Today’s focus will be on that speed portion of the force-velocity (F-V) curve. This is exciting, to me at least, because throwing a baseball over 90mph requires a healthy does of speed.
For all of the articles that I’ve written about the F-V curve in this series about Customized Training and Mechanics I’ve used the picture that you see below which looks like it was created with sprinting being the sports specific action in mind.
So far I’ve gotten away with copying the exercises listed on the chart because we were talking about parts of the curve like strength, strength-speed, power and speed-strength that are pretty far away from where throwing a baseball would be located on the curve. In other words they are general and not specific. But now that we are getting closer to where pitching sits on the F-V curve we need to be more specific and that means we need to be throwing things and see how fast and/or far they go.
So to customize this F-V curve for pitching I would replace resisted sprints and sprinting with different types of throws. Don’t get me wrong I like to get pitchers to sprint but throwing is a lot more specific and as a result we can use it to assess our pitchers to see where they are deficient. If we were to test their sprinting ability it wouldn’t have much carry over. This was the case in my thesis where none of the running tests (60 Yard Dash, 10 Yard Dash, Pro-Agility) had any correlation to throwing velocity.
Here are a couple types of throws that are fast (not as fast as pitching) that I would put on our baseball F-V curve just to the left of where pitching would be:
- Throwing a Football
- Flat Ground Throwing – stationary
I make a point of adding in the description of “stationary & flat ground” because we can’t generate the same kind of speed under these constraints that we get from throwing a baseball off of a mound. So things like the Run n’ Gun throws or long tossing with a crow hop are actually faster than throwing off a mound and as a result would fall further to the right on the curve and are considered to be “over-speed”. I’ll write about over-speed in a future article.
But for now I wanted to give some insight behind both throwing a football and flat ground pitching (next article) since they can be effective tools to improving Speed.
Tossing the Old Pig Skin
Throwing a football is the old school form of weighted ball throwing. While I don’t have any studies showing that training with football throws increases your mound velocity I will point out that 100% of all pitchers in MLB history with more that 5000 strikeouts have been known to throw a football with regularity. That’s enough evidence for me.
Obviously throwing a football is different than throwing a baseball. This is a good thing because we only need it to be “specific” and not exactly the same as throwing a baseball.
Here are some highlights of a study that shows how the two types of throws compare to one another based on research by Doctor’s Glenn Flesig and James Andrews where they looked at the “Kinematic and Kinetic Comparison Between Baseball Pitching and Football Passing”
“maximum angular velocity of pelvis rotation, upper torso rotation, elbow extension, and shoulder internal rotation occurred earlier and achieved greater magnitude for pitchers.”
Pitching is just a lot faster. The lighter ball, sloped mound and the downward aim makes your arm move a lot faster which is caused by the faster pelvic and torso rotation. These factors makes the elbow extend a lot quicker along with more internal rotation caused speed and magnitude of the external rotation
How much faster is the arm moving you ask?
“Maximum Shoulder Internal Velocity for pitching averaged 7550 degrees per second while the football throws came in at average of 4950 deg/sec.”
That is a huge difference between speeds!! What’s interesting is that the amount of external rotation between the two is very similar.
“The amount of external rotation with the baseball and football were 173 and 164 degrees respectively”
The weight of the football (14-15 oz) is what causes the arm to layback into that amount of external rotation whereas with baseball its caused more by speed. When the shoulders rotate towards home plate the arm is slammed back into this layback position. Hopefully it can “bounce” back into internal rotation without much delay allowing for those speeds that were already mentioned. This would be the stretch shortening cycle at its finest which has been predicted to contribute to upwards of 50% of the energy needed to throw.
“Maximum shoulder external rotation occurred earlier for quarterbacks”
Since the ball is heavier it will take more time to go from eccentric to concentric actions with a longer isometric contraction in between. This longer isometric phase is a result of having to stop the external rotation of the loading phase which tougher due to the extra weight. This delay will kill a lot of the elastic energy from the stretch shortening cycle. Quarterbacks do still rely of elastic energy but just not as heavily as a pitcher does.
“During arm cocking, quarterbacks demonstrated greater elbow flexion and shoulder horizontal adduction.”
Their elbow is more bent (aka flexed) and the elbow is closer to your side (aka adducted). This is generally what happens when you hold onto heavier objects.
Training with a Football
The take aways here are that we can get the same amount of external rotation without as much speed. The weight of the football also provides an overload stimulus for our eccentric and isometric strength when the arm goes from external to internal rotation.
So essentially we can use it to “stretch” the arm out while strengthening it. Stretching and Strength!!! Sounds good to me.
Throwing a football isn’t just about training your arm. By dropping back into the pocket with a 3, 5 or 7 step drop back followed by a throw we are able to train the legs too. The action of dropping back will create a significant about of momentum that must be decelerated then accelerated in the opposite direction in order to launch the ball down field. The back leg is responsible for this action and the added drop back movement creates overload stimulus as well. I also like how the shin angle created with the drop back is something that we like to see on the mound again making it somewhat specific.
Here we see Big Ben having to stop A LOT of momentum going towards his own end zone before changing directions and throwing a bullet.
Start off with the 3 step drop and you can eventually add more steps and speed to this drill as the legs get stronger.
If you do throw a football around at practice be sure to use a football that is age appropriate. If the ball is too big for their hand they really can’t throw with enough intent because their attention and focus is on balancing the ball. Even though everyone uses the same 5 ounce baseball it might be a bit much to ask a young pitcher to throw a 15 ounce football. Here are the different footballs and their weight that you can gradually make your way through.
- Pee-Wee: Ages 6-9 – 10 oz
- Junior: Ages 9-12 – 11 oz
- Youth: Ages 12-14 – 12.5 oz
Assessing with Football Throwing
The whole theme of this series is to assess different areas of an athletic profile to see where a pitcher needs to focus their time and effort. Ideally I would give you some standards of how far or fast someone should be able to throw a football to see if they score well in this “speed” column.
I don’t really have set distances or velocities for football throwing to give you since they don’t really exist in any type of literature that I’ve seen. This doesn’t mean there isn’t some type of relationship between the two types of throws it just means it hasn’t been tested.
Here’s a link of Patrick Mahomes throwing a football 62 mph (go to the 3:05 mark) and he was reported to sit around 93mph when he pitched in high school. Here’s he is pitching.
Assuming that a pitcher knows how to throw a spiral I would think that there is a strong relationship between pitching performance in the form of velocity and football throwing whether it is velocity or distance. At the very least it would be a stronger relationship than max squat or deadlift due to specificity. In my opinion the strength of this relationship would vary depending on the type of pitcher we are talking about. Your “power” pitcher with big strong legs like the Nolan Ryan’s of the world would have a better correlation since their body and mechanics are suited for throwing heavier objects. While a weaker pitcher that uses a combination of long limbs, mobility and elastic energy might not be able to throw bombs down field.
So I am sorry that I don’t have any actionable items or data to share but I still think that throwing a football is great for training purposes. If I had to suggest something based off my own anecdotal evidence that would be easy to implement and test I would like to see a pitcher be able to throw a football from home plate to second base. I like this because its scalable for younger players on smaller diamonds with age appropriate footballs as well. For the big boys the throw from home plate to second is about 42 yards. If you can’t throw a football this far with a bit of an approach like a shuffle then I would suggest that you can benefit from time and effort training with a football to improve your strength which in turn can help increase your pitching velocity.
Hopefully this information is useful and if there is anyone out there that has played around with these two types of throws I would love to hear from you.
Graeme Lehman, MSc, CSCS