Pitching Performance: Understanding Trunk Position at Foot Strike – Part 3

December 9, 2014

Today marks the third installment of this series on trunk position at foot strike during the pitching delivery.  In case you missed them, be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2.  In those installments, we outlined the problem of early and excessive lumbar (lower back) extension, and how to address it with drill work.  In today’s final installment, we’ll introduce some drills we like to use with our athletes to teach them about proper positioning and build stability within those positions.

At the end of the day, there are a few things that can contribute to a pitcher drifting into excessive extension from the time he begins his leg kick all the way through when his front foot strike.  Obviously, the foremost concern is what cues the athlete has been given that may be leading him in this direction.  Once those have been cleaned up, though, we have to look to see how physically prepared an individual is to get to the right positions. I think the first question you have to ask in this case is, “Where does the posture start?”  If an athlete looks like this at rest, he’s going to at least look like this dynamically – and this heavily extended posture is going to be much more exaggerated.

APT

With that in mind, step 1 is to educate athletes on what acceptable resting posture is.  In this case, we need the athlete to learn to bring the pelvis and rib cage closer together, most notably through some posterior pelvic tilt.  Once that has been established, here are some of my favorite warm-up drills for athletes with this heavily extended posture. You’ll notice that exhaling fully and learning to get the ribs to come down are key components of these drills.

In addition to these low-level core stability exercises, we’ll progress to some balance drills, especially in the early off-season.  Effectively, we’re teaching athletes to resist extension and rotation in single-leg stance.  Yes, it’s static balance training, but I firmly believe these drills have carryover to bigger and better things at higher speeds. And, you’re certainly not going to overtrain on them, so you’ve got nothing to lose.

With all these exercises out of the way, it takes a lot more high level core stability for this posture to carry over to the high level throw.  You need to improve both anterior core control (your ability to resist excessive extension/arching) and rotary stability (your ability to resist excessive rotation at the lower back).  I’ve outlined loads of options on these front, but here are two to get the ball rolling for those who aren’t up to speed on my writings just yet:

And, remember that the different types of core stability never work in isolation – especially during the basebal throw.  Check out this video for more details:

The core stability you build must, however, be accompanied by a strong lower half.  Candidly, I don’t think having a huge squat is necessary.  Athletes seem to get much better carryover from deadlift variations, in my experience – likely due to the fact that the deadlift does such a tremendous job of teaching good hip hinging.  We see so many athletes who drift (LHPs toward 1st base, and RHPs toward 3rd base) early in the leg kick and subsequent movement towardhome plate in part because they can’t hip hinge at all.  Once you’ve gotten that hip hinge back (in part with the toe touch video from above), you have to strength train in that pattern to get it to stick.  For the most detailed deadlift technique video tutorial out there, check out my free one here.

Additionally, single-leg strength is insanely important, and there are lots of ways to attack it.

I think it’s equally important to be able to build and maintain strength outside the sagittal plane, especially when it comes to carrying that good hip hinge over to movements when a pitcher is starting to “ride his hip” down the mound.  With that said, definitely check out an article I wrote previously, 7 Ways to Get Strong Outside the Sagittal Plane.

Once you’ve established hip and shoulder mobility, core stability, and lower half strength, you can really start to make the most of your medicine ball training.  As you can see, I think Tim Collins is a great example from which young throwers can learn a lot, as he has built up a lot of these qualities to make the most of a smaller frame in order to consistently throw in the mid 90s.  That said, I couldn’t ask for a better demonstrator for our medicine ball drills for a few reasons.

First, he always throws the ball with intent; there are no half-speed reps. If you want to develop power, you have to try to be powerful in each throw during training.  Second, his direction is outstanding.  You never see him drift forward as he builds energy to apply with aggressive hip rotation. Third, he’s got a great hip shift, which is necessary to get the most out of his posterior chain.

As a follow-up to that video, CP coach Greg Robins has a great tutorial here to teach you how to get “in and out” of your hip on rotational medicine ball exercises:

As you can see, there are a lot of different factors that contribute to an athletes being in excessive extension – but also allowing that extension to carry over to their pitching mechanics to the point that trunk position will be out of whack at foot strike.  Additionally, these exercises should demonstrate to you that athletes who land in a very extended position – but still have success and don’t want to change things – will need to take special precautions in terms of physical preparation to make sure that their bodies don’t break down over time with this delivery style.

This wraps up our series on understanding trunk position at foot strike during the pitching delivery; we appreciate you following along for all three articles!I If you’d like to learn more about how we manage throwers, be sure to register for one of our Elite Baseball Mentorships.  The next one will take place December 8-10.

 

 

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Pitching Performance: Understanding Trunk Position at Foot Strike – Part 2

(This article originally ran on Ericcressey.com)

Today is part 2 of a collaborative series on a key portion of the pitching delivery from Matt Blake and me. In case you missed part 1, you can check it out here. In today’s installment, Matt delves into the mechanical side a bit deeper and introduces some drill work and examples of where trunk position can go astray.

In order to understand where this extension at landing is coming from and how we can control it in the throw, we have to look at it with a more global perspective and realize that there were preceding movements that were driving this pattern into the landing position.

In part one, we used a picture of Tim Lincecum to exemplify a heavily extended position, but one thing you’ll notice is that the foot positioning in his stride pattern is actually driving a lot of the extension in the torso at landing. If we take a look further back in his delivery, you’ll notice that he has a considerable front leg swing that pulls a lot of his weight forward, causing him to land closed off. In order to keep the segmental separation unfolding efficiently through his target line, he is forced to include more extension in his throw. Here is a brief clip with a couple markers throughout the delivery to highlight the movements in question.

The issue then becomes that the same leg swing Lincecum uses to create power in his stride pattern is also what makes it susceptible to inconsistency, because of the timing and degree of pre-stretch it requires to make the driveline efficient. Ideally, you would just be able to tell Lincecum to straighten out his stride line, and the problem would be solved. Unfortunately, it’s not always that easy. He has been using a stride pattern that is front leg swing dominant with a closed orientation at landing for years to help create the necessary tension it takes to throw the ball 95mph. So, to that end, he’s nearly cemented these patterns – for better or worse.

With that in mind, sometimes it’s easier to give a pitcher some drill constraints to help find the tension in a different manner before they get back on the mound and try to recreate the new line of tension for which we’re looking.

In this case, we’ll introduce some simple drills to close the kinetic chain down a bit and move through a progression that goes from static in nature to a more dynamic and athletic movement pattern. Ideally, we’d cue our way through each drill depending on where we need to alter the individual’s line of tension until we’re able to repeat the new motion at full speed on the mound.

To give you an example of one of the more static drills in our “lead-up” sequence to help set the pattern in place, here is a simple demonstration of the “stride drill” with a three-step progression.

In this example, the intensity was obviously low for the sake of demonstration, so some of the variables of the throw are not exact. With that said, we do also use this drill in a more explosive capacity during some of our weighted ball and velocity drill series in order to turn up the intent and attempt to create some hand speed.

To give you an example of what this looks like in an amateur pitcher with an excessive extension pattern that may lead to some inconsistency, here are three videos depicting the wind-up and then corrective stride drill work:

Wind-up

Stride Drill

Stride Drill with Load

Obviously, these drills aren’t quite where we want them to be yet, as there is still plenty to correct, but that was the idea: I want you to see where most “live-arm” high school athletes are before they acquire an efficiency of movement. This athlete, in particular, has pretty good stuff and works about 86-89mph with this particular delivery. If he can control his feet a little better and know where his weight is positioned, he can control his pelvis and rib orientation in the stride phase, and he’ll be able to create some cleaner sequencing.

One the flip side of that, I want to emphasize with an athlete like this is that, yes, I do want him to throw hard with intent, but I also want him to be in positions to compete in the strike zone on a consistent basis. These don’t necessarily have to be competing interests if we understand how our movements can work together and not fight each other. The main point ends up being that these drills, if cued properly, are attempting to have him consider more efficient movements, and in turn, a more stable and centered delivery.

At the end of the day, as much as we want to control extension in the delivery, by having a strong anterior core that can help limit the amount of hyperextension we get in the lumbar region, most high level throwers have some level of extension in their sequence. The key for me is getting the athlete to understand if it’s excessive or if it’s controlled extension that we can managed within normal limits on a consistent, repeatable basis. If it’s not, we need to be able to find the corrective measures to bring it under control.

In Part 3, EC will cover some core stability exercise progressions he utilizes to help athletes build stability in these positions. In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about how we manage throwers, be sure to register for one of our Elite Baseball Mentorships. The next one will take place December 8-10.

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