Strength Training for Young Athletes
STRENGTH TRAINING FOR THE YOUNG ATHLETE AND THE SHOULDER
A baseball coach for a local high school inquired about a shoulder program for baseball players. He mentioned that they are doing the “usual stuff” – lat pull downs, bench pressing, military presses. He asked if they should be doing anything else. Boy, should they ever! First of all, there is absolutely no reason for baseball players to bench press, do military press, or do lat pull downs.
The bench press – as mentioned previously, overhead athletes need brakes, not gas. Bench pressing is all gas. Plus, because the arm drops below midline (imagine a line from your armpit to your hip), it places excessive strain on the front of the shoulder. The front of the shoulder is loose enough in overhead athletes. Bench pressing makes it worse. Besides, when was the last time you saw an overhead athlete laying on their back pressing weight up? The first question I can already hear is “well, then what do we do for the chest?” The answer to that is twofold: first, are we building a bodybuilder or an overhead athlete? The push-up is a fantastic exercise for the overhead athlete, but adding a “plus” to it is even better. The “plus” portion incorporates the serratus anterior muscle, which is a key shoulder blade upward rotator. It helps to clear the rotator cuff from the roof. The “plus” portion is done by rolling the shoulder blades further around the trunk.
If you absolutely can’t get over doing this exercise, we suggest dumbbell bench press. However, we want you to have your athlete lay flat on their back on the floor. Doing it this way ensures that the arm doesn’t drop below midline.
We propose that athletes work the front by doing drop push ups or other upper body plyometrics. These exercises help train the muscle spindle, which helps with your explosiveness. The faster the muscle is stretched, the more force it has on recoil. Think of it as the more you stretch a rubber band, the farther it goes. Over time, the rubber band’s response to stretch is more powerful and goes even farther.
The military press is an absolute disaster for the overhead athlete because it just serves to compress the rotator cuff even more. Some readers may be thinking it’s a good idea to do that because it’s “overhead” but that couldn’t be more from the truth. Again, the athlete is not pushing something overhead – they are moving the arm in space overhead, and what they need is control of it. They get that through training of the shoulder blade muscles and rotator cuff.
Lat pull downs are similar to military presses. It’s just not necessary. The athlete isn’t pulling from overhead either. If however you decide to do lat pull downs, make sure it’s only in front. NEVER pull behind the neck. First of all, who moves that way ever anyway, and secondly, it’s just murder on your neck and front of the shoulder. Try it sometime and tell me if it doesn’t stretch the front of the shoulder. Bad idea.
So what can you do to train an overhead athlete? Start by working below 90 degrees (raise the arm until it’s parallel to the ground). Seated rows, shoulder extensions, and other exercises pictured here are great options. Again, the key is to overemphasize the back of the shoulder.
Understand we’re not saying that you can never do these exercises – it’s just that they can’t be a part of the regular routine.