Exit Velocity and the Bench Press
Much like the radar gun for pitchers provides accurate and unbiased data of who's capable of throwing hard enough to succeed at the next level, exit velocity is being embraced, especially at the elite level, as an effective measuring tool for hitters. MLB statcast now measures every batted balls exit velo, and unsurprisingly, the harder hit balls result in higher BA, SLG, and HR. The vast majority of HR's in MLB are 104mph and up, and the few below that threshold are the 350-370ft just over the fence type shots. From what we've gathered from extensive data collection at the facility, is average velo of 90+ is required for D1 (unless you've developed a different quality making you scholarship attractive i.e. speed), and 95+ is required to PLAY at D1.
As with the radar gun for pitchers, on field hitting success is obviously multi factorial; consistency of swing, pitch selection, mental approach, etc. But as the skill and intellectual aspect of the game can be worked upon and improved constantly and at all ages, it's very foolish to neglect building the raw power that will be required to compete at the higher levels of the sport. A high school pitcher can throw 78mph and still be effective through location, changing speeds, sharp breaking stuff etc, but no D1 college would offer him a scholarship, let alone an MLB team draft him, because it's commonly known the higher level hitters would dominate him, due to his low velocity. In the same way, many low exit velocity high school hitters are solid hitters, and even hit some HR's at their level, but lack the power to play or hit HR's at the next. (Side note: But "the harder it comes in the harder it goes out"? This has been proven false by an excellent study by the University of Illinois. Also, observe the HR derby (slowest pitch velo of year, longest HR's) or a high school game where kids eagerly tee off on the 75mph kid).
So how to improve exit velocity? Working on your swing is important, but even more so is raw power. Whether that was given to you as talent, or whether you worked in the weight room for it, power (ability to exert force rapidly) is the limiting factor for so many hitters. And what we've found helps produce the greatest power increases is the bench press. You can take the excel sheet of our athletes benches, and the excel sheet of their exit velocities, put them side by side, and with the exception of a couple athletes (currently poor swings), they line up perfectly. Time and again, a hitters bench press increases, their exit velo jumps. Long before we started charting our hitters exit velocity, we quickly noticed that when a kids bench hit certain thresholds, they'd progress from never hitting HR's (even in little league), to some, to more, to being middle of the order guys out of nowhere. It's not other lifts either, because we have several athletes who can deadlift and squat a lot of weight, but have low benches, and their exit velo matches their subpar bench, not their quality pull or squat. As everyone who lifts knows however, bench is heavily predicated on size; so doesn't that mean swing velo is simply just about how big you are? Yes, of course size helps and has a profound effect. But to illustrate: we have 2 athletes, both 6'2" 230, both sound swings. One benches 315, swing velo 102. The other (newbie) currently benches 215, swing velo 91. Improving power, in the form of the bench, is the key for maximizing swing velo.
Bench has always been a favorite exercise for weak turkey necked trainers and high school pitching coaches to hate on, but the fact remains it's a tried and true exercise to increase power. Will bench improperly done hurt the shoulder? Yes, just as any exercise done with poor technique is a precursor for discomfort/and or injury. We regularly have athletes start with us who have benched before in their chaotic giant group PE classes, or their poorly run team workouts, and express that bench irritates them. Time and again, we teach them the correct way to bench, and the pain immediately goes away. Learn to bench correctly, apply intelligent programming, and watch your bench, and your exit velocity, jump!
Semper Fi AF