Throw it faster, throw it farther
Balancing Act: Increase Muscle Strength Without Losing Flexibility
Power is a combination of speed and strength. If getting stronger means getting slower, we're not getting anywhere. As a pitcher trying to develop velocity or as a fielder looking for a cannon, strengthening the muscles involved in a throw can make a big difference.
A lot of pitching or throwing strength is derived from the muscles that exert the most force: the calves and quads, used extensively during the all important pushoff of the throw. So we'll start there with our biggest bang for the buck before getting into the upper body and forearms.
What we might not realize is that every pitch and every throw uses a lateral jump. Think about it: we line up with oour body facing 90 degrees to the target, our front foot stretches out, and we push off our back foot as we deliver the ball. What we might not be paying attention to is trying to strengthen this push off.
We've covered plyometrics before. They are explosive, bursty movements designed to dramatically increase power. For a pitch or a throw, this lateral push is a major source of power.
3 sets of 10-12 repititions:
- On one foot, crouch down, tucking one leg behind the other, getting ready to jump sideways.
- Push off our planted foot as hard as we can, sideways, using our arms and suspended leg to drive momentum in the direction of the jump.
- Land in a crouch on the other foot, swinging the foot that just jumped behind our new plant leg, getting ready to jump right back in the other direction.
- Immediately jump back to our original starting point and repeat.
- For beginners, jump back and forth sideways with two feet, ideally over a obstacle that's at least 6 inches high, raising oour knees high to our chest on each jump, never breaking during the set.
- For intermediates, perform the jump one legged as described above, but instead of attempting the more difficult balancing act of the lifted leg swinging deep behind oour body, bring the raised leg to our chest instead.
- For a quick footwork variation, perform the lateral jump, add two quick lateral shuffle steps, then perform a second lateral jump in the same direction, before landing in the crouch with the lifted leg swinging behind the plant leg.
In all overhand throws, at the highest point of the throw, the ball and our arm are extended above our shoulder and much of the force of the throw is derived by pulling that arm down across our body. The dumbbell pullover mimics much of that action.
Which muscles are involved? Chest, back, abs, triceps, and lats... not bad for one exercise.
4 sets of 15-20 repititions:
- Lie our shoulders down on the middle of the bench, keeping our feet and body off the bench, 90 degrees to the bench itself. In other words, only our sholders are on the middle of the bench, our body is perpendicular to the bench, like a T.
- We keep our pelvis elevated, getting our hips and core engaged in the exercise.
- With the dumbbell standing on its side, we lift the dumbbell over our chest, holding it with our palms, arms straight.
- Keeping our arms straight, we lower the dumbbell over and behind our head, to a comfortable range of motion.
- Again, keeping our arms straight, we raise the dumbbell back to the starting position, straight up above our chest.
- The exercise can be performed using a cable pulley instead of a dumbbell.
- If supporting the weight of our body off the bench is too demanding, lie down lengthwise along the bench, letting the bench support your core.
- The exercise can be performed from a vertical position as well, standing or sitting, using a lat pulldown machine.
- For softball pitchers throwing underhand, perform the opposite exercise - stand and perform a pullup using dumbbells or cables, starting with hands extended back behind your hips and pulling up in front of our body and up to head height, again keeping arms straight throughout the motion.
Forearm Rollers and Dumbbell Wrist Rotations
The final piece of whip that is part of every throw is the wrist moving from back to front during release. These two exercises help strength the muscles that generate that last bit of snap: wrists and forearms.
Bonus: developing forearm strength helps prevent elbow injuries for pitchers!
Double bonus: the snap of the wrist that occurs in a throw also occurs during the most important part of a swing, as the hitter is bringing the bat head forward. These exercises help in both throwing and hitting!
3 sets of 5-10 repititions:
- Hold the roller with arms straight out in front of us at shoulder height.
- Without moving our arms / only using our wrists, roll the weight all the way up to the top.
- Roll the weight all the way back down to the bottom.
- The roll up and roll down counts as one repitition.
- This exercise requires a special piece of equipment. It can either be purchased inexpensively or you can make your own.
3 sets of 15-20 repititions:
- Rest your forearm across your leg or a bench, with your wrist and hand extended beyond the bracing surface.
- Hold the dumbbell with the palm of our hand facing up toward the sky.
- Rotate our wrist until our palm faces down toward the ground.
- Rotate our wrist back the other way, until we return to start position with our palm again facing the sky.
- To save time, we can perform the exercise with both hands at the same time.
- Increase difficulty, by not resting our forearms on a surface. Instead stand with elbows bent 90 degrees (as if stopping half way when doing a bicep curl), tucking the elbows into our body to stop them from moving. Perform the wrist rotations from this position.
There are two other exercises not described here which every baseball player should pursue: long toss and playing catch using a weighted ball (a softball or baseball that is heavier than normal). Both of these exercises focus on increasing the exertion of the throwing muscles.
A reminder for all readers: protect your throwing arm. If you can't throw, you can't play baseball. Be smart about it; for all of these exercises, make sure that the body is warmed up and ready for high intensity activity.
Until next time, Play Ball!