Four Ways to Effectively Increase Throwing Velocity
I stopped by a high level travel baseball tournament this weekend and as expected, saw a number of scouts and college coaches patrolling the backstops. While in no way do I believe velocity to be the only determining factor in a pitchers success, admittedly it is probably the attribute that dictates the level of opportunity a young pitcher receives above all others. Simply put, guys that throw hard get more chances to “figure it out” than guys that don’t. However it seems these days the “solution” for more velocity is to play more games and a longer season (is it even a season if it never ends?). Guess what? According to this study of 95 adolescent pitchers who had elbow and shoulder surgery and 45 who didn’t, the only significant differences in the two groups were: “The injured group pitched significantly more months per year, games per year, innings per game, pitches per game, pitches per year, and warm-up pitches before a game. These pitchers were more frequently starting pitchers, pitched in more showcases, pitched with higher velocity, and pitched more often with arm pain and fatigue. They also used anti-inflammatory drugs and ice more frequently to prevent an injury.” Oops. While the study conclusion should seem relatively logical, it proves that the biggest risk factors for arm injuries are overuse and fatigue. Hopefully as the folly of this “more is better” approach is brought to light I won’t even have to mention why I don’t recommend it, but for now, let’s just dismiss more competitive situations as a bad idea. So, how else can we make dramatic improvements in throwing velocity?
- Strength/Power Development – DISCLAIMER – MAY REQUIRE EFFORT! Simply put, all other things being equal, stronger guys throw harder, typically for longer. The added stability benefits of strength training also help to mitigate throwing stress and improve durability. Power development for baseball players should focus on rotational exercises and drills with tools like medicine balls. I love Olympic lifting and a lot of other traditional “power” training for other sports but don’t think that the risk/reward of catching heavy cleans and snatches with already stressed out wrists, elbows, and shoulders makes it a great idea for baseball. Oh yeah, and training with light dumbbells and bands for high reps is not strength training, its rehab.
- Long Toss/Structured Throwing Programs – I won’t get in to the particulars of exactly what type of long-toss and throwing you should be doing, both because it often depends on the individual and quite honestly, I’m not a pitching coach and don’t deal with throwing programs regularly enough to make specific recommendations. However, I think the best place to look for a good year-round throwing model is by doing something along the lines of what the pros do. Curt Schilling (pretty good guy to emulate I think) used to have 5 phases of throwing before he got on the mound on Opening Day. I know a lot of young players who basically subsist on short distance (less than 120 feet) throwing, bullpens, and competitive outings more or less year-round. That’s an extremely unbalanced approach that will yield minimal velocity gains and increase the likelihood of an injury.
- Nutrition – Ever wonder why some days guys just don’t have “it?” Or some young players struggle with early games but throw harder in the evening? Inconsistent and poor nutritional habits will often breed inconsistent performances and velocity. If you had a Porsche that you sometimes put high-test racing fuel in and then other times filled with cheap low octane gas, you’d expect some variation in performance, wouldn’t you? I watched several of our players crush Gatorade, Twizzlers, and Mountain Dew between games of a doubleheader earlier this year. My math may be off but I think that’s like 5000 grams of pure crap, give or take. The worst part is, they are so accustomed to this that they likely don’t even realize that during each game following this insulin-gushing sugar-fest their energy levels drop straight to the basement around inning five. It is likely chalked up to “fatigue” or a “lack of focus.” In reality, it’s just bad eating. (A final note, despite what the advertising may convince you of, Gatorade’s new “before”, “during”, and “after” drinks are not good nutrition choices. Gatorade alone has way, way, way too much sugar for most athletes. Stick with good whole foods and low-sugar protein shakes).
- Recovery – This is an all-encompassing term for many different areas including soft tissue, sleep, stretching and mobility, planned rest days, and a lot of other stuff relating to what you do when you aren’t playing baseball. The old training adage is true, “You are only as good as what you can recover from.” Poor recovery will catch up with everyone eventually. To make velocity improvements you must focus on quality, not quantity. If you spend most of your time at about 75% of what you are capable of, you won’t make the gains that would be possible if you were 100%, and you greatly increase the risk of injury. Don’t be afraid to “shut it down.” Games, showcases, and practices at the middle school and high school level aren’t life or death. It is the responsibility of coaches and parents to step back and gain some perspective on what will be better for the athlete long-term.