Dumbbells are Smart
By Gene Coleman and Bryan King
If you are an athlete performing strength training for baseball, sometimes it’s better to go lighter than heavier to ensure that your technique is proper and that you are training movements that have carryover value to on-field performance. When performing the back squat or barbell bench press, for example, some players put too much emphasis on how much weight they can lift and too little on technique and how effective these lifts will transfer to on-field performance. Every rep should look the same with only tempo changing due to a heavier load. For many athletes, exercises such as single-leg squats, rear-foot elevated split-squats, RDLs, DB lunge variations, DB bench and DB row variations have more carryover, i.e., they develop strength in movements that transfer better to on-field performance. The squat and bench press are beneficial, but they are not always the ideal exercises in every workout throughout the training year.
it’s important to remember that the ultimate goal in all sports, especially baseball, is not to see how much weight you can lift. The ball weighs 5 ounces and bats are 31-34 ounces. You might need to be able to bench 300-pounds and squat 400 pounds to compete as a power lifter, but not to hit for average, throw hard or make plays in the field. Tony Gwynn once told a former Padres strength and conditioning coach – “I don’t have to be able to bench press to hit .300” and he was right
Athletes train to improve performance, not to demonstrate how strong they are. Therefore, it’s OK to sacrifice max strength increases in specific exercises in order to train movements that have carryover value to performance. Unless you are working with 75-100+ pound DBs, DB exercises probably won’t help you achieve max strength, but they will allow you to improve strength in movements that can lead to enhanced performance.
DBs are smart. Some of the advantages to training with DBs include:
- They require more muscular control and proprioceptive responses than barbells and machines which helps enhance kinesthetic awareness.
- They often require movement of one limb at a time which requires more balance and stability than training with barbells or guided movements on machines, and balance and stability are essential for optimal performance.
- They increase unilateral strength, which can enhance many of the sport-related movements required in baseball.
- They enhance the recruitment of the stabilizing muscles, and improve joint stability.
- They allow you to train and improve strength through a greater range of motion than barbells and machines in several exercises.
- They allow for movements in more than one plane.
- They offer a safer method of training for certain exercises, such as step-ups, straight-leg dead lifts, etc.
- They provide for variety to the training program.
- They are closed kinetic chain exercises that train movements, not muscles.
- They can promote coordination and stability for muscles and joints.
- They do not directly load (compress) the spine.
- They help identify and correct side-to-side strength imbalances.
- They are safer than barbell and back squat when training alone; drop them and move on.
- They can be used for single- and bi-lateral exercise movements.
- Because they allow you to work out one limb at a time, they can be used by those who have injuries but don’t want to give up on exercise altogether.
- They can be used for upper, lower and total body exercise movements.
Check out the following PBSCCS articles for more information on strength training:
Gene Coleman and Bryan King combined have over 6 decades of experience in professional baseball. Gene Coleman, Ed. D., RSCC*E, FACSM was the head strength and conditioning coach for the Astros (1978-2012) and consultant for the Rangers (2013-2020). Bryan King, RSCC, is a Minor League strength and Conditioning Coach with the Tampa Bay Rays (2014-2021) and was the Toronto Blue Jays Head Strength and Conditioning Coach (2008-2014) and their Minor League Strength and Conditioning Coordinator (2007). Bryan has twice been the PBSCCS Minor League Strength Coach of the Year, and was recently named the 2021 PBSCCS Co-AAA East Minor League Strength Coach of the Year for his work with the Durham Bulls.