This video is a good example of why we don’t use Olympic Weightlifting (cleans, snatches, clean and jerks or even variations like push press or high pulls) with any of our baseball or softball players, especially pitchers.  Everything in training athletes always comes down to risk vs. reward and Olympic lifts are too skewed towards risk when it comes to baseball and softball players.

On the surface that may seem like we don’t appreciate the power development that can be created via the Olympic Lifts.  Of course we do, and we’ve had very good success with the athletes we’ve implemented them with at improving their vertical jump.   It’s just that baseball and softball players, especially pitchers, have very unique demands and stress with their sport that other athletes don’t have to deal with.  For example pitchers have been shown to  experience a peak valgus elbow  stress of 120Nm (120lb) at maximal external rotation or the equivalent of a 60lb anvil hanging from the wrist. For comparisons sake: the Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL), a primary elbow stabilizer, has been shown to fail at 22.7-33Nm in cadaveric studies.  In other words, the single act of pitching is already taking the UCL past the point of failure on every pitcher.  At their release point, they experience a compression (resisting distraction or the pulling apart of the joint) force on their elbow of 780 Nm and average compression force on their shoulder  of 1090 Nm (245lb).  Likewise elbow extension velocity during the acceleration phase of throwing may reach 3000deg/sec. That’s a tremendous amount of elbow  and shoulder stress with every pitch.

This particular lifter broke his elbow performing the Jerk portion of the Clean and Jerk,  so perhaps we should just avoid the Jerk?  Catching a bar overhead in the Snatch also places a very high amount of valgus stress on the elbow.  Likewise catching a Clean places most of the stress through the wrist, elbow and shoulder and also results in a large distraction force when lowering the weight from shoulders back to starting position.  The Olympic  lifters competing in the Olympics are world class athletes with years spent perfecting their Olympic Lifting technique.  A lot of high school athletes don’t have the technique or physical ability (lack of coordination, lack of mobility, lack of stability) required to safely distribute high forces created during the Olympic lifts or to truly derive power and speed benefits from the lifts. 

In addition, there have been recent studies showing that vertical ground reaction force production (which is what olympic lifts primarily develop) does not contribute to pitching velocity.  Instead research has shown that power is plane specific meaning lateral force production ability is much more important than vertical force production for high velocity pitching. There has also been some research showing lead leg ground reaction forces are very large in high velocity pitching mechanics, but that has more to do with eccentric loading ability of the lead leg and to the ability to apply force to the ground in a backwards direction.  Olympic lifts are much more focused on concentric, vertical force production through two legs.  From a practical performance and injury prevention standpoint, it doesn’t make much sense to place our athletes in a high risk lift that places a large amount of stress on the same muscles that already experience high stress when pitching, especially if research suggests we get very little benefit from them in terms of pitching velocity or injury prevention

When it comes to any athlete, it always comes down to risk/reward when designing their training program.  With the very high forces that pitchers experience with every pitch they throw, it’s even more crucial to minimize their risk during training while maximizing their potential reward.

Medial Elbow injuries in young throwing athletes, Bonnie Gregory and John Nyland, Muscle, Ligaments and Tendons Journal, 2013 April-June 3(2)

Biomechanics of the Elbow during Baseball Pitching, Werner et. al. JOSPT, June 1993, Vol 17, #6

Correlation of Throwing Velocity to the Results of Lower Body Field Tests in Male College Baseball Players, Graham Lehman, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2013 April (27) 4