to the right by pushing with your left leg and stepping laterally with your right. Bring your left foot back to the starting position and continue for 10 reps. Switch sides.
Why you should do it: This improves acceleration, an underrated baseball skill, and one that’s especially valuable when sprinting out of the batter’s box, going from first to third, or running down balls in the outfield.
How to do it: Start in a pushup position with elbows extended. From that position, fire your legs explosively, making sure to use your arms for momentum, and sprint forward 10 yards. Make sure you drive your feet hard into the ground, in a piston-like motion, as you run. Rest 30 seconds and repeat for five reps.
Reach Roll and Lift
Why you should do it: This stretches out the upper back and shoulders, two vulnerable areas in baseball.
How to do it: Grab a foam roller or physio ball. Start by kneeling on the floor. Sit back on your heels, extend your arms, and place the backs of your hands on the roller or ball. Your torso should be roughly parallel to the floor.
Keeping your head and neck neutral with your spine, roll the ball/roller forward while keeping your hips back and your chest facing ground. Lift and exhale, holding the stretch for two seconds but keeping hands on the foam. Return to the starting position and repeat for a set of 10.
Why you should do it: This increases balance and strength in your hips and leg muscles.
How to do it: Holding light dumbbells or using just your body weight, step out into a lunge. Lower the hips toward the ground by squatting back and down. Without letting the back knee touch the ground, drive your weight back up with the front leg. Do 10 reps with that leg forward, switch legs and repeat.
Why you should do it: To develop power in the lower body.
How to do it: Hold a kettlebell with two hands against your chest as if preparing to drink from it goblet-style. Squat by sitting your hips back and down, keeping the weight in the heels of your feet without lifting your toes. Make sure the kettlebell is touching your chest throughout the move. Your elbows should gently touch your knees. Rise and extend powerfully through the hips. Repeat for 10 reps.
Medicine Ball Rotational Throw
Why you should do it: This improves your ability to store and release energy from the hips, which is crucial when swinging a bat or throwing a ball.
How to do it: Stand facing a solid wall about three feet away. Hold the ball at waist level. Rotate your trunk away from the wall. Start the throw by powerfully rotating your hips toward the wall, followed by your trunk, arms and the ball. Catch the ball with one hand under the ball and the other behind it, and with your arms slightly bent. Repeat for 10 reps, then switch sides.
Why you should do it: To build explosive lateral power in your legs, which is important when on the bases and in fielding.
How to do it: Stand balanced on the right leg, with the left foot on the ground. Squat slightly with the right leg, then use the leg and glutes to jump laterally. Extend through your ankle, knee, and hip, and land on the opposite leg only, making sure to maintain your balance. Repeat to the other side. Hold for a count of three on each side. Do 10 per side.