Probably the most asked question today in pitching circles is how to improve pitching velocity. So, what is the typical recommendation?
It goes like this: You improve pitching velocity by improving arm strength by doing lots of long toss or hit the weight room and get bigger and stronger. A much lesser number say improve mechanics. I happen to be possibly the strongest advocate of the smaller group. But the majority, even experienced coaches at all levels, talk about improving arm strength as the best way to improve velocity. And, of course, they say that doing lots of throwing improves arm strength.
If this is true, why is it that the arm strength advocates, of whom I am not one, never explain how this building arm strength actually improves velocity? Ask them, and you will get lots of double-talk. Some go so far as to say that pitching velocity is 50 percent due to arm strength.
My question is, which of the muscles in the arm must get stronger in order to throw harder? Are they the biceps or the triceps? The forearm? The wrist? Remember, the arm ends at the shoulder.
The humerus is the ball joint of the upper arm that fits into the shoulder socket and rotates when throwing. By the way, the rotator cuff is not part of the arm, but actually the shoulder. The rotator cuff is composed of a set of four tendons that simply help position the upper arm bone (humerus) within the shoulder socket. If the rotator cuff is weak then it can adversely affect how the upper arm bone moves while pitching. A weak rotator cuff may mean a loose shoulder joint. That can reduce velocity as well as lead to injury.
All the bigger muscles, such as the front deltoid, rear deltoid, lateral deltoid or latissimus dorsi (lats), are also not part of the arm. They would be considered part of the shoulder and trunk. So, to say that the arm by itself provides 50 percent of pitching velocity is a foolish statement to say the least. You will hear that mostly from those who want to sell you on weighted baseballs or long toss – two activities that have little to do with improving pitching velocity.
That’s right, there is zero evidence that long toss improves pitching velocity. Zero!
In the book, “The Science and Art of Baseball Pitching: The Coach’s Complete Handbook of Scientific Pitching,” 16 pages were devoted to proving why weighted balls do not work, and why all of the studies that have been done came to wrong conclusions, even by some Ph.D.s who should have been more careful with their science.
Are there really coaches out there who have thought this through and concluded that the arm is responsible for producing velocity? If this were true, then by simply using the arm, a pitcher could produce velocity.
Here is how we know this is foolish thinking. Have a pitcher stand with feet shoulder width apart facing the catcher from the mound. Then prevent the pitchers hips and his shoulders from moving or rotating. Then, allow him to see how fast or how far he can throw a baseball. Remember, you cannot allow the pitcher’s shoulder to rotate back because that would mean the stretching back of the shoulder was helping throw the ball. Check and see how far and how fast that pitcher can pitch the ball. Not very far and very fast.
Now, think about using weighted baseballs (6 to 14 ounces) in order to help this isolated arm get stronger to throw the ball faster and father. How would that work? Which muscles in the arm would be stimulated to help the arm move faster? None is the answer. No muscles in the arm or body can be stimulated or strengthened by using 6-to-14-ounce weights.
Try and see how strong your biceps or triceps get doing lots of bicep or tricep curls with 14-ounce weighted balls. What do you think? Will that work? Of course not. This means that no amount of arm strength can be stimulated or improved for improving pitching velocity by using weighted baseballs. This also means that those who are selling these velocity tools either have their heads in the sand or are cheating people out of their money. I think it might be actually a little of both for some of them.
Let’s get back to that pitcher standing there facing the catcher. Instead of not letting him rotate his shoulders, now let’s allow him to use and rotate both shoulders so he can turn his front shoulder to face more toward the catcher. Now, while still holding his hips from moving, allow his to how pitch the ball using shoulder rotation. Wow! That sure makes a difference in both speed and distance.
Now, what if we allow the hips to move and rotate? Even without allowing the feet to move, we get even more speed and distance. This is beginning to sound like pitching velocity is the result of the whole body working, not the arm as the arm strength advocates would have you believe. Actually, it is the body that delivers the arm. The arm has little to do with velocity at all. It is really the control device of the ball.
If we go even further and allow the pitcher to face sideways toward the plate now and then aggressively take a step or stride or more accurately a lunge out as quickly as possible driving away from the rubber, then we can really begin to produce more velocity.
If we work even harder at increasing the stride length to 100 percent of the pitcher’s height (like Nolan Ryan), you will see some amazing velocity improvements. There is a bit more to producing maximum velocity, but the point here is that it has little to do with the arm and everything to do with using every muscle fiber in the body to produce more energy to deliver the arm at high speed.
So, when pitchers are doing long toss they are actually doing a full body conditioning exercise, not an arm strength activity. That is why long toss should only be used in the offseason. Pitching from the mound is what pitchers should do during the season since that is what they will have to do against hitters in games.
Long toss will have little value when pitching against hitters. If pitchers want to use long toss as a warm-up device, then fine. But, to do endless long toss in an effort to build arm strength for more velocity is a foolish waste of a pitcher’s valuable time. Pitch from the mound a lot while improving mechanics instead. Both long toss and weighted baseballs are being sold to pitchers as a means of pitching improvement.
Someone needs to explain to me why these have any value in doing that. If you are being sold on weighted baseballs, you are being ripped off only because those selling them do not know how velocity is produced.
The same goes for long toss. It’s no wonder there are so few pitchers producing better velocity. They are still chasing after something that is not required – more arm strength.