Some baseball players have an arm like a bazooka. Major league players like Vladimir Guerrero, Rick Ankiel and Ichiro Suzuki make a living shooting down base runners at lightning speed — catching, turning and launching the ball with piercing precision. These strong-armed wonders are astonishing to watch.
If you want to join their ranks and throw with greater velocity, consider supercharging your fitness routine with a special focus on improving the numbers flashing across the radar gun. Here’s how.
>> SEEK BALANCE. Focus on one part of the body — the arm, for instance — and you’ll ultimately discover that’s the wrong thing to do. The game of baseball, or softball, will find the weakness. Instead, a player who has developed his overall athletic ability will prove the strongest, says Tom O’Connell, author of Play Ball (Human Kinetics, 2010) and head baseball coach at Catholic Central High School in Burlington, Wis.
O’Connell urges players to strengthen their core muscles and lower body, especially in the preseason. Target foundation muscles such as your obliques, transverse abdominal muscles and your back. For this, try medicine-ball moves. You can toss a light-weight ball to a partner in front of you or, to work your obliques, stand back-to-back with your teammate and pass the medicine ball back and forth, handing off on one side and then twisting to the other to take it back. Repeat 10 times and reverse directions.
You can also gain body balance and agility through a whole-body fitness routine that addresses each muscle group and includes a series of lunges and squats in different directions — forward, backward, to the sides and diagonally.
>> POWER UP. Boost your force output by incorporating plyometrics into your workouts, says Brett Massie, Ed.D., ATC, director of the athletic training program at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and former athlete trainer for professional baseball. “Do arm exercises while standing on a Bosu ball,” he suggests. “You can work on shoulder strength while you’re a little off-balance. This strengthens the entire body.”
As players transfer their weight from their legs into their throwing arm, the movement relies on a robust kinetic chain. “If you look at power pitchers like Roger Clemens or Nolan Ryan, they were very strong in the hip region and upper thigh,” Massie says.
>> THROW LONG. On the field, players and teams can incorporate throwing drills, such as the long toss. “There is a direct correlation between how far you can throw a ball and how fast you can throw a ball,” O’Connell explains.
For a long toss, take two or three strides or hops and throw the ball as far as possible without breaking down the mechanics of your throw. Move back after each throw and try to increase your throwing distance. “You’ll strengthen muscles along the kinetic chain and increase flexibility,” Massie says. As players become more flexible, throwing velocity increases.
>> CULTIVATE THE CUFF. Rotator-cuff injuries are the enemy of any athlete, and baseball or softball players are no exception. “[When throwing], the only thing holding the upper-arm bone, the humerus, in place is the rotator cuff,” Massie says.
The key to protecting the rotator cuff is stabilizing your scapula (shoulder blade) muscles. Massie advises rhomboid-targeting exercises such as a four-step seated row. Start in a sitting position, with your knees slightly bent and your feet firmly on the supports. Hold the cable attachment while keeping your shoulders back and your arms extended straight. With your back in an upright position, pinch your rhomboid muscles together in the center of your upper back. Then pull the handles toward your body until they reach your abdomen. The third step is to slowly return to the beginning position and finish the rep by relaxing your scapula completely. Repeat that sequence 12 times to complete one set.
Another scapula exercise Massie suggests is what he calls the “push-up plus,” a variation on the standard push-up. Starting in the traditional plank position, lower your body to the floor, return to the starting position and then go a little farther by rounding your shoulders (this is the “plus”). Repeat for reps.
Strength-and-flexibility training not only will help you get to the ball faster but also will help you get it out of your mitt and hurling toward the target. Now, who’s up for a catch?