|Executing the Olympic lifts properly is both safe and effective in developing rotational force.|
Steve, I love the Olympic lifts,but I totally agree with you, why expose an athlete pursuing another sport the risks of learning a complex athletic movement that neither emulates or enhances that sport. I played baseball and I would not risk shoulder or wrist damage by teaching the lifts to players, who need rotational power rather then vertical power. I would not want anyone who throws a baseball or football to do full range bench presses, for that matter.
There are ways of using explosive pulls and plyometric drills to enhance CNS response and muscle activation.
And how do you develop rotational power? As strength coach Charles Poliquin says, these so-called “core” muscles are “force transducers, not force producers.” Take a look at any anatomy book and you’ll see the oblique fibers of the abdominals are aligned vertically to trunk, and as such are not effective in twisting the trunk horizontally.
What this means is that exercises such as cleans and snatches can increase throwing and batting power. If the snatch and clean were not good exercises for throwing, then discus throwers would not be using them -- can you name me one elite thrower who does not do Olympic lifting exercises? Further, overhead movements such as the snatch provide counter rotation, which influences the neurological coding of rotational movements – in other words, the ability to rotate in one direction is influenced by how much rotation you can create rotation in the other direction. Let me give you an example.
In the early 80s American discus thrower Carol Cady had to stop throwing due to extreme back pain. Physical therapist Don Chu gave her exercises to balance out her muscular development, and a few months later she shattered the American record – I believe this throw stood for over 20 years. Such is the importance of counter rotation. Oh, and after that throw Cady took up Olympic lifting and became a US weightlifting champion and world team member.
The snatch also trains the external rotators of the shoulder, which help decelerate the arm during throwing. One of the problem with chin-ups, which have become extremely popular in many so-called “functional” training programs, is that they primarily strengthen the muscles that internally rotate the humerus. A muscular imbalance in the external rotators can contribute to shoulder impingement syndrome and increase the risk of shoulder dislocations. Are you telling me that you played baseball and did not lift and never injured your throwing arm or shoulder?
As for wrist injuries, I was a strength coach at the Air Force Academy for eight years, and during my final year there I was writing the workouts for 865 athletes. Every sport did cleans, and I don’t know of a single athlete who had a wrist or shoulder injury from lifting that forced me to modify their workouts.
You don't like Olympic lifting exercises or are not comfortable teaching them, fine. Don't practice them and don't teach them. But exercise science proves that these movements can help a baseball player achieve physical superiority on the field.
Kim Goss, MS
Former Strength Coach, U.S. Air Force Academy
Kim, I was talking about throwing a baseball or football and the risks to shoulders. I was doing the Olympic Lifts in 1960's and have been teaching them for years. There many forms of strength training besides the Olympic lifts that are used by elite athletes.
I love the sport of Olympic Lifting, but to say it is a panacea for training is ridiculous. Irrational zealotry is not a realistic approach to training athletes.
This is what you wrote:
“I played baseball and I would not risk shoulder or wrist damage by teaching the lifts to players, who need rotational power rather then vertical power.”
Vic, your arguments don’t make any sense from an anatomical or biomechanical perspective. This isn’t a case of me expression “irrational zealotry,” it’s simply repeating what has been found in the scientific literature. Now let’s follow some of that science.
You use the terms “horizontal power” and now “rotational power” to describe movements in baseball, when you should be using the terms “negative torsion with extension” and “positive torsion with flexion” in describing movements of the trunk. Biomechanics 101.
Rotation on a single axis in not a natural movement pattern Try throwing a baseball with your arm extension our to your side and you will not be able to generate much power – again, the obliques have a vertical alignment with the trunk (Anatomy 101). This is why T-ball is so dangerous – you’re creating high shearing forces on the spine, which is a great way to blow out a disk! Especially if those baseball players do not perform exercises such as the overhead squat that develop counter-rotation strength. (For a reference, I would consult the work of Stuart McGill, one of the foremost authorities on lower back pain.)
You’re throwing out terms such as “CNS response” and “plyometrics.” German sport scientist Dr. Dietmar Schmidtbleicher is considered one of the foremost authorities on both these subjects. He developed a scale of motor unit recruitment, rating exercises on a scale of 1 to 6 based upon their degree of muscle activation. Level 6, the highest level, included complex exercises such as the Olympic lifts.
You talk about the “risk” of performing complex exercises such as the Olympic lifts. What risk? A study in the United Kingdom found that the lowest injury rate was in the sport of competitive weightlifting, with a .0017 rate (0.17 percent). The authors noted the following: “Britain’s Schoolboy Championship has been staged annually for at least 18 years and has involved some 54,600 competition lifts (maximal or nearly so) and at least 54,600 lighter but still heavy warm-up lifts. In this period one boy suffered a concussion when he fell onto a weight after losing control, and another was bruised when he dropped a weight onto his upper back. In neither case has there been any evidence of a long-term consequence.”
Compare this to the recent study on Canadian youth hockey, which found that in the 2010 season 700 concussions occurred in the 11-12 year-old age group out of 9,000 participants! Again, just one season! You apparently never had a serious arm or shoulder injury from baseball, OK: N = 1. But I saw one study that found that the risk of a youth pitcher developing a serious injury within 10 years is 5 percent, and these risks are 3.5 time higher if a kid pitches for more than 100 innings in a year. Let's see, .17 percent versus 5 percent -- maybe we should ban baseball?
Regarding your comment about elite athletes. Can you tell me the name of a single world class discus thrower, male or female, in the past 40 years who does not use some variation of the Olympic lifts? The same with the shot put. And by the way, in 1974 shot put world record holder Al Feuerbach won the US National weightlifting championships with a 341-pound snatch and a 418-pound clean and jerk, and several women discus throwers have also won the US Nationals in weightlifting.
Vic, if you want to bash weightlifting as a method of strength training for baseball, fine – but your arguments would have more credibility if you would back up your opinions with some science, or at least a reference to a textbook on anatomy or biomechanics.
Kim Goss, MS ,Editor in Chief, BFS magazine