The Essential Equation for Maximum Pitching Velocity

Written By Carly Schonberg

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The Essential Equation For Maximum Pitching Velocity

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Ah, the unquenchable thirst for more speed…every pitcher has it, as does every pitching coach. Achieving it, however, takes more than desire, more than solid pitching mechanics; it takes highly developed physical capacities and a true understanding of how the body works. Underneath each pitcher's unique flair and each coach’s pitching style, there are some very specific things that a windmill pitcher's body MUST be able to in order to generate maximum pitch velocity.

Reaching that coveted 65 to 70+ mph speed range is all about generating as much lower body force as possible at the beginning of the pitch, then stabilizing the body in a way that allows that force to be transferred through the torso to the pitching arm. Think of the whole pitching motion as the crack of a whip: first there is a forceful forward movement, followed by a sudden stabilization of the handle which sends a shockwave through the body of the whip to produce a sharp, high speed crack at the end. We're going to take a look at how the muscles in the human body produce force, and exactly how these forces need to align to produce a fastball that lights up a radar gun.

Muscles can work in three ways: eccentrically (stretching and lengthening), concentrically (shortening to overcome an external force, i.e. lifting or pushing), and isometrically (stabilizing, or holding the body in place). All three of these muscle capacities are absolutely crucial to performing an optimal windmill pitch, and they must be highly and equally developed in order to reach maximum velocity.

Additionally, ground reaction force (GRF) has an enormous role in the windmill pitch. This is where Newton's Third Law—for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction—comes into play: when you push off the ground to begin a pitch, the earth pushes back into your leg with equal force. Since the earth is immovable, that force propels you away from it.

A pitcher must begin by rapidly accelerating forward away from the pitching rubber generating as much lower body force as possible right from the beginning—initiating the “whip.” In their study, Characteristic Ground Reaction Forces in Softball Pitching, researchers Chenfu Huang, Li-I Wang and Chen-Ju Chien used force plates— devices designed to measure forces exerted by athletes during jumping and stepping actions—to measure GRF in a group of windmill pitchers. They determined that the pitchers who pushed off the ground with the greatest impulse (most force applied in the least amount of time) recorded the highest pitching velocities. If we think about it simply, this makes perfect sense: the harder and faster you push into the earth, the more force the earth transfers back into your body. Pushing off the ground engages concentric muscle action in the legs, and developing that capacity will improve the force with which you can propel yourself forward.

Next comes the stabilization phase. A tremendous transfer of force needs to take place the moment the stride foot hits the ground—the stabilization of the handle followed by the “shockwave” in the whip analogy. The pitcher needs a strong, sudden engagement of eccentric and isometric muscles to rapidly decelerate and stabilize the lower body and torso in a way that allows the force already in the body, along with the additional GRF generated by the impact of the stride foot, to be redirected from the stride leg, up through the torso, and out the pitching arm into the ball.

A lot can go wrong in the instants following stride leg impact. In order for all the force to be properly redirected into the pitching arm, the pitcher must achieve optimal body alignment. The hip of the stride leg must remain stacked over the knee, and the torso must be able to stop its forward momentum and support itself in a natural upright posture. If this posture breaks down in any way—a lean forward, a bend at the waist, a collapse of the drive leg, etc. (all common faults in windmill pitching mechanics)—the force is misdirected and the pitcher loses velocity. Therefore, a pitcher MUST develop the stabilizing power of her core muscles, and especially her gluteal muscles, in order to achieve maximum velocity.

Finally, the “crack” at the end: the transfer of force from the lower body up through the torso must trigger the acceleration of the pitching arm. Optimal body mechanics add up to nothing if the pitcher slows down her arm in any way leading up to the release of the ball.

The whip analogy not only describes the transfer of energy from the push off the rubber to the stride foot impact up through the body and into the arm, but also the action of the arm itself, which has its own secondary whip. As the hand approaches the release zone, the upper arm begins to stabilize, sending a shockwave of force through the forearm, to the wrist and hand, and out into the ball.

A hard the push off the ground + a quick, well-aligned stabilization of the body upon landing + arm acceleration = Maximum Pitch Velocity.

Practice alone, however, will not get a pitcher all the way to her speed goal. Strength training to develop the three muscular capacities—eccentric, concentric, and isometric action— must be part of the equation if pitchers want to raise the numbers on the radar gun.

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Extension Increases Batting Averages

Written By Charity Butler

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Extension Increases Batting Averages

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Extend—to stretch out; draw out to full length

A key component for consistent and powerful hitting is extension. The majority of hitters rarely reach full, maximized extension.

Extension in the context of hitting means keeping the meat of the barrel in the hitting zone as long as possible. The hitting zone begins at the point where the hitter can first reach the incoming pitch to the point that the ball completely passes the hitter on its way to the catcher’s mitt.

Extension creates whip! For inspiration, watch Willow Smith’s music video “Whip My Hair.” The video is fun and provides a valuable visual. Go ahead and watch it on YouTube now.

Whip is created by reaching full extension, and extension requires letting go. As hitters, we have to trust our hands. Like whipping your hair, trusting your hands is uncomfortable at first. The improved results produced by full extension, however, are well worth the momentary awkwardness.

To keep the topic simple, we will begin by focusing on pitches thrown down the middle of home plate. These same concepts can be easily adjusted to apply to pitches of any location.

For pitches thrown down the middle of the plate, the hitting zone extends toward the pitcher. Therefore, hitters should keep the bat barrel whipping toward the pitcher for as long as possible.

With my students, the first concept we solidify is the Power Line, an imaginary line drawn from the back tip of home plate all the way through center field.

Once a hitter reaches full extension, her barrel will actually point down her Power Line toward center field, before any roll of the wrist or finish takes place.

Many hitters are so concerned with finishing hard that they pull themselves away from their Power Line before reaching full extension. When this happens, hitters physically work hard, but they will not experience maximum results.

They are working against themselves and cutting the swing short. The barrel does not stay in the hitting zone as long as it should. This decreases consistency.

Consistency is quite simple: when the bat stays where the ball is going to be for a longer period of time, the hitter is more likely to make good contact.

The opposite is also true. When the bat only stays where the ball crosses (hitting zone) for a short period of time, the hitter’s likelihood of solid connection decreases.

In short, maximizing extension increases batting averages.

Pull hitters may hit the ball hard but, typically, do not maximize their consistency. Pulling the ball often is a sign of ineffective extension. If a hitter pulls pitches that are thrown outside or over the middle of home plate, her extension is usually misdirected. When a pull hitter reaches full extension, the point of her bat is usually directed more toward the foul line than toward center field.

On the other hand, some pull hitters never reach extension. The arms stay bent throughout the entire swing, and the hands are never fully released. This mistake, also known as “alligator arms,” is quite common.

Overcoming alligator arms, like whipping your hair, requires getting uncomfortable. Throwing the hands away from the body through center field demands trust. Letting go through the power line can be awkward and unnerving.

To whip your hair, you must release it away from the body. This requires “letting your hair down”… literally. This seeming silliness can also prove a bit uncomfortable at first but can mimic the trust required to develop full extension. Try it right now! Seriously. Whip your hair!

Feel the release required to whip your hair and now apply that feeling to the swing. Let go through the Power Line. Release the hands and the bat head to whip through the zone. For a video example and drill to help achieve this whip, click the Charity’s Drill icon.

Although adjusting extension is initially uncomfortable for hitters, the dividends pay huge rewards. Hitters can gain both power and consistency in a matter of minutes.

Misdirected extension or lack of extension altogether keeps the bat barrel from staying long through the hitting zone. Making the adjustment allows players to immediately hit the ball harder and more often.

To simplify the concept, picture the Power Line. Think about starting the swing through the Power Line and staying on the line as long as possible.

Hitting more ground balls is sometimes an initial result of this change. If the length and direction of extension is improving, the ground balls should be hit toward the middle of the field. Allow time and practice reps for the changes to become more natural.

Once the hitter is comfortable with the extension adjustment, simply add the concept of punching through the pitcher. Repeated ground balls are usually the result of the hands rolling too soon. If a hitter punches through the pitcher, keeping hands palm up/palm down as long as possible through the hitting zone and all the way to full extension, those ground balls up the middle become line drives that burn the center fielder.

To achieve full extension, generate whip and increase the batting average get comfortable with being uncomfortable!

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Pitcher Catcher Relationship: Nonverbal and Verbal Communication to Teammates

Written By Bryan Ingalls

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Pitcher Catcher Relationship

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We have talked immensely about the communication and the relationship between the Pitcher and the Catcher, but communication should not end just there. The battery working well together without a doubt enhances each others talents and abilities but also the other seven players on the field have your back as well. The defense should not be left out of the equation so it is very important that they know what is going on and everyone is on the same page.

Small forms of communication take place constantly throughout the game and sometimes can be taken for granted but should always be thought about. Every player on the team should know the signals for pitches. Most players and coaches may think “What do we need to know them for? I am not a pitcher or a catcher.” But it is your job to defend and if you know what pitch and location is coming it can and will help you in setting up and getting a jump on some of the balls. If you know that a drop ball is coming, you know that there is a better chance for a ground ball coming than a rise ball. If the mental game and learning how to read a hitter is taught, then knowing what pitch to call is certainly a very important piece of information without a doubt.

This game can be very complicated yet at the same time very simple if there is the right thought process. In between every pitch you have a few seconds as a defender to think about the situation that may or may not take place. What do I do on a ground ball to my left or right or if I am charging or if it is hit hard? Little things like that are very important. So as those thoughts go through your head the communication with your other fielders take place. Talk with the fielder next to you, talk about who is covering what bag or where you position yourself in the field so maybe the player next to you can make adjustments. All of these little adjustments can be made based on the batter and pitch and location.

A couple of the big things a pitcher can relay to the fielders are simple hand gestures as to who has the bag at second on a groundball back to them. You cannot turn two without the first one, but if the first out comes smoother and more efficient then you will have a better opportunity of getting that second out. The catcher also plays a big role in reminders.

Since day one it has been said that the catcher is the field general and is the boss on the field. Small things like who covers what on a bunt, who is covering second base on the steal, who is backing up, etc. If you think there is nothing to do and nothing to talk about than you are mistaken, Softball like many sports is a sport that is full of communication and you rely on your teammates more than ever.

As a catcher myself, one thing that I always make sure is relayed to the fielders is who is covering second base and always giving the first and third basemen the pitches. Those are non verbal cues that to the average eye may always go unnoticed. But the corner infielders are in the line of fire and if I can give them a heads up that this pitch is designed to go their way it helps the team become more successful and also gives them an avenue to protect themselves along the way.

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Creating a Defensive Culture –

Written By Lisa Iancin “LI”

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Creating A Defensive Culture

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My mind has been on this topic for a long time now. Like football, can softball games be won by superior defense? How important is it to have a solid defensive culture in a game that typically values homeruns and RBI? Do we tend to place more emphasis on individual victors such as the winning pitcher or the clutch hitter who knocked in the game-winning run? If so, how loud is the voice of the unsung heroes who seldom get the spotlight but are a part of each constant out made as a collective defensive unit?

If you are like me and have played college softball or even beyond into the pros, then you have had many coaches in your life. Although they all had different coaching styles and offered their own unique lessons of wisdom, there is always one cliché that gets mention on the field: “the team that makes the less errors, is the team that wins.” Yea, yea coach I’ve heard that so many times before. We all know it’s true though. For some reason, maybe we are just resistant to accepting coaching advice that places emphasis on the importance of defense. If so, why is that? I believe it is because solid defense can’t be achieved alone, but is dependent on the entire team unit. Even if you can sit back and ride on the talent of your Ace pitcher, she can’t pitch every game. When it comes to hitting, there is only one batter standing in the box at a time. For that moment, all of the pressure is on her shoulders, while everyone else chomps on sunflower seeds in the dugout to calm their nerves. On defense, however, no one can relax ever! The second you sit back on your heels is the exact moment when the ball is hit to you and you’ve missed your hop. Knowing that you are responsible for the unknowing, pitch by pitch throughout the course of a half inning can be stressful. As one person can hit the ball over the fence to win a game, a defense needs to rely on each other to execute each play from the pitch, to fielding and throwing the ball, to receiving the ball for an out. Therefore as a defensive unit, we need to ask ourselves if we are ready to work together and only be as strong as our weakest link. If we want to turn double plays, are we ready to make eye contact and communicate about base coverage and where to throw? Although offense allows more space for players to bask in the sun of their own batting average, defense does not offer an immediate statistic for teamwork, short of a championship.

To achieve Game Speed Defense we need to be sure our team has a Defensive Culture. We will be more likely to win by having a vision of winning. In order to execute a win, our team needs to value each of the mundane defensive plays just as much as we value the clutch hitting or individual performances. I have seen so many fastpitch softball games that were lost by an overthrow or a fielding error. If your team can walk off the field with no errors on the scoreboard, you have given the offense less opportunity to score. Repeat that over the course of a season, and I would say your odds at winning are high. Just because most post-game interviews usually involve one microphone and a close-up camera angle, never forget that you have chosen to play a team sport.

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