A common question we receive from young throwers and their parents is how to improve throwing velocity safely without undue stress on their arms. Our prior posts on throwing have focused on reducing arm stress through injury prevention and lower quarter strengthening. This post will focus on the research surrounding exercise programs designed to improve a thrower's velocity of their pitches. Ellenbecker et al. previously reported the lower body contributes 50% towards hand forces, while the shoulder only contributes 15% (JOSPT, 2007). As we would expect whole body, multimodal training aimed at the entire body improves throwing velocity both in short and long term training programs.
A recent analysis of the available evidence in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research examined the training programs shown to have the greatest impact on ball velocity in baseball, softball, or tennis (Myers, N. 2015). 13 articles were included in the final analysis and included interventions from plyometric training, medicine ball throws, and traditional upper and lower body resistance training. These articles were scored as moderate to high quality based on a methodological analysis. The training programs included were as short as 6 weeks or up to 9 months in length in a periodization format.
The authors noted improvements in ball velocity across sports if the athletes were given whole body exercises focused on the connection between the legs and arm. Longer term programs were most often used but short term programs, 6 weeks, also reported improvements in velocity. Specifically, in tennis a 17 and 20 mph serve speed increase was noted with a 4 and 9 month resistance training program. Athletes should speak with a Physical Therapist to determine how to structure their resistance training, plyometrics, and medicine ball throws in order to have an optimal impact on their ball velocity.