Happy Holidays! As pitchers continue to enjoy their off-season I am offering them some holiday "food for thought". These topics don't sound like much, I know. Physical ability for pitchers...
The radar gun can be so intimidating, can’t it? How many stories have we heard (I know I have) about pitchers distracted by scouts and college coaches with their lawn chairs, clipboards, and of course the ever present carrying case for the radar gun? Its enough to make a kid throw five straight into the dirt – I’ve seen it happen.
Parents regularly ask for a “velocity reading” on their son – as if I have an innate ability to tell with eyes alone. A radar gun can be a useful training tool but should not be overused during training sessions. Periodic checks to monitor velocity changes helps a player and coach gauge progress and is a motivator. Remember that pitchers sometimes have to take “one step forward and two steps back” when making adjustments so velocity can decrease until a mechanical change becomes comfortable.
Pitching has both changed but remained the same in the 40 years I have been teaching. Technology continues to lure those interested to try the latest and greatest techniques and tools in hopes of finding pitching perfection. Most of us have read, watched and listened to instructors and coaches promise increased velocity with their “new” training method. Go to You Tube and there will be enough videos to keep you busy for a week if you chose do view them. As with any product there are some that work well and others that fall short on satisfaction depending on the individual using it – this is normal and not surprising.
What remains a constant is the importance of mental focus, self motivation, competitiveness, and adherence to a suitable training routine. No matter who or what you feel helps you it remains the athlete within who determines their own future greatness.
Here are some ideas on increasing velocity and overall pitching skill for young pitchers to consider:
-Flexibility is critical in promoting a “Pitching Easy” motion. For years I have had long conversations with pitchers and coaches who fight that urge to do more lifting and less pitching. Summer league is a mental challenge for college pitchers because they are faced with the dilemma of showing their college coaches that they are putting on the continual “20 pounds” to increase power versus the need to learn how to pitch against high quality pitching during the summer months.
If a pitcher chooses to stay with an in season strength and weight gaining routine it is so important to maintain supple pitching muscles from the legs to the hips, shoulders, and arms. It does not require a lot of work, just a consistent stretching routine throughout the year.
-Train to be “thick below and quick on top”. Strong legs are important to pitching consistency as much as power. The ability to maintain a repeatable delivery comes from leg control and obviously the more mass created by increased leg size will do certainly help increase fast ball velocity. This does not apply to the upper body. Increased size in the shoulders can help but only to a point. If a pitcher is lifting too much weight the back muscles will shorten a pitchers arm swing. Keep the upper body loose – don’t overdo it with wight lifting. Body weight, bands, and light dumbbell work should be perfect to maintain a healthy arm.
-Core training will help save you a trip to the doctor. Core training is not sit-ups and crunches only. There should be a constant element of rotational work in core training. Many sites show examples of pitchers throwing a medicine ball sideways into a wall or maybe doing lunges with a twisting motion. These are good examples of increasing core strength and torso speed. A strong core will help a pitcher avoid over rotating, leaning, and tipping off line to home plate.
-Isometric exercise is something pitchers should incorporate into their training. The benefits of isometrics such as planks, bridges, and simple palm presses and pulls is reduced risk of injury because there is significantly less movement compared to basic weight or plyometric training. Simply finding a doorway, placing your throwing hand to the top and press (as if throwing) for 15 seconds with high intensity, repeating this 6 to 10 times is a way to strengthen and stabilize the shoulder.
–Grip strength is a good thing for throwing. It enables a pitcher to place additional spin on his pitches which will increase movement. Plus the stronger the grip the more force a pitcher can put on his fastball. That will make the radar gun your friend!
Do you remember the game of “teatherball” in elementary school? It is a playground game that most of us have played during our youth. Teatherball consists of a pole, rope, and ball attached to the end of the rope. To relate teatherball to pitchihng think of the body as the “pole”, the arm as a “rope”. If the pole is firmly set into the ground (like the pitchers legs” while remaining strong and tall the rope (arm) will whip around faster. A bend, tip or loosening of the dirt at the base (legs) will take away the consistent speed of the ball. Same with a pitcher who tips or leans too much due to a weak core. The fast ball will be inconsistent in both speed and command.
The combination of strong powerful legs, a quick rotational core, along with a balanced and flexible upper body will give any pitcher the best chance of maximizing his fastball. It takes consistent pride in your craft and the ability to identify and commit to a suitable training program. Coaches don’t always have the perfect answer for pitchers, especially when it comes to a training routine. Most chave good intentions but this does not guarantee optimal results. Ask questions of coaches before you commit to a training program. Make sure your training and practice makes sense to you!