• Photo for Ask Billy Bean: Building Functional Arm Strength
    Photo Credit: Nicolas Smith and iStockPhoto

Ask Billy Bean: Building Functional Arm Strength

Welcome to a new edition of's "Ask Billy" column with sports and life advice from Billy Bean, former professional athlete and author of "Going the Other Way: Lessons from a Life In and Out of Major League Baseball." Do you have a question for Billy? Send him an email at

Dear Billy,

I need to know what exercises I need to do to improve my baseball pitching styles (elastic energy)?


Dear Avi,

When I first started playing baseball as a young boy, the common philosophy from coaches and older players was that weight training would "tighten you up." There was a fear that getting too big would eliminate your natural elasticity as well as slow down your bat speed and ability to throw a baseball accurately with velocity.

That attitude changed in the early 1980s, when weight training became a basic part of all ball players' fitness programs. However, we soon learned that pounding as much weight off of your chest as you could wouldn't do you any good, and would actually hurt you more than help you.

In the mid 1990s many professional baseball players began using performance-enhancing drugs and growing to incredible sizes that helped them make millions of dollars and achieve incredible success. What many of those players did not realize is that once injured, their bodies forgot how to heal, and they never were able to get back on the field.

Thankfully, the age of specialized performance training techniques is upon us. What the fitness world has realized is that functional training—training the body in ways that mimic its actual movements in life and sports—is the key to improved performance. In particular, this focus on functional training recognizes that your core (the center of your body, stomach, lower back, and rear end) needs to be the focus of most of your workout.

The amount of weight you lift is irrelevant. You used to hear guys bragging about how much they can bench press or squat. Not so much anymore. Great athletes have switched from struggling with overly heavy weights to using lighter weights as well as resistance tools like elastic cords, balance balls, and kettle balls.

With that in mind, if you want to improve your pitching delivery, you need a common-sense functional training program that stimulates the motion you naturally have when delivering the ball to the catcher. I was an outfielder for 10 seasons professionally, but I pitched in high school and college. What I learned in my career is that all serious baseball players need to do functional exercises that strengthen their throwing arms.

The simple workout program below focuses on building functional arm strength. If you follow the workout regimen below two to three times a week, over time your pitching should become stronger and your velocity should increase dramatically. Your shoulder and surrounding muscles that you use in your pitching motion should also become stronger and less prone to injury. Don't be surprised by the incorporation of lunges in the program—the greatest pitchers use their legs just as much as their arms when pitching, as it takes most of the strain off that shoulder.

Exercise Time Description
Stationary bike 15 mins Warm up on a stationary bike. Get your heart rate up to a moderate level. You should try to break a sweat.
Stretch 5 mins Follow your bike warm-up with some light full-body stretching.
Hang from Pull-up Bar 20 - 30 secs After you stretch, hang from a pull-up bar for about 20 to 30 seconds. This will stretch out and warm up your arms, shoulders, and back.
Exercise Muscles Weight Sets Reps Description
Dumbbell 45-Degree Angle Front Lateral Raises Shoulders 5 lbs. 2 12 Stand upright facing a mirror with 5-lb. dumbbells in both hands with your thumbs facing the floor. Engage your core and retract your shoulder blades. Slowly raise the weights up in front of you at a 45-degree angle to your body until your hands are at shoulder level. From the top of the lift, reverse direction and return the weights back to starting position.
Standing Dumbbell Curls Biceps Moderately heavy weights 3 12 Choose two dumbbells that you can just curl 12 to 14 times while maintaining the proper form described below. Remember, always choose form over weight! Stand with dumbbells held in each hand so that your palms are facing away from you. Hold your elbows in front of your ribs; this will help keep the biceps muscle engaged throughout the movement, and will prevent you from inadvertently swinging your body to lift the weight, an activity that makes trainers cringe. From the starting position, curl both weights up at the same time until you fully flex the muscle. Do not alternate the weights. Keep your core engaged, your wrists straight, and your elbows in front of your ribs throughout the movement. When you have reached the top of the movement, reverse the motion and bring the weights slowly back down to the starting position. Be sure to keep your biceps engaged as you bring the weights back down.
Triceps Single-Arm Kickbacks Triceps Moderately heavy weights 3 12 Choose a dumbbell with which you can just do 12 to 14 triceps kickbacks while maintaining the proper form described below. Stand with your legs hip-width apart and staggered so that your right leg is slightly in front of you and your left leg is slightly behind you. Holding a dumbbell in your left hand, with your elbow bent high above your back and your hand facing in toward your waist, lean your upper body forward slightly and rest your right hand on your right thigh for support and balance. Your back should be flat, your neck in line with your spine, and your knees slightly bent. Keeping your left elbow high above the line of your back, extend your elbow so that you straighten your arm. Your hand should remain in the same orientation throughout the movement, with palm facing inward. From the extended position, bend your elbow again to return to the starting position. Do a full set of kickbacks with your left arm, and then switch arms and legs and do another set of kickbacks with your right arm. As you do each kickback, focus on keeping your upper arm still so that your elbows stay high; the entire motion should focus on the extension and flexion at the elbow joint.
Twisting Incline Dumbbell Chest Presses Chest, Back (upper) Moderately heavy weights 3 12 Choose two dumbbells that you can press 12 to 14 times while maintaining the proper form described below. Set an inline bench at less than 45 degrees above horizontal and sit on it with your back against the bench and a dumbbell in each hand. Start at the bottom of a chest press motion, with your elbows at a 90-degree angle and level with your back, your hands beside your chest with your palms, and your thumbs pointed in toward your chest. Retract your shoulder blades and keep your chest high and back flat throughout the entire set. Next, begin pressing the dumbbells up in a chest press. As you press up, turn your hands inward so that your palms touch or almost touch at the top of the lift. Keep your chest engaged at the top of the lift. It is important on all chest presses to keep the flexion in your chest throughout the movement instead of allowing your chest to turn off or rest at top of motion.
Walking Lunges Legs N/A 3 10 with each leg Stand on the floor with your feet hip-width apart and hands resting lightly on your hips or held up at the sides of your head with elbows bent and hands gently cupping the sides of your head,. From the starting position, step your right foot forward and drop your left knee down into a lunge. Lower the left knee down until the right quadriceps (thigh) is parallel to the floor. Do not allow the right knee to come out in front of your toes, or you'll risk knee and other injury. From the lunge, stand up and take a short step forward with your left foot. Then step the right foot forward again and drop your left knee down again into another lunge. Repeat for a full set of lunges with the right leg leading, then switch legs and perform another set with the left leg leading. As you do these lunges, keep your steps short enough to maintain control and balance. As you get stronger, hold dumbbells in your hands at your sides to increase the difficulty of the exercise. Rest at least one minute between each set.
Long Toss Full Body N/A 20 Mins N/A Find a partner, and after warming up slowly, play catch for at least 20 minutes. Challenge yourself to move back as far as you comfortably can while simulating your pitching delivery in a very relaxed motion. You should be able to get a minimum of 50 yards between you.
Good luck!

Billy Bean
Miami Beach