By Coach Jerry Kreber
1. To achieve a velocity reading of 90 MPH or greater on the JUGS Radar Gun.
2. To apply all available linear force to the back of the baseball.
3. To maintain a healthy and strong arm, while being able to pitch 2 to 3 times per week.
Variables effecting throwing velocity in baseball pitchers
In this section, each velocity variable will be addressed and discussed. Exercises will be provided to improve strength and precision in each domain. Data from previous research will be documented to provide creditability to the exercises listed. At the end of this section, the program's schedule will be clearly illustrated to inform coaches on the specific time commitment required to successfully complete this program.
Variable 1: Applying direct force to the back of the baseball
The application of direct force to the baseball is illustrated with elbow circle break of the pitching hand right before acceleration. With the elbow circle break, the ball never travels out of a straight line with the plate. The pitcher's fingers should always stay behind the ball.
Pitchers need to fire their relaxed pitching elbow down and around toward 1st base. This may come into conflict with many pitching coaches mythology of the high cocked arm position during the balance phase of the pitching motion. But by evaluating action photos of many elite pitchers like Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, Nolan Ryan, and Roger Clemens it is clear to see that these throwers consistently stay behind the ball through the throwing process.
Also, these pitchers achieve full extension in front of their body through an elbow angle of less than 90 degrees as their hand travels pass the ear during the acceleration phase.
The following exercises may promote staying behind the ball and increasing straight-line strength:
* Weighted baseballs (set of three: 4 oz, 5 oz, and 6 oz)
* Stretch cord
Variable 2: Flexibility and strength in the pelvis during balance/acceleration phase of pitching motion
Through research it has been documented that the pelvis is one of the most important body parts in promoting velocity. In fact, during a 2003 study by T. Inohiza he incorporated the “Matawari” stretch routine to his daily exercise schedule. During a three-month period he was able to gain 12.42 MPH on his fastball. Moreover, the stretching also helped his bat speed.
Stodden and colleagues (2001) also studied the effects of the pelvis on velocity and concluded that with a higher pelvic velocity a pitcher could throw harder during his delivery.
The following exercises may promote flexibility and strength in the pelvis during the balance/acceleration phase of the pitching motion:
* Groin stretch
* Hip flexor machine
* Hamstring curl
Variable 3: Push and lead leg stability
The strength and stability of pitchers lower body has been proven to be very important for throwing velocity.
In 1998, Bruce MacWillams conducted a study that examined ground reaction forces during the pitching motion. The study's results indicated that leg drive is a significant factor in pitcher's throwing velocity. The push motion in the delivery is not the only important action of the lower body. The lead leg that blocks forward movement is also an essential element in a pitcher's throwing velocity.
In a 2001 study, Matsuo found that high velocity throwers were able to plant and extend the lead knee to provide stability to the pitching motion. In addition, the Lexington Clinic was provided an outline evaluating kinetic movements. They included a .89 correlation between throwing velocity and lower body strength.
The following exercises may promote strength and extension of the lower body:
* Clean and jerk
* Calf raises
* Leg press
* Leg curl
Variable 4: Torso rotation during acceleration
The speed and strength of a pitcher's torso is another key element in throwing velocity during the pitching delivery.
In the September 2003 edition of Coaching Management magazine, former White Sox Strength and Conditioning Director Vern Gambetta, acknowledged that the torso plays a key role in getting the arm in the proper throwing position.
In addition to Gambetta, Arnel Aguinaldo, from Children's Hospital San Diego, conducted a study, which proposed that larger body segments create most of the velocity in throwing. Speed of the trunk is not the only aspect of torso that needs to be developed. Late trunk rotation is a movement that can help increase force applied to the ball along with keeping the arm healthy and safe.
Jordana Bieze reported in the June 2004 issue of Biomechanics that collegiate, high school, and youth pitchers rotate less than 15% of their way through the pitching motion. Rotating too early can produce added strain to the arm and shoulder.
The following exercises may promote strength, increase speed, and delayed rotation of the torso during the pitching delivery:
* Medicine ball
* Total Abdominal work
* Leg lifts
Variable 5: Use of scapular muscle used during pitching motion
The scapular muscle is an under utilized muscle by developing pitchers. The muscle is not developed because many pitching coaches believe weight training, specifically upper body resistance training, tends to may promote injuries and will not produce higher pitch velocity.
Robert U. Newton and Kerry I McEvory, from the Centre for Exercise Science at Southern Cross University conducted a study, which compared an upper body resistance-training group to a group that performed medicine ball exercises.
The 8-week study found that the upper body resistance-training group was able to produce a higher pitch velocity than the medicine ball group.
In 2000, Donatelli published a study in the Journal of Orthopedic and Sport Physical Therapy. The study suggested that the strength of the scapular muscle could play a vital role in preventing injury.
The following exercises may promote strength in the scapular muscle and provide general upper body resistance training:
* Bench press
* Seated row
* Lat pull down
* Dumbbell flys
Variable 6: Elbow/bicep extension during the pitching motion
According to a 2001 Fleisig and Andrews's study, elbow extension is one of the four key elements found in high velocity pitchers.
Elbow extension occurs during the acceleration phase of the delivery right before release. High velocity pitchers like shot putters, typically pronating their pitching arm and extending through release.
The following exercises may promote strength and increase speed of extension:
* Use of the shot put (4 lbs)
* Shoulder press
* Tricep pulldown (standing/sitting)
Variable 7: Break/release to plate
While examining a Major League pitcher's delivery it is easy to see the smooth and ease of their motion. Although, each pitcher has different styles, they all possess a certain rhythm that makes their movements look natural. This is not a born characteristic. It is learned throughout their career by constant practice and repetition.
In 2001, Stodden found that pitchers who practiced consistent mechanics created higher throwing velocity in their pitches. Moreover, the pitching mound resides 60'6 from home plate. If a pitcher can cut that distance down and release the ball closer to home, a pitcher can gain added pitching velocity. Moreover, to improve mechanics pitchers need to produce the same throwing action during the delivery, but not create undue stress on the pitching arm.
During an ASMI study, they concluded that throwing at 50-75% can be beneficial to pitchers because they are able to reproduce actually delivery, but not game – like stress on their throwing arm. Dry mechanical and, possibly, towel drills let pitchers recreate the pitching motion to improve techniques.
Stamina is another variable this domain works to improve. According to an article by Medco Sports discussing Elbow and Shoulder Problems in Youth Baseball Players, using the kinetic chain can help pitcher use less energy. The kinetic chain is the proper sequencing of body movements in the pitching delivery. The chain includes seven body segments: legs, pelvis, spine, shoulder girdle, upper arm, forearm, and hand. Using dry or towel mechanic drills can only encourage the proper sequencing of the kinetic chain.
The following exercises may promote consistent mechanics, while helping pitchers release the ball closer to home plate:
* Towel drills: total delivery, stretch, bounce, reach, grab/circle drills
* Dry mechanical drills: cross arm, stretch/pull, and 3 point line up drills
Variable 8: Rotator cuff strength and durability
The rotator cuff is a key contributor to the overhand throw. Pitchers must maintain a strong and healthy rotator cuff if they want to be successful on the mound. In fact, in an outline of kinetic movements by the Lexington Clinic, they found that the shoulder is responsible for 21% of the force placed on the ball. If a pitcher can strengthen this muscle, it is easy to see how pitch velocity can be added.
A University of Hawaii review of literature can back up this claim. It was reported that Toyoshima conducted a study and concluded that 53.1% of an overhand throw velocity was due to the action of the arm. In another 2001 study by Galloway and Koshland, their worked focused on finding a pattern in shoulder or elbow centered activities.
Their findings suggested that shoulder-centered activities were illustrated with straight or curved finger paths. Since the pitching motion requires straight and curved finger action, strengthening the shoulder and corresponding tendons should provide optimal velocity results.
Furthermore, in a 1996 comparison performed by Fleising and colleagues, he found that quarterbacks and pitchers perform many of the same movements. In was concluded that cross training between throwing activities can be beneficial to players in both sports.
* Arm swings
* Jobe exercises with 2 lb dumbbells
* Football throws from 20 yards
Variable 9: Use of forearm during pitching motion
The forearm is vital to achieve high velocity in the pitching delivery. In Will Carroll's 2004 book Saving the Pitcher; he discussed the use of the forearm in the pitching motion.
During the acceleration stage, the pitcher's forearm will pronate, giving the ball its last bit of energy. Dr. Joshua Dubin explained in his #13 Injury Management Update on Pitcher's Elbow, how a flexed wrist will activate the forearm flexors during the release of the baseball.
Even the most inexperienced pitcher can tell that the forearm lends to force during the pitch. By keeping a hand on the throwing forearm and moving the throwing fingers, a pitcher can feel the movement inside the forearm.
By developing the forearm muscle, pitchers will be able to powerfully pronate their arms during this stage in the delivery. The following exercises may promote muscle development in the forearm muscle:
* Forearm curls with bar
* Reverse forearm curls with bar
* Hammer curls with dumbbell
Variable 10: Use of available force from wrist during pitching motion
The wrist is a very important lever in the pitching motion. In fact, Norihisa Fujii from the University of Tsukuba concluded after a 2002 study that wrist flexion and strength are major contributors for increasing throwing velocity.
In addition, many pitching coaches have incorporated a “wrist flick” during their throwing warm up progression. The Lexington Clinic reported that the wrist accounted for 10% of the force applied to the baseball during the pitching delivery.
Force is not the only function the wrist may perform. Many pitching instructors agree that proper wrist movement can help a pitcher's control and command of pitches to their target.
The following exercises may promote strength and increase speed of wrist motion:
* Weighted balls (12 oz)
* Hand grip/tennis ball
* Shot put flips (4 lbs)
* Wrist rolls
Bieze, Jordana. Early trunk rotation may affect shoulder load in young pitchers. Biomechanics, 6:04, 2004.
Carroll, Will. Saving the Pitcher: Preventing Pitching Injuries in Modern Baseball, Ivan R. Dees, 2004.
Donatelli, R., Ellenbecker, T., Ekedahl, S., Wilkes, J., Kocher, K., and Adam, J. Assessment of Shoulder Strength in Professional Baseball Pitchers. Journal of Orthopedic Sports Physical Therapy, 30(9) 544-551, 2000.
Dubin, Joshua. Medial Epicondylitis. Injury Management Update. Information obtained from http://www.dubinchiro.com/
Fujii, N, Hubbard, M. Validation of a three-dimensional baseball pitching model. Journal of Applied Biomechanics, 18:135-154, 2002.
Galloway, JC, Koshland, GF. General Coordination of Shoulder, Elbow, and Wrist Dynamics during Multijoint Arm Movements. Physiological Sciences Program, University of Arizona, 142(2) 163-180, 2002.
Gambetta, Vern. Mound Muscle. Coaching Management, 11:06, 2003.
Information on Toyoshima's report obtained from www.drkochno.com/pitching.htm
Inohiza, T. A New Assumption to Bringing out Physical Potential by Changing the Skeleton, 2003. Information obtained from www.inoloxinfo.co.th/
Fleisig, GS, Excamilla, RF, Andrews, JR, Matsuo T, Satterwhite, Y, Barrentine, SW. Kinematic and kinetic comparison between baseball pitching and football passing. Journal of Applied Biomechanics, 12(2): 207-224, 1996.
Newton, R, McEvoy, K. Comparison of Medicine Ball Training and Weight Training. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning, 8:3, 2000.
Lexington Sports Medicine Clinic, Kinetic Chain in Function and Dysfunction.
MacWilliams, B, Choi, T., Perezous, M, Chao, E, McFarland, E. Characteristic Ground Reaction Forces in Baseball Pitching. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 26(1): 66-71, 1998.
Matsuo, T, Escamila, RF, Fleisig GS, Barrentine, SW, and Andrews, JR. Comparison of kinematic and temporal parameters between different pitch velocity groups. Journal of Applied Biomechanics, 17(1): 1-13, 2001.
Medco Sports, Elbow and Shoulder Injuries in Youth Baseball Players. Information obtained from www.medcosupply.com/education/elbow_shoulder_injuries/
Stodden, DF, Fleising, GS, McLean, and SL, Andrews, JR. Relationship of pelvis and upper torso kinematics to pitched velocity. Journal of Applied Biomechanics, 17(2): 164-172, 2001.
Coach Jerry Kreber is a high school baseball coach in Omaha, Neb., and owner of the blog Baseball Ideas, www.baseballideas.blogspot.com.
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