Throwing Harder By Getting Stronger

Posted: September 17, 2013 in Baseball, Training, Velocity Development
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Although the sports world has largely accepted strength training as an effective way to improve sports performance, there are still a few hard headed old-schoolers who refuse to believe that increasing strength will improve athletic ability. This is a ridiculous notion. Baseball coaches seem to be the most reluctant group to acknowledge the benefits of strength training. Often, this is due to the incorrect beliefs that lifting weights will make you inflexible (it won’t), or hurt you (it won’t if you do it right). But some coaches simply don’t believe that weight lifting will improve any aspect of sporting performance, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Yeah, being strong has nothing to do with being good at sports. Just ask Bo Jackson.

Yeah, being strong has nothing to do with being good at sports. Just ask this weakling named Bo Jackson.

One of the most well-known strength training detractors is pitching instructor Dick Mills, who has had some success working with major league pitchers in the past.  Coach Mills is completely against strength training of any kind for pitchers, and claims that the ONLY way to increase throwing velocity is by improving mechanics. Now, while I agree that mechanics are very important not only for developing velocity but maintaining a pitcher’s health,  I strongly disagree with the notion that strength has no bearing on throwing velocity. Heres why:

1) The ability to throw hard comes with the ability to perform powerful movements

Power, as it pertains to athletics, is the ability to apply force over time. For pitchers, this means the ability to apply force to the ball as fast as possible. So it would make sense that improving SPEED instead of STRENGTH would be the key to velocity, right? Wrong. Power is the ability to apply force quickly, so it is very important, but if the amount of force you’re applying isn’t very much, then your overall power will be low.

By increasing strength, we increase power too. Think of it this way: If an athlete’s maximum squat strength is 200 lbs, then 200 lbs is the maximum amount of force he can apply to the floor when performing a vertical jump. So no matter how fast he applies that force, it will still max out at 200 lbs. If we take that same lifter and increase his squat to 400 lbs, the amount of force he can put into the floor is twice as much as before. So he will be able to jump much higher than before. The same holds true for pitching velocity. The ability to apply force quickly is very important, but if the force applied is higher, then the overall amount of power will be higher, which will result in higher velocity throws.

Improving explosiveness is important, but it’s only half the equation.

2) If strength wasn’t a determinant of velocity, people with the same mechanics would throw with the same velocity

Let’s say I take a 22 year old college senior with mechanics that are identical to those of a 10 year old Little Leaguer. Which one is going to throw harder? If you said “I don’t know”, there’s a 99% chance you’re Dick Mills, and a 1% chance that you misunderstood the question.

Everybody knows that adults throw harder than children. No matter how exemplary a kid’s mechanics are, he will never throw as hard as a fully-developed adult. In fact, Mills himself says that increased velocity comes from the physical development that comes with age. So what are we saying here? That people DON’T get stronger as they develop physically? Is there some special pitching center of the brain that only turns on after we hit maturity? Of course not. The reason why adults throw harder than children is because they’re bigger and stronger.

By the same token, let’s say a pitcher who throws 90 mph breaks his arm and has to wear a cast for 6 weeks. After his cast is removed, and all his arm muscles have weakened and atrophied from immobilization, will he be able to immediately get onto a mound and throw 90 again? No way. Even though his mechanics will be the same, his arm won’t be able to put the same amount of force into the baseball, resulting in a slower velocity.

Unless your name is Henry Rowengartner

Unless your name is Henry Rowengartner, which it almost certainly isn’t

 

3) If strength was not a factor in velocity, steroids would not work

It’s common knowledge that Major League Baseball in the ’90s and early 2000s was lousy with steroid users. The most infamous of which are probably Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Roger Clemens. Bonds and McGwire got a lot more negative press than Clemens because of their gaudy homerun records, but Clemens used steroids too, along with plenty of other pitchers. Although I think he holds the MLB record for being the only one to ever try to impale Mike Piazza with a broken bat.

This incident of possible roid rage certainly didn't help Clemens' defense case.

This incident of possible roid rage certainly didn’t help Clemens’ defense case.

Studies have shown that the increase in muscle mass from taking steroids can result in a 5% increase in velocity. This may not seem like much, but for a pitcher who throws 90 mph, that 5% increase will take them from 90 to 94.5. If you’ve ever faced these types of velocities, you know that the difference between 90 and 94-95 is definitely not insignificant.

Now obviously, taking steroids doesn’t improve mechanics. Steroids increase muscle mass and strength, which add to overall power potential. So if we know that steroids users swing harder and throw harder, how is it possible to make an argument against the importance of strength as it pertains to baseball performance? And if steroids didn’t work, would professional ballplayers continue to use them in the face of suspension and banishment? No, they would most certainly not.

4) Tons and tons of research and anecdotal evidence shows that increasing strength increases velocity

There’s a myriad of research out there that shows a correlation between strength and velocity, but I won’t bore you with that. Instead, check out this article about Tim Collins. If you don’t have time to read that, it’s about Royals pitcher Tim Collins, who went from a 131 pound guy throwing in the low 80s to a 172 pound guy who tops out at 97. This increase in velocity is due to his work with former powerlifter Eric Cressey, who drastically increased Collins’ strength levels and size through his training.

Guess which version of Collins throws harder.

Guess which version of Collins throws harder.

I train all my pitchers in a similar fashion; they all lift heavy and they all focus on improving strength. And guess what? They all throw harder afterwards. Coincidence? Nope.

Conclusion

Saying that only one thing will improve pitching velocity is not only wrong, it’s irresponsible.

The equation for pitching velocity is this:

Mechanics + Strength + Explosiveness = Velocity

To throw as hard as possible, you need to have good mechanics, high levels of strength, and high levels of explosiveness. If one is lacking, your velocity will suffer. If all three are cranked up to the max, you’ll throw hard. It’s as simple as that.

 

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