In the world of pitching, velocity has become how most pitchers are initially judged. Unfortunately, there is no single thing I could tell you to do to increase velocity, as every pitcher is structurally different. What may work for one athlete may not work for another. There's no one true starting point every pitcher should utilize, which leaves us with no single way to map out a game plan for increasing velocity. However, these 10 topics are touchstones for improving velocity, and therefore are relevant to any player looking to throw harder.
1. Don't Throw off a Mound for at Least 8 Weeks Every Offseason
As if throwing a baseball from March through June isn't enough, add summer leagues, tournaments, showcases and fall ball to make baseball an eight-month sport. Most arms and hips aren't designed to tolerate those explosive forces for that long, which is why many guys start complaining about anterior (front) shoulder pain, medial elbow pain and low back pain around August or September. By sometime late in the season, the body is broken down. Taking time off from throwing off a mound in November and December is crucial to help with losses of IR in the throwing shoulder and lead leg as well as cranky lats and lower backs.
Throwing also requires endurance, and you can't have muscular endurance without muscular strength. If that were the case, young athletes would be throwing year-round and getting stronger, not getting weaker and injured. These issues need to be addressed to guarantee an athlete will be "tuned-up and ready" for the spring.
2. Increase Lower-Body Strength
After a long throwing season, more throwing in the fall may or may not be in a player's best interest. This is the time of year when they may want to steer their focus toward adding more lean muscle mass (hypertrophy) and getting more "athletic." A pitcher will be much more aware of using his lower body if he becomes more aware that he actually has one! In addition, the posterior chain (hamstrings and glutes) are among the biggest and most powerful muscles in the body, and their strength and stability plays an important role in throwing velocity.
3. Increase Power Output
The equation for power is Force x Velocity. Once we increase force production with strength training, we then have to learn to apply our new-found strength quickly. We love utilizing weighted jumps in the late offseason to help get our athletes to produce force more rapidly thus increasing their power on the mound and at the plate.
Strengthening lower half strength/power in the weight room will also help to release testosterone, a major player in the next topic—gaining "lean muscle mass".
4. Gain Lean Muscle Mass
Statistics have shown that there is a clear relationship between body mass and velocity. More body weight gives an athlete more force when moving down the mound, thus having a positive impact on their velocity. The downside to this, however, is that the lead leg has to absorb that extra force upon landing (at foot strike). If the body weight gained is lean muscle, the leg will be stronger and better able to stabilize with no problem. However, a body that gained "body fat" with little lean muscle mass and is still trying to support the extra force at landing will be much more likely to get injured.
Gaining lean muscle mass will give you the strength to help dissipate all the new force your body is creating coming down the mound. Regarding control issues, if the weight gain is done naturally, it will be gradual. Most control issues happen when a pitcher gets "too big too fast". Once his pitching coach teaches him to settle in to his new machine, he can begin to use the extra velocity to his advantage.
5. Increase Lead Leg Internal Rotation
Along with the dominant arm, the lead (or plant leg) is another area where internal rotation is gradually lost by pitchers partially due to the forces applied to it during foot strike and follow through.
After a long season, the hip can get rather "gritty" down there. This can also drastically effect added stress to the throwing arm due to the fact that the front hip "runs out of room" during deceleration, causing the upper body to overcompensate by creating a "bang" on the anterior shoulder. The Single-Leg Deadlift (SLDL) is a great one, to both get more IR in the lead hip as well as strengthen it at the same time.
6. Improve Anterior/Rotary Core Control
The ability to create great core stiffness during both layback and follow-through is essential to creating adequate torque/separation between the upper and lower quarters. This torque creates the "whipping" action that helps pitchers throw smoke. Increasing anti-rotational core strength will ensure that you're not only getting that separation, but you're also able to hold it late into the delivery. Anything less can contribute to opening up the upper half too early, robbing the pitcher of much-needed torque. Here's an exercise that not only helps strengthen the core during separation, but also works on t-spine mobility all at the same time.
7. Improve Posterior Cuff Strength
Velocity requires both arm strength and arm speed. And there is a difference between the two. Cuff strength and scap stability helps build arm strength. Throwing builds arm speed. Strengthening the posterior cuff will also help with decelerating the arm during throwing. Results? Less bang on the anterior (front) of the shoulder during follow through and less anterior glide (this is when the arm migrates forward, popping out in the front of the shoulder) during the lay-back position.
8. Improve Soft Tissue Quality
A long season combined with a short offseason leads to compromised soft tissue quality (scar tissue or knots that form on the fascia of the muscle, causing faulty movement patterns and sometimes pain). If you can't move correctly, you can't optimize the necessary mechanics to throw smoke.
Another benefit to doing soft tissue work is that it delivers the benefits of stretching to pitchers with "laxity" (loose joints). Laxity is prevalent in many pitchers, whether it be from genetics or throwing, so they generally shouldn't be stretching through their passive restraints to begin with. Implementing foam rollers, lacrosse balls and tiger tails before workouts and games is a great and inexpensive way to warm up and maximize performance. Be sure to focus on the pec minor, lats, t-spine and triceps to name a few. Above are two great examples of moves that can help pitchers improve soft tissue quality.
9. Create Dynamic Stability
We need to create strength, timing and stability in the shoulder, but we have to make sure we can do it while the arm is in motion! The shoulder moves in three planes of motion—sagittal (front to back), frontal (side to side) and transverse (rotational). So while it's moving in one direction, the cuff musculature is firing to help stabilize in the other two directions. More injuries are caused from poor firing of the cuff than actual weakness of the cuff. This requires strength, timing of the scapula on the ribcage and timing of the humerus (arm) on the scapula. The Band Retraction to Low Row (shown above) is one exercise that puts it all together:
10. Improve Core Stability and Transfer of Power from Lower Body to Upper Body
A significant portion of a pitcher's power comes from the lower body. If the core is not strong enough to help transfer this power into the upper body and out to the extremities (arm), it will cause what we call an "energy leak" (power lost through insufficient movement) and have a negative effect on the pitcher's ability to throw gas. Dynamic Cable Lifts are a great way to train this important type of core stability.
The quest for velocity can come at a price if you rush into things too quickly. Some velocity programs claim they can get a pitcher an "extra 3-5 mph" without even knowing if that pitcher has built up a sufficient-enough base of support through strength training to handle it. He may get that 3-5 mph, but he likely increased his risk of getting injured and won't be able to maintain that added velocity over the long haul. My advice is to "get strong and mobile" first; and then the rest will fall into place.
- Tom Koehler's Off-Season Leg Workout for Pitching Power
- 9 Components of a Fantastic Arm Care Program for Pitchers
- How to Throw Harder: 4 Exercises to Gas Up Your Fastball
- 3 Keys to Increase Your Pitching Velocity