People have always said, “power comes from your legs.” If you want to run faster, jump higher and be the best athlete on the field there should be no argument that power comes from the ground up. It should be no different for baseball. Yet, baseball has fallen behind every other sport in in athletic development. Football, basketball and even golf trains for power better than baseball! There seems to be an agreement that baseball is played with ground reaction forces, but for the most part baseball training doesn’t reflect that at all. Instead, it focuses on band work, weighted ball, extreme long toss and maybe some light weight lifting. Baseball is a power sport, it is time we start training like it.
In this article, you will be bombarded with case study after case study proving the critical importance of the lower half to increasing pitching velocity and preventing or reducing injury. You will also learn more of how the legs work in the high velocity pitcher, along with the best form of training.
Studies Prove Power Comes From Ground
For some reason people still believe that pitching has everything to do with the arm. There seems to be no concept of how power moves from the ground through the kinetic chain to the arm. Here is an excerpt on the kinetic chain by Masahiro Kageyama from a study called, Difference between adolescent and collegiate baseball pitchers in the kinematics and kinetics of the lower limbs and trunk during pitching motion. (1)
Pitching motion is a high-demand athletic skill involving fine coordination of all body segments (Atwater, 1979), and the mechanics of the lower limbs are recognized as an integral part of the pitching motion (Elliott et al., 1988; Kageyama et al., 2014; Mac Williams et al., 1998; Matsuo et al., 2001; Milewski et al., 2012; Robb et al., 2010). The contributions of the lower extremities to baseball pitchers and their motions have been described as the open kinetic chain (Kreighbaum and Barthels, 1985), in which all body segments are required to move the upper-extremity joints into appropriate positions to minimize the loads on each segment and transmit the generated force from the legs to more distal segments (Kibler, 1995). The lower extremities and trunk provide the beginning of the open kinetic chain that ends with force transmission to the baseball at the time of its release (Elliott et al., 1988; Mac Williams et al., 1998; Matsuo et al., 2001). Thus, the lower limbs have been considered to be important for constructing a stable base in which arm motion can be more efficiently and safely generated along with providing rotational momentum (Burkhart et al., 2003; Kibler, 1991).
Back Leg Drive Pitching Science
So, now that we know how the kinetic chain works, let’s take a look at what science says about how each leg contributes to pitching velocity. First, the drive leg. This is the results from the study as above: (1)
In the pivot leg, joint torques during hip abduction, hip internal rotation, hip flexion, and knee extension were significantly greater in the College Pitching Group than in the Adolescent Pitching Group (Table 5). The study that focused on the joint torques of the lower limbs during pitching motion is only a report of collegiate baseball pitchers by Kageyama et al. (2014). The current result indicates that the joint torques of the pivot leg during pitching motion in collegiate baseball pitchers were similar to those reported in Kageyama et al. (2014). Kageyama et al. (2014) found that collegiate high-ball-velocity pitchers could generate greater momentum by hip extension/abduction and knee extension in the pivot leg for accelerating the body forward.
This is from a study called Characteristic Ground-Reaction Forces in Baseball Pitching by Bruce MacWilliams. (2)
Based on this study, we hypothesize that the push-off forces in the direction of the pitch (AP shear) initiate the forward momentum of the entire body. The greater this magnitude, the more kinetic energy there is in the direction of the pitch. Similarly, the vertical push-off component can be used to generate potential energy, which can be transformed into kinetic energy at later stages.
Here is the conclusion. (2)
This study verifies that leg drive influences arm velocity. These findings are in agreement with those of other authors who speculate that lower extremity strength is an important aspect of the baseball pitch.
Here is an excerpt from another study called Kinematic and Kinetic Profiles of Trunk and Lower Limbs During Baseball Pitching in Collegiate Pitchers by Masahiro Kageyama. (3)
Taking current results into account together with the report of Campbell et al. (2010), it is likely that as compared to low-ball-velocity pitchers, high-ball-velocity pitchers can generate greater momentum by hip extension/abduction and knee extension in the pivot leg for accelerating the body forward.
In Brian Campbell’s study, Lower Extremity Muscle Activation During Baseball Pitching he observed.(4)
The activities of the gastrocnemius, vastus medialis, gluteus maximus, and biceps femoris of the pivot leg from stride knee peak flexion to stride foot contact, expressed as the values relative to their respective maximal voluntary isometric contractions, were 75, 68, 73, and 48%, respectively, which promoted concentric plantar flexion, knee extension, and hip extension.
Sorry to bore you with all the science, but let’s discuss what this means for pitchers. The more power you produce out of your drive leg from ankle extension, knee extension and hip extension, the more momentum you create down the mound and the more potential for kinetic energy. Not only does this increase performance and velocity, but it is a safer way to transfer energy to the ball resulting in minimal risk of injury.
Stride Leg Stabilization and Extension Pitching Science
Now lets take a look at the stride leg and what role science says it plays in pitching. Characteristic Ground-Reaction Forces in Baseball Pitching by Bruce MacWilliams found that. (2)
After foot contact, the lead foot applied an anterior shear, or “braking,” force to slow the motions of the lower limbs. This energy is transferred to the trunk and arms as described by Putnam.8 At the point of maximal external rotation of the arm in cocking, the peak vertical forces (1.5 BW) and peak braking forces (nearly 0.75 BW) were generated.
The studies conclusion on stride leg. (2)
The landing leg serves as an anchor in transforming the forward and vertical momentum into rotational components; posteriorly directed forces at the landing foot reflect an overall balance of the inertial forces of the body moving forward to create ball velocities.
Another study called Lower-Extremity Ground Reaction Forces in Collegiate Baseball Pitchers found even higher ground reaction forces than the previous study: (6)
The maximum vertical GRF averaged 202 + or – 43% BW approximately 45 milliseconds after SFC. This result was higher than the MacWilliams et al. data of 150% BW, peaking just before ball release (3). The negative correlation between the time from SFC to MER may mean that a longer time to peak vertical GRF was associated with a higher ball velocity. In other words, the pitchers with the highest ball velocity also demonstrated higher breaking GRF.
In a study called Timing of the Lower Limb Drive and Throwing Limb Movement in Baseball Pitching by Bruce Elliott. Also found that the lead leg contributed to pitching velocity: (5)
The ability to drive the body over a stabilized stride leg is a characteristic of high-ball-velocity pitchers.
Finally, both of Masahiro Kageyama’s studies Difference between adolescent and collegiate baseball pitchers in the kinematics and kinetics of the lower limbs and trunk during pitching motion and Kinematic and Kinetic Profiles of Trunk and Lower Limbs During Baseball Pitching in Collegiate Pitchers found that the stride leg contributed to higher pitching velocities as well. (1)(3)
During the arm acceleration phase (from MER to REL), the HG extended their stride knee with greater angular velocity and greater range of motion than the LG (Table 2). In addition, the HG increased maximum pelvis, upper torso, and trunk twist angular velocities during phase 2 and forward trunk tilt angle at MER and REL than LG (Table 3). High-ball-velocity pitchers have been observed to exhibit greater stride knee extension (Matsuo et al., 2001), trunk rotation (Fleisig et al., 1999; Matsuo et al., 2001; Stodden et al., 2001), and forward trunk tilt (Matsuo et al., 2001). Concomitant with knee extension, the trunk rotates forward (Escamilla et al., 1998). Taking these findings into account together with the current results, it may be assumed that a pitcher with high pitched ball velocity can increase the rotation and forward motion of the trunk by stride knee extension during the arm acceleration phase.
The maxima of Fx, Fz, and resultant forces and minima of Fy force on the stride leg were significantly greater in the HG than in the LG (Table 4). Furthermore, GRF at MER and REL were also significantly greater in the HG than in the LG (Table 4). Maximum Fz and resultant forces on the stride leg occurred just prior to REL, occurring significantly later in the HG than in the LG (Table 4). The energy of the lower limbs during pitching is transferred to the trunk and arms (Elliott et al., 1988; Matsuo et al., 2001; Stodden et al., 2001; Williams et al., 1998). Elliott et al. (1988) suggested that the ability to drive the body over a stabilized stride leg was a characteristic of high-ball-velocity pitchers. Mac Williams et al. (1998) reported that the maxima of GRF (Fy, Fz, and resultant forces) on stride legs and Fy, Fz, and resultant forces at REL correlated highly with wrist velocity at the time of ball release. The current results support these findings and suggest that high-ball-velocity pitchers can generate greater inertial forces until ball release, which cause the upper body to move forward, and create high-pitched ball velocity.
So, we can see from these studies that the stride leg has to absorb and redirect a ton of energy back into the trunk. In some studies as much as 200% of a pitchers BW in 45 milliseconds! Now we can see the importance of lower half power for pitching velocity. However, the majority of baseball still focuses on the arm and pays little attention to the lower half. Pitchers should be training to develop some of the most explosive lower halfs in sports. The same type of training to develop a massive vertical jump or run an amazing 40 time.
How to Develop The Legs, Velocity and Prevent Injury
At TopVelocity we use an olympic lifting based strength and conditioning program that is periodized to develop this type of athleticism. The base is olympic lifting, but we combine heavy load training, plyometrics, medicine balls, mobility and anaerobic conditioning. It is a goal for our athletes to develop 30+ inch vertical jumps, 10+ foot broad jumps, sub 1.5 10 yard dashes, 1.5x bodyweight power clean, 2x bodyweight back squat, 1.5x bw bench press. Our goal is to turn you into the biggest, strongest, fastest athletes on the field. Combine that with our MLB level biomechanics system to see exactly where you are breaking down in the kinetic chain. A drill based system to focus on developing good hip to shoulder separation, powerful leg drive and front leg stabilization and extension(as seen in these studies). Mobility screening to see your movement deficiencies and how to correct them. Nutrition to optimize performance, reduce injury risk and manipulate weight gain or loss. Come to a camp and find out exactly what you need to do become another 3x velocity 90+ mph testimonial.
Pitching Leg Science
- Kageyama, Masahiro, et al. “Difference between adolescent and collegiate baseball pitchers in the kinematics and kinetics of the lower limbs and trunk during pitching motion.” Journal of sports science & medicine 14.2 (2015): 246.
- MacWilliams, Bruce A., et al. “Characteristic ground-reaction forces in baseball pitching.” The American journal of sports medicine 26.1 (1998): 66-71.
- Kageyama, Masahiro, et al. “Kinematic and kinetic profiles of trunk and lower limbs during baseball pitching in collegiate pitchers.” J Sport Sci Med 13 (2014): 742-750.
- Campbell, Brian M., David F. Stodden, and Megan K. Nixon. “Lower extremity muscle activation during baseball pitching.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 24.4 (2010): 964-971.
- Elliott B., Grove J.R., Gibson B. (1988) Timing of the lower limb drive and throwing limb movement in baseball pitching. International Journal of Sport Biomechanics 4, 59-67.
- Guido Jr, John A., and Sherry L. Werner. “Lower-extremity ground reaction forces in collegiate baseball pitchers.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 26.7 (2012): 1782-1785.