Olympic lifting is considered very taboo in baseball. Mainly concerns over injury, the technicality of the lifts and the direction of force production. Olympic lifting variations are not the magical formula to enhancing baseball performance, but they are an extremely valuable tool for a baseball strength & conditioning coach. Let’s take a look at why we use Olympic lifting in our program. They produce some of the highest human power outputs, they are considered some of the best lifts to enhance dynamic athletic ability (jumping, running, throwing), they are multi joint exercises utilizing the kinetic chain/triple extension, they stimulate neuromuscular adaptations and the injury concerns are severely overblown. Here are some third party studies to back up our Olympic lifting performance enhancement claims.
“Because of the potential of these lifts to produce high-power outputs and their movement and velocity-specificities to many sport activities (e.g., jumping, running, throwing), Olympic-style lifts are considered as some of the best training exercises to maximize dynamic athletic performance.”
“Snatch and clean lifts, and related movements such as power snatch, power cleans, and high pulls, not only require high power production if executed properly but also involve a large muscle mass and multiple joint movements that relate well to everyday work, recreational, and sport activities. Thus, by specificity of training, these lifting exercises result in adaptations that transfer well to improve performance in other common movement activities, as well as sports requiring high power outputs.”
“The clean and jerk and snatch lifts have the potential to produce some of the highest average human power outputs. Clearly, when comparing the Olympic-style lifts to traditional high-force/low-velocity exercises, higher power outputs are encountered. Thus, the use of explosive lifts such as the Olympic-style lifts may partially explain the differences in power output capabilities of different strength power athletes. Because these exercises stimulate improved power output-generating capabilities, many have suggested that they will produce a significant carry-over to other strength power sports. This suggestion is generally based upon the belief that these exercises produce movement patterns, velocity characteristics, and power outputs that are similar to those needed in many sports performances.”
“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.” (3)
“This study suggests that while both the jump squat and power clean stimulate maximum strength more than vertical jumping (as indicated by higher peak forces), the power clean seems to be better suited for stimulating explosive strength (as indicated by greater rates of force development).”
“In baseball, batting power begins with the lower body, and forces are transferred through the torso to the upper body. For this reason, resistance training exercises should also include whole body, ground-based, closed kinetic chain exercises such as Olympic-style weight lifting variations, including the hang clean, power clean, and snatch.”
Olympic Lift Injury Risk Is Severely Overblown
Now let’s take a look at the claims about the high risk of injury. No exercise is completely risk free, but there is no evidence of a pattern of injury in olympic weightlifting. Baseball players are not blowing their arms out from olympic lifts or their variations. Many high level athletes in the NFL, NHL and MLB incorporate these lifts for their performance benefits and I have seen no evidence of a pattern of injury. In fact, according to two 6 year studies professional baseball has a higher pattern of injury than elite Olympic weightlifters.
Injury Rate of Olympic Lifters
3.3 injuries/1000 hours of weightlifting exposure
Injury Rate of MLB Players
3.61 injuries/1000 hours
Not only is the injury rate higher in baseball, but the injuries tend to be more traumatic requiring surgery! While in the study on injury rate of Olympic lifters they found:
“Most of the injuries were relatively minor, resulting in missed training time recommendations of less than 1 day. Overall, the injury rates for olympic weightlifting are very similar to rates for many other sports. In general, the types of injuries most often encountered included typical overuse types of injuries and did not impair joint or skeletal integrity.” (6)
Most of the injuries took less than 1 day to recover and they were mainly overuse type injuries that did not impair skeletal or joint integrity. You will also never reach the amount of weight that elite olympic weightlifters lift further decreasing your
chances of injury. When these exercises are performed with appropriate technique and are supervised by a qualified strength professional, there is minimal risk of injury.
Olympic Lifts More Sport Specific To Baseball Than You Think
Many anti-Olympic lifting coaches in baseball claim that the lifts are not good for baseball because of the direction of the force production and that they are not sport/plane specific to baseball.
1.) Any strength and conditioning coach worth his salt knows an exercise does not need to be sport specific to elicit performance benefits on the field. The same coaches who use this argument typically use trap bar deadlifts in their programs which is the same plane of movement as a power clean.
2.) Using a high velocity pitcher as an example, vertical force production is used in both the back leg drive and front leg stabilization/extension. Perhaps a power clean is more sport specific than we thought!
“Push-off vertical forces are fairly constant, with peak magnitudes of slightly more than 1.0 BW occurring early in the pitch cycle. Landing vertical forces are gradually built up after foot contact to approximately 1.5 BW, peaking just before ball release.” (8)
“At the point of maximal external rotation of the arm in cocking, the peak vertical forces (1.5 BW) and peak braking forces (nearly 0.75 BW) were generated. These forces gradually diminished through the remainder of the pitching cycle. These findings indicate that the ground-reaction forces were primarily concentrated within the plane defined by the path of the ball and the vertical axis.” (8)
“Based on this study, we hypothesize that the push-off forces in the direction of the pitch (AP shear) initiate the forward momentum of the entire body. The greater this magnitude, the more kinetic energy there is in the direction of the pitch. Similarly, the vertical push-off component can be used to generate potential energy, which can be transformed into kinetic energy at later stages.” (8)
This shows that the direction of force produced in a power clean applies to throwing in baseball. I would argue it also applies to the swing and sprinting.
Olympic Lifting Technique Easier To Learn Than Ever
The next concern for baseball coaches is the perceived difficulty of teaching the technique. This is true. It is a technical lift and you need a good strength professional to teach you the technique. This can be hard to find in baseball. Even Brady Anderson the Orioles VP of baseball operations who helped bring Olympic lifting to the Orioles acknowledges this in an article,
“It’s hard to get people who want to teach [Olympic lifts]. It’s hard to get people who know how to teach it. I’m not trying to criticize anyone’s system, I’m just worried about this one. To me, this is very standard science, standard procedure, but still unusual in baseball. Speed and power.” (9)
He goes on to say,
“It’s a shift in culture, from what I understand Every single person we’ve talked to said they’ve never had a better strength and conditioning program than this.” (9)
With the emergence of crossfit and social media it has never been easier to find a qualified coach to help you with your technique. For example, you can send video in for analysis to our social media @stevenguadagni and @topvelocity for a free technical analysis. There are hundreds of other Olympic lifting coaches on social media to choose from as well.
Olympic Lifts Are Amazing For Baseball Players
I hope this article helps bring a good counter argument to the no Olympic lifting in baseball discussion. We have used Olympic lifting variations in our programming for over 10 years with baseball players (mainly pitchers) without a pattern of injury. Many of our testimonials acknowledge they were a huge part of their success. Olympic lifting variations are some of the best lifts to maximize dynamic athletic performance, there is no evidence of a pattern of injury in using them to train baseball players, the direction of force of the Olympic lifting variations is applicable to baseball and it has never been easier to find a qualified professional to teach you the technique.
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2. GARHAMMER, J. A review of power output studies of Olympic and powerlifting: Methodology, performance prediction, and evaluation tests. J. Strength Cond. Res 7:76–89. 1993
3. HAFF, G.G., A. WHITLEY, AND J.A. POTTEIGER. A brief review: Explosive exercises and sports performance. Strength Cond. J. 23:13–20. 2001
4. MacKenzie SJ, Lavers RJ, Wallace BB. A biomechanical comparison of the vertical jump, power clean, and jump squat. J Sports Sci.2014;32(16):1576–85.
5. Ebben, William P., Alison Fotsch, and Kristopher K. Hartz. “Multimode
resistance training to improve baseball batting power.” Strength and conditioning Journal 28.3 (2006): 32.
6. Calhoon G, Fry AC. – Injury rates and profiles of elite competitive weightlifters.
– J Athl Train. 1999 Jul;34(3):232-8.
7. Posner M, Cameron KL, Wolf JM, Belmont PJ Jr, Owens BD. – Epidemiology of Major League Baseball injuries. – William Beaumont Army Medical Center, El
Paso, Texas, USA. – Am J Sports Med. 2011 Aug;39(8):1676-80.
8. MacWilliams, Bruce A., et al. “Characteristic ground-reaction forces in baseball pitching.” The American journal of sports medicine 26.1 (1998): 66-71.
9. Ghiroli, Brittany. “New Workout Facility Has Baltimore Orioles Ahead of the Curve.” Major League Baseball, 4 Mar. 2013, m.mlb.com/news/article/42249936/new-workout-facility-has-baltimore-orioles-ahead-of-the-curve/.