Olympic Lifting and Softball Players

Olympic lifts have been shown to be great for athletic development.  Force production, speed, and power can be increased using Olympic lifts.  However what is so special about Olympic lifts?  Are there other modalities that can yield the same type of results?  One main component of Olympic lifting is the benefit athletes get from triple extension- full extension of the hips, knees, and ankles (ideally…if performed correctly).  Additionally, the powerful movement is more associated with the speed/acceleration variable in force = mass x acceleration.  So a high amount of force can be exerted with full lower body extension, specifically of the ever-important hip joint.

I know everyone has different opinions, and I respect those if they have put a lot of thought/studying into those opinions, so mine is just one among many. And that is as follows: there are so many tools in the toolbox, why choose the ones that may have some risk for a certain population of athletes (i.e. softball/baseball players)? Why not choose the ones that have virtually no risk, but still get damn close to the same benefit? What are those risks you say?


First, the upright row is not something I want to mess around with softball players, primarily because it excessively internally rotates the humerus into the classic “empty can” position traditionally used in rehab settings but becoming a popular contraindicated exercise because of the impinged position of the rotator cuff.  The upright row is obviously a necessary component of cleans.


Think of a big, stiff, powerlifter, who is built like a house and can throw just about anything over his or her head with rock solid shoulders…that stiffness in the shoulder joint is usually the exact opposite of what softball players develop throughout their lives.  As we know, more mobility usually means less stability, and vice versa. The trick is to find a good balance of both. Additionally, usually college players have a) played their entire life, which can lead to bony growth changes around the shoulder socket to allow for better mobility to throw a ball hundreds and hundreds of times every summer, b) are very congenitally lax (especially females), and c) one of the rate limiting strength factors in females, generally, is upper body strength. So it may not be the safest to throw heavy weight over the heads of softball players. Here is a great Cressey talk on overhead athletes and overhead pressing:

Snatches & Jerks = direct overhead approximation stress.  Traction stresses, on the other hand…pull-up variations, med ball overhead throws, etc. are great.



This one is a no brainer that is obvious from the above examples.  While I love front squats, and we will do them at times during the year, the bar is pushing directly down on a bit of an already unstable shoulder.  Usually I prefer doing dumbbell goblet grip work instead of front squats, or I will just give the players the option: if front squat grip hurts their shoulders, grab a dumbbell and do a goblet grip (see my article Front Squats or Back Squats for Softball Players).  The catch on cleans results in an aggressive punch and landing on the anterior shoulder, which is great!  …That is, if you’re a football or basketball player with solid shoulder stability…

Football, soccer, basketball, track, etc. would be a perfect fit for Olympic lifts.  Relatively little risk and a great reward.  Softball and baseball players on the other hand have issues that lead me to perform movements very similar to Olympic lifts, only without the risks.  Kettlebell swings, jump shrugs, medicine ball “pull through” throws, squat jumps, speed deadlifts, and more, are all great alternatives to use for softball players.

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  1. Is the Risk-Reward Worth It (Program Design)? « Northern State University Softball

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