Using Kettlebells in Baseball
By Napoleon Pichardo, CSCS, RSCC
Kettlebells can have a significant positive effect when training baseball players. Lifts that that have been shown to be popular and effective include the following:
The Swing. This is an explosive lift that forces athletes to use maximum power in the muscles of the posterior chain to accelerate the KB with proper technique. Baseball players spend a lot of time with their spines, hips, knees and ankles in flexion. Regardless of whether they are playing in games, taking infield, catching fly balls or sitting in the locker room, dough out, bullpen, at home, on a plane, on a bus or in a taxi, baseball players’ shoulders, hips, knees and ankles are always in a shortened position. The kettlebell swing helps them get full hip extension more efficiently so that they can lengthen the muscles that can become shortened from prolonged periods of flexion.
The swing can also serve as tool to help identify athletes who have difficulty extending their hips. If a player can’t get his hips to full extension at the end of the swing, they can be encouraged to do more glute activation exercises and stretches for the anterior hip. The Swing can be used as a power exercise or as a conditioning tool. To improve power, do 2-3 sets of 6-8 reps. For conditioning, do 3-5 sets of 10-15 reps. Research suggests that the energy cost of doing multiple sets of multiple swings is approximately 11 kcal/min. Swings can be performed with both arms or with one arm.
The Goblet Squat. This is a good double-leg lift, especially for players who don’t need to load the spine with barbell squats. The risk-to-reward benefits of traditional squats can sometimes be too high for some players, especially those with a history of back problems and/or poor squatting technique. The goblet squat lets you perform a very good double-leg strengthening exercise in a safe and effective manner. An important key to performing a correct goblet squat is to keep the kettlebell against your sternum throughout the movement.
The Overhead Press. Like the previous kettlebell lifts, the overhead press can be an excellent addition to the strength training program because it encourages the development of shoulder and core strength and stability which are absolute musts in strength and conditioning programs for baseball. Some players and coaches think that the kettlebell press is better than the dumbbell press because it feels like a more natural movement pattern. Also, when you focus on tightening the core to stabilize the spine and provide a better base of support, the overhead press becomes more than just a shoulder exercise. Kettlebell shoulder presses performed from a half-kneeling or standing position put primary emphasis on the muscles of the core and shoulder. Performing them as part of a dynamic exercise such as the overhead reverse lunge and press makes them a total body exercise that increases strength, stability, balance and coordination throughout the entire kinetic chain from the ground up.
Napoleon Pichardo, CSCS, RSCC is the Minor League Strength and Conditioning Coordinator, Texas Rangers.