Improving throwing velocity is the Holy Grail that all baseball pitchers seek, probably with more resolve than Indiana Jones. Be honest, how many of you pitchers have Googled “how to improve pitching speed/velocity”? Maybe that is how you found this article. Chances are you have come across a plethora of information on the web, all with different or conflicting suggestions, or you have been told many different ways to train by various pitching coaches. There is not a lack of information on the subject.
So what is the key to being able to throw that overpowering fastball? You look at some of the game’s most dominant pitchers: Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Rodger Clemens, Nolan Ryan, and Clayton Kershaw, and you find a common theme: a strikeout fastball in the high 90’s. So is there a secret that major league pitchers keep under wraps to achieving that glorious fastball (other than being six foot ten)?
As you guessed from the title of this post, the answer is that throwing a stellar fastball comes from generating power with the legs. However, a powerful stride is not the end-all-be-all for throwing harder. You must also have good core strength, a stable shoulder blade, and quick shoulder muscles. Generating this power from the legs is useless if the trunk and the shoulder are not adequately trained to transfer this energy to the ball. We will talk about the important role of the trunk and shoulder muscles in the next two posts, but for now let us focus on how to train for a powerful stride, which is how good ball velocity is generated.
So what does a powerful stride during pitching look like? Power is energy per unit of time. Watch Aroldis Chapman pitch and it is all about how quickly he moves towards home plate! The stride phase usually takes between .5-.75 seconds to complete1. Pitching coaches will often cue pitchers to “throw downhill” or “drive your back leg into the rubber” in order to get them to generate more power with their legs, but these directions are often ambiguous and interpreted by pitchers in different ways. A better way to train pitchers is to use external cues. Using a line on the ground just past a pitcher’s normal stride length or having a target just out of normal range while doing towel drills gives the pitcher a task to accomplish and allows them to figure out how to generate that extra drive.
Pitching experts will often try to improve stride length of a pitcher because stride length has been shown to be correlated with throwing velocity2. Trying to stride farther is an external cue that gets pitchers to generate more power with the driving leg; however, let us be clear that it is the power of the driving leg and not the length of the stride itself that provides increased throwing velocity. You can still generate good ball velocity with a shorter stride (provided it’s powerful) and you can have a long stride with reduced ball velocity.
An appropriate stride length of a pitcher should be approximately 80-90% of their height3. The key muscles that allow a good stride in pitching are the extensors on the driving leg: gluteals, quadriceps, and calf musculature. This is commonly referred to as the triple extension. At the start of a pitch, a pitcher will often allow the back knee to bend and drop in order to utilize the quadriceps to extend the leg as the pitcher moves toward home plate.
Knowing the muscles used for a powerful stride, we can specifically train them to improve performance. It is important to note that there is a difference between training strength and training power, as power has a speed component to it. Power is the purpose for plyometric training. Exercises that should be performed to help improve strength include: medium reps, high resistance of back squats, front squats, deadlifts, lunges, leg press, and calf raises. Exercises that should be performed to help improve power include: low reps, low resistance performed with high speed of cleans, depth jumps, box jumps, and speed skaters.
After training these muscles over a few months to create the desired physiological changes, we need to make sure that pitchers transfer their new strength and power into their pitching mechanics. This is when adding towel drills and coaching mechanics during the week’s bullpen workouts become important.
Just like all good things in life, putting in the time and hard work can help you achieve the results you want and improve pitching velocity! We firmly believe this at Competitive EDGE PT. We are thrilled to use our state-of-the-art biofeedback equipment, latest research in sport performance, and professional knowledge of biomechanics to help athletes reach their goals! Take the next step in reaching your goals by emailing, calling, or visiting our clinic in San Jose, CA.
- Campbell BM, Stodden DF, Nixon MK. Lower Extremity Muscle Activation During Baseball. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. April 2010, 24(4): 965-971.
- Montgomery J, Knudson D. A Method to Determine Stride Length for Baseball Pitching. Applied Research in Coaching and Athletics Annual. 2002, 17: 75-84.
- Fleisig G. Biomechanics of Baseball Pitching: Implications for Injury and Performance. American Sports Medicine Institute, Birmingham, AL. XXVIII International Symposium of Biomechanics in Sports, July 2010.