Professional Baseball Strength & Conditioning

Why Grip Strength?

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Grip strength has been an integral part of conditioning for baseball for decades. Why? Because years of practical experience and scientific research indicate that grip strength can have a significant effect on offensive performance in professional baseball players. In a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (1), 343 professional baseball players in the Texas Rangers organization were tested over the course of two separate seasons. Players represented all levels within the Rangers organization. Ninety Rookie Ball players, 84 A-ball players, 50 AA players; 52 AAA players and 62 Major League players were tested for grip strength, power, speed and agility. Regression equations were developed to determine the relationship between each of these tests and performance as measured by home runs, total bases, slugging percentage and stolen bases. While the results indicated that the best predictors of over-all performance were power, speed and agility, grip strength was significantly related to home runs, total bases and slugging percentage. It is also interesting to note that the players that had the most lean body mass, greatest power, fastest speed and best agility, also had the most grip strength.

Training for grip strength should be similar to that for other forms of strength. Baseline values should be obtained and training should follow a periodization model in which exercises, volume and intensity are varied throughout the season. Assessments of grip strength should be performed at regular intervals to determine progress, evaluate program effectiveness and monitor compliance.

Most “authorities” on grip strength say that there are two basic types of grip strength:

  • Pinching strength. This type of strength is developed by squeezing something such as a weight plate between the thumb and fingers. Although you will see players performing pinch strength exercises in most weight rooms, pinching strength has little practical application to the sport of baseball other than increasing thumb and finger strength.
  • Crushing (gripping) strength. This type of strength is often developed with “traditional” wrist and forearm exercises, such as squeezing a rubber ball, compressing a hand gripper and/or working on wrist rollers. With this type of strength, the palm remains stationary while the fingers move toward it in a gripping movement. Crushing strength has direct application to baseball. It is used on offense when you grip a bat handle and on defense when you apply pressure (grip) to the ball.

So how do you develop crushing grip strength in baseball? While there are numerous effective exercises, most exercises can be divided into one of the three basic groups; traditional, support and suspension exercises.

  • Traditional exercises. These tend to be isolation exercises in which movement occurs at onlygrip1 one joint; either the wrist or fingers. Isolation exercises are effective for improving wrist, and forearm strength, but they work only about two percent of the total muscle mass of the body and have little transfer effect to other areas of the body. The most popular exercises in the wrist/forearm group are wrist curls, extensions, abductions, adductions, supinations, pronations and wrist rollers. Those that involve primarily the muscles of the hand and fingers include hand grip devices, rubber ball and putty squeezes and rice bucket exercises.
  • Support exercises. The exercises in this group develop “support” grip by requiring players to grip2use their hands and fingers to hold and move DBs, kettlebells and weights while executing traditional resistance training exercises. Examples of “support” grip exercises include kettlebell swings, vertical pulls (lat pulls and pull-ups), horizontal rows (seated rows, DB rows, cable rows and incline rows), DB squats and lunges, RDLs, deadlifts, power clean, DB bench and incline, rope curls and presses and thick grip barbell and DB curls and presses. Support grip strength tends to have more carry-over value because it is developed in conjunction with strength in other areas of the body, not in isolation. When you swing and throw, the wrists and hands are the last link in the kinetic chain to move. Training them to function as part of the kinetic chain should enhance performance more than training them to move independently of the rest of the body.
  • Suspension exercises. You will need a towel and grip3resistance (body weight, DB, KB, weight plate or barbell) for the exercises in this group. There are several effective suspension exercise options, but for maximum effectiveness you must grip the towel as hard as you can throughout each exercise. Typically towel (suspension) training is used with pulling movements for the upper and lower body. Using a towel has an improved carry over value because it allows you to improve grip and pulling strength at the same time. Effective towel suspension exercises include farmers’ carries with a KB, incline rows, pull-ups, grip hangs, one-arm KB rows, T-bar or landmine rows, KB RDL, KB deadlift and KB swings.

Increasing grip strength will improve your ability to handle heavy objects, enhance the quality of training, help prevent injury, and improve performance.

References

  1. Hoffman, Jay R., et. al., Anthropometric and performance comparisons in professional baseball players. J. Strength and Cond. Res. 23(8): 2173-2178, 2009.
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Jose Vazquez, PT, CSCS is Head Strength Coach, Texas Rangers.

 

 

 

 

 

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