Sprint Training

Should Baseball Players Olympic Lift? 5 Reasons Why Ours Don't

The snatch and the clean and jerk are amongst the most impressive feats a human being can perform.  These two events are so highly regarded that every four years countries from all over the world showcase their best lifters to compete for national pride in the Olympic games. Many of us have seen it on TV or YouTube: An athlete grabs a heavy barbell that's placed motionless on the ground, then creates enough tension throughout their body to break inertia and throw the barbell overhead with inhuman ease, speed, and fluidity.  This is a breathtaking display of the perfect blend of mobility, explosiveness, technique, and overall stability.

These “O-lifters,” when compared to athletes of other sports, are often associated with having increased numbers of type II muscle fibers, greater ability to produce power, superior vertical jumping ability, and greater levels of hypertrophy.

One may thus conclude that practicing these movements may lead to adaptations towards becoming a bigger, stronger, faster, more powerful athlete… and one would be correct!  Who wouldn’t want that?

Baseball is one of the most “power-based” sports around, due to the stop-and-go nature of the game.  Power is a key component in a successful baseball player, and each year SAPT excels at augmenting our baseball players ability to harness and produce power during their hitting, sprinting, and throwing.

Are the Olympic lifts a phenomenal tool to develop power and explosiveness? Absolutely. Is a strength coach wise to employ them with many of his or her athletes? Of course.

However, ask any of our baseball beasts how often they snatch, clean, or jerk during a training cycle at SAPT and you will probably find that the range of frequency falls between “never” and “0 times a week.”

Why? Well, here are 5 reasons why SAPT baseball players don't Olympic lift:

1. Plane-Specific Transference of Training Qualities

(Note: In general, movement is categorized into three different planes: sagittal, frontal, and transverse. Sagittal plane movement involves anything going front-to-back, without any involved rotation or leaning side to side. So, things like lunges, squats, sit-ups, deadlifts, sprints, box jumping, and Olympic lifts, all occur in the sagittal plane. Frontal plane movement examples include side lunges, side shuffles, and side raises. Transverse plane movement involves anything with a rotation component; a perfect example of this is the stroke Obi Wan used with his lightsaber to kill Darth Maul.)

To an extent, strength and power development is very specific to the plane of motion in which it is trained.  Sure, there will be a bit of carryover from one plane to another when it comes to transference of athletic qualities, but to truly maximize potential in a given plane, you need to train that plane, specifically!

Guess which planes of motion a baseball player remains in to hit, throw, and/or pitch? The frontal and transverse planes.

Now, guess what plane of motion the Olympic lifts exclusively take place in? The sagittal plane.

So, for the baseball athlete, how can they train outside of the sagittal plane in order to best enhance power production in the frontal and transverse planes? Which exercises will provide them the most bang for their buck, be time efficient, and have the most carryover to their sport?

It is here I argue that the answer doesn't lie with the Olympic lifts, but in med ball work and lateral jumping variations. These become an enormous asset to the baseball player; they are fun (few things beat throwing a medicine ball into a wall as hard as you can), fairly easy to learn, allow the athlete to demonstrate and forge power output in a concerted manner, and they're downright effective!

Here are just a few of the med ball variations and lateral jumps we use at SAPT. (We have over 30 variations in each category to cycle through.)

MB Cross-Behind Shotput

MB Cross-Behind Shotput w/Partner Pass

MB Heiden to Side Scoop Throw

MB Cyclone Overhead Throw to Wall

MB Hop-Back Side Throw

In-Place Heiden with Stick Landing

Single-leg Depth Drop to Heiden with Stick Landing

The options are virtually limitless.

Assuming they are already proficient in the sagittal plane - as one DOES need to learn to master that plane before attempting to train frontal and transverse, similar how one should learn to add and subtract before performing algebra - roughly 80-90% of the "power" development we utilize with our baseball guys takes place outside of the sagittal plane. The remaining 10-20% we will fill by having them perform sagittal-based movements such as KB swings, broad jumps, and speed deadlifts and speed squats.

2. Faulty Movement Patterns Overhead

Watch the majority of people put their arms overhead, and, if you know what you're looking for, you'll often find nothing short of a multiplicity of grody compensation patterns taking place along the entire kinetic chain. Yes, even in overhead athletes.

Tony Gentilcore has said that the majority of trainees must "earn the right" to press overhead, and I continue to nod my head in agreement with him. Watch someone press a bar overhead (or snatch or jerk it, as one would during an O-lift), and, using a classification system I learned in my college biomechanics class: their mechanics lie somewhere between poop and utter poop.

I hope it goes without saying that it'd be far from prudent to have these folks continually throw a loaded bar overhead at high speeds. However, the strength coach can't freak out about ALL overhead movements for the baseball player, as their sport does, in fact (get ready to have your mind blown....), necessitate them going overhead.

While we can certainly improve a baseball player's overhead mechanics by having them perform core stabilization drills, thoracic spine mobilizations, shoulder "corrective" drills, and improving lat length, there's still something to be said for doing a few, shoulder-friendly, loaded overhead activities to complement the corrective drills and give the athlete a chance to further ingrain solid overhead mechanics.

One of our favorites is the landmine press, as the neutral grip position opens up the subacromial space - giving the rotator cuff tendons more room to "breathe" - and the natural arc of the press grooves some nice scapular upward rotation. Not to mention, the core musculature has to work like crazy to keep the pelvis and ribcage in a stable position. I've yet to work with anyone - including myself, and I have a REALLY beat up shoulder - who has shoulder pain while landmine pressing.

Another option is to use the single-arm bottoms-up KB press, as many of the benefits of the landmine press still apply (scapular upward rotation, core stabilization, etc.) yet you get to train through an even greater degree of humeral elevation (flexion+abduction), and also receive some nice "reflexive" firing of the rotator cuff due to the kettlebell wanting to shake back and forth in your hand.

Both of the above exercises can be performed half-kneeling, tall-kneeling, standing in parallel stance, or standing in a staggered stance.

There are a host of other options as well, but the point is there are much less "dummy proof" methods of training the overhead position without resorting to a jerk or snatch. (Even though the O-lifts do look way cooler.)

3. Wrist and Elbow Concerns

To say the success of a baseball player's career is at least partly contingent upon the health of his wrist and elbow is akin to saying that Superman derives his power by absorbing and metabolizing solar energy from the Earth's energy; both are platitudes.

As Dan John aptly put it, the "Rule #1" a strength coach needs to live and breathe by is Do No Harm! 

To rely on Olympic lifts as the primary tool for developing the baseball athlete would make about as much as much sense crossing the the Atlantic Ocean in a one-man canoe. Or using a canoe of any size, for that matter. Could it be done? Sure. But do there exist other ways to accomplish the same goal, with a much lower risk of something undesired occurring in the process? You bet.

Given that, day in and day out, baseball players' wrists and elbows already take a wicked beating from pitching, throwing, and hitting, why compound the issue by performing lifts that stress those same bodily structures more than perhaps any other lift? Especially given that, as you saw earlier in this article, there exists a host of other training modalities one can employ to enhance athletic power.

Regarding the power and hang clean, most baseball players have a hard enough time even being able to comfortably get into the clean position for front squatting, without the mere position causing their wrists or forearms to scream, so why we would choose to add velocity and then CATCH in that position is beyond me. And, if we're discussing the snatch: the top, catch position places considerable levels of strain on the UCLs (ulnar collateral ligaments) of both elbows; if you follow professional baseball to any capacity, then you for sure know how important the UCL is to a baseball player. Tommy John Surgery, anyone?

One last point I'll add is that not only do you have the wrists and elbows taking a beating during cleans, but the AC (acromioclavicular) joint, as well, due to that poor fellow living smack dab in the middle of the barbell's landing zone. The AC joint is located just inside of the index fingers during the catch phase of a clean, and while professional Olympic lifters often "flow" into the catch phase with minimal impact, it's far from uncommon to find high school and college baseball guys literally slamming the bar onto their shoulder during the catch, as it can take years to make it a fluid transition.

Now, just because baseball players overuse their elbows and wrists, and we don't recommend the inclusion of cleans and snatches in their programming, does this mean they are to be babied, forever relegated to pilates as the most intense training they're "allowed" to perform? Don't be silly!

As demonstrated earlier, we use the countless other methods at our disposal for their power training, and then have them perform plenty of heavy lifting to develop strength, structural integrity, and throwing speed.

4. Sagittal Plane Dominance           

A typical training program for our baseball guys are rich with lifts such as squat variations, deadlift variations, lunges, glute bridges, step-ups, and the list goes on. Notice a pattern?  These are all movements that occur in the sagittal plane.  (We can argue about frontal and transverse stability components in the single leg exercises, valid points indeed... but let's save that for another day.)

The point is, although we dip into the other planes of motion, the majority of the work is sagittal.  Throwing in Olympic lifting variations just adds to the volume of sagittal plane work and takes time away from working the other planes of motion.

To build a properly balanced athlete, we have to save some room in the program for some work in the frontal and transverse planes which can include tons of variations of: lateral step-downs and step-ups, lateral lunges, single arm farmer’s walks, anti-rotation/pallof presses, prowler side-drags, jumping, hopping, and, as exhibited earlier, medicine ball drills.

5. Time

I hate to beat a dead horse, but I am going to have to bring up the token argument against Olympic lifting: It takes too long to learn.

When it comes to training competitive athletes, time is the major limiting factor.  With most of our baseball guys, who typically have 3-5 months of off-season training with us, we opt for a program consisting of exercises that don’t require such a significance prerequisite time-commitment for the learning process.  The price in time we must pay to proficiently learn and perform the snatch, clean, jerk, and their variations safely and effectively (as it doesn't do them any good to perform the lifts poorly) is often more costly than we care for.  Instead we use the modalities shown above in point #1, for supreme power development.

Another critical focal point we attend to for baseball power development is sprint work.  We spend a significant amount of time working on our athlete's sprint technique, stride length/frequency, change of direction speed and starting speed.

With such limited time (and not to mention recovery capacities; many of these guys are still in leagues or camps throughout the off-season) it is simply impractical to throw in the O-lifts into the mix.

If a baseball player never learns to snatch during his athletic career, does it really matter?  I’d be more concerned with his on-base percentage, runs, stolen bases, strikeouts, consistency, and health.

You Want To Be Fast, Huh?

Intern Post By Goose & Josh:

                      Get infinity times faster by going beyond your understanding of speed.

Humans have an addiction to speed. No matter what we do we are never fast enough. Whether it is from running to jets flying over the open sky we build/engineer these bodies to go faster. The question is how do we engineer speed and how do we do it properly? We can break it down into 5 parts strength, cardiovascular endurance, muscular endurance, form, and genetics. Having a firm understanding of these 5 elements will allow you to harness a power that the human race strives to attain.


Being strong does not mean being able to lift heavy things and put things back down. It is the matter of building a foundation for speed. Without strength speed cannot be accomplished. Strength determines the rate of force development (RFD) meaning how fast your muscles contracts to produce a maximal amount of force. With minimal strength there is low RFD meaning that the muscles in your body will not be able to get you to the finish before the guy that can produce the same amount of force is a shorter period of time. Strength training, done correctly, can and will excel your RFD to the next level.

Strength training is also vital to injury prevention. It is much more beneficial and time efficient for the athlete to prevent and injury versus recovering from one. Resistance training strengthens one’s connective tissue and increases the size and strength of ligament. Strong ligaments especially in areas such as the Achilles are necessary for an athlete to keep running at top speed. The physical stress from resistance/strength also increases bone density, which will help prevent overuse injuries such as stress fractures.

                    Did you know that the Hulk can run at least 215 mph? That is pure strength.

Well some of you also may be thinking, “I lifted once and I got hurt…” Well yes improper lifting can hurt anyone just like improperly can cause stress fractures. Make sure you know exactly what you are doing and if you do not ask people who do. I’ll admit it is difficult to find people who know how to teach lifts properly and this requires research. Well you might be thinking this is a lot of work just to pick things up and put them back down. Let me tell you this, if you truly want to get faster then you will do whatever you can to get it done.

P.S. As strength coaches it is our responsibility to understand that we are responsible not just for making them lift more weights but for the athletes overall health and well being.

P.P.S. If you still are not convinced about building strength and its obvious benefits then check out this great article: http://saptstrength.com/2013/06/17/lifting-running-monster-benefits-an-intern-post/ It should help clear up some doubts.

Cardiovascular Endurance

What’s the point of running fast if your heart cannot keep up? Cardiovascular endurance determines how long your heart rate can pump at a high rate. The heart is the most important muscle in your body and without it there is no life, thus no speed. To have a healthy heart can mean to add more years to your life, which means more time to go fast!

Yes sure a healthy heart is great and goes without saying, but honestly how does this effect my force production to create more SPEED!? Well let’s put it this way, your heart pumps blood through out your body right? Well that includes your muscles too. What muscles need in order to function is oxygen. Well guess what is in the blood going to your muscles, OXYGEN!

So that being said if your heart poops out and pumps less blood after 10 seconds, your muscles start getting less and less oxygen. If your muscles are not getting enough of oxygen then the they will have a much harder time contracting thus = less force production. So the longer the heart can pump blood without straining the longer your body can propel itself at full speeds.

Having strong cardiovascular endurance is also vital for recovery between your bursts of intense speed. The aerobic energy system is responsible for full recovery between bouts of sprints, so that you can sprint fast on each successive sprint rather than seeing drops in performance. It clears out metabolic byproducts of anaerobic work such as CO2. Clearing out the waste allows for ATP to be produced and ATP is what we use for energy to create explosive speed.

             Long story short DON’T skip cardio day! Never know when a zombie will show up

Muscular Endurance

    The body derives its energy from three different energy systems, the Phosphagen, Anaerobic, and Aerobic Systems. Generally speaking the Phosphagen System provides energy for all out efforts lasting 6 to 15 seconds, depending on the nature of the activity. Meanwhile the Anaerobic System provides the energy for submaximal bursts of speed lasting 30 seconds to2 minutes. Finally the Aerobic System provide a low but constant flow of energy for long lasting activities such as distance running. Whenever you exercise all three of the energy systems are turned on however the amount of energy you get from each one varies depending on duration, intensity, and the nature of the activity.

When sprinting you primarily rely on the Phosphagen System and the Anaerobic System for energy. The Aerobic system is being utilized during the activity but its main role is providing energy for recovery. This is why it is important to have a strong cardiovascular system, it’ll help you recover faster so you can sprint for longer. Muscular endurance training teaches your body how to push the limits of these energy systems and how to recover faster. This can be done through interval workouts, fartleks, hills, and bleacher/stair workouts. By continuously putting a high energy demand on your body and teaching it to keep working under stressful conditions you are actually pushing your Lactate Threshold back further and further.

Your body naturally produces lactate throughout the workout but when you do high intensity muscular endurance workouts you get to a point when the lactate overwhelms the system which gets rid of it. Once lactate production exceeds the removal capacity of the body it starts to accumulate in the blood stream. This is bad news because it interferes with the production of energy by the 3 systems I mentioned before. This begins the downward spiral to you ending up on the ground with vomit all over yourself. During workouts you push your body to its Lactate threshold but not passed it, this paired with your body’s awesome ability to adapt to new stresses over time will keep pushing the threshold further back. This is how people “get in shape”, they constantly put stress on the body which causes it to adapt until the previous level of stress is no longer as challenging.

Mental Toughness! My personal definition of mental toughness is being able to push yourself to do what you have to do even when it hurts. My favorite example of this is the 400m dash. The 400 meters is a great but terrible race for no matter who you are/how fast you are the last 100 meter are ALWAYS going to hurt. The high school scrub who runs 53 seconds and the all-star who runs 46 seconds are both hating life during that last straightaway. The difference being that the all-star has taught himself to ignore the pain and maintain form, meanwhile the scrub is thinking too much about the burning in his quads while his arms flail everywhere and everyone flies by. It’s the mental fortitude to ignore how tired you are and being able to remain focused on the task at hand that separates champions from benchwarmers. Only by constantly putting your body in this tired state, through running workouts, and testing your mental fortitude will you get tougher.

                                           Only the toughest person wins the race!


    The reason why coaches are such sticklers about form is because bad form sacrifices efficiency. There’s a reason why all the fast people on TV look the same when they run! Good form allows you to use you’re body’s levers to your advantage and to properly direct the force you’re putting on the ground. In layman’s terms, it lets you do work while expending less energy. This makes the difference in the end of the race/game when everyone is tired. Whoever has the most energy left will win 9 times out of 10. The simplest running form drill that will work wonders when performed correctly are:

-A Skips

-B Skips

-High Knees

-Butt Kicks

-Straight Leg Bounds

-Alternating Quick Leg

-Falling Starts

These drills not only work on running form but also coordination. They can do wonders for kids and adults who lack the coordination to run properly.


**Front pack = world class times, stragglers = average times, form made the difference!**


    As much as I would love to say we are all equal and have the exact same potential, that would be a lie. I’m a firm believer in genetic superiority. We all knew that guy in high school or college that had the drive to work hard but barely improved every season. On the flip side, we all had that friend who never tried hard at all and was still the best on the team. You can only fight your genetics so much! HOWEVER, that doesn’t mean you can’t achieve greatness! Sure you may not be a national champion but being All-State or Conference Champ is still pretty awesome. There is still plenty of glory to be had, you just have to go out there and get it! Even if you don’t win but set a personal best, that still means you are now better than you’ve ever been, there should be some small amount of satisfaction there! So what if you’re genes aren’t the best it doesn’t mean you can’t get faster! Odds are you’re not even close to hitting your genetic ceiling, aka you’re body’s full potential. Do work and worry about the factor you can control.

                        **We can’t all be the greatest athlete in the world, but we can try ;)**

SAPT Virtual Sprint Seminar, Episode 1: The Falling Start

This begins a series of virtual sprint "seminars" that I'm sure many of you will enjoy. I - along with two of our Summer interns, Josh and Goose - have been working with a number of our college baseball guys to improve their sprinting speed. Given we meet with them 2x/week outside of their usual lifting program, and that they're making some sort of improvement each and every session, it makes for excellent blogging fodder that hopefully you human movement geeks out there will enjoy.   


Questions that will be answered in this episode:

  • What is the Falling Start? And why does it help with improving sprint speed and mechanics?
  • Why having or developing "quick feet" may NOT actually be the answer you're looking for when it comes to improving sprint speed.
  • Common errors that nearly everyone makes during the falling start, and how to correct them.
  • How to reduce your risk of injury when beginning a sprint training program.
  • What Street Fighter can teach you about ensuring a strong acceleration off the line.

Comments? Feedback? Was this helpful? Mind blown? Share any thoughts below!