What Can Baseball Players Learn from Powerlifters and Olympic Weightlifters?
Let me start off by saying that I will not be debating on whether or not baseball athletes should use powerlifting or Olympic weightlifting programs. Instead, in this two part series, I will identify the things that one can take away from each and apply to their own program to make them better, as well as mentioning the negative effects each one has on baseball specific activities. For the first part of my series, I will stick with the benefits each ideology can have on creating a well-rounded program.
Let’s start with powerlifting. You will not find ordinary Olympic size weight plates, dumbbells, or rigs on Oates Specialties' website because we believe in providing you with specialty items that are unique, different, and highly functional. This does not mean that we are anti-weight room. Instead, we believe people spend too much time under the barbell. Which brings me to the first thing we can learn from powerlifters: Louie Simmons, owner of Westside Barbell, trains the strongest powerlifters in the world, yet he adheres to the belief that his lifters should only be doing barbell training 20% of the time. That’s right, the strongest lifters on the planet, whose sport is lifting barbells, are only under the bar 20% of the time. This is telling, considering lifting heavy barbells isn’t required for the sport of baseball, but a lot of programs are centered around the weight room. The other 80% of the time he has his athletes performing accessory movements which focus on their weaknesses. Most people would attempt to fix weaknesses through stretching or isolated muscle building, but this often doesn't solve the problem. What if a baseball pitcher had trouble with the speed and power of their hip rotation? It is important to train weak movements as well as weak body parts.
Powerlifters also use a wide stance on squats and push their feet out like they are tearing a piece of paper from the floor so that they can increase tension in their abductors and glute medius. The glute medius is crucial for hip rotation. If you will watch a powerlifter, they do not jump from side to side. They simply use the abductors to hold tension but not provide movement. Elite baseball pitchers and hitters do very similar things. They are not creating a push off the mound, but they are instead creating tension through the entire leg so they can rotate faster. While on the subject of creating and keeping tension, think about what a powerlifter does immediately before lifting a heavy barbell. They take a big breath to fill their stomach and chest with air. This increases the intraabdominal pressure (increasing pressure around the spine in the stomach) which acts like a brace on the spine protecting it from damage. This pressure build up is critical for keeping the spine healthy during maximum effort attempts. For those of you that have read Brian Oates’ blog “ “Max Effort” Pitchers “ you already know that to throw a pitch in the mid 90’s, it takes a max effort delivery. If this bracing is important for the health of the spine during maximum effort lifts, it only makes sense that it be important during a maximum effort pitch or swing. The other benefit of bracing the core is to provide stability in a joint that is supposed to be stable, thereby unlocking mobility in the hips and thoracic spine. If you look at an elite athlete pitching or swinging a bat, the movement requires an incredible amount of mobility in their movement pattern.
Now moving on to what we can learn from weightlifting programs. The soviet, Bulgarian, and Chinese weightlifting programs change loads and exercises every workout to keep the body adapting to new stress. The Law of Accommodation states that by handling the same load and same exercises consistently, the body adapts then stops progressing. In fact it can even regress. Now what can baseball players take away from this law? That the load and exercises they perform should be ever changing. This is not a new concept. Frans Bosch, a world renowned exercise physiologist from the Netherlands who works with Olympic javelin throwers, stated as much during his speech at Ron Wolforth’s Ultimate Pitching Coaches Boot Camp a couple years ago. We adhere to this philosophy through the use of weighted balls, weighted bats, differing drills, uneven training implements like water based tools, and the use of uneven surfaces so that we can efficiently keep adding stimulus to the body so it never stops progressing. Most opponents of weighted implements do not understand this principle.
Next, the use of bands and chains is very common in powerlifting and foreign weightlifting programs. Why do they use bands and chains for added tension? It prolongs the amount of time the athlete has to accelerate. They cannot use momentum which would stop the acceleration and would actually force them to decelerate sooner. Again, in the baseball world, weighted implements, as well as tubing, can be used to extend the acceleration phase which would increase the amount of total force put out. Resistance tubing is often thought to be great for shoulder warm-ups or arm specific movements, but we develop our tubing so that they can be used through a dynamic full range of motion which includes emulating the pitching motion.
The last thing I will discuss in this post is how strength is actually gained in powerlifting and weightlifting programs. The answer is simple, concise, and easy to understand. VOLUME. Total volume is what really determines strength. Louie Simmons focuses on total volume during dynamic effort or speed-strength days. It is crucial that his athletes meet the minimum volume for that day. In the baseball community, we look at volume in a bad way. How many pitches has Johnny thrown today? This week? This Season? We seem to go back to normal when it comes to batting. How many swings did Johnny take today? It doesn't make sense to think of volume as a good thing in every movement except for pitching/throwing. I place throwing in there because coaches are even concerned how many warm-up throws, bullpen pitches, or training throws they make each day. Why is volume bad? It increases stress. Why is Volume good? It increases stress. Do you believe too much stress is bad? Of course! Do you think too little stress will prevent gains? Absolutely! We should stop looking at volume as a bad thing, and we should take a point from Louise in that we should train optimally. There is an optimum amount of volume/stress for each athlete, and each person will require a different amount because of their own unique make-up.
In concluding, you can see simple things that we can take away from a community that is not necessarily in close relation to what the game of baseball requires of its athletes. Why did I choose weightlifting and powerlifting? They are some of the oldest competitive sports in the world. Almost everything has been tried and tested, and only the successful parts are still in use today. The next time you watch these sports, do not focus on the fact that the athletes are under a bar. Instead, I challenge you to watch them as they perform their accessory work, prepare for the lift, and recover from the lift. You can see pieces that can help you in your search to become an elite baseball athlete. In the second part of this blog, I will detail a few negative aspects of these sports, and why baseball athletes should not be necessarily too eager to jump into doing the same lifts.
Be unique and #BeELITE!