Using the big muscles in pitching
One of the things I’ve always struggled with is finding the right way to tell pitchers how to use their bodies to throw the pitch. I’ve been describing the arm motion as pulling the elbow down or leading the elbow through the circle but that has had limited results. Some kids got it, but many others couldn’t quite seem to figure out how to do it at full speed.
A few weeks ago I was watching one of my students, a girl named Katie, during her lesson. I commented to her on how she looked like a young, much shorter Jennie Finch with the way she was using her arm. (Katie has very long arms, too, so the motion was a bit exaggerated. It also makes throwing some pitches a bit more challenging, but that’s a story for another day.)
As I observed her, I drew a mental picture of some of the videos I have or have seen of Finch pitch. That’s when it hit me — a way to describe the use of the arm and the shoulder complex that would make sure the big muscles in the shoulder become more engaged. When I watch her, Finch seems to do a better job of getting the big muscles in the back involved — probably the result of using the Finch Windmill all those years since it looks to me like those are the muscles it will work the most. When I watch in analysis mode I can almost feel the power she’s developing myself.
I tried it with Katie and got immediate results. I’ve tried it with pretty much all my students, and have seen universal results. They are able to throw harder/faster while remaining relaxed. So I thought I’d share the explanation I use now.
It really comes down to using or focusing on different muscle groups at different points of the pitch. I tell them when the arm is going up the front of the circle they’re using the pectoral muscles in their chest, and muscles at the top of the shoulder. (Technically that’s the supraspinatus muscle, but that’s a bit of over-explanation that causes the eyes to glaze.)
Then comes the critical part. As they start down the back side of the circle, it’s important to get the big muscles on the back side of the shoulder engaged — the deltoid, trapezius and latissimus dorsi. Sometimes I will name them, but mostly I’ll just indicate the area on the back side of the shoulder where the muscles are located. I’ve been telling them what they want to do is use those muscles to pull the upper part of the arm — from the shoulder to the elbow — down, and only that part of the arm. If they do that (as opposed to trying to pull the ball down), the elbow leads down the back side of the circle as if by magic. Finally, I tell them when the arm gets to a low point (ball is around 7:00 on a right handed pitcher, but I just show them the point) the muscles in the forearm get added on to finishing pulling the ball through to release.
Why I think this works is that most young pitchers, when they get the ball to the top of the circle, are thinking about pulling the ball to the release point. So, they engage their triceps and forearm muscles, and maybe their biceps to an extent, to do it. This motion allows them to shortcut the circle, stiffen up their arm, etc. But by separating the arm more with different sets of muscles they are able to stay loose and use a better path to bring the arm down, getting the three main pieces of the arm (upper arm, forearm, hand/wrist) to fire in sequence. It’s specific and easy to understand, which makes it easier to feel and execute.
While it may be out there, I’ve never seen the arm and shoulder action described this way before (at least that I can recall). It definitely works, though. When they do it, the pitchers can feel the added power, which puts a big smile on their faces. And ball speed definitely picks up.
Of course, this isn’t the only key to developing speed and power. That’s what makes pitching such a tough skill to learn. But it certainly helps, especially if you keep the wrist loose and ball pointed away instead of down on the back side of the circle. Give it a try and let me know how it works out for you.