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Hitting: Offseason Strength Training

Despite the MLBís influx of muscleheads, the truth is, you donít need to be musclebound to hit for power. This has been covered here before, so we wonít waste space.

While excellent mechanics will do more for your swing than your “max” bench press, thereís 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 youíre 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 donít 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.

Big Muscles Don’t Equal Home Runs

One element that separates the pre-1980 ballplayer and the modern baseballer is the weight training program. There is no question that lifting weights can significantly improve your strength and help you become a better ballplayer. However, many players — young and old — seem to think that a bodybuilder-type program will help their game.

Let’s use our noggins here, boys. Take a look at Hank Aaron, the all-time home run leader of the Major Leagues: listed as 6 feet tall, 180 pounds (and he was probably slightly shorter, and lighter, in his playing days). One man hit more home runs, professionally, than Aaron: Sadaharu Oh of Japan. In fact, Oh hit over 100 more than Aaron in his career, and he played at 5’11″, 175 lbs. Neither of these players would be considered musclebound, not even “big”. They were both pretty average, as far as body type, in their leagues and in their times. However, they knew what to do with their body to make the ball go over the fence.

Before you dismiss these two men as freaks of nature, consider more fairly lean home run hitters over the course of history: Willie Mays, George Foster, and Andruw Jones all hit over 50 home runs in a season, and none of them weighed over 190 pounds. Graig Nettles was a prolific homerun hitter in the mid-1970s, yet was 6’1″, 175. Two of the most feared sluggers of the 1970s and 1980s, Jim Rice and Reggie Jackson, were considered strong, but looking at them now, they’d hardly be considered “big”. In fact, at 6’2″, 210 lbs., Rice has the build of a shortstop.

We can thank Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa for bringing attention back to Major League Baseball in 1998, thanks to their miraculous chase for the single-season home run record. In the aftermath, however, we can blame these two steroid-enhanced goons, as well as juiceheads such as Barry Bonds and Luis Gonzalez, for furthering the notion that a Schwarzenegger-like physique will make you a better hitter.

While it’s true that sheer strength can increase your bat speed, and add a few feet to a fly ball, it doesn’t mean that muscles mean home runs. The singlemost important resource we have as athletes — and human beings — is time, and faced with? the decision to spend an extra hour in the weight room? or an extra hour in the batting cage, the? decision should always be the batting cage. Technique, coupled with repetition, will help a player become a better hitter? much more than maxing out on the bench press.

Charley Lau used to say that a hitter needed to learn how to hit first, and then, eventually, somewhere down the line, he could learn to hit home runs — maybe. One of his prize pupils, George Brett, epitomized this theory. Brett was a .300 hitter before he was a 20-homer slugger. And the reason you don’t see over-the-top homerun totals when looking at his career stats is because most of the time, he wasn’t trying to hit a home run. Brett’s goal, 90% of the time, was to hit a line drive — because with that approach you have a much better chance of succeeding than if you swing for the fences. When Brett did hit a home run, he did it on purpose, believe it or not. That’s not to say he could hit a home run at will, of course; it means that he hit a home run when that was his goal, because the game situation dictated it. Once you become a great hitter, and know your body and your swing that well, and have seen enough pitches to immediately react, and the pitcher lets you, you can do the same thing. In the meantime, work on honing your swing; work on increasing bat speed; learn to pick out and turn on the inside pitch; pay attention to pitching patterns — these are the things that will help you hit a home run. And not one of those exercises involves a barbell.