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How to Use the Weight Room for Baseball Pitching Mechanical Issues

I truly believe that for those athletes that can do certain basic things properly the sky is the limit. However, the reality is that the underlying foundation that enables pitchers to do these “basic things” is great strength and mobility (in other words a good movement strategy).

Let me first start by saying this: there is no pitching coach on the planet that can get a pitcher into a desired position if the athlete does not physically have the strength or mobility to get into that position. Period.

Case in point, Cleveland Indians pitcher Robbie Aviles came to me a couple of years ago after a long season, presenting with a lack of Internal Rotation (IR) in his lead leg and a limited ability to engage his core. This side-by-side video demonstrates what his squat looked like at his assessment (left) and one hour later, after some intensive training focusing on strength and mobility.

(Robbie Aviles – Before and After)

 

Which pitcher (before or after) do you think will be capable of throwing more gas and for a longer period of time?

After cleaning up Robbie’s hip IR, his anterior tilt and making him aware of what great core control is all about.

It’s really all about being more mobile and stronger and being able to physically get into positions you need to get into to be successful on the mound.

In keeping with our concept of the Closed Loop, where your pitching coach and strength coach work in sync to achieve a result, I thought it would be appropriate to give some insight into how we help fix some of the issues that we observe on the mound from a strength and mobility standpoint (i.e. the weight room).

 

Maintaining a Healthy, Clean Arm Action

The words “stress free and clean” are the key words here. The bottom line is clearing pathways from a mobility standpoint, or creating stability by increasing strength, allows the body to take the path of least resistance.

This in turn takes stress off the muscles and joints that are trying to do the job all by themselves.

A great example is strengthening the core to give the arm a more stable base of support to throw from.

Here’s a great exercise to strengthen the core while the arm goes into the overhead position.

 

Shoulder to Hip Separation

We need thoracic spine (upper back) rotation to achieve a great pre-stretch in the hips/core in order to help create good hip-shoulder separation.

Successfully creating a great pre-stretch in the upper half while transferring force up the chain and into the arm, requires great core strength as well.

This core strength also gives us the stiffness needed to “hold” the upper body in place when the lower half starts to rotate, helping to create valuable torque when the upper body finally does start to unwind.

Once again, you can’t coach bodies into a position they’re not strong enough to get into or maintain.

 

Balance and Alignment

Achieving proper weight exchange at the appropriate time requires a strong lower half to be able to apply this strength in a specific manner.

Teaching this is possible, but only if the back leg and glutes are strong enough to maintain body weight and force into the ground on one leg while moving down an incline. Here’s a great one to get it done:

 

Another way to effectively transfer bodyweight, while maintaining great balance, is to have great core strength.

This first exercise is different than the one mentioned in #1 above due to the fact that it uses the core to dynamically transfer body weight and power from the lower half to the upper half in the frontal and transverse planes.

 

Timing and Rhythm

For pitchers, timing and rhythm is everything. If your throwing arm isn’t where it’s supposed to be when your front foot lands, you’re working against your body and your arm is playing catch-up.

This final point is a great example of how a mechanical problem in one area (in this case late arm action), could be caused by a mobility issue in a completely different side and/or part of the body.

For example, a lead hip that closes off early due to a lack of stability (strength) and/or internal rotation (mobility) could cause the arm to fly open early, helping to contribute to that late arm action as well as creating a “bang” on the anterior shoulder.

Here are two exercises that work on both strength and mobility:

 

 

Too often pitchers fail, not because they don’t train hard enough on the mound, but because they can’t physically do what is being asked of them.

I want to close by saying that a great throwing program MUST include input and development from both sides of the net. Only then can you ensure that you are giving it your all.

Remember:

 

You absolutely need both.

See ya’ in the gym…

Addressing And Correcting Trunk Tilt At Foot Strike

Many times, when analyzing video of our young pitchers, I’ll come across what I call trunk tilt at foot strike.

It’s quite common in younger throwers and is characterized by an excessive lean towards your glove side.

The head becomes tilted, facing away from the driveline and gives the appearance that the athlete is getting ready to launch the ball over a three-story building. This tilt helps to keep the arm at a roughly 90-110- degree angle from the body. It’s this angle that is thought of as being the safest and most powerful. Here are two examples of different positions at ball release, both with similar angles.

The problem could be lower-half driven (click here for a prior article on lack of back leg extension) or physical limitations in mobility or strength which we’ll be discussing today.

First, let me start by saying that pitching with an excessive contralateral trunk tilt has been associated with a benefit in velocity. This may be true, but it also has been associated with increased joint loading.

It’s true that many pro players can and do throw harder by creating more angular velocity and acceleration in the upper body from hand break to ball release through an excessive trunk tilt. If you’re currently making a great living playing pro ball then by all means carry on, but if you’re a young athlete trying to make it to the next level, the risk may not be worth the reward. Many times, correcting issues early on that can help address the tilt and learning to “re-tension” the throw may be just what keeps a young athlete in the game (injury free) long enough to get a shot at the big leagues, or even a great college education for that matter.

How To Identify An Excessive Tilt

Based on testing methods in the study, I use the side view of our 4-camera system to find the point when the pitcher reaches maximum shoulder external rotation at foot strike.

Being that our camera system is synchronized, I can now look at him from the front view at the exact same moment. Next, I’ll draw a vertical line straight up from the middle of the landing foot.  If the middle of the head is more than a “head-width” outside of this vertical line, it would demonstrate what I call an “excessive contralateral tilt”.

The Effect Of Excessive Tilt On The Shoulder And Elbow

Since throwing with a tilt is essentially placing the arm slot in a more “over the top” position, there are higher levels of torque at the elbow and shoulder due to the arm moving in a more superior direction.

If you look at the picture below you can see that this athlete is about to accelerate his arm towards the plate.

Due to the degree of trunk tilt, his shoulder and elbow are going to be migrate in a more provocative, superior direction, which isn’t the greatest. Not a great direction for the shoulder or the labrum to be accepting force.

Keeping the body more upright will keep the direction of the throw moving in a more horizontal, less provocative (superior) direction.

What Causes An “Excessive Tilt At Foot Strike”?

It can be caused by a few different things but today, some of which are mechanical, but we’re going to talk about 3 big physical reasons that I see every day in our high school throwers.

We could include other issues such as hip mobility and t-spine extension as well, but for
the scope of this blog we’ll hit these three. Let’s dive a little deeper.

Poor Breathing Patterns

Next to the lower half, the rib cage is probably the most important part of a pitching delivery. It is at the center of the body, and serves as a platform for the shoulder blades to move upon.

Poor scapular movement can force the athlete to tilt the upper half to get to that optimum 90-110 degrees at foot strike that we talked about earlier. Working on breathing with the ribs down and shutting down tight lats can help upward rotation.

Anterior Core Strength

Many times, young athletes have an undeveloped and weak anterior core due to growing live in an extended posture.

This can inhibit rib cage and pelvic position, making it hard to create efficient rotation at front foot strike while still holding his line to home plate. The result can be a closed landing forcing an excessive tilt to help “cut the ball” around the body.

Creating some good rotational stiffness can go a long way.

Insufficient Lead Leg Strength

No mystery here. You can’t build a strong stabile house on a weak foundation.

Pitching coaches can try, try, try but if strength is the underlying issue they’re banging their heads against the wall. It just simply doesn’t work. Get strong.

If you’re looking to reduce your excessive lateral trunk lean, try focusing on your rib position, anterior core strength, and lead strength.

See ya’ in the gym…