95 miles per hour: Physiology of Pitching

Nationals_Rockies_Baseball-00baa-27438Baseball has been America’s pastime since its early beginnings.  Over time, fans have watched the game evolve. In many cases, the game seems to boil down to a battle between pitchers.  Franchises competing for a spot in the World Series seem to know this, and many (such as the San Francisco Giants) have heavily stacked their pitching rosters with notable talent.  So, physiologically speaking, how do pitchers do what they do, pitch after pitch after pitch?  And what parts of their bodies are most prone to injuries?

These are complex questions. The obvious place to begin is with the arm, shoulder and back muscles.  The most vulnerable joint in pitching is the glenohumeral joint, which is commonly known as the ball and socket of the shoulder.  This joint has the greatest range of motion of any joint in the body.  It is directly supported by four rotator cuff muscles that attach with tough, sinuous tendons.  The pectoral muscle group and the lassitimus dorsi are larger muscles, located in the front and back of the shoulder.  They help stabilize the joint and help keep it from over-rotating and causing injury.

These and other muscle groups work to gather and release energy during a pitch, and others counter the whipping motion of throwing the ball, acting to decelerate and prevent the arm from injury.  In addition to the muscles used in the back and shoulder, leg and core body muscles significantly contribute to the power behind the pitch.  It is this symphony of muscles working in tandem that allows pitchers to throw 100 mph pitches.

Read more about the basics of pitching and physiology or learn the technical physiology behind pitching.

Articles by Josh Silvernagel.

The Psychology of Individual and Team Sports

LACityWhile overall enjoyment of sport participation and experiences of optimum psychological state do not appear to depend on the type of sport, research in the field of sports psychology has yielded some significant differences between athletes in individual and team sports, especially in terms of sources of motivation, coaching, and training.

Read more the basic psychology of team or individuals sports or understand the technical psychological aspects.

Articles by Alycia Parnell.

Understanding Head Injuries Through Biomechanics and Math


In biomechanics, systems in motion — such as the impact of a ball on a player’s head — are described or “modeled” by mathematical differential equations. For example, these equations can show the relationship between the acceleration or force of the ball to the head at impact, and the change in shape of brain tissue in response to that form. The solution to these equations provides information that could be used to establish new safety regulations or adequate sports gear for players.

Current studies show that heading the ball may not be as much of a concern as physicians and parents thought, although it is not fully understood how repetitive head shooting, through many years of play, affects players. Further research will continue to help treat and prevent injuries, and improve athlete performance through individualized coaching.

Learn more about the basics of head injuries and biomechanics or read the more technical mathematical explanation.

Articles by Cristian Clavijo.

Hot or Cold: How Temperature Affects Sports

Fig2Crespo We are always interested in knowing how hot or cold our day is going to be so we can plan for the day ahead of us. No matter what activities we plan, we want to accomplish them without unnecessary distress. Different ambient temperatures might encourage us to engage in outdoor activities, such as practicing sports, or postponing them for another time. Since any type of exercise produces heat as by-product, accumulation of too much heat in excessively high ambient temperatures can compromise athletic performance. This detriment to athletic performance can also arise when ambient temperatures are excessively low. Our bodies cope with changes in temperature through different thermoregulatory processes. However, without taking proper precautions prior to and after exercising, this regulation of body temperature might not be enough, and cannot only make us feel uncomfortable, but also put our health at risk.

Learn the basics of temperature and sports or read the more technical explanation.

Articles by Jose G. Crespo.

How Chemistry Fuels the Body to Run

sports-usain-bolt-in-action-new-hd-wallpaper-usain-bolt-wallpaperUsain Bolt, the Jamaican sprinter who competed in the 2012 London Olympics, is widely known as the fastest man ever. Bolt is the first man in history to hold both the world records for the 100 meter and 200 meter sprint.  Running 100 meters in 9.58 seconds and 200 meters in 19.19 seconds required that he be able to produce and effectively use ample energy to support the strain he puts on all of the systems of his body.

Energy is derived from the food we put into our bodies and the oxygen we breathe. The food is chemically changed and metabolized at the cellular level (aerobically—with oxygen, anaerobically—without), which means it goes through processes that eventually convert it to ATP (adenosine triphosphate).   ATP is the source of energy that gives Bolt and other athletes the ability to do amazing things.

Learn the basics of how chemistry fuels running or read the more technical details.

Articles by Josh Sewell.

Putting Protein in Its Place

newfoodpyramid_largeProtein powders, bars, and drinks are often touted as the key to enhancing muscle growth, increasing energy, and losing excess body fat. Nutrition science indicates that excess protein intake can cause a decrease in the intake of other essential macronutrients. It can also saturate the body’s protein supply and result in depleted calcium stores, adversely affected kidney function, and damage to other critical systems of the body, including the cardiovascular system. Scientists recommend meeting the majority of nutritional needs from a nutrient-rich diet that balances the intake of carbohydrates, fats, and protein.

Learn the basics of how protein affects your performance or read the more technical explanation.

Articles by Kenny Morley.

The Physiology Behind Performance-Enhancing Drugs

testosteroneUsing performance-enhancing drugs has become an unfortunate reality in the world of competitive sports.  Even as recently as the 2012 Olympics, an athlete (Nadzeya Ostapchuk) was stripped of her gold medal after scientists found banned chemical agents in her urine.

One has to wonder why talented young men and women would go to such lengths for that slight edge over their competitors.  Perhaps they are unaware of some of the dangerous side effects that can last throughout their lives, and can even affect their offspring.  Research has uncovered multiple side effects that should deter even the most competitive athlete from using performance-enhancing drugs.

Learn the basics of physiology and performance-enhancing drugs or learn the technical physiological details.

Articles by Kirstin Roundy.

Repeating Great Performances with Muscle Memory

labeled_diagram_human_brainHave you ever wondered how professional tennis players are able to put a serve right on the line time after time? How about how a professional golfer is able to pull off pin-point shots with extreme consistency? Aside from intense focus, these athletes are using motor learning, also known as muscle memory. This is essentially teaching your muscles how to repeat movements or techniques over and over.

Learn the basics of how muscle memory matters.

Articles by Kenny Morley.

Fast and Furious: How Muscle Fiber Type Influences Basketball Performance

Muscle-fibers-631x421Professional athletes use a unique combination of speed, agility, strength, and power to stand apart from the rest. This winning combination of traits is largely due to the slow-twitch (ST) and fast-twitch (FT) fibers found in their muscles. ST fibers are important for endurance, as they allow the muscles to contract at a slow rate for a long time. On the other hand, FT fibers contract fast and hard, but only for a short time, and are important for sprinting. The body first turns to the ST fibers for movement, then focuses on the FT fibers in their legs, calves, and buttocks as the athlete increases speed. A combination of balance, lateral movement, T-drill exercises, and core training are important to increase this muscle response time and maximize gains.

Read about basic muscle fiber and performance or learn the technical physiological explanation.

Articles by Josh Silvernagel.

Hydration and Sport Beverages

sports-drinks-athleteAthletes have many factors to consider when it comes to improving their performance, and one of these critical aspects is maintaining proper water levels, or hydration. Water makes up about 60 percent of the human body, and is critical to transport nutrients and maintain body temperature, among other physiological processes.

Numerous beverages and sports drinks have been promoted as being beneficial for fluid replacement or retention in athletes. For moderate exercise (less than two hours), water should be sufficient to meet hydration needs. For longer periods, sports beverages, drinks, or gels can help replace electrolytes lost in sweat. Some products are also recommended after exercise to replace the proteins and carbohydrates consumed. It is important for athletes to have proper hydration and nutrient levels before, during, and after exercise for both performance and overall health, and specialized products can help fulfill these needs.

Learn the basics of staying hydrated or read the more technical explanation.

Articles by Jamie Saunders.

How Much Do Genes Affect Your Athletic Potential?

Human genetics can play a major role in determining an athlete’s potential. Genetic information is passed from parent to child and is stored within human cells in the form of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid). An individual’s DNA influences attributes such as height and weight and can help to determine if an individual has a predisposition towards athleticism. Genes play a major role in body type and athletic ability, but an athlete must also work hard to realize his/her potential.

Learn the basics of genes and athletic potential or read the more technical biological background.

Articles by Jamie Saunders.

The Psychological Benefits of Exercise

brainhealthFew can argue the many benefits of exercise—it makes people stronger, healthier, and adds years to their lives. There are also a number of less tangible effects of exercise in addition to well-defined muscles and slimmer waistlines. From a psychological perspective, exercise is one of the most important things a person can do to promote mental well-being and overall happiness. Many people are familiar with the mood-boosting effects of exercising regularly, but what is actually happening inside your brain in the midst of a good workout?

Read the basic psychological benefits of exercise or learn the more technical details.

Articles by Alycia Parnell.