*This article is adapted from a response I initially gave over at online pitching forum, letstalkpitching.com.
[hr] One thing that stands out when you watch major league pitchers is just how much whip (for lack of a better word) you see in their throwing arms. And it makes a lot of sense that greater external rotation in your throwing shoulder would contribute to higher velocity. The research supports this, and all you have to do is take a look at photos of hard throwing pitchers at max external rotation (MER) or full arm “lay back” to see it.

Max-External-Rotation-Chapman-Wagner

And if you don’t have the range of motion in your shoulder to get your forearm near parallel with the ground at MER you’re not going to get the same catapult effect in the elbow extension/acceleration phase of your throw.

But before you go stretching your arm ‘til it falls off, some things to consider:

[h5]1. How old are you and how long have you been pitching:[/h5] A good part of it is skeletal, and has to do with what’s known as Osseous Adaptation (basically bone adaptation). It depends on how much you threw/pitched in your adolescent years before your growth plates closed.

Studies have shown that both college and pro pitchers exhibit greater than average external shoulder rotation than non-throwers. The same studies also show these pitchers have greater external rotation in their throwing arms than their non-throwing arms, so it’s not just something they were born with.

At the same time, pitchers show below average internal rotation, and this tends to get worse immediately after pitching and over the course of a season. For more on this, do some research on GIRD (Glenohumeral Internal Rotation Deficit)…

GIRD has been linked to increased risk of shoulder injuries (click here for one such study), but proper stretching protocols can help improve and maintain internal range of motion in pitchers. Here is one commonly recommended post-throwing stretch for improving/maintaining internal rotation:

The Sleeper Stretch

The more I discuss with industry professionals, the more I learn that it’s all about the individual. Many, including Mike Reinold (another fantastic resource), feel that too much sleeper stretch can actually work against you. He does a great job explaining and demonstrating the stretch in this article.

[h5]2. What is Humeral Head Retroversion?[/h5] The main thing the studies find is what’s called humeral head retroversion. This basically means the head of your humerus (upper arm where it fits in your shoulder socket) has twisted slightly over the years with the repeated stress of throwing.

– Humeral head retroversion in competitive baseball players and its relationship to glenohumeral rotation range of motion (click here for the study).

– Osseous adaptation and range of motion at the glenohumeral joint in professional baseball pitchers (click here for the study).

I’m not a doctor (didn’t even stay at a Holiday Inn last night), but that’s my understanding based on my research and discussions with those in the medical/physical therapy fields. Sounds pretty crazy, but it’s actually a positive adaption that works in a pitcher’s favor. I know I still have way more external rotation in my throwing arm than my non-throwing arm.

[h5]3. Pitchers tend to gain external rotation over the course of a season:[/h5] Probably the best way to improve external rotation is just good old fashioned throwing… lots and lots of it (within reason, of course). Over the course a season, it’s normal for pitchers to develop greater external rotation as a result of the repetitive act of throwing.

Glenohumeral rotational range of motion in collegiate overhead-throwing athletes during an athletic season (click here for the study).

So when you think about it, actively stretching your arm where it’s already getting loose on its own doesn’t make much sense. You’re just creating more instability in the joint, putting you at greater risk of injury.

[h5]4. Flexibility and Stability in all the right places:[/h5] Increased flexibility and range of motion are good, but only if accompanied by increased strength and stability. If you just stretch the [bleep] out of your arm and don’t work on strengthening the muscles around the joints (scapular stabilization, in particular) you’re asking for a trip to the DL.

For a better understanding, looking at Gray Cook’s joint-by-joint approach is a good starting point. An in-depth discussion goes beyond the scope of this article, but the basic premise is simple: certain joints tend to be tight and can benefit from greater flexibility; others tend to be unstable and can benefit from greater stability.

For example, we generally want flexibility in our ankles and more stability in our knees… working up the body, we want mobility in our hips, stability in our lumbar spine (lower back). In our throwing arm, greater range of motion in our shoulder is good, but we want to accompany that with stability in the scapular region.

[h5]5. You can increase total “Range of Motion” with better thoracic mobility:[/h5] The main benefit of increased external rotation is increased distance over which a pitcher can accelerate the arm into ball release (velocity = distance/time). You can also increase that distance through greater chest thrust and thoracic mobility (think of an archer pulling back on a bow).

Andrew-Bailey-Chest-Thrust-Thoracic-Mobility
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Photo source: Jason O. Watson, US PRESSWIRE

Bottom line: If you’re 20 years old and have never thrown a baseball in your life, no amount of stretching is going to get you the kind of natural external rotation found in college and pro pitchers who have been throwing a baseball since they were kids. And if you’re a 13 yr old pitcher you aren’t likely to have as much external rotation in your shoulder as you will when you’re 18.

In my last article, I talked about the questions I’ve been getting from parents and pitchers concerned about forearm and elbow soreness. Well if you liked that, you need to check out today’s video.

The other day, I was able to catch up with Strength Coach and Grip Strength Specialist, Jedd Johnson. Jedd’s a former college pitcher who turned to competing in Strong Man competitions, and now teaches athletes how to become super strong and powerful.

Watch this video to hear Jedd’s awesome forearm training tips, including:
[circle_list] [list_item]Why conventional forearm training leads to muscle imbalance (and how to avoid it).[/list_item] [list_item]How to make your own “tube ball” for training your arm anywhere.[/list_item] [list_item]How you can use a rubber band to strengthen your forearm.[/list_item] [/circle_list]


Note: Jedd swears he wasn’t holed up in a bunker for this interview.
Like me, he has small kids and was hiding out so he wouldn’t disturb them.
(though I think he really just wanted to look extra intimidating)

[h4]Grab your copy of “Ultimate Forearm Training for Baseball”[/h4]  

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Ultimate Forearm Training for Baseball

[h5]Jedd Johnson, CSCS[/h5] DieselCrew.com

Strongman Contests

2003—TPS Massachusetts State Strongman Championships
2004—TPS Massachusetts State Strongman Championships
2004—Maryland’s Strongest Man
2005—Wise Wellness Strongman Contest
2005—Saxonburg Strongman Contest
2005—TPS Massachusetts State Strongman Championships
2005—Maryland’s Strongest Man
2006—Stronger Than All II
2006—Wise Wellness 2006

Grip Contests

2003—Battle for Grip Supremacy
2004—Feats with Hands
2004—Global Grip Challenge ’04
2005—Global Grip Challenge ’05
2006—Global Grip Challenge ’06
2006—Backyard Bastard Bash II

[h3]5 Steps for Maximizing Your Off-Season Pitching Workouts[/h3] In my last article on off-season pitching workouts I talked about how your off-season training can make or break your pitching career. Today as a follow up, I’m going to lay out 5 simple steps for maximizing your off-season pitching workouts.
[h5]But first, I again want to stress… Give your arm a rest![/h5]

Youth pitchers who throw year-round are at much greater risk of arm injury. I’ll again reference the 2006 study that found:

“Adolescent throwers who pitched more than eight months per year were five times more likely to be injured compared to those who pitched less.”
-Olsen SJ, Fleisig GS, Dun S, Loftice J, Andrews JR. “Risk factors for shoulder and elbow injuries in adolescent baseball pitchers” – Am J Sports Med. 2006

Playing another sport or working to improve your overall strength and agility will make you a better athlete, a better pitcher, and reduce the injury risk associated with what’s known as pattern overload.

Ok, so with the understanding that you need to first take a break from throwing, here are 5 Simple Steps for Maximizing Your Off-Season Pitching Workouts:

[h4]Step 1: Get Assessed (or Know Where You’re Starting from)[/h4]
“If you’re not assessing, you’re guessing.”

This is a quote I heard at the recent Cressey Performance Seminar. It’s a popular phrase in the fitness industry, but it can just as easily be applied to your pitching workouts. If you aren’t familiar with Eric Cressey, his website is an invaluable resource for baseball strength and conditioning content.

Here are three easy ways to accurately assess your current situation:

Video Motion Analysis: Get video of yourself pitching and have it analyzed by a knowledgeable coach. If you can get side-by-side analysis vs. a pro, even better. Seeing the difference between what you are doing and what elite pitchers do in their pitching deliveries can be an eye opening experience. With today’s technology there’s really no excuse for not using motion analysis – most phones nowadays will take quality video.

Strength & Mobility Screen: Sometimes inefficiencies in your pitching delivery can be fixed by simply learning new movement patterns. But other times (often) the cause has more to do with strength and mobility deficiencies. A good strength and mobility screen can help uncover areas that may be holding you back. Addressing these limitations will make a big difference in helping you maximize performance while reducing the risk of injury. If you don’t have access to a good baseball strength coach like Josh Heenan, I’d recommend checking out the Assess & Correct program.

Objectively Evaluate Your Season: Take an honest look at your past season. If you kept charts of your games, you can make this process more precise, looking at things like % of first or 2nd pitch strikes, % strikes on off-speed pitches. Did you struggle with command of your off-speed pitches or have a tough time putting guys away? In short, what did you do well, and what could you do better.

[h4]Step 2: List Your Biggest Strengths and Weaknesses[/h4]

Give this one some real thought, think back to your successes and failures on the mound. What do you do well, what could you do better. Is your velocity a strength, your control a weakness (or vice versa)? Do you have a good fastball, but lack command of your changeup? What about your breaking ball? How well do you control the running game and field your position. Do you pitch as well with runners on base as you do from the windup?

The idea here is to brainstorm a little, get it all on paper. Come up with 2 lists: Strength and Weaknesses. This, along with the Step 1 (Getting Assessed), will give you a good starting point for creating meaningful goals for your off-season training. Then you can get to work on enhancing your strengths and minimizing your weaknesses.

[h4]Step 3: Write Down Your Goals – There’s Power in Putting Them on Paper![/h4]

Come up with two sets of goals, short-term and long-term.

Short-Term Goals (3-6 months): These are your goals for this off-season. Use the results from Steps 1 and 2 to help you come up with focused goals to help you maximize your winter workouts. Maybe your goals are to improve mobility, strength and velocity. Maybe you want to develop a good changeup or a better curveball. Maybe you want to get more comfortable pitching from the stretch. Wanting to “make the team” is fine too, but just make sure you include some specifics that focus on doing the things necessary to make that happen.

Long-Term Goals (1, 3, 5, 10 years): Have fun with this one. You can put things down like “throw 90 MPH by my senior year” or “play pro ball.” Big, aggressive goals and dreams are great motivators. Write them down, make affirmations out of them (“I will play pro baseball”), pin them up somewhere you can see them every day. Your long term goals and dreams are your fuel for staying committed and putting in all of the hard work.

[h4]Step 4: Develop a Plan for Achieving Your Goals[/h4]

Once you have your goals on paper, the next step is coming up with a solid plan for achieving those goals. How many days a week do you need to train, lift, throw? What specific exercises and drills will help you make the necessary improvements? This is where working together with a good pitching coach and/or strength trainer can make a difference. If you don’t have access to either in your area, send me an email and I will be happy to help in any way I can: Phil@BetterPitching.com

[h4]Step 5: Stick to The Plan![/h4]

Whatever plan you come up with, it does no good if it just sits there on paper. Too often people start something with good intentions only to lose momentum or focus or both. I like the plans I’ve come up with for my pitchers, but there are plenty of other coaches out there who can come up with a good plan, too.

What you want to avoid is second guessing, where you try something for a bit, then try something else, then find another approach that looks interesting… this gets you nowhere. Persistence and consistency, those are the final ingredients for reaching your goals.

[h5]So if you’ve followed Steps 1 through 4, don’t overlook Step 5: Stick to The Plan![/h5]

This isn’t the only formula for creating a good off-season training program, but my goal is just to simplify the process and give you easy to follow steps that can really make a big difference for you this off-season.
[hr] And if you’re looking for a Complete System of Drills for maximizing your training this off-season, don’t forget to check out the Ballistic Pitching Blueprint!

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