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.
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.
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).
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).
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)
Hanging 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.
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.
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.
When 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.