Wherever you are — be there.
My coworkers and I recently took part in a friendly (read, grudge-match ), intra-departmental softball game. Now, I can count the number of times on one hand that I’ve played any form of the so-called “American pastime” since the third grade — I’m from Texas for cryin’ out loud, where football is king — but I figured, hey, I’m in really good shape, and not a half-bad natural athlete either. Good hand-eye coordination, quick as a cat, the whole nine yards. My point in this ramble? Well, defensively, everything went peachy-keen. I was fast, agile, covered lots of ground and got to balls folks thought I had no chance of getting near. The ol’ glove was a little rusty, but I expected as much. Offensively, I ran the bases like a gazelle — and I damn well had too — because my batting, in a word, sucked.
Oh, I know the proper technique. My son came up playing 3rd base through the highly competitive Greenville, North Carolina baseball factories, and I’ve seen the perfect swing coached so often and for so long that it has been emblazoned in my mind as well. I figured that I’d be sending balls out of the park with regularity. I mean, look at the power I generate in the weight room day-in and day-out. The difference is, of course, that all of my training — especially in my younger days (and those habits I still carry with me to this day) — have been geared toward maintaining a stiff torso and generating power through that stiff torso. All the power moves, the Olympic lifts, the “big three” — deadlifts, squats, bench (I’d drop the bench and add dips and overhead presses, but that’s another topic for another time) — sprints, stadium sprints, sled-dragging, et al. Hell, even my fun-time activities — fixed-speed and mountain biking — all rely upon power transfer through a stiff torso.
Now, a stiff torso is exactly what you do want in the linebacker/defensive back positions that I played. A weak and/or flexible torso winds-up equating to broken tackles, and, ultimately, a good deal of game time spent pulling splinters out of one’s ass.
Batting, however, involves generating rotational torso/hip power through a wide arc. I can’t think of anything more at odds with the results culminating from the above-mentioned training battery. And I am now quite sure that this ‘tight torso/hip” phenomenon is what baseball coaches are referring to when they speak of weight lifting producing a “muscle-bound” athlete.
Now, this torso/hip rotational power most certainly can be trained and enhanced via a proper weight room regimen. This is why it is so vitally important to know what your goals are and ensure that the structure of your training is in support of those goals.
I like what Vern Gambetta has to say about the subject here, on his Functional Path Training blog. Good, solid wisdom from a man who’s been in the game for quite a while.
I had no idea when I began serious weight training at twelve years old (yeah, I’ve been in the game that long) that I was enhancing a stiff torso, I just knew that because I was enhancing my power production, I was becoming a better football athlete. Things would have been much different had baseball been my sporting love. Weight training, I’m sure, would’ve been quickly and unceremoniously dropped when the batting began to suffer and the evil “muscle-bound” tag began to be heard. I see this all the time in baseball players, and it’s just too, too bad. So much good could come to them through a properly selected weight training regimen, one that helps develop power in the rotational plane. As you might have guessed by now, that regimen will look a little different than that of the football player. It’s not the difference between ballet and polka, but a difference none-the-less.
So, will I reset my goals in preparation for the next company softball challenge? I think that for argument’s sake, I will. I think that if I have enough head’s-up — say, at least 4 weeks or so — I’ll change my training around (and my chosen goals) to enhance rotational power development. It will be interesting to see if this relatively short amount of training time will elicit an enhanced effect. My gut feeling is that it will make all the difference in the world. Get your beer money ready, boys. The losers are buyin’.