The question that is often asked today is – should weight training be a large factor for helping pitchers improve their velocity and for reducing the risk of injury? Conditioning pitchers is one of the most misunderstood subjects in sports today. The fact is that, until about 1990, there was not much emphasis on strength training at all as being a factor for improving velocity or for reducing the risk of injury.
However, even with lots of available research, pitchers are still being told by coaches that strength is one of the overriding factors for improving velocity, whether by lifting weights or building arm strength. The research does not prove that out.
What did pitchers do prior to 1990 if they did not focus on strength training? They involved themselves in general fitness or overall full-body activities. Instinctively, I believe most pitchers, including myself, realized pitching was not a strength activity, such as football anymore than golf is.
There is certainly nothing wrong with some weight training; however, after about four to six weeks of general strength training, without heavy weights, any additional strength gains are mostly useless. Why is this? Because strength training is about resistance. The muscles grow and condition based on resisting a certain amount of weight.
However, in order to use these strength gains, a baseball pitcher will have to resist against something. But, all he can resist is a 5-ounce baseball, one that 10-year-old pitchers can throw 70 mph with obviously not much strength. Just because a pitcher can squat or bench press a lot of weight has no meaning when he is on the mound trying to move a 5-ounce baseball down the mound against a hitter. That weight training is not going to help him move that 5-ounce baseball faster.
Plus, there is no evidence that weight training will reduce injuries. In fact, if we look at baseball pitchers today, are we not seeing more arm injuries than ever before? It seems so.
If weight training is mostly a waste of time, then what should pitchers be doing during the offseason to get ready for the season? They should be focused on doing full-body explosive exercises, such as medicine ball for upper body and lower body plyometrics.
The idea of doing full-body explosive exercises is to help the pitcher condition his entire body, activating as many muscles as possible since pitching velocity is a full-body activity. Focusing on building certain muscles groups, such as the leg, will not improve velocity. This is why skinny pitchers with skinny legs can still throw with above average velocity. It can’t be about the legs.
So, the pitcher can do some weight training for a few weeks then switch to full-body explosive exercises. Then, after about six to eight weeks, his body should be fully conditioned to start pitching from the mound, which is the only possible way a pitcher will improve for next year.
In my opinion, high school and college pitchers should be throwing at least two full-effort bullpens per week while focusing on improving their mechanics. In order to improve their mechanics, they must be videotaped so they can see whether they are improving or not. Eyeballing a pitchers mechanics is mostly a waste of time. Pitchers who have such a schedule of conditioning and pitching from the mound will be less likely to get injured than those that just hit the weight room and build extra strength, most of which they will not be able to use when facing down hitters in early Spring.
Pitching requires a general level of fitness, not strength training. Just ask all the successful pitchers prior to 1990 what they did for conditioning. It was not weight training. Then, look and see whether pitchers were more effective now or then. I say then.
Hitters now clearly have the advantage, since pitchers spend less time pitching and more time in the weight room or trying to build arm strength, neither of which is needed to throw overpowering fastballs, or for reducing injury risk. Pitchers are not reaching their full potential because of one main cause. They are wasting valuable time on activities that do not lead to improvement such as weight training or trying to gain extra arm strength.
Pitching velocity is clearly a speed of movement activity rather than a strength activity. Show me a pitcher who learns to move his body faster down the mound into a long stride (100 percent or more of his height) while removing any slow movements and hesitation, and I will show you a pitcher who has a good chance of reaching his full velocity potential.