Baseball is often referred to as America’s Pastime. With that rich and fascinating history comes traditions and routines that run deep. There is a certain level of resistance to change within the baseball community that far surpasses that of any other sport. In this age of science and technology, training improvements are prevalent in almost all athletic endeavors. Baseball has benefitted from that in several ways, but my goodness it takes exponentially longer for players and coaches to accept new findings and eventually adopt them.
But why…why is baseball the dinosaur sport?
Because it is such a game of routine, player’s routines become directly linked to their confidence levels. To be perfectly blunt, a baseball player’s psyche is incredibly fragile (especially hitters) because it is such a difficult game to play.
Baseball players are so often referred to as the most superstitious athletes out there…and that may very well be true, but why?
It is because having those superstitions often create a feeling of comfort, they create a belief in a players mind that they have done everything possible to be lined up for success. Of course the preparation is extremely important, competence breeds confidence…that is apparent.
However, that quirky little on deck routine, or sequential organization of the dirt in the batter’s box can be the thing that truly puts a player’s mind at ease. It is that routine that can conger up feelings of past successes. Not only being aware of past successes but also actually recreating those feelings serves to galvanize a player’s confidence.
When looking at it from that angle it seems to make more sense as to why players hold so tightly to their routines. However, it doesn’t make it any less frustrating when science tells us we are doing something that is putting us at a disadvantage from a scientific standpoint.
Here is why this is the case-
This brings me to one of the most senseless routines that continues to be a staple at all levels of baseball. The heavy bat in the on-deck circle! Whether it is a weighted doughnut, 2 bats, or a overweight training bat…the science is now clear that swing it on deck will lead to a slower bat speed when players step in the box.
After swinging a much heavier bat, our game bat feels lighter in our hands (and might give us a little confidence boost, so I will concede that their could be a psychological benefit).
It will not actually help increase your bat swing speed when you step in the box and it actually counts.
Baseball Just Won’t Let Go…
We have several different muscle fiber types, this in and of itself is an entirely separate article, but here is the very brief breakdown.
Our species has 2 main classes of muscle fibers: Fast-twitch muscle fibers & slow twitch muscle fibers. However, there are 4 distinct types of muscle fibers because fast twitch can be broken down into 3 sub categories:
- Slow Oxidative
- Fast oxidative
- Fast, oxidative, glycolytic
- Fast glycolytic
Fast twitch and slow twitch vary in many ways, one of the big ones being endurance capacity. Fast twitch muscles have a much lower level of endurance (meaning they fatigue much quicker). Slow twitch muscle are the muscle fibers recruited to perform more endurance-based activities. Fast twitch fibers are recruited for more explosive-based activities.
Swinging a weighted bat actually trains your muscles to contract at a slower rate.
Obviously, when swinging a heavier bat your muscles cannot contract as fast as they can with your typical game bat. The added weight forces a decrease in bat speed, which means the muscle fibers will be contracting at a slower rate. When your muscles are contracting slower they are using more slow twitch muscle fibers.
As I explained above, these slower twitch muscle fibers specialize in endurance instead of quickness or explosiveness. Fast twitch fibers fire much quicker. So when you are using a weighted bat you are preparing the incorrect muscle fiber types.
Science Backed Proof!
Coop DeRenne who is a professor at the University of Hawaii has researched the science behind all of this over the last 20 years and demonstrated that if you warm up with a heavier bat (10% – 13% or heavier than your game bat) you can cause a 3-5mph decrease in your bat speed when you step in the box.
That may not seem significant but understand that 1 mph of bat speed can equate to about 5 additional feet of flight (launch angle and other factors being held constant). That means you could be sacrificing 25 feet of flight, which can easily be the difference between a home run and a routine fly ball. Pretty crucial…ditch the doughnut!