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Should Baseball/Softball Players Bench Press

The infamous Bench Press.  It is the king of the high school weight room. Would you agree? It’s the standard of strength to compare to your friends in casual conversation.  When someone asks you how much you lift, they always are referring to your bench press.  ALWAYS.  If only the question was, “How much do you squat?” We would have a high school full of guys who have thick, strong legs, but more importantly, these guys would be strong, powerful, more fit, and ultimately, functional.  

Anyway, I have a lot of athletes who say that they “NEED” to bench. Let’s take a look at some pros, cons, and some research behind whether bench pressing for athletes is necessary.

Is the traditional barbell bench press something that baseball players should be focusing on?

PRO’s of Straight Bar Bench Pressing

  • Develops strength in primary pushing muscle groups (pectorals, deltoids, triceps)
  • Easy to overload weight (simply adding more weight to the bar)
    • Once you can do the heaviest dumbbells at the gym, progression is trickier
      • You don’t run into that issue with a bar
  • Less emphasis on stability, which allows ease to overloading the primary movers (easier to look and feel strong without being stable)
  • More variations than other pressing movements (bands, chains, speed work)
  • Athletes LOVE to bench press. It makes them FEEL strong and FEEL powerful.

CON’s of Straight Bar Bench Pressing

  • Fixed shoulder position can be less than forgiving on delicate shoulders (If your shoulders are weak, it could cause injury)
  • Fixed scapula.  No movement of scapula during proper bench press
    • Scapular movement is CRITICAL for maintaining a healthy shoulder (This is the BIG reason — Baseball & Softball Players need a really good Range of Motion (ROM) in their shoulder)
  • Less emphasis on stability which can cause for issues when in less stable environments, such as throwing a baseball
  • Can cause tightness and restrictions of shoulder flexion and shoulder internal rotation
    • Both of which are essential for maintaining healthy shoulders and elbows throughout a season
    • Lack of shoulder flexion can cause an increased risk of elbow injuries in pitchers (Camp, 2017)

The real answer at the end of the day though is:  “What exercises are going to maximize benefit and minimize risk?”

There are plenty of alternatives out there that mean we do not need the straight bar bench press.  If an athlete became very strong at push-ups, dumbbell bench press variations, and landmine variations I don’t believe that their would be a drop off on the field towards exit velo and/or throwing velocity in comparison to an athlete training the straight bar bench press often. In fact, I believe that an athlete that is training variations of dumbbell bench press, landmine variations and push-up variations will be stronger and more explosive than an athlete that is just training barbell bench press. In all reality, there would likely be little to no difference in performance and odds are that they would be less likely to undergo shoulder or elbow injuries in relation to movement incompetencies.

With that being said, the straight bar bench press is not going to be very risky as long as ROM (Range of Motion) is managed, it is programmed correctly, performed correctly, and met with accessory movements that help to negate the risks of the bench press itself.  There is no doubt that strength helps most performance metrics and bench press strength will be no different.  It becomes an issue when movement quality deteriorates and compensations start to occur when on the field.  

All in all, we believe that baseball and softball players CAN barbell bench press, with the proper technique, movements and performance metrics. We also believe that variations of push-ups, landmines and dumbbell bench press can have a major positive impact on being an explosive upper body athlete. 

If you have any questions on this matter, or any matter regarding Performance Training in Baseball & Softball, please reach out to Sam Cumbo, our Director of Performance Training.

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Article Written by 

Sam Cumbo

Director of Performance Training

Hot Corner Performance Center

Sources:

Camp, Christopher L., et al. “Decreased Shoulder External Rotation and Flexion Are Greater Predictors of Injury than Internal Rotation Deficits: Analysis of 132 Pitcher-Seasons in Professional Baseball.” Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, vol. 5, no. 7_suppl6, 2017, doi:10.1177/2325967117s00221.