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Maximize Performance

Proper pitching mechanics

A description of proper pitching biomechanics can be found here.

Relationship between pitch velocity, performance and injury

High velocity can attract the eyes of college and professional scouts, however the relationship between velocity and performance in Major League Baseball is relatively weak. On the other hand, the relationships between increased velocity and increased elbow stress and elbow injury are strong. Pitchers should maximize their performance and safety by optimizing their mechanics and including a variety of off-speed pitches. Having more pitches in a player’s repertoire can help them to become a well-rounded pitcher, and potentially decrease the risk of injury associated with throwing high velocity fastballs.

Weighted ball throwing programs

Weighted ball throwing affects pitching mechanics and joint stress. Weighted ball programs may lead to increased pitch velocity but throwing heavier weighted balls might also increase the risk of injury. Because of the increased risk for injury, pitchers should be cautious about weighted ball programs. The best way to use weighted balls is to implement them as part of an overall pitcher training program. An overall program combines the workload from all throwing (bullpens, pitches in game, warmup throws, weighted balls, long toss, etc.). If you view weighted ball training as a “magic shortcut," there is a high chance of injury.

Long toss and interval throwing programs

Flat-ground throwing is commonly used for training and rehabilitating baseball pitchers and position players. Flat-ground distances in throwing programs vary from pitching distance to maximum possible distance, can be “on a line” or with arc, and can be with or without crow-hop footwork. Ball velocity and elbow torque may increase as throwing distance is increased and in some situations are in excess of the magnitudes in actual pitching. However, such increases in ball velocity and elbow torque are not seen when flat ground throwing is without a run-up or is with a pitching motion. Pitching at reduced effort is also part of an “interval throwing program.” In general, pitching with 50% effort produces about 75% of maximum ball velocity and elbow torque, and 75% effort correlates to about 90% of ball velocity and elbow torque. It may be helpful to incorporate a radar gun with initial reduced effort throwing to better judge the “feel” of 50% effort.

Strength and conditioning for baseball pitchers

Total-body strength and quality movement patterns are crucial for pitching performance. Exercise prescription plays a major role in both of these. Exercising in multiple planes of movement builds the body’s resilience to fatigue and thus can help prevent injury. An effective, balanced pitching development program should be designed following a few umbrella concepts:

  • Ground-based, multi-joint movements are preferred over seated or machine-based exercises. Players should focus on body weight mastery and technique before adding external load.
  • A focus on lower-body exercises in all directions (e.g., forward, lateral and reverse lunges) and inclusion of different types of standing single- and double-leg hamstring work should be considered.
  • Unilateral exercises are encouraged over bilateral exercises (e.g., pistol squat or rear foot elevated squat are superior to a bilateral back squat).
  • Pull to press ratio (the ratio of pulling to pressing movements) is a preventative approach to maintain muscular balance and posture. The in-season recommendation is a 2:1 ratio (3:1 in the off-season) made up of 1 horizontal plane exercise (e.g., inverted row), 1 vertical plane exercise (e.g., lat pull down), and 1 pressing exercise (e.g., dumbbell bench).
  • Avoid exercises like heavy overhead press, bench press and bicep curls.
  • Shoulder stabilizer muscles like the serratus and the rotator cuff muscles should be challenged with different types of light load and movements (e.g., isotonic weights, tubing and even manual or partner exercises).
  • Challenging the core in multiple directions with planks, side planks, glute bridges and medicine ball throws will ensure that the pitcher can use the whole body in an efficient manner.
  • A comprehensive, balanced pitcher program also includes exercises that maintain joint health, function and mobility. These exercises can include some end-range joint stretching/holding, breathing techniques, running mechanics and conditioning activities.

Players should work with a Registered Strength and Conditioning Coach to create a balanced program with the above elements included.

Nutrition to maximize performance

Nutrition is a key element in the success of the athlete. It is the fuel for the movement of the body and the fuel for recovery from performance. A balanced diet supports muscle growth, healing from injury, a healthy immune system and more. Focus should be placed on a wide variety of wholesome foods from carbohydrates, proteins and fats to meet energy demands placed on the body. In addition to maintaining a balanced diet, players should ensure to hydrate regularly, and should focus on water as their main method of hydration.