Integrating Shoulder and Core Exercises for High Efficiency

During the baseball season, time is at a premium for many of the baseball players I work with.  They need to get in and out of the gym in an hour or less, so I’m constantly working on ways to streamline their program without skimping on important content.  One way to accomplish this is to cut down on the number of exercises they’re doing each session, opting instead for fewer exercises that hit multiple body parts or planes of movement at once.

When it comes to programming for baseball athletes, I’ve had a lot of success integrating shoulder and core exercises together.  Not only does the function of these two areas of the body have a major impact on the other—making them a natural choice to train together—there are also a number of great drills out there that hit on both areas.  Implementing exercises that address core and shoulder control simultaneously helps to keep training volume down during the season when most athletes overall exposure to stress is high.

Here are a few of my favorites. 

KB Turkish Get Up

The Turkish Get-Up is an old school strongman exercise that more recently has undergone a major revival in the strength and conditioning world.  Not only is this a great drill to hammer home multi-planar shoulder stability, it also requires rotary and anterior core control, and full-body awareness.  

I also really like this drill for in-season programming because it emphasizes shoulder control—not movement—therefore creating minimal soreness afterwards.  I typically program this as an “A” (or primary focus) exercise on an upper body day for 3-4 sets of 4-5 reps/side. 

To progress this drill, you can:

Hold the KB with an upside down grip.

Add in some perturbations at the shoulder to really work on some dynamic control of the rotator cuff.

KB Upside-Down Carry


Like Get Ups, Carrying variations emphasize motor control of the entire shoulder complex.  By holding the KB upside-down, this intensifies the grip demands and rotator cuff activation is enhanced through a neurological phenomenon known as irradiation.  This drill is also great to help maintain scapular upward rotation, which is lost during the baseball season. This decrease in range of motion is most notably because of diminished lower trapezius and serratus anterior strength—two of the primary upward rotators of the scapula.  By holding the KB out in front of your body, this places increased demands on the anterior core and lateral core as well (depending on if you use 1 or 2 KBs).  I usually program this as an assistance exercise, paired with a Sled Push, or some other non-grip intensive lower body assistance drill. 

Key cues for this exercise:

-Elbow @ 90 degrees

-Shoulder Flexed slightly below 90 degrees

– Make sure Bicep Tendon/Lat are turned off

-Keep Ribs down, short front side

Side Plank With Horizontal Abduction

This exercise integrates lateral core control with a great direct rotator cuff strengthening exercise—typically performed more as an isolation drill (Prone Horizontal Abduction).  Players can either use a cable pulley system, or band resistance.  Once you’re in a good starting side plank position, horizontally abduct your arm using your posterior cuff, not Lats. This is an important cue since a lot of baseball players tend to sit in a depressed, downwardly rotated scapular position as it is.  Cranking the shoulder down and back with the Lat just plays into this dysfunction.

It’s also important to understand that since throwers tend to have loose anterior shoulders, we also want to avoid a lot of shoulder anterior glide into the capsule.  I usually put this at the end of an upper body emphasis day for 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps/side.

This is an exciting time of year for baseball athletes with lots of games and travel, so time can be a huge issue for a lot of folks.  Just get creative this season to help keep your training sessions short, sweet, and productive.  Give these exercises a try and let me know what you think!

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