Pitching Mechanics Don't Have to Be Complicated

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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.