The Evolution of Arm Strength & Adaptation!

Throwing doesn't build arm strength, says Eric Cressey.

I get his point but I'm going to slightly disagree, well, let's just say I'm going to add to his conversation.

I'm a big fan of Eric Cressey's, if you aren't familiar with his work, you need to be.

I recently ran across one of his articles and it states that throwing doesn't build arm strength, it builds arm speed.  Every now and again, you have to disagree with someone you look to as a resource and today's that day for me.  

In the article he states:

1. Throwing builds arm speed – which is power.  Power is heavily reliant on muscular strength.  If you can't apply much force, you can't apply much force quickly.

Throwing doesn't build arm speed, it's the intent to throw the ball faster that builds arm speed.  Arm speed can also be increased by implementing under-weighted balls to help the arm achieve greater speed through the range of motion vs a heavier object.

I don't care how much you throw, simply going out and throwing the baseball will not increase arm speed.  

So to say that throwing increases your arm speed isn't necessarily true.  I'm sure we are saying the same here, but I just wanted to clarify it requires intent to get the arm moving faster by attempting to throw it harder/faster that builds arm speed.

Check out this article on the evolution of throwing.

Ultimately, Lieberman said, the evidence points to one clear conclusion – the ability to throw with speed and accuracy is a uniquely human adaptation, one that played an immeasurably important role in human development.

"Recent research indicates that stone points – the oldest kind of spear point – are about 500,000 years old," he said. "But people have been killing animals for at least 2 million years, and eating animals for about 2.6 million years."

"That means that for about 1.5 million years, when people hunted, they basically had nothing more lethal to throw than a pointed wooden stick," he continued. "If you want to kill something with that, you have to be able to throw that pretty hard, and you have to be accurate. Imagine how important it must have been to our ancestors to throw hard and fast."

I repeat, "Imagine how important it must have been to our ancestors to throw hard and fast."

Do you think the Cave Men practiced throwing in a nonchalant fashion?  Throwing with intent to kill was a survival skill and it's helped us evolve over time.  Because of OUR NEED to throw to eat and protect, the body began making changes to accommodate the required skill/ability.  That leads me to my next point.

2. Throwing also builds muscular endurance in the arm.  Muscular endurance, too, is heavily reliant on muscular strength. If you don't have strength you can't have strength endurance.

I would agree with this statement but would like to add to it.

"You have to throw to pitch."  Paul Nyman.  Just like any other physical activity, you must prepare for it.  Throwing acclimates the arm and increases the tolerance to throw more, more frequently.  Just like with the cave man, the arm will adapt over a period of time.  The adaptations occur in the arm, shoulder, elbow, bones, tendons and ligaments.  You may want to read this article, its titled "What would happen to Nolan Ryan today?"

Endurance simply becomes a product of throwing more frequently, more often.

The imposed demands placed on the arm to throw the baseball forces the arm to make structural and anatomical changes over time.  Throwing has been shown to create a greater density in bones, tendons and ligaments.  The shoulder/elbow begin to make changes to keep up with the required demands of throwing the baseball.  It's called the SAID Prinicple.

The SAID Principle (Specific Adaptations To Imposed Demands) states that the body will make specific adaptations to give it the best shot of keeping up with the imposed demands of the activity.  The body's pretty smart and it's #1 goal is to protect itself, it's how we have evolved as human beings.

I have to think the internal changes taking place over a period of time lend themselves to strength, wouldn't you?  Based on the changes, wouldn't your arm be more prepared for the activity? I would correlate an increased change in density as a form of strength, as a means of preparation to throw more pitches, more frequently.

Who's arm would be more prepared, a pitcher whom rarely throws or one that throws on a consistent basis?

Once you take a guy who likes to throw the baseball and you begin to couple that with the intent to throw the absolute crap out of the ball, now we are getting somewhere!

The question then becomes, how much is too much?  I think that's always on a case by case basis.  I also believe that coaches/parents and players must differentiate between throwing and pitching.  They ARE NOT the same!  I have yet to see a study on pitch counts that detailed how much the participants threw outside of pitching in game.

I understand Eric's thoughts on arm injuries and the importance scapula stability and rotator cuff strength.  However, I can say with certainty that my pitchers increased velocity at the end of the season.  Why? Because we threw a ton of fastballs with intent and my guys liked to throw the ball and they threw a lot! (Notice I didn't say pitch.) Intent to throw the ball hard became part of the culture.  Throughout the year they became more in tune with their arm.  They knew when to "let it eat" and when to back off.

On a second note, I wouldn't totally agree that every pitcher loses rotator cuff strength.  I would agree that the general population does, but not players that have an understanding and daily focus on maintenance and recovery, arm care.

I tend to always go back to the golden age of MLB, back when there were 4 man rotations and throwing 200+ innings was what you were supposed to do.  Obviously, they didn't have the technology that is available to us today, so how did they succeed?  How did they do it year after year after year?

What about the Japanese today?  The Japanese pitchers seem to only get hurt after entering our country.  Personally, I think their CNS takes a beating dealing with the cultural and emotional challenges as well as having their routines being modified to meet the needs of our belief system.

 I believe that many professional pitchers become injured because their CNS fatigues prior to the muscular system.

The Japanese pitchers have never known anything different, if coaches in our country adapted to the Japanese beliefs on pitch counts and throwing, they would be sued or jailed.  How are there kids able to throw 200+ pitches a game?  They are prepared and it's expected.

In closing, throwing does increase arm strength.  It forces the body and prepares it for the demands of throwing.  Arm speed can only be increased by the intent to throw the ball faster, not by just throwing the ball.

P.S:  Eric Cressey has a ton of good information on his site and I strongly suggest you take a look!


Trust what you FEEL! 


Zita Carno (not verified)

I'm with you there!
In the first Passover Seder, there's a point at which the youngest participant poses four questions, beginning with the words "Ma nishtana"---which translates as "Wherefore the difference?" Indeed, wherefore the difference? And too many of the coaches, parents and players don't know. They have no idea what's throwing and what's pitching, and that's why so many young pitchers are so ill-prepared. You have to learn to throw the ball---and throw it with intent---before you can pitch, and we see here that too many of these kids are inundated with mechanics and suchlike, when they can't even throw the ball---let alone with intent. Is it any wonder that so many 10- and 11-year-olds are headed for Tommy John surgery, perhaps never to pitch again?
As a little snip, I threw the ball. I threw it against the side of the building. I threw to anyone who would catch for me, and all I wanted to do was throw with intent---as you say, to throw the c.r.a.p. out of the ball. Maybe I wasn't fast, but that was what I wanted to do, and I did it. And that was when I discovered that I had a natural sidearm delivery.
And you're so right. All that throwing does increase arm strength and, yes, flexibility. Speed? Nah. Either you have it or you don't. I didn't have it, and so when I also discovered that I had a nice little curveball that came attached to my sidearm delivery, I decided to see what I could do with it---also with intent. And therein lies the difference. :)

Lantz (not verified)


Thanks for taking the time to comment, always insightful!


turn 22 (not verified)

Know what our favorite game was growing up 40+ years ago?
Burn out. That's right. We actually tried to throw it harder than the other guy. It was an honor to hurt your throwing partners glove hand.
Sadly those days are for the most part gone. However, even now I like to try and play burn out with my son. Problem is hes throws too damn hard for me these days.
But he still plays several times a week.

Lantz (not verified)

I know it well! Played it daily using anything from baseballs to tennis balls, it didn't matter.

turn 22 (not verified)

Absolutely we would throw anything. Baseballs, tennis balls, golf balls, even wiffle balls. Now thats underloadv training.

Tim Leger (not verified)

How's this for workload??? This coach would do jail time in the states. As always good stuff, and look forward to getting Gunner up there with you again soon.


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