published Saturday, April 18th, 2009

Donohue: Weight training and visualization for improved batting performance

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My goal is to increase bat speed with strength exercise. Should I simulate my swing with weights heavier than my bat or with bat-weight weights and a faster swing? — R.C.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I love baseball, but my weakness is hitting. How can I improve it? — L.H.

A: R.C., both work. You’re on the right track. Strength training for a particular athletic movement is best done by making that same movement with weights. In your case, it’s imitating the bat swing while holding weights. You’ll improve with weights heavier than the standard bat. (I reserve the right to qualify that statement.)

You also can improve by training with a heavier bat. A standard bat weighs 30 ounces. Practicing the swing with a bat of 34 ounces improves swing velocity in a number of ways. The heavier weight recruits more muscles into the swinging motion, and those muscles stay recruited when you swing a standard bat. It increases the number of nerves involved in signaling muscles, and it increases muscle synchronization.

This is the time for my qualification. Swinging a lighter bat, one of 27 ounces, also improves bat velocity. You can do both — heavier and lighter. Strength, of course, comes only with the heavier bat and heavier weights. I have read a study where simply swinging a standard bat, 100 times a day, three times a week, improves bat swing velocity. This gives you plenty of options.

L.H., one way to improve hitting ability is the use of visualization. Visualization improves performance in all sports. You can do it while seated in an easy chair. Close your eyes and imagine yourself at the plate. Watch the ball leave the pitcher’s hand and follow it on its path toward you. Swing at the ball (in your mind), and see the bat meet the ball and fly off for another home run. Complete your swing as you would in the real situation. Visualization has been shown to be an effective way to improve athletic skills.

Practicing the real thing is necessary. No one can avoid that fact.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am a 15-year-old girl with hopes of joining the Army when I graduate from school. My brother says the Army won’t take me because I can’t do a push-up. Is he telling me the truth? Do you know of any way how I can learn to do a push-up? --C.L.

A: Where is your brother getting his information? I don’t believe that’s true. At any rate, you can learn how to do a push-up, the exercise where a person lies on the floor and then raises the body upward by pushing it up with the arms. At the topmost position, the body rests on the toes and the palms.

Start with a less-demanding exercise, a wall push-up. Place yourself about 2 feet from a wall and then lean into it, supporting yourself with your hands on the wall. Bring your chest as close to the wall as you can, and then straighten your elbows so you are in the starting position. When you can do 10 consecutive wall push-ups, start doing modified floor push-ups.

With the modified floor push-up, keep your knees on the floor at all times and raise the body upward. In the topmost position, body weight is supported on the knees and the hands. When this becomes easy for you, try the standard push-up, where the body is supported by the toes and the hands when it’s in the topmost position.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am 85 and active. I do all the housework. I do exercises such as touching my toes. It gives me severe pain in my knees and in my leg muscles. What causes this pain? — Anon.

A: You shouldn’t do any exercise that causes pain. I can’t give you the reason for the pain. That’s something only an examination can determine. However, touching the toes with straight knees isn’t a great exercise. There’s no reason to do it. If you want a stretching exercise for the legs, just bend toward your toes and stop when you reach a point where it starts to become uncomfortable.

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