Study: Strength Training Make You a Better Baseball Player (really?)
I know, the title should be self-evident, but trust me – it’s not. Here’s what a local Washington state training facility has to say about weight lifting for baseball players:
Strength training is often confused with weight and power lifting which are both discouraged by medical and fitness professionals for young athletes.
Oh really? The subject matter expert on the topic is Dr. Avery Faigenbaum. What does he have to say about strength training for youth athletes?
StrongKid.com was founded by Dr. Avery Faigenbaum in 2001 to dispel the myths associated with youth strength training and provide reassurance that regular strength exercise can be safe, effective and enjoyable for boys and girls provided that age-appropriate training guidelines are followed.
In Relative Safety of Weightlifting for Youth (PDF), Dr. Faigenbaum says:
Lifts such as the snatch and the clean and jerk are explosive but highly controlled movements that require a high degree of technical skill. In the snatch lift the barbell is lifted from the platform to arms length overhead in a single continuous movement and in the clean and jerk the barbell is lifted from the platform to the shoulders and then to the overhead position to complete the two-part lift. While these lifts involve more complex neural activations patterns than other resistance exercises, the belief that properly performed weightlifting movements are riskier than other sports and activities is not consistent with research findings.
If you want to learn more, you can read Dr. Avery Faigenbaum’s work at strongkid.com, or Google his name and find all the work he’s done in the field.
Despite all this publicly-available information on weightlifting being safe and useful for youth athletes, so-called “elite” baseball training programs still live in the dark ages and don’t prepare their athletes for success in the best ways possible. The aforementioned baseball training facility that thinks that weightlifting is “discouraged by medical and fitness professionals” is considered one of the “best” places to train in the greater Seattle area. It blows my mind that people don’t do a modicum of research to clearly disprove this absurd statement.
At a scientific meeting, the following results of a study were published:
METHODS: Thirty-seven members of an NCAA Division I men’s baseball team (age =19.7 ± 1.3 yr) volunteered to be evaluated. Tests included percent body fat, lean body mass (LBM), grip strength, upper (1RM bench press and 1-arm dumbbell row) and lower body (1RM squat) strength, rotational power (medicine ball side toss), leg power (vertical jump), running speed (10, 30, 60 yd sprint), throwing velocity (TV), bat velocity (BV), and batted-ball velocity (BBV).
RESULTS: Correlation coefficients were calculated for all variables by utilizing a correlation matrix from raw scores. Significant (p < 0.05) and moderately high positive relationships were indicated between BV and BBV (r = 0.70); 60 yd sprint and 30 yd sprint (r = 0.77), 10 yd sprint (r = 0.70). Significant and moderately positive relationships were indicated between BV and vertical jump (r = 0.58), LBM (r = 0.43); medicine ball side toss and BV (r = 0.50), TV (r = 0.49), BBV (r = 0.45); 1RM squat and 1RM bench press (r = 0.58). Significant and moderately negative relationships were indicated between 60 yd sprint and vertical jump (r = -0.57). Coefficients of determination for all variables were also calculated. Of particular interest was BV and BBV (r2 = 0.49), vertical jump (r2 = 0.34), medicine ball side toss (r2 = 0.25), LBM (r2 = 0.18); medicine ball side toss and TV (r2 = 0.24), BBV (r2 = 0.20); 60 yd sprint and 30 yd sprint (r2 = 0.59), 10 yd sprint (r2 = 0.49), VJ (r2 = -0.32).
CONCLUSION: Results suggest that strength training programs designed to improve baseball player’s performance should emphasize increasing leg power, rotational power, and LBM.
The first thing I noticed was that the r-squared for 60 yd. sprint and vertical jump (VJ) was negative. This is obviously impossible, as anyone who has taken math above an eighth grade level can tell you that a squared real number is never negative. Besides that clear typo, the study tells us what most intelligent people already knew: Baseball players with stronger legs/core throw a ball and swing a bat faster.
Delving Into the Specifics
Of particular interest in the study is the training method that has the highest correlation coefficient with bat velocity: Vertical Jump. A cursory Google search will turn up a lot of baseball trainers and theorists (particularly the Dr. Marshall apologists) that think that training vertical leap / broad jump metrics are a waste of time in the name of “sport-specificity.” Yet this study (and many others) show a clear strong relationship between the two variables. Additionally, lean body mass (LBM) has a high correlation coefficent with bat velocity; again, this is not surprising – we know that larger values of LBM are linked to higher throwing velocities in other studies, so this makes sense.
Proficiency in the medicine ball side toss was linked to better performance in bat velocity and throwing velocity – nothing too surprising here.
What was interesting, however, was that 1RM squat strength was not significantly linked to any of the other variables. Though the methods and descriptions of the “squat” were not disclosed, I have reason to believe that the “squat” performed was probably not to parallel and that none of the athletes had significantly trained the movement. My experiences with HS/College baseball show this to be nearly universally true – you can find tons and tons of videos on YouTube of so-called “squats” done by baseball players that are far above parallel, or worse, done on a Smith machine. (It wouldn’t surprise me if the “squat” they used in the study was actually done on a Smith machine; that would clearly invalidate that portion of the research.)
Humorous Use of This Study
Dick Mills used this study to attempt to disprove the link between weight training and increased performance for baseball athletes, which is particularly hilarious. You can read this exchange on the ASMI message boards if you like. Mills said:
Implication. Some variables usually considered to design strength training programs have minor relationships with performance measures in college baseball players, and have little predictive value.
He actually said this in a way that made it look like the study implied this, when in reality, it implied the exact opposite. He left that part out, though. Weird, eh?
Fortunately, ASMI researcher Dave Fortenbaugh made a clear observation based on the study:
I think if you can explain even 20 to 30 percent of the variance of one performance variable (bat velocity) with a particular exercise, I think that exercise is worth spending some effort on.
What It Means at Driveline Baseball
It means that we’re training our baseball athletes that generally agrees with the published sport science out there, while many of the other local training facilities are not. Our staff reviews all the relevant and current research out there and spends untold amounts of money on continuing education to stay on top of the game. Does your current coach do this? If not, maybe it’s time to think about switching. Contact us today for a free tour and workout to see if Driveline Baseball‘s training programs are right for you.
Why is a lean pitcher like Lincecum able to throw 90+MPH and a pitcher like Brain Wilson who is way bigger and muscular than him is slightly faster in velocity? Also, I remember the Cardinals having a really big obese pitcher that threw in the 90’s and there are other chubby pitchers in the Bigs, don’t you think BMI is overrated? You can be skinny, not in shape, eat the crappiest food but according to BMI you are “healthy”
LBM is correlated with higher velocities – not the only cause of it. Certain pitchers throw harder than others because they are more genetically gifted and/or have better mechanics that get the most out of their bodies.
Just because that is true doesn’t mean being stronger and bigger isn’t also a good idea.
BMI is certainly overrated and a terrible metric of use. Where in my article did I even mention it once?
I agree it’s important to be in shape as an athlete.
I thought research figured out that fastball velocity is directly correlated to hip rotation velocity. Rotating against the front leg, using the front leg as a blocking tool, is where you get your velocity from.
I mentioned BMI cause it calculates the percent of fat a person may have on their body which can indicate if somebody is lean or not.
Rotation is the single most important factor in fastball velocity, yes. How can we train to make pitchers rotate faster, then?
BMI does not calculate the percentage of fat a person has on their body. It is simple weight divided by height, which is idiotic. Nearly all linebackers in the NFL are “overweight” or “obese” even if their bodyfat percentage is around 14-15%.
Yea I know it doesn’t calculate the REAL percentage of fat but it claims to do that. It doesn’t factor in the amount of muscle the individual has.
One thing I noticed about Lincecum is how much he rotates towards 2nd base during his hip load and leads with his hips even as he is still rotated towards 2nd base, then as his leg lowers to his footplant all that twisting momentum he gathered from his hip load is transfered to his stride leg. When he lands he twists/rotates his hips as if they were going to face 1st base but they can’t face 1st base cause his stride leg blocks the energy from going that way and instead trasfers it up his body and then to his arm.
Good observation, Tony. I especially liked the “rotates his hips as if they were going to face 1st base.” That’s very well said, and actually goes against most “conventional” thinking (everything should go to the target, chin to the catcher’s mitt, etc).
Yea and rotating in that way does bring the hips, torso, shoulders, head and arm forward toward the target but also over the Stride leg due to the rotational forces created by the lower half.
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