Every baseball pitcher wants to throw the ball harder. I haven’t met one pitcher that says he wants to take speed off his pitch. Unfortunately, many go about achieving this goal the wrong way. Some will just throw more or join more travel teams and throw more pitches. Others may go to the gym and start benching and curling, while some may watch a lot of YouTube videos. And a select few will seek out professional help. Without getting into the mechanics of pitching, because I am not a pitching coach by any means, velocity can be increased through a few proper actions that do not even involve standing on a mound and throwing a pitch. I will tell you that throwing all the time to increase velocity is going to lead to overuse injuries and then you won’t be throwing at all.
Before we can talk about increasing a performance in a sport, we have to look at the sport itself and see the commonalities that make the good players, the good players. The Journal of Sports Science and Medicine did just this when they researched College and Youth Baseball Pitchers. The researchers concluded that the mechanics were similar between the college and youth pitchers but the college subjects exhibited much more force generation when throwing. You might be saying to yourself right now, “Well yeah, obviously, they are stronger. So, of course, they are going to throw harder.” That is just it, they aren’t throwing harder because of mechanics, they are throwing harder because they are stronger. If it is this simple, then why are we not getting youth pitchers stronger to throw harder?
Well, it’s a little more complicated than just getting stronger. If you are an athlete of any sport, especially a baseball player, you can’t stop at strength. Strength needs to be the foundation and also the transfer mechanism, meaning we can convert it to speed, power, stability, etc. I honestly think many high school athletes stop at strength and they don’t get the benefit of increased velocity. When trying to increase the velocity of a pitch, there are 4 major characteristics that are needed to increase force generation. These characteristics were discovered in the college pitchers and were studied by the Journal of Sports Medicine.
High velocity pitchers must:
- -Have a greater push off from the pivot leg during the stride portion of the pitch.
- -Demonstrate greater trunk and pelvis rotation throughout the pitching movement.
- -Be able to control the stride leg during the acceleration portion of the pitching movement.
- -Possess a greater stride leg extension force when they are approaching to release the ball.
Remember what we said, college pitchers are throwing harder, not because of mechanics, but because of force production. Strength is the obvious factor, in particular in the lower body and core region; however, we can’t just stop at that. Here are 4 particular areas to work on if you want to throw harder.
STRENGTH: We’ve touched on strength throughout this post a lot, but it is an important factor. We need to get strong the right way. You need to include strength training in your offseason workouts, but make sure you are doing the proper exercises. Remember that you are training for a sport, not the beach. Too many times I see young athletes go to the local gym and workout like a bodybuilder and this type of training can actually lead to injuries for an athlete.
The lower body should be a focus because this is where the force is generated. Legs are a huge component in the beginning of a pitching motion. We need strength to produce power; therefore, the stronger a pitcher’s legs are, the harder they are going to throw. As a side note, if you are a pitcher, please stop benching!
SPEED/POWER: Now that we have this new found strength, we have to do something with it. We need to transfer it to speed and power. We can simply do this by moving moderate weight fast. This is a difficult process for young athletes to understand. They have the tendency to want to lift heavy weights all of the time. The one major property that diminishes when we lift heavy weight, is the speed at which the weight is moving, which is slowly. This is why you hear a lot older coaches say that lifting makes you slow. That is the case if you train slowly. There comes a time, after we have a good foundation of strength, to begin to transfer it speed.
You can achieve speed through training with moderate weight and moving it fast. Medicine ball throw variations are a great way to increase speed. Not only are you moving the weight fast but you are using muscle coordination and core strength/control. Most importantly, don’t forget about sprinting. There is nothing more powerful than sprinting. Sprinting will help increase your rate of force.
STABILITY: Stability is often overlooked, but has a big place in increasing pitch velocity. We always say, Stability = Strength. The more stable something is, the stronger it is. Stability always requires motor control and most importantly, muscle coordination. Frans Bosch, a world class sprint and jump coach, lectures on the importance of muscle coordination and how it can increase sport performance.
When we talk about stability training, I don’t mean squats on a bosu or standing on top of medicine balls. You will be using exercises that give you the ability to withstand force. When you think about a pitching motion, you begin on one leg and end on one leg, therefore, stability is very important.
MOBILITY: We just got finished talking about staying stable, but you also need to be mobile. Good pitchers must have good joint articulation in the hips, ankles, and, of course, the shoulders. You can’t have poor range of motion and expect to throw harder, but you can expect to get an injury because the force has to go somewhere, which will lead to a compensation along the kinetic chain.
Use mobility drills to help reduce injury. You should be doing a proper warm-up that contains mobility exercises. With a proper warm-up and stretching at the end of your training sessions, you should be good to go.
Remember to work on all of these qualities to help increase throwing velocity. Not only will you throw harder, but you will reduce the rate of injuries.