Baseball performance training has taken a lot of different turns through the years. From no weight lifting at all for fear of getting “bulky” and not being able to throw, to only rubber band and rotator cuff exercises and most recently getting away from big lifts such as the bench, squat and deadlift and focusing on lateral and rotational exercises designed for throwing velocity.
Baseball is interesting because it has two phases to the game that are completely different and being good at one does not carry over in any way to the success of the other: hitting and fielding. If it were anything like football, you would have an offense and a defense and different guys going out in the field from the guys that only batted. But the way the game is played (excluding pitchers and DH’s) you hit and play the field. What I want to focus on is what I believe to be the most important thing for success in baseball: bat speed. An incredible amount of focus is being put on throwing velocity during performance training and for position players (non pitchers) I would urge you to have a totally different focus in your training.
Before anyone gets crazy, I’m not saying that throwing hard isn’t important for a position player. But let us think for a moment about what is most important to long-term success in baseball. HITTING! Hitting over fielding any day of the week. I don’t care if you are spider man at shortstop; if you cannot perform in the batters box, there is little future for you in baseball. On the other hand, if you can hit the cover off it consistently at every level, they will find a place for you at the next one.
Allow me to illustrate my point. Albert Pujols visited the University of Washington to participate in a test regarding his swing speed. It was recorded at 87 mph. He is currently 2nd in the American League with 26 home runs averaging 400 ft. The average distance to the left field wall in the major leagues is 331 ft. That means the absolute shortest distance to hit a home run would be 332 ft. If Pujols averages 400 ft. at 87 mph swing speed and we know 1 mph of bat speed equals 5 feet of distance at optimum launch, that means that you would have to swing 73 mph just to be capable of hitting a home run to the absolute shortest point on a major league field. So my point is if you are a baseball player swinging any less than 73 mph, you are not even capable of hitting a home run with all things optimal and your throwing speed will mean next to nothing to a scout. If you are swinging exactly that speed or only a few miles per hour faster, you are probably not keeping opposing pitchers up at night.
Now that I have made my case for training for power at the plate, lets dive into how we would go about this. Below are three things I would focus on for having a more powerful baseball swing.
1. Get Less Rotational
No, that is not a typo. Hitting a baseball is of course a rotational movement, and I’m not arguing that rotary power doesn’t exist; I’m arguing that it doesn’t directly correlate to bat speed. There is no muscle in the human body that is purely rotational. Rotation is a combination of various muscles firing together. Your torso is designed to flex, extend, and rotate, but most notably to stabilize. A strong stable torso is extremely important for not only protecting the spine but more importantly in sports for transferring forces between the upper and lower extremities. To further my point, the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research and the Titleist Performance Institute both ran identical studies on baseball bat speed and golf club head speed, respectively. The study set out to find the best indicators for bat / club head speed and they tested the following:
· Bat/ Club Head Speed
· Vertical Jump
· Seated Med Ball Chest Pass
· Lying Med Ball Overhead Throw
· Standing Med Ball Rotational Throw
· Seated Med Ball Rotational Throw
The results of both studies were conclusive that there was a direct correlation between the standing vertical jump, seated med ball chest pass, and lying med ball overhead throw to club head and bat speed. What do all three of those movements have in common? Zero rotational components. I’m not saying rotational movements don’t have a place in programming but if you are looking to train your torso, you would be much better served with anti rotation movements or movements that force you to have a stable torso while the extremities are moving such as an ab wheel roll out or single arm dumbbell bench press.
2. Train Absolute Strength
Words of wisdom from Joe Defranco, “You can be strong and not powerful, but you cannot be powerful if you are not strong.” Power is how quickly you can display force. You need to raise your level of absolute strength to raise the ceiling on the force you are capable of producing. If you are trying to drive your Honda Civic 200 mph, I suggest you upgrade the engine. My advice, utilize the big three: Bench, squat and deadlift. The bench press 1 rep max was directly correlated to bat speed in another study by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research and in regards to the seated chest pass that I mentioned in the section above, I can’t think of a better way to improve it. The squat and deadlift are the ultimate lower body strength builders. The forces that I mentioned in the section above that the torso is responsible for transferring between extremities are coming from the ground up in the baseball swing so I suggest you don’t skip leg day.
3. Kinematic Sequencing
Your sport specific technique may be the most important factor in allowing you to have power in your swing. I will use my golf swing as an example. Big Ed AKA Coach K is in every way, shape and form bigger, stronger and faster than myself. But, I swing the golf club about 45 mph faster than him. Why? It isn’t because there is some “functional” strength that is somehow different than the strength built in powerlifting that I have and he doesn’t. It is because his golf swing is hot garbage! He has a short take away, he is creating very little torque, he releases his hands and wrists before his hips, and the list goes on. He would be best served to work on his swing mechanics if speed was his end goal. My point is, make sure your swing sequence is on point or no matter how powerful or strong you are it will not be properly applied.
Again, to be clear, in no way am I trying to down play the benefit of an outfielder that has the ability to throw someone out at home from the warning track. A great arm is a weapon in baseball but just keep in mind that there is a lot of arms that are “good enough” out there but there is nobody playing beer league softball that is capable of hitting 45 home runs in the majors. If you can hit, you can play. If nothing else…chicks dig the long ball.