The Best Way to Throw Stuff, According to Harvard and Yale Researchers

It's not really a toss up.

flickr / Sandy Chase
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Teach a man to throw, he may not throw for a lifetime, but at least he’ll be able to toss his wife the remote without having to walk across the room. But if the pitching lesson doesn’t land, teach him math and science as the last result. Researchers from both Harvard and Yale recently used mathematical models to calculate the best way to throw — likely in lieu of athletic ability.

“Once you launch the ball, there’s nothing you can do,” Madhusudhan Venkadesan, assistant professor at Yale and lead author of the study, told Yale News. “The ball’s just going to carry out the consequences of what you did.” Simply, pitching is a lot like parenting.

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The study, published in Royal Society Open Science, focused on the speed-accuracy tradeoffs, throwing style (overhand versus underhand), and strategies for different games such as basketball. They found that increasing the speed of the trajectory decreased accuracy overall, which makes sense seeing how many balls professional players throw — after all, they’re not great scientists.

While throwing slowly maximized accuracy, when speed is necessary overhanded style was concluded as best. Overall, the most accurate pitch was shallow overhand throw, slightly faster than the minimum speed needed to reach the target, regardless of location. However, underhand throws were better for reaching nearby targets above the shoulder. Overhand throws were more consistent with higher speeds and longer distances.

In many ways, this study uncovers much of what people already know. If you want to win at cornhole, don’t throw like someone training for the minors. The one exception found was in basketball, where the now-retired NBA star Rick Barry’s underhanded free throw shooting, aka “granny style,” is still the most accurate, scientifically speaking. One caveat is that researchers did not delve into the underlying biological complexities, but they suspect that the choice of throwing style when it comes to planning and execution, might not be a choice at all. So maybe leave granny alone.

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