We all want to learn how to increase ball speed when pitching while reducing the chance of injury. Longevity in this game is as important as having one good year. The goal of any pitching velocity program should be to increase ball speed while reducing the chance of injury. The problem is the majority of pitching velocity approaches out there are increasing ball speed while increasing the forces to the arm at levels that are proven extremely dangerous. Weighted balls and extreme long toss tends to fall into this practice.
So how does the pitcher increase ball speed without destroying the arm? This is the simple question all pitchers want to know but it doesn't come with a simple answer. The answer does prove the necessity for the heavily researched and proven pitching velocity program.
Coach Brent's Pitching Injury
I remember before I tore my rotator cuff at 18 in my first college appearance that I was first having serious elbow problems. The doctors had pumped 8 shots of cortisone in my elbow over a 1 year period to help me deal with the inflammation and pain. I eventually learned that this was a very bad idea. Not soon after this did my shoulder start to have problems. The pain even went into my neck and upper back. I continued to use massive amounts of anti-inflammatories to fight the pain which eventually lead to my rotator cuff tear during my freshman year in college.
Your body is extremely talented when it comes to survival. Its number one priority is to protect itself to the point that its own security system can eventally turn on its own self. When it comes to forces on the body, the body is constantly shifting the workload from one joint to the other to protect itself. Your body does this to prevent pattern overload. We have all experienced this survival mechanism and have had a similar experience to mine. What I learned from my experience and the science below is that the better approach is not only learning how to deal with the body but how to reduce the excessive amounts of forces you are putting on it in your performance.
Pitching Timing to Increase Ball Speed While Reducing Injury
In the recent case study performed by ASMI called, Associations Between Timing in the Baseball Pitch and Shoulder Kinetics, Elbow Kinetics, and Ball Speed, found that pitchers with good mechanics and high ball speeds have a very good chance of causing injury (1). Another study showed that the ulnar collateral ligament fails under varus torques lesser in magnitude (32.1 Nm) than those reported during pitching performance (34.6 Nm) (2). This means the majority of college and professional pitchers are close to injury every single appearance.
This case study by ASMI tested 16 college and professional pitchers to discover the link between ball speed, joint kinetics or the forces acting on the joints and the timing of specific pitching mechanics. It more specifically worked to discover the correlation between reduced joint kinetics and increased ball speed.
Here are a list of the timing mechanisms of the pitching delivery and their links to ball speed and joint kinetics:
- Decreased ball speed correlated with increased time from stride-foot contact to peak pelvis angular velocity and increased time from peak upper torso angular velocity to peak elbow extension angular velocity.
- Decreased shoulder proximal force correlated with increased time from stride-foot contact to peak pelvis angular velocity and increased time between peak pelvis and upper torso angular velocities.
- Decreased shoulder internal rotation torque correlated with increased time from stride-foot contact to peak pelvis angular velocity.
- Decreased elbow varus torque correlated with increased time from stride-foot contact to peak pelvis angular velocity.
To put the findings of this case study into laymen's terms I have translated this data into a more simpler explanation. This study proved that ball speed is increased when the hips, trunk and arm open towards the target at a faster rate. The study also proved that this opening of the hips, trunk and arm at a faster rate put more forces on the arm. I do not consider these findings to be that revolutionary today but what this study did prove that is revolutionary is how the timing of these movements reduced the forces to the arm without decreasing pitching velocity. This information in itself is priceless and should be the focus of every pitching velocity program that exists today!
What this proper timing of these high velocity pitching mechanics does is it creates a more efficient use of force which increases the output while decreasing the forces applied. The perfect timing of these movements as discovered in the ASMI study have to do with the proximal to distal sequencing as defined in the speed principle. Before we can truly understand these efficient movement patterns and can implement them into your pitching delivery, we must first define these terms:
Proximal - Situated nearer to the center of the body or the point of attachment.
Distal - Situated away from the center of the body or from the point of attachment.
Speed Principle - The basic premise of this principle is that kinetic energy derived from the rotation of each body segment can be conserved and transferred to the most distal segment. This is accomplished when the rotation of each segment is initiated upon the peak angular velocity of the proximately adjacent segment (ie, proximal-to-distal sequencing).
In the high velocity pitching delivery, the speed principle states that as the ground reaction forces move up the kinetic chain from the toes to finger tips, the stride to the throwing arm, the segment that is next inline can not begin until the previous segment has just reached its top velocity. If the next segment inline initiates before the previous segments velocity peak then the forces to those joints will increase. This may be proof that extreme long toss is training poor timing of these pitching mechanics because as listed in the article called, Study Proves Max Distance Long Toss Decreases Pitching Velocity, the ASMI study showed that as the distances exceeded 180 feet the forces to the arm increased but the ball speed did not.
Training Timing in the Pitcher
The ASMI discoveries above prove that it takes a lot more than just good pitching mechanics to become a high velocity pitcher, it takes impeccable timing of these components. So how do you train the pitcher to have better control over this timing mechanism? The ASMI case study gives us that answer here:
The findings of the current study highlight the importance of gluteal and core development in pitchers. Strength training protocols that are effective in developing this musculature may enhance the ability to effectively time trunk segment rotations and attenuate the magnitude of upper extremity kinetics.
This means it is critical for a pitching velocity program to have a strength and conditioning program that focuses on the core and glute when it comes to supporting rotation and more specifically the transfer of forces from the lower to upper kinetic chain. This is why the 3X Pitching Velocity Program uses the Olympic Lifts. They are core, and glute dominate and mainly focus on force production and the timing of the forces to move weight from the lower to upper kinetic chain.
The 3X Pitching Velocity Program also uses proprietary throwing drills that allow the pitcher to use tons of reps working through these high velocity movements without putting massive amounts of repetitive forces on the throwing arm.
1. M.A. Urbin, PhD, Glenn S. Fleisig, PhD, Asheber Abebe, PhD, and James R. Andrews, MD. - Associations Between Timing in the Baseball Pitch and Shoulder Kinetics, Elbow Kinetics, and Ball Speed. - Investigation performed at the American Sports Medicine Institute, Birmingham, Alabama. - Am J Sports Med 2013 41: 336
2. Fleisig GS, Andrews JR, Dillman CJ, Escamilla RF. Kinetics of baseball pitching with implications about injury mechanisms. Am J Sports Med. 1995;23(2):233-239.