Grip strength is an underrated, bona fide occupational qualification for many elite athletes—but is it actually grip strength or is it really grip endurance that we're discussing? Most activities require both; however, the answer to this question is dependent upon the specific activity being performed. Delivering and/or receiving forces through the forearm via handgrip are actions closely associated with football linemen, fighters, and gymnasts. Pushing and/or pulling forces are recognizable in basketball shooting, powerlifting, and rowing. Both of these examples involve some form and some degree of grip strength, but how about the grip strength requirements in sports that involve striking with an implement, like baseball or softball?
The full research study linked below answers this question and exposes an important relationship between grip strength and hitting a baseball for power. Hitting a baseball requires the athlete to grip the baseball bat and hold onto that bat as it’s swung with great speed. The ultimate goal of this hitting motion is to square up the sweet spot on the baseball with the sweet spot on the baseball bat, thus transferring bat speed into batted ball velocity at bat-to-ball contact. To do this, a baseball batter must rely heavily on his grip to maintain the necessary bat speed to facilitate the transfer of power from his bat to the ball.
I grew up the son of a coach in the same city that my Dad grew up in, and have heard some legendary stories about his own semi-professional football career with the Seattle Cavaliers in the mid-to-late 1960’s. My Dad, nicknamed “The Wall,” is a big, strong man and was known on the football field for hard hits and head slaps (when they were legal, of course). I’ve personally witnessed evidence of his raw power throughout the years on the bench press in the weight room, tightening and/or literally breaking bolts during car repairs, and hammering nails during home improvement projects. Even with the knowledge of these stories and memories of these experiences, it wasn’t until I was in graduate school that I realized how integral my Dad’s grip strength was to his raw power. While watching an NFL game, I noticed that the majority of the linemen and linebackers had their wrists taped. This was an “aha” moment for me as I watched linemen, even bigger in stature than my Dad, with forearms that appeared to be smaller than his. This observation is the origin of the research that I’ve just completed.
Three years ago, when I assumed the role of Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Puget Sound Collegiate League and after completing a needs analysis for baseball hitters, I incorporated grip strength exercises within our strength program. Pre-season and post-season combine testing provided the opportunity to assess athlete gains and or losses in grip strength through the season. Please see the full research article below for the complete results of testing for the 2013 season.
Strength and conditioning workouts are available to all players in the Puget Sound Collegiate League, two to three times per week over the course of the two-month summer baseball season. Workouts include a grip strength component. A 35-lb or 45-lb barbell; or 5-lb, 10-lb, 15-lb, or 20-lb dumbbells are used for extension and flexion exercises. A 1.5-lb or 2.5-lb mini sledge hammer is used for mini sledge hammer exercises. Wood dowels could be used to modify the load when necessary and/or appropriate. Each grip strength exercise is performed for 1-3 sets of 3-10 repetitions in each workout. Intensity and volume are dependent upon training age, fitness level, and physical health status.
- Extension: Barbell/Dumbbell Wrist Curl with a Pronated Closed Grip Loaded in the Palm
- Flexion: Barbell/Dumbbell Wrist Curl with a Supinated Closed Grip Loaded in the Palm
Mini Sledge Hammer Exercises
- Radial Deviation: Bottom Loaded Reverse Hammers
- Ulnar Deviation: Top Loaded Hammers
- Pronation: Loaded Medially
- Supination: Loaded Laterally
The Research and The Results
The complete research study is available for download below. But for those just interested in the results, we found that those athletes who participated in strength and conditioning activities throughout the season made more significant gains in grip strength and batted ball velocity than those athletes who did not. This supports the concept of sweat equity with intent. Additionally, we found a strong positive correlation between grip strength and both slugging percentage as well as isolated power metrics. A similar finding was made between batted ball velocity and both slugging percentage and isolated power metrics. These findings are significant because they link the training process with hitting outcomes and on-field performance. Train hard, improve your grip strength, and watch your performance results soar!
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