Baseball Pitching Velocity Training

The major challenge of becoming a high-velocity pitcher is once the elite explosive power has been developed, if there isn't fluid timing of the kinetic chain then this elite athleticism isn't being converted into ball speed. Fixing this breakage or inefficient timing of the kinetic chain becomes the last step in developing the high-velocity pitcher.
The Kinetic Chain is the link of joints starting with the ankle connecting to the knee, to the hips, to the shoulders, to the elbow and finally to the wrist. The healthy high-velocity pitcher more efficiently transfers forces from the ground up this kinetic chain. Studies have shown that the hand and ball velocity are due primarily to leg, hip, and trunk movement (1).
The process of becoming a high-velocity pitcher must first come with the development of a base foundation of total body strength and then power. 99% of pitchers coming into the 3X Pitching Velocity Programs are at this base level but are trying to train above it. The kinetic chain will never be efficiently used if there is a lack of power in the system to drive the eccentric movements of the kinetic chain of the high-velocity pitcher.
In this article, I will define how force is moved up the kinetic chain of the high-velocity pitcher. I will then define what "breakage" in the kinetic chain means and what it does to the pitcher. I will also give you some tips to help fix this major issue, so you can become a high-velocity pitcher.

The Kinetic Chain of the High-Velocity Pitcher

The term ‘‘kinetic chain’’ refers to the conceptual framework for understanding the mechanisms by which athletes accomplish the complex tasks required for function in sport . It is important to realize that the overhand throw is a sequential motion of a kinetic chain. Each body segment accelerates in order from lower to higher. Each lags behind the adjacent lower segment, then accelerates past it at even higher velocity. (1).

That is a more detailed definition of the kinetic chain and its importance to the athlete. Now let's look at how the kinetic chain must function for the high-velocity pitcher. Here is the sequence, forces, and speeds of movement up the kinetic chain that drive the high-velocity fastball.

  1. First, the drive leg starts the process with its ground reaction forces. Studies show push-off vertical forces are fairly constant, with peak magnitudes of slightly more than 1.0 body weight (BW) occurring early in the pitch cycle. Linear wrist velocities at ball release correlate highly with maximal posterior push-off shear force, a representation of “leg drive,” indicating that forces generated early in the pitching cycle with the lower extremities contribute to the throwing velocity (2).
  2. Next the landing leg contributes its ground reaction forces. Studies show the maximum vertical ground reaction forces averaged 202 +- 43% BW approximately 45 milliseconds after stride foot contact. A correlation between braking force and ball velocity was evident (3).
  3. After the legs have generated the linear forces the hips to begin its contribution. Studies show the pelvis rotates at 600 degrees/second, starting before trunk rotation. The pelvis essentially pulls the trunk toward the target by leading the way (1). In my experience, this is the most common segment for kinetic chain breakage.
  4. Once the hips have fully opened the trunk then multiplies these forces. Studies show the trunk rotates at 1000 degrees/second, pulling the shoulder toward the target (1). 
  5. Second to last starts the shoulder rotation which significantly multiplies the forces of the kinetic chain. Studies show the shoulder at its peak rotates at approximately 7000 degrees/second, pulling the elbow toward the target. This is also the fastest human movement ever recorded in a laboratory (1).
  6. Finally, the elbow plays its role even though it is not built to rotate in this direction. This is why it actually losses speed from the shoulder rotation speeds. Studies show the elbow hinges toward the target at a velocity of approximately 4000 degrees/second.

Breakage in the Kinetic Chain of the Pitcher

Now that we know the process of generating and transferring forces up the kinetic chain of the high-velocity pitcher lets look more into what breaking this chain does to the results and how to overcome and fix these issues. Here is a perfect definition of this breakage:

This kinetic chain ‘‘breakage’’ has been demonstrated in both young and older athletes in many anatomic areas and as a result of repetitive, vigorous activities. It is usually acquired and can be created from many factors - remote injury, incompletely healed or rehabilitated injury, muscle weakness or imbalance, muscle inflexibility or joint stiffness, or improper mechanics. Kinetic chain breakage creates increased distal physiologic or biomechanical requirements (increased muscle activation or increased distal segment velocity, acceleration, or mass to ‘‘catch up’’ and develop the same kinetic energy or force at the distal segment); changes the interactive moment at the distal joint (increasing the forces that must be absorbed at the joint); or decreases the ultimate velocity or force at the distal segment. Alteration in the sequential activation, mobilization, and stabilization of the body segments occurs commonly in association with sport dysfunction, either decreased performance or injury (1).

The reason I made the point in the beginning of this article about how important it is to develop the base strength of the high-velocity pitcher because the pitcher will always have a break in the kinetic chain until there are no issues of muscle weakness or imbalances, muscle inflexibility or joint stiffness, as stated in the excerpt above. This should also mean all injuries have been healed and repaired. It is impossible to fix the kinetic chain if this base level of strength and even power have not been developed.
Kinetic chain breakage can occur in the elite explosive athlete. In these cases, it has a lot to do with the challenges of working with limited ranges of motion with the body segments. It is a lot harder to time all of these complex movements of the high-velocity pitching delivery, which takes less than 1 second to perform when you have even less time due to the short ranges of motion. This restriction in ranges of motion can come from over activating muscles during movements or from poor mobility. This is why taller pitchers have the advantage in this skill.

Connecting the Kinetic Chain of the High-Velocity Pitcher

Now that we know what causes the breaks in the chain for all levels of pitchers here are some tips to help overcome these critical issues which are retarding the development of the high-velocity pitcher. I will break these tips into two sections. Those for the average athlete and those for the elite athlete.
Average Athlete Tips for Connecting the Kinetic Chain

  • Develop elite total body strength - Here is a list of lifts and exercises that have shown to help develop the elite total body strength for throwing athletes (squats, cleans, all types of jumps). The 3X Pitching Velocity Program has a full years worth of training programs to develop this elite total body strength.
  • Develop elite joint mobility - Here is a list of lifts and exercises that have been shown to help improve mobility in the elite athlete (Low squats, full lunges, Good mornings, Flossing, Voodoo bands). The 3X Pitching Velocity Program and the Supple Leopard by Dr. Kelly Starrett has many more of these lifts and exercises.
  • Learn the 3X Pitching Mechanics - Learning what movements must occur at what times through the entire pitching delivery is critical to know how to completely use the kinetic chain. The 3X Pitching Velocity Program comes with all the literature on the 3X Mechanics which is the most comprehensive mechanical breakdown of the high-velocity pitcher.

Elite Athlete Tips for Connecting the Kinetic Chain

  • Rhythm pitching - This is using beats, music or inner dialogue to pitch within a rhythm of movement to help better use the kinetic chain.
  • Delayed Acceleration of Linear Forces - This is the more scientific approach to rhythm pitching. Build your momentum through your delivery like stages of a rocket. Starting at a base speed and peaking speeds closer to the end of each movement. This is also called proximal to distal timing.
  • Relaxed Strength/Power - Another way to use the kinetic chain more efficiently is learning how to only activate the muscles that are needed to accelerate the body and relax the other muscles that are waiting their turn.

This elite level of training movement over pure force production in the base level is critical to developing the elite athlete into the high-velocity pitcher. Those who are at either the base or elite level and looking to more quickly master the kinetic chain I would highly recommend attending a 3X Velocity Camp.

High-Velocity Pitching Reference:

  1. Lintner D1, Noonan TJ, Kibler WB. - Injury patterns and biomechanics of the athlete's shoulder. - Clin Sports Med. 2008 Oct;27(4):527-51.
  2. MacWilliams BA, Choi T, Perezous MK, Chao EY, McFarland EG. - Characteristic ground-reaction forces in baseball pitching - Department of Orthopaedic Biomechanics, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, USA. - Am J Sports Med. 1998 Jan-Feb;26(1):66-71.
  3. Campbell BM, Stodden DF, Nixon MK. - Lower extremity muscle activation during baseball pitching - J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Apr;24(4):964-71.
  4. JOHN A. GUIDO, JR1 AND SHERRY L. WERNER2 - LOWER-EXTREMITY GROUND REACTION FORCES IN COLLEGIATE BASEBALL PITCHERS - Out-Patient Rehabilitation, Sports Medicine Division, Ochsner Health System, New Orleans, Louisiana; and 2Sport Science Unlimited, Arlington, Texas