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I received a question the other day about cleans and whether or not its an ideal movement for baseball players especially pitchers because of the stress placed upon the elbow/wrist joints. I'm a strong advocate of cleans for overall explosiveness and power development.However, I wanted to get everyone else's viewpoint regarding this movement.

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I wouldn't have pitchers doing cleans.  Position players can certainly benefit from them.

I stuck to clean pulls with my guys. Not even so much for the shoulder, but more so of the stress on the elbow during the catch/front squat.

The bar really is the issue, right, even with correct mechanics?  The placement of the palms facing towards the body transitioning to directly away from the body during the movement pattern forces the wrists, elbows, and shoulder joint (rotating upper arm) into a pathological position during the clean and similar variations resulting in microtrauma to the joint structures.  Now add load, a young population, testosterone, and varying degrees of supervision and the potential for injury increases for any athlete.  

Just a thought, if we're building a super-charged Ferrari engine, but damaging the pistons and valves by the way the engine is running, wouldn't we have to look at how we're building the engine, how all the parts work together?  Is there another way to attain quick, smooth pistons and valves?     

I've really enjoyed this discussion as this is the kind of healthy work that objective coaches, clinicians and scientists do to develop best practices.  Here, it's not about being "right" its about finding the best way, the best practice to help others (coaches, athletes, ect).

I do have some concerns about the topvelocity link and substantiating its generalization.  I don't say this to be a jerk or a know it all but I think it somewhat represents the challenges of the community at large of not having "best practice" guidelines as to how to practice the tradecraft other than a Russian model how to improve strength in competitive weightlifters. 

Some concerns that I have are 1) several of the citations used are not retrievable to view the reports/research while others don't really validate the notion of O-lifts and throwing a baseball; 2) the research presented actually states, "Injuries are most likely when high forces and/or torques are repeatedly applied to vulnerable tissue and when the pitcher transitions through susceptible positions"; 3) wouldn't this be what's happening when you combine the O-lifts and over-head motions?; 4) the research is generalized to say that producing high amounts of strain on the connective tissue via the Olympic lifts strengthens the connective tissue due to similar strains being placed on the joint; 5) ligaments have the tensile strength of steel, how much stronger do they need to be?; 6) overstressing the connective tissue as mentioned in the published reference actually degrades the elasticity of connective tissue and if this continues "plasticizes" them increasing likelihood of injury (, pg. 16; 7) the research also alludes to keeping the joints healthy and that conditioning and leg strength may be the real keys to maintaining arm strength in pitchers.

I think the quality of the study below would be a good read prior to deciding how to train "overhead" athletes as it represents data over a considerable period of time and considers mechanisms for injury as this is the crux of the matter.

What are the mechanisms for injury in the "over-head" population?  How am I working to head-off these mechanisms?  How can I develop skill over time and train the whole-body, the whole system/energy pathways as an integrated unit not as "power" over here and "strength" here and "endurance" here.  The body doesn't compartmentalize that way does it? 

1. Does a clean place excess stress on the shoulder, more so than a front squat? I don't know. I think I would worry about the elbow before the shoulder.
2. Many athletes can hold a proper "front rack" position to catch the clean, they just need proper coaching and familiarization.
3. Are Olympic lifts the best power development exercise for an athlete with tremendous demand for rotational power and movement through the frontal and transverse planes? Maybe not.

Great points John!

Michael, agree with your point about rotational power, I think with a combo of both traditional O-Lifting and good med ball work you can really develop some great power. A MB isn't going to get you as strong a barbell and you obviously can't whip around a barbell like a med ball.

Olympic lifting builds balance in all athlete's if taught correctly. But that is the problem, very few coaches teach it correctly. I have trained many baseball players (pitchers included) when strength coaching in college and now as a Level 5 USAW coach in my strength and conditioning program. Baseball players usually have dominate sides, olympic lifting if taught properly can improve this issue. They won't hurt the shoulders and flexibility will be improved , not lost.

Coach Tim Swords

USAW Sr International coach

You also have to consider the fact that baseball is a rotational sport so explosiveness should be plane specific.  The other thing I would consider is laxity in the joints of the throwing arms.  Particularly the wrist and elbow during the catch.  Pitchers especially are already hyper mobile so I am not sure we want to improve mobility but instead work counter that to some degree.  

I remember a video done at Nebraska many (many) years ago about doing "ground based" lifts.  They took a QB and suspended him by his hips (so his feet were off the ground) and told him to throw the football as far as he could.  Then they let him stand on the ground and do the same thing-while I'm sure we all can agree he threw it alot farther with his feet on the ground there wasnt any talk of rotational work needed.  What they were trying to show was applying force to the ground caused the ball to go farther, not the trunk or a strong shoulder-and that doing cleans and squats caused this.  I have always used cleans (and other olympic lifts) along with basic squats and presses to develop athletes (HS or College).  I believe any joint that is made stronger through weight training can stand up to the forces its used for in whatever sport is being played.  I dont have anything against the rotational stuff or anyone who chooses NOT to do cleans but I think they have kind of gotten thrown under the bus a little.  I'm still working with parents who's personal trainer at the health club told them not to let me have their kids do squats cause it'll turn their knees to dust..?

I have been doing this for about 24 years now and if I was hurting athletes or it was a problem I would have taken them out a long time ago.  I "enjoy" teaching athletes how to lift and lift correctly then watch them grow and mature so form is always first before weight.

All GREAT points made here. I agree that olympic lifts are not the "cookie cutter go-to" for training multi-jointed power/explosiveness and that med balls as well as accommodating resistance on low intensity lifts will prove to be beneficial. To sum up a lot of the explanations made here, i believe it all of course comes down to specificity and taking into consideration; what biomechanical movements does this athlete perform during competition? Are those movements majority rotational/transverse (i.e. baseball) while taking into account their fitness skill and maturity level. Laxity and elasticity of the wrist elbow and shoulder joints are always a concern with pitchers due to the repetitive strain placed on those joints. Conclusively, i can assume that explosiveness and power can be trained to a certain extent within a team setting before position players and pitchers branch off to perform explosive training techniques tailored towards their desired movements on the field. I'd love to learn more about this approach from a team strength and conditioning coaches point of view.

Pitchers/Hitters on constantly working on their craft, thus continuously repeating their hitting or throwing motion so be careful of overloading on that rotational work. I'm not a fan of the term "sport specific" because it's used a bit too liberally and people lose touch with the foundation, which is strength. Strength is specific to all sports; ATHLETES NEED TO BE STRONG, the manner in which you develop may change slightly based on the sport. People get too carried away with "sport specific". Squatting on a bosu with a blindfold on and a weight vest will not get you strong, getting under the bar and pushing through some adversity will. (not that anyone on here claimed to have done that, just making a general statement). 

Like a basically everyone on here said, the way you choose to use your toolbox is up to you. At the end of the day is comes down to this

1) Are my athletes healthy/ is what we are doing safe?

2) Can I justify why I'm doing it?

3) Are they improving?

4) Are my coaches happy?

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