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Conditioning

Tips to Increase upper body throwing power

Dr. Larry W. McDaniel analyses the role of the upper body muscles in the overhand throw.

The phases involved in the analysis of gross motor skill movements may include the preparatory, the force phase or execution of the skill, and the follow through. The purpose of the preparatory phase (eccentric stretch phase), when analyzing catcher's throwing to bases, includes cocking the arm in the opposite direction of the throw, prior to the start of the force phase. These movements are the foundation for all plyometric movements, a quick stretch followed by a concentric contraction. The preparatory process aligns the bodies segments involved in the throw in a favourable position to not only generate and impart force on the baseball but to facilitate accuracy. The problem specific to catchers may be that often time's catchers may throw from the same position as they catch or receive the pitch without the luxury of maximum force generated by the lower body when moving out of the catcher's stance. This paper will focus on the development of power in the upper body so that catcher's may improve throwing force and accuracy with or without generating force from the lower body.

Fundamental Movement Analysis of the Core and Upper Body Muscles When Throwing

The fundamental movements of the core upper body muscles or trunk that are utilized in the throwing motion include flexion of the spine, rotation, and lateral rotation of the trunk to the opposite side of the throwing arm. While in the throwing motion the arm speed (humerus of the shoulder joint) produces force as the shoulder joint is medially rotated and extended. The elbow joint produces power by quick extension of the elbow while the wrist produces force on the ball by flexion and or ulna flexion of the carpals. Flexion of the fingers is an important function of the phalanges as they impart force prior to the release of the ball. Training tips were divided into the following areas; fingers, hand, forearm, triceps, shoulder joint, and trunk. All of these areas may need unique training methods due to the demanding skills placed on a catcher when throwing. The activities to develop power were selected to stimulate the muscles involved in the joint movements analyzed previously in the throwing motion.

Tips for training the fingers, hand, and thumb muscles

When training the hand muscles start off by squeezing a racquet ball or tennis ball with your thumb and fingers mimicking the closing of a glove or grasping a baseball. This activity may increase thumb and finger strength. Increasing thumb and finger strength in catchers may improve the skills related to grasping the ball in the process of throwing or catching. By squeezing a racquet ball or tennis ball the number and severity of thumb and finger injuries may be reduced. An additional advantage of increasing thumb and finger strength in catchers may be the reduction of the number of baseballs being dropped while catching and the development of increased force when throwing. This exercise's should be done to failure 3 times with each hand. Alternate right and left hand exercises while letting the muscles in the free hand recover. These exercises may be performed on alternate days.

Tips for training the forearm and wrist

The first exercise recommended for this area may be performed with an Olympic bar. With the bar on your buttocks, using an overhand grip, relax and contract the forearm by alternating flexion and extension of the wrist. This exercise should be performed for 3 sets at 15-20 repetitions per set. Wrist rollers that provide wrist flexion exercises may be more effective by reversing the direction of a weighted wrist roller to include wrist extension. The next exercise (if available) is to fill a 5 gallon bucket with rice or corn kernels and try to dig towards the bottom alternating right and left hands. This exercise strengthens your grasping movement. By opening the hand and closing the hand when digging in the rice may strengthen both the extensors and flexors of the fingers and thumb. Next post one forearm at a time on a bench while allowing the wrist and hand to extend past the support. Use a light dumbbell to perform the following exercises. First with your hand in a neutral position mimic the movements of pounding a nail with a hammer. This movement is ulna and radial flexion which may be used in throwing and catching motions.

Tips for training the arm and triceps muscles

The triceps is a major functioning muscle in a catcher's throwing motion of the upper arm. Supine overhead triceps extensions, standing kickbacks, triceps pull downs with a rope, overhead dumbbell extensions, and close grip bench are exercises that strengthen the triceps muscle. The triceps are an important muscle used in throwing. The catcher may not always have time to gather momentum with their legs and throw the baseball like players at other positions. A catcher's arm action has to be short and quick to throw out runners attempting to steal a base. Standing and supine overhead throws with a medicine ball will also activate the triceps. The triceps may be even more stimulated if each overhead throw is started with the elbows flexed. When the focus is on strengthening the upper body it is important to remember to use the leg muscles as little as possible. The following is a list of plyometric exercises to develop the triceps.

1. Medicine ball chest pass

Hold the medicine ball with both hands in front of your chest. Push-pass it to a partner, as in performing chest passes in basketball. Your partner should immediately pass the medicine ball back to you upon catching the ball. Try to pass the ball back as quickly as you can. Force is generated by horizontal adduction of the humerus, extension of the elbow, flexion of the wrist and fingers. The core muscles of the trunk are in flexion when the ball is released.

2. Ballistic push-ups

Ballistic push-ups are simply push-ups where you launch yourself off the ground with each repetition. Upon landing, immediately launch yourself back up. Variations of this exercise include clapping your hands in mid-air after you push yourself off the ground, or launching yourself with enough force that both your hands and your feet are airborne. Another variation involves a slight lateral movement with each repetition, so that your body traverses a circle with your feet at the centre. Try to spend as little time as possible in contact with the ground. Force is generated by horizontal adduction of the humerus, extension of the elbow, flexion of the wrist and fingers. The core muscles of the trunk are in a static state of contraction.

Tips for training the trunk (core muscles)

The core muscles of the trunk include the abdominal muscles, internal oblique, external oblique and back muscles. Catcher's need powerful core muscles to throw the baseball with force when the legs are not integrated in the throwing motion. Notice that plyometric exercises were selected over weight training exercises. Barbells, dumbbells, and weight plates may not be as safe or reduce the risk of injury when training the core muscles for power as medicine ball activities. Medicine ball plyometric activities will be explained in detail below.

1. Overhead Throws

  • Stand with one foot in front (staggered stance) with knees slightly bent
  • Pull medicine ball back behind head and forcefully throw ball forward as far as possible into the wall
  • Catch ball on the bounce from the wall and repeat according to prescribed repetitions
  • Keep the time between pulling the ball back and starting the throw (transition phase) to a minimum. May also be completed with a partner instead of a wall

Force is generated by extension of the shoulder joint and elbow, flexion of the wrist and fingers, and flexion of spine.

2. Side Throws

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart; place left foot approximately one foot in front of right foot
  • Hold medicine ball with both hands and arms only slightly bent
  • Swing ball over to the right hip and forcefully underhand toss ball forward to a partner or wall. Keep the stomach drawn in to maximize proper usage of muscle
  • Catch ball on the bounce from your partner or wall and repeat

Force is generated by diagonal movements of the shoulder joint, flexion of the elbow, flexion and ulna/radial flexion of the wrist, flexion of the fingers, while the spine rotations and lateral flexes.

3. Overhead Backward Throw

  • Stand with feet slightly wider than hip-width. Have a partner or trainer stand approximately 10-15 yards behind you.
  • Grasp ball and lower body into a semi-squat position. Explode up extending the entire body and throwing medicine ball up and over the body
  • The goal is to throw the ball behind you as far as you and generating most of the power in the legs
  • Catch ball on the bounce from your partner and repeat according to prescribed repetitions.
  • Force is generated by flexion of the shoulder joint, flexion of the elbow, wrist, and fingers, while the spine extends.

4. Slams

  • Stand with feet parallel, shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent
  • Pull medicine ball back behind head and forcefully throw ball down on the ground as hard as possible
  • Catch the ball on the bounce from the ground and repeat according to prescribed repetitions.
  • Force is generated by extension of the shoulder joint and elbow, flexion of the wrist and fingers, and flexion of spine.

5. Explosive Start Throws

  • Stand with feet slightly wider than hip-width apart. Knees should be slightly bent
  • Pick medicine ball up to chest level
  • Quickly explode up and press the ball straight out as far and fast as you can
  • As you press the ball forward explode with either leg so that you actually sprint forward a couple of steps.

Force is generated by horizontal adduction of the shoulder joint, extension of the elbow, flexion of the wrist and fingers, and flexion of spine (once and upright trunk position has been established).

6. Single Arm Overhead Throws

  • Stand with feet slightly wider than hip-width
  • Grasp medicine and lower body into a semi-squat position. Explode up extending the entire body and throwing the medicine ball up into the air
  • The aim is to throw the ball as high as you can and generating most of the power in the legs.
  • Catch ball on the bounce and repeat.
  • Force is generated by abduction of the shoulder joint, extension of the elbow, flexion of the wrist and fingers, and flexion of spine.

7. Squat Throws

  • Stand with feet slightly wider than hip-width.
  • Knees should be slightly bent
  • Hold medicine ball at chest level and squat down to a parallel position
  • Quickly explode up and jump as high as you can. As you start your jump you should start to shoulder press the ball up and reach full extensions with the arms when you are at the peak of your jump. Push ball as high as possible into the air. Try to minimize the time spent in the squatted position. It should be a quick squat and jump.
  • Catch ball on the bounce and repeat according to prescribed repetitions.
  • Force is generated by abduction of the shoulder joint, extension of the elbow, flexion of the wrist and fingers, and flexion of spine.

8. Tire throw

The tire throw is performed much like a discus throw. Grip the inside edge of the tire, then rotate the trunk in the opposite direction of the throw keeping your elbows slightly flexed with the lead arm shoulder height and the throwing arm approximately hip high. Once the arm and tire are behind the body quickly rotate the trunk to the left (for throwing with the right arm) and release at approximately a 45 degree angle in the direction your want to throw. Force is developed by horizontal adduction of the shoulder joint, flexion of the elbow, ulna flexion of the wrist, and flexion of the fingers prior to the release of the tire, rotation and lateral flexion of the spine to the opposite side. Perform the number of repetitions it takes one to throw and sprint to the tire to complete a lap around a running track.

Work Load

Work to rest Interval of 1:5 to 1:15, 3 sets of 3-6 repetitions, are recommended for power activities. 1:5 work to rest intervals are recommended for training the glycolytic system while a 1:15 intervals are recommended for the ATP-PC system. These metabolic systems may be enhanced by plyometric activities.


Article Reference

This article first appeared in:

  • McDANIEL, L. (2007) Tips to Increase upper body throwing power. Brian Mackenzie's Successful Coaching, (ISSN 1745-7513/ 47/ November), p. 3-5

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work then the reference for this page is:

  • McDANIEL, L. (2007) Tips to Increase upper body throwing power [WWW] Available from: https://www.brianmac.co.uk/articles/scni47a3.htm [Accessed

About the Author

Dr. Larry McDaniel is an associate professor and advisor for the Exercise Science program at Dakota State University, Madison SD USA. He is a former All - American in football and Hall of Fame athlete & coach

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