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3 Ways Baseball Pitchers Can Use a Radar Gun to Enhance Performance

One of the simplest, yet most effective training aids for any baseball pitcher is a radar gun.

At one point in time, I was actually against having youth baseball pitchers use a radar gun too often and focus on velocity, but I actually think that there are a few great benefits.  And with recent advances in technology of radar guns, people can easily get an affordable pocket-size radar run, like the Pocket Radar, to use at home.

One of the key differentiators I see between amateur and professional baseball pitchers is often just intent.

What I mean is, our pro ball pitchers tend to throw with much more intent than our younger pitchers.  Sure, this could be that pro ball pitchers are older, bigger, and stronger.  But intent isn’t just an output of mass and strength.  It’s also an output of intensity, which is something many youth need to learn.

Even in our sports performance programs at Champion, our early focus with people new to training is developing intent when training.

So while I don’t necessarily want our amateur baseball pitchers focusing solely on velocity, I still think there are a bunch of great uses of a radar gun during training.

Here are my top 3 ways baseball pitchers can use a radar gun to enhance performance.

 

Enhance Power Development

Have you ever used a radar gun to check your velocity?  No matter what your velocity was on the first throw, what did you every time on that second throw?

Try to throw harder, right?  Of course you did, we all do!

In the motor learning world, this is a form of extrinsic feedback referred to as “knowledge of results.”  This can be used to give immediate feedback to the player to enhance technique, but also motivation.  We see this all the time, especially in athletes who are competitive in nature

We know that using external feedback and knowledge of the results in the sports performance world helps increase power output.  For example, in one study using external feedback of results was shown to help improve vertical jump performance.  In a 2014 study the Journal of Human Movement Science, it was shown that using feedback of vertical jump height performance results in an immediate increase in vertical jump performance, as well an 18% improvement in jump height over a 4-week training period.

One way that we apply this knowledge with our baseball players is with medicine ball power drills.  In this video, you can see we are using a radar gun set up to monitor the ball velocity.  The athlete is encouraged to ramp up his intensity on subsequent throws until he reaches his maximum velocity.  We’ll record this and try to improve over the course of his program, just like we would by recorded weights during his lifts.

 

Monitor Throwing Intensity

Another great use of a radar gun for baseball training is to monitor throwing intensity.  This is important for a few situations:

  1. A player returning from an injury that wants to slowly develop load to healing tissue
  2. A player preparing for a season that wants to slowly build capacity of the arm to handle stress
  3. A player inseason that wants to manage his workload more specifically

Monitoring the number of throws performed or pitch counts during a game is important, and something that we have shown to correlate to predicting both injury and performance.  However, using the quantity of throws on its own is too simplistic.  Overuse is more of a combination of quantity and intensity.

Compare one player playing light catch for 30 throws versus another long tossing for 30 throws.  Which one do you think was more stressful on the body?

By using a radar gun, you can document and build gradual progressions more appropriately.  Distance becomes less of a factor, and intensity becomes more specific.

Here’s an example of how we use a radar gun to ramp up a throwing session.  In this video you can see a few throws that slowly ramp up to the max intensity that we want that day.  The athlete then does his best to remain right around that velocity to get his work in for the day.

 

Improve Pitching Velocity

Using a radar gun to help improve pitching velocity is probably the most obvious.  When it comes to actually training to enhance pitching velocity, it has been shown that if pitchers know the speed of their pitch during their training, the have a larger increase in velocity.

In a recent study in the Journal of Human Kinetics, it was shown that if players were able to see their throwing velocity, the players were able to enhance their velocity by 4x more than if they did not know their speed.  That’s pretty amazing to me, and based off the same mechanisms of motor learning discussed above.

Another past study compared the throwing velocity of youth when instructed to “throw the ball hard” vs the same instruction with radar gun results.  Again the study showed that simply instructing the athlete to throw the ball hard does not increase velocity as much as when they can visually see the results.

In another interesting study in tennis players, it was shown that training for 6-weeks with feedback of serve velocity had a significantly greater improvement in velocity than a group that did not know their results.  But what is most interesting, is that this same group stopped training with external feedback of their velocity and still showed that the velocity improvements were retained 6 weeks after the program.

What this could mean is that training with the knowledge of your velocity not only helps motivate you to throw harder, but perhaps also trains you to continue to do this even when external feedback is removed.

So while I don’t think amateurs players should always be focusing on enhancing their velocity, I do think there are a few good reasons why the should focus on knowing their velocity.  Just like anything else, is the focus is on what is more important, a radar gun can not only be helpful to enhance performance, but also to control and monitor workload.

 

What Radar Gun Should You Use?

There are a few options when looking at purchasing a radar gun.  As you can see from the above examples, I value the convenience of having one on me.  So I value one that is portable and easy to use.  I’ve personally been using the Pocket Radar and think it’s perfect.  We’ve compared it to the more expensive guns, and it’s always just as accurate, but so much easier to use.

The new Smart Coach model is awesome, it can connect to an app on your phone or tablet via bluetooth, or even an external display.  This is what we’ve been using at Champion and everyone has loved it.

 

 

Four Exercises to Increase Power for Baseball Players

Power is the rate of doing work or the ability to be explosive. When it comes to being successful in sports, performance is closely linked with power.

In baseball, power can impact your throwing, hitting, base stealing, and fielding.

When you combine a strength base and move effectively, you are more likely to fully tap into your power potential. Just like increasing strength, there are many ways to increase power…

 

Here Are 4 of My Favorite Exercises to Increase Power for Baseball Players

 

Kettlebell Swings

Kettlebell swings are a great exercise that takes the power of the jump and uses that to propel a weight.

The swing is a total body movement that builds strength, while also requiring power, speed, and endurance.

 

Band Resisted Broad Jumps

Adding bands to some of your jumps, like broad jumps, are a great way to increase your force production.

The broad jump is a great measure of pure power output and is often tested inside gyms, combines, and athlete intake.

 

Trap Bar Jumps

Trap bar jumps are generally performed with low weight so that peak power can be achieved.

With too much load, the velocity will drop, which defeats the purpose of the lift. With the trap bar, the weight is now closer to your center of mass, with the arms down by the sides in a neutral position. Similar to a squat jumps, kettlebell swing, or broad jumps.

 

Weighted Seated Vertical Jumps

Similar to trap bar jumps, you want to choose a weight that will not make you too slow.

When you start seated on a box, you are eliminating the eccentric (lowering) aspect of the jump. You will not have the rubber band effect to help you.

You must provide all the power on the way up.

 

If you are adding these types of exercises into your training program, make sure your takeoffs and landings are optimal.

I typically program these types of exercises after a full warmup, but before your main lifts.

Stay in the 2-4 set range of 3-5 reps.

Focus on one rep at a time, similar to one pitch at a time, one swing at a time mindset. Make that specific rep the best you can.

How to Program Medicine Balls Into Baseball Workouts

Med ball exercises are a great way for a rotational athlete, such as a baseball player, to develop power and strength from their lower body to their upper body.

You often hear about rotational power or kinetic linking, but how do we maximize that? How does that relate to athletes, especially baseball and softball?

These qualities can be maximized with ballistic training. Movements often found in sports are considered ballistic.

What is ballistic movement?

“Movements that are performed with maximal velocity and acceleration can be considered ballistic actions. Ballistic actions are characterized by high firing rates, brief contraction times, and high rates of force development.” -Department of Kinesiology, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario.

 

SO, WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BENEFITS OF MED BALLS?

Here are just a few of the many benefits of training with med balls:

  • Improved coordination in movements demanding high rate of force development in all planes of motion (especially rotational power)
  • Improved ability to control and decelerate rotational forces
  • Improved kinetic linking through which helps the ability to generate and transfer force through the body.
  • Injury prevention because athletes are training to control rotation and deceleration.

After seeing some of those benefits, you can see why med balls are commonly seen in sports performance programs.

 

SETS & REPS

When done right, med balls can be a very demanding on the body and the central nervous system. We program all med ball work to be done BEFORE any lifting for that day.

We will pick 2-3 med ball drills per workout day that will benefit the athlete the most.

Taking that into consideration, here is a how we commonly program med balls for our athletes:

  • 2 Days a Week Strength Program: 3-4 sets of 5-8 reps
  • 3 Days a Week Strength Program: 3 sets of 5-8 reps
  • 4 Days a Week Strength Program: 2-3 sets of 5-8 reps

 

TOP 5 CONSIDERATIONS FOR MED BALLS

 

STANCE

There are several positions you can begin your med ball exercises in. Typically, I work from the ground up with new athletes. This gives less room for error with form, and a progression to reach in the short and long term goals.

  • Tall Kneeling (TK)
  • 1/2 Kneeling
  • Iso-Hold Stance
  • Split Stance
  • Athletic Stance
  • Single Leg

Here are some examples:

TK Rotation Med Ball Slams

 

Iso Lunge Med Ball Side Scoops

 

Split Stance Med Ball Side Scoops

 

Athletic Stance Med Ball Chest Press

 

1 Leg Med Ball Side Scoops

 

DIRECTION & BALL PATH

Where is the athlete and med balls intended path? Taking the stances from above, now add in the follow 3 items:

  • What direction is the athlete facing? Are they facing the wall, or facing sideways, etc.
  • Where is the ball starting from? Is the ball starting above their head, at their side, at their hips, etc.
  • Where is the ball going? What is the intended target or direction you want to slam/throw the ball?

 

INITIATION

There are typically 3 initiation methods for med ball exercises:

  • Non-Counter Movement: This will be your traditional slam method. Accelerate at the wall, floor or target from a specific starting point.
  • Counter Movement: This will be a movement initiated by a partner or a coil motion. The ball is moving against you so that you must stop, load, and then unload in your intended direction.
  • Continuous: This will be a rapid movement – quick and precise. You will commonly see a plyo based or rubber bouncy ball for continuous med ball exercises.

 

MED BALL TYPES

There are several types of med balls out there. Some have handles, some are large, and some are small. Here are the common types we use with our athletes:

  • Jam Balls: These balls won’t have much bounce. They are very dense, and can be on the heavier side.
  • Plyo Balls: These are commonly smaller, and offer a bouncing recoil when you slam them. These are great for continuous and rapid med ball type exercises, and even single leg stance exercises.
  • Soft Toss Med Ball: Commonly seen in gyms as Dynamax or PB Extreme Balls, these are great for slamming, tossing, and offer many uses.

 

INTENT

This may be the most important one. For athletes, one common goal is becoming faster and quicker. Med balls are great for developing these qualities. However, many athletes can’t check their ego at the door when they start training with med balls. They will grab the heaviest possible ball to throw or slam…VERY SLOWLY!

If the med ball is moving slowly, are you truly gaining the benefits of ballistic training? Probably not.

You have to put full effort and intent into each throw, and you have to find an appropriate weight that allows you to move quickly. This is how med balls were designed to be used. Med ball exercises are truly a “you get what you put into it” exercise.

5 Rotational Power Exercises for Baseball Performance

A strengthening program for baseball that doesn’t include rotational movements and “controlled rotation” is simply incomplete. Like the pitcher that throws 100 mph but has no idea where the ball is going, neither one is very effective.

Many of the primary activities in baseball consist of some amount of rotation in a powerful manner. Training should closely mimic the movements and energy systems utilized during the game.

Being able to rotate, and create powerful rotation is a must for baseball performance.

Try throwing a baseball with any force without rotation in your trunk. Have you ever hit a baseball out of the infield with just your arms and no trunk rotation?

 

Have you ever attempted to steal second without turning and driving your body in that direction? Not only would you look silly, but you’d be out! Get the point?

Baseball is a rotational sport. We must train that way!

Baseball players should train to generate force from the ground to fingertips in a rotational movement plane. Two areas that are largely responsible for controlled rotational power are the hips and the core.

 

The Hips and Core

When looked at more closely, the true function of the hips in baseball (and most other sports for that matter) is to stabilize the core from below and produce powerful but controlled rotation of the lower body on the upper body.

The role of the core is to control rotation and streamline the power generated below to the upper body. With most of this power coming from the explosive, rotational unloading of the hips, the teamwork between these two areas becomes obvious.

Now that we understand that importance of rotational hip and core strength and how they relate to the mechanics of pitching and hitting, what should you be doing about it?

Try incorporating a variety of controlled rotational exercises and conditioning drills focusing on maximizing hip and core strength and coordination.

 

Focusing on these areas during our training can help any baseball player develop rotational power that translates directly to the baseball diamond.

The game of baseball requires short bursts of speed and power followed by long periods of rest. Because of this, your exercise programming should include adequate rest periods of 1 minute or greater.

Adding the following exercises to your lower body/core training will most likely awaken the muscles you never knew you had. Now you realize the importance that strengthening them can have on every aspect of your game!

 

Rotational Exercises

Here are five simple exercises that will help you develop rotational strength and power. Try them out during your next training session.

 

Back Leg-Loaded Medicine Ball Throw

 

Side to Side Medicine Ball Slam

 

Single Leg Rotational Medicine Ball Slam

 

Rotational Landmine Press

 

Rotational Cable Push-Pull

3 Exercise to Develop Rotational Power in Baseball Players

Rotational ability is one of the key components in transferring power from the lower half and core towards either the catcher (pitching) or ball (hitting). Developing proficiency in this area will help further progress the efficiency of a complete power transfer from the lower to upper half in either movement. In addition, rotational power in the hips can only be maximized if the upper back is adequately able to rotate at the same velocity with the same power.

I this article, I will break down the importance of rotational power related to both hitting and pitching, along with a three-exercise progression to not only develop better and more efficient rotational ability, but proficiency in weight transfer and additional power development.

The Role of The Core and Thoracic Spine in Baseball

The core is essential for generating and transferring force during the powerful and asymmetrical movements that take place in baseball. For this discussion we are going to define the core as: the abdominals, the erectors (muscles that run parallel to the spine), the pelvic floor, and the hips (the glutes, groin muscles, and hip flexor muscles).

When throwing a pitch, the core muscles maintain stability of the low back and hips allowing force generated through the legs to be transferred through the core to shoulder complex and ultimately to the ball.

This transfer of force takes place in less than 0.2 seconds!

The core is essential to maintaining proper mechanics through all phases of delivering a pitch. Any imbalances in flexibility, strength, or coordination at that high rate of speed can lead to decreased performance and injury.”

We must also acknowledge the role of the thoracic spine in conjunction with the core.

After force is transferred from the lower half to the upper half and shoulders via the core, the thoracic spine (mid back), must be able to rotate and the hips able to clear in order to square the body to both the target when throwing or the ball when swinging.

Lack of rotational power can severely limit velocity potential and swinging power. An extremely strong base at the legs or shoulder may not see full potential utilized if a player cannot rotate at a similar rate.

The Planes of Motion Involved in a Swing or Throw

Many people would state that a pitching delivery or swing is performed in the transverse plane (the plane which involves rotation).

While that is correct, I like to break down these movements in two phases because there are movements that take place prior to the rotation that occurs. As a result, I like to explain each motion as a frontal plane movement followed by a rotation (transverse plane).

Frontal Plane

The frontal plane divides the body into the anterior (front) and posterior (back). As such, any movements occurring along this divide, or laterally, are performed in this plane.

The frontal component of each movement takes places during the loading and stride (towards home plate as a pitcher or towards the ball as a batter). Therefore, lateral power is equally important to develop in addition to rotational ability (I will get to this at another time).

Transition to Transverse Plane

For the sake of this article this is the more important plane to highlight. After weight is transferred from the back leg towards the target via a frontal plane movement, rotation then takes place to square the shoulders and transfer all energy in the desired direction.

This rotation takes place as a batter simultaneously brings their hands towards the ball to swing or a pitcher brings their arm around to deliver a pitch. This is where the importance of thoracic rotation ability and power take place.

Three Exercise Progressions to Develop Rotational Power

The following exercises progress from simple thoracic rotational focus to then include both frontal and transverse movements with a weight transfer, and lastly a more advanced progression that builds excess power prior to the movement.

Sledgehammer Swings

It is important to do these with your feet perfectly squared so that you experience full thoracic rotation.

Start the sledgehammer at your waist with your arms extended and fully rotate around towards one side before bringing your arms back around and rotating back to a squared position while simultaneously slamming the hammer.

Figure 8 Medicine Ball Slams

These are performed in a lateral position and involve a front leg to back leg weight shift prior to rotation and slamming. Thus, it involves both planes of movement.

Counter Movement Figure 8 Medicine Ball Slams

This final progression involves a build of additional power via kinetic energy build up (the forward and backwards hop). Perform the traditional figure 8 medicine ball slam and include a quick front to back hop prior to rotating and slamming.

Try these 3 drills to develop your rotational power to develop more effective swing or pitching mechanics.