Let's talk about pitching workouts for pitchers...
Parents ask me this question all the time:
"Should my son lift weights?"
If lifting weights means strength training and your son is a baseball pitcher around 10 or older, research from the Mayo Clinic says, Yes.
Youth pitching workouts not only can improve baseball performance but they can help prevent injuries as well.
Now this doesn't mean youth pitchers should go out and start lifting heavy weights.
Of course, they shouldn't.
But some light resistance training that includes body weight exercises, jump rope, resistance bands, medicine balls and lightweight dumbbells with a special emphasis on proper technique and safety—that's the type of youth pitching workout that can help build functional strength and increase velocity.
So how do you start a strength training program for young pitchers?
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Workout strategies for youth pitchers
Here are 17 tips to build pitcher-specific strength to point you and your son in the direction of success:
- Seek proper instruction. Start with a coach or personal trainer who has experience with youth strength training. The coach or trainer can create a safe, effective strength training program based on your child's age, size and skills.
If you don't have a coach, I recommend the TUFFCUFF Jr pitching guide; parents or coaches should be responsible for implementing this program.
- Warm up and cool down. Encourage your son to begin each strength training session with 5-10 minutes of light aerobic activity, such as jogging around the baseball field or jumping rope in place. This warms the muscles and prepares them for more vigorous activity. Gentle stretching after each session is a good idea, too.
- Keep it light. Youth pitchers can safely lift weights, as long as the weight is light enough. In most cases, one set of 12-15 repetitions is all it takes. The resistance doesn't have to come from weights, either. Resistance tubing and body weight exercises, such as pushups, are other effective options.
- Stress proper technique. Rather than focusing on the amount of weight your son lifts, stress proper form and technique during each exercise. Your son can gradually increase the resistance or number of repetitions as he gets older.
- Supervise. Adult supervision by someone who knows proper strength training technique is an important part of youth strength training. Don't let your son go it alone. The most successful way to encourage and promote proper technique is when the parent or coach and pitcher perform the pitching workout together.
- Rest between workouts. Make sure your child rests at least one full day between exercising each specific muscle group. Two or three strength training sessions a week are plenty.
- Utilize ground-based training. Whether it's hitting, pitching, fielding, running or throwing... all baseball movements always begin with the player applying force to the ground. Imagine trying to throw a baseball after being dropped from a plane without your feet on the ground. Then throw a ball while standing on the ground. In which scenario will you be able to throw harder, farther or more accurately? This is why your pitching exercises should almost always be ground based, standing on one or two feet.
- Find and fix weak links. If there is any weak link or strength inefficiencies between the feet and the fingertips, a pitcher will be limited by that weakness. Many times the core area is where the weakness will occur. The purpose of the core is to stabilize the spine during dynamic movements or the pitching delivery and to transfer energy. To ensure that these demands are met efficiently, focus more on training in a standing position with proper posture.
- Select free weight exercises rather than machines. Exercise machines are great for some things like rehab, but they should be limited for healthy baseball pitchers. Free weight exercises require the body to stabilize the joints and balance the weights. Machines keep the movement fixed in a certain plane, but nothing is fixed in baseball—it's dynamic. This means overhead body weight squats, for example, are better than using a leg press machine to build lower body strength. Remember, most pitching-specific movements are done with your weight on one leg or the other, so it's wise to include exercises like lunges to be able to develop functional strength and balance while on one leg.
- Emphasize compound movements over isolation movements. Squats, lunges, dead lifts, pull ups, pushups, rowing, etc. are great.
- Utilize 2-3 times more pulling than pushing exercises. Perform chin-up, inverted row, dumbbell row more than chest/shoulder presses in order to work the muscles most used (and often injured) in baseball. When pressing, utilize the push-up regularly and properly.
- Body weight exercises should be the staple of your program. Use at least one body weight exercise such as push-ups in every training session. Though players may get bored of them, you can always progress them (or regress them for athletes struggling to move their own weight).
- Develop muscle symmetry. Strength programs should keep players balanced to increase performance and reduce injury. An example of balance would be the anterior shoulder girdle vs. the posterior shoulder girdle. Many times you can see a players shoulders “rolled forward.” This decreases the proper range of motion and can lead to shoulder injuries because they don’t have the strength to decelerate the arm after releasing the ball. Another example of balance is the balance between hamstrings and quadriceps. Exercises like squats and lunges and doing them through the full range of motion uses quads, hamstrings, and glutes so it should eliminate some of the balance issues.
- Focus on movements not numbers. Athletes with a young training age (years of training experience) will usually make great strength gains very quickly thanks to neurological adaptations. That means that you can take advantage of this window by focusing on performing movements properly and getting greater mobility and stability, as opposed to focusing on the numbers, and still elicit big gains.
- Apply the principle of periodization. A good youth pitching workout will change throughout the year to produce peak performance during the season while reducing injuries and overtraining. Periodization breaks up the year into several cycles; each cycle has different volumes, intensities, rest periods and skill practice.
The TRANSITION cycle immediately follows the conclusion of the season. Sometimes people will call this time period active rest. The goal of this cycle is for your mind and body to recover from the long season. This is a great time to play some other recreational sports to stay active while taking your mind off of baseball and an organized program. The volume of activity will be pretty low but it is important to stay active.
HYPERTROPHY is the second cycle of the off-season. This cycle uses high volume, low to moderate intensity, low to moderate rest periods, and low sport specific skill practice. The goal of this cycle is to gain lean muscle mass that will later be used to gain strength and power. Baseball players aren’t trying to be bodybuilders but this gain in muscle mass will lead to gains in strength and power as the off-season progresses.
STRENGTH is the third cycle of the off-season. Strength refers to how much force you can produce. This cycle uses moderate volume, moderate to high intensity, moderate to high rest periods, and moderate skill practice. It is important to get enough rest to be able to give a full effort for each set. With the lower volume, some basic sport specific skill work can begin during the end of this cycle.
POWER is the fourth cycle of the off-season. Power refers to producing maximal force in a short period of time. The goal of this cycle is to take that muscle and strength from the previous two cycles and translate that into explosive power. This cycle will have very high intensity, low volume, long rest periods, and moderate to high sport specific skill practice. This is a great time to increase plyometric, speed, and agility type exercises. It is crucial to get enough rest between sets, no less than 2-3 minutes. As you are getting closer to the season, the sport specific skill work will increase.
PRESEASON is the fifth and last cycle of the off-season. This cycle is very similar to the POWER cycle but with less volume. The sport specific skill work will be at its highest during this cycle as you prepare for your season. Throwing, swinging, and sprinting are a high priority during this cycle. Plyometrics are still ok for this cycle but they can be very hard on your joints so be careful that you don’t overdo the stress on the joints with the increase in skill work.
INSEASON is as important as any of the other cycles. It is NOT the time to quit lifting. It is important to keep that strength and power you developed during the off-season. If you quit lifting when the season starts, you will be at your weakest point when it matters the most. The inseason program should use moderate to high intensity, low to moderate volume, and moderate to high rest periods. Single joint exercises like biceps and triceps exercises can be taken out of the program to reduce volume.
- Utilize overload training. A pitching program that doesn’t use the overload principle will never produce strength gains. The basic idea of overload is that additional stress needs to be applied to a muscle for it to change. If a muscle is never exposed to more stress than it can handle, it will never adapt by getting stronger.
- Keep it fun. Becoming a functionally strong pitcher doesn’t happen overnight and it doesn’t happen easily. But nobody said it couldn’t be fun!
11 FAQs about youth pitching workouts
I've gotten a lot of questions recently from parents and coaches regarding working out for pitching that I thought I'd share with you here...
Click to open or close each answer.
I start baseball pitchers on weight-training programs at 13 or 14 years of age, once they've moved up to the bigger field. Most 13 and 14 year olds are starting high school and they are either in a weight- training class or doing summer conditioning at their school. With this in mind, it's important to make sure that young athletes are doing all of their lifts with good technique, with a good understanding of what they were doing and why.
For pitchers who are 7 or 8 through Little League, I have athletes doing body weight exercises, agility training and form running . This is the time to make them better athletes and more confident young men.
Anytime a person is pushing their body to their limits injuries are possible. While it is possible for someone to be doing an exercise correctly and be injured, correct technique and a well designed program limit the chance of injury. Strength training should prevent more injuries than it causes.
Losing flexibility is usually caused by one of two factors. One is a muscle imbalance which occurs when one muscles group is much stronger than its opposite muscle group. A well balanced program should keep you balanced to prevent this type of problem. The other reason a person could lose their range of motion is if they don't lift through the entire range of motion. If you consistently go through the entire range of motion while doing an exercise, you won't suddenly lose that range of motion.
Range of motion/flexibility is a major reason you should consider having a professional design a program for you and to show you the proper technique when doing strength exercises. This is a problem that can sneak up on you gradually if you aren't careful. However, don't be afraid of strengthening your body; you just need to be smart when doing it.
Baseball is a power sport with many short explosive bursts of energy. Long distance running works your aerobic energy system, a system that is never used in baseball. Some studies show that it can actually cause a decrease in speed. Sprints are a much more effective when designing a conditioning program for baseball players.
Some people argue that long distance running helps get lactic acid out of your arm, especially the day after you pitch. The problem with that is there is very little if any lactic acid in your arm after a pitching performance. For lactic acid to build up, you have to perform at full effort for at least 20 seconds consecutively. Pitchers use one explosive burst for less than one second at a time and then rest for at least 12 seconds. There is no lactic acid build-up. The soreness in your arm is more likely caused from a bunch of micro-tears in your muscles from the repeated explosive movements. Doing a series of longer sprints will get the blood flowing to these micro-tears just as well as a long distance run.
I don't usually suggest swimming. I like explosive conditioning and most swimming is aerobic. There are also some questions about overusing the overhead throwing/swimming motions. It may not hurt you but I think there are better options.
A lot of things can help your velocity. Among them are throwing mechanics, strength, and power development. The strength and power development might not help you by themselves but if you can add the extra physical capabilities to good mechanics then you should see an improvement. You basically have a set amount of physical ability determined by your genetics. Now you have to maximize your physical ability to reach your pitching potential. Its really a tough question because people have written books on the issue but there is a start. Now is the time to start working hard for your next season.
Work on "core" strengthening exercises and more lower body than upper body. While most programs focus on certain body parts, remember that baseball movements never just use upper or lower bodies. If any part between your feet and your fingertips is weak, you will be limited by that weakness. I suggest ground based free weight exercises. Your core should be held tight and work with your body as you lift.
I don't usually recommend supplements. Most people have a lot of work to do on their diet before they should even consider supplements. If the diet is good, then you could think about creatine and protein. There are a lot of factors to consider but these are the top two supplements to take if your diet is where it should be.
You can do almost anything with a good set of dumbbells, a stability ball and a medicine ball. Make sure the dumbbell set includes 2-3 lb. and 5 lb. dumbbells - this is the weight you'll use for most of your shoulder and rotator cuff training. If you look at most of my photos of exercises on this page, that is what I use. If you have the money to spend on it, a squat rack with a pull up attachment are nice to have but certainly not necessary.
I definitely prefer DB Bench Press but I won't say it is the only way. Personally DB's feel a lot better on my shoulder than barbell. I like to do bench press on a stability ball and I think it would be very hard to do so with a bar. There may be an easy way I'm not aware of. One thing I really focus on with bench press is keeping their elbows down by their side a little bit. The shoulder is much more stable when it is down a little bit than when your elbows are flaring out. This is much easier for me to do with DB's so that's another reason I like them. I know great players that have done them both ways so I know it can be done
Some pitching coaches argue that long distance running helps get lactic acid out of your arm, especially the day after you pitch. The problem with that is there is very little if any lactic acid in your arm after a pitching performance. For lactic acid to build up, you have to perform at full effort for at least 20 seconds consecutively. Pitchers use one explosive burst for less than one second at a time and then rest for at least 12 seconds. There is no lactic acid build-up. The soreness in your arm is more likely caused from a bunch of micro-tears in your muscles from the repeated explosive movements. Doing a series of longer sprints will get the blood flowing to these micro-tears just as well as a long distance run.
Also, we utilize interval training when running our poles…which I believe research shows is the best type of training. Let's not confuse the running of poles with slow, distance running. Running poles (utilizing sprints) can be a great way to develop the anaerobic explosiveness needed for pitching.
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While there aren't many pitching workouts that are age-appropriate and safe for kids 7-14, there is one that provides youth pitchers with a daily routine to improve mechanics, increase functional strength and keep their throwing arm healthy.
If you believe good mechanics, good physical fitness and a good throwing regimen are crucial to your son's arm health, velocity and success, click here to learn more about my youth pitching program.Learn more
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Are there any pitching workout tips that I missed?
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