Friday, February 7, 2014

Case AGAINST Olympic Lifting for Baseball

If Olympic lifting continues in the baseball community, the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in baseball pitchers will become what the ACL has become for female basketball players. 
The UCL is a ligament on the medial side of the elbow, right around the "funny bone" area. It has importance because it's what is known as a ‘Zone of Convergence’. All the muscles and tendons from the hand and wrist flexors come to meet at this one area. The UCL gets beat up during repeated stresses like heavy gripping, the layback-acceleration-deceleration of the arm during throwing and from heavy valgus stresses that we will cover shortly. 

See the layback and stress that'd put on an elbow? 

Olympic lifts and certain kettlebell exercises for baseball athletes not only lack the desirable training medium that youth athletes need but they are irresponsible and detrimental to BOTH of the pivotal pieces that I and GRIT GYM stand for. 

Grit Gym started with 2points of emphasis. 

1. Build durability to prevent injury in the first place (Corrective Exercise)
2. Enhance athleticism to promote a better experience in sport (Strength & Conditioning)

During the catch phase of the Jerk and the Snatch (both are overhead Olympic lifts), the shoulder actually does very well and there are little significant negative affects. However, the elbow has an enormous amount of valgus stress placed upon it in an instant. This is dangerous to a baseball/softball player because the elbow and particularly the UCL are already taking a beating via overhead throwing. By the way, valgus stress at the knee is one of the main reasons that females have more ACL injuries than males.

The Clean is probably the least dangerous of the three but it's still asking the elbow to go through an extremely fast flex (think opposite of extending the arm) and be forced down by a large amount of weight, putting a huge compressive load on a very small, intricate area that also happens to be extremely delicate in the overhead sports like baseball, volleyball and tennis. As well as putting a dramatic stretch on the hand and wrist flexors that ALL connect back in that “Zone of Convergence” at the UCL on the inside of the elbow.

We can look directly at Tommy John Surgeries. 10years ago a 17yr old having Tommy John Surgery would've been considered absurd taboo. It didn't happen. 4years ago we started noticing high school aged throwers having Tommy John, and now it is commonplace.  

A huge portion of the problem is the overwhelming popularity of Olympic lifting and strength coaches’ unwillingness to look at their programs objectively enough to see that changes need to be made IF we are to keep athletes healthy. You cannot train kids today the way we trained them 20 years ago, or even 5years ago. Yes it looks and feels pretty cool to rip up a huge clean, snatch or jerk, but is looking cool for a split second what we're ultimately going for? It’s no longer a matter of having the talent to make it to the league, but also having the durability to stay healthy

I have to admit that I do support Olympic lifts. Olympic lifts are great..... for those competing in Olympic lifting. NOT any other sport. Everything we get from Olympic lifts can be attained via other means. It's basically a weighted jump, which is the last thing most kids need anyway (The biggest lack of understanding in the Strength Coaching community is the differences between speed, power, and strength, these coaches choose flashy lifts instead of what will actually get their athletes performing better and with less injuries, either because they don’t know any better or they don’t care, either way this is a dangerous coach) The catch phase of a clean also has validity and is solved with an appropriate front squat (not everyone should do the same front squat). The posterior chain and hip hinge work is accomplished with a safe and proper deadlift and/or box squat. 

As mentioned above, for competitive Olympic Lifters, those lifts are their sport as much as a football is to a Quarterback. But baseball players especially, and really any other sport, are not Olympic lifters, they are baseball players. We have to start scrutinizing the training that these youth athletes are performing because these kids that are training their butts off deserve better than to have their hard work ruin their body and their experience in sport.

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