Pitcher workouts place a huge emphasis on compound exercises, such as Pull-Ups, Rows and Squats. Compound exercises are among the most effective ways to add strength and mass; however, they can limit how fast a pitcher can throw and, if they are the only focus, can cause durability issues.
In fact, isolation exercises, which are commonly associated with bodybuilding workouts, play an important role in developing comprehensive strength for a pitcher.
Both the large pectoral and lat muscles play a huge role in the arm acceleration phase of the pitching motion. A study of high-level pitchers showed that electromyographic activity of the throwing arm pec during ball acceleration reached 54 percent of MVC (maximum voluntary contraction), while activity of the lat reached 88 percent of MVC.
The latissimus dorsi and pectoralis major are highly active during the arm acceleration phase. Training these muscles for force production is wise if you want to increase your pitching velocity.
Besides these primary movers, the subscapularis also demonstrated high activity during the acceleration phase, playing a role in dynamic stabilization of the shoulder by acting to maintain the ball-in-socket positioning of the humerus in the glenoid. For the purpose of this article, we won't worry about this rotator cuff muscle.
What all this boring science super awesome data tells us is that both the pecs and lats play a central role in throwing force production and ball acceleration.
Most of you already knew that, which is why you perform Rows, Presses and other upper-body movements that involve these muscles.
The pecs and lats are stimulated by traditional compound exercises like Push-Ups, Bench Press, Dumbbell Rows and Pull-Ups, but these exercises generally fail to fully stimulate these muscle fibers.
The first muscle group to fail during performance of most pressing movements is the triceps brachii, not the pecs. If you're not convinced, do a set of Push-Ups to failure. This is why bodybuilders do partial range-of-motion Bench Presses to emphasize their pecs. Furthermore, the first muscle group to fail during performance of most rowing movements is the biceps brachii, leaving under-stimulated and under-fatigued lat muscle fibers.
The latissimus dorsi and pectoralis major are not fully stimulated during most compound upper-body movements. This leaves the door open for targeted isolation training to fully work these critical muscle groups for pitchers.
Instead of going over to the dumbbell rack to add extra biceps and triceps work (after you have just crushed these muscles with rowing and pressing variations), a better option is to employ post-exhaustion training techniques for the pecs and lats.
Post-exhaustion refers to a training technique that involves further stimulating a muscle group using a single-joint exercise, following partial stimulation of that same muscle group by a multi-joint, compound exercise.
1A) Single-Arm Dumbbell Rows - 3×6-8
1B) Kneeling Straight-Arm Pulldown - 3×10-12
As you can see, post-exhaustion training pairs a compound exercise with a complementary isolation exercise. Rowing movements are paired with lat isolation exercises, and pressing movements are paired with pec isolation exercises.
It's worth noting that post-exhaustion training is not the only effective way to incorporate isolation exercises into your programs. Instead of supersetting them, some athletes and coaches prefer to add them at the end of the workout, so as to not take away from the weight used on the main compound movement of the day.
Whatever floats your boat.
But won't I lose range of motion?
Years of improper training (e.g., partial range of motion) and neglecting soft tissue quality can lead to problematic tissue restrictions. That's why tissue work (foam rolling, lax ball work, manual therapy techniques, etc.) is so crucial for maintaining adequate range of motion and function.
Even if you have already built up significant restrictions, there is still hope.
I've seen pitchers who were unable to straighten their elbow past 110 degrees regain full range of motion following one month of daily manual therapy. For more minor restrictions, significant progress can be made within a couple of weeks.
The bottom line is this: Training your muscles to be strong is not synonymous with losing range of motion. In fact, by both training through full range of motion and addressing individual tissue restrictions, our athletes are able to improve both attributes simultaneously.
Here's a sample day of off-season training that incorporates post-exhaustion training for the pecs and lats.
Sample Upper Body Day
Begin with movement prep (soft tissue work, individual-specific corrective exercises, dynamic warm-up and activation/plyometric drills)
- A1) Neutral Grip Dumbbell Floor Press - 3×5-8
- A2) 3-Way Band Chest Flies - 3×6 each position
- B1) Neutral Grip Lat Pulldown w/ slow eccentric - 3×6-10
- B2) Supine Band Pullover - 3×10-12
- C1) Push-Up to One-Arm Support - 2×6/side
- C2) Half-Kneeling Cable Row - 2×10-12
Finish with shoulder pre-hab/accessory work plus static stretching if needed.
Incorporating lat and pec isolation work is a subtle change, but it will kickstart growth in these under-stimulated and critical muscles. Adding mass and strength while maintaining soft tissue quality will set you up to maximize your throwing velocity.
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