How to Throw Out More Runners in Softball
Since its inception in Chicago in 1887 (1), softball has grown into a popular phenomenon for men and women across the country seeking to maintain an active lifestyle. Going into the 1940s, rising health insurance costs related to baseball injuries created a second wave, attracting more Americans to the sport. Presently, it is estimated that about 40 million Americans play softball at least one time per year, which makes it one of the country’s most popular recreational sports.
High throwing velocity is a key to strong defensive prowess in the game, and it could be the difference between a runner scoring the winning run versus staying at third base. Improving one’s throwing velocity is possible with smart training, regardless of experience level.
In a recent study (2), high school and collegiate baseball players trained with baseballs weighing four, five, six and seven ounces on the mound, and it was discovered that training with lighter weight baseballs produced increased throwing velocities than their heavier counterparts. This study demonstrates that the throwing process is more closely related to muscle and ligament flexibility, rather than brute force. Picture the throwing arm like a rubber band—when a rubber band is pulled back further, it would spring back to its normal length at a faster rate. With a good amount of elbow flexion, the forearm can pull back further, thus allowing for a higher throwing velocity.
Throwing a lighter ball allows the arm muscles and ligaments to spring back into their normal length more quickly than using a heavier ball. That said, using a lighter ball in regular workout sessions would, theoretically, train the athlete’s throwing muscles to produce increase arm forces and torque, therefore, improved throwing velocity.
Another study that focused on team handball players (3) wanted to test the potential benefits related to throwing velocity and core strength. If not familiar with team handball, the sport is similar to lacrosse, but, instead of using a stick, players simply throw a ball slightly smaller than a volleyball.
In this study, the experimental and control groups of college-age males underwent their usual team practices, but the experimental group participated in a 10-week core training program. The study’s conclusion demonstrated similar results pre- and post-test for the control group, but the average increase for the experimental had improved throwing velocities 3.1% to 5.16%. As discussed in the study, by strengthening the core, athletes are better able to improve stability and the movement process that are linked to throwing with power. Also, an added benefit to improving core strength is the reduction in the risk of injury that results from training.
Ultimately, a consistent training program with a lighter weight ball and core strengthening are required for athletes to be able to improve throwing velocity. It should also be noted that the mentioned studies had trained and experienced test subjects, so individuals that are new to the sport are advised to start slowly, and progressively increase intensity and length of training over an extended time period.