So you want to throw, swing or hit harder. But how? I remember playing high school volleyball and one of my coaches used to yell “HIT HARDER!” And all I could think was “Well, if I could I would!”
Sure, there are plenty of things about your throwing, swinging or hitting mechanics that can be tweaked and fine tuned to improve velocity and power. However, much of your ability to do this comes from the strength and muscle control you’ve developed in the off season.
There are literally an infinite number of training regimens and workout ideas to pick from. Likely, you will rely on your coaches and trainers to prepare you in the best possible way.
One well-known training program is called the Thrower’s Ten. It is a comprehensive set of exercises designed to prepare the shoulder girdle for physical activity and to prevent injury. This program applies the use of dumbbells and elastic band resistance to work the muscles of the shoulder and shoulder blade. Some of these exercises include shoulder external rotation (with the elbow at your side), shoulder internal rotation (with your arm out at 90 degrees), standing shoulder abduction, and prone rowing.
All 10 exercises are considered “open chain” exercises, meaning the terminal segment of the body (in this case, the hand) is not fixed and moves through space to complete the exercise.
While the Thrower’s Ten does work and it is good, is there something better? Or something in addition to this?
Maybe so. A study at the University of Virginia back in 2008 compared the effect of two different types of exercise on the throwing performance of NCAA Division I softball players. The two different types studied were open chain, as described above, versus closed chain. In closed kinetic chain exercises, the terminal segment of the body (the hand) is fixed. For example, a bench press is open chain because your hands move through space to press the dumbbells up away from your body. Meanwhile, a push-up exercise works the same muscles, but is considered closed chain because the hands are fixed to the ground. Another example is a seated knee extension (open chain) versus a squat (closed chain). Both work the quads, but obviously the squat exercise demands more control from the whole body.
There are additional benefits from doing closed-chain exercises, besides working the main muscle group you are targeting. This type of exercise inherently fosters greater co-contraction of muscles around the joint, providing the joint with better muscle stability. Closed-chain exercises also enhance proprioception at the joint, which is the body’s awareness of where it is in space.
For example, during both a bench press and a push up, the pectoralis major muscle might be doing a similar amount of work. However, during the push-up exercise, the rotator cuff muscles are more active, the scapular stabilizers are more engaged, and the joint gets more proprioceptive feedback.
So, back to the study. The researchers wanted to see whether these added benefits of closed-chain exercise actually helped to improve throwing performance in the softball players compared to traditional open-chain exercises. The program was conducted in the off-season and was carried out 3 times per week over 12 weeks. All of the players did the same sport-specific training, but during their workouts, half of the players did open-chain exercises while the other half performed closed-chain exercises with Redcord — a suspension exercise system comprised of a set of ropes and slings with adjustable heights to create the appropriate challenge and resistance during an exercise. At the end of the training period, they measured the change in throwing velocity, bench press 1 rep max, peak torque and power for certain shoulder movements, and single leg balance.
What did they find? Turns out only the group who did the closed-chain strengthening with Redcord improved their throwing velocity significantly. On average, the throwing velocity improved by 3.4%. This may not sound like much, but in a 200 ft throw, from outfield to home plate, it means the ball would arrive 0.09 seconds faster. That could be the difference between safe and out. Both groups also improved in the strength measures, which means trading traditional dumbbells out for these suspension cords with handles didn’t negatively affect overall strength.
What's the bottom line here? Closed-chain strengthening, with a tool like Redcord, can enhance your throwing velocity. And who doesn’t want to throw a little harder? So consider adding this type of exercise to your workout!
Here are some examples of how we do this at Activcore:
Learn more about this topic by checking out our Overhead Athlete page.
Always keep in mind if you are new to exercising or are dealing with an injury, it is best to seek the advice of a qualified healthcare provider. To learn more about how a physical therapist can help you, click here to find an Activcore location near you.
Prokopy, MP, Ingersoll, CD, Nordenschild, E, Katch, FI, Gaesser GA, Weltman A. Closed-kinetic chain upper-body training improves throwing performance of NCAA Division I Softball players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning 2008;22(6):1790-8
Augustsson, J, Esko, A, Thomee, R, Svantesson, U. Weight training of the thigh muscles using closed vs. open kinetic chain exercises: a comparison of performance enhancement. Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy 1998 Jan;27(1):3-8
Blackburn, JR, Morrissey, MC. The relationship between open and closed kinetic chain strength of the lower limb and jumping performance. Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy 1998 Jun;27(6):430-5
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Elizabeth Dalrymple is a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) and board certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist (OCS) who specializes in overhead sports like softball, baseball, volleyball, swimming, tennis and gymnastics. She works at Activcore in Atlanta, Georgia, located just 2 miles from Emory University.
As a former varsity softball player and Ivy League Pitcher of the Year award winner at Cornell University, Elizabeth has a special interest in treating overhead athletes. She holds a Bachelors degree in Nutrition from Cornell University, as well as a Doctorate degree in Physical Therapy from Arcadia University, ranked among the top 10 PT schools in the country. She is also a graduate from Emory University's Orthopedic Residency program.
Elizabeth goes beyond the symptoms and looks at the whole body to help you recover from pain and injury, and safely return to a fulfilling life of sport, activity and wellness. She is among less than 10% of all physical therapists to have earned the prestigious OCS designation as an orthopedic clinical specialist, making her exceptionally equipped to treat you from head to toe. Additionally, she is recognized nationally as a leading authority in the application of Redcord, a suspension exercise system designed to help you develop a smarter, balanced body through the power of neuromuscular activation. [READ MORE]