10 Great Ways to Help Increase Velocity in the Weight Room

By Nunzio Signore (BA, CSCS, CPT, NASM, PES, FMS)

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In the pitching world the word “velocity” has become how most pitchers are initially judged. Unfortunately, there is no single thing I could tell you to do to increase velocity as every pitcher is different.  What may work for one athlete may not work for another.  Every athlete is built differently and trying to get there from a different starting point. This leaves no single way to map out a game plan.  However, in this blog I would like to touch briefly on 10 different topics I think are important and very relevant to every pitcher looking to improve their velocity.

1. Stop Throwing For at Least 8 Weeks in the Off-Season – As if throwing a baseball from March through June isn’t enough, add in summer leagues, tournaments, showcases and fall ball to make baseball an 8-month sport. Most arms and hips aren’t designed to tolerate those explosive forces for that long, which is why many guys start complaining about anterior (front) shoulder pain, medial elbow pain and low back pain around Aug-Sept. By sometime late in the season the body is broken down. Taking time off from playing in November and December is crucial to help with losses of IR in the throwing shoulder and lead leg as well as cranky lats and lower backs just to name a few.

In addition, velocity requires both arm strength and arm speed. There is a difference. Cuff strength and scap stability helps build arm strength, not arm speed. Throwing builds arm speed, not strength. Throwing requires endurance. You can’t have muscular endurance without muscular strength.  If that were the case, young athletes would be throwing year round, getting stronger, not weaker and injured.  These issues need to be addressed in order to guarantee an athlete will be “tuned-up and ready” for the spring.

2. Increase Lower Body Strength and Power – After a long throwing season, more throwing in the fall may or may not be in a player’s best interest. This is the time of year when they may want to steer their focus towards adding more lean muscle mass (hypertrophy) and getting more “athletic”.  A pitcher will be much more aware of using his lower body if he becomes more aware that he actually has one!! In addition, the posterior chain (hamstrings and glutes) are among the biggest and most powerful muscles in the body.

(Supine Hip Bridge)

Strengthening the lower half in the weight room will also help to release testosterone, a major player in gaining “lean muscle mass” which brings us to topic #3.

3. Gaining Lean Muscle Mass – Statistics have shown that there is a clear relationship between body mass and velocity. More body weight gives an athlete more force when moving down the mound, thus having a positive impact on velocity. The downside to this, however, is that the lead leg has to absorb that extra force upon landing (at foot strike). If the body weight gained is lean muscle, the leg will be stronger and better able to stabilize with no problem. However, a body that gained “body fat” with little lean muscle mass and is still trying to support the extra force at landing will be much more likely to get injured.

Gaining lean muscle mass will give you the strength to deal with all the new force your body is creating.  In regards to control issues, if the weight gain is done naturally it would be gradual.  Most control issues happen when a pitcher gets “too big too fast”.  Once his pitching coach teaches him to settle in to his new more powerful machine, he can begin to use the extra velocity to his advantage.

Gaining unwanted body weight (fat) will still give you that extra force, but will do nothing in terms of added strength to help absorb that force at foot strike and let’s face it velocity doesn’t matter if you’re on the DL.

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4. Increase Lead Leg IR – Along with the dominant arm, the lead (or plant leg) is another area where Internal Rotation is lost partially due to the forces applied to it during foot strike and follow through.

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After a long season, the hip can get rather “gritty” down there. This can also drastically effect opposite arm IR due to the fact that the lower body cannot adequately help decelerate, causing the upper body to overcompensate creating a “bang” on the anterior shoulder.  We implement bowler squats into our warm ups to try and get some of that movement back.

(Bowler Squats)

5. T-spine Rotation – The ability to rotate the upper body during both lay back and follow through is essential to creating adequate separation between the upper and lower quarters, thus creating the “whipping” action that helps create the forces necessary to throw smoke. Increasing your thoracic spine rotation (mobility) will help assure that you’re getting that rotation from the right place and not from your lower back or from cranking at the elbow. Here’s an exercise that not only helps get more rotation from your t-spine, but also works on shoulder internal/external rotation, all at the same time.

(T-spine Int/Ext Rotation)

6. Posterior Cuff Strength – Velocity requires both arm strength and arm speed. And there is a difference between the two. Cuff strength and scap stability helps build arm strength. Throwing builds arm speed, not strength. Strengthening the posterior cuff will also help with decelerating the arm during throwing. Results? To name a few, less “bang” on the anterior (front) of the shoulder during follow through and less anterior glide (this is when the arm migrates forward “popping out” in the front of the shoulder) during the “lay back” position.

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7. Improve Soft Tissue Quality – Long seasons combined with a short off-season leads to compromised soft tissue quality (scar tissue and “knots” that form on the fascia of the muscle), causing faulty movement patterns and sometimes pain. If you can’t move correctly you can’t optimize the necessary mechanics to throw smoke.

Another benefit to doing soft tissue work is that it delivers the benefits of stretching to athletes with “laxity” (loose joints).  Laxity is prevalent in many pitchers, whether it be from genetics or throwing, so they generally shouldn’t be stretching through they’re passive restraints to begin with. Implementing foam rollers, lacrosse balls and tiger tails before workouts and games is a great and inexpensive way to warm up and help maximize performance. Be sure to focus on the pec minor, lats, t-spine and triceps to name a few.  Here are a couple examples:

(Pec Minor)

(Latissimus Dorsi)

8. Create Dynamic Stability – We need to create strength, timing and stability in the shoulder, but we have to make sure we can do it while the arm is in motion!! The shoulder moves in three planes of motion, Sagittal (front to back), Frontal (side to side), and Transverse (rotational). So while it’s moving in one direction, the cuff musculature is firing to help stabilize in the other two directions. More injuries are caused from poor firing of the cuff than actual weakness of the cuff.  This requires strength, timing of the scapula on the ribcage and timing of the humerus (arm) on the scapula.

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Here’s one exercise that puts it all together:

(Band Retraction to Low Row)

9. Stop Running Poles and Sprint Instead – I’m not even going to spend a lot of time on this one. Running builds “slow twitch (endurance) fiber”, on the other hand sprinting builds “fast twitch” (explosive) fiber. We want to be explosive because the last time I checked, there’s not a lot of running going while throwing a ball. Baseball is an explosive sport. In other words, “you get what you train for” so do sprints, don’t run.

(20-yard Get Up & Go)

10. Improve Core Stability and Transfer of Power from Lower Body to Upper Body – More than half of a pitcher’s power comes from the lower body. If the core is not strong enough to help transfer this power into the upper body and through to the extremities (arm), it will cause what we call “energy leaks” (power lost through insufficient movement) and have a negative effect on the athlete’s ability to throw gas.

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Enter Dynamic Cable Lifts:

(Dynamic Cable Lifts)

The quest for velocity can also come at a price. Some pitchers in velocity programs claiming they can get you that “extra 3-5 mph” without even knowing if the pitcher has built up a stable enough base of support through strength training to be able to handle it.  He may get that 3-5 mph but chances are he won’t keep it there or end up getting injured.  My advice is “get strong and mobile” first; the rest will fall into place.

See ya in the gym…

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