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Does Warming Up with a Heavy Bat in the On-Deck Circle Actually Improve Swing Velocity?


The title of the article really says it all.

 

This was a question I began pondering after stumbling across a research article published in this month’s edition of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, in which it was determined that warming up with a heavy bat (57-oz.) actually decreased subsequent swing velocity.Attend any baseball game at any level and you’ll find that a good chunk of athletes will be taking their practice cuts in the on-deck circle with a heavy bat; usually this involves swinging a “normal” bat with a weighted donut or sleeve around the barrel or an implement such as a metal rod or sand-filled tube designed to mimic the ergonomics of a typical baseball bat.

 

It is an action that is ubiquitous in the game and, on the surface, it makes logical sense. Swinging a heavy bat primes the muscles and makes a lighter bat feel, well, lighter in the hand, allowing the athlete to generate a higher swing velocity; this is often referred to as “the overload approach.” It’s been well established that swing velocity correlates strongly with exit velocity, meaning the quicker one swings, the faster the ball leaves the bat. The faster the ball leaves the bat, the farther it flies; it’s simple physics.

 

However, upon delving into the research, it appears as though warming up with a heavy bat does not actually produce this result.

 

A term that popped up regularly was “kinesthetic illusion” - sometimes referred to as “kinesthetic aftereffect”. This term describes the athlete’s perception that they are swinging faster after warming up with a heavy bat, when in reality, they are not. Five studies published in 2009 or later (linked below) involving a total of 88 participants who participated in high-school or college baseball found that warming up with a heavy bat did not increase swing velocity in a statistically meaningful way when compared to warming up with a standard bat - no matter the modality used to make the bat “heavy.” (The standard bat was often 33-in., 30-oz. - though it wasn’t until the later studies that this became standardized.)

 

All five studies also assessed whether or not warming up with a “light” bat impacted the resulting swing velocity with a standard bat. Four studies found that warming up with a light bat did not impact resulting swing velocity, though one study found that it improved swing velocity by (this same study also found that warming up with a heavy bat slowed resulting swing velocity). The overall range of light to heavy bats across all five studies was 6.9-96-oz.

 

An additional study, looking at 30 collegiate baseball players, found that utilizing weighted batting gloves did not alter swing mechanics compared to swinging a standardized control bat; however, swinging a bat with a weight applied to the barrel did impact swing mechanics.

 

So not only does warming up with a donut or weighted sleeve not impact - or possibly have a negative impact on - resulting swing velocity, but it may also change the mechanics of the athlete’s swing compared to that of a standard bat. I think that Charles Williams and his research team summed it up best when they concluded: “If presented with the current options, athletes should choose the warm up implement with which they are most comfortable using before an at-bat situation.” After all, kinesthetic illusion - a variant of the placebo effect - can be a powerful tool.

 

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Great article.   I wonder what the effect of training with a heavier bat would produce vs just warming up with one.   I also wonder what the effect of swinging those bats that have the fans on them to create resistance compared to weighted bats.  I am probably more interested in this topic as it relates to golf.   Lots of people swear by the Orange Whip but I have also seen articles about swinging a lighter club faster gets you to swing the normal club faster.   Of course nothing replaces timing and mechanics.   My friend out drives me with 10 mph slower swing speed.

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Great article.   I wonder what the effect of training with a heavier bat would produce vs just warming up with one.   I also wonder what the effect of swinging those bats that have the fans on them to create resistance compared to weighted bats.  I am probably more interested in this topic as it relates to golf.   Lots of people swear by the Orange Whip but I have also seen articles about swinging a lighter club faster gets you to swing the normal club faster.   Of course nothing replaces timing and mechanics.   My friend out drives me with 10 mph slower swing speed.

 

There's decent research out there that says training with heavier and lighter bats can improve swing speed in the long run; that's part of what the guys at Driveline preach. As for golf, I guess I really haven't looked into it, but that is an interesting thought. My initial thoughts would be that it would produce a similar effect, but as you say timing and mechanics are incredibly important.

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Very interesting.

 

Speaking from my own experience, it sure felt like it helped. I see their point when it comes to a singular AB, but I think the conclusion, and approach to this experiment in general, are extremely faulty - in terms of framing it as a negative.

 

As mentioned above, what about long-term? Sure, the research may show it doesn’t improve swing velocity in the one subsequent AB. But, how does it affect swing velocity over the course of the season? A person warming up with such a bat every day certainly improves wrist/fore-arm/shoulder strength (related to swing mechanics) at minimum. For example, if you participate in this exercise most every day from April to May, I would refuse to believe you would see a detriment to your bat speed in June. This is in relation to what it would have been if never picking up a heavy warm-up mechanism of some kind.

 

It’s just like any other resistance training. Bench pressing 225 at 10 reps isn’t going to allow you to bench more in the following 10 minutes. But, doing it repeatedly, day after day, is certainly going to increase the amount of force you can generate.

 

Overall, if done long enough, you are achieving a net gain. We’re not talking about a universe in which each player takes one at bat in their lifetime.

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Here's a note that was alluded to in the opening post. I don't have a citation on this but I have read that a study was done showing that the length, weight, and weight distribution of a bat do not factor in to exit velocity of a batted ball. In the study balls were struck (I think from a tee) by different-sized bats all set at the same speed and there was no difference in the distance the balls traveled. There are other factors of course, primarily pitch speed, the angle of the swing, and how the ball is struck, but in order to get the exit velocity as high as possible you have to get the bat moving as fast as possible. So it would seem to me that players should use the lightest bat that they can control.

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Very interesting.

Speaking from my own experience, it sure felt like it helped. I see their point when it comes to a singular AB, but I think the conclusion, and approach to this experiment in general, are extremely faulty (frankly, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me).

As mentioned above, what about long-term? Sure, the research may show it doesn’t improve swing velocity in the one subsequent AB. But, how does it affect swing velocity over the course of the season? A person warming up with such a bat every day certainly improves wrist/fore-arm/shoulder strength (related to swing mechanics) at minimum. For example, if you participate in this exercise most every day from April to May, for example, I would refuse to believe you would see a detriment to you bat sport in June.

It’s just like any other resistance training. Bench pressing 225 at 10 reps isn’t going to allow to bench more in the following 10 minutes. But, doing it repeatedly, day after day, is certainly going to increase the amount of force you can generate.

Overall, if done long enough, you are achieving a net gain. We’re not talking about a universe in which each baseball takes one at bat in their lifetime.

I think the thrust of the original post was that warming up with a heavy bat should not be done immediately before an at-bat. It would seem that the time to do this training would be after a game, on a day off, or much earlier on the day of a game.

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I watched a super-interesting video a couple days ago about Christiano Renaldo, the great soccer player. They were testing his skills, and one of the tests involved forcing him to guess the location of a soccer ball in flight without seeing it.

 

In a field house they had a guy kick a ball as if to center it for a shot. Just after the kick, they turned off the lights, so he would have to guess where the ball was going to be, based on the passer's form and the initial flight of the ball. To everyone's delight, in darkness Christiano was able to accurately head the ball into the goal, whereas a normal player missed the ball by at least six feet. 

 

Then they made the test harder. They turned off the lights just as the passer made contact. 

 

Christiano shouldered the ball into the goal. In total blackness, having seen only the initial kick from about twenty five yards away, he still was able to predict when and where the ball would be well enough to direct it into a goal. 

 

This startling result suggests that great hitters are better than average players at predicting when and where a pitch will cross their hitting zone, based not so much on seeing the ball between the hand and the plate, as on predicting from form and release. You could add to that situational awareness, to narrow down the probabilities. At that point, swing mechanics and timing are all about putting the moving barrel where your mind already knows the ball will be. 

 

The exception to this rule would of course be...the knuckleball. With no way to read the final destination from form, even the best predictive mind won't know where the ball will be when in crosses the hitting zone. No wonder a good knuckler can make the best hitters look foolish. 

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FWIW, I always used a batting ring to warm up.   But I wasn't thinking about increasing bat velocity.  My game was speed and ball placement (I tried to emulate Carew).  So I was only concerned with bat control.  And it seemed to me that the bat felt easier to control after warming up with a harder to control bat.   I agree, though, it could all have been in my head.

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Here's a note that was alluded to in the opening post. I don't have a citation on this but I have read that a study was done showing that the length, weight, and weight distribution of a bat do not factor in to exit velocity of a batted ball. In the study balls were struck (I think from a tee) by different-sized bats all set at the same speed and there was no difference in the distance the balls traveled. There are other factors of course, primarily pitch speed, the angle of the swing, and how the ball is struck, but in order to get the exit velocity as high as possible you have to get the bat moving as fast as possible. So it would seem to me that players should use the lightest bat that they can control.

The study was either wrong, or you misremembered it.

 

Of course a heavier bat will hit a ball further at the same bat speed than a lighter bat, it's basically physics 101.

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First remember that the Minimum bat weight in MLB is 32 oz, Harper uses the heaviest bat at 35oz.  2 oz of bat weight doesn't make a huge difference.

Copied and pasted from something

 

To see the effects of bat weight and bat speed, here is a summary of an experiment that I found summarized in a 1980 high-school textbook, Physics of Sports developed by Florida State University.[6] For this experiment, the ball mass, pitch speed, and bat swing speed were all kept constant. Only the bat mass was changed. The data shows that a heavier bat produces a faster batted ball speed. This makes intuitive sense since a heavier bat brings more momentum into the collision. Doubling the mass of the bat results in an increase of almost 12mph. So, using a heavier bat should result in faster hit balls, which means the hit ball will travel farther. If a player can maintain the same bat swing speed with a heavier bat, the heavier bat will produce higher batted ball velocity and an increase in distance.

But, any player who has experimented swinging bats with widely different weights knows that it is easier to swing a light bat than a heavier bat. Put another way, it takes more effort to swing a heavy bat with the same speed as it does a lighter bat, and most players cannot swing a heavy bat as quickly as they can a bat which is half the weight. So, we need to see how the batted ball speed depends on bat swing speed.

Bat Weight Batted Ball Velocity
20oz (0.57kg) 68.5mph (30.6m/s)
25oz (0.71kg) 73.0mph (32.6m/s)
30oz (0.85kg) 76.2mph (34.0m/s)
35oz (0.99kg) 78.6mph (35.1m/s)
40oz (1.14kg) 80.4mph (35.9m/s)
 

 

 

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