An age old baseball tradition is for hitters to warm up in the on-deck circle with some type of heavier than normal bat. It could be that the hitter adds a donut to his bat or perhaps he swings with two bats in his hands.  Below is what you often see on Major League on-deck circles.

But is a weighted bat (or other instrument) in the on-deck circle really a good idea? The research on this topic screams one answer: NO!

Let me back up for a second. I have often touted the benefits of the overload/underload training principle. The overload principle is defined as the application of any demand or resistance that is greater than those levels normally encountered in daily life. The body is amazing in that it has the ability to adjust to the demands of physical stress placed upon it. When you stress the body in a manner it's unaccustomed to, the body will react by causing physiological changes in order to handle the stress in a better way the next time it occurs.

For example, athletes have found great success in increasing their velocity by training with the TAP Extreme Duty Weighted Balls. The weight of these balls force your body to sync up and utilize the most efficient movement patterns in order to deal with the added weight. Similarly, utilizing the overload/underload principle when training an athlete’s swing can be effective if done properly. One problem though is that there are very few training implements that allow a hitter to train in the same plane and same movement as a baseball swing.

Oates Specialties specifically added the Speed Chains to its line of products a number of years ago because of its unique ability to train a baseball athlete in explosive rotational movements that are very similar to those required when swinging a bat during a game. The Speed Chains are unique in that they allow the athlete to rotate explosively while loaded with weight. Take a look at this post and the video below if you want to learn more about the Speed Chains.

One important concept to keep in mind though is that overload training slows down the body’s movements. The point of overload training is to place higher/heavier levels of stress on the body’s muscles which will force those muscles to adapt. This is a tremendous training program for the offseason. However, the overload principle is most effective when it is paired together with the underload principle. Underload training involves demands or resistance lighter than those levels normally encountered. The purpose of underload training is to accelerate the muscle firing in order to make fast twitch muscles work at top speed. While overload works on strengthening the movement/muscles, underload works on quickening the movement/muscles. Strength combined with speed is the key to athletic success.

Now let’s circle back to the on-deck activities of hitters. These hitters are loading up the weight of their bat mere seconds before stepping into the batter’s box. Most hitters do so because of the sensation that their regular bat will feel lighter after swinging the loaded bat. Unfortunately, this sensation does not translate into a faster bat speed. Swinging a heavier bat actually trains your body to move slower. Your arms, shoulders, and hip rotation are all moving at a slower speed because of the additional weight. We know this both intuitively (we are swinging a heavy implement so the speed necessarily decreases) and from studies on the topic. In fact, the Wall Street Journal recently published an article that shows the decrease in bat speed after practice swings with a heavier bat.

When trying to hit a 90+ mph fastball, we don’t want a slower bat speed. We want to have the maximum amount of time to identify the pitch and its trajectory before pulling the trigger and swinging. Plus, a batter’s bat speed correlates directly to the distance the ball travels. For example, studies show that an 85 mph fastball hit solidly on the sweet spot by a bat swung at 70 mph will travel 400 feet. But that same ball struck by the same bat at 80 mph will travel approximately 450 feet. So our objective at the plate should be to make solid contact with the fastest possible bat speed. Oates Specialties carries the Swing Speed Radar so that athletes can focus on improving their bat speed because we should all know by now that if you don’t measure it, you can’t accurately improve it.

Accordingly, contrary to common thinking and baseball tradition, warming up with a weighted bat is actually priming the athlete to move slower, not faster. Slower is not better when a fastball thrown at 90 mph can reach home plate in approximately 0.42 seconds and the batter must identify the pitch, the velocity, the trajectory, and whether to swing in an even shorter time frame. So I encourage you to stop warming up with weighted bats on the on-deck circle or pregame. Instead, your focus before an at bat should be to prepare your fast twitch muscles to be ready to fire at top speed. This is best accomplished by using a lighter than normal bat, as your body will actually be moving at a faster rate of speed than it does with your regular weighted bat.

So while it may blow your mind and go against traditional baseball thinking, the best thing you can do before stepping into the box is to leave that donut on the ground, grab a lighter bat than the one you will step up to the plate with, and let a few swings rip. This will wake up your fast twitch muscles and you will be ready to turn on that 90 mph fastball on the inner half of the plate.

Until next time,

Brian Oates


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