Triceps and pitching

Here is an important research finding that pitchers and their coaches should be aware of. There has been much discussion in the past at LTP and other forums concerning the role of triceps in pitching/throwing.

Some highly respected coaches like Tom House have been saying for several years now that it is very important for pitchers to strengthen their triceps to at least the same functional level as their biceps.

On the other hand, the role and importance of the triceps has been laughed off and ridiculed by some self-appointed ‘experts’, notably Chris O’Leary (who never seems to fail to have a rank amateur opinion about everything, which nevertheless he asserts as if he actually knows what he’s talking about).

The research article below claims that the functional triceps strength should actually be about 30% greater than the biceps strength. That is, if biceps strength is assigned a value of 1.0, and a ratio of biceps/triceps strength of 0.76 is the cut-off number for elbow injury correlation, then the research says that triceps strength should be at least 1.3-fold greater than biceps strength to mitigate risk of elbow injury. The “greater than 0.76” correlation to higher risk for injury, mentioned in the paper, basically says that the weaker your triceps are, compared to your biceps, the higher your risk for elbow injury.

This is a very important empirical result, and it suggests that pitchers can be evaluated for this risk factor before they develop elbow problems.

J Sport Rehabil. 2010 Feb;19(1):21-9.

Functional isokinetic strength ratios in baseball players with injured elbows.

Lin YC, Thompson A, Kung JT, Chieh LW, Chou SW, Lin JC.

Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, Gueishan Township, Taiwan.

CONTEXT: Elbow injuries are widely reported among baseball players. The elbow is susceptible to injury when elbow-flexor and -extensor forces are imbalanced during pitching or throwing. Assessment of muscle-strength ratios may prove useful for diagnosing elbow injury. OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this study was to assess the relationship between the elbow-flexor and -extensor functional isokinetic ratios and elbow injury in baseball players. DESIGN: Retrospective study. SETTING: Biomechanics laboratory. PARTICIPANTS: College baseball players with (n = 9) and without (n = 12) self-reported elbow pain or loss of strength were recruited. INTERVENTION AND MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Trials were conducted using a dynamometer to assess dominant-arm flexor and extensor concentric and eccentric strength at angular velocities of 60 degrees and 240 degrees/s. Functional isokinetic ratios were calculated and compared between groups. RESULTS: Regression analysis revealed that a ratio of biceps concentric to triceps concentric strength greater than 0.76 (the median value) significantly predicted elbow injury (P = .01, odds ratio of injury = 24). No other ratios or variables (including position played) were predictive of injury status. CONCLUSIONS: These findings suggest that the ratio of biceps concentric to triceps concentric functional strength strongly predicts elbow-injury status in baseball players. Assessment of this ratio may prove useful in a practical setting for training purposes and both injury diagnosis and rehabilitation.

PMID: 20231742

Flippin, you are so right! I’ve been reading any number of posts in which a pitcher complains of triceps injury—about five times as many of those as there are biceps injuries—and I’ve been reading about how many of those triceps injuries can be directly traced to weakness in those muscles, not to mention insufficient time to warm up! It’s imperative that the whole arm be equally strong and flexible. :slight_smile:

A coach I shared space with had a nephew that was studying to be a chiropractor. By shear coincidence, we were both at his (coach’s) house for supper one night.

His nephew was one of the most intellectual people that I ever met. Brains everywhere. And when his nephew found out that I was a pitching coach, he started to explain just how fragile the human shoulder platform and arms were. Such small muscles- each with a specific job to work in harmony with the total anatomy.

From the sternum to the collarbone, to the shoulder joint down the humerus, the ulna and radius, wrists and fingers … all have to contribute, not compete. Excess loads, wrongly timed, underdeveloped and overuse is not a strong suit for the human anatomy - anywhere. We’re not suitable to damage, either by design or happenstance.

He then proceeded to bring out pictures of text and a few snap shots of a cadaver that supported his semi-lecture. ( geessshhh - I nearly launched!)

Anyway, from that moment on, every time I saw a guy cranking it with just his arm - biceps - triceps - smyicheepss … I couldn’t get that dog-gone cadaver thing out of my mind. But, the man was absolutely right.

A year later I was invited to his nephew’s stag party. I had to road-test a few rounds of Guinness till I was guaranteed to forty below … before I could shake the man’s hand. It takes a lot of grits to be a chiropractor.

Coach B.

La … you could endow yourself with a doctoral thesis with this stuff. This stuff is deep.

Thanks for the kudos, Coach B, but they are undeserved. I’m just listening to good coaches and reading some research papers.

For the past several years I have been listening to Tom House tell pitchers to make sure their weight training/conditioning routines are correctly done to increase their triceps strength to achieve balance with their biceps strength.

His point was: Almost every athlete seems to be aware of their biceps (a showy part of the “beach party” muscle group) but few are aware that the triceps, on the other side of the upper arm, is crucially important for the stabilization and safe deceleration of the throwing arm.

He would typically assess a pitcher’s biceps/triceps ratio by doing this:

  1. Ask the pitcher to flex the throwing arm (i.e., make a maximal contraction of the biceps) and get a feel for the volume of the biceps with a cupped hand.

  2. Then, ask the pitcher to fully extend the throwing arm (i.e., to make a maximal contraction of the triceps) and using a cupped hand, get a feel for the triceps volume.

  3. His point was: A properly conditioned pitcher should have a volume of triceps at least equal to his biceps, when both have been fully contracted.

Now, that is a very approximate way of learning whether there is a problem, or not, but…it’s a lot better than doing nothing (since most of us do not own or operate a laboratory dynamometer).

However, even though it is an approximate method it is extremely useful because: Most youth pitchers who take House’s biceps/triceps evaluation find out something very shocking: They typically have very little in the way of triceps strength. It is a serious wake-up call for those who are paying attention.

I watched as House performed this simple evaluation on reliever Akinori Otsuka in front of a Coaches Certification in San Diego a few years ago…and Mr. Otsuka also came up short in the triceps department.

Although Otsuka altered his training regimen to try to overcome the problem, it was possibly a case of “too little too late” for him to reverse his problems…he ended up having TJ surgery shortly after that demo.

I wouldn’t ask folks to just take my word for all of this stuff–Roger knows a lot about this subject from all the time he’s spent hanging out with House, and there are several other regular LTP contributors who also know a lot about it.

What if it was the other way around? What if someone had stronger triceps than biceps?

The point - and goal - is to achieve balance in the body (left to right and front to back) as imbalances can lead to injuries.