Pushing vs. Pulling in the Arm Action

Aroldis-Chapman (1)

Last week, I gave some of my more general thoughts mechanics, and talked a little bit about my own arm action and where it is right now. This week, I want to go into some more depth on that subject, and share some of the related articles I’ve been reading, videos I’ve been watching, etc. While I thought I had a pretty good handle on my arm action last week, some of the information I read this week made me reconsider and expand my horizons a bit (which is a good thing!). Arm action and pitching mechanics in general are complicated, and even people who study them on a daily basis and understand them well (take a look through Anthony Brady’s twitter feed for an example of somebody who understands them at a high level) would likely say that they don’t have all the answers.

This week, I spent a lot of time looking through the Tread Athletics blog (and YouTube channel), and came away with a lot of insights. Tread’s blog, YouTube channel, and twitter account (run by Ben Brewster, the founder of the company) are all goldmines of information and have helped me significantly in terms of understanding these concepts. Although I’ve never worked with them directly, Tread runs an excellent remote training program from everything I’ve heard/seen, and their book Building the 95 MPH Body is a must read in my opinion. After reading it cover to cover multiple times and implementing some of their nutritional approach, I made significant strength gains over the course of the summer/fall, and became an all-around better athlete (large credit to the strength trainers at Driveline for putting solid strength programs together for me as well). After Driveline’s blog, Tread’s blog is probably the one that I read the second most, and their YouTube channel is a great supplement to the information on their blog.

In particular, I read through one of their blog posts this week about what can cause an athlete to “push” the ball towards home plate, rather than “pulling” the ball forward with their pec/lat. This blog post really helped me understand this concept better, and based on recent video it looks to me like I’ve been pushing the ball towards home quite a bit without even realizing it (more on this below). What threw me off was the fact that it’s possible to have a decent-looking elbow spiral while still pushing the ball if the movement is driven by the muscles in your arm (bicep/tricep). In this case, the path the arm travels looks fairly similar, and as somebody who has never really looked to see the difference until now, I was unable to tell a “pushing” arm action from a “pulling” one. I realize that I’m using these terms broadly to describe a system with a large number of degrees of freedom, but for the moment let’s just assume that we can differentiate arm actions into “pushing” and “pulling”, even though in reality pretty much every arm action is probably somewhere in the middle.

pushing gif

This gif (originally from the same Tread Athletics article) is a great example of what I mean. While this athlete’s arm does indeed follow a spiral staircase-like path, we can also see that he is pushing the ball forward with his arm, instead of letting the arm lay back and “pulling” with the pecs/lats to initiate the movement. This is what confused me about the term “pulling” for quite some time, as before I would have looked at this gif and thought that everything was fine. As Ben discusses in the article, this athlete is actually creating “fake” layback via this pushing movement, which tricked me initially and probably tricks a lot of athletes looking at video of their mechanics. Aroldis Chapman, one of the best throwers on the planet, exemplifies the concept of pulling with the pec and lat very well.

chapman arm action

There are a lot of elite movements going on in this gif, but as we can see Chapman executes this pulling move to near perfection. Combine his long levers with excellent shoulder and upper body mobility, and it’s not hard to see how he can produce 100+ on a regular basis. Ben touches on this in his blog post, but it’s not possible for everyone to get into exactly the same positions that Chapman or other elite throwers do given mobility constraints and anatomical factors. However, Chapman’s arm action does give you a pretty good idea of what this movement can look like when done very well. If you’re looking for more gifs like this, check out Pitching Ninja’s twitter page and dropbox account!

So how do you train or improve this aspect of your delivery? It depends on the athlete, and obviously mobility will play a huge role, but assuming your mobility is not an issue, Ben recommends going a couple of different routes. One way to attack the issue is through J-band work, using the resistance of the band to isolate the “pulling” movement and encourage your lats/pecs to fire. Another way is by using different cues on the plyo wall, and I’ve heard Ben talk about “driving through your armpit” or thinking about “serving a tennis ball” as possible cues to try. Ben also discusses how some athletes can benefit from going lighter on certain plyo drills, as the heavier plyo balls can promote this pushing arm action in some cases.

I plan on experimenting with all of these fixes, and looking at the other possible fixes Ben discusses in the blog post. This past week, I experienced a bit of bicep pain in my most recent outing (Thursday), and after looking at video and reading Ben’s blog, I realized that I’m likely pushing the ball. My velo was down a bit (only up to 88 on Thursday after touching 91 on Monday), and while I recognize that this can happen over the course of a season (or leading up to one, with our first game being this coming weekend), the combination of that with a bit of arm pain indicated that there could be something going on mechanically.

To me, it looks like I’m pushing the ball a bit in this particular rocker throw from Saturday. Hopefully, these changes will set in quickly and my arm will feel good again soon. For comparison, here’s a video from December, when I was moving pretty well and my velos were all up.

This throw looks a lot better in terms of how I’m executing this pull movement with my pec/lat, at least in my opinion. The goal over the coming weeks is to get my arm action to look a bit more like this, and avoid pushing the ball as much as possible. As always, let me know what you think in the comments, and feel free to ask whatever questions you have!

Image credits:




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