The 7 Steps to Adding Velocity During the Season
Without question, by far the best time to build capability and velocity is during the off-season. This may seem obvious, but I have found that many young athletes, their parents, and their coaches struggle to articulate exactly why this is true. I believe understanding this scenario can be very impactful in forging a productive path forward. Let’s start there.
Let us use a non-baseball-specific example to bring awareness and clarity to the process. If we were wanting a method to increase our personal best bench press, for example, we certainly wouldn’t max. out our bench press every single day in the weight room. Following that schedule, in no time at all, we would either plateau very quickly, go backward, or even possibly become injured. Instead, we would cycle our bouts of work so we push, and then we would give our body time to recover. Our work would be designed around maximizing our body’s ability to adapt and accommodate. Cycling your work is extremely important.
Developing velocity is no different.
The off-season schedule is nearly always far more conducive to structuring those cycles of work and recovery. During the competitive season, our cycles are specifically designed around maximizing game time performance. If we need to alter or shape our schedule in the off-season, we can simply add or subtract with few consequences or challenges. However, during the competitive season, all changes and dynamics of the games themselves greatly influence and dictate our schedule.
Many people make the mistake of thinking the key to increasing throwing velocity is “the push”. However, the push is only half of the equation. The vitally important second portion is the “recovery”. We refer to recovery as the time required for your body/arm to return to a state of full functionality.
If and when your body is in a depleted state, your next push is often not going to have its desired effect and can actually have a deleterious one. If you want to gain velocity DURING the season, you are going to have to be very intentional and aware in your process. The greatest challenge in gaining velocity during the season is managing your body’s cycle of recovery because during the season, “managing your cycle” becomes far more complex. Successfully coping with the chaos of baseball season can, in fact, be accomplished, but it will require diligence and adjustment.
With that in mind, let’s talk about 7 steps we would recommend in attempting to safely gain velocity DURING the season. Remember that being aware of and honoring the natural cycle of recovery, as well as being very judicious when adding any additional stress to the system, is of incredible importance.
1. The body can only recruit what is awake and available. Therefore, if you are trying to gain velocity during the season, step #1 is to slightly increase your wake-up/warm-up in both duration and intensity. I often ask my pitchers, “If you absolutely had to throw a baseball 100mph, how much of your body do you need to be awake and available?”. They almost always immediately answer, “ALL of it!”. That is, in our opinion, the correct answer. In reality, very few players train or play with ZERO warm-up, but also very few players’ warm-ups are exceptional or world-class. Improving your wake-up/warm-up will not only assist your capability potential, but it will also assist and support you in improved recovery
I previously stated “slightly increase” for a reason. If an athlete went from a poor or marginal warm-up process and immediately attempted to make it world-class, it almost assuredly would represent too much of a change, and most would probably have a negative effect. Therefore, our recommendation is each week to slightly increase the quality of the warm-up until you are totally confident that your specific warm-up process is exceptional, and your entire body is ready to perform at peak intensity.
I warn you… Do not ever underestimate the power of having the body fully prepared. Some will ask me for a specific list of things to do. My response is there are literally hundreds of very solid and effective warm-ups available online. The keys are – the warm-up is full body, dynamic, and prepares the body for full range of motion (ROM), rotation, and quick change of direction. I would even recommend having multiple warm-ups in your menu/toolbox to keep it fresh.
2. Become a better mover. Step #2 is to improve and augment your agility, coordination, and motor control. Maintain the strength and stability gains you made during the off-season and the intensification phase. If strength and/or stability were a constraint, really drill down during the season on core strength, scapular strength/stability, single-leg dynamic stability on both legs (to minimize energy leaks) and strengthen the flexors of the forearm. These are slightly more skill-specific and don’t tax our recovery nearly to the degree that more traditional strength options do.
If mobility and flexibility are personal constraints, continue to improve the “biggies”, such as ankle mobility, hamstring flexibility, hip mobility, t-spine mobility, and shoulder mobility.
Not only will becoming a “better mover” support your efforts to increase velocity in the season, it will also enhance your ability to recover. We say at the Ranch all the time, “Better movers make better athletes, and better athletes make better, more durable, more dynamic, more explosive pitchers.” Becoming a better mover doesn’t further tax the arm, therefore step #2 is a no-brainer if one wishes to gain velocity during the competitive season.
3. Become a more effective and efficient decelerator. If you want your body and arm to speed up, then we should first enhance your ability to effectively and efficiently slow your arm down. The late Dr. Mike Marshal was known for the saying, “The body will only accelerate as efficiently as it can decelerate.” For the most part, I believe he was absolutely correct. While an athlete may be able to “survive” for a time with poor patterns of deceleration, it will only be a matter of volume at high speeds before consequences begin to show up (typically in the posterior shoulder and lateral elbow). The body is incredibly intuitive and intelligent; it works very hard at protecting us from harm, even the self-inflicted kind. If the body believes that the arm’s acceleration exceeds its ability to stop without severe consequences, it will simply restrict its acceleration.
Bottom line: If you want to increase your throwing velocity during the season… Enhance your ability to safely slow down your arm.
The great news is that “deceleration work” can be done at lower intensities and can be included in arm care, ramp-up, and post-throwing. Unfortunately, some pitchers are completely unfamiliar with deceleration work, the Durathro Sock™, the bell club, the Handspeed Trainer, or other similar variations on theme. In my 20+ years of doing high-speed video analysis of pitchers, only about 30% have what we would consider highly efficient patterns of deceleration. And for a predominance of those who are less efficient, their inability to slow down their arm without additional trauma to soft tissue is a major contributor to their challenges in adding velocity.
4. Experiment with finding your ideal rhythm and tempo. Far too often, in our opinion, a young pitcher’s tempo and rhythm are dictated by his parent, instructor, or coach. In my 30+ years of experience in training pitchers, I will tell you that ideal tempo and rhythm are very personal things. This is true, not only in baseball pitching, but also in golf, serving in tennis, or shooting a basketball. Roy Oswalt and Pedro Martinez were very quick and up-tempo. Daisuke Matsuzaka, Luis Tiant, and Johnny Cueto were very slow. They were ALL exceptionally successful.
I cringe when I see coaches forcing a specific tempo that looks “pleasing” to the parent’s, instructor’s, or coach’s eye. It’s fine to start with a set tempo, but then the athlete should be encouraged to experiment with speeding up and slowing down from that standard to see which tempo he prefers. We highly recommend listening to music that is pleasing/enjoyable to the pitcher while they experiment. There is just something about music that allows us to find a tempo and rhythm that fits us. Discovering a personal ideal tempo can help unlock some latent and untapped athleticism.
5. Experiment with loading and unloading the posterior chain. There are dozens of opinions and theories on how to best and most effectively increase the utilization of the legs, hips, and trunk. Discussing and debating these would require at least a two-part discussion in itself. Our point here is that between starts or outings, working specifically on improving the loading and unloading of the pelvis can be very beneficial, and can be accomplished with very little additional stress to the arm. Always remember that while the action of the arm is important, the arm is primarily the delivery mechanism for the legs, hip, and trunk.
6. Enhance your internal systemic processes of what and how much you eat (nutrition), what and how much you drink (hydration), and how much quality sleep you get every night. This is pretty straightforward and self-explanatory. That being said, we see young people regularly stumble in these areas and then wonder why they struggle in gaining velocity. Possibly because it is simple in theory… Young people fail to take these processes seriously. (Especially the sleep component.) If you want to gain velocity during the season, make certain you are hydrated, eating well, and getting 8+ hours of sleep every night.
7. Let it eat… More often. And finally, make it a habit that, on a regular basis after a thorough warm-up and your arm is feeling good, to finish your throwing with 3-5 throws that you “let the horses run”. In other words, every day that makes sense in your cycle to do so, allow the body and arm to operate at near maximal effort for 3-5 reps. Paul Nyman of SETPRO coined a phrase by the father of biomechanics, Nikolai Bernstein (Nyman called it the “Bernstein Principle”). It states, “The body will organize itself based upon the ultimate goal of the activity.” Therefore, for your body to organize itself for velocity, it needs to be a regular goal. In other words, we will rarely (if ever) throw harder by throwing sub maximally as a daily habit, and then once every seven days, try to set a new PR in a game. Excellence is a habit. Therefore, we are what we repeatedly do.
Coach Ron Wolforth is the founder of the Texas Baseball Ranch® and has written six books on pitching including the Amazon Best Seller, Pitching with Confidence. Since 2003, The Texas Baseball Ranch® has had over 543 pitchers break the 90mph barrier, 194 have topped 94mph or better, and 129 students have been drafted in the MLB’s June Amateur Draft. Coach Wolforth has consulted with 13 MLB teams, dozens of NCAA programs and has been referred to as “America’s Go-to-Guy on Pitching” and “The Pitching Coaches Pitching Coach”. Coach Wolforth lives in Montgomery, TX with his wife, Jill. They are intimately familiar with youth select, travel baseball and PG events as their son Garrett (now a catcher in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization) went through the process. Garrett still holds the PG Underclass All-American Games record for catcher velocity at 89mph which he set in 2014 at the age of 16.
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