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The Stretch-Shortening Cycle (SSC) is a fairly well-accepted theory in exercise science that has a boring definition of:
A stretch-shortening cycle (SSC) can be defined as an active stretch (eccentric contraction) of a muscle followed by an immediate shortening (concentric contraction) of that same muscle.
In layman’s terms, it’s why you jump higher when you bend your knees immediately prior to leaping instead of starting in that lowered position. It’s why a push-up, pull-up, or squat is easier to do with a rebound instead of a dead stop. (Try squats from a dead stop with pins in the bottom of the rack set to below parallel if you want to hate your life, by the way.)
So, the SSC is certainly seen in practice, though the exact mechanism of how it works is not really understood to exercise scientists. (The effect of tendon viscoelastic stiffness on the dynamic performance of isometric muscle – 1991 Baratta, Solomonow) In baseball, the application of the SSC can be seen through these cues:
- Early and active hands in the hitting stance
- Scapular load to unload
- Leave the arm hanging down at footstrike
The last cue is something that I’d like to talk about. Without getting into the psuedoscience of the Inverted W that has dominated talk of baseball pitching injuries, there is this idea that the conservation of momentum principle applies with regards to the arm action of pitchers. A constantly-accelerated arm into shoulder external rotation / forearm layback, in theory, helps to engage the SSC by laying the arm back quickly and therefore will unload faster.
However, there is no evidence that links increased velocity of shoulder external rotation (vER) with increased ball velocity. The following articles conclude that the strongest markers leading to increased ball velocity were increased MER, faster pelvis and upper trunk rotational angular velocity, and greater landing knee extension and stabilization:
- Relationship of pelvis and upper torso kinematics to pitched baseball velocity. Journal of Applied Biomechanics (2001 Stodden, Fleisig, et al)
- Comparison of kinematic and temporal parameters between different pitch velocity groups (2001 Matsuo, Escamilla, et al)
- Relationship of Biomechanical Factors to Basebal Pitching Velocity: Within Pitcher Variation (2005 Stodden, Fleisig, et al)
However, a more internally rotated humerus (upper arm) at Stride Foot Contact (SFC) is linked with increased humeral torque (Humeral Torque in Professional Baseball Pitchers – 2004 Sabick, Torry, Kim, Hawkins), and a more internally rotated upper arm at SFC is a major coaching cue of how to increase vER.
Getting to the High-Cocked Position
The high-cocked position looks something like this:
For a period of time, pitching coaches were recommending that pitchers get to this position as soon as possible – doing something that might be called the “goalpost drill.” Paul Nyman railed against these theories and advocated an inverted arm action (see the Real Story Behind the Inverted W as well as my article, Why is it Called the Inverted W). Paul said: “Video of pitchers who threw hard do not ‘go to the high cocked position.’”
Like anything involving baseball pitching mechanics, the truth is not so absolute. Nate Jones (White Sox) is a perfect example of someone going to the high-cocked position immediately with very little artificially created vER through a concept of a flowing arm action that “conserves momentum.” And his velocity is… well… take a look at the upper left corner of this GIF:
Nate Jones also has very bad:
- “Connection” of the throwing arm
- Tempo to the plate
- Glove side action from a lens of “firmness”
What’s the bottom line about the SSC?
The bottom line is that it’s not so simple to understand such a complex system like throwing 95 MPH fastballs for strikes. There are significant doubts about understanding how the Stretch-Shortening Cycle even works in exercise science, so to rely on concepts like a “quick arm” in layback causing improved velocity are not necessarily accurate – and may increase the chance of suffering injuries in the pitching shoulder and elbow.
If you haven’t been paying attention to the Cleveland Indians (I can’t blame you), Ubaldo Jimenez’s velocity has dropped like a rock – especially bad in 2013 so far. Here’s the opening pitch from April 8th:
Yikes. Remember, this is the same guy who had no problem hitting 100 MPH in starts in Colorado whenever he felt like it – sitting 95-96 MPH.
I wrote about his mechanical problems on The Hardball Times in a series of articles dating back to last year when the issues started up.
- Ubaldo Jimenez and his missing 96 MPH heater: A mechanical look
- Ubaldo Jimenez: A quick mechanics review
- Ubaldo Jimenez: Perception vs. Reality
Very disconcerting. The Cleveland Indians reportedly told Ubaldo to not look at a radar gun and measure his results. That’s exactly the opposite of a good process – using the radar gun as a consistent measuring tool is exactly how it should be used. Controlled experiments is how progress is made – make a tweak in mechanics/training, measure results over time. See if you get better or worse as you master the training or the mechanical pattern.
EDIT: Wrote a piece on the Indians or the beat writer for the Indians covering up Ubaldo’s velocity drop on my personal blog.
We’ve put up a ton of videos on our YouTube channel, Facebook page, and Google+ pages, and we often get a lot of questions about how we use the equipment and what stuff we’re using to get the great results we’ve had this off-season. In fact, just today we had a professional pitcher who has completed rehab swing by the place after we met at the Santa Clarita ThrowZone seminar, and after just an hour of working together, his fastball was popping new highs! He was normally good for 90-92 MPH occasionally bringing 93, and he was living at 93-94 popping 95 after some mechanical tweaks and velocity development work!
Stories like that really get us excited, because we know our training works for all pitchers – amateur and professional alike.
So, without further ado, here’s some of the equipment we use when we’re developing arm strength, fastball velocity, and better durability of our pitchers. A more thorough explanation of all the tools will have to wait until we release our velocity development book!
All links open in new windows so you won’t lose your place on this page!
- Oates’ Shoulder Tubes – Perfect for rhythmic stabilization, warm-ups, and cool-downs.
- Elite Weighted Baseballs – A must-have for modulating intensity in a velocity-specific development throwing program.
- Sand-Filled Extreme Duty Weighted Balls – Awesome for indoor throwing, rebounders, throw-behinds, and plyometric training.
- Connection Ball – Helps to keep the throwing arm connected in the delivery and prevents casting and early launch of the arm.
- JUGS Pro Sport / Stalker Radar Gun – Without a radar gun, you can’t measure progress – without measuring progress, you can’t be sure you’re getting better. (The new Pro Sport models of the Stalker and JUGS guns are both made by the same company. They are identical in performance!)
- Driveline Velocity Resistance Band Set – Used for warming-up, corrective exercise, and shoulder strength.
- Wrist Weights – Vital for training pronation, late launch, long axis of rotation, and other important mechanical concepts. Amazing for developing pronator-flexor and posterior shoulder strength. Probably the single most important item in our velocity-development program.
- Foam Rollers – Great for self-myofascial release, corrective exercise, and warming up.
- Medicine Balls – Important for developing rotational power and speed-strength.
- Trampoline / Rebounder – A great way to develop eccentric strength by bouncing pliable medicine balls and sand-filled balls off them and catching them without allowing the arm to travel much.
There’s certainly more products we use on a regular basis – like high-speed cameras and biomechanics software – but that’s a good introduction into what a real velocity development program is going to have available.
Interested in getting access to all this equipment and a high-energy place to train? Check out our MaxVelo program – Washington’s only real velocity development program!