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Swimming for ball players, good or bad?

WebBall Community Pages on WebBall with ideas by anonymous or multiple contributors within our community may not always credit individuals but they do show the power of the community as a whole to express opinions and, we hope, sway decisions. These pages also allow WebBall members to post additional comments directly. (Click to close.)

This page began as a question from a site visitor, then expanded into a discussion between guest author Steve Zawrotny and WebBall head coach Richard Todd. Because such two-way dialog is often more insightful than a straight "essay" that's the way we've presented it here.
Q: Since it is preferred to have long muscles in baseball why then is swimming not encouraged for the players more so than the weight room?
S: First, this concept of "long muscles" is a misnomer. If a muscle is properly overloaded, it will get bigger (post pubescent). It doesn't matter what the stimulus (exercise) is that makes it get bigger. The way to keep a muscle from being "shorter and bulky" - thereby limiting its range of motion (key for ballplayers) is simple - perform adequate flexibility work AFTER a resistance training workout. There is nothing inherent to swimming that will develop "long" muscles vs. "short" muscles presumed to be developed from weight lifting. Muscle development results from a combination of many things - reps, sets, the particular exercise performed, rest periods, hormones, etc.
R: For myself - excessive swimming the day of or day before a pitcher's outing would be a no-no. That I have learned the hard way. I do encourage swimming in the off season. I want to build well-round
athletes and kids, so I like swimming as an activity.
S: Agreed. If a kid wants to try another sport/activity, go for it.
R:
I know some certified trainers do not like swimming - having to do with internal/external rotation in the shoulders and when the resistance of the water is applied and that being contrary, they say, to when
the forces are required in baseball.
S: I agree. A study out a couple of years ago showed that college-level swimmers experience impingement during 12% of the time they were performing a crawl stroke. I don't want any overhand thrower to experience impingement EVER, if possible. This is extremely damaging to the shoulder, and many swimmers commonly suffer from chronic shoulder pain. I have talked to a number of baseball strength coaches, in college and pros, and none of them recommend swimming for their pitchers, or any player.
R: But I get bothered by us working with kids and adolescents and treating them all as if baseball is the only thing in their lives now and forever. I think we have to be realistic ("real world") about that.
S: Agreed. A youngster should play ball during baseball season, then swim during swimming season, etc. In this case, I don't mean spending some time playing in a pool, but competitive swimming.
R: I know in my own city, hockey is big and that a guy who played hockey hard yesterday will not have anything left in his shoulders or legs for a pitching outing today. But I am in no position to tell him not to play hockey - it might be his better sport. Ditto for a swimmer. So how do we design programs for multi-sport athletes and/or well-rounded people?
S: First, we both know most kids (97% plus) are NOT playing any sport beyond high school. Knowing this, I recommend that kids enjoy life & play whatever sport/game they have an interest and aptitude for. For those who are exceptional, by the time they are in high school, they may want to consider specializing in one or two sports. Again, they may not want to do this until their sophomore or junior year. But for most kids, I say go ahead and play as many sports as you can. This will help develop well-rounded people, and, in some cases, their can be some positive carry-over from some sports to others.
R: The backstroke might be better - no forward impingement, no resistance through release, plus good power movement for the back side.


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