When you’re training for baseball, it’s very easy to get caught up in the game of constantly seeking horsepower.
Blazing basepath speed.
Crazy vertical jump height.
…The list could go on and on here.
What is left largely underappreciated amongst most baseball players is the importance of training the brakes!
Yes, it’s important to have the horsepower in your engine, but if you don’t have the brakes to support that horsepower you’re going to get injured sooner than later.
This is how throwing works and this is what a complete approach to your training should look like.
You see, a throw is broken down into three main phases (well, 3-6 phases if you look in the sports science literature. But, let’s keep things simple).
We have the cocking phase, which represents the period of time between the initiation of the wind-up and when your arm/shoulder reaches complete external rotation.
Then, we explode into the acceleration phase which begins at the very back of the movement and is complete once you release the ball.
And finally, we finish off with the follow through phase which initiates the moment the ball is released and is complete once the throwing motion has stopped.
All of these phases load and explode different muscle groups and therefore should be trained accordingly. Always remember, you’re only as strong as your weakest link. If you are great in 1 or 2 phases, but totally suck in another, that will always be your “anchor” that holds you back to becoming the best player you can possibly be.
If you are great in 1 or 2 phases, but totally suck in another, that will always be your “anchor” that holds you back to becoming the best player you can possibly be.
Since everybody is always so hyped up about horsepower, they are training the heck out of their pectoralis major/minor, anterior deltoids, and triceps. These muscle work with certain muscles of the rotator cuff to explode you out of the cocking phase, into the acceleration phase, and all the way through the follow-through phase. Put another way, these are the muscles that bring your arm from full external extension (behind your body) to all the way in front of you in the follow through (point of release).
Training these accelerator muscles isn’t a bad thing, of course. That’s not what I’m saying here. These muscles add wood to your fire, I love that stuff and so should you.
But what we can’t forget are the decelerating muscles that help you put on the brakes once the follow through is complete.
These decelerator muscles include the lats, posterior delts, biceps, traps, and rotator cuff muscles. You need these muscles to be strong enough in order to deal with the horsepower you’re trying to output within your throw for two major reasons:
#1: Your body has automatic safety mechanisms in it to prevent you from doing silly things that will damage it. Biology is always concerned about long term survival, it really doesn’t care about how fast you can throw a ball or how good your abs look on the beach.
It wants survival, and it will alter your physiology and mechanics in order to accomplish that mission. In this particular scenario, the body will actually put the brakes on for you. In that, you don’t even have a say in the manner.
Your body will simply say “Ok, well your accelerator muscles can exert 5 units of force, but your decelerator muscles can only handle 3 units of force until you injure yourself. I’m going to put an automatic block on the velocity that you can throw down to 3 units of force so that we don’t get injured.”
Yes, you read that right!
This means training your decelerators can actually accelerate your throwing velocity because your body will allow you to automatically increase your horsepower because it is now safe to do so.
#2: The second reason is probably one you already predicted, which is injury prevention. If you are firing out more horsepower than your muscles can handle, you’re going to get injured. Missing games, missing practices, missing workouts, and possibly running into a poor recovery process that leads you to say things like “it just doesn’t feel the same anymore” is a terrible consequence for poor programming.
You can think about it like shooting a cannon out of a canoe, that canoe is not stable enough to hold you in place. This is how your shoulder girdle will feel if you don’t train your decelerators.
To avoid these issues altogether, it’s very important you incorporate some exercise to combat this. If you’ve done any other reading online, you may run into some people only recommending rotator cuff work here. Only that’s not technically a wrong thing to do, it’s definitely not the optimal strategy and doesn’t address other MAJOR players such as the lats and traps. If you want to have maximum deceleration development, maximum throwing velocity, and maximum injury prevention; you’re going to want a combination of both isolation and major compound movements for a complete approach.
Best Exercises To Throw Harder
Here are the main exercises I like using with my athletes to protect their throwing arms:
- Chin up variations
- Pull up variations
- Pendlay rows
- One arm DB rows
- T-bar rows
- Deadlift variations
- DB rear delt flies or the rear delt fly machine
- Elbow on knee DB external rotations
- BB Cuban press
- L-lateral raise with external rotation
- One arm BB shrugs
- DB hammer curls
Training frequency of the decelerator muscles should likely be two times per week for most athletes and the intensity used for the isolation movements (such as elbow on knee external rotations) should be light, whereas you are free to roam based on your periodization for the intensity used on more compound movements such as deadlifts and pull-ups.
I hope this article was able to show the other side of the coin today for your baseball throwing arm and was able to offer you some actionable items to throw harder and overall take your throwing arm to the next level!
If you are a baseball pitcher looking to learn more about increasing throwing velocity, check out our guide on increasing your pitching velocity.