So who is afraid of the bench press?
Don't be scared! There has been for years a lot of controversy around the bench press for pitchers. The conventional pitching coach describes the lift as a guaranteed career ending device, "It will destroy your rotator cuff or make you too tight when you throw!" You may have heard these exact words before coming from your pitching coach. The problem is this is just a lot of misinformation from coaches who are uneducated in the world of strength and conditioning.
The bench press is NOT THE BEST LIFT to enhance performance in the weight room but it does have some benefits for the pitcher. This article will cover the Pros and Cons of the Bench Press for Pitchers, so you can move past the controversy and start moving closer towards your pitching goals.
* To learn more about the 3X Goals, used for the 3X Pitching Velocity Program then check out this forum thread here called 3X Pitching Goals.
Bench Press Cons for Pitchers
I always like to get the bad news out of the way first, especially when there is something to benefit from here. These cons are really not bad news but just some good information to be aware of. The cons definitely do not outweigh the pros for the bench press but there are many better lifts in the weight room for pitchers that I would rather be talking about, mainly the Olympic Lifts.
Here is the short list of bench press cons for the pitcher. I will describe them in detail to follow.
- Pattern Overload
- Open Chain Resistance Training
1. Pattern Overload and the Bench press
I go into detail on this important subject for pitchers in the article called, Pattern Overload A Major Cause Of Pitching Injuries. The bench press is an upper-body lift that allows the athlete to use heavy loads. This heavy load training on the shoulder joint, during shoulder fatigue from throwing a lot, could force the joint into Pattern Overload and possible injury. The key is to avoid any heavy load training on the shoulder joint when your shoulder is completely fatigued from a repetitive motion like throwing or pitching.
It is also very important that a pitcher never uses a machine for the bench press that will force the shoulder into Pattern Overload because the machine restricts the movement of the lift. Free weights will help prevent Pattern Overload because it allows the athlete to always take a different bar path. It also supports joint stability.
2. Open Chain Resistance Training
It has been proven that closed-kinetic chain resistance training is most effective with both lower-body and upper-body performance movements like jumping and throwing. The bench press is considered open-kinetic chain resistance training. This doesn't mean it is ineffective but in the case of the study below, which used softball players, open-kinetic chain resistance training was not as effective as closed-kinetic chain resistance training like the Olympic Lifts. Here is the case study performed by the Department of Human Services, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia.
Closed-kinetic chain upper-body training improves the throwing performance of NCAA Division I softball players.
Closed-kinetic chain resistance training (CKCRT) of the lower body is superior to open-kinetic chain resistance training (OKCRT) to improve performance parameters (e.g., vertical jump), but the effects of upper-body CKCRT on throwing performance remain unknown.
The CKCRT group significantly improved throwing velocity by 2.0 mph (3.4%, p < 0.05), and the OKCRT group improved 0.3 mph (0.5%, NS). A significant interaction was observed (p < 0.05). The CKCRT group improved its 1RM bench press to the same degree (1.9 kg) as the OKCRT group (p < 0.05 within each group). The CKCRT group improved all measures of shoulder strength and power, whereas OKCRT conferred little change in shoulder torque and power scores. Although throwing is an open-chain movement, adaptations from CKCRT may confer benefits to subsequent performance. Strength coaches can incorporate upper-body CKCRT without sacrificing gains in maximal strength or performance criteria associated with an athletic open-chain movement such as throwing.
Read the entire case study here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18978626
Bench Press Pros for Pitchers
This is where we see if the bench press is worth the time and effort for the pitcher. I have to tell you though based on my research there aren't many studies out there that I can find that tests bench press performance with baseball pitchers or even studies that prove the lift to be healthy or unhealthy for baseball pitchers. If you find any case studies that are specific to pitchers and bench pressing, please post them in the comments below.
The studies I did find supported the lift as beneficial, as listed in the pros below. I will also go into detail about each benefit to follow.
- Increased Throwing Velocity
- Heavy Load Training
- Upper Body Arm Healthy Lift
1. Increased Throwing Velocity
This is obviously the main reason a pitcher would use the bench press in a training program. We do have a study above that proves the fact that it is an open-kinetic chain resistance training lift which is not as effective but the study did not only use the bench press during training and does not list the loads used. In the case studies below of handball players, it proves that maximal dynamic strength, peak power, and peak bar velocity of the bench press are related to throwing velocity. Handball players are throwing athletes and they throw a heavier ball than a baseball. The handball weighs around 15 oz to a baseball weighs 5 oz. I believe through my experience that heavier weight for throwing means the athlete needs more strength than speed in the power curve to generate velocity, so in the case of handball, bench press may be more beneficial than baseball players but I believe it is still beneficial for baseball players, and yes even pitchers which I conclude at the end of the article.
Here are two case studies from Europe proving the benefits of bench press for throwing athletes.
Relationship between throwing velocity, muscle power, and bar velocity during bench press in elite handball players.
Sports Dept, University of Beira Interior, Covilha, Portugal
PURPOSE: The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between ball-throwing velocity during a 3-step running throw and dynamic strength, power, and bar velocity during a concentric-only bench-press exercise in team-handball players.
CONCLUSIONS: The results indicate that throwing velocity of elite team-handball players is related to maximal dynamic strength, peak power, and peak bar velocity. Thus, a training regimen designed to improve ball-throwing velocity in elite male team-handball players should include exercises that are aimed at increasing both strength and power in the upper body.
Read the entire case study here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19171959
Differences in physical fitness and throwing velocity among elite and amateur female handball players.
Studies, Research and Sport Medicine Center, Government of Navarra, Navarra, Spain
The association between 1RM (BP) and throwing velocity suggests that throwing velocity values in female handball players depend more on maximal strength than on the capacity to move low loads at high velocities, during elbow extension actions.
Read the entire case study here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17497580
2. Heavy Load Training
If you read my previous article called, Study Proves Heavy Weight Training Increases Pitching Velocity and Pitching Velocity Specificity, you would have a good understanding that heavy load training is very effective in remodeling fast twitch muscle fiber and enhancing performance. The barbell bench press is the only upper-body lift where we can use heavy loads. This will allow the pitcher to build more upper body power which has been proven in the case studies above to increase velocity for throwing athletes.
Heavy load training isn't the only way to train velocity but it is proven to be effective. This in combination with low loads and high speeds is a great training regime to increase pitching velocity.
3. Upper Body Arm Healthy Lift
The biggest concern with the bench press is the risk factor. Can it cause injury? The answer for a good-condition athlete would be no but for an underdeveloped pitcher who is loading on heavy loads with no clue of his own strength or out of complete stupidity, may cause injury. In the case study below the Authors found no correlation between kinematic factors and injury with the bench press. This means they found no proof that the bad lifting technique of the bench press would lead to injury. They even determined that between the novice group and the expert group there was no significant difference in torque required at the shoulder even with the expert group lifting more weight.
What we do learn from the study is that when the weight increased the bar speed decreased and the bar movements became more efficient. This is why bench pressing with heavy loads should not lead to injury if these kinematics are used in the case study.
Kinematic factors influencing performance and injury risk in the bench press exercise.
The purpose of this research was to identify kinematic factors that could be relevant to performance and injury risk in the bench press (19 experts and 17 novices).
In addition to the fact that experts were able to lift 79% more weight than the novices, the pertinent kinetic differences included the following: 1) the difference in peak force exerted while lowering the bar was only 43%; 2) the difference in peak force exerted while raising the bar was only 45%; and 3) the difference in minimum force exerted while raising the bar was 87%. There was no significant difference in torque required at the shoulder. The relevant kinematic differences were: 1) the expert group maintained a smaller bar speed while lowering the bar, 2) the expert group used a bar path closer to the shoulders; and 3) the expert group used a different sequence of bar movements. The roles of these kinematic factors in the bench press merit further investigation.
Read the entire case study here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6493018
Proper Technique for the Bench Press
In the 3X Pitching Velocity Program we coach the bench press with a 3 board. This is demonstrated below. The 3 board prevents the arms from flexing past a 90-degree angle. This will prevent overstressing the shoulder with excessive torque. This is a great way to protect the shoulder especially if the shoulder is fatigued.
The 3X Pitching Velocity Program uses many different variations of the chest press from the dumbbell presses like the Dumbbell Stability Ball Double Single Press below to the closed-kinetic chain resistance training like with the traditional push-ups to stability push-ups.
Should Pitchers Bench Press?
The answer is yes! If they use good form and even the 3-board technique then it gives the athlete the ability to assess upper body power while also enhancing it. The bench press in combination with the other variations of the chest press along with the Olympic Lifts is ideal training for the low-velocity pitcher who is training to become a high-velocity pitcher. As for using the bench press in-season, I leave this decision up to the pitcher but we do use it in the 3X Pre and In-Season Programs.