Is GIRD Really the Reason Why Baseball Pitchers Get Hurt?

Today’s guest post comes from Lenny Macrina, my good friend and co-owner of Champion PT and Performance.  We work with a lot of baseball players at Champion, which makes us really understand one thing – baseball pitchers are unique!  Many of our athletes come to us after going elsewhere for care but not making the progress they want.  I don’t think we are special, we just see a lot of baseball injuries, so we know what to look for in these athletes.  

Lenny does a great job here discussing a very common misconception about pitching injuries and GIRD.  Honestly, GIRD is kind of outdated.  

Lenny has conducted a ton of research on this topic and wanted to share his results.  You MUST understand the science and not get caught up in all the hype on the internet!  Read below and learn more!


Baseball pitchers tend to have unique amounts of mobility of their shoulders. Because of this, throwing generates tremendous forces on the shoulder.  This is important to consider when evaluating and treating baseball injuries.

All of this fancy talk basically says that throwing a baseball is technically bad for your body, and many times we see baseball pitchers with hurt shoulders and elbows.

But why?

We believe there are many reasons, but as physical therapists who have to assess and treat these baseball players, we must be aware of their unique presentation and act accordingly.

It has been well established in the literature that pitchers exhibit adaptations to their shoulder mobility from the act of throwing.   Generally, the thrower’s shoulder exhibits less internal rotation but greater external rotation compared to non-throwing side. There are many proposed reasons for these shoulder mobility changes, including bony adaptations, muscular tightness, shoulder blade position, and capsular restrictions.

This loss of internal rotation has received a lot of attention and has even been referred to as glenohumeral joint internal rotation deficit (GIRD).


Is GIRD really the reason why baseball pitchers get hurt?

Several authors have stated that GIRD may increase the risk of shoulder injuries in baseball pitchers. This has caused everyone to assume this and treat accordingly.

Our initial research, that we published in 2011, showed pitchers with GIRD had a 1.8 times increased risk of shoulder injury. But it was NOT statistically significant. Since then, we have published more data that shows similar trends, specifically in our paper looking at 8 consecutive seasons of injury data.

While pitchers with measured GIRD had a slightly higher rate of shoulder injury during that season, the relationship was not statistically significant and GIRD did not correlate with shoulder injuries.

Essentially, we have not shown that GIRD correlates to pitching injuries.


Total Motion May Be More of the Issue

Perhaps the issue really isn’t GIRD?  A more important measurement to consider in the overhead thrower is total rotational range of motion. Total rotation is defined as the sum of external rotation and internal rotation.


Total Rotational Range of Motion

Rather than look at internal rotation by itself, it may be more valuable to look at the combined total rotational motion of both external and internal rotation together.

In fact, we showed that pitchers with greater than a 5 degree deficit in total rotational range of motion displayed a greater risk of injury. In one study, this was a statistically significant 2.6 times increased risk of shoulder injury.


What About External Rotation and Shoulder Injuries?

Does GIRD Cause Baseball Pitching InjuriesCuriously enough, we also have shown a relationship between loss of external rotation mobility and shoulder injuries.  Pitchers with external rotation insufficiency were more likely to undergo surgery, 2.2 times more likely be placed on the DL for a shoulder injury, and 4.0 times more likely to undergo shoulder surgery.

Wow!  At first you would think, let’s stretch these guys out and gain external rotation. But hold on one second and let’s get a grip!

If you remember our study from 2011, we showed a high preponderance for shoulder injuries especially in the pitchers whose total motion was greater than 187 degrees.  You don’t want too little or too much motion!

So, as I always tell my students, athletes and fellow clinicians: We’re always walking a fine line between too much and not enough mobility.


What About Shoulder Flexion?

While internal and external rotation get all the exposure, shoulder flexion may actually be an area we see tight the most.

I think one interesting finding of our recent research has been the relationship between the shoulder flexion deficit and injury.  Pitchers with a deficit of greater than or equal to 5° in shoulder flexion of the throwing shoulder had a 2.8 times greater risk for elbow injury.

The correlation between shoulder flexion deficit and elbow injury may represent a lack of tissue mobility and overall flexibility (possibly to the latissimus dorsi) in injury-prone subjects.

The baseball pitcher has a unique mobility of the arm.  We need to be careful assuming that these abnormalities and asymmetries correlate to injury.  They often do not.

The challenge is figuring this out and keeping up with the research…as it is always evolving!  The more you work with baseball pitchers the more you appreciate these subtleties.  These are the subtleties that make them unique, and effective as athletes.


So, what does all of this mean?

  • Assess motion
  • GIRD not necessarily bad (actually pretty normal)
  • Lacking ER may increase risk of injury
  • Total range of motion deficits increase risk of injury
  • Shoulder flexion deficits increased elbow injury risks
  • Assess and never assume!

GIRD is not as evil as everyone makes it out to be.  Treating them unnecessarily and trying to gain internal rotation may actually make them worse.  Don’t treat without thoroughly assessing, and don’t assume GIRD is the reason why baseball pitchers get injured.



Keys to Effectively Stretching the Forearm

Sometimes you do something and don’t even realize what it means when you do it.

I’ve always been complimented by my athletes and patients about how I stretch their forearms.  They tend to gravitate to me for a stretch.  Perhaps it’s because I’ve worked with so many baseball players with stiff forearms, but apparently my technique feels more effective to people.

As with everything else, I do put a lot of thought into my technique to stretch the forearm.  The issue I think I see with people is that they are solely focused on wrist flexion and extension, and miss the majority of the stretch this way.

I wanted to share a quick video demonstrating how I stretch stretch the forearm.  Not rocket science, but paying attention to the little details will surely help you stretch the forearm more effectively.

These same concepts can be applied if you are performed a forearm stretch on yourself.


Keys to Effectively Stretching the Forearm

Essentially what it comes down to is assuring you:

  • Lock out the elbow
  • Bring the wrist into flexion or extension
  • Also include pronation or supination
  • Assure that you are including all the fingers
  • Assure that the finger joints are not flexing, extend them too

Hope this helps you more effectively stretch the forearm!  Let me know what you think and if you do something different.



Are Velocity Programs to Blame for the Rise in Baseball Pitching Injuries?

do velocity programs cause pitching injuries


One thing is certain when it comes to baseball pitching injuries, they are rising.

This winter I was honored to be a speaker at both the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society Medical Meeting and the American Sports Medicine Institute Injuries in Baseball Conference.  In both meetings we spent countless hours discussing the rise in injuries and what we can do to help reduce these alarming rates.

I believe the biggest thing we can do is educate, and that is the intent of this article.

Recent reviews of Major League Baseball data have shown that 25% of all pitchers in MLB have had Tommy John surgery.  I’ve written in the past about why Tommy John injuries are rising in Major League Baseball.  While this is amazing to begin with, a scarier trend is also emerging.  86% of MLB pitchers had their Tommy John surgery while playing professional baseball.  However, 61% of all minor league baseball players had their Tommy John surgery during high school or college.

Pitching injuries are occurring at an earlier age.

A recent study in The Physician and Sports Medicine showed that 30% of youth baseball players up to the age of 12 reported episodes of shoulder or elbow pain.  Another report in the Journal of Arthroscopy noted 31% of pitchers up to the age of 22 have experience an arm injury.

Dr. Ahmad of the New York Yankees reported in the American Journal of Sports Medicine on the rise in Tommy John surgery over a 10-year period in the state of New York.  The volume of surgeries increased 193% between 2002 and 2011.  Plus, there was a statistically significant trend towards the age of surgery going down, meaning that more and more kids are having Tommy John surgery at an earlier age.

Dr. James Andrews, who has done more Tommy John surgeries than anyone else, has been discussing how he is seeing a rise in Tommy John surgery in youth baseball pitchers.  At meetings, he tells the story of how he used to see just a few kids a year, but now over a third of Tommy John procedures he performs are in youth pitchers.  Here is a graph showing the rise in Tommy John surgeries performed each year by Dr. Andrews:

tommy john surgery youth


Why Do Baseball Pitching Injuries Occur?

Over the years, we have hypothesized many potential causes of the rise in injuries in baseball but the research keeps coming back to two primary causes of pitching injuries:

  • Overuse
  • Increased velocity

Pitchers that throw more innings, more pitches per game, more games per week, play for multiple teams, and participated in more showcases have all been shown to have higher injury rates.  But it’s not just overuse during the season, it’s overuse throughout the year.  In a landmark study by ASMI, pitching for more than 8 months out of the year resulted in a 5x greater chance of sustaining an injury.  This is significant.

Combining all the great research now available to us, here is how the chance of youth baseball injuries increase due to overuse:

  • Pitching > 100 innings in one year = 3x greater risk of injury
  • Averaging > 80 pitches per game = 4x greater risk of injury
  • Pitching > 8 months per year = 5x greater risk of injury
  • Regularly pitching with arm fatigue = 36x greater risk of injury

Our trend towards emphasizing velocity more than any other pitching attribute is not helping either.  Two studies, one in the American Journal of Sports Medicine and the other in Sports Health, have shown a correlation between velocity and elbow stress in high school and professional baseball pitchers.

While increased stress on the Tommy John ligament does not necessarily mean they will get injured, ASMI has also noted that velocity correlated to injuries and that pitchers that threw harder had a 2.6x greater chance of getting injured.  In the previously mentioned article in Arthroscopy, an increase in velocity was associated with a 12% greater injury risk.

So it makes sense that we are seeing a rise in both the average pitch velocity in Major League Baseball and the number of players undergoing Tommy John surgery:

tommy john surgery correlates to pitching velocity

Essentially, the harder and more often you throw, the higher your chance of injury.  

Many people are perfectly OK with accepting this risk, and I am too.  But, the fact that throwing a baseball is not good for your body is very apparent and the first thing that we must all understand when designing baseball training programs.


The Evolution of Baseball Training and Velocity Programs

I believe we are in what I would call the “velocity program” era of baseball training.  The primary focus of every kid in America is on performing a “velocity program” that they saw on the internet and essentially guarantees a huge increase in velocity.

The internet is filled with a lot of information.  This is a great thing and allows us all to learn at a rapid pace.  However, it’s difficult to determine who we should actually be listening to and trusting.  Often times the most articulate writers with the most impressive videos will get the most exposure.  What we are seeing is a blind trust and faith in these recommendations based on anecdotal information and limited science.

This is a huge problem to me.  The science is not adding up.

The two biggest offenders I see right now are weighted ball and long toss programs.  These programs have become popular.

Below are the Google search term trends for “weighted baseballs” and “increase baseball velocity” from 2004 to February 2016.  You can see a trend upward as well as the rise in popularity of weighted baseballs over the last few years:

increase pitching velocity

Let me be clear and get this out of the way.  I am a believer of performing weighted baseball and long toss programs.  I incorporate them into my programs and think you should too.  (No one will remember those last two sentences, by the way).

It’s not the program that is the problem, it’s how these programs are being implemented.

It all comes down to “dosage.”  We all know that medicine is effective.  But there are side effects to all drugs and, more importantly, you can overdose and cause more harm than good.

I believe we are overdosing on velocity programs.

We are putting a lot of faith into programs being marketed on the internet that have not been validated scientifically to be safe or effective.  Again, just to be clear, there are many smart coaches on the internet with great programs.  I follow many great minds and really respect what they do.  But realize that:

  • People are trying to implement these programs on their own without thought or a clear understanding on what is safe and effective.  They are not selecting the appropriate dose.
  • People are implementing the same velocity program for everyone, often on a team-wide basis, not individualizing the dose for each individual.
  • People are getting greedy.  Many people think if a 1 lb ball can help them gain 3 MPH, than a 2 lb ball can help them gain 6 MPH!  They are overdosing.

We have a very limited understanding of the science weighted baseball, long toss, and other baseball training and velocity programs, but research is starting to come out.  Below is what we currently know regarding weighted ball and long toss programs.

If you are going to start a pitching velocity training program yourself of with athletes, you MUST understand the science.


The Science of Weighted Ball Velocity Programs

Weighted ball training programs work.  We have enough evidence to know that weighted ball training helps to increase pitching velocity.  We’ve known this for decades.  But at what cost?

I can tell you from my experience as the person on the other side of the equation, I hear this comment all the time from injured baseball players: “I started a weighted ball training program this winter, gained 3-5 MPH on my fastball, and then hurt my arm for the first time during the season.”  I can’t tell you how common that is at Champion every day.  This is all I do every day.

How about this conversation I recently had:

  • Pitcher: “I hurt my shoulder two weeks ago and can’t throw without pain.”
  • Me: “Have you ever hurt your arm before?”
  • Pitcher: “Never.”
  • Me: “Did you do anything different this offseason?”
  • Pitcher: “I started an aggressive long toss program to 300+ feet and weighted ball program.”
  • Me: “How did it go?”
  • Pitcher: “This is the best my arm has ever felt.”
  • Me: “Wait, you just said you can’t throw because of pain for the first time, sounds like this is the worst your arm has ever felt.”
  • Pitcher:  [blank stare…]

As you can see, his perception may be the biggest part of the problem.

We still don’t know how safe these programs are and, more importantly, what the effective “dose” should be to increase pitching velocity.  What I mean by this is, how heavy, how light, how many throws, how often per week, and how much during the year among other questions.  Selecting the right dose is important, and it should start with the minimum viable dose to achieve a training effect.

We still do not know the safest and most effective “dose” for pitching velocity programs, just like medicine, more is not better. [Click to Tweet]

The first study to look at the biomechanics of weighted ball programs has been submitted for publication by Dr. Glenn Fleisig and ASMI.  Dr. Fleisig presented the results of their study at the ASMI Injuries in Baseball Course.  Their study looked at mound vs. flat ground throwing of 4, 5, 6, and 7 oz balls.  Although limited in what was evaluated, they showed that throwing balls less than a 5 oz regulation ball increased the amount of stress on the arm.

What tends to happen with overload balls is less stress but over a longer period of time, and for underload balls it’s more stress over a shorter period of time, which is a bad combo.  Sorry for my crude drawing but here is a graphic visualization of this concept:

weighted ball velocity training stress curves

The 7 oz throws were less stressful than a regulation ball, however, we still don’t know if this changes as the balls get heavier or if they change with more intense run-and-gun or turn-and-burn style throws.  These were not studied.  I think they do.

We are in the middle of a big study at Champion PT and Performance where we have teamed up with Dr. James Andrews, Dr. Glenn Fleisig, and Motus Global to research weighted ball programs.  In the first phase of the study we are using knee throws, rocker throws, and run-and-gun throws using between 2oz and 2lb balls.  We are nearly done with this first phase of the study but just had our first subject stop the program because of elbow pain.  It was nothing serious, but we believe that his health is far more important than any study.

We caught this early and are not worried about him, but that’s probably not the norm.  Many people are just implementing a generic velocity program, not individualizing, and more importantly, don’t know when to stop or how to alter the program.

Here’s the interesting thing we found in him – over the course of a 5 week weighted ball program, he gained shoulder external rotation mobility and lost internal rotation strength!  If we had continued with the program, this could have been a concern.

Unfortunately, this is was my hypothesis.  Weighted ball programs using weights more than 5oz are effective at enhancing velocity.  I believe this may be because it causes such a quick and dramatic increase in external rotation, or layback.  Increasing this layback correlates to greater velocity.

Weighted baseball training programs may be changing out anatomy.

Scientifically, this gain in external rotation is not from a muscle stretching or the bone adapting.  It wouldn’t happen that fast.  What is likely happening is that the static stabilizers that are supposed to prevent excessive external rotation are being damaged.  This could be the capsule, labrum, or even rotator cuff.  These are not injuries that you want.  Plus, as layback increases, so does stress on the Tommy John ligament.

This is why many people do not get hurt during a weighted ball program, but end up getting hurt down the road.  They’ve pushed past their normal anatomy to increase pitching velocity.

So weighted ball programs have two potential concerns:

  1. Overweight balls may be causing damage to the tissue of the shoulder to allow more layback.  This gain in layback may also increase the strain on the Tommy John ligament.
  2. Underweight balls increase the amount of peak strain on the arm.


The Science of Long Toss Velocity Programs

In addition to weighted ball programs, we have also seen an increase in baseball long toss programs designed to improve pitching velocity.  Long toss is nothing new, but throwing maximum distance and trying to extend this distance over time has become more popular.

Similar to weighted ball programs, we are starting to see studies published quantifying the stress observed on the throwing arm during long toss throwing.  You have to take the science of long toss into consideration.

Dr. Fleisig and ASMI evaluated the stress observed during long toss programs in past studies.  One of these studies, published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, studied the difference between pitching off a mound and long tossing at 120 feet, 180 feet, and at maximum distance.  Long tossing to 120 feet had similar stress on the arm as pitching on the mound.  Throwing to 180 feet had greater stress.

However the most alarming finding of the study involved throwing maximum distance.  When subjects were asked to use a crow hop and throw as far as they could, the stress on their arm increased by 10% more than pitching off the mound (and their mechanics changed too…)!  It should be noted that the mean distance thrown was 264 feet, less than what many people throw.

Another recent study publish in the American Journal of Sports Medicine by Dr Elattrache of the Los Angeles Dodgers showed no significant difference between pitching off the mound and long toss throwing between 60 and 180 feet.  Let’s be really clear on this one, the amount of stress on the shoulder and elbow were the same as pitching off the mound AND throwing flat ground from even as short as 60 feet, despite a significantly lower velocity during the throw.  Perhaps throwing flat ground is less biomechanically efficient.

It is apparent that the longer you throw, the more stressful it is on the arm, even more so that pitching off the mound.

Long toss is important.  But again perhaps we are using the wrong dose.

I for one have worked with many players that love long toss and many players that hate long toss.  I’ve worked with MLB All-Stars and Cy Young winners on both sides.  I have worked with some that can easily throw 250+ feet without any sign of altered mechanics, while others labor at 180 feet.

Perhaps our issue is more related to the fact that one magical long toss program doesn’t exist.

Trying to say that a certain distance is recommend for everyone is very disadvantageous.  Everyone is different.  Think about it this way, should a 5’8″ tall pitcher and 6’6″ tall pitcher throw the same distance?  Should a sidearm pitcher throw the same distance as someone more over the top?  Should a 15 year old skeletally immature kid throw as far as a 30 year old big leaguer?

Long toss programs need to individualized for each person.  Similar to weighted ball programs, we now know that the stress on the arm exceeds pitching off the mound.


Do We Want to Expose the Throwing Arm to Increased Stress?

I think we do.  The body is a really amazing thing.  It’s really good at adapting to applied demands.  We’ve shown scientifically that:

  1. If you throw too MUCH when your growth plates are open, you place too much stress on the arm and greatly increase your chance of injury
  2. If you throw too LITTLE when your growth platers are open, you don’t apply enough stress to develop the physical ability to throw hard when you are older

Exposing the body to increased stress is a good thing.  This is how it adapts.  But just like a rubber band, if apply put too much stress or too many repetitive stresses, it will snap.

We need to expose the throwing arm to increased stress.  I don’t think the real problem is that these weighted ball and long toss velocity programs apply more stress on the arm.  That may be advantageous to an extent to build load tolerance by exposing the body to this extra stress.  It again just comes back to dosage.

These imposed demands need to be applied scientifically with the appropriate intensity, volume, frequency, and timing during the year.  This is not happening.


Are Velocity Programs to Blame for the Rise in Baseball Pitching Injuries?

I don’t think velocity programs directly to blame for the rise in baseball pitching injuries.  It’s not the program, it’s the dose.

So what we know right now is that both weighted ball and long toss programs produce more stress on the arm than pitching off a mound.  Again, this is acceptable if applied appropriately, and in fact this may be desired.

But let me ask you a couple of big questions:

  • Would you throw a bullpen 6x per week?
  • Would you throw bullpens all year around?

I hope you said “no” to both of those questions.  If not, you have a lot of reading to do.  Remember, pitching for more than 8 months per year has been shown to result in a 5x greater chance of injury.  A staggering number.

Most coaches know this and have started to throw less bullpens with their pitchers over the offseason.  However, bullpens are being replaced with weighted ball and long toss velocity programs.  Some are even doing this all offseason, while others continue to do this during the season.

So if the science is showing that both weighted balls and long toss place MORE stress on the arm than pitching off a mound, why would you do this 6x per week and why would you do it all year round?

We aren’t resting enough.  Remember what we said before, throwing a baseball is bad for your body.  You need to build in proper rest for recovery.

Your body does not care what or how you are throwing.  It just cares about the stress that is being applied to the tissue.

There is a place for weighted ball and long toss velocity programs, our programs we have built at Champion PT and Performance include these training techniques.  But these should be individualized and applied appropriately using what we know scientifically about these programs.

I believe many are overdosing on these velocity programs and this is one of the main reasons that despite all our advancements in baseball training programs, injury rates in baseball continue to rise.

I wrote this article because I work with injured baseball players all day, and it pains me to do so.  I sincerely want to be put out of business.  I am worried that we are hurting our youth and I see this trend only getting worse.

As we continue to learn and develop our programs, I am going to share them.  I actually have a lot of baseball content coming and a couple of surprises on the way.  If you want to get access to these in the future, I urge you to sign up below for my baseball newsletter.  Enter your name and email below and you’ll get any new baseball-related articles sent to you right away:

Photo by Joel Dinda

How to Assess for a Tight Posterior Capsule of the Shoulder

Over the years, the idea of posterior capsular tightness and glenohumeral internal rotation deficit (GIRD) in baseball pitchers has grown in popularity despite not much evidence.

I routinely see baseball players ranging from kids to MLB pitchers that have been told they have GIRD and need to aggressively stretch their posterior capsule and into shoulder internal rotation.  One of the first recommendations I make is essentially addition by subtraction – stop focusing on these areas!  I’ve discussed at length my feelings on why I don’t use the sleeper stretch, which is something I haven’t used in over a decade and none of my athletes have a loss of internal rotation.

Many people assume that GIRD is caused my posterior capsular tightness, without assessing the posterior capsule itself.  Blindly applying treatments without completely assessing the person is always a bad idea, especially considering GIRD may be normal and not even an issue.

Assessing the posterior capsule can be tricky and most text books continue to demonstrate the technique poorly.  I wanted to share a quick video showing how to assess the posterior capsule of the shoulder.



Perform your assessment of the posterior capsule this way and you’ll realize most people can actually sublux posteriorly and that mobilizing the posterior capsule isn’t what they need for GIRD!  Keep in mind this is applicable for athletes, you can certainly get a tight posterior capsule for many reasons, I just don’t think this is the primary cause of GIRD so shouldn’t be the primary treatment.


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3 Ways to Improve Throwing Velocity by Enhancing Lower Body Force Production

Pitching a baseball takes a tremendous amount of skill to throw with velocity and accuracy.  Improving velocity tends to be the primary concern of many pitchers, especially youth baseball players.  In order to learn how to enhance velocity, it’s more important to study scientific evidence than to rely on anecdotal information and traditional baseball concepts.

pitching velocityA recent study was published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine by a group of researchers in Japan that compared how youth and college pitchers use their trunks and legs during their pitching mechanics.

They found that youth and college pitchers threw with similar biomechanical kinematics, meaning that their mechanics were similar.

However, what they did find was that momentum and force generation were higher in the college pitchers.  College pitchers exhibited:

  • Greater push off on the pivot leg during stride
  • Greater pelvis and trunk rotation throughout the pitching sequence
  • Greater stride leg control during acceleration
  • Greater stride leg extension explosive force approaching ball release

It should be noted that the data was normalized to body mass to take into consideration the lower weight and size of adolescent pitchers.  This make the comparison fair.

These results correspond well to a previous report by the same authors that showed college pitchers with higher velocity also showed greater ability to produce force in their legs and trunk in comparison to college pitchers with low velocity.

In addition, the results were also similar to what Glenn Fleisig, Dr. James Andrews, and ASMI showed in regard to the upper body and trunk when comparing youth and older pitchers.


To Maximize Velocity, Generate More Force with the Legs and Trunk

Again, mechanics of youth are similar, but their ability generate force is different.  Generating more force with your legs and trunk results in greater velocity.

But getting stronger probably isn’t enough.

Based on these two studies it is apparent that getting stronger isn’t the only thing needed to increase your pitching velocity.  You also need to be able to generate more speed and power.

Part of this is simply getting older and bigger.  A stronger body and a longer arm generates more force, that’s just simple physics.  But there are also some tweaks you can perform to generate more force.  Here are three things youth baseball pitchers can train to improve their pitching velocity based on this new scientific evidence


Improve Strength

Leg and Trunk Power VelocityWhile strength probably isn’t enough alone, strength is probably the first factor youth should focus on to improve velocity.  To develop more power, you need to be stronger.  The more force you can exert, the harder you will throw.

Based on these studies, lower body strengthening is an area that deserves a lot of attention.  The legs are used during the early phases of pitching, so the amount of force produced early in the delivery will result in more force being developed and transferred through the body for the rest of the pitching sequence.

Take a look at professional baseball pitchers.  The majority that look like they throw effortlessly have big legs, hips, and butts.  Jon Lester is a great current example, and Roger Clemens is probably a great former example.

The shorter and smaller framed pitchers tend throw with much more effort.

The bigger and stronger your legs, the more force you can generate, which has been shown in numerous studies to correlate to velocity.


Enhance Speed

medicine ball pitching velocityI think a lot of youth baseball players stop at strength, and that can actually be detrimental.  Research in the strength and conditioning world has shown that training certain qualities, like strength and speed, results in adaptations of the body.

Better stated – train slow and you’ll throw slow. [Click to Tweet This]

Once a baseline of strength is established, I tend to focus on “intent.”  What I mean by that is you want to develop the athlete’s ability to explode.  This is an area that many youth do not understand.  They don’t know how to explode.

Once a young athlete understands how to move a heavy weight slowly, you want them to transition this to moving a moderate weight faster, and eventually a lighter weight even faster.

Exercises like plyometric jumps, medicine ball throws, kettlebell swings, and speed trap bar deadlifts are all very effective in this spectrum of training.

On the baseball training side of the equation, this is where long toss and overweight/underweight balls become important for pitchers (there is a right way and wrong way to implement these).  I’m not sure any of these develop “arm strength” as much as they develop “arm speed.”

Big difference.


Maximize Stability

youth baseball velocityLastly, and probably the least well understood and implemented, is training for stability.  To improve throwing velocity, you need the proper motor control and dynamic stability to stabilize both the arm and the stride leg.  People to tend to understand the arm more these days, but I wouldn’t ignore the stride leg.

To properly transfer force that is developed from your pivot leg, you need a strong AND stable stride leg.

You need stride leg stability for force transfer, but don’t forget the body has internal regulations to avoid injury.  If the stride leg can’t stabilize the force, theoretically you body won’t allow you to develop the force.

This also goes for the arm, and I believe why using weighted balls the WRONG way can be harmful, especially for youth pitchers.  Your arm needs to be able to withstand the force to produce the force.  Otherwise, your brain is smart enough to regulate force development.

To maximize velocity, you need to train the body to develop and withstand force.  Too many of us only focus on developing force alone.  This can result in ineffectiveness of training programs as well as injury by pushing past your physiological limits.


Understand that maximum velocity in a baseball pitcher occurs through a combination of many qualities.  Work on enhancing each of these will result in a maximum amount of velocity while reducing the chance of injury.


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4 Keys to Staying Healthy During the Baseball Season

The latest Inner Circle webinar recording on my 4 Keys to Staying Healthy During the Baseball Season is now available.

4 Keys to Staying Healthy During the Baseball Season

4 Keys to Staying Healthy During Baseball SeasonThis month’s Inner Circle webinar is on 4 Keys to Staying Healthy During the Baseball Season.  In this webinar I’ll discuss:

  • How and why injuries happen in baseball
  • What you should watch out for in regard to loss of mobility
  • My criteria you should achieve before picking up a ball everyday
  • The #1 thing I see youth players do wrong that causes injuries
  • How to maximize performance by minimizing overuse

To access this webinar:

How to Prepare Before You Throw – Part 2: Prepare Your Throwing

As I said in part 1 of this 2-part article on How to Prepare Before Your Throwing Program, one common theme that I often hear when players describe how they got hurt was that they did not properly warm up and prepare themselves to throw.

To prepare before your throwing program, you really need to do two things: 1) Prepare your body and 2) Prepare your throwing.  If you haven’t yet, please go back and read part 1 of this article to learn how to prepare your body:


How to Prepare Before Your Throwing Program – Part 2: Prepare Your Throwing

Now that your body is ready to roll and start your throwing program, I want to shift gears and talk about how to use your throwing program to prepare to throw.  I think it is really import to “prepare to throw, not throw to prepare.”

What I mean by that is that you need to make sure you are properly warmed up, even within your throwing program, before you can start your throwing “work.”  You shouldn’t just jump on the mound, or throw at full intensity, or quickly progress to long tossing.  That is throwing to prepare, and as I stated in part 1 of this article, I don’t want aggressive throwing to be the first things your body feels.

To prepare to throw, you need to prepare your body (again, in part 1) and then prepare your throwing program.  There is a BIG difference between your “warm-up” throwing and your “work” throwing.

Would you ever just throw your max weight on the bar and start squatting or deadlifting without doing warm up sets?  Never, right?  In strength and conditioning we usually incorporate a gradual increase in load with the weight of an exercise before getting to the weight we want to use to train.  You have warm-up sets and then work sets.  As an example, if you are supposed to perform 5 sets of 5 reps of deadlifts at 285 lbs, if you first set is 185, second set 205, and third set 225, those don’t count as your 5×5 work sets.

The same goes with throwing.


Prepare to Throw Step 4 – Ease Into Throwing

I’ve played catch with 100’s of professional baseball pitchers.  I honestly only remember one that would start throwing 90 MPH at my knees by the third or forth throw (and he’s been injured his entire career).  Big leaguers get it and gradually get loose.  You’d actually be surprised at how easy they actually play catch initially as they warm up.

On the flip side, one of the more common tweaks I make to my younger athletes is to ease into throwing.  Not a week goes by without someone gunning a ball at my ankles on the 3rd throw (I love you GD…).

This is extremely stressful on the body.  Remember throwing itself is stressful.  You have to gradually apply that stress to get the tissue used to the force.

Not all throwing has to be designed to gain arm strength or velocity.  Some throwing should be more similar to just riding a bike with your arm to get blood flow and gradually apply stress to the elasticity of the tissue.


Prepare to Throw Step 5 – Let The Distance Dictate the Intensity

The next step to prepare to throw builds on step 4.  Now that you’ve played light catch to get loose, it’s time to start walking back and increasing the distance.

Distance in your long toss program is a variable we use to adjust your intensity.  Realistically there isn’t much difference between throwing with full intensity at 150 feet or 200 feet.  Full intensity is pretty much full intensity.

Again, resist the urge to start throwing on a line at new distances.  Rather, I tell my athletes to “let the distance dictate the intensity,” meaning throw the ball with a bit of an arc to firmly hit your partner in the chest on the descent.

If the ball would sail past your partner another 100 feet if they missed your throw, you are throwing too hard for the stretch out phase of throwing.

baseball long toss arc


There will be time to throw on a line, that is next step…


Prepare to Throw Step 6 – Get Your Work In

OK, you’ve made it!  You prepared your body.  You’re mobile.  You activated your muscles.  You did a dynamic warm up.  You eased into throwing and long toss.  Congrats!  Now you can “throw.”

Just to reiterate, there is a difference between “warm-up” throwing and “work” throwing.  Step 6 is now incorporating your “work” throwing, whatever that may be for you that day.

It could be long toss, weighted balls, bullpen work, even throwing in a game.  That is your “work” throwing and you are now ready for it.


By going through the proper steps to prepare to throw you’ll find that you actually get better work in and throw better, plus you’ll be much more resilient to injuries.  These are some of the key steps I outline to all of my athletes and what we follow in the big leagues.


Want to Learn More?

I have an entire Inner Circle webinar dedicated to detailing these 6 steps to prepare for and perform a throwing program.


I also have a free 45-minute video on How Baseball Players Can Safely Enhance Performance While Reducing Injuries.  Enter your name and email below and I will send you access to the video as well as a handout of the above arm care warm-up exercises that you can take to the field:

How to Prepare Before You Throw – Part 1: Prepare Your Body

Working with so many injured pitchers over my career, one common theme that I often hear when players describe how they got hurt was that they did not properly warm up and prepare themselves to throw.  I’m not sure if this is always the true cause of the players’ injuries, however, I hear it often enough that it has to have some significance.

throwing long toss programThis seems to make sense, though.  Throwing is very dynamic and aggressive on the body.  In fact, it is the fastest known motion that the human body performs!  If it could, your shoulder would rotate a full 360 degrees around up to 27 times in 1 second!  That is unbelievable.

I often say injury is just a simple physics equation.  Force = mass x acceleration.  The faster your body moves and the harder you throw, the more forceful it is on your body.

Because of this, you can see how just grabbing a baseball and starting to throw can be stressful on the body.  Throwing is so dynamic and forceful that you want to do your best to put yourself in a position to succeed before you start throwing.  This will help foster a long and healthy career.

To prepare before your throwing program, you really need to do two things: 1) Prepare your body and 2) Prepare your throwing.  In this two part article I will discuss both.


How to Prepare Before Your Throwing Program – Part 1 – Prepare Your Body

It’s funny how common sense tells us to prepare our body for common athletic activities, like running and jumping, yet people often neglect throwing.  The first three steps to prepare before your throwing program involve getting your body ready.


Prepare to Throw Step 1 – Get Loose

The first step in preparing your body to throw is to get loose and work on your mobility.  We’ve studied 1000’s of baseball pitchers and have found a few things when it comes to throwing a baseball:

  1. Throwing a baseball causes your muscles to tighten and you loose mobility of your shoulder and elbow
  2. Not addressing this becomes cumulative and you eventually get a little tighter and tighter over the course of a season
  3. Working to maintain your motion is effective and can prevent lose of motion

One of the phrases I use a lot with my athletes is “I want you to be you BEFORE you pick up a ball.”  What that means is, if you just threw 100 pitches yesterday in a game, I know you are tight.  If you ignore it and pick up and ball and try to throw, you are setting yourself up for trauma.  Throwing will loosen you up (before you tighten up again), but it’s a much more aggressive way to get your mobility back.

Rather, perform some self-myofascial release by using a foam roller, massage stick, and baseball ball.  Here are the ones I use the most on Amazon and because the foam roller is hollow, you can put your other tools inside and all fit nicely in your gear bag:

  • Foam roller – One of the best and hollow to put your other tools in it in your gear bag.
  • Massage stick – The best one on the market, the other more popular ones don’t compare.
  • Trigger point ball – You can use a baseball, but I also like the reaction balls.  The nubs help you get in there and hold it in position on the wall.

How to prepare before your throwing programYou should focus on the entire body with particular emphasis on your lat, back of the shoulder, rotator cuff, pec, biceps, and forearm.  You should avoid the front of your shoulder.  There really aren’t a lot of muscles there and your just smashing your rotator cuff and biceps tendons.

Hit each spot for 30-60 seconds and hold on any really tender spots for 10 seconds.

Notice how I intentionally didn’t say to “stretch” your arm or perform a “sleeper stretch” (here is why you shouldn’t perform the sleeper stretch).  Most baseball pitchers are too loose to stretch effectively and they end up torquing themselves too much and making things worse.  There is a difference between muscles and joints, it’s possible to have tight muscles and loose joints.

There is one shoulder stretch that is effective on the muscles and not too aggressive on the joint, the cross body stretch I call the Genie Stretch.  This can be enhanced even more by using a trigger point ball in the posterior shoulder muscles.  You can and should stretch your forearm, you can’t really hurt yourself here.


Prepare to Throw Step 2 – Warm-Up Your Muscles

Now that you have worked on restoring mobility back to your baseline BEFORE you throw, it is time to get your muscles ready to throw.  In the strength and conditioning world, we refer to this as “activating” the muscles.

You want to hit all the muscles and movement patterns that are need to accelerate and decelerate your arm.  These essentially include the scapula and rotator cuff muscles.  By turning on these muscles, the body will be better prepared for the upcoming activities and throwing.

Shoulder activation throwing programThe simplest way to do this is with resistance tubing.  We use a combination of tools at Champion, but tubing is quick, easy, and portable.

You do need to be careful of your volume of exercises.  These warm-ups are designed to prepare the muscle, not fatigue them, and are not a substitute for strengthening the muscles.  That is a completely different program to be performed at a different time.  We use tubing to simply activate the muscles with low volume sets and reps of 2×10

I use Theraband tubing with handles.  They are the best and far superior to the cheap bands you can buy at the local stores, which have odd resistance and can lose resistance over time.  They are even ~$15 on Amazon.  You can attach the band to a fence or post, or take turns holding with a partner.

I like the tubing with handles and want you to have to grip the tubing, rather that velcro strap them around your wrist.  Grip the tubing helps warm up your grip and forearm muscles and also has a reflexive stimulus to your rotator cuff to engage.

Here is a link to to purchase the Theraband Exercise Tubing I use in the video at the end of this article.  I recommend the green band for Little League age, the blue band for middle school and early high school age, and the black band for the older or experienced pitcher:


Prepare to Throw Step 3 – Getting Moving

The third step to prepare to throw now involves dynamic movements.  You can see that we are building on a logical progression here: restore mobility, activate the muscles, and perform dynamic mobility exercises for movement prep.

Throwing is a very dynamic activity, obviously, that needs elasticity of the muscles.  Stretching and mobility work alone will not turn on the elastic components of your muscles.  Similar to my comments above on stretching, I don’t want a baseball being the first elastic stimulus your body faces.  I want to slowly work up to that so it is less traumatic and aggressive of a jump in stress on the tissue.

We want to dynamically move the joints and have the muscles produce quick contractions,.  This helps prepare the muscle for  by improving mobility and activation.

At Champion, our athletes have a whole portion of their program dedicated to these three steps and assuring that the entire body is prepared to throw, however, I demonstrate a simple arm version of this in the video below.  Perform this and you’ll be head and shoulders above most other athletes.

For pitchers, we use movement prep exercises that mobilize and activate the muscles groups needed to throw, like the chest, posterior shoulder, and rotator cuff.  It doesn’t take a lot of repetitions to prepare the body.


My Warmup Program Before Throwing

Perform this 3-minute arm warm up program prior to starting your throwing program for the day.  This is our bare minimum program that we teach our athletes that are new to the concepts of preparing their body before throwing.  As you can see, you don’t need dozens of exercises or many sets and reps, even just performing this quick warm-up will put you in a more advantageous position to throw than most other athletes.

It is quick and easy and can be performed on the field before practice.  Look out into the bullpen next time you are at a MLB game and you’ll see many players performing this during the game.

I’ve adjusted the order of how I prepare the body a little bit since the filming of this video, so it is a little out of order per the above information, but serves as a great example of a quick and easy 3-minute warm up to be performed after your self-myofascial release and before throwing.


In part 2, I will discuss the next three steps involved in preparing to throw and how I actually start off my throwing programs.


Want to Learn More?


I also have a free 45-minute video on How Baseball Players Can Safely Enhance Performance While Reducing Injuries.  Enter your name and email below and I will send you access to the video as well as a handout of the above arm care warm-up exercises that you can take to the field:

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