How Strong Do Baseball Players Need to Be?

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A few days ago, I had the chance to be on a zoom meeting with some extraordinary gentlemen in the world of baseball performance.

I recommend following each of them for their contributions and insight into the sport of baseball, here’s a quick introduction:

  • Dr. David Szymanski is a Full Professor, Kinesiology Chair, Human Performance Laboratories Director, and Director of Performance for the varsity baseball team at Louisiana Tech.
  • Dr. Andrew Fry is a Full Professor and Director of the Jayhawk Athletic Performance Laboratory at the University of Kansas.
  • Luke Bradford is the Director of Sport Performance for Baseball and Volleyball for the University of Kansas.
  • Zach Dechant is the Assistant Athletic Director of Sports Performance at Texas Christian University and
  • John Wagle is the Director of Performance Science/Player Development at the Kansas City Royals.

We had an amazing discussion with a focus on measurements that matter to performance in baseball. We spoke from our perspectives about what has worked, what hasn’t worked, and what we are still trying to figure out.

I was so grateful to be invited to this group, as we understood that more could be learned together than apart.

For everyone in the baseball performance community, having your community of mentors and collaborators is essential for professional and personal development. We shared what measurements were complex to collect, what connections can be made to movement mechanics and health, and how to scale strength and conditioning programs based on specific variables.

The conversation became interesting when we were on the topic of absolute versus relative strength. Because with all things in sport, in our training, we need to find out what transfers to on-field performance.

Absolute vs. Relative Strength

Absolute strength is the total amount of strength that can be produced in a particular exercise.

This measure seems to have more of an influence on performance, such as ball velocity, exit velocities, and sprint acceleration. However, relative strength—meaning the strength relative to body weight—is less clear.

Through my experience and education in baseball, I’ve found that relative strength has a more significant influence on health, as increased body weight (at least in pitchers) increases injury risk.

I believe this correlation is primarily because an increase in body mass leads to greater forces on the mound. Still, other variables may be at play (i.e., bigger pitchers have longer lever arms, different mechanics, etc.)

Therefore, the association between mass gain and increases in throwing velocity is challenging because there is a performance benefit to increasing lean mass and being heavier as a pitcher.

Build Size or Strength?

Combined evaluation of absolute strength and relative strength is one of the essential ingredients to our ArmCare platform to manage body size changes. We scale how strong an athlete is relative to their velocity potential and, in turn, how strong an athlete should be relative to their bodies. Although injuries are hard to predict, being relatively weak is not a good thing from both a health and injury perspective.

For example, an athlete who weighs 200 lbs and can press into internal rotation at 50 lbs has a relative strength measure of 25%.

If that athlete dropped to 190 lbs but maintained their strength, their relative strength measurement would now be 26%, and the athlete would be considered stronger for their body size. Or, on the flip side, if that same 200 lbs athlete added 10 lbs, they would now be 210 with a relative strength of 24% and are essentially weaker for their size.

In conclusion, it’s most important to focus on relative strength as it is a function of absolute strength and has protective benefits. This provides the most significant opportunity for health and performance, especially as adolescent athletes mature and grow in size.

 

Size does matter when it comes to strength assessment. Work hard to increase strength for all players and pay particular attention to athletes who are increasing body mass, but not increasing strength.

Masterminds

Outside of understanding the importance of absolute and relative strength in throwing athletes, I am hopeful that after reading this piece that you will seek out those in the field that can expand your mind and will truly share what they know about the game and their experiences in pushing the boundaries of athletic performance.

One such person is Ben Brewster, who we have had on our podcast that was posted this week. He has shared many deep insights into his coaching approaches at Tread Athletics, a leading baseball performance company.

Listen in to learn more about how he takes a holistic approach to his programming, and now armed with the ArmCare platform, he has another layer to evaluate his athletes to optimize their game and well-being. I

If you have a burning baseball performance question, please reach out to us at support@armcare.com. We are excited to meet you and continue the quest to advance collaboration in the sport of baseball.

Listen to Our Podcast with Ben Brewster


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