Professional Baseball Strength & Conditioning


Push-ups in High School Baseball

By Chris Giacchino, ATC, CSCS – Cleveland Indians

In an attempt to better serve the coaches, players and parents involved in youth and high school baseball, the PBSCCS periodically publishes information on factors that can affect conditioning and performance at these levels. Topics are selected from questions submitted by participants, coaches and parents involved in youth and high school sports.

The question for this posting was from a high school baseball coach who asked – “What is a relatively simple exercise that all of my baseball players can do to enhance upper body strength and help reduce the risk of injury” For a response, the PBSCCS contacted Chris Giacchino, ATC, CSCS, Minor League Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Cleveland Indians for his recommendation.

“In my opinion, one of the most effective and most underestimated strength training exercises for the upper body is the push-up.” The push-up is a relatively simple exercise that can be performed anywhere, anytime, by anyone that requires no equipment. It is a closed kinetic chain, total body exercise that can strengthen several sections of the body, such as the upper back, chest, shoulders, arms and core, and at the same time improve shoulder range of motion, proprioception and stability and increase torso stability.

Why push-up? In throwing athletes like baseball players, the ability of the scapula (shoulder blade) to move appropriately on the ribs is essential. The throwing athlete needs proper interaction between the scapula and humerus (scapula-humeral rhythm) in order to help get the arm overhead in a safe and effective manner and help ensure optimal shoulder function, Without this rhythm, the body will find movement elsewhere in the shoulder which can lead to impingement issues and unwanted stress on the shoulder joint.

For safe, effective performance, all baseball players, not just pitchers need full range of motion of the scapula, especially in upward rotation. When a player does a push-up, the scapulae (plural of scapula) move freely. When he does a bench press, DB or straight bar, the scapulae are retracted back and down in order to create a stable base, but the pressure between the scapula and the bench limits the mobility of the scapulae to move freely. In the push-up, the scapulae are free to upward rotate, protract and tilt forward and back, movements that occur during throwing. In the bench press, the scapulae are fixed which is inconsistent with their function during throwing. The push-up not only matches the movement demands in throwing, it also encourages the development of strong, effective and safe shoulder function.

Players who want to do DB bench presses, can use the push-up is an effective warm-up exercise. It can also be used as a variation from their regular pressing program or as an exercise during a deload period of a training program.


How to do it. Proper technique is essential with push-ups to improve strength, develop postural awareness and increase trunk stability.

  • Start from a up plank position with your hands underneath your shoulders, arms fully extended, fingers pointing forward and your tight.
  • Your elbows should be back at approximately a 450 angle to your body or slightly less and not too close to your body or flared out to the sides to form a big “T” with your body.
  • Keep your head, neck and back in a neutral position from start to finish.
  • Keep your head in line with your back.
  • Keep your back flat and don’t allow your spine to round or arch.
  • Inhale and then exhale as your bend your elbows out to the sides, creating a 450 angle with your arms, and lower your body as a unit all the way down to the ground.
  • At the bottom position, your chest should be in line with your hands, your scapulae should be retracted (pinched together) and the first thing to touch the floor should be your chest.
  • As you go down, don’t let you head drop like a chicken pecking at the ground or a person bobbing for apples in a tub.
  • At the bottom position, inhale again and then exhale as you push up and back so that your body moves in a straight line from head to toes.
  • As you move up, keep your core tight, back straight, neck and head in line with your back.
  • Keep pushing at the top position until your arms are fully extended and the scapula are protracted (moved away from each other).
  • This is one rep. Start with 3 sets of 6 reps with perfect form and gradually progress to 4 sets of 10. Do push-ups three times per week on alternate days.

Coaching point. The most common flaw observed when young athletes are doing push-ups is that their elbows form a “T” with their trunk instead of a “V”, i.e., the elbows are straight out from the shoulders instead of being angled down and back. When you look down at someone doing push-ups, the junctions of the elbows with trunk should form an upside-down V-shape, and not a T-shape. Why? During the lowering portion of a push-up, the shoulder blades adduct (move together). If the elbows are straight out from the shoulders and form a T, the shoulder blades come together before the athlete can properly reach the bottom of the push-up and have nowhere left to move . Using the upside-down V-shape will help ensure late engagement and proper scapular positioning.

Because young athletes tend to have very mobile joints, some rely on their excessive mobility to reach the bottom of the push-up. This can be problematic because it increases stress on the shoulder joints. While many young athletes won’t feel the stress on their shoulders because of the relatively low load placed on the joints, it can increase the risk of injury in the future as they gain weight.

Having athletes focus on making a” V” with their elbows can help reduce the risk of shoulder injury. Bringing the elbows into the body at an angle of approximately 35-55°, gives the shoulder blades more room to move as they track down and back. Switching from a “T”- to “V”- position might feel awkward at first, but stressing proper technique as a coaching point will not only help young athletes avoid injury in the long term, but will also allow them to perform more push-ups in the short term.

Progression. There are several ways to make this exercise more demanding. A simple way is to manipulate the sets and reps, i.e., do more reps per set or more sets of a given number of reps. You can also change the difficulty of the exercise by doing push-up plus movements, resisted push-ups with an elastic band across the back or weight plate on the scapulae, push-ups with the feet elevated or push-ups on an unstable surface such as a BOSU or medicine ball.

Regression. Those who can’t perform a perfect push-up from the floor can start with hands elevated push-up or eccentric only push-up and gradually progress to full push-ups. Avoid doing push-ups from the knees

Regardless of which type of push-up you use, always check to ensure that every rep is performed with perfect technique and that the back is flat, spine is neutral, core and glutes are contracted, hands are in the same plane as the shoulders, hands are under the shoulder and as wide or slightly wider than the shoulders, elbows are at a 450 angle relative to the trunk, scapular are retracted at the bottom and protracted at the top and that the head and neck are in line with the back.


Chris Giacchino, ATC, CSCS, is a minor league strength and conditioning coach with the Cleveland Indians.


[GC1]Also, Lat engagement and proper scapular positioning in the V position

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