The growing popularity of weight training for baseball and especially pitchers to support performance enhancement is creating a fire storm in the baseball community. The ones responsibly for stoking the fire is these “Old School” coaches and glorified physical therapists who are scared of losing their influence on the game and who think pitchers are weak non-athletes and should be babied.
If you are uninformed of this controversy just search “Olympic Lifting Pitching” and you will quickly find yourself in the middle of this heated debate.
The sad part of all of this non-sense over weight training the pitcher is there is a ton of misleading and incorrect information being put out there. Mainly the claim that Olympic Lifting is dangerous. Yes, these coaches want you to believe that one of the oldest sports in the world, which has been thoroughly tested, is the main cause of athletic injury. Mainly back injury. If you are caught in the crossfire and you need to know the truth then you are going to have to educate yourself a little more on the sport of Olympic Lifting.
Olympic Lifting is as Safe as Any Other Sport
As much as these “Old School” coaches and glorified physical therapists do not want you to believe, Olympic Lifting is as safe as any other sport. Here are the findings from a 6 year study of elite Olympic Lifters from 1999 called, Injury rates and profiles of elite competitive weightlifters (1). 873 injuries where reported in the 6 year period which lead to the data behind this study. Here is an excerpt from the conclusion of the study.
Our study is the first to report injury types and rates during Olympic-style weightlifting training of elite athletes over a 6-year period. We found that the most commonly injured sites include the back, knee, and shoulder and that most of the injuries can be described as either acute or chronic rather than recurring or due to complications and consisted primarily of strains, tendinitis,and sprains.
In addition, the recommended training time missed was usually less than 1 day. These findings are consistent with previous reports on weightlifting injuries. The results are also similar to injury reports for other types of activities.*
This study did not find any reports of injury patterns that are uncommon in any other sport activity. Most of the injuries where minor and only 1 day of training was missed on average following an injury. Therefore it is safe to say that Olympic Lifting for elite athletes is as safe as any other sport.
No Reports of Spondylolysis in Olympic Lifting
Spondylolysis is a defect of a vertebra. The great majority of cases occur in the lowest of the lumbar vertebrae (L5), but spondylolysis may also occur in the other lumbar vertebrae, as well as in the thoracic vertebrae.
This 6 year study referenced above included no reports of Spondylolysis. This is important because some recent claims by a well known online pitching coach, I will not name names, has stated that this back injury is at high risk when Olympic Lifting. His research was taken from a study done in 1977. Research today shows that only 3% – 7% of the population has Spondylolysis and all athletes in general are 13.49% at a greater risk of the back injury but it is no longer common of Olympic Lifters to have this problem as stated in the study below:
Our study on weightlifting included no reports on Spondylolysis, and, therefore, it appears that this population of weightlifters had no increased incidence of spondylolysis. It has been proposed that the clean and press lift in weightlifting competition before 1972 may account for previous reports of spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis. During the execution of the pressing phase of the lift, extremely lordotic positions could occur while the athlete was holding very heavy weights overhead (View picture above). As a result, injury data from before 1972 must be interpreted with caution, since the current lifts (ie, snatch and clean and jerk) do not emphasize a lordotic position, as did the former competitive pressing motion.
It is unfortunate that the online pitching coach who put out this outdated information is misleading the baseball community with scare tactics to scare young pitchers from this high intensity training which has been proven extremely effective as a legal performance enhancer (2). It is obvious this coach is using these tactics to scare young pitchers into using his methods of training the pitcher.
This 6 year study found no patterns of injury in Olympic Lifting and most of the injuries where related to overuse due to the high volume of training that these elite lifters are subject to. This volume of training of these elite Olympic Lifters is not recommended for the baseball pitcher which should dramatically reduce the chance of injury based on this data.
The lesson here is to not believe right away what any coach tells you. It is your responsibility to do your homework and check to make sure the claims are completely supported. A second or third opinion on the subject is advised. It is also advised to talk to others who have used this type of training to get a first hand account.
- Calhoon G, Fry AC. – Injury rates and profiles of elite competitive weightlifters. – J Athl Train. 1999 Jul;34(3):232-8. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1322916/
- Channell BT, Barfield JP. – Effect of Olympic and traditional resistance training on vertical jump improvement in high school boys. – J Strength Cond Res. 2008 Sep;22(5):1522-7. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18714236