Pitcher takes up weightlifting to increase throwing speed


DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am 16 and play three sports: baseball, basketball and football. Right now, it’s baseball, and I am a pitcher. I’d like to increase my throwing speed, so I have taken up weightlifting. I’ve gotten two different opinions on this. One tells me that I will get muscle-bound and tight, and that I won’t be able to throw like I can now. The other encourages me to train with weights. Which is right?

I also think I am at a disadvantage because of my height. I am 5 feet 9 inches. Wouldn’t being taller give me more throwing power? — R.K.

 ANSWER: Let’s deal with the muscle-bound idea first. When people use that word, they’re indicating someone with large, bulky muscles. The thought is that such muscles hinder fluid movement; that’s not the case. Bodybuilders with huge muscles move with swiftness, grace and power. Not many people subscribe to the muscle-bound theory anymore.

 Go ahead and lift weights. Don’t focus exclusively on your arm and shoulder. You want balanced muscle development. Much of the power imparted to a thrown baseball comes from leg, hip and trunk muscles. The twisting of the legs, hips and trunk is crucial to the speed of a pitch.

 Plyometric exercises are recommended for increasing throwing speed. Plyometrics indicate an exercise in which a rapid muscle stretch is followed by muscle shortening. This happens in the same sequence of motion. Overhead throwing of a 6-pound medicine ball is an example. Right and left hands, arms and shoulders are involved in the throw.

 If you’re actively in season, practice and play now, but go easy on exercises. Save this program until the season is over. You’re going to put too much stress on your throwing arm.

 Your height isn’t a disadvantage. Let me give you the example of two major-league pitchers who throw the ball at a speed of more than 90 miles an hour. They are Randy Johnson and Tim Lincecum. Johnson is 6 feet 10 inches; Lincecum is 5 feet 11 inches. They derive their power for fast pitching by the rotation they make in their deliveries.

 DEAR DR. DONOHUE: This past spring I took up running. I am getting a peculiar, prickly sensation on the bottom of my left foot. I asked my doctor what he thought it might be, and he said tarsal tunnel syndrome. He told me to buy shoes with better padding.

 Would you expand upon this for me? — M.S.

 ANSWER: Tarsal tunnel syndrome is the foot’s equivalent of the hand’s carpal tunnel syndrome. A foot nerve passes through a tunnel of bones and ligaments at the ankle. If the tunnel narrows, it presses on the nerve to cause the sensations similar to what you have. Narrowing can come from inflammation of the tunnel due to overuse. The sensation is felt on the big toe’s side of the sole.

 If two weeks of rest don’t rid you of the pain, visit the doctor again.

 DEAR DR. DONOHUE: For a number of years, I have played vigorous tennis three times a week. This year, I’ve been coming down with a headache centered on my left eye. I saw an eye doctor, who found nothing wrong. My family doctor thinks it’s due to exertion when playing tennis. What do you think? — R.A.

 ANSWER: Exertion is a reasonable explanation for the headache. Such headaches are called benign exertional headaches. They last for a few minutes to a number of hours. Dehydration, a dip in blood sugar or both can have a hand in causing them

 Drink 12 ounces of a sports drink an hour before playing, and keep on drinking water when you play. If the headaches don’t go away, you’ll have to consult a neurologist.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from www.rbmamall.com.