Bringing the Heat

by Dave Hollinger 

What grabs the attention of scouts and coaches during a showcase?  HEAT!  The infamous radar gun has helped and hurt players earn roster spots, scholarships, and improve their draft stock.  If that reading does not catch their eye forget it, more than likely you won’t get a second look.  You could masterfully spot your pitches, have a nasty hook, but if you can’t bring the heat it could spell the end of your playing days (There are rare exceptions ala Greg Maddux but those are few and far between, and do you really want to bank on being the exception?).

Chicago Sports Institute implements a variety of methods so our athletes throw that electric stuff coaches drool over.  Over the years I’ve seen typical increases of 6-8 MPH in velocity following a 5 month off-season training program.  These players put in the work necessary and are rewarded with outstanding results.

How to bring the heat:

Strengthen the Latissimus Dorsi » The lats are the major muscle involved in the acceleration phase of throwing – I have seen significant gains in velocity made from strengthening the Lats.  For example I recently worked with a Top Tier Baseball player who improved his chin-up performance dramatically.  During our first session together he only completed 3 reps of bodyweighted neutral-grip chins.  Five months later he was performing the more difficult pronated-grip pull-up with an additional 30 lbs for 3 reps. This improvement helped increase his velocity 8 MPH from his off-season training.

Increase Leg Strength » Studies show more than 50% of velocity can be attributed to lower body strength.  Variations of squats, deadlifts and an abundance of posterior chain exercises are used to develop the necessary leg strength.  Baseball players can be very asymmetrical due to the nature of their sport, and asymmetry is a key predictor of injuries.  This asymmetry requires the addition of a lot of unilateral leg work to keep the lower half in balance between right and left sides.

External Rotators & Scapular Stabilizers » With that new found lat strength and increased arm acceleration we must also focus on what decelerates the arm.  The Rotator Cuff.  The better you can decelerate your arm the more you will be able to accelerate it without increasing the risk of injuring your throwing shoulder and elbow.  The acceleration phase of an overhead throw is reported to be the fastest human motion recorded.  During the acceleration phase, the maximal internal rotation/adduction velocity exceeds 7000 degrees/sec.  With that being said, you’d better have a strong rotator cuff.  Performing band work at the field won’t cut it.  Get in the weight room and strengthen your rotator cuff and scapular retractors.

Flexibility/Mobility » There are particular flexibility deficits that are more commonly seen in baseball players.  Flexibility plays a huge role in pitching performance as tightness can inhibit opposing muscles from producing the force necessary to throw with significant velocity.  Not to mention tightness can also restrict a pitcher’s stride length along with the rest of his mechanics causing a faulty throwing motion and potentially leading to injury.  For example, it is common for pitchers to have extreme external range of motion in their throwing shoulder but a deficit in their internal range of motion.  This restriction presents itself as a tight posterior capsule often leading to medial elbow issues such as UCL injuries or ulnar nerve irritation.  Improving this deficit can be achieved through soft-tissue work, capsular mobilizations and sleeper stretches.  Additional areas of emphasis for pitchers include: thoracic mobility, opposite hip internal range of motion, and soft tissue work to the pec minor and subscapularis.

I’m not saying to put down the glove and only strength train to throw harder and light up the radar gun.  Like anything else there must be balance – in this case there must be balance between throwing and training.  Be sure to not only throw this off-season but to get into the weight room so you can bring the heat this season.