From a physical point of view, baseball is about batting, throwing and running. If we ignore running for a second and take a closer look at batting and throwing, what do you notice?
Exactly, your shoulders play a major role in baseball. Actually, combined with your elbow, your shoulders should be treated as your holy grail of baseball. Without properly functioning shoulders, you can forget about baseball. As I have been injured myself for waaaaaay too long, I decided to share my best shoulder exercises with you, that will prolong your baseball career, if done diligently and correctly. GUARANTEED!
Before we get started with the actual best shoulder exercises, you should know that most of them will focus on the back of your shoulders. Why is that? Think about it. Everything in baseball happens in front of the body or is a forward movement. Does not matter if it is batting, pitching or throwing in general. So which part do you need to work on, if you want to avoid serious injuries and prolong your career?
- The front of your shoulders, to destroy posture, screw up your back, create less space in your joints and put even more stress on the already overworked muscles
- The back of your shoulders, in order to counterbalance the forward movements (Hint: This is the right answer.)
Okay I guess the answer is pretty obvious. You need to focus on the back of your shoulders, especially the so called rotator cuff muscles. You have probably already heard of these four muscles, as shoulder injuries in baseball very often go along with weak rotator cuff muscles.
Their job is to stabilize the shoulder and keep the shoulder head in place. Weak rotator cuff muscles can lead to the humerus moving forward and in the worst case can even cause a dislocated shoulder after a pitch. And trust me, baseball is not a lot of fun with a dislocated shoulder…
Okay enough anatomy, let me tell you how you can prevent baseball injuries in your shoulder region and take a look at these exercises. First we will take a look at the best shoulder exercises to strengthen your shoulder, before checking out some stretches.
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General: Make sure your shoulders are warmed up, before you attempt any of the exercise described below.
A simple warm up takes two minutes and involves rolling your shoulders forward and backward and circling your arms forward and backward. That’s it. Warm up done.
For the following best shoulder exercises, do not use heavy weights and try to perform high reps. The rotator cuff muscles are meant to stabilize your shoulder and are not meant to grow massively. Don’t go for five reps with high weight. Rather work in the 15-20 repetition range with lower weights to increase muscular endurance. In case the 15-20 repetition range does not challenge you anymore, feel free to increase the resistance in order to challenge your muscles again.
If you feel anything else than muscular pain, stop the best shoulder exercises and consult a doctor. It might be that you are just performing the exercise wrongly, but maybe there is something more to it.
Even though you only use one hand for throwing, also train both shoulders! Do not work on just your throwing arm.
A great piece of equipment to work on your shoulders at home. Can of course be used for other exercises as well. The only downside is, that you need weight plates to use it.
Moreover the following best shoulder exercises can be used to strengthen the external and internal rotation of your shoulder. You should primarily focus on the EXTERNAL ROTATION, because with 99% of people this is their weak sport. Our everyday lives lead to a great disbalance between the muscles who are responsible for internal and external rotation. Disbalances cause injuries, so you should try to focus on the weaker muscles, which are the ones responsible for externally rotating your shoulders.
Nevertheless I also wrote down the counterpart exercises, that will strengthen your internal rotation. But seriously, focus on the movements targeting your external rotation and maybe sometimes throw in the counterpart, if you are bored.
Check out this video for all best shoulder exercises covered in this post. Make sure you still read the rest of the article, as there is some more highly valuable knowledge in there.
Medial external rotation
This is the go-to exercise to strengthen your rotator cuff muscles. For this exercise you need some sort of elastic band or you can use a cable machine at your gym. To make it easier for myself, I will only speak of an elastic band in the following paragraphs, but keep in mind that a cable machine at your gym does the job as well. And who knows, maybe you do not have a gym membership (BIG mistake here!). Back to the exercise now.
Anchor the band at elbow height and grab it with your outer arm. Meaning to work your right shoulder you have to position yourself that way so you have the anchor point to your left.
Now tuck in your elbow to your body and try to rotate your shoulder outwards with your forearm being perpendicular to the ground, while keeping your elbow to you side at all times. This is really important as neglecting this will lead to you working your lateral shoulder muscles instead of your rotator cuffs. Also pretty cool, but not the idea of this exercise.
That’s it. Literally that is all there is to the go-to rotator cuff exercise. It is a really simple exercise, but still there are three major issues I see when people perform it.
First mistake: You do not keep your elbow tucked in to your side.
You have no clue how many people get this part wrong. It is probably the biggest mistake of all with this exercise. If you do not keep your elbow to your side, you don’t work the rotator cuff muscles and you risk injury. Quick tip here to avoid this mistake: Grab a towel, fold it in half and put it between your side and your elbow. Now perform the exercise without letting the towel fall to the ground. This will help you remember to keep your elbow to your side.
Second mistake: You do not watch your posture.
Everybody knows how important good posture is in theory, but nearly everybody performs this best shoulder exercise with a slouched back while leaning forward. Stop the madness. This will lead to the roof of your shoulder moving forward. This will decrease the space in your shoulder joint and can lead to inflammation, if you perform movements with your shoulder in this situation.
Better take a few second to achieve good and correct posture before you start working your rotator cuff muscles with the best shoulder exercises. How do you achieve good posture? Pretty simple actually. Try to push you sternum (the part where your ribs attach in the front of your body) out and up. This will straighten your spine. Now also push together your shoulder blades. To make it even easier for yourself, put your free arm behind your back. BOOM. Correct posture.
Third mistake: You ignore the position of your shoulder blades.
This goes hand in hand with the second mistake, but still I want to talk about this shortly again. Your shoulder blades are super important for your shoulder movements. So focus on having them in the right position, which is pushed together and down, while you perform the external rotation.
Want a second opinion? Check out this video of Jeff Cavaliere from AthleanX.com. This guy knows what he is talking about and he has worked with players like David Wrigth and Jose Reyes:
Medial internal rotation
This movement is really similar to the external rotation. The difference is just that you do not rotate your shoulder externally, but internally that time.
The set up is the same as with the first exercise. The band should be anchored at elbow height, but this time you grab the band with the hand close to the anchor point. Meaning to work your left shoulder, you have to have the anchor point to your left. Now it is the same procedure as with the external rotation. You keep your elbow tucked to your side and rotate your shoulder internally this time.
Common mistakes: See external rotation exercise
For the internal rotation exercise the same principles apply. At all times keep your elbow tucked to your side and perform this best shoulder exercise with correct posture. To achieve this, push your shoulder blades together and down, while pushing your sternum out and up.
Ventral external rotation
For this exercise anchor the band at shoulder height. To work your right shoulder position yourself on the left side of the band so that you have the anchor point to your left as well. Lift your arm to shoulder height, bend your elbow 90 degrees and grab the band from the front. This is your starting position. To achieve this position, you can also set up your body for the medial external rotation and then just lift your arm up, while you keep your elbow bent.
Now rotate your shoulder externally, while keeping your arm at shoulder height and your elbow bent at 90 degrees.
Common mistakes: Apart from the standard posture mistake many people start moving their elbow up and down while performing this exercise. This is mainly, because you can move it freely and do not have it pressed to your body in contrast to the medial external rotation.
Nevertheless, try to keep it as still as possible. If you feel like you have to move your elbow up and down in order to overcome the resistance of your band, the resistance is too much and you should move a bit closer to the anchor point. This will decrease the resistance and allow for a correct movement. Don’t pretend to be Hulk. This will only cause pain and injuries, which is absolutely not the goal of these exercises.
Ventral internal rotation
The set up for this exercise is the same as for the ventral external rotation, but this time the anchor point is to your right for working the right shoulder, and on your left for working the left shoulder. Now instead of rotating your shoulder externally, you rotate internally. Remember to keep the elbow steady and at shoulder height at all times.
Common mistakes: I do not want to repeat myself too often, so just see the common mistakes section for the ventral external rotation.
Lateral external rotation
For this rotator cuff exercise you again anchor the band at shoulder height, but instead of standing on one side of the band, you now face the anchor point. To work on your right shoulder grab the band with your right hand, lift your elbow to shoulder height, bend it 90 degrees and rotate your shoulder externally, which equals backwards in this position. As you might have already noticed, the arm position is basically the same as with the ventral exercises. The only difference is, that you face the anchor point of your band instead of standing on one side of the band.
Common mistakes: Posture, posture and posture. I cannot stress that enough…
Lateral internal rotation
Let’s make this quick. Position yourself the same way as for a lateral external rotation, but instead of facing the anchor point, turn your back towards it, grab the band and rotate your shoulder forwards.
Common mistakes: Do I really have to repeat myself again?…
Bonus exercise 1: Rotational diagonal raise
To perform this movement correctly, you need to anchor the band at your feet. It is probably easiest if you step onto one end of the band with your left foot if you plan to work on your right shoulder and vice versa.
For the sake of simplicity I will only explain one side, as the other side is working the same way, just mirrored.
After you have anchored the band with your left foot, grab it with your right hand and a straight arm. While keeping your back straight and KEEPING GOOD POSTURE (sorry, I just cannot stress this enough), pull your arm up and across your body. While doing this, also externally rotate your shoulder. To make it easy for yourself, check where your thumb is pointing at. At the lowest point of this exercise your thumb should point down and back while at the highest point it should point up and back. This might sound confusing, but it is actually really simple. If this trick proves not helpful to you, concentrate on your forearm. At the starting point, the outer side of your forearm points up, while at the end point the inner side of your forearm points up.
Common mistakes: For this exercise it is really important to be stable. It is really easy to cheat here, as you can just lean back and by this lift the band.
I am not sure if I have mentioned it already, but you should also watch your posture…
Bonus exercise 2: Turkish get up
I have to admit, this exercise is not shoulder specific, but a whole body injury prevention beast. It is a pretty complex movement, but it also provides a lot of benefits for your body.
Instead of explaining how the turkish get up works in writing, check out this video:
Common mistakes: Waaaay too many to name here. Honestly, get the technique right first, before you use weights. The exercise looks easy, but it is really difficult.
Once you have mastered the movement, get ready to use kettlebells to increase the difficulty of the movement. Kettlebells are perfect for this movement, as the center of gravitiy of a kettlebell during a TGU is outside of your hand. This forces you shoulder to work more to stabilize the kettlebell. This is actually not only one of the best shoulder exercises, but it works your whole body.
Great quality kettlebells in a variety of weights. Trust me, you need different weights, as you will improve fast.
Bonus exercise 3: Band pull aparts
Again, this is an exercise that is not directly targeting your shoulders, but your whole upper back. This makes it one of the best shoulder exercises. In order to perform this exercise lift your arms up to your shoulders and grab your resistance band with your hands roughly shoulder width apart. Watch that your thumbs always point to the sky. This means that your shoulder is externally rotated, which will create more space in your shoulder joints.
Now start to pull the band apart. Focus to push your shoulder blades together and have them stuck to your back.
Common mistakes: Of course the main problem is bad posture again. By now you should know how to correct it.
A great tool if you want to work on your shoulders on the go. This is something I always have in my baseball bag.
Secondly, you should really focus on your shoulder blades. Squeeze them together and down. This way you will activate the muscles you want to strengthen.
Maybe I missed something, so I am gonna let Jeff drop some knowledge bombs about the best shoulder exercises here again.
A stable and strong shoulder is something great. But do you know what really sucks and decreases your ability to throw properly? If you now stable and healthy shoulder has lost its flexibility, because of all the strengthening you have done. What does a decrease in flexibility look like on the baseball field? How about your fastball losing 20 mph or you not being able to throw your usual distances anymore… happened to me and trust me, neither you nor your coach will enjoy that. The best shoulder exercises are not meant to just strengthen your shoulder!
There is one easy fix for this. Stretch. Your. Shoulders. (And your back). Stretching will increase your flexibility, which is a big thing for healthy joints apart from them being stabilized. This is one of the jobs of the best shoulder exercises. A muscle packed joint might look cool (I am looking at you now bodybuilders), but it is absolutely not helpful on the field, if you cannot use your joints, because they do not move.
In order to avoid this, check out the following exercises, that are designed to keep your shoulders and back flexible. Make sure you are warmed up before, so you will not injure yourself. I advise you to go for three sets on each side on each exercise and hold the stretch for 30-45 seconds.
By the way. WATCH YOUR POSTURE. It does not just play a vital role in strengthening your shoulders, but also in stretching. Always keep a good posture!
Simple neck stretch
Everybody knows this exercise, as it is the go-to movement if you feel pain in your upper back area.
In order to stretch the left side of your neck, bend your head toward your right shoulder. You might already feel a slight stretch in your neck. Now grab your head with your right hand and gently apply some pressure in order to bring your right ear closer to your right shoulder. You can also try to reach out as far as possible with your left arm while holding this position in order to stretch your left shoulder at the same time.
In order to stretch the right side of your neck, just mirror this movement. Left ear to left shoulder, etc.
Please comment if you know why this exercise is called what it is. I still have no clue after performing this exercise for years. But I can tell you one thing: It works!
Reach your right arm straight up and then bend it at the elbow as if you want to scratch your neck. With your left arm, bend it behind your back and try to reach the fingertips of your right hand. But here comes the hard part. Do not cheat and wing out your left shoulder blade. This artificially increases the range of motion for your left arm and makes it much easier to reach the fingertips of your right hand. It looks impressive if you manage your hands to touch, but the stretch is a lot less effective. Keep your left shoulder blade tucked to your rib cage and then perform this movement. It is much harder, but also much more effective.
Now there is a cool gadget that can be used to improve the stretch even more or make it easier, if you do not manage your hands to touch. This gadget is called a towel.
Just grab a towel with your hands and perform the same movement. This way you can easily control and deepen the stretch. Want to deepen the stretch for your left shoulder? Just pull up with your right arm. Want to deepen the stretch for your right shoulder? Just pull down with your left arm. Pretty easy.
Again, do not forget to switch hands in order to stretch both sides of your body.
Thread the needle
For once you have to get on the ground for an exercise now. Start on all fours and “thread” your right arm through the hole between your left leg and your left arm. Always keep the back of your right hand on the ground and push it as far as possible, without your hips opening up to your left side. This will increase your range of motion, but stop the stretch. You will feel a stretch on the outside of your right shoulder and in your upper back.
“Thread” your left arm through the hole between your right leg and your right arm to stretch your left shoulder.
Exactly as with the third exercise, start on all fours again.
Now begin by walking your hands forward while keeping your hips above your knees.
Straighten your back while doing this and put your forehead on the ground.
Now continue to push your hand forward as far as possible.
You will feel a stretch all the way through from your arms, to your shoulders and into your back.
(Kneeling) half moon
This exercise will stretch the upper portion of your shoulder and your lats. You will love the feeling afterwards, guaranteed!
Start by kneeling on the floor and sit on your heels. No reach your arms up high and cross your left hand in front of your right. Internally rotate your shoulders, so that your palms touch. The internal rotation lengthens your lats and by this will improve the stretch. Again, keep your posture perfect, even while kneeling. Push your sternum up and forward.
Now lean to your left and you should immediately feel a stretch in your right lat. Embrace the pain (joking, a stretch should never feel painful!) for 30-45 seconds and then come back to the center.
To stretch your left side, have your right hand cross in front of your left hand and lean to your right side.
Bonus topic: Prevent popping shoulders
Time for yet another bonus. I don’t know about you, but all the overhead action in baseball has lead to a lot of cracking and popping in my shoulders. It does not necessarily hurt, but these sounds… urgh.
Jeff Cavaliere has saved me once again. Check out this video and fix your cracking shoulders. He also offers super nice training programs, so you should totally check out his website (after you have read every article on mine of course).
Get home safe,