When I was coming up as a young pitcher, it was pretty well accepted that pitchers should run long distance. So in college and in the minors we ran poles, poles and more poles… For those unfamiliar with this, running poles usually consists of slow or moderate running out on the warning track, foul pole to foul pole (pretty tedious stuff).

And on one hand, it seemed to make sense. As a pitcher, you want to be strong for 9 innings (or 6 or 7, whatever level you’re playing at), so you need to build up your endurance… and what’s the best way to do that, steady-state cardio (i.e. jogging), right?

[h5]Well, turns out maybe not (more on that in a minute).[/h5]  
Even if it sounded like a good idea for starting pitchers, what about relievers? They don’t need the same endurance as a starter, do they? True, so the common approach: relievers would still run poles, just not as many…

For a long time this was the prevailing mindset among most pitching coaches. And so, when pitchers weren’t pitching, shagging BP or doing PFP’s (pitchers fielding practice), they would run, run, run.

But recently, more and more has been written about the drawbacks and potential harmful effects of distance running when it comes to pitching performance.

Basically, long, slow distance running and pitching are two very different athletic activities. Pitching involves high intensity, explosive movements repeated again and again – short bursts of power, followed by short periods of recovery between pitches. In many ways, pitching is much more similar to sprinting than it is to distance running…

[h5]You’re training the wrong energy system![/h5]  
Now this is a little outside my comfort zone (I’m a former pitcher turned pitching coach, not an athletic trainer or strength coach), so I’ll defer to some experts in a minute. But put simply, distance running is an aerobic activity, pitching is anaerobic (if you really want to dig into energy systems – aerobic, anaerobic, ATP – give this article a read).

Bottom line, you don’t need to be able to run 9 miles to be able to pitch 9 innings. Just ask David Wells and C.C. Sabathia…


One of my favorite David Wells quotes: “You don’t run the ball up to the plate.”

Disclaimer: please don’t take this as license to eat like crap and get overweight.

So as I mentioned, aside from my direct experience with running in my playing days and its effect on my own performance (usually a drop in weight, power and velocity over the course of a season), I’m not an expert on this. So for more on why distance running isn’t a great idea for pitchers looking to maximize performance, I highly recommend giving these a read:

A New Model for Training Between Starts: Part 1 – Eric Cressey

Should Pitchers Run Long Distance? – Joe Meglio

Now to be fair, this understanding was making its way into pro ball when I was still playing. In the minors we did a lot less long-distance running and a lot more sprint work. But there was still some form of running pretty much every day, and the day after your start you were expected to do a 20-30 minute jog… in the 90 degree heat (and 1000% humidity) of Columbus, GA, that takes a toll.

[h5]So, does this mean pitchers should ditch long distance running completely?[/h5] [h5]Not necessarily…[/h5]  
This is a tough one for me, because personally I’ve always enjoyed running. Not so much the monotony of running poles, but more the endurance challenge of a good long run appeals to me – it’s great mental toughness training. I almost always feel better after running, both mentally and physically….

So it was refreshing to read an article recently that actually talked about the benefits of aerobic conditioning! This is a fantastic piece by Mike Robertson, well worth a read for anyone serious about their health and athletic performance:

You NEED Long Duration, Low Intensity Cardio

See, while maybe not the best thing for maximizing explosiveness during the season, some level of cardio training has some serious benefits.

I’m mainly talking about the effects on your heart and your mind… two pretty important things for any pitcher!

Some key benefits of distance running:

  • It leads to positive physical changes to your heart
  • It can lower your resting heart rate, helping you stay calm and relaxed.
  • It builds mental toughness.

So while it isn’t ideal for building and maintaining power on the mound, and should probably be kept to a minimum during the season, I still think distance running has its place…

And in closing, I leave you with some words of wisdom from Will Smith.

Have you ever heard it said that throwing a baseball isn’t a natural motion?

I had one coach who used to say, “If it was natural, we’d all go around walking like this,” waving his arms around high over head. Well I came across a NY Times article the other day that suggests maybe it’s not so unnatural after all.

Scientists Unlock Mystery in Evolution of Pitchers

The article centers around a new scientific study:
Elastic energy storage in the shoulder and the evolution of high-speed throwing in Homo. Click Here to see the study.

Here’s a pretty good little video to go along with it…

[h4]When it comes to throwing hard, it’s not all about arm strength![/h4]  
See, chimpanzees are ridiculously strong compared to humans… yet we humans are capable of firing a baseball upwards of 100 MPH, while a chimp can barely break a pane of glass. The study’s just further evidence that when it comes to pitching, it’s not all about arm strength. Here’s an excerpt:
“They analyzed the structure of the shoulder and upper arm, the motion and the forces involved, and concluded, first, that muscles alone cannot account for how hard and fast humans throw. The shoulder and arm and the rest of the body involved in the throwing motion must be storing elastic energy, like the long tendon of a kangaroo when it hops, or the human Achilles’ tendon in running and jumping, they said.”

Needs to work on his form…

Now this is something that pitching coaches might be familiar with, and there’s some debate about what’s known as the stretch shortening cycle (SSC) as it applies to the throwing arm.

It also raises some questions that need further study. The article quotes Susan Larson, an anatomist at Stony Brook University School of Medicine who studies human and primate evolution as saying:

“There are no cordlike tendons that make a likely place to store energy… I can’t say I can find any fault with the study… But I keep thinking, ‘Where are we storing this?’”

For more on the role of momentum in your pitching delivery and transferring power up your kinetic chain, see this article: Pitching Principle #2: Momentum

[h5]Turns out we humans evolved into great throwing machines![/h5]  
“Several developments in anatomy allowed humans to throw this way, he said, including a waist that allows twisting and a relatively open shoulder, compared with those of other primates like chimpanzees.”

Hmm, sounds like something I’ve talked about before right here:

Hip to Shoulder Separation and External Rotation

Now the idea that we humans are designed to be great throwers doesn’t tell the full story. There’s a big difference between being built to throw hard and being built for the repeated stress of throwing a baseball at high velocity.

So I think the article concludes with the right message. Talking about why we see so many arm injuries, Dr. Glenn Fleisig of ASMI in Birmingham says:

“Not because throwing isn’t natural… What’s not natural is throwing a hundred pitches from a mound every fifth day… That amount of throwing at that intensity is not natural.”



See, it seems the Ulnar Collateral Ligament (the little triangular band connecting the inside of your upper arm to your foream) didn’t keep pace with the other adaptations that allow us to throw so hard. In fact, with each pitch you put enough stress on your elbow to tear it (they’ve done tests on cadavers in the lab)… this is where the muscles and soft tissue around your elbow are so important for holding things together.

And that’s a big reason why pitching with fatigue becomes so dangerous. Strengthening the muscles in your your forearm can help, but once those muscles get tired, they’re not
going to do the job to protect your elbow.

So be smart about your training… Monitor your pitches, condition your arm, and prepare yourself to pitch!

And finally, for your viewing pleasure, some whacky Japanese humor… Enjoy.

Today I want to talk about one specific aspect of the pitching motion that I think gets more attention than it deserves. In general, I think it’s easy for well-meaning coaches and parents to fall into the trap of over-analyzing and obsessing over every last piece in the pitching delivery… Intentions are usually good, but when you overload kids with too many restraints it can backfire.

So here’s the scenario… I get this kind of question a lot, and I think I may have a different view of this than a lot of coaches out there, so would love to hear your thoughts.

When do you break your hands in your delivery?

Do you need to break your hands low?

Is it better to break your hands early or late?

When do you raise the glove arm?

How high do you raise the glove arm?

Or maybe we should be asking… Is it really that important?

See, when you look at big league pitchers, one of the things that jumps out is that no two pitchers are exactly alike. Sure, there are similarities and certain things they all do well, but when it comes to something like hand break, there are a lot of ways to get it done.

What you really want to watch for is that everything’s in sync, everything’s balanced – front side matching throwing side, upper half working with lower half. There are some cases where adjusting hand break may be helpful, but unless your hand break is disrupting this overall balance, why mess with it?

Let’s look at some comparisons of successful big league pitchers:


Here we’ve got Kevin Brown and Justin Verlander (those who remember know that Kevin Brown was an absolute horse). What stands out with these guys is how fluid they are and how much their arms and legs are in sync (pay attention to glove forearm/lead thigh connection).


Looking at Yovani Guillardo and Jason Motte, you see two guys who get it done differently. Guillardo is much more up and down, high glove arm – Motte is more straight out. But both guys begin hand break a bit above the belt without ever really dropping the glove. Motte actually kind of pumps his hands, taking the ball out in his leg lift before loading up again.


Looking at Yu Darvish and Billy Wagner, you see some pretty big difference in hand break. Darvish breaks low, Wagner stays high. But if you shift your focus to their legs and lower half, you see a lot of similarities, and they both get to similar positions by front foot plant (light bulb!).
So what to make of all this?

Focus on the key drivers in your pitching delivery!

The big lesson for me here is to realize that your lower half and your hips are your drivers in your pitching delivery… They’re your early power generators. Based on this understanding, here’s my best advice:

When it comes to something like hand break, try not to over-analyze. Focus on the drivers – getting gathered, loaded and moving down the mound. For more on this, here’s a piece I did on leading with your hips.

Now if pressed, when it comes to the timing of hand break, I’d lean more towards the late hand break vs. early hand break side of the spectrum. And that’s mainly because I see so many kids who get their arms involved too soon. For more on this, check out a piece I wrote on why you shouldn’t be in a rush to get the throwing arm up.

But really when dealing with this tendency, I like to emphasize staying calm and relaxed with the arms early on rather than having pitchers think about a specific moment when they should begin separating their hands.

Video is a great tool if used appropriately…

So, as I think you can see from the above videos, exact timing and placement of hand break is not the be all, end all. Every pitcher is different. When you focus on fitting a mold that constitutes “good pitching mechanics” it often leads to kids getting stiff, slow and robotic instead of being fluid and dynamic. Which brings me to another point I often stress with guys…

You want to have good mechanics… but you don’t want to be mechanical

Big takeaway: The pitching delivery isn’t a “one size fits all” kind of thing… That said, you can learn a lot by watching what good big league pitchers do. Showing video like the ones above lets kids see different ways of getting it done and helps them better understand how they want to move. Once they understand, they can begin working on their own deliveries in a way that allows them to move powerfully while finding their own style.

And if you’re looking for a complete system for developing a Powerful, Dynamic Pitching Delivery, don’t forget to check out the Ballistic Pitching Blueprint

photo source: The Star-Ledger-USA TODAY Sports

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