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One of the exciting aspects of watching baseball is being able to witness the sheer power of pitchers and hitters. Major league baseball pitchers are able to throw pitches above 90 miles an hour, which seems superhuman to the rest of us.
What makes it possible for these athletes to throw a ball so fast?
Strength? Or Elasticity?
The easiest notion is to assume these players are simply stronger than the average human being. That might be the case, but it’s not the primary factor behind their insane pitching speeds.
Pound for pound, chimpanzees are stronger than humans; yet even the strongest chimpanzee can only throw up to 20 mph, while human children can manage throws of 60 mph or more. So muscle mass and strength alone aren’t enough to account for human pitching speed.
The secret may be that the human shoulder stores elastic energy, in the same way that kangaroos store elastic energy in their legs for jumping. A report in Nature confirmed that the motion of throwing relies on the elastic stretching of ligaments in the shoulder, which function as a kind of slingshot.
This is the main reason humans are able to throw so fast, and could be why professional pitchers can perform better: They may have longer or more elastic shoulder ligaments that boost this power even further.
No professional pitcher ever woke up one morning and suddenly felt able to throw 90-mph fastballs. Instead, they trained using speed workouts designed specifically to increase throwing power.
Practicing your throws can help you improve, but the only way to achieve the impressive level of professionals is to focus on conditioning your body to pitch better. Baseball Training defines this in two dimensions: alactic power, which enables pitchers to throw harder and faster, and alactic capacity, which allows them to continue throwing to the best of their ability even when their energy reserves become depleted.
Power workouts focus on training fast-twitch muscle fibers and improving performance, while capacity workouts rely on incomplete rest intervals to promote endurance. Both workouts, when repeated multiple times a week in combination, can condition a player to become a better athlete.
Of course, training also entails off days and rest periods, so your muscles have a chance to recover and grow.
Form and Follow-Through
Obviously, pitching techniques play a substantial role in the power of a pitch. The arc of a player’s arm through the air, the force exerted by the entire body, the follow-through at the end of the pitch, the grip on the ball, and the extra thrust generated by the fingers will all have a bearing on the final speed of the ball through the air.
Pitchers work for years to perfect their techniques, and even after understanding the perfect structure, they have to work to become consistent (which is often a harder challenge). Minor considerations, such as adjusting the angle of release by only a few degrees, can result in a few extra miles per hour in the final throw, so it’s an ongoing process of improvement, even for professionals.
When the proper training and conditioning are in place, pitchers can achieve top-speed pitches. But they still have to perform properly on game day.
That’s where nutrition comes in. A pitcher’s training nutrition needs to include lots of protein and adequate caloric intake to ensure recovery, but leading up to game day, the player needs to consume lots of carbohydrates to top off the glycogen stores. A light snack an hour or two before the game can also ensure the best possible performance.
If you were just curious about how the top pitchers throw so fast, this article should have satisfied your interest. If you’re looking for ways to improve your own pitching speed, this should give you a good place to start.
It’s incredibly difficult to become a professional-level pitcher, but once you know what it takes, you can start the years-long journey to throwing stunningly fast pitches, consistently.