Just about everyone who plays baseball wants to know how they can throw harder. There seem to be an infinite amount of contraptions, throwing programs, strength exercises, and stretching routines out there with the guaranteed goal of making this happen. If they only threw harder, they would get that college baseball scholarship or get drafted and their dreams would come true. Well, obviously it’s not that simple, and velocity is not the only thing that is looked for in a pitcher, and definitely not a position player. In the quest for those elusive extra MPH’s, many individuals get caught up looking for that secret formula, and neglect the basics that could actually make them throw harder right away. You can work your butt off getting stronger, which could pay off eventually in the long run, but from personal experience a few mechanical corrections can give you several extra MPH by just getting more out of the strength you already have. Before you spend hundreds of dollars on those “fool-proof” velocity gaining programs, make sure you are doing these basics:
Try to physically throw harder.
Yes, this sounds like a pretty dumb comment. You may have been expecting something like “make sure the anterior deltoid scapular is rotating at a 72 degree angle”. In most cases, if you want to throw harder, it’s not that complicated. Many players, especially at the younger ages, say they want to throw harder, but don’t even use their bodies when they throw. I often see pitchers that use no lower body and get no drive down the mound, outfielders that don’t make a crow hop, and infielders who don’t follow their throws to first base. It’s all arm, over and over (and then they wonder why their arm is sore).
Just about every article out there on “how to gain velocity” includes working on your core and strengthening your lower half. Well, if you don’t even use those parts of your body when you throw, what does it matter how strong they are? To throw harder, you actually have to try and throw harder. Once again, it sounds dumb, but it’s a basic idea that many people fail to even think about. As a pitcher, making sure you getting down the mound to your full stride length (about 5 or so foot lengths) can add a few MPH instantaneously because you are now getting that forward momentum to the plate and getting your lower half involved and your arm out to full extension, instead of cutting yourself short. Velocity is arm speed. If you don’t ever even attempt, or practice, throwing with greater arm speed, you won’t throw harder just because you did some work with elastic bands. This is way many people advocate long toss, because it forces you to get your entire body involved and to generate arm speed if you want the ball to reach long distances. It’s frustrating to watch players throw in what looks like slow motion, and then wonder why they don’t throw very hard.
Just watch MLB pitchers and outfielders with great arms. The pitchers really drive down the mound and gain momentum towards home plate, which causes them to have a full follow through. If your back leg does not fully come through on the pitch then you are not getting the most out of your body. Outfielders with cannons, like Ichiro, who is pretty small in stature, charge in on the ball at almost full speed to get momentum behind their throw, and they follow through so much that some even do a full front flip. If you walk up to the ball, pick it up, and use all arm, you are probably going to bounce the ball in. It’s not that your arm is necessarily weak, you just aren’t getting the most out of your body. To throw “faster”, your body has to physically move “faster”. You never want to be out of control, which is why you need to practice and find the point where you can fully utilize your body without sacrificing control.
Get out of the cookie-cutter mold.
Everyone’s body is unique and has different ways of working most efficiently. Some people throw harder from straight over the top, others from three-quarters, and others somewhere in between. There is not a “right” way or a “wrong way”. Your maximum velocity is the synchronization of your entire body, up from your lower half through to your finger tips at release point. Reaching the point where you get completely behind your throws is going to be different for everyone, so trying to fit yourself into a cookie-cutter mechanically is going to often times hurt you more than help you. The key is experimenting and finding what best works for you. While you are throwing, try different arm angles and release points. You may be surprised in what you find. Too often coaches will attempt to lump everyone into one category, which they claim is the “best”. Well how many MLB pitchers do you see that throw the exact same? If this person’s so called “best” way is really the best, why doesn’t everyone follow it? I doubt it’s because they just haven’t discovered his methods yet. The worst is the “instructional tools” that strap your elbow into a set arm angle. If you are completely clueless on how to make a throwing motion this might help you, otherwise it is trying to force you into something that may not be the best for you.
Personally, with little success throwing overhand as a pitcher, I discovered that I actually thew harder and more accurately from more of three-quarters/sidearm angle. I was much more able to utilize my entire body by throwing this way. I have seen similar situations with other players as well. At the end of the day you need to find what works best for you personally. The results to could be instantly better.
Stop being timid and get in the right mental state.
For many players, their mental approach holds them back much more than their physical attributes ever will. It can be the fear of failure, the fear of injury, or just paralysis through over-analysis. This is the case when you see pitchers who are lights out throwing gas in the bullpen, but then are completely different out on the mound facing batters during the game. As a pitcher, you can’t be afraid of throwing a ball or hitting a batter. You have to let it rip and throw each pitch with the utmost confidence. By default, if you are timid mentally, you will also be timid physically and you will restrict yourself from performing at your highest level. You have to throw “through the mitt” and not try to guide everything exactly where you want it. Position players can’t over-think every play and get scared of bouncing one in the dirt or throwing over someone’s head – this leads to the ‘yips’. In essence, this harkens back to the first point of just trying to throw harder physically. If your mind is holding you back, you won’t even be able to address your physical issues.
How do you fix this? Well, it really takes a conscious effort to battle your initial mental thoughts, and hopefully eventually you will overcome them. Problem is, many times a player won’t even realize they are holding themselves back, it is almost subconscious. This is when the coach needs to step in and try to instill some confidence into the player so they aren’t so worried about failure. Let them know it’s not the end of the world if they walk someone or give up a base hit. Errors happen to everyone in the field, but is worse to see a player be overly cautious and make an error than to see a player make an aggressive play in confidence that happens to get away from them.
Also, being overly focused on your mechanics will almost always hinder you more than help you. This is because it takes you away from focusing on the task at hand, whether it being throwing or hitting a pitch. “One pitch at a time” as they say. Not every failure in baseball is mechanics based – sometimes you just swing at a bad pitch, which is no indication of whether you have a good swing or not mechanically. All sorts of things cause your mechanics to break down, but if you only focus on that aspect of your game you will look over many others where you might need work. All mechanically issues should be ironed out during practice, and during the game you need to trust your abilities and play with a clear mind. This will give you confidence and allow you to perform each particular task that comes up at your highest potential.
Everyone wants to throw harder, but there is no magic exercise or training program that will do the trick if you overlook the fundamentals. Once you get the basics down, then you can move on to getting bigger, faster, stronger, and all of that. Without a solid physical and mental base to build upon, none of the other approaches to gaining velocity will make much of a difference.