It is important to be sure you are always asking the right question when trying to help the pitcher improve. Novice instructors and inexperienced parents often ask a question that seems obvious, such as, “How can I speed up my pitcher’s arm?” They seem to think the arm exists in a vacuum and that, if they can simply make that go faster, the speed will increase. On the surface they are correct, but if there were a single, magic pill, everyone would be throwing heat.
A better question would be, “What is keeping my pitcher’s arm from going faster?” As our company has grown we have developed the resources to do a lot of research, both in the lab and working with doctors and high level trainers. The things we have learned have changed the way we look at everything. When I was in graduate school, my research professor always insisted that we phrase the question in a way that would help us get the most information. Therefore, the question should be, “What is keeping her arm from going faster?” This allows us to consider both barriers and performance issues.
In our research we have discovered more than seven things that prevent arm speed. Why do I say “more than seven”? There are seven major problems, but there are a few minor ones that can occur in a tiny percentage of kids. If you try to force a fast arm without eliminating these issues first, the results fall into two catagories, frustration or injury.
Let’s deal with just one example, scapular dysfunction. We often see this one. For our purposes today, think of the scapula as the part of the shoulder blade that runs vertically parallel to the spine. If a kid has “winging” of the shoulder blades, or if the shoulder blades are far out of balance, or if she is far stronger on the front side of the body than the back, we refer to that as scapular dysfunction in pitching. Much of the time her shoulder cannot experience normal rotation to create a smooth and fast circle. I would never, ever, ever put a weighted ball in this kid’s hand, nor use any of those tools that promise a faster arm circle. You have not dealt with the problem, but you have increased the injury risk exponentially. Put this kid into a wall drill and you are exacerbating the problem further. Most of the time this kid’s shoulder is making four distinct moves instead of one. It rolls forward, then up, then backward, then around the hip. Conventional wisdom is full of ways to speed up this arm that can quickly lead to injury.
You must be able to separate the real issue (scapular dysfunction) from the resulting symptom (inefficient arm circle). Correct the barrier and the symptom will often take care of itself with just a little training. In order to gain speed with this kid you must correct two things.
Coming up short on either end will not succeed. So, if you ask someone how to speed up the arm and they give you a quick answer without researching the nature of the problem, you probably want to avoid this person’s advice. As our company strength trainer often says, “If you are not assessing, you are guessing”. This is why almost half of the D1 college pitchers in America last year suffered a significant lost-time injury. Too many people asked the wrong question. This is a ridiculous number and further evidence that we need to change the way pitchers are trained.
Lets’ look at another of the seven barriers to arm speed, and this time let’s go all of the way to the opposite end of the body. What happens if a kid drags hard on the side of her foot? There is no way the arm can reach its potential speed. It has to wait so long for the back foot to arrive at the finish position that the arm is forced to lag. I would seem logical to simply suggest the kid not drag on the side of her foot. Once again, the dragging is not the issue, but a symptom of a bigger problem. Fixing the foot fixes nothing. That is cosmetics. What is the underlying cause? Once you discover the cause, then overcome it, the kid fires onto the toe, the legs reach the finish much quicker, and that allows the arm to go faster.
The more time we spend in the lab, and the more we analyze video, the more we get excited about new and exciting ways to deal with issues that nobody considered before. It all comes from asking the right question. What keeps the arm from being able to go fast? What is preventing her from dramatically exploding off the mound? How can we get greater power in the hips?
**We are making plans for visits to Georgia and South Carolina and hope to catch up with you along the way. Hey, we need instructors. If you know a former college pitcher who would love to impact the lives of kids in great ways, we provide everything she needs. Have her contact us.