In today’s baseball age, where a 90 mph fastball is now considered below average in Major League Baseball, the question inevitably comes up: how do I throw harder?
Recently I received a question along these same lines on Snapchat, where I field many baseball training questions each day. The question was a variation on the above: “How can I get stronger and throw harder?”
I did my best to answer this question as thoroughly as I could through social media – and in the process learned that there is in fact a limit to how much you can type in a single Snapchat message – and also posted it on Twitter. But, of course, this didn’t leave much room for elaboration. Thus, I wanted to take a few moments to expand upon the topic for everyone to take in. And, because I’d like to go into as much detail as I reasonably can, I have broken this article into three parts. All three segments, together, will touch on nine highly influential factors that affect velocity in baseball.
While the nine factors included in this 3-part series are all influential on velocity, they are not the only factors involved, as pitching velocity is an incredibly complex, multifactorial performance characteristic.
That being said, below I have included the first three of nine strong influencers on throwing velocity, strength, and everything in between:
While this topic could certainly take up volumes and volumes of books, generally I am speaking to the ballplayer who has very limited training experience, if any at all. In this case, strength is actually relatively straight-forward.
- First and foremost, learn to move well. We should not strive to put a ton of load on top of dysfunction. In other words, going heavy with poor movement is not going to build us a big strong house, it is going to build us a stick-house ready to be knocked down as soon as it meets strong opposing forces. As a beginner trainee, you will get stronger just by virtue of loading sound movement patterns, thanks to the Central Nervous System. Load does not have to be a barbell or dumbbell, it can come in the form of your own body weight as well.
- Once movement quality and proficiency have been established, Progressive Overload must be sought in order to develop strength over longer periods of time. This essentially means that we must gradually increase the demand on the body in order to create the adaptations that we want. This, in turn, also involves the SAID principle – Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands – which means that, if we want to create a specific adaptation (e.g. strength), we must expose the body to those demands. Thus, to get stronger we must gradually expose the body to greater loads.
- The most efficient and effective way to load the body for strength is to utilize complex, multi-joint movements, such as squats, hip-hinges, pulls, and pushes. You don’t need to limit your training just to these movements, but there is certainly no strength-training program out there that doesn’t include exercises that fall into these movement categories.
A couple additional considerations on strength:
First, building strength can be thought of as developing a capacity for power (more on power below). Essentially, the more strength that we develop, the greater potential that we will have to produce power (i.e. throw harder). Without adequate strength we must find other ways bridge the gap and create that power.
But on the other hand, possessing strength does not necessarily guarantee velocity or power. There are still other factors involved. Put very crudely, if strength were all it took to throw a baseball 95 mph, we’d have more powerlifters in Major League Baseball, as they possess some of the greatest absolute strength numbers that you will find.
The equation for Power as it relates to baseball and strength training is P = Force x Velocity. This means that Power, at its base-level, is influenced by two variables; how much force (or strength) you can apply to an object, and how fast you can apply that force in a given direction. At its core, this means that strength alone can’t guarantee power. But, given the appropriate training for power, where both ends of the spectrum, and everything in between, are addressed, we can translate strength and speed into power.
The spectrum mentioned above – the strength-speed (force-velocity) continuum – is another important concept to consider. Strength and Speed (or force and velocity) are inverse variables – meaning as one increases, the other decreases – or, as we increase the force required to move an object, the velocity has to decrease, and vice-versa. Some examples:
- Take an athlete with a 400 lbs. max on the Squat. If the athlete were to put 200 lbs. on the barbell, they could squat it with much greater velocity than they could if they put 350 lbs. on the barbell.
- A pitcher can throw a 4 oz underweight baseball with greater velocity than an overweight 7 oz baseball.
These variables are inverse because, to apply greater force (which is needed to overcome a heavy load) longer periods of time must be allowed for increased neurological connections to occur with the muscles being used.
Forgetting all of the science behind it, just know that strength alone can’t dictate throwing velocity. This is why there are many successful pitchers who do not possess great weight room strength, yet can hit absurd numbers on the radar gun. They have found other ways to make up for that lack of strength on the other side of the spectrum – by increasing velocity (i.e. arm speed), or by utilizing other factors (explained in this series).
It is the goal of an appropriate and effective strength training plan to safely shift the entire foce-velcoity curve, not just one end.
3. Efficient Mechanics
Without going anywhere near what efficient mechanics actually look like, it is still important to address their influence on velocity. We have covered strength, which can enhance the capacity for power, and together, through efficient and effective mechanics, can lead to greater velocity outputs on the mound.
Two components should come to mind when considering pitching mechanics – safety and efficiency. Proper mechanics essentially mean safe and efficient sequencing of individual movements and body parts in order to optimally utilize the kinetic chain. By effectively sequencing the process of pitching a baseball, we can develop force, store elastic energy, and then safely apply the resulting forces on the baseball without any energy being lost in the process.
A couple examples of ineffective and inefficient mechanical constraints:
- Drop a pitcher down to one knee, or even both, and ask him to throw as hard as he can. This pitcher will not be able to match the velocity of that achieved when using his actual pitching mechanics, as his lower body cannot produce much force in this position.
- Have a pitcher face his chest toward the target. Ask him to throw as hard as possible without rotating his trunk. Without the trunk rotation, the pitcher will not be able to achieve the same velocities as that of his whole pitching motion.
- Finally, have a pitcher tense up his throwing arm, and then try to throw it. Yet again, it will not be as effective as the whole pitching motion, as much of the elastic energy is lost by tensing the throwing arm.
Now consider the pitcher who does not lift weights or possess a great amount of force production capabilities, as we talked about when discussing strength. Despite not being as strong as many of his hard-throwing counterparts, he still may be able throw with tremendous velocity if he can utilize his mechanics as efficiently as possible, and has other qualities that positively impact velocity – like great leverage, fast-twitch neuromuscular components, etc (discussed more in detail in later installments of this series).
Now, all of this isn’t to say that strength doesn’t influence durability, tissue tolerance, and work capacity – things that can ultimately help keep the athlete safe and healthy – because it does. But, strictly in terms of velocity, efficient mechanics are highly influential as well.
Next week I will share Part II of this 3-Part series. Stay turned!