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3 Single Leg Exercises to Build Strength and Improve Force Production for Baseball Players

This is no secret. As a baseball player, you need to be able to produce force and you need to be able to absorb force. Being able to do these two things will give you the ability to be powerful, but also help reduce the risk of injury.

When we look at throwing, and more specifically pitching, if you can’t produce or absorb force, you’re going to put a lot more stress on your arm. Not only that, but you will not be able to produce enough power to throw with any real velocity.

If the legs are not doing their part, you have to try to develop power and arm speed somewhere else. This somewhere else is the arm, because in its “mind” it knows it needs to do something to catch up.

 

Using Strength to Improve Stability

When it comes to being powerful, tinkering with mechanics will help, but really a lot of this comes down to your strength, stability, and body position. If you have good relative strength, you’re going to be able to get into better positions.

Pitching is a very explosive movement and requires a lot strength and stability to maintain good body positions.

To become explosive, you must put a lot of force into the ground. Therefore, you will see athletes who put on good weight have a big tick in velocity.

They are putting on relatively good weight, which will help them get stronger, and will ultimately help them produce more force and be more stable to absorb it.

Now when focusing on getting stronger, you want to prioritize unilateral strength. Pitching and throwing is mostly done on one leg, therefore getting strong on one leg will have more carry over.

Building single-leg strength will help you produce power and give you stability to transfer your weight and energy from one leg to the other. By being able to transfer your weight effectively, you will be able stay in a better position to pitch.

With this, I have picked these three single leg strength exercises below because it hits all three sides of the spectrum. The reverse lunge, single leg RDL, and the single-leg hip thrust.

 

Front Squat Reverse Lunge

When it comes to building single-leg strength, this is the king of single-leg exercises. Not only will this exercise get you strong, it makes you absorb force when you step back, and then put force in the ground to drive up.

Another added benefit is the torso position it forces you to be in. Because of the front squat grip and the weight being in front, it helps keep you in a more upright position and makes your anterior core work extra hard, so that you don’t tip.

When pitching, it’s important to be able to create tension at the right time and this exercise requires the same. Being able to create tension through the core is important to maintain good position and being able to push in to the ground.

 

Single Leg RDL

Single Leg Training for Baseball Pitchers

When pitching, you should be able to transfer your weight from your back leg to your front leg, and be able to put your foot in the ground while getting over your front leg.

This exercise not only teaches you to load that front leg, but also put force into the ground and get over it so you can get extension on your pitch.

The ability to get over the front side and get extension will not only help you throw harder, but will add deception to your pitch.

This exercise is going to challenge the glutes and the hamstrings, as well as the core because it helps you stabilize so that you do not tip your pelvis laterally.

The ability to stabilize and get over your front leg not only allows you to get into a better position but allows you to put more force into the ground. With the RDL, you have to be able to load the front leg and then drive it through the ground, and in this case, drive your hip through.

 

Single Leg Hip Thrust

Single Leg Training for Baseball Pitchers

The single-leg hip thrust is a great exercise because it targets the glutes and teaches good hip extension. This exercise is less dynamic and more of a pure glute exercise.

Hip extension is important when it comes to pitching and all three exercises require you to be able to do so to do the exercises correctly.

This exercise, compared to the others, is usually unweighted. However, if you get a point where you want to use weight, you can put a band, bar, or sandbag over your hips.

Pitching is a powerful, explosive movement and requires good single-leg strength and stability. It is important to gain good, relative, single-leg strength so that you can put your body in good positions to allow yourself to produce a lot of force into the ground.

 

 

3 Drills to Enhance the Rhythm of the Baseball Swing

A baseball swing is an intricate series of movements that need to be correctly timed together to optimize the swing outcome.

The energy of the swing begins at the bottom and works up through the body. This is then transferred into the bat, then the ball.

An athlete needs to generate force from the ground. As in all rotational sports, this is initiated at the pelvis.

As the hips open for the swing, the torso follows next. This is then followed by the lead shoulder and finally the bat. Each region subsequently moves faster than the one prior to it.

This ideal sequence allows each region to build speed on the region below it. This movement pattern facilitates the summation of energy on each level.

Consequently, as each body region builds speed the area below it slows down.

With this sequencing the baseball swing is a quick and powerful movement.

The Science of a Powerful Baseball Swing

Aside from the sequencing mechanics, the stretch shortening cycle plays a significant role in this power development.

The stretch shortening cycle triggers maximal muscle activation in a minimal amount of time. It is the combination of a countermovement stretch at the tendons and the body’s involuntary response to being stretched.

In the world of strength and conditioning, this is the cornerstone for plyometric exercise.

A simple example is a box jump. The athlete quickly drops down before exploding up and onto the box.

The stride in a baseball swing occurs simultaneously with the loading of the upper body. In the cage, we cue hitters to point the knob of the bat to the catcher in this load.

This movement of the upper body separating from the lower body is the countermovement stretch. The explosive movement in the opposite direction (towards the pitcher) occurs next.

To maximize the benefit of weight shift, correct timing with the pitch is necessary. Load too early or too late and the hitter’s power and timing with the pitch are gone. Therefore, it is vital to get the lead foot down in time, not early or late.

Practice with a Tee

The tee provides a controlled practice setting to refine swing timing. Hitters should be encouraged to hone their swings off a tee prior to any machine or live swings.

Even during a game tees should be available for hitters to settle in their swing between innings. In a game, the on-deck circle provides another opportunity for hitters to sync their swing timing.

Once a hitter has their swing ready, their attention in the on-deck circle should shift to timing their swing with the pitcher’s rhythm.

This is common practice for experienced players, however, younger players will need to be educated on this use of the on-deck circle.

Drills to Enhance the Rhythm of the Baseball Swing

To develop a better baseball swing, try these 3 drills.

Step Through Swing Drill

The first drill to restore the swing’s rhythm is a step through swing.

The hitter assumes their regular stance 3-4 feet deeper in the batter’s box than normal. Next, the hitter crosses over their back foot and plants it at the normal location.

Their lead leg strides as their hands load back, which creates the lead into a normal swing.

The key movement and moment in this drill is the stride of the lead leg with appropriate separation/load of the hands. Coaches can cue their athletes to feel the stretch from their lead hip through their torso into their shoulders.

An important point is that this drill is not a softball slap. The athlete should not rush the tempo of the drill by running through it.

Step Back Hitting Drill

The second drill is referred to as a step back. In their normal set up, the hitter steps their back foot to their lead foot, then steps the trail foot back to its normal positioning and swings.

Again, the focus is on developing an easy tempo in the swing. The right foot lands to immediately trigger the step and separation into load.

However, there should not be a stop in motion. Any stoppage will allow a loss of energy from the stretch reflex.

Lead Leg Hook Hitting Drill

The third drill is a lead leg hook. In their normal batting stance, the hitter takes their lead leg and crosses it over the front of their back leg.

 

From here, the hitter strides to their normal distance and swings.

The key coaching point is to only move the lower body while preventing the upper body from moving forward prematurely. This would lead to lunging at the ball.

As their lead leg is striding, their hands are moving into the loaded position. Similar to the above drills the hitter should feel that core stretch.

Swinging a baseball bat may not be dancing, but hitters know what an out of rhythm swing feels like.

Hitters also know the awkward feeling of pounding a ground ball into the grass 10 feet in front of home plate or the loss of pop on a grooved pitch. Additionally, coaches know what lack of timing in a swing looks like.

The key to any swing is to properly time and load the lower body for energy to transfer to the upper body.

Off a tee, these three drills should be used frequently to restore the rhythm of a swing.

Total Motion Release: A New Warm-Up Approach

There is no surprise that baseball is a very one-sided sport. Due to this one-sidedness, baseball athletes present an adaptive muscular tightness and weakness in their throwing shoulder from repetition after repetition.

There is also no surprise that one of the most common techniques to improve joint range of motion and structural alignment is through static stretching. Contrary to popular belief, it may not affect throwing velocity.

Static stretching may be a good tool to pull from the tool box, but it may not have the greatest carry over since throwing a baseball is a dynamic activity.

However, what might surprise you is that there is a new method being used called Total Motion Release (TMR).

The TMR system assesses the body as a unified symphony of joints, like the Functional Movement Screen (FMS), to determine pain or dysfunction in one area that is affected by movements that take place elsewhere in the body.

The TMR system has six different movements to assess dysfunction and asymmetry. In this present study, the researchers only used the Standing Trunk Twist and Standing Arm Raise.

The TMR system was compared to a general dynamic warm up to determine which method was superior in increasing total range of motion in the throwing shoulder.

All 20 subjects performed both the TMR and dynamic warm up. However, in the cross-over design of the study, one group performed the TMR following the dynamic warm up and vice versa.

The results of the study showed that the TMR system significantly improved total range of motion in the throwing shoulder when compared to the general dynamic warm up.

The results also showed that there was also a time effect. Those who performed the TMR following the dynamic warm up significantly improved total joint range of motion when compared to the group who performed the TMR first.

A general dynamic warm up is important for increasing blood flow, tissue extensibility, and neuromuscular communication. To get the biggest bang for your buck, perform your dynamic warm up first, and then follow it up with using controlled movements from the TMR system.

Future research is needed to determine the retention rate of the range of motion improvements following the TMR system.

For example, between innings, 6-hours post pitching, 12-hours post pitching, 24-hours post pitching, as well as its effects on athletic performance such as throwing velocity, total innings pitched, etc.

Comparing the immediate effects of a total motion release warm-up and dynamic warm-up protocol on the dominant shoulder in baseball athletes.

A decrease in total range of motion (ROM) of the dominant shoulder may predispose baseball athletes to increased shoulder injury risk; the most effective technique for improving ROM is unknown. The purpose of this study was to compare the immediate effects of Total Motion Release® (TMR®) to a generic dynamic warm-up program in baseball athletes. Baseball athletes (n=20) were randomly assigned to an intervention group: TMR® group (TMRG; n=10) or traditional warm-up group (TWG; n=10). Shoulder ROM measurements were recorded for internal (IR) and external (ER) rotation, the intervention was applied, and post- measurements were recorded. Each group then received the other intervention and post- measurements were again recorded. The time main effect (p ≤ .001) and the time x group interaction effect were significant (p ≤ .001) for IR and ER. Post hoc analysis revealed TMR® produced significant increases in mean IR (p ≤ .005, d = 1.52) and ER (p ≤ .018, d = 1.22) of the dominant shoulder initially. When groups crossed-over, the TMRG experienced a decrease in mean IR and ER following the dynamic warm-up, while the TWG experienced a significant increase in mean IR (p ≤ .001, d = 3.08) and ER (p ≤ .001, d = 2.56) following TMR® intervention. TMR® increased IR and ER of the dominant shoulder more than a dynamic warm-up. Dynamic warm-up following TMR® also resulted in decreased IR and ER; however, TMR® following dynamic warm-up significantly improved IR and ER. Based on these results, TMR® is more effective than a generic dynamic warm-up for improving dominant shoulder ROM in baseball players.

The Proper Way For Baseball Pitchers To Push Down The Mound

The pitching motion is an explosive lateral to rotational movement down a hill in under two seconds.

The greatest key component to this explosive movement is “leg drive,” or the moment the pitcher moves down the mound after reaching peak leg lift.

Competing terms like “tall and fall” or “drop and drive” combined with balance and toe tap drills have caused confusion and reinforced slow twitch movements to hinder pitchers’ abilities to complete leg drive athletically and efficiently.

The most common diagram we know in physics is that of the roller coaster on a hill to illustrate potential and kinetic energy.

At the top of the hill, the roller coaster is at peak potential energy. It then converts to kinetic energy as it moves down the slope and gains speed.

A pitcher’s center of mass needs to move with the slope of the mound the same way a roller coaster moves down a hill.

Now, imagine that the roller coaster has a motor to kick-start it down its hill. This motor is the pitcher’s back leg, which is used to create additional force in the ground and accelerate more explosively.

The Load And Go

After peak leg lift, the pitcher needs to focus on driving the rubber back towards second base and pushing his entire body down the mound.

The pitcher will shift weight to the middle/outside of his back foot, stabilize his back knee over his back ankle, and drive his body as a single unit down the mound. The timing trigger for this is hand break.

The pitcher should think two phases: load and go. Leg lift is the “load” where the pitcher’s weight shifts over his back leg. Hand break is the “go” where he explosively drives away from the rubber.

Notice there is no “fall” in the way I describe this move. On the flip side, there’s no drop either.

We DO NOT want the pitcher to sit down or sink his weight into the ground attempting to bend his back leg and push. This is a slowing action that causes the back leg to break down and lead to early rotation.

When doing a box jump, we don’t bend our knees slowly and try to squat down as low as we can to execute the jump. Instead, we move as fast and fluid as we can, causing our leg to bend to a comfortable flexed position (around 45 degrees) and then explode upward.

A Simple Drill To “Load And Go”

If a pitcher thinks “push fast” or “drive fast” away from the rubber with his entire body, the back leg will naturally bend and move efficiently and explosively down the mound. The following drill can instill this intent into a pitcher:

 

Start at peak leg lift, fully relax the front leg and DO NOT worry about it. It does nothing once in the air.

Hold a counterweight (kettlebell, dumbbell) of some kind to represent the baseball. The counterweight is heavier to cause the pitcher to feel his weight all the way over his back leg at leg lift. It will also help the pitcher lean slightly back during leg drive to not leak energy forward.

Wrap a band for increased resistance to cause more intent in leg drive. However, you don’t need the band to get the movement down.

Drive far out and DO NOT go into rotation. Keep both feet closed and just push sideways. Focus on moving faster and faster out of this position without leaning or sinking in posture.

The bottom line is, when describing the mental approach to leg drive, “tall and drive” much more accurately depicts the movement to your pitcher.

3 Things Baseball Players Need to Develop Elite Pitching Performance

There is no magical answer to the question, “what are the best pitching mechanics?”  Take a look around Major League Baseball and you’ll see an endless amount of mechanical variations.

There’s definitely not just one way to throw a baseball.

However, some key moments in the delivery do tend to be more consistent in elite baseball pitchers than many think.

I’ve always considered the wind up more of the dramatical part of the delivery, often times allowing some unique “flare” for each pitcher.  It’s almost like a peacock showing their feathers.  The windup sets the stage for what is to come but doesn’t really have much force or stress seen.

However, everything changes when the foot hits the ground.

Take a look at the moment of foot contact between these three pitchers (photo credit is from Rob Friedman and his amazing collection of pitching gifs):

How to Develop Elite Pitching Performance

And these three at the moment of ball release:How to Develop Elite Pitching Performance

All of a sudden, we start to see very similar mechanics, even though how they got to these positions differed dramatically.

Sure, you are always going to find anomalies, that’s why they are Major League Baseball pitchers.  But I don’t think it’s in anyone’s best interest to try to emulate the mechanics of that one goofy big leaguer.

To truly understand how to best train youth baseball pitchers, we must understand 3 things:

  1. What do elite level baseball pitching mechanics look like?
  2. What are the mechanical faults most common in youth baseball pitchers?
  3. How does youth pitching mechanics change as they age?

Once we understand these factors, we can then develop programs to help facilitate their natural development.  It is extremely important to base our pitching instruction on the science of baseball pitching mechanics.

We sat down last year with my team at Champion PT and Performance and The Farm Baseball Academy to discuss these exact 3 questions to help develop our Elite Pitching Performance Program.

Our youth and high school baseball pitchers should strive to develop sound pitching mechanics at an early age.  Then, once the master the basics, we can start focusing on their long term development based on the above 3 points.

 

Youth Baseball Pitching Mechanics

A recent research study performed by Dr. Glenn Fleisig and the team at ASMI did an amazing job of following several youth baseball pitchers to see how their pitching mechanics changed as they aged, and how this compared to elite baseball pitchers.  The authors followed a group of youth pitchers and assessed their mechanics yearly from age 9 to age 15.

For first time, we now have a more clear pitcher of how youth baseball pitchers slowly develop into elite pitchers.

Using this information, we can build not only better training programs for baseball pitchers to perform, but also a several year curriculum to develop elite pitching performance as they age and mature.

The researchers discussed a few main findings:

  • Stride length – Youth baseball pitchers had a shorter stride length than elite pitchers
  • Open landing – Youth baseball pitchers landed in a more open position than elite pitchers
  • Land with too much Shoulder ER – Youth baseball pitchers shoulder was too far into layback early in their delivery when foot plant occurred than elite pitchers
  • Trunk separation – Youth baseball has less separation of their hip and shoulder than elite pitchers

How to Develop Elite Pitching Performance

Interestingly, pitching velocity has been correlated to both trunk separation and stride length in youth pitchers, so these findings are even more important.  These appear to be two very important things that youth pitchers do with their mechanics that may be holding them back from being elite.

 

The 3 Keys to Enhancing Pitching Performance

Based on the two reports above, we identified three big keys to enhancing pitching performance that we wanted to assure we built our programs around:

  1. Develop hip and shoulder separation
  2. Develop linear and rotation power
  3. Develop lower body drive and intent

We considered this the foundation of our pitching performance programs.  Anything else, like working on long toss or weighted ball programs prior to developing this foundation would be focusing on the wrong things in my mind.

I always say that in baseball pitchers, the lower body develops the power, the core transfers the power, and the upper body dissipates the power.

 

Develop Hip and Shoulder Separation

The first key is developing the ability to separate the hip and shoulder.  This will help land in a more closed position and develop the ability to transfer the force from the legs to the arm and eventually the ball.

While mobility of the hips and spine is a huge factor in developing separation, core stability is also important to control the mobility.  In youth, I see many that don’t have any issue with the mobility to achieve separation, they simply don’t have the core control.

 

Develop Linear and Rotational Power

The next key is to train baseball pitchers to develop linear and rotational power towards the plate.  The body is inherently strong moving forward and back, and less so moving sideways and rotation.

Linear and rotation power is something that needs to be developed.

 

Develop Lower Body Drive and Intent

Once proper trunk separation is established, and linear and rotational power of the lower half and core is developed, then we can focus on developing lower body drive and intent down the mound.

This would inherently increase stride length and help land in a more closed position.

It’s amazing to me how many kids essentially throw with their arms, and not their lower half.  Take a look at our three pitchers here slowly developing drive with their lower half:

How to Develop Elite Pitching Performance

I do believe that intent is something that needs to be taught to many youth baseball pitchers, but many simply just don’t have the mobility, strength, and stability to drive down the mound.

 

How to Develop Elite Pitching Performance

How to Develop Elite Pitching PerformanceThe above information is what I consider to be some of the most important things to focus on when developing pitchers.  As I previously mentioned, this has become the core of our Elite Pitching Performance Program at Champion.  But I know not everyone can train with us.

So a few months ago I hosted a seminar on Developing Elite Pitching Performance that we have recorded and now made available online for everyone to view.

I invited a group of pitching coaches around the country to participate and share their knowledge, including:

  • Dan Blewett of Warbird Academy
  • Brent Pourciau of Top Velocity
  • Paul Reddick of Paul Reddick Baseball
  • Lantz Wheeler of Baseball Think Tank

I hand chose each of the above because I know they also believe in the above factors and I wanted them to share this information.  Sure, I don’t agree with everything that they teach, but I do believe in what they teach in regard to the above concepts.  That’s what the program is all about.

We’ll show you exactly what it takes to safely and effectively developing baseball pitchers, without the shortcuts or gimmicks you can find on the internet.

It’s geared towards baseball players and parents, as well as baseball coaches, strength coaches, and rehab specialists.

If you want to learn how to take your pitching to the next level and do it the right way, this is an amazing resource that you are going love.

The program is on sale for 50% off this week only!  Purchase the program now until Sunday, January 21st, at midnight EST for only $99.  Click below to learn more and purchase today:

 

How to Develop Elite Pitching Performance

 

This article on Developing Elite Baseball Pitching Performance originally appeared on MikeReinold.com

 

 

Push Off Ground Reaction Force and Ball Speed in High School Pitchers

Many pitching coaches teach young players to either stay “tall and fall” or push as hard off the mound as they can when delivering a pitch to home plate. Is one method more optimal than the other?

If you want to throw hard, you must be able to produce force into the ground that will propel you in a forward direction towards home plate. The linear momentum that is created contributes to rotation of the trunk before ball release.

These movement sequences have been studied before in college-aged pitchers, and previous research has shown that college pitchers threw hardest when producing a high amount of force into the mound.

However, these same sequences have not been studied in the high school population.

A recent study looked at the role of push off and ground reaction force during the throwing motion on throwing velocity in high school aged pitchers.

Of the 52 pitchers that were analyzed, the results showed a significant relationship between ball speed and ground reaction force.

During the push off, horizontal ground reaction force reached around half the body weight of the player, which previous research has shown greater metrics in collegiate pitchers. While there was a statistically significant correlation between push off force and ball speed, it was weakly correlated.

These results tell us that high school aged pitchers are not utilizing their lower half when producing a pitch to home plate.

While the weak relationship may be due to poor hip musculature and general strength, poor motor control of the trunk, and lack of movement awareness, it may also indicate that while push off force is important, factors such as height, weight, and physical maturity are more important for high school aged pitchers.

According to the researchers, peak rotation velocity of the pelvis must be achieved prior to peak rotation of the trunk.

As a rule of thumb, if you want to throw hard and be successful on the mound, focus on these key variables:

  1. Get stronger in the weight room, and train to use this strength in a powerful manner
  2. Work on push off force and momentum when throwing your bullpens
  3. Include dynamic exercises that highlight the coordination between the trunk and pelvis

 

 

The relationship between the push off ground reaction force and ball speed in high school aged pitchers.

Baseball pitching is a sequential movement that requires transfer of momentum from the lower extremity to the throwing arm. Therefore, the ground reaction force (GRF) during push off is suggested to play a role in production of ball speed. The purpose of this study was to investigate the correlation between GRF characteristics during push off and ball speed in high school baseball pitchers. A total of 52 pitchers performed fast pitches from an indoor pitching mound. A force plate embedded in an indoor mound was used to capture the push off GRF. The GRF characteristics (peak anterior, vertical, and resultant forces, vertical and resultant forces at the time of peak anterior GRF, and impulse produced by the anterior GRF) from the three fastest strike pitches from each pitcher were used for analyses. Spearman’s rank correlation coefficients were used to describe the relationships between ball speed and the GRF characteristics. Ball speed was only weakly correlated with peak resultant force (r=.32, p=.02), and vertical (r=.45, p<.001) and resultant (r=.42, p=.002) forces at the time of peak anterior force. The ball speed was not correlated with other variables. The correlation between ball speed and push off force in high school pitchers was weak, especially when compared to what was reported for adult pitchers in other studies. Unlike for adult pitchers, higher push off force is only weakly correlated with ball velocity in high school pitchers, which suggests that training to better utilize body momentum may help high school pitchers improve ball speed.