Some players have reached out asking about the best baseball arm strength programs. We thought it was a great question and decided that we’d offer a full article on it. Knowing how to improve your throwing arm is a vital part of improving your defense.
Let’s start with the terminology you need to know. A rep is completing an exercise once. For example, 1 rep in a push-up is lowering yourself, then pushing yourself back up to the starting position. A set is doing several reps. In our first example, a set will be 10 push-ups.
We believe that push-ups are the gold standard for any arm strength program. They’re easy to do, don’t require any additional equipment, can be done almost anywhere and help build several different muscle groups.
Start with a standard push-up. Place your hands on the floor, roughly below your shoulders. Slowly lower yourself down until your elbows reach a 90° angle. Pause for a moment, then slowly lift yourself back to the starting position.
Push-ups engage your core, chest, shoulders, biceps, triceps, and to some degree, your scaps (back muscles, near your shoulder blades).
Doing this slowly will create more “muscle burn” which will help you build muscle faster. It’s also important that you lower yourself to a 90° and not touch the floor. Your goal is to keep your muscles engaged as much as possible. By lowering yourself to the floor, you are giving your muscles a break.
When starting out, we’d recommend doing 4 sets with 5 reps. As you progress, you may want to transition to 5 sets of 20 reps.
The ultimate push-up test I’ve found is 1 set of 10 push-ups per minute. As an example, you may start your workout at exactly 12:00. You do 10 push-ups. After completing your push-ups, you get to rest until exactly 12:01. At 12:01 you do 10 more push-ups, then rest until 12:02 and so on.
In essence, you’re doing 60 sets of 10 reps. It’s an incredibly challenging workout but it will pay off in a large way.
A triangle or diamond push-up is similar to a normal push-up. The only difference is the positioning of your hands. Rather than having your hands directly below your shoulders, for a triangle push-up, you put your hands together. This exercise gets its name from the shape you’re making with your hands.
The key value of a triangle or diamond push-up is that it changes what muscles are focused on. With this type of push-up, you engage your triceps a bit more than your biceps.
2. Lateral Raises
You can use a dumbbell or bands to do this exercise. Start by getting into a standing position with a wide stance. If you’re using bands, you should be standing on the bands with an end in each hand.
Begin with your hands at your waist. Slowly lift your arms upward. You should stop when your arms are about parallel to the ground. Slowly lower your hands back down to the starting point.
This is a relatively easy exercise that is able to work out your entire upper back, shoulders, and part of your triceps. By working such a significant number of muscle groups, you’re accomplishing more in less time.
Another reason we really like this exercise is that you can make a small modification to focus on a specific set of muscles. If you have your arms straight out, you’ll focus a bit more on the muscles behind and under your shoulder. If you move your arms forward for this lift, you’ll get muscles closer to your chest.
3. Shoulder Rotations
These workouts are focused on your shoulder and allow you to work out some of the muscles in your back as well. You’ll need a workout/resistance band and something to tie it to.
The beauty is that bands are relatively cheap and they’re mobile. If you enjoy taking your workouts outside, you can tie the band to a tree.
Interior Shoulder Rotations
This is a great option for baseball arm workouts because there isn’t much set up. After tying the band to the tree, bar, etc. you simply stand about a foot away and grab the band. Let your arm rest so that your elbow is at your hip. Your arm should be bent at the elbow so that it is at a 90° angle (think off an L-shape).
From here, you simply rotate your entire arm inward (toward your stomach). It’s important that you try to isolate the muscles and let your shoulders do all the work. Simply rotate until your hand nearly touches your belly button, then return back to the starting position. We’d recommend starting with 5 sets of 10 reps.
An important note with band workouts is that you can always create more tension. If you believe that this workout is too easy, take a small step further away from the tree, bar, etc. so that the band is pulled a bit tighter. This will increase the tension and has the same effect as adding weight.
As we mentioned, this workout focuses on the front of your deltoids/shoulders. This is the muscle group that helps slow your arm down on the back end of your throw. Its purpose is to minimize something called recoil.
Recoil is a potentially dangerous process where your arm isn’t able to stop itself properly, so you exhaust and strain the muscle. Because of the unusual movement and exhausting the muscle, it can lead to injuries in every muscle group that is triggered during a throw.
Exterior Shoulder Rotations
Exterior shoulder rotations are the same exercise as interior rotations, but they done in the opposite direction. So, most of what we said in the last few paragraphs still apply. The difference is, rather than rotating into your belly, you’re starting at your belly and rotating your arm outward.
This exercise builds up the muscles in the back of your shoulder. These are the muscles most people focus on when trying to increase arm strength for baseball because they’re the muscles that really increase your velocity.
We believe it’s important to offer a whole view of the workouts. The Interior rotations are a priority for safety while the exterior rotations are more recognized for arm strength itself.
Just like with interior rotations, we recommend starting with 5 sets of 10 reps. Again, if you think this is too easy, stretch the band further to increase that tension.
4. Scap Raises
Scap is short for Scapula. It’s the muscle that is directly around your shoulder blades. It is an important part of the throwing motion as it adds stability to everything you do when you throw.
Scap raises are another easy workout, but they do require some equipment. You should start with a light weight (2.5 to 5 pounds) when first trying this out. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms naturally resting by your side.
From that starting position, touch your hands together in front of your body. Your goal is to use both arms to make a motion that resembles a circle. Next, slowly raise your arms up to the side.
Continue raising your arms as far as you can. Some are able to lift their arms all the way above their head so that their hands meet above them. If you can’t reach that high in the beginning, settle for going just above your shoulders (like we have pictured above).
Please make sure that you do this work out slowly. The slower you move, the more you focus the on your scapulas and force them to do the work. Rushing these motions will allow other muscle groups to help out.
The scapula is a forgotten part of a good baseball arm strength program. If you’re looking into how to strengthen your throwing arm, this is a great option because it will add stability and improve your aim as well.
Stabilizing your arm means you’ll throw more consistently. Consistency = accuracy. As a reminder, we encourage you to start with a light weight. We typically recommend people start with 3 sets of 5 reps and go from there.
Blackburns are another exercise that people don’t think about when trying to build arm strength for baseball. Blackburns are a simple exercise that will allow you to strengthen your scapulas. There is no equipment required and these can be done anywhere that you’re comfortable laying on the ground.
We’ll offer better details, but think of this as a shoulder shrug for your upper back. Lay face-down on the ground and put your arms above your head, bent at the elbow. We find that making a fist or a thumbs up helps keep people in balance.
Next, lift your head and arms off of the ground. This will engage your core. Then you want to use your scaps to pull your shoulders and arms upward. It’s important that you intentionally focus the movement on using muscles inside your back. If you try to lift your hands then the rest of your arm, you’ll engage an entirely different muscle set (mostly your shoulders).
We typically recommend that people do 3 sets of 10 early on. This seems like an incredibly easy workout. If done right, you’ll be sore throughout your upper back. There is an added bonus of improving your posture with this workout.
6. The Air Alphabet
The air alphabet is one of the best options for how to improve your throwing arm because it is able to help build stability, strength, and endurance. This exercise can be done anywhere and requires relatively minimal weight. You can use a baseball/softball or a small weight. Typically, we tell athletes to start with a 1 pound weight or a ball. We don’t recommend going above 2.5 pounds.
To start this exercise, take whatever object you’re using as a weight and hold your arm straight out in front of you. With your arm extended straight out, draw out each letter in the alphabet, pretending that the weight is the point of a pen. You should be using your entire arm so that you’re engaging the muscles of your shoulder as you are “writing”.
Obviously, this exercise is done with one arm. You can repeat with your non-throwing arm, but it really isn’t necessary. We usually recommend that people focus on this as a throwing arm exercise. We really like that this can be done anywhere and that the exercise focuses on so many small muscles.
We realize that most of the workouts mentioned above aren’t necessarily well known. That being said, sometimes you need to change things up a bit. Now, we’re going to highlight some of the more typical exercises that are still great options for throwing arm exercises.
7. Bicep Curls
- Hold a weight or band with your hands at your waist. Slowly lift your forearm up and “curl” it until you reach your collarbone. Slowly lower the weight back down.
- 3 sets of 10.
8. Bench Press
- Similar to push-ups the bench press works out your chest, shoulders and arms. Lift the bar up off the rack, lower it down to your chest, then slowly lift it back up.
- 5 sets of 5.
- Alternate: You may want to also consider close-grip bench press and incline bench press.
9. Long Toss
- This isn’t a workout as much as it is practice. Find a partner and try to long toss at least 3 days per week. Be sure to warm up first, then progress to 90 feet and, eventually, 120 feet. You shouldn’t be throwing with all your force, but you should be throwing line drives.
- Try to throw for at least 20 minutes of long toss.
10. Penny Ball
- This is another popular practice option. Young athletes should have the supervision of an adult to help them. Recently, a number of MLB pitchers have found success with a company named Driveline. One of their key exercises involves throwing weighted baseballs one day and lighter baseballs another. Increased weight increases strength which builds up velocity. The lighter ball helps rebuild accuracy as you gain strength.
- A penny ball is a tennis ball with coins inside of it. You don’t want to overfill the ball though. So, experiment with what feels right. Start with a few pennies, and add a few more every week or so.
- Please note you should never use a penny ball for long toss. You should typically only be throwing the ball about 20-30 feet at most. You should also be throwing the ball softer than you usually would.
For those of you who want to measure the strides you make in arm strength, check out our article on the best radar guns.
Also, make sure to check out our article on the best swing trainers and hitting aids for baseball and softball players.