Should baseball players use weighted bats while on deck?
Baseball is a sport steeped in tradition and superstition. It’s a sport built around failure. The best hitters only hit 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 be 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 independent routines that they believe will lead to their success. Derek Jeter ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich 1 hour before every game. Mark Teixeira wore two different socks for his matches. Then there’s this guy.
Baseball has all sorts of rituals and quirks that players swear are essential to their success. This is probably why baseball players still swing weighted bats in the circle on the deck. Despite what the research says, athletes can resist change because they spend years following the same moves and routines. It works for them. If that’s you, I understand. I played baseball in college and designated my socks to fit exclusively on my left or right foot. Yes, right foot socks can be a thing, and I was particular about it.
Almost every batter in the universe swings a weighted bat in the circle on the deck. The most common form is to put a small weight called a donut or weighted shaft on their game bat. Other players use a dedicated heavier bat, or even swing multiple bats at once.
The logic is obvious. Swinging something heavy and then swinging something lighter will allow for a faster swing. Almost all ballplayers have embraced this logic and traditional warm-up before the bat for over a century.
However, as good exercise scientists do, many have questioned this practice. Does swinging a heavy bat result in faster bat speed?
This topic has been studied quite extensively by the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Fortunately, the research seems consistent. Weighted bats do NOT improve bat swing speed. All the research out there comes to one of two conclusions: it slows the acute speed of bats or it doesn’t help. There is no research that supports its use to increase bat speed under playing conditions. In fact, the opposite is true. All research suggests using LIGHTER bats to temporarily improve bat speed. This should be shocking news in the world of baseball. Yet this is well documented and has been around for several years. As I said, athletes resist change.
Why Weighted Bats Don’t Work
Although we don’t know for sure, I have my theory on why weighted bats hurt performance. The body basically has two layers of muscles. Everyone knows the big, bulky muscles on the surface. But underneath, there’s a vast network of small muscles that are essential for efficient and rapid movement. Swinging a weighted bat forces a player to use large muscles disproportionately, resulting in an elongated, slow swing. Practicing a slow swing will lead to executing a slow swing in the game. On the other hand, a lighter bat uses the larger, slower muscles less. 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 faster swing, research proves the swing will be faster in the game.
Baseball is a game of inches and milliseconds. Gaining a little swing speed is often the difference between a swing and a miss or good contact with the ball.
let’s change the culture
I don’t expect MLB players to change their minds. They arrived at the show, and we don’t want to mess up their swing. But what we can and must do is change that mindset in our youth. If you’re a young baseball or softball player, consider switching to a lighter bat if a teammate has one during the warm-up. Research is inconclusive on how light you should go. It’s probably best to use a lower 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.