Friday, September 19, 2014

Wanna Throw Cheddar? Then Get Stronger!

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Overhead actions dominate many sports; everything from pitchers, quarterbacks, volleyball players, tennis, swimming, to handball players, they all have huge requirements for OH actions.  With all of these actions, the major goal is to increase the velocity of the implement used - we want to increase throwing velocity, throwing distance, serving power, stroke power, and spiking power - Overall we want to increase the high stinky cheddar!

Well how do you improve OH power and velocity?  

Previous research has reported that high-velocity throwing begins at the lower body (1).  OH power is driven through leg/hip movements and this power progresses up through the torso/core, to the shoulder and finally through the arm where it gets put to work on the given implement.  A stronger and more stable lumbopelvic-hip complex contributes to higher rotational velocity (3).

Roach and Liebermann indicated that 90% of the work for throwing power is generated at the hips (1).

Yes, 90%!

Look at anybody who thrives in an OH sport and they'll have a solid lower half.

It makes you wonder why we see all these special devices, bands, and weighted balls designed to improve throwing velocity, when the reality is that the best way to improve throwing velocity is to improve your lower half.  Trying to increase throwing velocity by focusing on strengthening the shoulder or arm is akin to putting new tires on a car - it will look good and give some performance benefits but if the engine isn't there, it really doesn't matter.

We love to use med balls and some of the devices mentioned above to develop and cement the rotational sequencing, but it's important to understand they are just a small tool and are not as effective for increasing throwing power as strength training.

In fact a study from way back in 1994 showed this; medicine ball training alone had a neutral effect on throwing velocity, while a strength training group produced a significant increase in pitching velocity (4).  This is not to say strengthening the shoulder or the use of certain devices isn't warranted, they have a time and place, but they shouldn't be the vocal point in training programs and unfortunately that's exactly what we often see in many OH training programs.

As many can attest, we feel the best approach is a combination of different tools, but first and foremost is a good base of strength.  With this base is place, the other tools can be more effective and transfer to sport to greater degree. 

What's even more interesting about developing the lower body is that Lehman et al found that power in the frontal plane (lateral movements) correlated most to throwing velocity; more so than vertical jump, sprinting speed, and vertical med ball power (2).  

What's this all mean?

It means that throwing velocity is specific and training demands needs to follow suit.  Traditional squat, deadlift, clean, snatch, and bench alone don't cut it.  Training elements need to be in place to focus on frontal plane movements and developing power in this manner.

When I first read this study a year ago, I decided to study many of my athletes on these same tests.  Specifically, I evaluated unilateral lateral jump and throwing velocity.  After compiling 25 samples, I found the same result - those athletes with the longest lateral jump, threw the hardest.  The graph below shows the obvious trend; you not only need great power and strength in the lower body and hips, but it also has to be specific to lateral movements.  

X-Axis = Lateral Bound; Y-Axis = Throwing Velocity

How to Throw Cheddar?

First and foremost, get strong and powerful, especially in the frontal and transverse plane.  This means applying many of the tools used below.  If you haven't seen some of these or performed drills in this manner, then you're short-changing your ability to throw that high stinky cheese.  Take a look.

Finally in terms of OH training, we really hammer away at hip and pelvis stability and control.  Burkhart et al demonstrated that poor gluteus medius strength and control can effect "up the stream" and place increased stress on the shoulder.  These researchers reported that approximately 44% of athletes presented with SLAP (superior labral anterior-posterior) tears also exhibited gluteus medius weakness (5).  Another interesting study showed that pitchers showed lower glute and hip strength/control compared to position players (6).  This may contribute to explain why pitchers tend to have greater occurrence of arm injury when volume is equated.

Weak glutes and hips will not only effect leg drive and force put through the body, but it also effects position and mechanics through different OH movements.  When we look at pitchers, during balance point, if the hip on the grounded leg sinks or sags it will effect the whole delivery.  We need a strong and stable base in this hip and this means working on glute medius strength through band walks, clams, or side lying leg raises.  We also like to work this stability in the specific manner it is seen in many OH athletes, demonstrated by the drill below.  The band forces the abductors to be highly active to stabilize this position. 

Bring in the Closer

With all the OH athletes we work with, increasing OH power is key and when athletes go through our program that emphasized frontal plane movements, they can tell the difference.  A big squat and deadlift is great, but if that doesn't specifically transfer to lateral and rotational movement, then it's all for not.  We get great feedback from our athletes who feel the transfer of strength, power, and speed during OH movements because of our approach.

So if you want to throw cheddar, get strong laterally and see the results!

Go Get 'Em!


1. Roach and Liebermann.  Upper body contributions to power generation during rapid, overhand throwing in humans.  Journal of Experimental Biology, 2014

2. Lehman, G et al.  Correlation of Throwing Velocity to the Results of Lower-Body Field Tests in Male College Baseball Players.  Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: April 2013 - Volume 27 - Issue 4 - p 902-908

3. Saeterbakken, A et al.  Effect of Core Stability Training on Throwing Velocity in Female Handball Players.  Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: March 2011 - Volume 25 - Issue 3 - pp 712-718
4.  Newton, R; McEvoy, K.  Baseball Throwing Velocity: A Comparison of Medicine Ball Training and Weight Training. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: August 1994

5. Burkhart SS, Morgan CD, Kibler WB. Shoulder injuries in overhead athletes. The “dead arm” revisited. Clin Sports Med 2000;19(1):125-158.

6. Laudner, Kevin G., et al. "Functional hip characteristics of baseball pitchers and position players." The American journal of sports medicine 38.2 (2010): 383-387.

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