Baseball Shoulder Exercises: Rotator Cuff Strength for Better Throwing and Pitching

For both injury prevention and arm strength, baseball players look to the rotator cuff.

Rotator cuff is the key for shoulder strength and injury prevention in baseball

Strengthen the Shoulder to Throw Harder and Reduce the Risk of Injury

Whether you're a pitcher or a fielder, everyone wants to throw the ball harder and farther. But as we put more strain on our shoulder and arm, we're also making ourselves more susceptible to shoulder injury. The good news is that by working a single muscle group, the rotator cuff, we can both throw harder and reduce the chance of injury.

What is the rotator cuff?

The short answer: the rotator cuff is the group of muscles and tendons that connect the arm to the shoulder blade. These are the muscles that allow our arm and shoulder to move in so many weird and wonderful ways. Think about it: almost no other part of our body moves and rotates in as many directions as our arms.

So how do we harness all those different movements into stronger throws? We focus on getting a larger range of motion and more forceful rotation. In other words, more flexibility in our shoulders and more strength in our shoulders will help us throw the ball harder and farther.

Arm Circles

arm circles for baseball training

Let's start with a classic: arm circles. The difference? We're going to do them until they hurt. Doubters will think this exercise is too easy. Trust that these two minutes are going to be gruelling.

Not only are arm circles a great warm up exercise, they work on range of motion and when done at long duration, also increase strength and endurance.

3 sets of 2 minutes: 30 seconds per type of circle:

  • Set a timer for 2 minutes, switching the type of arm circle every 30 seconds.
  • Stand with feet shoulder width apart.
  • Keeping the back straight, raise the arms straight out at our sides.
  • Start with fast, small forward circles and continue for 30 seconds.
  • Don't break - the next type starts right away doing small, fast backwards circles for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat for the next type doing large, slow, forward circles, focusing on maximum range of motion.
  • Repeat for the final type doing large, slow, backward circles, again focusing on maximum range of motion.
  • By the time the clock is up, a good shake of the arms will be well earned.

Variations:

  • As we build strength and the exercise gets easier, increase the length, going to 45 second and eventually 60 second intervals.
  • Perform the exercise while holding or wearing very light weights, no more than 2-5 pounds.

Standard External and Internal Shoulder Rotations

external rotations for baseball shoulder exercises

Shoulder movements are big in hitting, pitching, and throwing. For all of these, the lead shoulder is rotating out, the rear shoulder is rotating in.

This exercise strengthens both of those movements and can be performed with pulleys, exercise bands, or with dumbbells. To avoid injury, focus on lighter weights and higher number of repititions.

3 sets of 12-15 repititions.:

External rotation with pulleys or bands:

  • Stand feet shoulder width apart, back straight.
  • Pinch a towel between our arm and body to make sure movements focus on the rotator cuff.
  • Bend the arm at the elbow, 90 degrees, as if it were sitting on the arm rest of a chair.
  • Start the movement with the arm rotated into our body, forearm across our stomach.
  • Maintaining the 90 degree bend in the arm, pull the pulley or band by rotating the arm outwards and away from our body.
  • Repeat.

Internal rotation with pulleys or bands (opposite direction of the external rotation).

  • Stand feet shoulder width apart, back straight.
  • Pinch a towel between our arm and body to make sure movements focus on the rotator cuff.
  • Bend the arm at the elbow, 90 degrees, as if it were sitting on the arm rest of a chair.
  • Start the movement with the arm rotated out to our side.
  • Maintaining the 90 degree bend in the arm, pull the pulley or band by rotating the arm inwards and across our body.
  • Repeat.

Variation:

  • If using dumbells, perform the exact same steps as above, but lieing on our side on a bench or other flat surface instead of standing.
  • For external rotation with dumbbell, use the top arm, rotating up, away from the body.
  • For internal rotation with dumbbell, start by letting our bottom arm hang over the edge of the bench, and rotate up across the body.

Overhead External and Internal Shoulder Rotation

overhead shoulder rotations strengthen rotator cuff for baseball throwing and pitching

The next exercise takes the shoulder rotations we just did and brings them up over our head, making for the perfect exercise for pitching and throwing. To avoid injury, focus on lighter weights and higher number of repititions.

3 sets of 12-15 repititions.:

Overhead external rotation with pulleys, bands, or dumbbells:

  • Stand feet shoulder width apart, back straight, facing the source of the resistance.
  • Bring the elbows up to shoulder height and bend the arm at the elbow, 90 degrees.
  • Maintaining the 90 degree bend in the arm, pull the pulley or band (or lift the dumbbell) by rotating the arm up until our hands are beside our heads, arms perpendicular to the floor.
  • Slowly lower back down to the start position.
  • Repeat.

Overhead internal rotation with pulleys or bands:

  • Stand feet shoulder width apart, back straight, facing away from the source of the resistance.
  • Bring the arms up beside our heads, elbows bent 90 degrees, arms perpendicular to the floor (the end position of the overhead external rotation).
  • Maintaining the 90 degree bend in the arm, pull the pulley or band by rotating the arm down until our hands are in front of us, arms parallel to the floor (the start position of the overhead external rotation).
  • Slowly raise our hands back up to the start position.
  • Repeat.

Overhead internal rotation with dumbbells:

  • Lie down on our backs.
  • Bring the arms up beside our heads, elbows bent 90 degrees.
  • Maintaining the 90 degree bend in the arm, lift the dumbbell by rotating hands down towards our feet until our hands are straight out in front of us (arms should now be perpendicular to the floor).
  • Slowly lower hands back down to the start position, up by our heads.
  • Repeat.

The main reasons that most people give up on rotator cuff exercises is that they're a little bit uncomfortable, most people haven't done many of them so they're not very good at them, and they don't have the same vanity appeal that bicep and chest exercises do. But if we want to throw harder and we want to reduce our chances of damaging our most important physical asset for baseball (can't throw or hit without our shoulders), then these exercises are a must for any ball player.

Until next time, Play Ball!

Back to main article on baseball strength exercises