Home Posts tagged "Increase Pitching Velocity" (Page 2)

9 Reasons Pitching Velocity Increases Over the Course of a Season

We're a few months into the college and professional baseball seasons. Not every pitcher's velocity is where it needs to be just yet, and that's no surprise. In today's post, I'll cover nine reasons why pitching velocity increases over the course of a season.

1. Increased external rotation

Over the course of a season, pitchers acquire slightly more external rotation at the shoulder (roughly five degrees, for most).  Since external rotation is correlated with pitching velocity, gaining this range of motion is helpful for adding a few ticks on the radar gun as compared to early in the season. However, this added external rotation comes with a price; more range of motion (especially if it's acquired too quickly) means that you be consistent with your arm care routines to make sure that you've got adequate motor control/strength in those positions. As I've often said, what makes you spectacular can often make you susceptible, too.

2. Optimization of mechanics

Many pitchers integrate subtle or dramatic changes to their mechanics in the off-season and early in-season periods, but these changes won't "stick" until they have some innings under their belt.  A few months in is often when those corrections start to settle in.

3. Transfer of strength to power

Some pitchers build a solid foundation of strength in the off-season, but take extra time to learn to display that force quickly (power).  In short, they're all the way toward the absolute strength end of the continuum, as described in this video:

If you want to dig in a bit deeper on this, this video on delayed transmutation is a good place to start.

4. More important game play

Some guys just don't get excited to pitch in games that don't mean much.  While that is an issue for another article, the point here is to realize that a greater external stimulus (more fans, playoff atmosphere, important games) equates to a greater desire to throw cheddar.  Soon, the MLB season will start, and high school and college post-seasons will be underway, so you'll start to see some of the big radar gun readings more frequently.

5. Warmer weather

Many pitchers struggle to throw hard in cold weather.  Some of the most dominant pitchers in the game have April fastball velocities that don't hold a candle to what they do during the rest of the year.

Warmer weather makes it easier to warm up, and many guys - especially the more muscular, stiff pitchers - need to lengthen the pre-game warm-up early in the season.  If you're a guy who typically doesn't see your best velocity numbers until you've got several innings under your belt, extend your pre-game warm-up, dress in layers, and don't pick up a ball until you're sweating.

6. New desire to prove oneself

For many pitchers, summer ball is a new beginning.  This might be in the form of a Cape Cod League temp contract, or a situation where a player is transitioning from a smaller high school that doesn't face good competition on to a program that plays a challenging summer schedule.  Again, that external stimulus can make a huge difference, as it often includes better catchers, better coaching, more fans, better mounds, and more scouts behind the plate. 

7. Mechanical tinkering

Piggybacking on the previous example, some pitchers may find their mechanics thanks to help from summer coaches.  So, a change in coaching perspective can often bring out the best in guys.

8. Freedom to do one's own thing.

I know of quite a few cllege pitchers who've thrived in the summer time simply because their pitching coaches haven't been in the way.  Usually, this means they can go back to long tossing rather than being restricted to 90-120 feet all season.  It's a great way to get arm speed back.

9. Different pitch selection

The college season is about winning games, whereas summer ball is more about developing. There are quite a few college coaches who have guys throw 75% sliders in their outings to accomplish the former objective, whereas those same pitchers might go out and throw a lot of changeups in summer ball in order to develop the pitch. This is also often the case when you see MLB pitchers get absolutely shelled during spring training; they're usually working on something, or simply just trying to build up their pitch counts.

As an extension of this, summer ball is a chance for many guys to take a step back and really work on commanding their fastballs, so it's not uncommon to see a few more mph on the radar gun as this becomes more of a focus.

On the topic of summer baseball, in case you missed it, registration is now open our Elite Collegiate Baseball Development Summer Program, a comprehensive experience we offer to pitchers from around the country to enhance velocity, develop new pitches, and stay healthy in the process. You can learn more HERE.

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Baseball Strength and Conditioning: What to Do With an Extra Day Between Pitching Starts

Q: I read your series, A New Model for Training Between Starts, and love the ideas you introduced.  Since eliminating distance running between outings, I've noticed a big difference in how I feel and how I pitch.  I did have one question about the weekly rotations you outlined in Part 2.  What happens if I have an extra day between starts due to erratic scheduling or just a rain out? A: This is a great question - and one I have received several times - so I'm glad I'm finally getting around to answering it here on the blog! I usually look for guys to do a "bridge" training session.  Basically, these sessions are all about leaving the gym feeling refreshed; you work, but not so hard that you're exhausted.

In the typical in-season baseball strength and conditioning program we use with professional pitchers on a five-day rotation, here's how we'd schedule it: Day 0: pitch Day 1: challenging lower body lift, push-up variation (light), horizontal pulling (light), cuff work Day 2: movement training only Day 3: Single-leg work, challenging upper body lift (less vertical pulling in-season), cuff work Day 4: low-intensity dynamic flexibility circuits only Day 5: next pitching outing However, if the next outing isn't until Day 6, we will integrate one of two options: The first option would be to simply split the Day 3 training session into two shorter sessions: one upper, one lower.  These sessions might only be 10-12 sets in all. Then, Day 5 would be the low-intensity dynamic flexibility circuits.

The second option would be to keep the strength training component as-is, but perform some medicine ball circuits on Day 4, then use Day 5 for the low-intensity dynamic flexibility circuits. Both options keep you training hard without interfering with the subsequent pitching outing.  Particularly in professional baseball, there are more days off early in the season, so it's important to be able to roll with the punches like this. At the college and high school levels, the 7-day rotation is usually implemented.  If a pitcher starts on Day 0, I like to see him strength training on Day 1, Day 3, and Day 5, with Day 5 being a lower-intensity lift (Days 2 and 4 are movement training, and Day 6 is low-intensity dynamic flexibility).  If there is an extra day on the end, we simply treat our Day 5 lift like we did the Day 3 option in the 5-day template from above; it can either be split into upper and lower body sessions, or we can do it as-is, and add medicine ball circuits on Day 6, taking Day 7 for dynamic flexibility before starting again on Day 8.

That said, as in my experience, guys rarely get that extra day in high school and college; they're more likely to have their starts pushed up.  In this case, we just drop the Day 5 lift. Getting training sessions in between starts is incredibly important, but that doesn't mean that one must be rigid in the scheduling of these sessions.  In fact, one must be very flexible in tinkering with that scheduling on a week-to-week basis to make sure that guys are getting in their lifts, but not at the expense of their performance on the mound. Hopefully this blog provided some strategies you can employ when weather or scheduling throws you a curveball! Sign-up Today for our FREE Baseball Newsletter and Receive a Copy of the Exact Stretches used by Cressey Performance Pitchers after they Throw!
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Strength Training Programs: Are Pull-ups THAT Essential?

The pull-up is among the most sacred strength exercises in the history of weight training programs, ranking up there with squats, deadlifts, and bench and overhead presses.  This is one reason why I expect there to be burning Eric Cressey effigies in various strength and conditioning circles after they read the following sentence:

Some people would be wise to leave out pull-ups - at least temporarily.

Before you rip me a new one, please give me a few minutes to explain.

First off, I get it: pull-ups train the lats, and the lats are huge players in athletic function and the quest to get strong and gain muscle.  They're the biggest player in force transfer between the lower and upper body, and play key roles in core stability and breathing.  Specific to my baseball work, lat recruitment is higher during acceleration in professional pitchers than amateurs, showing that reliance on this big muscle helps generate increase pitching velocity, too.  I actually wrote an entire article back in 2006 about just how extensive the lat's role is, if you'd like to read more: Lats: Not Just for Pulldowns.

However, the "expansive" presence of the lats - running from the thoracolumbar fascia all the way up to the humerus - can make them a problem as much as they are a solution.  To that end, here are four reasons you may want take a break from pull-ups/chin-ups/pulldowns in your strength training program:

1. Heavy pull-ups can make the elbows very cranky - This is really the shortest and least complex of my arguments, so I'll get it out of the way early.  My personal best three-rep max chin-up is 321 pounds, at a body weight of about 188 pounds (so, the external load was 133 pounds).  My best raw three-rep max bench press is about 330 pounds, but what you might find surprising is that going heavy on the bench press is dramatically easier on my joints (particularly my elbows) than pull-ups/chin-ups are.  What gives?

First, when you bench press, you're doing a full-body movement.  There is leg drive and loads of core stability involved on top of the upper extremity activity that's taking place - so the stress is more easily distributed.  When you do a pull-up, your upper extremity is relatively isolated, so the stress is more concentrated.

Second, a pull-up is a traction exercise; it pulls the humeral head out of the socket, and essentially pulls the lower and upper arm apart at the top. When you lose bony congruence - one of the most important, yet overlooked components of joint stability - you have to pick up the slack with the active restraints (muscles/tendons) acting at the joint.  Low-level traction can be tremendously helpful in situations like external impingement at the shoulder, or intervertebral disc issues.  However, under extreme load, it can be pretty darn stressful to the soft tissue structures around the joint.  Conversely, a bench press is an approximation exercise, so you can actually draw some stability from the joint alignment itself to take some of the stress off the soft tissue structures.

I remember Jason Ferruggia writing recently about how heavy chin-ups/pull-ups can really beat up on older lifters - and it's safe to say that the reason isn't so much tissue degeneration, but simply that it took time for them to build appreciable enough strength to get to the point where the overall stress was too much.

2. The lats overpower the lower traps - The overwhelming majority of the baseball athletes I see (and most extension/rotation sport athletes, in general) live in lordotic postures.  The lat is a strong extensor of the spine - but it also attaches to the rib cage and scapula on the way to the upper extremity.  The end result is that many lordotic athletes wind up with a very "gross" extension pattern.

The rib cage flairs up, and the lower traps do little to pull the shoulder blades back and down on the rib cage - because the lats have already gotten an athlete to the position he/she wants to be in via lumbar extension.  You can see from the picture below that the line of pull of the two muscles is actually very comparable - but given cross sectional area and length, the lat will always have the upper hand, especially if it's constantly being prioritized in a strength training program due to exercise selection and faulty lifting technique.

Effectively, we need to learn to move our scapulae on our rib cage, as opposed to just moving our entire spine into extension.  Interestingly, you'll find a lot of flexion-bias in the Postural Restoration Institute (PRI) and Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization (DNS) schools of thought because they clearly appreciate that getting folks out of "gross extension" is a way to get/keep people healthy.  Having ultra short/stiff lats can cause issues ranging from extension-based back pain (e.g., spondylolysis) to shoulder pain (e.g., external or internal impingement).  As I've written previously, too, this global dysfunction may also be the reason we're seeing more femoroacetabular impingement in athletes.

As another interesting aside, I see a lot of throwers with low right shoulders and incredibly short/stiff lats on that side.

This is secondary to faulty rib positioning and the scapular anterior tilt that ensues (as per the PRI school of thought), but one additional thing we've found (thanks to great feedback from physical therapist Eric Schoenberg) is that overhead shrugging variations on the low shoulder have helped these throwers to not only feel better, but minimize these asymmetries.  Effectively, creating a bit more stiffness in the upper trapezius helps it to counterbalance the aggressive downward pull of the lat on the scapula.

These folks sit in scapular depression, and for that reason, we'll often leave out any exercises (e.g., deadlifts, dumbbell lunges) that involve holding heavy weights in the hand until scapular positioning is better controlled.

3. The humeral attachment portion of the lat is part of a significant zone of convergence at the posterior shoulder - The back of your shoulder is another one of those claustrophobic areas in your body.  You've got tendons for the lat, teres major, teres minor, infraspinatus, long head of the triceps, and posterior deltoid all coming together in a very small area, creating friction over each other as their individual forces come together (regions like this are called "Zones of Convergence" by myofascial researcher Luigi Stecco.

The latissimus dorsi is, without a doubt, the largest and strongest of all the involved structures.  It also has the longest tendon, which makes it the biggest candidate for nasty tissue quality in the region.  The problem is that muscles/tendons don't deform evenly; rather, they move a lot where the tissue quality is good, and very little where it is dense.  So, when you're super dense in the posterior shoulder and try to go do pull-ups, as I noted earlier, the entire shoulder girdle wants to move (humeral extension and internal rotation, and scapular depression) together, as opposed to a nice synergy of the humerus with the scapula on the rib cage.  When some is stiff in the posterior shoulder and wants to use the lat for everything, a seated cable row looks like this.  Notice how the elbow winds up behind the body, and the scapula anterior tilts - and also how old the video is; I look like I am 12 years old and weigh 120 lbs.

Rowing like this over time will eventually irritate the anterior shoulder.  However, watch this standing one-arm cable row where the humeral head (ball) maintains a good alignment with the glenoid fossa (socket) as the shoulder blade moves on the rib cage.  The humerus doesn't extend unless the scapula moves with it.

4. Overactive lats can decrease the subacromial space - The lat extends, adducts, and internally rotates the humerus.  In order to get overhead the right way, we need flexion, abduction, and external rotation of the humerus.  So, you can see that it's a direct antagonist to healthy, overhead movement.  If you think about your biggest players for pain-free overhead movement, two of them have to be the posterior rotator cuff and lower trapezius.  The lat overpowers both of them in a "gross" extension pattern.

Here's a test: position yourself supine, bend the knees, flatten the lower back, and then let your arms hang freely overhead.  Then, have someone take a picture looking down at the top of your head.  A "pass" would be full shoulder flexion with no arching of the back, and no shoulder pain along the way.  A fail would be pain, or something that looks like this:

If your photo looks like this, you better hope that you have outstanding posterior rotator cuff and lower trapezius function (adequate stiffness) to overpower some very short lats if you intend to train overhead pain-free (especially with overhead pressing).  Otherwise, your shoulder flexion will really just be lumbar extension and forward head posture substitutions (this one has a nice left rib flair, too).

In other words, you need adequate anterior core stability and good recruitment of the deep neck flexors, too, but those are blogs for another day.

Closing Thoughts

This post has gone on far too long, and to be honest, I've probably just used the last 1300+ words to piss a lot of you off.  You'll be happy to know, however, that we still use a ton of pull-ups/chin-ups in our strength training programs at Cressey Performance.  In fact, they're a mainstay.  Here are some modifying factors, however:

1. The risk:reward ratio gets a little out of whack once you get very strong with pull-ups.  You'd be better off adding sets and reps, as opposed to adding load - and you may want to push the heavy stuff less frequently than you would with compound exercises.

2. Get regular manual therapy at the posterior shoulder and entire elbow to stay on top of tissue quality. At the very least, make sure you're foam rolling a ton and using The Stick:

3. Strengthen the anterior core and deep neck flexors so that you don't substitute lumbar hyperextension and forward head posture, respectively, for shoulder flexion.

4. Strengthen the lower traps so that the lats can't overpower them.  I like wall slides at 135 degrees abduction, as it allows one to work in the direct line of pull of the lower traps.  Make sure to cue "glutes tight, core braced" so that folks can't substitute lumbar extension ("gross extension") for movement of the scapulae on the rib cage.  Make sure there is no forward head posture, too.

Prone 1-arm trap raises off the table are also a popular one.  Just make sure you continue to cue "glutes tight, core braced, and no forward head posture."

4. Maintain adequate length in the lats. In warm-ups, I like the bench t-spine mobilizations and side-lying internal external rotation as a means of getting some shoulder flexion.

In terms of static stretching, a lat stretch in the power rack is great.

If this gives you an impingement feeling, regress it a bit, stabilize the scapulae with the opposite hand, and gently dip into a wall lat stretch with stabilization.

Many folks will also benefit from this classic overhead stretch in order to reduce stiffness in the long head of the triceps, a synergist to the lats in humeral extension.

5. Make sure you're including plenty of horizontal pulling (rowing) strength exercises as well - and executing them with the correct form.  This means moving humerus and scapula together on rib cage, not just yanking the humerus into extension on a fixed scapula.

6. If you have terrible shoulder flexion and can't get overhead without substituting forward head posture and lumbar hyperextension, spend some time addressing the underlying issues before you start cranking on pull-ups.  We actually don't do any pull-ups/chin-ups with some of our professional baseball players for 4-8 weeks following the season, as we need to spend time building rotator cuff, lower trap, and anterior core strength. I like to use the back-to-wall shoulder flexion exercise as a "pass/fail test." If you can get the thumbs to the wall without losing the flat-back posture on the wall or bending your elbows, then you can probably start going to pull-ups.

7. Above all else, listen to your body, and hold back if pull-ups/chin-ups hurt.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this post and your experiences with heavy and/or high-volume pull-ups/chin-ups in the comments section below.

For more information on the role of the lats in upper extremity health and function, I'd encourage you to check out our Optimal Shoulder Performance DVD Set.

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Increasing Pitching Velocity: What Stride Length Means and How to Improve It – Part 2

In part 1 of this series, I discussed the fact that – all other factors held constant – increasing stride length will improve pitching velocity.  Unfortunately, when you simply tell a pitcher to stride further down the mound, there are usually some unfavorable mechanical consequences that actually hinder pitching velocity.  So, be sure to read that piece before continuing on here. That said, sometimes, physical limitations can make it difficult to acquire a longer stride.  To that end, I wanted to use this second installment to begin to outline the top five limiting factors for those looking to get down the mound and throw harder. 1. Hip Mobility If you’re going to really get down the mound, you need outstanding adductor length on both the lead and trailing legs.  That goes without saying.  While we outline several options on our Assess and Correct DVD set, the split-stance kneeling adductor mobilization is definitely my favorite, as it improves adductor length in both hip flexion and extension:

 Just as important, players need to stop “hanging out” in adduction in sitting and standing.  I wrote about this in a bit more detail in my What I Learned in 2010 article (point #3).  This is incredibly common in right-handed throwers, in particular.  If your resting hip posture looks like this, fix it!

We use a variety of drills from the Postural Restoration Institute to help address the issue, but suffice it to say that you’ll be swimming upstream unless you learn to stop standing/sitting like this! Additionally, you need adequate length of the trailing leg hip flexors – particularly rectus femoris – to ensure that you don’t cut off hip rotation prematurely.  I like the wall hip flexor mobilization for this purpose.  Keep in mind that we perform the exercises on both the front and trailing leg, as many pitchers will have substantial knee flexion deficit on the front leg secondary to the stress of landing/deceleration.

Third, you need adequate hip internal and external rotation on both sides.  Hip external rotation range-of-motion on the trailing leg is particularly important to allow force to be applied over a longer distance.  Additionally, hip internal rotation is key on the front side, as enables a thrower to utilize the lower half more efficiently in deceleration.  Those without adequate internal rotation on the front side often cut their arm paths short and miss high with pitches – and put much more stress on their arm because the deceleration “arc” is shorter. External rotation is best gained through glute activation drills (supine bridges, side-lying clams, x-band walks) in conjunction with simply externally rotating the femur during the split-stance kneeling adductor mobilization I featured earlier.  For internal rotation, I like a gentle knee-t0-knee stretch/mobs (assuming no medial knee issues) , and bowler squats as a follow-up to get comfortable with the pattern.

 Of course, all these mobility drills must be complemented by quality soft tissue work: foam rolling and, ideally, manual therapy with a qualified practitioner. So, as you can see, adequate hip mobility for optimizing pitching velocity must take place in a number of planes.  Additionally, you need to remember that mobility is always influenced by musculo-tendinous. capsular, ligamentous, and osseous (bony) restrictions, so no two pitchers will be the same in their needs.  And, some pitchers simply may not have the bone structures to get into certain positions that are easy for other pitchers to achieve. 2. Lower-Body Strength/Power You can’t discuss lower-body mobility without appreciating the interaction it has with lower-body strength and power.

You see, mobility is simply your ability to get into a certain position or posture.  Flexibility is simply the excursion through which a joint can move.   What’s the problem? Flexibility doesn’t take into account stability.  Just because you can get your joints to a certain position in a non-weight-bearing scenario doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to achieve that same position when you’re in a weight-bearing position, trying to throw 95mph as you move downhill.  So, I’ll put my point in big, bold letters:

Pitchers need strength to have mobility.

Truth be told, building lower body strength in throwers isn’t tough.  You use all the basics – single-leg work, deadlift variations, squat variations (when appropriate), sled work, pull-throughs, glute-ham raise, hip thrusts, glute bridges, etc. – but just work to make sure that they are safe for throwers (e.g., use the front squat grip instead of the back squat grip).

Strength isn’t just a foundation for mobility, though; it’s also a foundation for power.  You can’t apply force quickly if you don’t have force!  So, once players have an adequate foundation of strength, they can benefit more from rotational medicine ball exercises and plyos in the frontal/transverse planes to learn to better apply force outside the sagittal plane. Make no mistake about it; having adequate strength/power to push off and rotate aggressively – not to mention decelerate the body on the front leg – is essential to outstanding pitching velocity. I’ll be back soon with Part 3 of this series.  In the meantime, if you’re looking for more hip mobility ideas for baseball players, check out Assess and Correct: Breaking Barriers to Unlock Performance.

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Increasing Pitching Velocity: What Stride Length Means and How to Improve It – Part 1

Ask almost any pitcher, and he'd tell you that he'd love to increase his stride length on the mound in hopes of increasing pitching velocity.  And, this is certainly an association that has been verified by both anecdotal and research evidence for years.  Look back to the best pitchers of former generations, and they figured this out even without the benefit of radar guns.

On the anecdotal side of things, hitters often comment on how pitches "get on them faster" with a guy who strides further down the mound.  This is a no brainer: a pitcher who releases the ball closer to the plate has a competitive advantage.  That's perceived pitching velocity.  However, what about actual velocity - meaning what the radar gun says? The truth is that it's somewhat tricky to prove specifically that a longer stride directly equates to better actual velocity, as it really depends on how the pitcher gets to that point.  You see, a pitcher can effectively delay his weight shift to create better "separation;" in fact, keeping the head behind the hips longer correlates highly with pitching velocity.  This separation is the name of the game - and he'd throw harder.

Or, that same pitcher could simply jump out - letting his body weight leak forward prematurely - and completely rob himself of separation and, in turn, velocity.  So, that's the first asterisk to keep in mind: it's not just where you stride, but also how you stride there. Additionally, in that second scenario, this modification may cause a pitcher to shift his weight forward excessively and wind up landing too much on his toes.  While the point on the foot at which the weight should be centered is certainly a point of debate among pitching coaches, it's safe to say that they all agree that you shouldn't be tip-toeing down the mound! Lastly, even if the weight shift is delayed perfectly, a pitcher still has to time up the rest of his delivery - when the ball comes out of the glove, how high the leg kick is, etc - to match up with it in "slightly" new mechanics.  These adjustments can take time, so the velocity improvements with a long stride may not come right away because other factors are influenced. Of course, keep in mind that not every hard thrower has a huge stride.  Justin Verlander doesn't get too far down the mound, but he's still done okay for himself!  Verlander seems to make up the difference with a ridiculously quick arm, great downward plane at ball release, and outstanding hip rotation power.  There's no sense screwing with someone who is a reigning Cy Young and MVP - and has two career no-hitters under his belt.  However, YOU have to find what works best for YOU.

So, without even getting to my list, you can say that mechanical proficiency is the #1 factor that influences whether a long stride will improve your pitching velocity.  Dial in what needs to be dialed in, and it could work wonders for you - if your body is prepared.

To that end, in part 2 of this series, I'll outline five physical factors that will help you improve your stride length and increase pitching velocity.

Interested in learning more about the throwing shoulder? Check out Optimal Shoulder Performance: From Rehabilitation to High Performance!

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