100 MPH Fastball: 3 Things that Helped My Client Achieve it
One of my clients and good friends, Ben Heller, is a professional pitcher in the Cleveland Indians organization. I received the following text message from Ben in early April and, as you can tell from my response, almost peed my pants:
There aren’t many people who deserve it more than Ben. He’s been through a lot, works harder than almost anyone I know, and plays with a chip on his shoulder.
I’ve gotten to know Ben over the last year from working with him and writing his offseason strength programs, so I wanted to dedicate this post to a few reasons why he was able to hit 100 mph on the radar gun.
He trained with a PURPOSE 4-5 times per week
First and more important than ANYTHING else, Ben is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen when it comes to tackling a training session. I can usually tell within the first 20 minutes of working with someone what a strength program can do for them.
Do you still have 3 more reps in the bank when you finish a set? Could you have gone 5lbs heavier and still executed the set with perfect form? Ben repeatedly “emptied the tank” as I like to say on each training session, set, and rep.
Bouncing off of this point, Ben trained four or five times each week. There is something to be said for consistency in coming to the gym. You aren’t going to hit 100mph or reach anywhere close to your full potential if you’re only training once or twice per week. Same goes for training once this week, three times next, then taking a week off, etc.
I’ll put my money on a guy who busts his butt on a bodybuilding program over a guy who half-asses a baseball-specific program any day of the week.
He worked on rotator cuff strength in a functional position
Whenever I ask someone to give me an example of a rotator cuff or shoulder exercise, I get this response 90% of the time:
While this isn’t the worst exercise in the world, does it look anywhere close to where your arm is when throwing a baseball? I certainly don’t think so!
Strength achieved at this position won’t necessarily transfer to the position your arm is in when throwing a baseball. For this reason, you need to train at functional positions – positions you’ll be in when you actually NEED the strength.
Here, I’m working with Dan Slania, a pro pitcher in the San Francisco Giants organization, on something called Split-stance Throwing Decelerations:
Strength gained in this position is much more likely to carry over to the mound than an exercise where your arm is at your side.
This is also speaks to why baseball players are a largely underseved population when it comes to strength training. "Football-based" strength programs often throw a baseball player's elbows and shoulders under the bus and neglect positions that baseball players need to train at to stay healthy and improve performance.
For these reasons and more, 95% of Ben’s rotator cuff and shoulder-strengthening exercises involved him being in the 90/90 position of the elbow and shoulder – the spot you're in on the mound.
He trained on one leg and in the lateral (frontal) plane
Want to know in a nutshell why baseball training has to be unique? Check out 4:00-6:30 of my presentaton at the Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Association's annual state clinic this past February:
Baseball is a lateral and rotational sport. Not only that, but you’re almost always pushing off one leg, whether on the mound, hitting, or running. Most weight room exercises are on two legs and linear in nature. In order to increase your throwing velocity, you NEED to train in the lateral (frontal) and rotational (transverse) planes AND on one leg.
Don’t think you can lift a considerable amount of weight on one leg? Here’s one of our professional pitchers in the Miami Marlins organization lifting 242 pounds on one leg for 3 reps:
...still don't think you can do it? The first time he did this exercise, he only had 10 pounds on each side of the bar.
In addition to linear and two-leg exercises, Ben’s strength programs had a heavy dose of single leg, lateral, and rotational exercises.
Obviously, Ben was blessed with good genetics, but that’s only 25% of the equation. Ben would be the first to tell you that no one outside of himself ever thought he was capable of reaching triple digits on the radar gun. Ben’s strength program, consistency, and most importantly his work ethic, are just a few reasons of many as to why he was able to throw a fastball 100 miles per hour.
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