Power cleans, jerks, and snatches are amazing exercises. They do a great job when it comes to developing speed, power, and overall athleticism. These full body movements engage your fast twitch muscle fibers by moving the weights faster than conventional strength training exercises.
It’s impossible to perform these movements slowly. They’re a great combination of power and speed, and they’ve definitely helped a lot of athletes of all sports get better, but are they right for baseball players?
Our job as strength coaches is to help our athletes get bigger, faster, stronger, and better at their sport, but rule number 1 is do no harm. We should be fitting our training programs to the athlete, not athlete to the training program.
Olympic lifting isn’t the end all be all of power development. Cleans, jerks, and other variations are just tools in a tool box and there are many others that can get the job done and may be a better fit for your athletes.
I used to love performing the olympic lifts, especially cleans, but we haven’t programmed an Olympic lift for a baseball player or any other overhead athlete in 6 years.
Olympic Lifts are Hard to Master
Ask a baseball player who’s never done it before to perform a clean and this is what it tends to look like.
I can end up spending a good chunk of our training session, or even weeks or months trying to groove a good enough technique to get any significant power development out of this. That’s valuable time we could be losing when I could use a different tool and gain more benefit.
I can teach a med ball throw or a plyo drill in less than 5 minutes, and the athlete can start getting more powerful right away without carrying the injury risk of bad clean technique.
Injury risk can be reduced with better technique, but even the best in the world at these lifts (the ones that actually do them in the Olympics), spend a lifetime to perfect their technique and even they will get hurt at times.
If you’re a football player and you sprain a wrist, or your elbow gets cranky, or your AC joint is irritated from the catch position, who Cares? It’s not going to stop you from going out an hitting somebody.
For a baseball player, if you tweak a finger or a wrist, that can prevent you from being able to throw a ball or pick up bat. Not to mention the stress it can add to your elbows or shoulders. Remember, do no harm.
It’s important to not be married to any one exercise in the weight room, including olympic lifts. A professional strength coach should be able to adapt to his or her athletes. Why fit a square peg into a round hole?
Olympic Lifts Are not Plane Specific
Baseball players are rotational athletes. Meaning our power movements are done in the frontal and transverse planes.
This doesn’t mean we are going to omit every training modality done in the sagittal plane, nearly everything you do in the weight room is done in this plane. But, there is research that points to power being plane specific, and baseball players need to spend time developing rotational power. This is not accomplished with power cleans.
A clean is commonly done at around 1 m/sec. This is good speed, but med ball throws, jumps, plyos, and sled pulls/pushes are done at much greater speeds, and nothing we do in the weight room can replicate the speed of sprinting (10+m/sec).
Additionally, all of these movements are easy to manipulate to get out of the sagittal plane and to develop more rotational power specific to baseball.
The goal of power development for baseball players is to be able to sprint faster, throw the ball harder, and hit the ball farther. As beneficial as an Olympic lift may be for some athletes, the movements listed above are going to do a much better job to accomplish these goals on the baseball field.