Improving arm strength

Baseball practice at the University of Texas starts the same way nearly every day.

Five minutes for four short exercises to strengthen and loosen the rotator cuff. Ten minutes of long toss starting at 70 feet and working up to 200 feet. The position-specific throws: catchers gun to second base and outfielders launch one-hop throws to a base.

Texas head coach Augie Garrido knows the importance the routine plays to his team's success in improving throwing velocity and accuracy.

"The best way to improve arm strength, I think and this is including the weight room, is long toss," said Garrido, who has won five national championships in college baseball between Cal State, Fullerton and Texas.

Baseball coaches generally agree how hard a player can throw is often limited by genetics, but there are a handful of ways an athlete can improve arm strength. Flexibility, mechanics and total-body strength are key factors coaches and trainers stress in order to increase arm strength.

Long toss is the commonly mentioned method to strengthening a baseball player's arm.

"If you want to increase the strength in your arm, you've got to go throw," Keith Chatalein, a baseball trainer in Utah, said.

It's a daily, 10-minute routine Garrido practices at Texas where players throw longer-than-normal distances.

Beyond long toss, mechanics affect throwing velocity. A player must have proper body rotation, releasepoint of the ball and a balanced, straight follow-through to ensure kinetic energy is efficiently transferred onto the ball.

"If the kid's not throwing property, he's not going to get the maximum velocity he can get out of his body," Chatalein said, adding proper mechanics and also decrease the chance of injury.

Flexibility and balance, which aid a player's range of motion in the arm and ability to better physically assert himself, are also key components of throwing, coaches said.

In athletes he trains, Chatalein stresses heavy weight training for the lower body including squats and lunges. For the upper body, he recommends exercises with lighter weights and elastic bands. This work strengthens the rotator cuff and muscles around the shoulder.

Chatalein also requires short explosive exercises including plyometrics to improve quickness.

"You get on the mound, you explode, then you rest," Chatalein said. "You've got to train your body to be able to do that on a consistent basis."

Tom House, former major league pitcher and pitching coach at the University of Southern California, said pitchers really need no special training or instruction on improving their arm strength.

"The only thing different about throwing as a pitcher and throwing as a regular player is the mound itself," said House, who counts 289 major league appearances to his credit.

The Trojan coach noted arm strength is limited by how fast the body can slow itself during a throw. If the arm can't stop itself at a speed, House said the muscles won't allow it to go that fast.

"The body, biomechanically, is a really smart thing," he said. "The arm strength involved in making the ball go forward fast has to have a balanced arm strength in making the arm decelerate after the ball leaves."

Regardless, baseball players have options to increase how hard they can throw.

"The gene pool definitely comes into play," Georgia Tech coach Danny Hall said of improving arm strength. "Then, I think it's just a matter of mastering the mechanics of throwing and maximizing what your potential is."