Today’s post is going to look at a couple of random thoughts that I wanted to share. These two thoughts are a result of my research for the next article in my customized mechanics series which will focus on deceleration/eccentric strength. Generating these kinds of thoughts and ideas about how to improve training and performance is the reason that I spend the time writing these articles.
Both thoughts are geared around the idea of being able to load up our muscles with more energy so that we can unload them with more force and speed which can result in faster throws. Recently I had a conversation with an MiLB pitching coach who told me that he teaches his guys that pitching is nothing more than a sequence of loading and unloading muscles and their corresponding body parts. Very simple idea that I wish I would have thought about sooner myself. But just because something is simple doesn’t mean it is easy. Loading and unloading muscle groups in a time specific sequence is very difficult.
While I am sure that I am not the first person to think of either of these things I can’t remember seeing or hearing them before so I figured they were worth sharing.
#1 – Arm Action and Ground Reaction Forces:
The NFL draft just happened this week which means that another combine has come and gone. Watching these world class athletes’ jump both really high and really far is a lot of fun. The amount of power these guys produce is simply amazing. But in order to produce/unload that much force you must first be able to load up their muscles with even more potential energy.
In order to jump higher or further they are taught to use their arms by “throwing” their hands towards the ground. This aggressive arm action allows the athlete to load up with more potential energy into the ground increasing their ground reaction force which they use to produce these simply amazing jump scores.
This year I started to think about how we, pitchers, could use our arms to put more force into the ground like these guys do with their arms.
Sure I was taught that the arms come up and down in sync with my knee lift but I was never told to think of the arm action as adding additional force into the ground. I’ve since been playing around with the idea and you can definitely use your throwing arm especially to add some extra loading force into the ground as it makes its way up to a throwing position. As always this extra energy only gives you the POTENTIAL to throw harder and in order to realize this potential your mechanics must be able to accept this extra energy and efficiently send up the chain towards the ball.
Some guys load up their arm aggressively with the “plunger” which is a term that I think I heard from Brent Strom during one of his talks at Ron Wolforth’s Baseball Ranch.
I don’t think that everyone can handle this type level of aggressive loading it obviously works for some guys like Ubaldo Jimenez (above) and Tim Lincecum to name a few. Most have more of a smooth arm action.
This good throwing arm action towards the ground is actually what really promotes the highly important trait of shoulder tilt. If you teach and cue shoulder tilt I think it is better to teach this motion with the throwing arm because it will automatically produce shoulder tilt.
This means that you have one less thing you have to say and more importantly the pitcher has one less thing to think about. Ideally we want to use a cue that kills at least two birds with one stone so to speak because this is a case where less is more.
Start playing around with the aggressiveness of your arm action but remember to think about the direction that you load as well.
If you watch those jumping videos again you can see a slight difference between the arm actions of the broad jump compared to the vertical jump. The vertical jump requires energy going down and straight up so as a result this is how the arms work. During the broad jump, Julio Jones throws his hands down and more importantly back since he needs to produce most of his force in a horizontal fashion since distance is the goal. Pitching requires this down and back action like the board jump as well as rotation which gives us all three planes of motion. Watch Chapman aggressively load his arm in all 3 planes before unloading the fastest pitch every recorded.
#2 – The hidden benefit of Run n’ Gun throws:
These types of throws are designed to overload the arm with intensities that are greater than what they experience on the mound. Here is Casey Weathers demonstrating a world class Run n’ Gun throw at Kyle Boddy’s Driveline Facility in Seattle.
Overload is a good thing when combined with recovery because the combination of the two will allow you to get better. The overload in this drill is due to the increased arm speed you can generate with the running approach. This extra power from the lower body is where I want to point out some additional benefits of this drill. The benefit lies in the fact that the lower body is also overloaded during each throw.
The front leg has to capture and decelerate a tremendous amount of energy when you run n’ gun causing an overload in the from of force. When combined with recovery this drill should give you a stronger front leg. We know that the front leg already has to deal with a high amount of force when we throw off a mound but this doesn’t even come close to the force created when you are allowed to get a running start. This is why there is no way that you can come to a complete stop on the front leg like David Price uses when he pitches.
It is going to look more like a javelin thrower trying to decelerate in time to not cross the foul line. Watch the best javelin thrower of all time Jan Zelezny demonstrate what I am talking about which looks more like Casey Weathers than it does David Price.
Just as a training consideration you might want to start your pitchers approaching slower and then progressing to faster more aggressive approach speeds. Using either speed (ideal) or distance as a measuring stick with different approach speeds might be a good way to see where your player needs to start. What I mean by this is that it is assumed that the faster I approach the harder/further I should be able to throw, in theory. If however an athlete can throw harder/further at a slower approach velocity this would represent a limiting factor that can be improved upon with customized training.
Again just a thought but I hope that it gets you thinking about how and when to use these types of drills.
Hopefully a lot of this will make even more sense when I publish the “deceleration” article in the near future.
Graeme Lehman, MSc, CSCS