Everyone loves grip strength from a general physical preparedness (GPP) standpoint, and why not? It’s used on a daily basis by the majority of us. Moving boxes, hoisting furniture, opening jars of peanut butter, opening stuck doors, and so on. But does it matter when it comes to swinging a bat?
Many people believe that the strength of the forearms and grip matter at ball/bat collision – the stronger your grip on the bat, the more solid your contact will be. Unfortunately, this view is flawed. It has been debunked by the vast majority of people who study swing mechanics like Dr. Chris Yeager, Jack Mankin, Dr. Robert Adair, and even the guys on the ESPN show Sport Science. Simply put, the bat is ballistic at contact, meaning that if you could release the bat just before bat/ball collision, you would have no effect on the outcome of the hit. The reverberations that are caused by contact do not reach your hands before the ball’s surface leaves the surface of the bat.
So Grip Strength is NOT Important!
Well… not quite. Like everything in athletics, swinging a bat for optimal performance relies on efficient use of the kinetic chain. This means proper force application/generation technique from the ground up, from proximal to distal, largest to smallest body segments.
In layman’s terms, this means using the legs to power the hips, which turn the shoulders, which launch the arms, wrists, hands, and finally the baseball bat to contact. Leg, hip, and core strength matter the most – they will contribute the vast majority of the bat’s launch speed when timed correctly.
However, a break in the kinetic chain or weakness in a link of the kinetic chain will cause an inefficient transfer of power from segment to segment. This is where good forearm strength comes into play.
A good way to determine if (and how much) something matters is to take two extremes. For forearm/grip strength, let’s assume we have the world champion of arm wrestling against someone with a broken ulna bone. That’s a pretty good continuum. The guy with ultimate forearm strength is going to be able to transfer close to 100% of the power generated by the legs and core to the bat assuming he uses perfect bat swing mechanics. The guy with the broken ulna will not, for reasons that should be obvious.
This argument is very similar to the one we use when discussing why you should train the decelerator muscles when it comes to throwing a ball. Building a bigger engine (legs/core) is unusable if the brakes (posterior shoulder muscles) or transmission (forearms in the case of a bat swing) cannot appropriately handle the load imposed on them.
Grip Strength IS Important… Just Less Important than the Engine
The engine drives the car, and so it’s important to work the muscles that contribute the most to the swing’s speed. But it’s also important to work the smaller muscles that stabilize the bat and transfer power down the barrel of the bat as well. Again, there’s a catch – simply training the grip using methods like squeezing a tennis ball over and over again doesn’t really help and is a pretty inefficient use of your time. What’s the best way to train the grip and the muscles that contribute the most bat speed?
Deadlifts, of course!
So get in the gym, do your heavy deadlifts, and we bet you’ll see a big increase in bat speed, grip strength, and the manliness of your hands. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’ll need to start doing deadlifts to find out on your own.