In my last blog, I discussed several things a baseball player can learn from powerlifters and Olympic weightlifters. As with anything, there are pros and cons to consider before implementing programs effectively. In this article, I will outline some of the cons with both of these training modalities as it applies to baseball players (more specifically pitchers). I do not mean to make a blanket statement that powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting is a bad form of training. Instead, I simply take into account specific considerations that affect the baseball population.
Before we get into the specifics of the two programs, let us look at the things to consider when training overhead throwing athletes. The first common issue in overhead throwing athletes is laxity in the shoulder. Laxity is a term describing looseness of connective tissue around a joint. This is important to have when throwing a baseball, as the shoulder externally and internally rotates at extreme ranges of motion and high speeds. However, laxity also means the shoulder lacks stability, which makes it harder to protect the joint under high stress. The next common issue amongst pitchers is a valgus carry in their throwing elbow. This puts extra stress on the structure of the athletes’ arms. Lastly, you will find that most pitcher’s have scapula winging. This means the base level of strength in the athlete’s upper back is not present. With this in mind, Olympic lifting requires a tremendous amount of stability when performing a lift, the precise stability that much of the baseball population does not have. Powerlifting requires a larger than normal amount of muscularity in the upper back. Most people would be surprised that the two key areas that work in the bench press is the triceps and upper back. Given the above, it would be much riskier than any resulting reward to have the athlete performing these two programs. That does not mean that all baseball athletes have these issues, or that they should never work up to this type of training, but it is certain something to consider before an athlete jumps into such a program.
Let’s also take a deeper look into the programs. There is a common misconception that Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting increases explosive power. This is not an accurate statement. If you are performing a squat, and you are doing 60% or more of your one rep max, you will not be moving at a speed that will build explosive power or plyometric power. Instead, you are building strength-speed which is not “specific” to the demands of throwing a baseball. Now take a snatch or power clean. You are still using a weight of 60% or more of one rep max, and you are building the same strength-speed. The velocity of the bar will not change as the percentage will be the same. What Olympic weightlifting does train is quick deceleration, as the athlete tries to quickly dive under the bar to catch it. Again, this is not specific to baseball pitchers, since they are accelerating at a quicker rate. Professor Yuri Verkhoshansky devised the formula to build plyometric explosiveness. This formula requires that the load be around 20% or less. This is extremely tough to do with powerlifting or weightlifting since the bar already weighs 45lbs. It would be hard to find an athlete who can snatch 225lbs which would make the bar the appropriate weight to train for explosiveness. Take one look on Instagram, and you will be hard pressed to find someone doing just the bar. I mean it is just not cool!
Lastly, these programs work in the sagittal and frontal planes. Delivering a pitch or swinging a bat works in the transverse plane. It would only make sense to train in the same plane that the competition is performed in. This does not mean that there is not a time and place for anti-rotation, anti-flexion, or anti-extension. It just means there is a better chance for carry-over to the game when performing activities as similar as possible to the activities in the game. This is why medicine ball throws, slams, and tosses are key in training rotational athletes. And this is why Oates Specialties carries several implements that when used properly increases the likelihood of power transfer.
In conclusion, implementing any type of training is a risk verses reward analysis. One must consider the adaptations that each athletic population deals with, and also the specific demands of the sport. Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting programs can sometimes add too much risk while not adding enough reward. Remember that regardless of which of these training programs you are looking at, it is geared toward strength and not explosiveness. You must ask yourself which do you need more of to be a successful baseball player?
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