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In-Season Strength and Conditioning Programming for Collegiate Baseball Pitchers: A Unified Approach

Kritz, Matthew CSCS; Mamula, Rob BSc, CSCS; Messey, Kevin MS, ATC, CSCS; Hobbs, Matt

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Strength and Conditioning Journal: August 2008 - Volume 30 - Issue 4 - p 59-69
doi: 10.1519/SSC.0b013e31817fbe8d
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The baseball pitcher performs one of the most dynamic movements in sport. To repeatedly throw a 149-g baseball between 80 mph and 100 mph, a person must possess above-average strength, power, flexibility, and conditioning (9). Although at one time strength training for pitchers was considered to be a detriment to pitching performance, it is now widely accepted as an integral component of a pitcher's total training program. The demands imposed on collegiate baseball pitchers are unique and require specific considerations when developing a strength-and-conditioning program. Many collegiate baseball pitchers are considered specialists with their pitching contribution. Many pitchers contribute as they are needed depending on the needs of the team. Collegiate baseball pitchers generally are classified as starters, relievers, or closers.

The demands placed on a starting pitcher's body are usually related to the volume of pitches he or she throws in a given outing. These pitchers are conditioned to make 100-120 high-intensity pitches in an outing (5). A major difference between a starter and a reliever is preparation. Starters know when they are pitching and are able to perform a specific warm-up before the game. They also have ample time to recover between outings. Most of the physiological breakdown occurs from increased innings thrown as a result of the length (56 games) of a college season.

The relieving pitcher is a generic term used in collegiate baseball because there are many roles a relief pitcher may fill. A long reliever will sometimes throw 5-6 innings in a given outing for a pitch volume of 40-100 pitches depending on the length of the outing (5). Thus, the demands on the long reliever's body in terms of the stress and volume of pitches would be similar to a starting pitcher. The long reliever's recovery time would need to be similar to a starter to avoid injury related to fatigue.

A short reliever is typically used in 1- to 2-inning stints but can throw as many as 3-4 innings if the situation requires. Short relievers, sometimes referred to as “set-up men,” are expected to be able to warm-up and be game ready to pitch in as little as 3 minutes (5), which is where the physiological demand on the body differs from the starting pitcher. Short relievers are expected to make game-intensity pitches before entering the contest to make sure they are ready to enter the game and be effective. These pitchers are expected to be able to do this multiple times in the same contest. In certain circumstances, a short reliever may be used multiple times in a 3- to 4-game weekend series. Pitch volume for short relievers can range from 10 to 50 pitches depending on the length of the outing (5).

Closing pitchers typically are used at the end of games in most instances for a short duration (1-2 innings). They, like the short relievers, are expected to be able to get ready in a short amount of time. What makes closers unique is they often know that they will be used at the end of games and they can begin to prepare their bodies accordingly. In most cases the pitch volume will fall in the range of 15-20 pitches per outing for closing pitchers (5). It is for these reasons that the strength and conditioning program for collegiate pitchers should consider the general kinetic and kinematic demands of pitching and the specific demands of each pitcher's scheduled outing.


When developing an effective strength and conditioning program for collegiate pitchers, it is important for the strength and conditioning professional to be aware of the factors that influence pitching performance and the occurrence of pitching related injuries. The most common injuries in baseball involve the shoulder (6,8-10,14). The repeated throwing motion experienced during bullpens, game-like simulations, and pitching in games over the course of multiple innings has been shown to result in muscle fatigue that impairs performance and could lead to the increased occurrence of injury (9). Researchers have attributed faulty biomechanics and physiological fatigue as the fundamental causes of pitching-related injuries (12).

An analysis of the pitching motion depicts the large pectoralis and latissimus dorsi muscles as essential for forward propulsion of the upper extremity (9). The scapular muscles are principle for maintaining normal scapular kinesis, and the muscles of the lower extremity are thought to play an integral role in accelerating and decelerating the upper body (9). It is believed that fatigue in any of the aforementioned muscles could result in microtrauma to the glenohumeral joint (9). Kinematic changes considered to be indications of fatigue over the course of a game have been observed as dropped elbow and decreased knee flexion at the critical instant of ball release (9). Understanding the kinetic and kinematic variables that are indicative of optimal pitching performance will enable the strength and conditioning professional to identify specific weaknesses in each athlete and develop specific training programs designed to improve pitching performance and attenuate the affects of fatigue on pitching performance.



Common shoulder injuries associated with repetitive throwing include but are not limited to labral pathology, rotator cuff pathology, glenohumeral instability, and subluxation (12). Baseball pitchers have been observed with increased external rotation and decreased internal rotation of their throwing shoulder when measurements were taken at 90° of shoulder abduction (10). It has been suggested that the increase in external rotation is a protective adaptation and a decrease in internal rotation, or GIRD (glenohumeral internal rotation deficiency), can lead to improper arthrokinematics of the glenohumeral joint and is a significant factor that contributes to many overuse injuries of the glenohumeral joint (4,12). A kinetic analysis of the pitching motion depicts a relationship between the internal and external rotators of the shoulder during overhead throwing. Near the end of the arm-cocking phase an internal rotation torque is created at the shoulder while the humerus and forearm are still externally rotating (12). The internal rotators are applying internal rotation torque at the proximal end of the humerus, while the forearm and hand are creating an external rotation torque. The opposing torques create a larger net torque at the distal end of the humerus, which accounts for the protective adaptation observed in the external rotation in pitchers' dominant arms compared to their nondominant arms (10,12). Essentially, the adaptation represents an attempt by the glenohumeral joint to attain a balance between the flexibility needed to allow for greater external rotation and the stability needed to counter the anterior shear forces across the glenohumeral joint during the process of pitching (10).

On the basis of the professional experience of the authors and current trends in research, the program detailed in Table 1 (Figures 1 and 2) is used to develop and maintain stability and mobility within the shoulder girdle to assist the preparation of collegiate pitchers. The objective of this prehabilitation program is to develop an optimal relationship between the scapulo-humeral complex. This relationship will assist in prevention of overuse injuries of the glenohumeral joint by creating a balance of flexibility and strength to help attenuate muscle damage and facilitate recovery. The program involves 8 stretches and 12 specific dumbbell and tubing exercises and can be conducted year round. This program can be performed everyday the athlete throws. No rest is necessary between days because it is designed to maintain strength, balance, and symmetry of the dynamic stabilizers of the scapulo-humeral complex. It is intended that the stretches be performed by a certified athletic trainer using the contract-relax technique of proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation. The dumbbell and tubing exercises initially should be supervised by a certified athletic trainer to ensure proper movement patterns are used. However, once the pitcher has demonstrated their ability to maintain proper technique while performing these exercises on multiple occasions, the pitcher may incorporate the band and dumbbell exercises with their strength training program or as part of their pre warm-up routine prior to throwing.

Table 1
Table 1:
Glenohumeral prehabilitation program for collegiate baseball pitchers
Table 1
Table 1:
Glenohumeral prehabilitation program for collegiate baseball pitchers
Figure 1
Figure 1:
Slot bicep curl (palm in).
Figure 2
Figure 2:
Slot bicep curl (palm out).


Strength training for pitchers has evolved significantly from the days when pitchers were discouraged from resistance training to present day where strength training is considered an important component of a pitcher's athletic performance program (3). When designing the strength training program for baseball pitchers, it is important to understand the biomechanics of the pitching motion to develop a comprehensive program designed to improve performance. Although most research devoted to baseball focuses on the throwing arm (3) and often publications about strength programming for baseball pitchers focus on the shoulder (2,3,7), the authors believe that a strength training program designed for baseball pitchers that does not consider the entire body is incomplete; considering that 46.9% of the velocity of the overhand throw is attributed to the stride and body rotation (3). It is for this reason that the strength-training program featured in Table 2 is designed to develop and maintain the strength, power, and velocity characteristics of the body.

Table 2
Table 2:
In-season strength-training guidelines and sample program for collegiate pitchers

Table 2 also depicts the parameters used to develop the in-season strength-training program for collegiate baseball pitchers. It incorporates a heavy-intensity, medium-intensity, and light-intensity training day. Intensity is determined by the eccentric and physiological demand of each movement within the workout. Day 1 is designed to be the real work day, with emphasis on improving the force production and rate of force development of the athlete. Day 2 involves movements that are more specific to pitching with a continued emphasis on improving force production and rate of force development. Day 3 uses movements that have the most specificity to pitching with the objective to improve and maintain the velocity characteristics of the body's musculature. Traditionally, undulating periodization would have the same lifts each workout with varying loads and intensity to achieve a desired outcome (13). However, it is the belief of the authors that because of the demands of the collegiate pitcher, and given the specific kinetic and kinematic needs of the pitcher, limiting the exercises would limit the ability to address specific performance issues related to force production, rate of force development and/ or velocity of movement. Therefore, a broad range of exercises are used to address the specific needs of each pitcher as it relates to their pitching responsibility and their individual kinetic and kinematic capabilities. Table 3 (Figures 3-18) offers a description of those exercises that are unique with additional figures of those exercises thought by the authors to be novel. The intensity scheme follows the fundamental periodization model for heavy, medium, and light classifications (13). The intensity is listed as a percentage of the athlete's one repetition maximum and is adjusted relative to the number of repetitions completed while adhering to the objective for the set.

Table 3
Table 3:
Exercise descriptions
Figure 3
Figure 3:
CC single leg curl start and finish position.
Figure 4
Figure 4:
CC single leg curl middle position.
Figure 5
Figure 5:
DB rotational press start position.
Figure 6
Figure 6:
DB Rotational press finish position.
Figure 7
Figure 7:
CC Forward lunge start and finish position.
Figure 8
Figure 8:
CC Forward lunge middle position.
Figure 9
Figure 9:
One arm one leg supine pull-up start and finish position.
Figure 10
Figure 10:
One arm one leg supine pull-up middle position.
Figure 11
Figure 11:
Supine Cobra start position.
Figure 12
Figure 12:
Supine Cobra finish position.
Figure 13
Figure 13:
ABC extensions (start position).
Figure 14
Figure 14:
ABC extensions (Position “A”).
Figure 15
Figure 15:
ABC extensions (Position “B”).
Figure 16
Figure 16:
Thoracic rotation start.
Figure 17
Figure 17:
Thoracic rotation (internal rotation).
Figure 18
Figure 18:
Thoracic rotation (external rotation).


Each pitching rotation is based on the games scheduled and the responsibilities of the pitcher (i.e., starter, reliever, and closer). Therefore, each pitcher should rotate through all 3 intensities, and the emphasis for each day would depend on the day of their pitching outing. The intensity of training should be inverse to the time of the pitching outing. Each pitcher's heavy day will be as far from the game as possible; the next day will be medium intensity, and the day closest to the game will be a light day. Schedules for the pitching rotation should be received from the pitching coach weekly. The strength coach will then complete the proposed lifting schedule and send that information to the pitching coach. This allows each coach to make individual changes to each program (pitching versus lifting) depending on the circumstances that arise each week.

Table 4 details 2 sample periodization scenarios; Scenario one features a scheduled start on a Friday, and scenario 2 features a scheduled start on a Wednesday and on a Saturday. Table 4 also depicts how the prehabilitation, throwing program, and lifting program were periodized to accommodate the 2 starting scenarios. By providing 3 different training sessions, the athlete's physical prowess is not sacrificed by the individual demands associated with each pitching outing and the long in-season experienced by collegiate pitchers. By using this periodization scheme, all pitchers experience at least one heavy-training session every 7-12 days, with the majority of training sessions focused on the rate of force development and velocity of movement (i.e.. Days 2 and 3). It should be noted that the periodization scheme for collegiate baseball pitchers is dynamic, and the strength and conditioning professional needs to be flexible with their program prescription given changes in pitching rotation, number of pitches thrown, and the general health and well being of the pitcher.

Table 4
Table 4:
Two scenarios of how a prehabilitation, throwing, and lifting program can be periodized for collegiate pitchers


The success of a pitcher is reliant upon many factors. One factor that affects the pitcher's ability to physiologically recover between training sessions and games is his physical conditioning. To determine what constitutes a proper conditioning program specific to the demands of an individual pitcher and his responsibilities on the mound, a fundamental understanding of the aerobic and anaerobic energy pathways is necessary. Aerobic conditioning can be defined as a series of chemical reactions that occur in the presence of oxygen (1). Anaerobic conditioning is a series of chemical reactions that occur without the presence of oxygen (1). Generally aerobic conditioning involves prolonged activity at submaximal intensity and anaerobic conditioning involves repeated intervals of maximal intensity (11). It is the distinction between aerobic and anaerobic metabolism and performance that is important when considering the development of a conditioning program for pitchers (11). Because pitching is considered an anaerobic event, a pitcher's anaerobic capacity is of primary importance. However, a strong aerobic foundation will allow for optimal recovery between anaerobic training sessions (1). The program featured in Table 5 was designed to enhance the anaerobic capabilities of the pitcher using both aerobic and anaerobic stimulus and assuming the pitchers were throwing on a 7-day rotation. However, as stated previously a collegiate pitcher may pitch more than once per week. The 2 nontraining days depicted in Table 5 as day 6 and 7 can be adjusted to accommodate a pitcher scheduled to pitch multiple times in a seven day period. For example if a pitcher is scheduled to pitch on what would be day 4 and day 7 of the program, then day 4 can be substituted for the start and day 7 remains the same as the other starting day. It is not necessary to make-up the missed anaerobic training session (day 4) because pitching is anaerobic and considered the most specific conditioning that can be done for pitchers.

Table 5
Table 5:
Sample in-season field-conditioning program for collegiate pitchers


When working with a collegiate baseball pitcher, the strength and conditioning professional should consider the pitching responsibilities of each pitcher on a weekly basis. In addition, the strength training program should focus on enhancing and maintaining the kinetic and kinematic variables of each pitcher by remediating individual movement deficiencies and enhancing the force and velocity characteristics of the throwing motion. It does take considerable effort to coordinate the lifting program with the pitching rotation, however, with good communication between the strength coach, pitching coach, and certified athletic trainer this program can be effectively implemented at the collegiate level.▪


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periodization; velocity; power; prehabilitation; throwing

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