Bench Press is ineffective and bad for pitchers or throwing velocity.
If I received a $1 for every time I have heard this in my baseball career I would have retired a millionaire by now. This entire site is a science project. It will take me the rest of my coaching career to post the scientific case studies proving most of the conventional wisdom of the game of baseball today and tomorrow wrong. Everyday I hear a player, parent, coach or doctor make a statement like this above, that has no science to support it, and I want to loss my mind. In todays age of immediate, full access to all of the information in the world this ignorance should never be accepted.
If you are like me and you need actual science to accept any claim as the truth then this article is for you. If you are sick of following the status quo when it comes to throwing harder because you have not seen any better results than the next guy then this article is for you. If you have heard about this revolutionary approach to pitching velocity and throwing velocity with the 3X and 2X programs and what to learn the information that makes them so effective then this article is for you.
In this article, I will post case study after case study proving the bench press has been proven to increase throwing velocity significantly. I will go over the proper technique to benefit from this lift and the best way to build strength with it for the pitcher or position player. I will then discuss the issue most strength coaches make when it comes to the scapular function of the bench press for throwing athletes. I will also make a bold statement to all those medical professionals and baseball coaches who are voicing their expertise with no research to support it!
4 Studies Proving Bench Press Increases Throwing Velocity
The first question I get from a player, after I prove to them that what they were told about how dangerous the bench press is for pitchers or throwing in general is wrong is, “How will the bench press help my throwing velocity?” This is a great question and a good place to start this article. Lets look at this case study from the legendary Doctor Jobe who invented the Tomm John Surgery when he first performed it on Tommy John. In this case study they discovered the muscles that are mainly activated in the throwing shoulder during the throwing motion. Here is what they discovered:
Group II muscles accelerated the arm and baseball forward in space. These muscles, the pectoralis major, serratus anterior, sub scapularis, and latissimus dorsi, had stronger activity during the propulsive phase of the pitch (1).
The two largest muscles being activated during the throw is the pectoralis major (pecs) and the latissimus dorsi (lats). We are going to look at the pecs over the lats because the bench press has been proven to increase the pec strength but lats are just as important to throwing velocity development in the 3X and 2X programs and will not be covered in this article.
Now that we know the pecs are pivotal in activating the throwing arm lets look at the effects of the bench press in activating and development this muscle. Here is the results from a case study defining the activity of the pecs during various bench press techniques.
The sternocostal head of the pectorals major was more active during the press from a horizontal bench than from a decline bench. Also, the clavicular head of the pectoralis major was more active with a narrow hand spacing. Anterior deltoid activity tended to increase as trunk inclination increased. The long head of the triceps brachia was more active during the decline and flat bench presses than the other two conditions, and was also more active with a narrow hand spacing, Latissimus doors exhibited low activity in all conditions (2).
It should have now become obvious why the bench press could be used for improving the throwing activity of a pitcher or position player but let’s look into the effects of using this lift for actually training throwing velocity. I have found four case studies that specifically use the bench press alone or in combination with other upper body lifts and exercises as a training device for improving throwing velocity. Here are the results:
Twenty- four elite collegiate baseball players (age 18-20 years) trained twice per week for 8 weeks. The isotonic resistance-training protocol consisted of 3 sets of 8 to 10 repetitions maximum (RM) for the first 4 weeks. Thereafter, they performed 3 sets of 6RM to 8RM for the last 4 weeks. The isotonic exercises included the conventional bench press and barbell pullover exercises that are commonly used by baseball players to train upper-body muscles in throwing. The results of this study showed a 4.1 and 22.8% increase in throwing velocity and upper-body muscular strength, respectively (3)……..
Effect of resistance training on release velocity. – Bench press – 3 sets, 5–6 reps – 85% of 1 Repetition Maximum – 3 Sessions per week – Yes it had a significant increase in throwing velocity (17–18%) (4)……..
Post hoc analysis showed a significantly higher mean throwing velocity for the training group following 8 weeks of strength training. The Treatment Group Participated in an 8 week supervised upper body strength training program consisting of 11 exercises, listed below (5).
- Flat Bench Press
- Tricep Extension
- Upper Lat Pulldown
- Biceps Curl
- Lateral Row
- Shoulder Press
- Internal Shoulder Rotation
- External Shoulder Rotation
- Horizontal Shoulder Abduction
- Horizontal Shoulder Abduction
- Shoulder extension
Potteiger et al. found a significant increase in throwing velocity (2.3 mph) using a traditional upper- and lower- body isotonic exercise protocol with collegiate position players. These investigators used a progressive resistance-training protocol with the following exercises: the bench press, military press, latissimus pull-down, biceps curl, triceps extension, squat, leg curl, and leg extension (6)……
Well, I hope that gives you the confidence that the bench press for the pitcher or position player is effective in the development of more throwing velocity but before you run off and start throwing up weight let’s learn how to use the bench press to increase throwing velocity without increasing the risk of injury.
Bench Press Technique for Increasing Throwing Velocity
Due to the overuse of the throwing arm with the baseball player, in off-season, pre-season and in-season training programs like the 3X and 2X programs, we need to make sure that we are isolating more pec than deltoid in the bench press. If we follow the case study above on the bench press muscle activity (2), using a narrow grip and a horizontal bench will do the trick. I also coach keeping the elbows closer to your side than out and under the bar. This will also isolate more pecs. Another tip I give is using a 3 board block to reduce the horizontal abduction when needed. See video below!
The problem is if we isolate more deltoids in the bench press with heavy loads we can strain the rotator cuff or worse. Good technique and not jumping up more than 20 pounds on a new set will help keep the throwing athlete safe from injury while gaining the throwing velocity benefits of the bench press.
Checkout my instructional video on good technique for using the bench press to increase throwing velocity.
Bench Press Scapular Function and the Throwing Athlete
If you start the bench press for throwing velocity debate with a baseball strength coach that doesn’t promote it, their claim is that the bench press does not develop proper scapular function and therefore should be avoided. If we used that logic with every lift, drill and exercise then we would NOT have any training protocol to follow. Most drills, lifts and exercises isolate a specific movement or muscle group over another and isn’t completely sport specific because it is still not the actual skill of throwing or pitching. This is why most protocols use more than one exercise, lift or drill in a training program.
I still do not understand the reason a strength coach would make his or her case for why they do not promote the bench press for throwing athletes because it does not fully activate the muscles that create scapular function when the purpose for using the bench press is to build the pec strength period. You should still use other pressing exercises like overhead presses to develop the scapular function. Oh no! I said overhead presses for throwing athletes. Another controversial topic that I will save for another article.
So, if you are going to jump on the scapular function train as your last possible reason for not bench pressing to improve throwing velocity because you have no way of proving the case studies above wrong then you are not seeing the forest through the trees. Yes, you can still develop scapular function after you have performed a bench press, I give you permission!
Important Notice: Coaches and Medical Professionals in Baseball
Calling all strength coaches, athletic trainers, sports medicine doctors, please do some research before you make claims about something that you have zero or very little experience working with, like bench press to improve throwing velocity! You are actually effecting someones physical development or young baseball career. This isn’t much to ask because technically it is your job to research this stuff.
Bench Press Reference:
- Gowan ID, Jobe FW, Tibone JE, Perry J, Moynes DR. – A comparative electromyographic analysis of the shoulder during pitching. Professional versus amateur pitchers. – Am J Sports Med. 1987 Nov-Dec;15(6):586-90.
- Barnett, Chris; Kippers, Vaughan; Turner, Peter – Effects of Variations of the Bench Press Exercise on the EMG Activity of Five Shoulder Muscles. – Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: November 1995.
- Robert U. Newton and Kerry P. McEvoy – Baseball Throwing Velocity: A Comparison of Medicine Ball Training and Weight Training. – Centre for Exercise Science & Sport Management, Southern Cross University, Lismore NSW 2480, Australia – Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 1994, 8(3), 198-203.
- ROLAND VAN DEN TILLAAR – EFFECT OF DIFFERENT TRAINING PROGRAMS ON THE
VELOCITY OF OVERARM THROWING:ABRIEF REVIEW – Section for Human Movement Science, Faculty of Social and Technology Management, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway. – Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2004, 18(2), 388–396.
- Tony Lachowetz, John Evon and Jamie Pastiglion – The Effect of an Upper Body Strength Program on Intercollegiate Baseball Throwing Velocity – Department of Movement Sciences, Springflied College, Springfield, Massachusetts 01109.
- COOP DERENNE, KWOK W. HO, AND JAMES C. MURPHY – Effects of General, Special, and Specific Resistance Training on Throwing Velocity in Baseball: A Brief Review – Department of Kinesiology and Leisure Science, College of Education, University of Hawaii-Manoa, Honolulu, Hawaii 96822; University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, V6K2B2. – Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2001, 15(1), 148–156.