There have been too many times that I have heard from coaches and parents that a thrower is overweight and that they need to do conditioning in order to be “in shape” enough to throw. So I’ll ask the question: what does it mean to be in shape to throw?
In general when I hear “in shape” I think of an athlete that has good aerobic capacity. Typically this is a soccer player, basketball player, or another running based sport that requires the athlete to have the stamina to perform at a high technical level throughout an entire game. I have often heard said that throwers should be good all around and fit athletes. Whereas that could be some people’s personal choice, as a coach my main concern is getting throwers to throw as far as possible. Throwers do not need this type of training because there is no carry over to our competitive events. We have three energy systems, or three methods of producing ATP (energy) in our body. When we exercise at an all-out level, over the first 3 seconds we use our stored ATP. From about 3 to 20-30 seconds we use the phosphocreatine system to replenish energy. From 30 seconds to 2 minutes we use the glycolytic system, and finally from 2 minutes and beyond we use the aerobic system. When throwing in competition we only use our stored ATP, since it takes less than 3 seconds to throw and there is a complete recovery time. Now we obviously use other exercises to become stronger and more explosive to throw farther. These exercises, including benches, squats, cleans, etc. are usually greater than 3 seconds and fall in the phosphocreatine system to replace energy. Thus it is accurate to train the phosphocreatine system in order to perform strength and explosion exercises at a higher level in order to throw further. So what are you gaining from training an energy system beyond 30 seconds? There are no strength or explosive exercises that fall in that range, so I see no benefit in training them. Thus having a thrower that gets out of breath after running a lap does not concern me, as that measure is testing an energy system that is not involved in throws training so has no bearing on how far they can throw.
Maybe to get in shape just means to lose weight. There are certainly many cases when throwers should lose weight, but the question is how to lose that weight. There are a million theories on how to lose weight out there, but what all of them come down to at the base level is calories in (eating) vs. calories out (burned). If someone takes in less calories than they burn, they will lose weight. Here I believe that burning calories by doing typical conditioning such as running is not the way to go for throwers to lose weight. Like I explained above, exercise over 30 seconds has little to no transfer to the throw, and there is actually research that endurance training decreases strength and explosion. Running is not the only way to burn calories! Trust me, doing one of our full throwing and lifting sessions will burn a ton of calories. Burning calories at practice is only one half of the equation however, and none of that will matter if the thrower does not control their nutrition outside of practice. Eating well is a must for all throwers, but if they are trying to lose weight, they most also restrict calories. This means cutting out packaged foods and foods with added sugar while controlling all portion sizes. Be sure to not restrict protein intake when losing weight in order to maintain muscle mass.
To me, a thrower that is out of throwing shape means that their speed, strength, and mobility levels are inadequate in order to achieve good technique. This may be the case for overweight throwers, but it is also the case for many other throwers as well. Even though a thrower is overweight doesn’t necessarily mean that they cannot throw far. I think most people would have a hard time saying that an overweight thrower who is at the top of their competitive level is out of shape to throw. Saying that a thrower is not in shape to throw is really just another way of saying that they are not good at throwing. The question is then not how to get “in shape”, but how to get better at throwing.