COMMUNITY: Train youth athletes correctly

Fitness tips from Adam Rees

JR Ogden
Published: January 26 2014 | 5:00 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 2:41 am in

Editor’s note: Adam Rees is Founder of GRIT GYM, a gym based on results, creating a culture and lifestyle of performance, strength, health and freedom. Adam attended Wartburg College as a multisport athlete, worked under nationally recognized strength coach Matt McGettigan, has multiple published articles by international leaders in the fields of performance and corrective exercise, and is a glutton to information and improvement in all forms.

By Adam Rees, community contributor

If Olympic lifting continues in the baseball community, the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in pitchers will become what the ACL has become for female basketball players.

The UCL is a ligament on the medial side of the elbow, right around the “funny bone” area. It’s import because it has what is known as a “zone of convergence.”

All the muscles and tendons from the hand and wrist flexors come to meet at this one area. The UCL gets beat up during repeated stresses like heavy gripping, the layback-acceleration-deceleration of the arm during throwing and from heavy valgus stresses that we will cover shortly.

Olympic lifts and certain kettlebell exercises for baseball athletes not only lack the desirable training youth athletes need, but they are irresponsible and detrimental to both of the pivotal pieces that I and GRIT GYM stand for.

Grit Gym started with two points of emphasis — build durability to prevent injury in the first place (corrective exercise) and enhance athleticism to promote a better experience in sport (strength and conditioning).

During the catch phase of the “jerk and the snatch” (both are overhead Olympic lifts), the shoulder actually does very well and there are little significant negative affects. However, the elbow has an enormous amount of valgus stress placed upon it in an instant. This is dangerous to baseball/softball players because the elbow, and particularly the UCL, already are taking a beating via overhead throwing.

By the way, valgus stress at the knee is one of the main reasons females have more ACL injuries than males.

The “clean” probably is the least dangerous of the three, but it still is asking the elbow to go through an extremely fast flex (think opposite of extending the arm) and be forced down by a large amount of weight, putting a huge compressive load on a very small, intricate area that also happens to be extremely delicate in the overhead sports like baseball, volleyball and tennis.

As well as putting a dramatic stretch on the hand and wrist flexors that all connect back in that “zone of convergence” at the UCL on the inside of the elbow.

We can look directly at the number of Tommy John surgeries performed in the last five years. Ten years ago, a 17-year-old having Tommy John surgery would’ve been considered an absurd taboo. It didn’t happen. Four years ago we started noticing high school aged throwers having the surgery and now it is commonplace.

The problem is the overwhelming popularity of Olympic lifting and strength coaches’ unwillingness to look at their programs objectively enough to see changes need to be made if we are to keep athletes healthy.

You cannot train kids today the way we trained them 20 years ago, or even five years ago. It looks and feels pretty cool to rip up a huge clean, snatch or jerk, but is looking cool for a split second what we’re ultimately going for? It’s no longer a matter of having the talent to make it to the major leagues, but also having the durability to stay healthy.

I do support Olympic lifts. Olympic lifts are great — for those competing in Olympic lifting. Everything we get from Olympic lifts can be attained via other means.

It’s basically a weighted jump, which is the last thing most kids need. The biggest lack of understanding in the strength coaching community is the differences between speed, power and strength. These coaches choose flashy lifts instead of what will actually get their athletes performing better and with less injuries, either because they don’t know any better or they don’t care, either way this is a dangerous coach.

The catch phase of a clean also has validity and is solved with an appropriate front squat.

As mentioned above, for competitive Olympic Lifters, those lifts are their sport as much as a football is to a quarterback. But baseball players especially, and really any other sport, are not Olympic lifters. We have to start scrutinizing the training these young athletes are performing because these kids are training their butts off deserve better than to have their hard work ruin their body and their experience in sport.

  • For more of Rees’ advice go to or email him at

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