9 Best Exercises to Improve a Pitcher’s Speed, Agility & Quickness

Pitcher's Speed

In this project, I will be working with a male baseball pitcher to improve his speed, agility, and quickness for throwing a baseball. The baseball pitcher is nineteen years of age and currently plays college baseball. He has some good understanding of general strength and conditioning along with the biomechanics of pitching. His current body size is six feet two inches and he weighs two hundred and thirty-five pounds. He has a good amount of strength and mass but lacks in the area of speed and power. The focus of developing a training program for speed, agility, and quickness for him is to not only enhance these components but to help them transfer into the pitching skill.

Sprints for Speed Training the Baseball Pitcher

The first step in training speed for the baseball pitcher will be to use Sprints. This is due to the evidence that long periods of sprint training will induce a biochemical muscle adaption to anaerobic exercises. Evidence suggests sprints will cause a significant increase in glycogen content in the muscles and increase the activities of glycogen synthase, glycogen phosphorylase, phosphofructokinase, pyruvate kinase, succinate dehydrogenase, aspartate aminotransferase, and alanine aminotransferase (Cadefau et al., 1990). It is important to note that the metabolic adaption will stimulate a morphological adaption in the athlete but not as specific as the biochemical adaption defined above. This is important for baseball pitchers because each pitch lasts about one second using a close to the maximum intensity of movement over many pitches per inning therefore demanding a high amount of anaerobic energy. Not only is it important for the baseball pitcher to buffer more anaerobic fuel but sprinting will also develop more leg and hip strength which is critical for improving the biomechanics of pitching. Pitching puts a high demand on hip mobility and strength. Evidence suggests pitchers who have weak and inflexible hips have an area for a potential break in the kinetic chain (Burkhart, Morgan, & Kibler, 2003). Evidence also suggests that sprinting significantly improves isokinetic hip flexor torque at four hundred and eighty degrees per second (Blazevich, & Jenkins, 1998).

Programming sprinting for the baseball pitcher will be three times per week starting at three sprints at each distance of ten yards, twenty yards, and thirty yards. Each set of three the baseball pitcher will start at sixty percent intensity and increase to a hundred percent on the last rep. The baseball pitcher will only need cones to mark the distances.

To perform the sprints, he must start in a lateral position similar to pitching on the mound or taking a lead as a runner on the base path in the game. He must lower his center of mass by bending his knees and placing his arm closes to the finish line across his body with his other arm at ninety degrees of flexion loaded behind his back. His first step is with his front leg opening towards the linear direction he is sprinting and once that leg makes contact with the ground then he will extend and drive his back leg in the same direction. He will use small steps with a good forward lean in his trunk to start the sprint and as he gains ground, he will increase stride length and stride frequency lifting his trunk upright as he continues to pump his arms back and forth. You can watch a video I put together to explain this technique here https://youtu.be/-KHOcZEuig4

Speed Improvement Drills for Speed Training the Baseball Pitcher

The next exercise to help enhance the baseball pitchers’ speed is Speed Improvement Drills. This is different than just sprinting because these are drills that train the lower limb propulsion of each step. The reason this is important is that evidence suggests the ability to generate horizontal propulsive force while improving the stretch-shortening capacity of the lower-limb muscles when rebounding from each ground contact helped significantly to improve the acceleration of the sprint (Lockie, Murphy, Schultz, Knight, & de Jonge, 2012).

Speed Improvement Drills include A-March, A-Skip, A-Run, A-Sprint and I like to add in explosion walks. I also recommend doing these drills with baseball pitchers both in linear and lateral positions. These drills will be programmed one time per week at the beginning of the week. It will include one to two sets with a rest ratio of 1:10. This means the baseball pitcher will rest ten times the time he took to complete the first rep of the exercise. The distance used for all of the drills is twenty yards. No equipment is required except for a cone marker if needed.

To perform the Speed Improvement Drills effectively the baseball pitcher must start either facing the finish line or sideways to the finish line with his arms flexed at ninety degrees. Starting with A-March the subject must drive the knee as high as possible along with the opposite arm. Once the leg and arm have reached its peak then the subject must switch this orientation with the other arm and leg while driving the leg that was up down into the ground as hard as possible. This should increase the lower limb force production pushing more energy through the kinetic chain and accelerating the movement. This is the same technique for all drills. A-Skip is the only drill that after the leg drive the foot stays on the ground for a split second to create the skipping movement. A-Run and A-Sprint use the same technique with the high knee drives just at a faster pace. You can watch a video here of me instructing the Speed Improvement Drills https://youtu.be/DzwwSyurLrc

Stride Progression for Speed Training the Baseball Pitcher

The last exercise I will use with the baseball pitcher to improve speed is Stride Progression. Evidence suggests when an athlete reaches the stage of the maximum constant speed, running speed increased through increased stride length and more importantly through the stride frequency (Azmi, & Kusnanik 2018). Majumdar and Robertsberges, 2011 also discovered stride frequency and stride length to be determinants of speed. The Stride Progression Drill’s main focus is to improve stride length and frequency. These are great drills to follow the Speed Improvement Drills because it can help transfer the increased lower limb power into building a longer and faster stride.

When programming the Stride Progression Drills they will follow Speed Improvement Drills once per week. The baseball pitcher will perform these drills through linear and lateral strides with three reps each leg per distance. The drills will require five twelve-inch hurdles with the first three hurdles spaced evenly and the fourth and fifth hurdle about twice the distance apart. After the first three reps with each leg increase the space between the hurdles and perform three more reps. Once these reps are completed increase the hurdle distance again. The final increase should be close to the maximum stride length that the subject can achieve.

When performing Stride Progression Drills, the goal is to start with an average size stride and progress to a much longer stride with the use of six-inch hurdles. You can watch a video here of me instructing the Stride Progression Drill https://youtu.be/fq115NCzuiM

Lateral Box Drop Jump for Agility Training the Baseball Pitcher

The first exercise I will use for agility is the Lateral Box Drop Jump. This exercise will help to train an explosive change of direction specifically in a lateral direction. Evidence does suggest that depth jumps are effective but not more effective than a regular jumping routine when it comes to enhancing leg strength and vertical jump (Clutch, Wilton, McGown, & Bryce, 1983). I am more inclined to use this exercise due to the specificity of training a similar movement in the pitching delivery. Evidence suggests male pitchers rely on the combination of horizontal to vertical power in their strides (Blankenship, Frisk, Martin, & Ebben, 2020). I believe this is a movement that will support this development of power.

To perform the Lateral Box Drop Jump the subject will need a plyo box around eighteen to twenty-four inches high. The subject will want to start by standing on top of the plyo box. The subject should drop laterally off the box to the ground landing on the leg closest to the box. Once the landing leg has implemented the stretch-shortening cycle the leg must extend as explosively as possible to jump as far as possible in the lateral direction started when dropping off the box. The more horizontal the jump the better.

The Lateral Box Drop Jump should be performed one time per week for ten reps of three sets at an intensity from sixty to one hundred percent on the last set. The rest ratio should be a 1:10. You can watch a video here of me instructing the Lateral Box Drop Jump https://youtu.be/45KoNKPlcjE

Ice Skaters for Agility Training the Baseball Pitcher

Ice Skaters are another similar exercise to the Lateral Box Drop Jump. It focuses on improving the ratio of horizontal to vertical ground force production which the evidence above suggested was critical for male baseball pitchers. There is also evidence suggesting that there is a significant correlation between standing long jump and countermovement jumps which suggests that there is a cross-component effect between horizontal and vertical power (Polman, Walsh, Bloomfield, & Nesti, 2004).

To perform the Ice Skater you will need two six-inch hurdles about sixty percent the body height of the person performing the drill. The subject must start this drill on the right or left side of the hurdles with the outer leg shin very close to the hurdle. When the subject is ready to start he must implement the stretch-shortening cycle by squatting down in a direction towards the one leg then he will extend the leg to jump over the hurdles and land on the other leg without knocking over the hurdles. The subject will then repeat the movement to jump back towards the original leg similar to an ice skater racing. There and back would count for one rep. I will program this drill for the baseball pitcher once per week starting with ten reps for three sets. The rest ratio for this drill will also be 1:10.

The main focus of the drill should be to align the force vectors or shins as linearly as possible to increase the lateral stride length. This will speed up the movement and increase the impact of forces at landing but will force the athlete to increase intensity and explosiveness. The subject must start the first set at a low intensity like sixty percent and then increase to one hundred percent on the final set. You can watch a video here of me instructing the Ice Skaters https://youtu.be/7kRMbYmlHNA

Lateral Suicides for Agility Training the Baseball Pitcher

The final exercise I will use for improving strictly agility or change of direction for the baseball pitcher is Lateral Suicides. This uses six cones spread out evenly over twenty yards. Most cone drills used for change of direction will have a similar effect along with Ladder Drills. Evidence suggests that there is no significant difference between the Ladder Drill and cone drill exercises, but it has an effect on increasing agility (NUR RAHMAWATI, & JANUARUMI MARHAENDRA, 2019). The reason I chose this agility exercise for the baseball pitcher is that it is specific to the biomechanics used in the initial phase of the pitching delivery. There is also evidence that suggests pitchers who perform better in cone drills like the JJ Shuttle have a high correlation to strikeouts at the NCAA level (Wolfe, Jones, Priest, Martin, & Peak, 2016).

I will program the Lateral Suicides one time per week at maximum intensity for one to two reps. If performed more than once the rest ratio is 1:10. These drills can also perform linear. I would prefer lateral and linear for two total reps.

To start the exercise in the lateral position for the baseball pitcher he must position himself the same as in the sprinting exercise. I would suggest a lower center of gravity to increase the challenge of the exercises. For the first step, the subject must stay lateral and shuffle step between the cones while touching the cone before changing direction and heading back to the previous cone. He should continue this pattern until he reaches the sixth and final cone when he will turn towards the first cone and sprint back. Here is a video of me instructing the Lateral and Linear Suicides https://youtu.be/akELtwdsO9c  

Rapid Response for Quickness Training the Baseball Pitcher

One of my favorite exercises for training quickness is Rapid Response. This exercise doesn’t require any equipment. The distance required is at least ten yards of space. This exercise involves the rapid firing of the feet into the ground. This like the Speed Improvement Drills puts a lot of plyometric work on the lower limbs. Evidence suggests there was a significant decrease in foot contact time when using dynamic stretch-shortening cycle activities (Rimmer, & Sleivert, 2000). The less time the foot remains on the ground sprinting usually means the quicker the sprinter is moving. This is an excellent exercise for enhancing quickness in all athletes.

The frequency of programming these exercises into the baseball pitchers schedule is one day per week at one rep per exercise with a rest ratio of 1:10 per exercise. Each exercise should be performed at maximum intensity for the ten-yard distance. The first exercise starts with the subject facing the finish line with the feet hip-width apart. In this position, both arms are in a sprinter’s orientation at ninety degrees of flexion ready to pump up and down. Once the movement starts the subject must extend and drive force into the ground with both feet as quickly as possible as the arms pump up and down to help accelerate the movement. Once the subject covers the 10 yards he must rest before moving on to the next exercise. The next exercise is the same technique but facing in a lateral direction. When the subject is ready he can pump the legs and arms as quickly as possible as the subject covers the ten yards. It is important to move limbs up and down as fast as possible but cover the ground in a linear direction as slow as possible. The next two exercises use the same technique but face backward and then the opposite lateral direction as the previous lateral exercise. Once the four directions are completed which includes one forward and backward rep and the other two reps face left and right the subject then will move on to tap, tap pop and tap, pop. The technique for tap, tap, pop, and tap, pop is the same. The subject starts in a lateral position similar to the rapid response lateral position. Instead of the movement starting with pumping the arms and legs up and down opposite of each other the feet pump up and down together to perform the tap, tap then the subject turns the feet towards the finish line and back as quickly as possible to perform the pop. This movement of the feet turning must come from the femur internally and externally rotating to turn the feet. You can watch a video of me instructing Rapid Response Drills here https://youtu.be/8eucN-4frmA

Ladder Drills for Quickness Training the Baseball Pitcher

One of the most popular agility drills is Ladder Drills. You could use this drill for change of direction training which is what makes its a quintessential agility drill but I like to use it for quickness training or footwork training. Many studies like the evidence posted here suggest it is very effective for enhancing agility in athletes over other forms of training (Hendrawan, Setijino, & Mintarto, 2017). It can also be a great drill for quickness when you put in a lot of short distance foot movements with a sprint to finish the exercise.

Programming the Ladder Drills into the baseball pitchers schedule can be done three days per week because it is a great drill to use as a warmup. The Ladder Drill will come with seven different exercises. Each exercise should be performed at maximum speed and intensity and be performed one time through. The subject should use a rest ratio of 1:10 between each exercise. At least one time per week the subject should implement two to three reps per exercise. To perform the drills, you will need an agility ladder which can also be easily made. It looks just like a ladder, but it must be flat, so it is easy to step over it. You can make one out of duct tape.

To start the first exercise of the Ladder Drill the subject must be facing the finish line in a similar position to all the drills. The first movement is hopping both feet into each opening of the ladder at a rapid pace then sprinting a good ten yards at the end of the ladder. The next exercise is the same movement but facing in a lateral position. The following exercises are the same technique facing the opposite lateral position. For the fourth exercise the subject will face forward again and this time the legs will move like the Rapid Response Drills driving one foot in front of the other into every open space before sprinting at the end the ten yards. In the next two exercises, the subject will perform the same movement in a lateral position from left to right. The final exercise is the old Icky Shuffle where the subject faces forward but off to one side of the ladder and moves lateral stepping one foot in the opening ahead of the other and then stepping out of the opening to the other side before repeating the same move heading back to the other side. You can watch me instruct the all the drills used in the Ladder Drills here https://youtu.be/eyTnVNboF2w

Side Winders for Quickness Training the Baseball Pitcher

For the final speed, agility and quickness exercise it is another one of my favorites called Side Winders. This uses a resistance band to add lateral resistance to the movements. The subject must take a resistance band and wrap it around the ankles where the feet are no wider than shoulder-width. You may have to double loop the band. Evidence suggests with athletes that rely on speed, agility, and quickness should use resistance band training especially in-season to enhance performance (Aloui et al., 2019).

The frequency of programming these drills should be once or twice per week at maximum intensity and with a rest ratio of 1:10 between exercises. The distance covered is 1then to twenty yards. This is also great exercise to help develop the muscles that stabilize the SI joint which is very vulnerable to injury with baseball pitchers due to the high amounts of torque driven through the hips.

To perform these drills the subject must put on the resistance band and first start with the side shuffles. This means the subject is in a lateral position similar to all the other drills. Each step the subject takes he should keep tension in the resistance band between each shuffling step. The second drill involves the subject facing backward and turning forty-five degrees and shuffling twice before turning ninety degrees and shuffling twice again the other way. The subject should turn ninety degrees until the end after the two shuffle steps. For the third and final exercises, the subject should face backward and hop up and down shifting the feet from past shoulder width to shoulder width as quickly as possible. This is called in and outs without losing tension in the resistance band. Watch me instruct the Side Winders in the video here https://youtu.be/9kqBgZceIMk

This should be an ideal program for an experienced baseball pitcher who is working to develop more speed, agility, and quickness. The baseball pitcher must evaluate his progress to make sure the programming is forcing a positive adaption. The best way to evaluate this training is by measuring the time it takes to complete a rep from start to finish of any drill to see if the baseball pitcher is moving faster. The baseball pitcher can also test vertical jump height and lateral to linear broad jump height to get a good understanding of enhanced power production.

SAQ Training for Baseball Pitcher Reference

Aloui, G., Hammami, M., Fathloun, M., Hermassi, S., Gaamouri, N., Shephard, R. J., & Chelly, M. S. (2019). Effects of an 8-week in-season elastic band training program on explosive muscle performance, change of direction, and repeated changes of direction in the lower limbs of junior male handball players. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 33(7), 1804-1815.

Azmi, K., & Kusnanik, N. W. (2018, January). Effect of exercise program Speed, Agility, and Quickness (SAQ) in improving speed, agility, and acceleration. In Journal of Physics: Conference Series (Vol. 947, No. 1, p. 012043). IOP Publishing.

Blankenship, M. J., Frisk, H. L., Martin, E. M., & Ebben, W. P. (2020). SEX-BASED ANALYSIS OF THE BIOMECHANICS OF PITCHING. ISBS Proceedings Archive, 38(1), 92.

Blazevich, A. J., & Jenkins, D. (1998). Physical performance differences between weight-trained sprinters and weight trainers. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 1(1), 12–21. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1440-2440(98)80004-2

Burkhart, S. S., Morgan, C. D., & Kibler, W. B. (2003). The disabled throwing shoulder: spectrum of pathology Part I: pathoanatomy and biomechanics. Arthroscopy: The Journal of Arthroscopic & Related Surgery, 19(4), 404-420.

Cadefau, J., Casademont, J., Grau, J. M., Fernandez, J., Balaguer, A., Vernet, M., … & Urbano?Marquez, A. (1990). Biochemical and histochemical adaptation to sprint training in young athletes. Acta physiologica scandinavica, 140(3), 341-351.

Clutch, D., Wilton, M., McGown, C., & Bryce, G. R. (1983). The effect of depth jumps and weight training on leg strength and vertical jump. Research quarterly for exercise and sport, 54(1), 5-10.

Hendrawan, S., Setijino, H., & Mintarto, E. (2017). Model Comparison Exercise Circuit Training Game and Circuit Ladder Drills to Improve Agility and Speed. Journal of Physical Education Health and Sport, 4(2), 78-83.

Lockie, R. G., Murphy, A. J., Schultz, A. B., Knight, T. J., & de Jonge, X. A. J. (2012). The effects of different speed training protocols on sprint acceleration kinematics and muscle strength and power in field sport athletes. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 26(6), 1539-1550.

Majumdar, A. S., & Robergs, R. A. (2011). The Science of Speed: Determinants of Performance in the 100 m Sprint. International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching, 6(3), 479–494.

NUR RAHMAWATI, A. R. I. F. A. H., & JANUARUMI MARHAENDRA, F. R. A. N. S. I. S. C. A. (2019). Perbandingan Latihan Ladder Drills dan Cone Drills Terhadap Kelincahan Pada Pemain Bolabasket Putri WEST Sidoarjo. Jurnal Prestasi Olahraga, 2(1).

Polman, R., Walsh, D., Bloomfield, J., & Nesti, M. (2004). Effective conditioning of female soccer players. Journal of Sports Sciences, 22(2), 191–203.

Rimmer, E., & Sleivert, G. (2000). Effects of a plyometrics intervention program on sprint performance. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 14(3), 295-301.

Wolfe, A., Jones, J., Priest, J., Martin, R., & Peak, K. (2016). Agility measures related to strikeouts of NCAA baseball pitchers.

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