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Evaluation & Study of the Finch Windmill

Sherry L. Werner, M.S.
Penn State University

Several months ago our lab at Penn State was asked to independently evaluate a training device called the Finch Windmill. This apparatus is an exercise machine which provides adjustable resistance throughout a circular range of motion. Exercise with the machine can be tailored for different overhand and underhand motion patterns. For the purpose of our study, windmill pitching was analyzed.

The goals of the evaluation were to assess the effects of training on pitching performance and to determine which muscle groups are active while using the machine. Because of the direct relevance to training windmill pitchers, this month I will share a synopsis of the results of our unbiased evaluation of this device.

The Finch Windmill was incorporated into the training program of four Penn State softball pitchers. All of the subjects were right-handed and threw with a windmill delivery style. Two weeks were devoted to familiarizing the athletes with the machine prior to the actual training period so that learning effects would not confound the results. Due to injuries and illness, the durations of training with the machine varied among the pitchers, from five to eight weeks.

All of the pitchers trained with the machine three to five times per week, and each training session consisted of twenty repetitions each of six exercises. The exercises were: (a) right-handed overhand motion, (b) right-handed underhand motion, (c) left-handed overhand motion, (d) left-handed underhand motion, (e) clockwise motion using both hands (facing the machine), and (f) counterclockwise motion using both hands (facing the machine). Subjects were encouraged to use the trunk and lower body as well as the upper body for all exercises. A metronome was used to assist toe pitchers in maintaining a one-revolution per second pace during the workouts.

In order to assess the training effects on pitching performance, a Stalker radar gun was used to measure ball speed before training and at one-week intervals during training. All pitchers showed an increase in velocity after two weeks of training, and one subject continued to increase at three weeks. Increases were also noted for one subject at five weeks and at six weeks for another subject. Overall, the four pitchers increased ball speed by an average of 3.25 miles per hour.

Strength records were also monitored for the four athletes. All pitchers were in the maintenance phase of their strength training programs, and inspection of strength records indicated that there were no significant changes for any muscle group over the course of study.

After completion of the five to eight week training period, muscle activity was monitored for each pitcher while using the Finch Windmill. Data was collected on twenty-eight muscles/muscle groups using electromyography (EMG) techniques. The muscle tested for the six exercises were located in the upper arms, forearms, shoulder areas, stomach, back, thighs, and lower legs.

As expected, the forearm and upper arm muscles exhibited the most activity. In particular, the deltoids, trapezius', biceps, wrist flexors, wrist extensors, and pectoralis majors demonstrated moderate to high activity for all or most of the movements. The stomach, back, and leg muscles also contributed to the workout, but to a lesser extent. Forearm muscle and biceps activity was higher in the overhand as compared to the underhand motions, and back muscle activity was highest in the clockwise and counter-clockwise motions.

So, in summary, despite a lack of strength gain during a five to eight week training period with the Finch Windmill, ball velocities increased for all four pitchers. Speed increases of two to five miles per hour were noted. Improvements were seen as early as two weeks and as late as six weeks. Based on the analysis of EMG data, this machine also appears to be effective in recruiting muscles of the shoulder, upper arm, forearm, abdomen, back, thigh, and lower leg. The clockwise and counterclockwise exercises seem to utilize the trunk muscles to a greater extent than the other four motions.

It should be emphasized that the Finch Windmill was evaluated as a training device and not a teaching tool. The underhand exercises do not identically mimic the windmill pitching motion. The machine does give resistance training throughout a range of motion similar to the windmill pitch, however. In the present study, submaximal resistance was used in training the pitchers. Since an exercise session consisted of twenty repetitions of the six motions, the intent was to build muscular endurance as opposed to muscular strength.

In general, training with resistance that can be repeated in sets of eight to ten repetitions is aimed at developing strength. On the other hand, resistance able to be handled in sets of twelve to twenty or more repetitions increases muscular endurance. In other words, high resistance and low repetitions builds strength (the size of the muscle), and low resistance and high repetitions builds endurance (the ability of the muscle to fire repeatedly without fatigue). With this in mind, it is not surprising that the Finch Windmill did not lead to measurable strength gains in the weight room. It should be noted that the pitchers did increase the resistance of the machine over the course of the study, however.

The increases in ball speed cannot be attributed to one source. A combination of training effects, adapting to changed pitching mechanics, and movement from an indoor practice facility to the playing field cloud the results. For the record, all instruction and attempts at changing mechanics had ceased prior to the training period, and transfer from indoors to outdoors occurred during week five of training.

Since no previous EMG studies have been carried out on softball pitchers, it is impossible to compare the muscles used in exercising with the Finch Windmill with those used in pitching. Hopefully in the near future funding will be available for scientists to investigate softball-related questions.

There are very few training devices for softball, so it was interesting to me to evaluate the Finch Windmill. The overhand motion exercises make this machine attractive to all softball players, not just pitchers. In my opinion it is a viable training tool for pitchers. An athlete can work out for two to three minutes and work many muscle groups in sport specific ranges of motion. I would suggest emphasizing the use of the legs, hips, and trunk during all six exercises. As I have said before, these are important muscles for pitching. The thing I like best about the machine is that a pitcher can simulate 120 "pitches" in a matter of minutes without the stress of ball release. Although the machine does not replicate the pitching motion exactly, the concept of training a pitcher while reducing the stress of real pitching is appealing.



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