This blog post is excerpted from HeavySwing’s white paper, “Hitting Science 101: Why Handle-Weighted Training is Sweeping Across Diamond Sports”
The Origins of Barrel-Weighting
Barrel-weighting in the on-deck circle began with the invention of the donut bat ring in the 1960’s by Elston Howard, catcher and first African-American to play for the New York Yankees.1 Prior to the invention of the donut, players often swung multiple bats before stepping into the batter’s box.
Other barrel-weighted training devices later appeared in the on-deck circle, ranging from barrel add-ons such as weighted sleeves to heavy-barreled bats (e.g., Bratt Bat, Schutt Dirx Warm-Up Bat). Even today, some players use crude tools such as heavy pipe and sledgehammers in the batting circle to stretch, loosen up and create the sensation of quickness once they pick up their game bat.
End-Loading Can Create Swing Problems
The bat donut (and other end-loaded bats and devices) operates on the principle of post-activation potentiation (PAP). Put simply, immediately after swinging a loaded bat, the player’s game bat feels lighter. With a heavier swing load, the central nervous system experiences greater stimulation, which results in higher overall motor unit recruitment. Essentially, the hitter’s muscle fibers are activated and ready to operate at a higher level of intensity when a lesser stimulus (the game bat) is used.
However, the PAP principle doesn’t apply well when it comes to a donut- or barrel-weighted swing in the on-deck circle. The reason is, using a donut or weighted sleeve to increase the bat’s weight significantly changes the hitter’s swing mechanics, essentially doubling the weight of the bat in an uneven distribution. Ultimately, end-loading the bat significantly changes not only the bat’s total mass, but also its feel, weight distribution and moment of inertia (MOI)2.
There are some training applications where using a barrel-weighted bat can be beneficial when used properly. However, several studies3 point to barrel weighting actually slowing down the bat when used in the on-deck circle. Dr. Coop DeRenne, a physical education professor at the University of Hawaii and foremost authority on hitting science, has done numerous studies that show donuts used prior to swinging a game bat results in a measurable decrease in bat speed at the plate.
Handle-Weighting Reinforces Positive Swing Mechanics
Handle-weighting operates on a completely different principle. Placing the weight in the hitter’s hands not only creates a very different swing sensation, or “feel,” it delivers a much different result in terms of training.
When a hitter practices using the handle-weighted HeavyBatTM, they gain the resistance and overload training benefits of swinging a heavier bat, without negatively impacting their swing plane or circular hitting path (CHP). In fact, because of the product’s handle-weighted design, it actually promotes and amplifies the “pendulum effect” as described in rotational mechanics theory.
While a few commercial products using handle-weighted training technology have been developed in past years, they failed to gain significant popularity and traction in the marketplace. With the launch of HeavySwing Baseball and its original product line in 2011, hitters and coaches found a new way to integrate the concept into their workout routines.
Immediately after HeavySwing’sTM introduction in 2011, handle-weighting saw a surge of popularity in the big leagues, appearing in on-deck circles in professional ballparks around the country. This culminated with Series MVP David Freese and other members of the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals using the first handle-weighted on-deck training bat—a HeavySwingTM 3600—in the batting circle in the 2011 World Series®.
You can read the rest of the white paper here.