Olympic Lifts for Baseball Players – Is Power Planar?

| Strength Training
Reading Time: 4 minutes

While there aren’t any Olympic lifts in our first training video (as seen in the right sidebar), our older baseball athletes do perform the power clean as a staple in their barbell training program. Recently there have been a few articles on the Internet discussing the validity and usefulness of Olympic lifts for baseball players, particularly pitchers. A lot of coaches and trainers contend that power is bound to the plane you are performing the movement in, and as such, the Olympic lifts are bad choices for baseball athletes.

What do we mean by “planes,” anyway?

Human Anatomy Planes
Human Anatomy Planes

The power clean operates almost entirely in the sagittal plane, as do maximum vertical leap attempts. Baseball pitching and hitting, on the other hand, are largely transverse and coronal movements (think: trunk and pelvic rotation). So why would we train for power in the sagittal plane? Or even train at all in the sagittal plane?

This is a situation where sport-specificity gets taken way too far. You have to step back for a second and realize that a proper training program will adequately separate general physiological training and sport-specific training. Squats and deadlifts operate primarily in the sagittal plane as well. Should we omit them from a proper baseball player’s training regimen? Absolutely not.

Power cleans train Rate of Force Development very well and help the athlete to develop a better sense for creating optimal ground reaction forces through the “jump” in the second pull of the movement. Power cleans are not meant to be a sport-specific training stimulus but rather a general physiological training stimulus. Simply replacing them with lateral bounding (coronal plane) and broad jumping (sagittal plane) methods ignores half of the reason we train – to be generally more powerful, strong, and athletic!

Movements that operate largely in the general physiological realm of stimuli are not bad, just as movements that operate largely in the sport-specific realm of stimuli are not bad. In fact, you have to be careful when the two overlap, because this is where you can run into some mechanical confusion! For example, take weighted (overload) baseballs. If you stay within 10-20% of the original weight of the baseball (5 ounces), you don’t meaningfully affect the standard biomechanical patterns of a baseball thrower’s mechanics. This would largely be a sport-specific training stimulus. However, as you stray from this boundary, you start to alter the biomechanical pattern of a standard baseball throw and start moving across the continuum towards a general physiological training stimulus. But since the movement is still a “throw,” you are getting fairly fuzzy with the training stimulus. As a result, you might be training the body to do something in a less efficient or less optimal manner due to the biomechanical changes you are imposing on the standard mechanics of the movement. This is why you see most of our very heavy baseball throws (2 pounds, for example) done with partial movements or constrained situations (pitcher kneeling, for example).

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There are plenty of reasons why you’d want to intentionally alter the standard biomechanical patterns of a movement, however. A flaw in a pitcher’s arm action can be exposed with an overload baseball in limited action to help the pitcher understand the changes he needs to make. But with a pitcher who has a generally decent arm action, you wouldn’t use these tools for fear of altering his throwing motion in a negative way.

Always remember the continuum of general physiological training to sport-specific training. It exists in all sports, and movements on both ends typically have a lot of merit to them. Just remember when crossing the continuum to be careful not to alter the standard movement patterns of an athlete – unless you want this change to occur!

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