Every pitcher wants to throw faster. That’s why, for pitchers, tense shoulders are so common, and yet so wrong.
As a pitcher, you might be surprised to find the solution is all in the backswing.
Trying to relax your shoulders, while pitching, is a very difficult thing to do. It’s also a very common problem among pitchers and one of the leading causes for a lack of speed and limited pitch movement. Most of the time, a coaches efforts at solving this problem go something like this; the coach starts by telling the pitcher to “relax”, then “just relax”, and when that doesn’t work they go with “Cindy, try to relax”…and finally, when your coach is convinced that you’re not listening, we yell, “JUST R-E-L-A-X!!!!”
It’s not surprising that these efforts don’t work. You are still tense and now your coach is frustrated. The problem isn’t that you’re trying to be tense, or that you just don’t want to relax. In fact, a lot of the problem comes from the fact that you are trying too HARD, and you want it Too Much! Players often mistakenly associate tension with effort, and that’s why it’s common to see players really tense when hitting, throwing, running or pitching. Elite level athletes have mastered the ability to give their best effort while staying relaxed – remaining loose instead of tense. Tension slows us down while staying relaxed keeps us fast. But, players sometimes associate being relaxed with taking a nap, or else not trying hard. So, it can be a confusing concept, particularly for pitchers, to TRUST that you can in fact, relax and still throw fast.
Pitchers who have the problem of keeping their shoulders stiff during their pitch tend to also have very quick backswings in their pre-motion. Once your arm starts swinging backwards quickly, the only way you can stop it is to slam on your brakes by tensing up your shoulder muscles. And once your shoulders are tense you can’t “untense” them during your pitch.
So, the easiest way I’ve found to help pitchers keep their shoulders relaxed throughout their motion and add speed and movement to their pitches is by making their backswing slow and letting their arms go back as far as they want to. SLOW and relaxed is the key to a good backswing since it allows you to keep your shoulders loose and relaxed.
One word of caution – when you start using this concept it may feel different and awkward for your arms to still be moving backwards while your body starts moving forward (as shown in the picture to the right). This is your “Lego Brain” talking to you instead of your “Logical Brain” since it’s common for our arms to go backwards while our bodies move forward; think diving into a pool, running and throwing. But most pitchers are so over-taught that their logical brains are overrun by their Lego Brain – what I call pitchers who have been reconstructed piece-by-piece to the point where they no longer apply any logic to what they’re trying to do, they’re simply trying to find their next Lego piece to add to their motion.
To help you throw faster and get more movement on the ball, make sure your shoulders stay down and relaxed throughout your motion. And to do that, work on slowing down your backswing, and let it go as high as it naturally wants to.
For more help with your pitching speed, check out the following: