Baseball is a sport that is laden with tradition and superstition. It is a sport built around failure. The best hitters only get on base 30-40% of the time. In basketball, you know Lebron James will score at least 20 points and get a double-double. But you don’t know if Mike Trout will get on base. He usually does, but going 0-4 isn’t unusual for even the best baseball players. This high failure rate leads many baseball players to develop superstitions and unrelated routines that they somehow believe will lead to their success. Derek Jeter would eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich 1 hour before each game. Mark Teixeira used to wear two different socks for his games. Then there’s this guy.
Baseball has all kinds of rituals and quirks that players swear are vital to their success. That is probably why baseball players are still swinging weighted bats in the on-deck circle. Despite what research says, athletes can be resistant to change because they spend years going through the same motions and routines. It works for them. If this is you, I understand. I played baseball through college, and I designated my socks to be exclusively put on my left or right foot. Yes, right-footed socks can be a thing, and I was particular about it.
Nearly every batter in the universe swings a weighted bat in the on-deck circle. The most common form is putting a little weight called a donut or a weighted sleeve onto their game bat. Other players a dedicated heavier bat, or even swing multiple bats at the same time.
The logic is obvious. Swing something heavy, then swinging something lighter will allow a faster swing. Nearly every ballplayer has adopted this logic and traditional pre-at-bat warmup for over a century.
However, as good exercise scientists do, many have questioned this practice. Does swinging a heavy bat lead to faster bat speed?
This topic has been studied rather extensively by the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Fortunately, the research appears consistent. Weighted bats DO NOT enhance bat swing velocity. All the research out there makes one of two conclusions: it slows acute bat speed down or doesn’t help. There isn’t research that supports its use for increasing bat speed in game-like conditions. In fact, the opposite is true. All the research points to using LIGHTER bats to temporarily improve bat speed. This should be earth-shattering news in the baseball world. Yet, this is well researched and has been out there for several years. As I said, athletes are resistant to change.
Why Weighted Bats Don’t Work
While we don’t know for sure, I have my theory of why weighted bats are detrimental to performance. The body essentially has two layers of muscles. Everyone knows of the big, bulky muscles at the surface. But underneath, there’s a vast network of smaller muscles crucial to efficient, fast movement. Swinging a weighted bat forces a player to disproportionately use the big muscles, leading to an elongated and slow swing. Practice a slow swing will lead to the execution of a slow swing in the game. On the flip side, a lighter bat uses less of the bigger and slower muscles. This, along with the lighter weight, allows the player to swing faster and more efficiently, allowing the swing path to stay close to the body. This results in a faster swing. And when you practice a quicker swing, the research proves the swing will be faster in-game.
Baseball is a game of inches and milliseconds. Gaining a little bit of swing velocity often makes the difference between a swing and a miss or good contact on the ball.
Let’s Change the Culture
I don’t expect to change the minds of MLB players. They made it to the show, and we don’t want to mess with their swing. But what we can and should do is change this mindset in our youth. If you are a young baseball or softball player, consider switching to a lighter bat if a teammate has one while warming up. The research isn’t conclusive on how light you should go. It is probably best to use a lesser weight, but similar to your game bat.
Here are a few studies that all have similar conclusions. Let’s ditch the weights and start swinging lighter bats.