In 2004, I started following sports science research as it applies to pitching. The sports science research overwhelmingly contradicts the large majority of what coaches and instructors are teaching to help pitchers improve.
This is largely because baseball is a belief-based sport that relies on 25 years of tradition rather than scientific analysis. However, in comparison to the current sports science research, most of the coaching beliefs are not based on actual evidence. This causes many pitchers to waste their valuable time with useless activities, such as long toss, flat ground pitching, weight training, or weighted balls. These have not proven to increase pitching velocity or overall performance. They also don’t reduce the risk of arm injuries.
Because of the research we started following in 2004, we changed our overall approach and stopped following what the popular pitching gurus were advising.
We saw that long toss, weighted balls, or weight training did not improve pitching velocity. In addition, pitching arm injuries continued to increase. These are the reasons we started looking at research.
In many cases, we find ourselves advising the exact opposite of mainstream baseball tradition.
#1: Here’s how we improve velocity: We videotape, and find the mechanical faults that prevent pitchers from maximizing force production and efficiently transferring those forces from the body to the arm.
What most coaches and instructors do: Because most coaches and instructors believe strength, rather than mechanics, improves velocity, they focus on building more arm strength in the weight room. Research has proven that strength is not a big factor for maximizing velocity.
#2: Here’s how we improve mechanics: Again, by using videotape, we find faults that reduce performance and add stress to the arm. By showing the pitcher what he is doing and then what he should be doing instead he is able to understand why he needs to change. He is then able to rehearse the new movement and then practice it.
What most coaches and instructors do: Most use pitching drills such as the towel drill, balance drill or kneeling drill. However research has proven that because pitching has no hesitation or stopping, introducing small segments such as drills is ineffective in creating a smooth and explosive movement. In fact, drills actually create slowing movements and more robotic actions.
#3: Here’s how we improve control: Once pitchers gain more consistent mechanics, ball control becomes a matter of throwing a large volume of the same pitch to the same location repeatedly, until the brain understands how to direct the ball to that specific location.
We help pitchers focus on throwing pitches in blocked sets of 5-8 pitches to each location, until they master control of that location. Then, they switch to another location. This has been proven – by research – to be far more effective. Ball location and control is more of a skill. It must be practiced often, rather than just using mental focus.
What most coaches and instructors do: Most coaches believe that control is accomplished through simply focusing on a location or slowing the pitcher down. Throwing pitches to random locations has not proven to help as much as pitching as a form of target practice.
4: Here’s how we use practice time to improve pitchers performance: To improve overall pitching performance, we devote as much time as possible to mound pitching. This is what pitchers will be required to do to get hitters out. The more a pitcher practices from the mound, the better feel he gets for his mechanics. This makes it easier to repeat his actions. Sports science has proven that if you want to improve an activity, you must practice that specific that activity. It does no good to practice something else.
Based on the research, it appears that most amateur pitchers waste 50% or more of their time with practice activities that do not improve their overall pitching performance. This is time they will never get back.
What most coaches and instructors do: Coaches have pitchers doing long toss, flat ground pitching, pitching drills and a host of actions that actually interfere with the development consistent mound mechanics. In mound pitching, the pitcher will be required to pitch downhill to the hitter. Any action that is not specific to game pitching will not help a pitcher improve for games. Any good intentions of the coaches are irrelevant to this fact.
#5:This is how sports science research and I say pitchers should condition: Research has proven that pitching is not a strength activity, but one of speed of movement and explosive power. Thus, large amounts of strength are not required to maximize velocity or to reduce the risk of injury.
Plus, there is no magic conditioning program that will produce velocity. Conditioning is about getting pitchers functionally fit and strong for pitching, but there is no conditioning program that will produce more velocity. Velocity comes from mechanics. Don’t buy the hype.
Giants’ Tim Lincecum, a two time Cy Young award winner, who was throwing 100 mph just two years ago, is a good example. He is a 5’10” 170 lbs. and according to his father has never done much weight training but has focused more on more functional and explosive training. This has been our focus since 1999, when we introduced Conditioning The Pitcher For Power DVD’s in which we emphasized full body explosive exercises that also helped create more functional flexibility.
In 2004 a study proved that static stretching prior to pitching not only reduces velocity but adds to the risk of shoulder injuries.
What most coaches and instructors do: Most coaches believe strength is the key to more velocity. Again, arm strength or fully body strength is not much of a factor for improving velocity. This is based on research. And yet, misinformed coaches continue to force their training beliefs on pitchers. Weight training requires slower movements actually training the body to move slower. Pitchers can actually lose velocity, and because of poor weight training technique or the use of too much weight, shoulder injuries can result.
Many coaches do not read sports science studies, and continue to have pitchers stretch before they pitch. This increases their risk of injury and reduces velocity.
Now, what if I told you that you should not listen to me or any other former professional pitcher – even top big league veterans – just because we played at a high level? The fact is, over 90% of what I have learned about how to help pitchers improve I learned from sports scientists… NOT from pitching gurus.
Big league pitchers might know how to pitch, but most admit they do NOT know how to teach what they did so well. This is also true for most professional golfers.
Parents and pitchers alike would be well advised to ask themselves whether what they are doing actually works to improve their pitching velocity and overall performance. If current instruction is not creating improvement, they may want to investigate other methods that are not mainstream, but make common sense, and are backed up with evidence through research rather than beliefs.