I read your original post and you sounded so much like me when I graduated high school that I decided to do a whole write-up of my experience going from a scrawny 145 lbs in high school to over 205 lbs (at one point as high as 225!) in college. I’ll post below. Hope you find it informative or, at the very least, entertaining. (Haha.) Let me know if you have any questions!
“How I Gained 60 Pounds and 7 MPH on My Fastball”
I am a former skinny kid.
I think I graduated high school weighing in at a buck-fourty-five, soaking wet. When I earned a scholarship to play Division 1 baseball I decided it was time to learn how not to be so damn skinny. I spent the next year teaching myself to lift weights and eating enough food to feed a small army.
My hard work paid off and, a year later, I flew the coop 30 pounds heavier. Since then, I’ve managed to put on another 30 pounds. And my velocity went from sitting in the mid-80s to the low-90s.
Let’s face it: if you’re a skinny guy and you want to throw harder, gaining weight can be one of your greatest velocity “hacks”.
Here’s (more-or-less) how I did it…
I lifted weights.
When I started my weight-gain journey I was embarrassingly weak. I remember the first time I got on a leg press and barely managed to lift the cage (without any additional weights) for 10—maybe 15—repetitions.
Resistance training (i.e. “strength training” or “lifting weights”) is a potent stimulator of something called muscle protein synthesis (in other words, “muscle growth”) and will be an important, if not vital, component of your own weight-gain journey.
When you first start lifting weights almost anything will work. But that doesn’t mean you should just do “anything”. If you want to ensure constant steady progress over the long-term and avoid injury you have to approach your training in a strategic, intelligent manner.
While it’s difficult to give personalized training advice in the context of an article like this*, the ideas I’ve outlined below are a good place to start. At the beginning, take the time to learn the technique that’s right for your body and use loads that are challenging but within your capabilities. Getting bigger and strong is a marathon, not a sprint. Treat your workouts as such.
** These are really simplified recommendations. Designing strength and conditioning programs for baseball players (or any athlete for that matter…) is a highly-individualized process. Just like no two pitchers should be expected to throw exactly the same way, no two pitchers should be expected to train exactly the same way. (Nor should they.)*
Split your week into two lower body days, two upper body days and two sprint days*. It’ll look something like this…
Monday: Lower Body
Tuesday: Upper Body
Thursday: Lower Body
Friday: Upper Body
*Note that this is just one option. There are many ways to split up your training week.
Each workout should include at least one multi-joint exercise (e.g. squat/deadlift variations for the lower body and pressing/rowing variations for the upper body) as well as an additional 2-3 “accessory” exercises (e.g. lunge/bridge variations for the lower body, shoulder/scapular stability exercises for the upper body). I also like to do some kind of corrective or core stability work during my “rest” periods.
Putting this altogether, a lower body day might look like this:
*After a good warm-up…
A1. Deadlift Variation: 4 sets of 6 reps with 2-3 minutes rest between sets.
A2. Corrective Exercise
B1. Lunge Variation in Sagittal Plane: 3 sets of 8 reps/side
B2. Anti-Rotation Core Stability Exercise
C1. Unilateral Bridge Variation: 3 sets of 10 reps
C2. Corrective Exercise
D1. Lunge Variation in Frontal Plane: 3 sets of 10 reps/side
D2. Anti-Extension Core Stability Exercise
Each week you should be trying to increase (1) the number of reps you do or (2) the amount of weight you use. This is a goal not a requirement. Judge your abilities on any given day and adjust accordingly. Don’t be afraid to push yourself but stay sensible and know when to back-off. The number one thing that’s going to hold you back from getting stronger is getting hurt. Remember: it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
A note on aerobic training
“But there’s no running in your program. What gives?”
When I was growing up, many pitching coaches considered long-distance running to be the Holy Grail of physical conditioning for pitchers. We would run poles until the cows came home. I was so awful at it that Eric Cressey has done a fantastic job dismantling this dogmatic approach to training pitchers. According to Cressey, a repetitive motion like jogging can cause pitchers to lose mobility in their hips. “That’s the very mobility they depend on so much to generate stride length and, in turn, velocity”, wrote Cressey on his blog in a 2008 article series entitled, A New Model for Training Between Starts.
That’s not to say that aerobic training is not beneficial for pitchers; increasing your aerobic capacity helps you recover better between training sessions (lifting, throwing, etc.) and handle a higher workload during those training sessions by increasing recovery between sets/throws. But when your main goal is to gain weight you really need to dial back how much training time you choose to devote to aerobic training (if any at all).
My general recommendation would be: if your resting heart rate is somewhere in the 50-60 beats per minute range you are probably unlikely to benefit from further aerobic training at the moment. But if you feel like you are recovering poorly between training sessions and you’ve appropriately addressed other recovery strategies like sleep, diet and stress management (did I mention sleep?) then adding in some light aerobic work might be a good idea.
Nothing crazy here! Start with 2 sessions per week, 20-30 minutes each at 60-70% of your maximum heart rate*.
*To estimate your maximum heart rate take the number 220 and subtract your age. So, if you’re 18 years old your estimated MHR is 220 minus 18 or about 202 beats per minute.
Gaining weight is an expensive process—it takes a lot of energy. You don’t want to unnecessarily waste that energy recovering from aerobic training if you don’t have to.
I ate. A lot.
Reality check: if you’re struggling to gain weight, you don’t eat enough. Plain and simple.
I used to think I ate “so much” because I could devour an entire pizza once and awhile. <— Lol! Silly, naïve, skinny Tavis. (I realize now that doesn’t count.) If you want to gain an appreciable amount of weight that’s going to actually have a noticeable effect on your pitching velocity you need to consistently eat more food than you currently eat.
If you’re a naturally skinny guy like me, chances are you’re going to need a ridiculous (sometimes uncomfortable) amount of food to get bigger. That doesn’t mean gaining weight is an excuse to binge on potato chips and candy bars. (Although those are okay in moderation.) The majority of the food you eat should come wholesome, unprocessed foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, wholegrains, meat, fish, eggs, and dairy. But because you’re trying to get in more calories than the average person you can afford to have more “treats” than the average person.
When I was going from 145 to 205 pounds, I was eating 3-4 solid meals per day. Each meal would contain 1-2 palm-sized portions of protein, 1-2 fist-sized portions of carbohydrates, 2 fist-sized portions of vegetables, and a handful of nuts (or other source of healthy fats).
I was also supplementing with liquid nutrition in between meals and after workouts in the form of what Precision Nutrition’s Dr. John Berardi calls, “Super Shakes”. If you’re having trouble gaining weight, “Super Shakes” can be a real life saver.
You can make your own shakes using the directions below…
In a blender, combine the following:
• 1 scoop of protein powder (I use whey but you can use vegetarian options like rice of pea protein)
• 1 vegetable (I like to use a handful of raw spinach or kale)
• 1 piece of fruit (I like bananas or frozen berries)
• 1 handful of nuts (or substitute with a tbsp of peanut butter)
• 1 cup of milk (you can substitute almond, rice, or coconut milk if you’re intolerant)
• 1 cup of ice
Some days I drank as many as 3 of these in between solid meals to accelerate body weight increases.
How much weight should I expect to gain?
If you’re eating properly and training hard, you should expect to gain about 1-2 pounds per week. Most experts agree that, for underweight athletes, this is a relatively safe rate of weight gain. Ideally, we don’t want to gain weight too quickly as this approach results in excessive and unnecessary increases in body fat. For the underweight athlete, gaining a bit of fat is not a bad thing (it might even be beneficial) but we don’t want to sacrifice our overall health in the pursuit of a few more MPHs.
After this the formula is pretty simple:
Weigh yourself every 1-2 weeks. If you aren’t gaining weight you need to eat more. If you’re gaining more than 2 pounds per week, maybe dial back on the amount of food you’re eating.
Do this consistently for 6 months and I’ll be damned if you aren’t at least 20 pounds heavier (and much stronger) than you are right now.