When you're a pitcher standing on the bump, all of the attention is on you. You are the quarterback on the field; the ball is in YOUR hands more than any other player.
For some, this may be nerve wracking, or it may be what you live for.
Whether you throw strikes or not, whether you throw flames or not, you have to fully develop all the necessary areas of athleticism to become a better pitcher.
A pitcher must be able to develop their own routine, or preparation, that will give them the 100% confidence of performing at high levels on game day.
A pitcher must train a certain ways to become mobile, strong, powerful, and resilient.
Lastly, a pitcher must be able to create mental toughness and ingest the proper nutrition in order to perform at high levels.
Whether you're a young pitcher or an older pitcher, these principles must be applied across all ages.
Let's go over these systems one by one.
Whether you are preparing for a bullpen, a training session, or your start, it's important to get your body to perform at its highest level.
In our 60'6" Complete Pitcher Boot Camp, we teach our throwers multiple ways to prepare. First and foremost, we believe it's important to increase body temperature before anything else. This can be very basic, as long as we break a sweat and wake our body up. Here are some examples:
- Jumping Jacks
- Jump rope
- Form running
- Skipping variations
Once we get our basic warm up in, it's then time to move into a more specific movement preparation to meet the demands of the mound. These movements include, but are not limited to:
- Lunge variations (reverse lunge, forward lunge)
- IYTAW variations for the shoulder complex (either bodyweight or banded)
- Rotation variations (trunk rotations, angled rotations, side lunge variations)
- Core activation variations (deadbugs, plank variations)
The amount of time spent on each part of a warmup is completely individualized, and we preach this to our throwers as well. Some might take 20 minutes to get a solid foundation set for a warm up and prep, and others might take a little more or a little less.
Of course, this does not include mobility.
Pitching requires the body to be in multiple positions where it needs to be both mobile and stable. Over the course of a season, a thrower will lose mobility in their throwing shoulder and both hips.
Mobility is not to be confused with flexibility. Flexibility is defined as how much a tissue can be lengthened. Mobility, however, is the ability to control the flexibility of this tissue from end range to end range.
If your hips are excessively tight, you should include some mobility movements into your warmup before you throw. If you have a history of shoulder issues and can't get into good positions, include some extra mobility movements into your warm up.
Enhancing your mobility is mostly concerned with "tricking" your nervous system and your brain to understand that your joints are not in harmful positions. A restriction at your hips/shoulder, most of the time, is a restriction with the nervous system because your brain will not allow your muscles to contract beyond a certain range.
Just like our strength training in the boot camp, we progress the difficulty of our mobility training because we are teaching the nervous system that it's not harmful for our body to be in certain positions, because our body goes through a lot when we throw off of the mound.
Strength training for a pitcher includes absolute strength and functional strength.
We need absolute strength as a pitcher because this will allow us to throw hard. Our velocity does NOT come from the shoulder. Rather, it comes from our legs. Around 50% of total velocity comes from the lower half of the body!
We need functional strength as a pitcher because if we cannot USE our absolute strength, then all the strength in the world won't matter.
We need to be strong in functional positions. The most functional position for a pitcher is the lunge position. This is the position we are in when we transferring all of our energy through our body into the ball.
For our assistance exercises in the boot camp, we put our pitchers into the lunge position. While they need to be strong in this position, they need to be functionally strong in this position. This includes energy transfer from the legs to the core and to the shoulder complex.
Not only does the pitcher need to have a strong lower half, but they also need to have a strong upper half as well.
The upper body goes through the most violent motion in ALL of sports. If your upper body is weak, and you repeatedly beat up your shoulder, this will result in overuse injury in the long run.
Probably the most important attribute of a pitcher is the ability to display force production in the shortest amount of time, otherwise known as rate of force production.
While strength is important, power production usually increases after a strength base has been established.
There is research out there that tells us how important single leg power production is: the single-leg lateral jump has a strong, positive correlation with throwing velocity.
More than 50% of our energy from the fastball is generated from the lower half of the body. There is both vertical and horizontal displacement of the back leg during the stride phase of the throwing motion. For our power work, we like to include a lot of single leg jumping drills both vertically and horizontally.
We also know that power is planar specific. A pitcher needs to have a high amount of rotational power in order to generate high ball velocity. Our med ball drills are used in slams and throws from multiple positions.
We can get a little fancy with our med-ball work too because we can tell, based on movement, where a pitcher will have the most trouble in their delivery. Once we find that faulty movement pattern, we can help train that motor pattern with the use of med-balls
If you are not strong from the inside, good luck trying to display it from the outside! Baseball is a game "between the ears" they say.
As we move closer to the season, we will be doing a lot more mental preparation techniques to help our pitchers plug it into their routine.
Our handouts include topics on adversity, anxiety, fear of failure, giving in, and much more.
The biggest thing for me when I was on the bump was that I got frustrated easily. If your opponent sees that you are struggling, that will only make matters worse. A mentally tough pitcher is able to show no emotion on the mound, or better yet, mask the frustration and work pitch by pitch.
The concept of visualization should be utilized in every pitcher, and we teach our pitchers how to visualize both success an failure.
How does the wind feel going through the brim of your cap? Can you hear your teammates chattering? Can you block out the noise from the opposing dugout? Can you feel the sun batting down on your arm? Do you feel every stick of the ball? These are some concepts to think about.
Nutrition is probably the one factor that most pitchers are lacking in their day-to-day routine. The word "arm care" is being thrown out a lot, which is a good thing. However, "arm care" can only do so much good with proper nutrition.
Think of it this way.: taking care of your body physically will make sure there are no oil leaks, faulty tires, and cranky transmissions. Taking care of your body physiologically is the nutrition part: are all of the fluids in your car up to date?
Eating the right amount of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, along with adequate hydration, will allow your body to recover physically and physiologically.
To make things easy, try ingesting around 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight, 1.5g of carbs per pound of bodyweight, and 0.5 grams of fat per pound of bodyweight.
The final piece of pitcher development is maintenance. Maintaining EVERY quality listed from above will make you a better pitcher.
Continue to evolve your pre-game preparation, and do it religiously. Don't copy what everyone else does. Listen to your own body and you have to know what works best for you as an athlete. In our boot camp, we let our pitchers learn what THEY need as an individual.
Continue to attack your mobility restrictions DAILY. If you need more mobility work, plug some into your pre-game prep and post-game prep if you have a history of low back pain or shoulder pain.
Continue to train DURING THE SEASON!!! Yes, you need to train during the season. Imagine driving 10,000 miles without a tune-up on your car. There will probably be a lot of problems to find, don't let this happen to you. Continue to develop during the season and "maintain" your strength and power qualities that you need to throw the ball hard, and throw it hard often without fatiguing.
Write down how you felt during each performance. If you walked 9 guys, what was the issue? Did you religiously do your pre-game prep? Did you not have enough time to warm up? Were you just not feeling your best that day? Was the umpire terrible? When it comes to mental game, you can CONTROL everything. Learn to control what you can control, and let go of what you can't control.
Continue to eat like a champion. Try to hit 1,000 calories before 10am every day, especially on game day when you have the ball. Get your protein in before the game. Have a pre-game snack and an in-game sport drink to keep your energy levels high.