Lifting really heavy stuff.
The thought of that evokes distaste in a lot of baseball parents mouths. They think that it builds big and strong muscles and that those muscles will not only make you unathletic, but they will also make you inflexible as well.
I covered in a previous blog why adding musculature isn’t going to negatively affect baseball performance – and that this is likely why baseball players have consistently become bigger athletes over the past couple of decades. They see and feel the value in this.
Since I already covered that recently, I want to cover the inflexibility component today and put an end to this talk once and for all.
Addressing the Obvious
Once you strip away the false stigma behind weight training – you are left with the reality that lifting weights is utilized to lower body fat percentage and increase contractile strength. This is achieved with both heavy resistance training and a well-controlled baseball diet.
Now I’ll point out the obvious and mention that the magic in weightlifting always depends upon the coach who is designing the program. It’s not the recipe, it’s the chef. A good coach knows how to properly manipulate training volume, intensity, and frequency over the course of a periodization schedule to get a baseball-performance specific result.
So, I’m not saying any kind of weight training is beneficial because I can’t speak for all of the incompetent trainers out there. But what I can say with complete confidence is that if you have a well-designed baseball weight training program, this can actually improve your flexibility dramatically, not reduce it.
Let me explain and use the incredibly popular Yoga as my sidekick in this explanation.
The Science of Stretching Adaptations
If you ask any baseball player or baseball parent off the street, they’ll tell you that yoga gives you long muscles and that weight lifting gives you shorter muscles.
This is a complete myth and holds no basis in science. In fact, stretching doesn’t even lengthen your muscle at all. That is unless you’re on one of those old medieval stretching torture machines, then it probably lengthens your muscles (seriously what was wrong with people).
This myth that stretching lengthens your muscle exists probably just because it sounds true and seems like it makes sense. You stretch a muscle, so it lengthens, right?
In that very moment, yes, that’s actually true.
But, total muscle length actually stays the exact same in the end.
To make things really simple (I’ll do a more thorough review on baseball specific mobility in the future), what happens when you stretch a muscle is you create a neural effect and not a structural effect.
When you stretch, you improve what’s known as “neural tolerance” – basically, you teach the nervous system that it’s safe to achieve that range of motion and relax the muscle a little bit more once it’s stretched. Most of this neural adaptation is an increase in pain tolerance because you’re teaching your body that this motion isn’t unsafe to be in (whereas before, pain being inflicted upon you was your “warning sign” that something bad might happen, so stop stretching. Over time you override this protection mechanism).
To throw another wrench into current beliefs, most muscles never even come close to reaching their maximum length during most activities. The way in which the biomechanics of the human body are designed just simply makes this close to impossible.
The reality we are looking at here within the literature on this subject is that stretching may acutely increase muscle length/viscoelasticity for up to two minutes afterward, but that’s it.
Getting to What Works
Now that we have gone over the above, we know now that the only semi-permanent adaptation from stretching is neural (which isn’t a bad thing, I’m not saying that). The length of your tissue from a structural perspective is exactly the same.
The reason why you become more flexible is because you’re teaching the nervous system to allow you to move through a greater range of motion. The problem here is that the nervous system is very specific in what it adapts to, so this adaptation largely only gets you better at the stretches you’re doing in your routine, rather than transferring over to more sport specific baseball movements.
But, do you know what actually does improve the structural length of the muscle PLUS neural adaptation of the muscle?
As far as your body is concerned, the stress on your musculature induced by stretching is nothing in comparison to the tension you can place on it using a heavy load, especially at the end of its range of motion.
It is this stress that causes the true adaption from a structural perspective, and not just a neural perspective – and since you are using this structure in your baseball specific movements, it will have excellent transferability to the sport as well (in comparison to how specific the neural adaptations are to movement-based performance measures).
Weight training, even the really heavy kind, will not give you “short muscles” or make you inflexible. In fact, it does the exact opposite, provided you have good technique and move through a full range-of-motion of course.
So, next time you see a weightlifter sitting beside a yoga instructor, you would be making a correct assumption in that the weightlifter is highly likely to have the longer muscles between those two.
And that my friends, will help you improve your baseball performance. Period.
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