Olympic lifts have been shown to increase athletic potential. Most arguments for and against the usage of Olympic lifts for baseball players are not over the effectiveness of Olympic lifts making better athletes, but rather; what is the best way to use the principles of Olympic weightlifting and apply them to the athlete.
The debate between strength and conditioning professionals regarding the usage of the olympic lifts for baseball players (snatch, clean, and jerk) is always ongoing, with coaches making compelling cases for each. In a 2005 research study, 23% of Major League Baseball (MLB) strength and conditioning coaches said they implemented the Olympic-style lifts with their athletes; five coaches out of the 23 surveyed (1).
Many agree that the Olympic lifts are effective at increasing power, ground reaction force, and athleticism; yet they (the Olympic lifts) can also increase shoulder, elbow, and wrist stress with athletes who already have high amounts of training loading and strain placed upon those joints.
The fact of the matter is that coaches and athletes need to understand the whole picture, look at the risks and benefits, and see if there are ways to increase power, strength, and athletic ability while minimizing risks.
Therefore, in this article we will set out to discuss the following aspects to help coaches gain a deeper insight on the pros and cons of using the Olympic lifts (snatch, clean, and jerk) with baseball players and aid in the decision process:
- Pros of Olympic Lifting for Baseball Players
- Cons of Olympic Lifting for Baseball Players
- Assessing the Needs/Risks of Players Based on Position
- Weightlifting Exercises for Baseball Players (Barbell)
- “Weightlifting Exercises for Baseball Players (Non-Barbell)
- Should Baseball Players Do Snatches
- Leg Training for Baseball Players
- Sample 3-Day Off Season Program
- Sample 2-Day In Season Program
Why Baseball Players Shoulder Do the Olympic Lifts (for Baseball)
Below are two (2) reasons why performing cleans and snatches with baseball players may lead to increased performance of general athleticism.
Posterior and Kinetic Chain Development
Baseball requires that an athlete transfers force, beginning with the lower body and it’s interaction with the ground. Through this interaction, which is done via posterior chain activation (hamstrings and glutes) and quadriceps engagement, the force is transferred from the lower body to the torso and into the upper body (for either batting or throwing). Olympic lifts are whole body, ground-based exercises that can improve the kinetic chain mechanics necessary for athletic movements.
Improved “Athletic” Power
When asked about the Olympic lifts, researchers stated that, “It appears that the Olympic-style lifts have the greatest potential to affect power production. These lifts stimulate neuromuscular adaptations, which may potentially result in improved sports performance.” (2). It is for this reason that so many coaches turn to the clean (primarily) and it’s pulling variations to improve general athletic power potentials.
Why Baseball Players Should NOT Do the Olympic Lifts
Below are three (3) reasons why performing cleans and snatched with baseball players may not be advised. Note, that these are not definitive, but rather potential reasons that a coach should be cautious when implanting the Olympic lifts within a baseball players program.
Shoulder and Wrist Injuries
Shoulder injuries are very prevalent in baseball players, with pitchers having even higher incidences of rotator cuff injuries and ailments. Throwing involves high amounts of both external and internal rotation, as does the Olympic lifts. Some coaches feel that performing movements like snatches and clean (front rack) add unnecessary amounts of stress to the shoulder and the rotator cuff, especially in pitchers.
Wrist injuries are also common in Olympic weightlifting, often from poor reviving positions or stress placed upon the joints. While these injuries are not common and can be often controlled with proper coaching and programming. That said, injuries do occur, and a wrist injury can sideline a pitcher and/or baseball player and have a larger impact on performance than sports that rely less heavily on throwing and arm/hand use.
Strength and power is angular specific, meaning that the degrees of joint flexion and extension that are trained are reinforced and trained accordingly. Some coaches feel that given the (1) potential injury risks, and (2) that baseball players are rotational athletes, and that powerful movements that lack dynamic and multi-directional force outputs may not carry-over to the sport as intended. That said, some of the exercise variations below can be used to both increase general athleticism, power, and even sport-specific performance. It is for this reason that many coaches will also include rotational, ballistic medicine ball training variations as well.
Pitchers vs Fielders
Baseball players, as like most athletes, can benefit significantly from increase leg strength and posterior chain development. Squats, deadlifts, plyometrics, and sometimes (depending on the coach) Olympic weightlifting variations are used to produce strength and power.
Conversely, baseball player are also unlike most other sports athletes; as they have a high priority to minimize unnecessary strain and loading to the wrists and shoulders, both of which are joints that are commonly found to be injured (when injuries do occur) with the Olympic lifts.
If we take a deeper look at the differences between a fielder (non-pitcher) and pitchers, we must take into consideration the substantially higher shoulder injury rates and issues that arise from throwing 60+ pitches in a game, sometimes a few time per week, for a 2-3 month season (excluding preseason, spring training, non-game day throwing, playoffs, etc).
With pitchers, a higher priority must be placed in keeping the shoulder joints and wrist protected, which may mean removing movements that add potentially sidelining injuries that can affect the team (wrist sprains, shoulder impingement, etc).
Pitchers can often find the same benefit of performing snatches and cleans by performing clean pulls, without shoulder and/or wrist injury risks.
Weightlifitng Exercises for Baseball Players (Barbell)
Below are weightlifting variations with a barbell that are often seen in baseball training. Note, that many coaches opt to not perform snatches or cleans due to the risk stated above, however others do include the movements. As coach needs to understand the risk and assess the readiness of the athlete.
Hang Power Cleans
The hang power clean is often used as it is (1) easy to teach to most beginner athletes, (2) limits the need for full squatting and therefore can keep lower body training volume in check, and (3) can be done to increase rate of force production.
The hang clean included the transition into the squat. This can be helpful to synchronize motor movements together with more experienced athletes, however the demand on mobility and technique may be higher; and therefore coaches should select based on readiness of the athlete.
The power clean can be done to increase pulling volume and/or add variety to the clean variations. This can be helpful to teach athletes how to utilize leg strength to and translate powerful lower body extension into forceful movements. That said, this does require a greater understanding of technique and coaching the lifts on the part of the coach and athlete.
Clean pulls, done from the hang, blocks, or the floor, can be used to increase rate of force production. This variation is often used as it limits the strain on the wrists and shoulders yet still allows for maximal velocities and loading to occur, making it the primarily weightlifting movement for coaches who are against snatches and/or cleans for baseball players (3).
The muscle snatch is a snatch variation that requires less mobility and technique to master than the full snatch, however still offers powerful hip extension and rate of force development for athletic purposes. This is a good option to also limit potentially shoulder and wrist stress when compared to the more ballistic full snatch or power snatch version. This can also be done from the hang of simply done as a high pull movement (without turnover). The key here is to keep the loading light to moderate, and minimize the amount of heavy “grinding” and/or pressing out of the barbell. That said, higher loads can be used in the clean pull (or clean high pull) variation, making it potentially just as effective to limit snatch training altogether for baseball players (see below).
Weightlifitng Exercises for Baseball Players (Non-Barbell)
Below are weightlifting variations NOT performed with a barbell, which allows for coaches to decrease strain on the elbows, wrists, and shoulders. Coaches may opt to use the below exercises to increase athletic potential and power in similar manner to the formal Olympic lifts (barbell) while minimizing additional stress and overuse of the joints and throwing muscles often used by baseball players
The dumbbell clean can be done in both a unilateral and bilateral manner, making them a valuable way to address movement and muscle imbalances (often seen in baseball players, due to the sport). Additionally, the dumbbell clean does not require as much wrist, shoulder, and elbow flexion in the receiving position, limiting the potential for overuse injury. Last, dumbbells allow for individualization of wrist and arm positioning based on an athlete’s movement, mobility, and strength abilities, rather than a one-size fits all barbell.
Dynamic Cleaning Movements
In short, these include complexes that include a clean (in this case a dumbbell or landmine) and a dynamic movement, such as a step up, lunge, lateral lunge, etc. These can help to increase synchronization of movement, power, and increase sport specificity (depending on the exercise selected). Below are a few common movements, mostly unilateral options:
- Single Arm Dumbbell Clean to Step Up
- Single Leg Dumbbell Clean
- Lateral Lunge Clean
Should Baseball Players Do Snatches?
When looking at the benefits and risks of weightlifting movements for baseball players (see above), and more demanding the technique, mobility, and shoulder demands of the snatch, many coaches opt to exclude the snatch and it’s variations from baseball strength and conditioning programs.
The decision (and potential benefits/consequences) to train the snatch is solely upon the coaching staff. Personally, as the strength coach for the New York University baseball team and through my discussions with other collegiate strength coaches, the risks (and time demands to coach) of snatching do not out weight the benefits. Furthermore, many of the same explosive properties can be trained via clean pulls and clean variations, as the focus in on the power outputs within the second pull of the Olympic-lifts, not the actual ability to clean, snatch, or jerk max loads.
Leg Strength for Baseball Players
In the below sections we offer coaches and athletes lower body strength training exercises to improve strength (unilateral and bilateral) and posterior chain development.
Below are a few bilateral and unilateral squat styles coaches can use to develop leg strength and posterior chain musculature; both are essential to throwing, hitting, and athletic performance. Note, that the below squat styles can also be done using their direct variations, such as box squats, band/chains, tempos, pauses, etc.
- Back Squat: The back squat is a basis for building leg strength and posterior chain development. Note, that some coaches feel that back squats place unnecessary strain on the shoulders and therefore elect to safety squat athletes of simply perform unilateral strength work as the basis for lower body training (both of which are acceptable).
- Front Squat: The front squat can be used to increase quadriceps development, enhance anterior core strength, and decrease load upon the lower back in times looking to decrease training volume. Note, that this can be done by taking a full clean grip, a crossed arm rack position, or using straps to decrease strain on the wrists and shoulder.
- Safety Bar Squat: The safety bar squat is a good squat variation to limit shoulder internal rotation by keeping the joint in a more neutral position. This variation is often used with pitchers and/or athletes coming back from shoulder/elbow injury, and/or for general precautionary purposes.
- Split Squat: The split squat is a unilateral exercise than can be done to increase unilateral leg strength, power, and function. Note, this exercise still allows for a lifer to place the other foot on the floor, decreasing the balance needed when compared to the Bulgarian split squat.
- Bulgarian Split Squat: The Bulgarian split squat can be done to increase unilateral strength, power, muscle development, and challenge balance needed in single-legged sports.
Below are a few bilateral and unilateral posterior chain exercises to increase the strength, muscle, AND explosiveness necessary for powerful movements.
- Conventional Deadlift: The conventional, or regular, deadlift can be done to increase hamstring, glute, and general back strength and muscle mass. This can also be used a s basis for more advanced strength training,
- Romanian Deadlift: The Romanian deadlift can be swapped to increase hamstring and glute development due to the positioning of the less and the slight knee bend.
- Sumo Deadlift: The sumo deadlift can be done to increase general hip and hamstring strength, muscle mass, and develop the posterior chin. In addition, the sumo deadlift mimics many of the fielding stances a baseball player would take, allowing for slightly more specialization to occur. Lastly, the sumo deadlift can help to decrease lower back fatigue as the lifter should remain in a more upright position than the conventional deadlift.
- Trap Bar Deadlift: The trap bar deadlift can be used to keep an athlete in a more upright position in the pull. This a good way to also add in heavier pulling volume as athletes can often do slightly heavier intensities and more volume than standard conventional deadlifts.
- Single Leg Deadlift: The single leg deadlift is a unilateral deadlift variation that can help to increase development of the hamstrings, glutes, and establish greater knee, hip, and core stability.
Sample Off-Season Baseball Program (3-Day)
Below is a sample 3-day off-season program that includes power and strength movements, along with accessory exercises. For the sake of simplicity, let’s also assume that the power and strength exercises are progressed in linear fashion, with the loading being increased 5lbs per week, or 1-2% of max. Note, that the power and strength blocks per training session are in bold.
Within this phase, the athlete should focus on addressing muscle asymmetries, increasing lean body mass, and developing maximal strength and power. Training volumes are higher, with intensities increasing as the weeks progress.
It is also important to note that preventative shoulder work, warm-ups and cooldowns, and conditioning programs are done in addition to the program below.
- Hang Clean High Pull 4 sets (3 reps)/85-90% of clean max (or something relatively heavy, yet fast)
- Crow Hop Medicine Ball Throws 4(2/)
- Box Squat 5(5)/80%
- Hurdle Hops 4(4-6)
- Landmine Rotational Press 3(8/)
- TRX Face Pulls 3(8-10)
- Single Leg Romanian Deadlift 3(12/)
- Landmine Rotations 3(10/)
- Muscle Snatch 4(3)/light-moderate load
- Box Jump 4(3)
- Jump Squat 5(3)/25-30% of squat
- Lateral Medicine Ball Toss 4(3/)
- Neutral Grip Pull Up 3(8)
- Dumbbell Floor Press 3(8-10)
- Lateral Step Up 3(8/)
- Stability Ball Hamstring Curl 3(12-15)
- Hang Power Clean 4(3)/60-70% of clean max (or something light to moderately heavy…emphasis on explosiveness)
- Rainbow Medicine Ball Slam 4(3/)
- Sumo Deadlift 5(5)/80%
- Broad Jump 4(4-6)
- Dumbbell Seal Row 3(8-10)
- Cable Woodchop 3(8-10/)
- Kettlebell Bulgarian Split Squat 3(12/)
- Weighted Wrist Rollers 3(3-5)
Sample In-Season Baseball Program (2-Day)
Below is a sample 2-day in-season program that includes power and strength movements, along with accessory exercises. Unlike the off-season training, the in-season goal should be on maintaining or slightly increasing strength and power, however this can be limited due to game scheduling and recovery from games/travel/training. Training sessions may be lower in overall volume which can allow for similar training intensities to be done (when compared to the off-season) without impeding recovery.
As a strength coach, your role should be to monitor training intensities and adapt the programs based on individual readiness, scheduling, and athlete/sports coach/athletic training feedback.
Note, that the power and strength blocks per training session are in bold. It is also important to note that preventative shoulder work, warm-ups and cooldowns, and conditioning programs are done in addition to the program below.
- Power Clean 4(2)/70-75% of clean max (or something light to moderately heavy…emphasis on explosiveness)
- Single Knee Medicine Ball Slam 4(5/)
- Squat 5(2-3)/75-85%
- Depth Drop or Depth Jump 4(2-3)
- Landmine Reverse Lunge + Press 3(8/)
- TRX Archer Row 3(8-10/)
- Pallof Press 3(10/)
- Weighted Wrist Rollers 3(3-5)
- Clean Pull 4(3-4)/85-100% of clean max (or something heavy…yes emphasis still on explosiveness)
- Single Leg Box Jump 4(2-3/)
- Barbell Step Up 5(4-6/)
- Turkish Get Up 4(2-3)
- Landmine Rotation 3(8/)
- SL RDL on Airex 3(8-10/)
- Bodysaw 3(15-20)
- Farmers Carry 3(50yds)
- Ebben, W. P., Hintz, M. J., & Simenz, C. J. (2005). Strength And Conditioning Practices Of Major League Baseball Strength And Conditioning Coaches. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 19(3), 538-546. doi:10.1519/00124278-200508000-00010
- Haff, G., & Potteiger, J. (2001). A Brief Review: Explosive Exercises and Sports Performance. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 23(3), 13-20. doi:10.1519/00126548-200106000-00010
- Sato, T. J. (2013). Baseball Resistance Training: Should Power Clean Variations Be Incorporated? Journal of Athletic Enhancement, 02(02). doi:10.4172/2324-9080.1000112
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