Why Strength Matters in Baseball

One common misconception that we often seen thrown around is that the only way to train for baseball is to train fast and “explosive”, since the majority of the action in baseball (i.e. pitching, hitting, sprinting) occurs at full speed.  While this sounds great (and sells a lot of programs) and should certainly be a part of the training process, this isn’t the only part of training
P.s. good luck getting an athlete with a young training-age to train fast, all while still improving his posture, body awareness, movement patterns, etc. It isn’t going to work.

 

Force-Velocity-Curve

Sure, we have to train velocity and speed during the year, but we can’t neglect training for strength, as it is an integral part of producing power (more below).

Likewise, we do need to train for the bioenergetics of baseball (the energy systems), but that can’t be how we train all the time. If we were to only perform 1 explosive repetition of an exercise, then rest for 30s, then repeat as prescribed (as it is in pitching), we would never have enough time under tension to build muscle, or load the tissues enough to gain strength.

So, the purpose of this post is just to clear up a misconception – the misconception that gaining strength and “moving weight slow” is not good for baseball.

Force Development is the Base for Power Development

Power is arguably the single most important variable in sports performance. That’s because power is the ability to produce as much force as possible, as quickly as possible.

While we can all agree that power is what we are seeking to gain, we can’t ignore the processes of gaining power. Strength is another vital variable in sports performance because of its direct connection with power. Strength can be viewed as a limiter for the capacity for power – meaning, the more strength that we have, the greater potential there is for us to produce more power.
Weight Room Example:
Two athletes attempt to squat 165 lbs as powerfully as possible. Player 1 has a one rep max on the squat of 185 lbs, while Player 2 has a one rep max of 300 lbs (assume all else is equal between the two athletes).
Who do you think has the greater capacity to move 165 lbs. the fastest?

To further your understanding, now consider if both players are asked to choose a weight that enables them to perform 2 reps in 2 seconds.

Player 1 is able to do 160 lbs for 2 reps in 2 seconds. Player 2 is able to do 260 lbs. for 2 reps in 2 seconds.

Because power is the ability to produce as much force as quickly as possible, Player 2 obviously produced more power in the squat than Player 1.

Mathematically, just plug in numbers for the variables and you will see:

Power = Work / Time

Although the above example is in the context of the weight room, the same idea applies to baseball. A player who is able to produce more force with his lower body, transfer it through his trunk and to his upper extremities, thereby applying it to the baseball, will have a greater potential for power output on the ball.
Of course, there are many other variables involved; anthropometrics (i.e. limb lengths), movement/mechanical efficiency (no energy leaks throughout the system); rate of force development and synchronization (ability to not only recruit many motor units, but recruit them quickly in the appropriate order/pattern); use of the stretch shortening cycle (using the elastic properties of the muscles, and the stretch reflex); relative strength (strength to body-weight ratio), range of motion (of the hips, trunk, and upper limbs); etc, and transfer of training to sport performance; all of these can impact the use of that strength. Hence why a 300 lbs. offensive lineman who can, say, squat 700 lbs. won’t necessarily throw a baseball faster than the 160 lbs. javelin thrower.
Adding weight to the bar and training for strength will force you to move slower (as force and velocity work inversely. But, something that Mark Watt’s said at the RMU Strength and Speed Clinic a year or two ago spoke to this, and it really resonated with me:
In neuromuscular terms, is there a difference between moving the bar fast, and moving the bar with the intention of moving it fast?Mark Watts (slightly paraphrased from my memory)

Deceleration = Eccentric Strength

jon-lester

While improving our strength gives us a greater potential for power production (concentric muscle action), it also gives us a greater potential for safe deceleration, stemming from eccentric strength.

One of the hot topics today in baseball performance training is “deceleration training” using weighted baseballs. While it is imperative that a pitcher’s arm and posterior shoulder can decelerate effectively, it is equally important for a pitcher’s body to be able to decelerate effectively as well in order to decrease the risk of injury.
MuscleActionsTo go a little deeper, eccentric muscle-action can be found when a muscle is contracting while it is still lengthening. This means that the muscles about a joint cannot produce enough force to overcome the resistance meeting them – thus elongating while they still attempt to produce force (contract) – yet are still capable of slow down the joints angular velocity.

 

So, eccentric muscle-actions slow a movement down in order to help prevent injury (excessive range of motion), as well as to change directions effectively. For a player to land on his front leg and halt his momentum takes a lot of eccentric strength in the lower body.
mccoy
Now, could working on your landing with a pitching coach be a way of getting better at absorbing your forward momentum? Sure. But, is that the only (or best) means of getting better at decelerating the body? No, and here are my two reasons why:
First of all, to get better at any performance variable, you have to follow the training principle of progressive overload. “Getting better” at any performance variable simply means an appropriate stress is being placed on the system, and an adaptation occurs. To progressively “get better” – or adapt – we must progressively add stress – or overload the system (and of course, provide enough recovery to allow a compensatory effect for optimal adaptation).

If our only method of training the lower body to decelerate is pitching off of a mound, here are our only options for progressively overload:

A) Increase the speed at which you move toward the plate over time
B) Increase body weight with external load (e.g. a weighted vest or resistance bands)
C) Increase the volume of throws 
None of these seem to be safe or effective methods for overloading the eccentric capabilities of the lower body.
Furthermore, it’s counterintuitive since we are already battling overuse in pitchers. Why only train deceleration by pitching more?
Of course we want our players throwing off the mound with a pitching coach, getting more efficient mechanically at landing
So, what means do we have to get stronger at deceleration without overdoing it on the mound?

We integrate strength-training.

When training for strength, the loads are heavy enough to slow the tempo of the exercise down. By slowing the exercise tempo, there is a greater amount of time under tension during the eccentric phase, thus improving eccentric strength. Really, by just having a significant external load on the body and going through safe movement patterns will increase eccentric strength. Plus, some reflexive mechanisms in the body can be inhibited with eccentric-emphasis loading.
Together, strength-training and proper coaching and baseball training canwork hand-in-hand. But, due to the reasons mentioned above, one should not be done at the exclusion of the other – they should both be a part of an integrated program.
Respectfully,
RJF
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