Browsing Archive January, 2007

Hitting: Offseason Strength Training

Despite the MLB’s influx of muscleheads, the truth is, you don’t need to be musclebound to hit for power. This has been covered here before, so we won’t waste space.

While excellent mechanics will do more for your swing than your “max” bench press, there’s no question that strong hands, wrists, and forearms will also help your bat speed and power. Guys like Don Mattingly, Cal Ripken, and Henry Aaron were fairly slender, but had Popeye-like forearms. Combine strong, quick wrists with a good weight shift and hip rotation, and you’re on your way to hitting with gap power and homerun power — regardless of your overall size.

Luckily, expensive equipment is not necessary for building up these “bat speed” muscles. In fact, there are some very beneficial exercises that can cost nothing at all. Further, you don’t need much space; most forearm and wrist exercises can be performed while sitting in a chair — even in the passenger seat of a small car.

Oh, and these are good exercises for pitchers, too. Most of these exercises for the forearms and wrist can be helpful to your curveball, and they also build up the muscles around your elbow, which may help prevent injuries.

Another thing, your hand and wrist strength can improve dramatically over a fairly short amount of time. And, because these muscles tend to recover more quickly than larger muscles in your body, you can do these exercises every day — though 4-5 times per week will probably yield the best results.

Newspaper Crumple

Sit at a table and lay out a newspaper on a table, opened up to the middle page. Place it just barely within reach of your fingertips with your arm lying down on the table, elbow at edge. Using your fingertips, and keeping your forearm flat on the table surface, pull the newspaper into your palm, crumpling it, until you’ve pulled in the entire page. Repeat until you finish the entire section, then switch to your other hand. The only bad part about this exercise is that your hands get full of ink; luckily it will wash off easily with soap and water.

Arme Super Wrist RollerWrist Rolls

This may be the singlemost effective piece of equipment for building forearm and wrist strength for baseball and softball, as it involves all the muscles you use in your forearms to swing a bat. You can buy the equipment and see examples on Amazonand at this site. Starting with the weight on the ground and rope completely unraveled, hold the dowel / handle end with an overhand grip (knuckles up) in your fingers in front of your chest, arms straight out and parallel to the ground, elbows locked or nearly locked. Slowly ravel the rope by twisting the handle with only your wrists and hands until the weight is lifted to the very top. If you do it right, and the weight is heavy enough, you should feel tension or even a burning in your forearms and wrists. Start with 1-3 lbs. of weight and work your way up in 1-2 lb. increments when you can do three sets of ten easily.

Now, if you have access to a drill, you can save yourself quite a bit of money and build one of these gadgets yourself for about five bucks (like we did in the old days). Cut a broomstick in half or buy a dowel at the hardware store and cut it down to about 12-18 inches in length. In the middle of the dowel, drill a hole all the way through, then thread a length of rope (about 3 feet) through it. (You can steal your sister’s jump rope or get the guy at Home Depot to cut you a length of “utility rope” — just make sure it’s strong enough to hold a five-pound weight and skinny enough to fit through your hole.) Tie a good knot to secure the rope to the dowel, then on the other end, tie a small weight (you can buy loose plates at most sports stores).

Squeezes – rubber / tennis ball or grips

Next to the wrist rolls, this is one of the most effective means of building your forearm muscles. I like the Heavy Grips brand, because the handles are welded to the spring (and thus won’t start slipping around after using them a while), and they come in varying, measured resistance. If you’re in high school or older, and serious about forearm strength, get the whole set of 100 – 350 lbs. and follow the recommended exercise routine from the manufacturer (I have, and experienced good results).

Spalding Hi-Bounce Ball. (EA)If you don’t have the money for the Heavy Grips, you can still squeeze your way to success by using one of the pink rubber balls you get at the dollar store (oldtimers called them “spaldeens”), or from squeezing a tennis ball (like Ted Williams did).

Fingertip Pushups

You may already do push-ups as part of your routine, so it won’t be a big deal to mix in a set of “fingertip” pushups. It’s exactly what it sounds like — pushups done with your palms off the ground, holding up your weight with your fingertips. Try them right now, and you’ll feel the muscles in your fingers and hand helping out immediately.

Pull – Ups
(under and overhand)

Lifeline 4 in 1 Chin Up BarHanging from a bar is a great way to stretch and loosen your arms and back muscles. Going the next step and pulling yourself up to do a chin-up / pull-up works nearly all of the muscles from the waist up, front and back — including your forearms. Be sure to do both overhand and underhand pull-ups, so that you work all muscles. If you don’t have access to a good bar, there are several types available from Amazon, including some that are installed inside a doorway.

Wrist Curls (dumbbell or barbell, under and over)

If you have access to a dumbbells or barbell, this is an easy exercise to incorporate into your routine. In a sitting position, rest your forearms on your thighs (or kneel behind a bench, resting your forearms on the bench), parallel to the ground, and hold the barbell or dumbbell in your fingers, palm(s) up. Keeping your forearms flat on your thigh / bench, pull the weight up using only your wrists. After a set of ten, drop the weight a bit and reverse your forearms so that you have an overhand grip. Do another set of ten, again using only your wrists.

concentration curlDumbbell Curls

You probably are already familiar with this exercise — it’s the one that is also known as a “concentration curl” or and it makes biceps bigger. In addition to impressing the girls by flexing “your muscle”, these exercises will help build strength in your forearms as well.

Reverse Curls

If you already do “preacher curls” or simply “curls” with a barbell or curl bar, then make sure you do twice as many sets using an overhand grip — a.ka. “reverse curls”. You’ll likely need to take off some weights, as you’ll be isolating your forearm muscles and won’t get much help at all from your biceps. These don’t do much for your “muscle”, but will help your batting average.


isometric exercise for wristsWhen you’re just sitting around, doing nothing, and have no access to weights or grips or even a tennis ball, you can still do something: isometrics. With your right arm bent at the elbow (forearm 90-degree angle from your bicep) and palm up, push down on your right palm with your left hand. As your left hand pushes down, push back / resist with the right hand by pushing up. Push and resist for about 10-15 seconds, rest, and repeat in the opposite position (left palm up, right palm down). You can do similar exercises for your wrists by holding your fingers back and pushing against the “hold” using your hand and wrist.

Bucket of Rice or Sand

If you live near a beach, fill a bucket with sand. Plunge your hand into the bucket and squeeze the sand with your fingers into your palm. You can do the same thing with a big stockpot filled with cooked and cooled rice. Steve Carlton used to squeeze a pot of rice after every start.


Baseball Offseason: Read, Watch, Participate

For many, the baseball offseason is not only long, but dormant. While there are some areas of the USA where baseball is played year-round, the rest of us have been suffering from cabin fever since mid-November, waiting for the snow to melt and/or the weather to warm up.

However, just because you can’t get outside, doesn’t mean you have to go into total hibernation. There are several ways for both players and coaches to continue progressing. Following are a few ideas.

Read Baseball Books

There are many, many worthwhile baseball books that are focused on improving your game as a player or coach. Perhaps the most important reading for anyone involved in the game is the Official Baseball Rules 2006 Edition (Official Baseball Rules)Official Baseball Rule Book. I’m amazed every time I find out a player or coach does not own a rule book, and has never read it. If you are serious about succeeding at anything – be it a driving test, chess match, board game, or an athletic competition – you have an immediate advantage over your opponent by knowing the rules inside and out. Those who don’t believe this statement are people who have never read the rules, because you need only peruse 2-3 pages before you find something that could either win or lose a game for you. It’s also good for your case to actually know a specific rule before arguing it over with an umpire.

Further, if you compete in a league that does not abide by the MLB Official Rules (i.e., Little League, NCAA, Babe Ruth, Stan Musial, men’s leagues, etc.), then by all means get a copy of your league’s rule book ASAP and read it from cover to cover. There will definitely be rules that can adversely affect the outcome of a game — for example, player substitutions, speed-up rules, and bat dimensions are just a few.

After reading your league’s rule book, you can move on to any of a number of books focused on improving your game. The first serious book ever written on hitting a baseball remains fundamental to any batter’s success: The Science of Hitting by Ted Williams. Likewise, Tom Seaver’s The Art of Pitching was one of the first of its kind and remains a classic. However, there have been dozens of valuable books published on both subjects since these timeless titles, written from different perspectives and with varying degrees of detail. Some are packed with full-color photographs demonstrating proper form, and others are more textual, delving more into philosophy than mechanics. All types are worthwhile, in my opinion — in fact any opportunity to learn is valuable toward becoming a better ballplayer or coach.

See a collection of books I recommend on Pitching, Hitting, and General Baseball.

Watch a Baseball Video

Since not everyone is a bookworm, and you can’t always learn certain things by reading and/or looking at a still photograph, a baseball video is worth passing time in the cold offseason.

Generally, I’d stay away from intensive examination of slo-mo video of MLB hitters and pitchers — an exercise that has become an obsession in the last 5-10 years among some dads and youth league coaches. Though it can be helpful to study the swing of Albert Pujols or the mechanics of Roger Clemens’ windup, for the most part it is an exercise in futility to try and impart a specific professional’s style on an amateur player. Everyone is different, and due to their physical makeup will have their own individual path to success. But more on that in another post.

Rather, try to get your hands on instructional videos from respected sources. Cal Ripken, Jr. and his brother Billy have put together three excellent videos that demonstrate the absolute fundamentals of playing the game. There are plenty of other good videos out there – all you need to do is make a quick Google or Amazon search on baseball videos, check a baseball forum for suggestions, or speak to your friends in baseball for suggestions. You’ll find some hard to locate, or prohibitively expensive, but most are affordable, many can be rented from a video store, and a surprising number can be accessed for free. For example, I watched all the Ripken Way videos on my PC for free via download from the New York Public Library website, and have watched a few other videos through my cable company’s “on-demand” free titles.


In the northern sections of the USA and in Canada, it can be next-to-impossible to get outside for any kind of baseball activity from late November through early March. However, most areas have indoor facilities of some sort — at the very least a basketball gym or fitness center. While it’s true that any available indoor facilities can be difficult to use while other sports (basketball, wrestling, gymnastics, volleyball, etc.) are in season, sometimes you can get access at an unusual hour (early in the morning or late at night) if only you ask. If not, the next best thing (and perhaps most obvious) is to follow a cardio and/or weight training program. Swimming and martial arts are also excellent activities that will keep you in shape. Finally, there is the old “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” option — by joining an in-season sport. Join the wrestling or swim team to build up your core muscles while also enjoying the rush of competition. Many schools have a “winter track” team, which in essence is a daily two-hour license to use the weight room and gym for conditioning.

In addition, the winter is usually the time (in the northeast, anyway) when baseball clinics and indoor camps are in full swing. Though not everyone can afford private lessons with an instructor, most areas have a local facility that holds weekend mini-camps and clinics. At the very least, you’ll get a few swings or throws in, and maybe learn something along the way. Not to be left out, coaches can also attend coaching clinics. If you can travel to it, a number are available at the annual baseball convention, but there are also clinics held by colleges. There are even some available online.

Some places to start looking include:

Clinics section of the Baseball Links website

America’s Baseball Camps

Baseball Corner

Baseball Tips – Resource Directory – Baseball Camps

You will also find camps and clinics by asking friends and coaches, checking your local newspaper, or searching the internet.