Why Baseball Pitchers Should Not Do Olympic Lifts To Improve Pitching Velocity
Should baseball pitchers be doing explosive strength exercises such as Olympic lifts or any type of heavy weight lifting in order to enhance pitching velocity?
Pitchers are being told that Olympic lifts or explosive weight lifting exercises help pitchers improve pitching velocity. However, there is no reliable evidence that Olympic lifts or heavy weight training of any sort will help pitchers of any age improve pitching velocity.
There may be articles written on the benefits of Olympic lifts or heavy weight training by strength training associations such as The National Strength And Conditioning Association, however there are no studies in any reputable sports science journals that will back up what the strength community is advocating.
The following information is taken from a paper written by Ken Mannie, Strength and Conditioning Coach at Michigan State University in a paper from Stronger Athletes, Safe Effective Strength Training For Athletes, A Rebuttal to the NSCA Position Paper on Explosive Training. The article can be read in full at www.strongerathletes.com.
The American College Of Sports Medicine, the world’s foremost authority on training protocol since being founded in 1954, through which my wife Ginny received her strength and conditioning certification in 1992, recommends safer movements in their strength training position paper and makes no mention of the inclusion of Olympic lifts in training.
The fact, that ACSM does not advocate Olympic lifts or similar exercises such as power cleans should be of concern to parents who may hire strength coaches who advocate such exercises.
Why the Concern?
According to Ken Mannie, the strength and conditioning coach at Michigan State University:
“Olympic lifts or other explosive weight exercises where momentum is used cause repetitive forced hyperextension of the lumbar spine. This forced hyperextension can lead to a number of anomalies and injury defects including lumbar strain, disc injury or a condition known as spondylolysis, which consists of a fracture of the pars interarticularis (an area between the superior and inferior articulating facet on the single vertebra.”
“A study by Dangles et al.3 noted a 44% incidence of spondylolysis in a group of 47 Olympic lifters, while Kotani et al.22 identified the condition in 30.7% of 26 mile lifters. Keep in mind that these were experienced lifters, not like growing and developing pitchers.
Dr. Lyle Micheli, a past president of The American College Of Sports Medicine (ACSM), has also indicated that ballistic weight training (such as Olympic lifts) contributed to spondylolysis.”
With that kind of potential injury risk, does it make sense to have pitchers doing such exercises that not only send stress through the spine but also the total shoulder?
Strength training advocates would rebut the injury potential by saying that Olympic lifts are safe if the athletes are supervised.
Not according to Ken Mannie, the Strength and Conditioning Coach for Michigan State University for the past 30 years. Ken states that it matters little who is doing the supervising of such lifts because even when done correctly, the potential for adding too much stress to the body is still there.
In fact, Ken Mannie does not even advocate Olympic lifts of his football players. What should that tell you about the danger?
While the low back region is a major concern with regard to the risk of injury, other areas are at risk as well.
Dr. Allman, another past president of the ACSM, has commented on numerous occasions of the danger of Olympic lifts as well as the hazards of explosive weight lifting movements.
Olympic Lifts or Explosive Weight Lifting Do Not Increase Rate Of Force Development
What the strength coaches who advocate Olympic lifts would have you believe is that they enhance rate of force development. Not so.
In fact, the scientific evidence has shown that explosive movements without weight or light-weight training to be more effective for developing explosive power than heavy weight lifting. Or if a pitcher wants to improve his momentum or speed of movement from his back let to his front leg by employing maximum leg drive, then to improve his rate of force development he would be better off just practicing the movement using a high volume of repetitions.
Velocity Improvements Can Come From Just Improving Technique Without Weights
About 4 years ago, I assisted a high school pitcher by doing a video analysis. At that time his velocity was 78 mph. He was 6′ and 160 lbs. and a catcher his whole life. He wanted to start pitching the summer prior to his junior year. Much of his problem was a lack of forward momentum that produced a short stride. My advice to him and his father was to work on moving faster by using his back leg more efficiently and effectively by getting his center of gravity lower with more back leg flexion and focusing on getting his back leg extended more quickly.
He asked me how many repetitions it would take and I told him that it takes approximately 3,000 repetitions to change a movement pattern. The very next day he started doing 500 repetitions per day and continued that for 35 days, with some video review by me to make sure he was on the right course. I told him that videotaping his sessions would be required in order to know he was making the needed changes. After 30 days his velocity had increased 85 mph. With one more adjustment in just 5 days of practice he ended up throwing 87 mph.
In the case of this pitcher, his focus was on improving little by little his back leg drive do that his back leg extended faster, which forced his lower body into a longer stride faster. He moved faster and created more power by intending to move faster.
Pitching, due to it’s explosive nature, has a risk of injury already built in. Why would any pitcher add to that inherent risk by doing exercises that could affect the longevity of their career?
There are actually two reasons why pitchers should not do Olympic lifts or other types of momentum or explosive weight lifting.
1. First of all pitching is much more about skill than strength. There is no evidence that weight lifting or exercises such as Olympic lifts can improve pitching velocity. In other words, no matter what is hoped for by the coach or player, there exists no real evidence that it works.
According to past president of ACSM Dr Fred Allman, Olympic lifts provide little performance benefit to athletes in their training programs for any sports but Olympic lifting.
This simply means that Olympic lifts would provide no benefit to improving pitching performance or football as well.
Pitching is considered a speed of movement activity rather than a strength activity. After all, what is the force that the pitcher must overcome? A 5 oz baseball. Do you actually believe that a great deal of strength is required when there are 10-year-old pitchers who can throw 70 and some 12-year-olds who can throw above 80 mph? How many do you believe are involved in strength training?
Olympic lifts will not increase the rate of force since pitchers would be far better off just practicing an explosive movement with no weight or with light weights.
2. The risk of injury is far too high. Baseball pitching already has an inherent built-in injury risk because of its explosive nature. Why would you want to add anything to that risk by doing exercises that experts and studies have proven to be dangerous? Plus, the expected or promised transfer to improved pitching performance and velocity that conditioning coaches would have you believe does not exist.
Keep in mind, any strength and conditioning coach can write an article advocating anything. However, for it to pass scrutiny it must be peer reviewed by sports scientists in well respected sports science journals rather than in strength and conditioning magazines.
Eric Cressey, a well respected and well credentialed baseball conditioning coach in the Boston area also does not advocate Olympic lifts because of their inherent risk of injury and the lack of transfer to baseball.
He has written an article on his website titled: Why Baseball Players Shouldn’t Olympic Lift, written on August 2, 2012.
Cressey says: “However, baseball players aren’t like most athletes or general fitness folks. They have far more joint laxity(looseness), and it’s a key trait that helps to make them successful in their sport. While I hate to ever bring additional attention to an extremely unfortunately event, a weightlifting injury that occurs in this year’s Olympics reminded me of just one reason why I don’t include the Olympic lifts with our throwers.”
Matt Brzychi, the Strength and Conditioning Coach at Princeton University, offers this perspective: “Using momentum to lift a weight increases the internal forces encountered by a given joint; the faster a weight is lifted, the greater these forces are amplified — especially at the points of acceleration and deceleration. When these forces exceed the structural limits of a joint, an injury occurs in the muscles, bones or connective tissue. No one knows what the exact tensile strength of ligaments and tendons are at any give moment. The only way to ascertain tensile strength is when the structural limits are surpassed.”
This rebuttal to the NSCA Position Statement on Explosive Training was not written for individuals who are firmly entrenched in their thinking one way or the other, but rather for those who are seeking to compare training information in order to make a rational, educated decision. It must be repeated and emphasized that any type of progressive overload strength training will elicit gains in muscular size and strength with concurrent enhancement in the contractile properties of muscle tissue.
However, I caution the reader not to fall prey to the notion that there is a distinct advantage in producing “explosive” athletes by training them with ballistic lifting movements. This erroneous proposition continues to be force-fed to the coaching community by organizations and individuals who, because of prejudiced thinking based on their backgrounds or vested interests, are married to this closed-minded philosophy.
It is my personal opinion that the NSCA Position Paper on Explosive Training is rife with ambiguous suggestions, one-sided half-truths, and incomplete interpretations of the scientific literature. If accepted as doctrine by those in the coaching ranks who are searching for training information, it could contribute to a higher incidence of weight room injuries, a situation that is totally unacceptable, both professionally and ethically.
I will continue to write and speak out against this potentially dangerous and completely unnecessary type of lifting, and I encourage those who share the same views to do the same. Ken Mannie can be reached by writing him c/o Michigan State University, Duffy Daugherty Football Building, East Lansing, MI 48824.”
I hope that parents, coaches and pitchers alike will heed the advice of the experts. The idea being that exercises such as Olympic lifts or explosive weight training do not provide performance benefits for baseball pitchers but do dramatically increase the risk of injury.
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