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Dry Mechanics; Essential for Development?

15 June 2011 No Comment

There is a big debate in the pitching world concerning the use of dry work.  These drills also known as shadow work, or dry runs are used by many pitching coaches at various levels.  Some incorporate implements such as towels, strips, and mirrors just to name a few.  Much of the thought process is based on the fact that pitchers can only throw so much, so doing dry work allows for more reps with less stress on the arm.  The debate on the other side of the fence is that dry work does not replicate throwing and really does not translate into real gains in regards to physical adjustments.  In other words, it can become just busy work with no real relative outcome.  We put this topic up to our panel of coaches across the country to find out their thoughts are on the subject… Dry Work; Essential for Development or Waste of Time?

Ron Wolforth
CEO, Pitching Central
Dry drills have a very short shelf life in my opinion. They are possibly helpful when initially teaching a concept or movement, but after that they really have little value other than for active visualization- which is an entirely different discussion. There is much research in the sports literature that proves miming is significantly different than actual performing from a motor learning and neuromuscular perspective and therefore has little to no carry over to game time performance. For ALL coaches, time is already of short supply. It is crucial we spend our precious time doing…not miming…or pretending. Some coaches use miming or even semi related throwing drills such as the towel drill to ‘give their pitchers arms a break’ and still get ‘value’ for their time. I would implore these men to search out and find more effective and more skill specific lead up throwing drills to maximize their training time. In my opinion, pitchers should throw FAR more, pitch less and mimic none at all.

Matt Myers
Western Kentucky University
I think dry drills are very important for development. They are a vital part in our system; they are a part of our daily routines.  Hitters get to hit live to some degree every day, pitchers for the most part cannot throw competitive bullpens everyday or face hitters. However, pitching is feel oriented position that takes a tremendous amount of repetition. I use dry drills for muscle memory, feel, and repetition. In fact I give my freshman homework every night, 50 dry delivery reps in front of a mirror. With anything that you do, it only holds weight if get your guys to buy into it, you must believe that they work and what purpose they have for each individuals development.

Tim Dixon
Air Force Academy
I feel that dry mechanical drills are an individual preference. At the Air Force we do a few, but I don’t force it upon my pitchers. The one drill that we do the most is mirror work. A pitcher will partner up with another pitcher somewhat similar to his style and they will face each other and go through their mechanics. They are basically watching their partner and giving them feedback on what they see. This is just another voice for them to hear and sometimes they can pick up some minor detail that can make their teammate better. I personally, would rather get off the mound and throw a bullpen at about 75% effort. During this “touchy feely” we can accomplish mechanical work, but more importantly we create feel for the strike zone. We can also work on different grips and sometimes create new or just improve current pitches. Most of my guys would rather throw off the bump, but dry drills are sometimes a good change. During mental training we will go through scenarios on the mound without a ball and visualize executing pitches. This drill is more for the mind, but it is amazing how their mechanics get better when they close their eyes and trust what they know.

Fred Corral
University of Memphis
Dry runs for me are a waste of time as I truly feel the carry over is very minimal. I myself, as a pitcher back in the day did a ton of them and can truly recall having to continually work at it. Dry runs do have some benefits mentally. If working on your skill gives you a sense of confidence that no one has worked as harder therefore no one is going to beat you then more power to you (That was my thought process). When working on a particular part of our delivery, we will do so while throwing a baseball or incredi-ball for a lighter workload. We will place a sock over a gripped baseball and leave 2-3 inches at the end while taping it to the wrist. In doing so, the individual can go through his delivery while throwing the baseball, eliminating the end result from the feel of the mechanic. I have found the carry over is great as it is perfect practice as opposed to imagery practice. Try it. Socks, everyone has them. Drill works better if sock is new or recently washed.

Tom Kinkelaar
Georgia Tech University
I think dry mechanical drills are important to the development of a pitcher.  There is only so much throwing a pitcher can do.  Hitters can swing and hit all they want, but a pitcher cannot constantly throw.  I feel you can work on your mechanics, without throwing a ball.  We’ve had the towel drill, chair drill, to mention a few that we have used.  We also have been using a new product, called “Strike Out Strippz” that have a lot of merit when doing dry mechanical work.  With any drill, the pitchers have to buy into it and see the benefit of the drill or it could be a waste of time.  So again, throwing constantly is not feasible for pitchers, therefore dry mechanics drills become very important to their development.

Derek Johnson
Vanderbilt University
I like shadow work for things such as routine or “set up” out of the windup or stretch.  I think it has value for small things, but very little value for actually “changing/adjusting” mechanics.  Shadow work cannot usually be done with full effort, therefore making it impossible for the pitcher to actually feel an adjustment at full speed.  Have you ever noticed that a pitcher looks completely different when he shadow drills vs. live throwing?  I think this would be similar to the towel drill in that it does not properly mimic the delivery, thereby minimizing its effectiveness.

Spanky McFarland
James Madison University
I am a big fan of dry mechanical drills. Pitchers are often busy during practice with doing things to help the team such as hit fungos, take throws, shag, and get homeruns and foul balls. All of this helps the club, but it is not helping the pitcher. We know we can’t throw bullpens every day and we can’t use the infield all the time for PFP or pickoff work, so we do some dry work. Perhaps in one bullpen we will throw to catchers and the other we will take a pitcher or two and do some dry drills. Some of the things we work on in dry drills are mechanical; particularly the lower body mechanics, but we do a lot of mental exercises in during dry work, such as visualization. We visualize the signs, pickoff work, pre-pitch routines; we work on release methods to get over bad calls, bad pitches and errors. We work on how we are going to act if we are doing well, anything you can imagine. If we can’t have a coach with the pitcher then we script something for him to work on. I believe dry work is much more beneficial than shagging in the outfield and is a great supplement to our regular bullpen work.

Eric Valenzuela
San Diego State University
Dry drills for us are a very minimal part of our workouts.  Now, we do them but maybe about once or twice a week.  I feel they can help on certain mechanic tools such as balance and finish, but I do believe most work is done playing catch and in bullpen sessions.  Our philosophy is to keep our pitchers mentally tough and to not be so mechanical with every adjustment.  I want our pitchers to make adjustments based off of feel and not trying to change their mechanics every time they throw a ball or have a bad outing.  Sometimes dry drills makes pitchers too mechanical…

Garret Quinn
Liberty University
I am a firm believer that perfect pitches exist somewhere within a pitcher’s delivery.  Some pitchers can “find” that perfect delivery/pitch very frequently while others may struggle to “find” it with any consistency.  Therefore I believe that it is very beneficial to practice the delivery on a daily basis.  We make time everyday for our pitchers to practice their deliveries with a baseball and without a baseball.  We encourage our pitchers to combine visualization techniques with their dry work to make the experience as game-like as possible.  Oftentimes I will assign a pitcher to 120 deliveries where each pitch must be thrown (without a baseball and sometimes without accelerating the arm) out of the windup and out of the stretch.  I may also assign a pitcher to throw a complete game versus our next opponent (again, without a baseball and oftentimes without accelerating the arm).  This approach puts the pitcher into a competitive mindset where he can visualize getting our opponents out.  At the same time he will also work various situations mentally and physically before the game even begins.

Chris Maliszewski
University of Iowa
I fell that dry mechanic drills are helpful in development but not essential.  In my opinion, the “feel” of doing anything related to throwing a baseball without actually throwing it is much different.  I cannot exactly know how my body will react when throwing a ball unless I am physically throwing it.  I do believe that dry drills can help in fixing major mechanical flaws.  They are a useful tool to help a mechanical problem if there is a lot of repetition done correctly to help create muscle memory.  I believe that the more you do something correctly the easier it will become.  This holds true for mechanics as well.  With that being said I think it can help, but by no means essential.

Chad Konishi
University of Hawaii
I do believe dry mechanics help.  I do believe and agree also that it is totally different doing dry mechanics then actually throwing a baseball.  However, we do dry mechanics for muscle memory and visual enhancement.  We do these dry mechanics or form drills off a portable mound as well as on flat ground.   And almost always, we do these drills in front of a full length mirror so that they can see themselves.  I think the visual cues they get from seeing themselves help them to understand THEIR delivery and how to make adjustments.  As we know pitching is feel so I want them to feel what they’re doing yet be able to see their various checkpoints while delivering the pitch.  We talk about balance a lot here at Hawaii.  The achievement of superior balance at leg lift and staying over the rubber yet we also want to be balanced upon finish or release of the baseball.  Hence we do a two part balance towel drill that incorporates both phases.  We also talk a lot about separation of the hands so while off the portable mound our guys can see if they are separating their hands correctly.  We also talk about extension a lot here as some absolutes in our delivery of the baseball.  WE think the snapping of the towel mimics a lot of the release point of the baseball.  SO we again enhance the release point by repetitive use of the towel drills.  Hopefully I have exemplified the importance of doing APPROPRIATE FORM/TOWEL DRILL work to enhance our individual deliveries. Again I must stress that we do these drills and form work with focus and intent and I tell my pitchers if they don’t do them with conviction then don’t do them at all.

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