# The “X-Factor” to Increasing Velocity

The “X Factor” might be secret for tapping into a major source of power which can be translated into high throwing velocities.  If this sounds like something that you might be interested in keep reading.

Before we jump into what exactly this “X Factor” is and how to use it let’s do a quick review of the two biggest sources of power you need to throw gas.

1. Linear power – momentum

Linear (straight line) power comes from a pitcher driving down the mound with hip leading the way followed by an explosive drive off from the back leg towards the target.  This is sometimes referred to as momentum. My thesis discovered a positive correlation between an athlete’s ability to jump laterally and high throwing velocity which proves this need for linear power. I will cover this in more detail in another post.

Back leg drive creates linear power

2  Rotational power – torque

Once a pitchers front foot lands they can start adding in the rotational forces of the hips, trunk, shoulders and the arm to deliver the ball.  The sum of these forces when sequenced correctly is greater than individual parts.  This is often referred to as torque.

The top of the Jays rotation showing off his rotational power

X-Factor

This rotational force is where we find the “X Factor”.  I came across this “X Factor” term from reading a study on golf which used it to describe the hip and shoulder separation which they concluded was a major factor for producing high rotational velocities that translated into longer drives.  Any athlete that plays a rotational sport can benefit from learning about and maximizing their ability to separate their hips and their shoulders.

The hip and shoulder separation is arguably the most important part of the pitching motion to produce high velocities.  I remember reading a Tom House book where he stressed its importance by stating that most of his guys could achieve about 80% (going by memory here) of their normal throwing velocity by throwing from their knees.  Throwing from your knees eliminates nearly all linear velocity and isolates the rotational forces that contribute to throwing velocity.

To get the most out of your rotational power you need to have proper sequencing where your hips rotate before your shoulders which creates this separation between the two – this would be the X-Factor.

Elastic Energy

The reason why hip and shoulder separation can create so much torque and energy is due to what’s known as elastic energy.  When the hips are open and the shoulders are closed the trunk that connects the two is essentially being twisted like a dish cloth.  When this twisting occurs the muscles of the trunk are being stretched and begin to store elastic energy.  All this stored energy ends up getting released once the shoulders begin to rotate towards the target.  The more we can separate the two the more energy we can store and release.  But when there’s no separation everything ends up rotating at the same time which reduces velocity and increases the time a hitter has to decide if he should lay off or drill it into the parking lot.

Separation = Elastic Energy

How to separate?

Just knowing about this important factor allows you to watch for it when you review video of yourself at which point you can focus on this aspect of throwing. Throwing from your knees is a great way to focus on the rotational component but it doesn’t really mimic true pitching from our feet.

A better drill in my opinion would be one where we get the pitcher into a stride position then have them rock back and forth a couple with the hips closed before rotating them forward while focusing on keeping the shoulders back  and storing elastic energy in the trunk.

But what if you can’t separate?

Coaches often get frustrated when a player cannot do what they are telling them no matter how many times they describe exactly what to do.  In this case a player may not have the ability to separate the hips and shoulders due to tightness and a lack of mobility.

It’s all in the Hips

The hips need to be both strong and mobile.  It’s easy to understand why we need strong hips in order to generate both linear and rotational power but you can’t forget about mobility.  If the hips are tight  they won’t be able to rotate as much as you would like to which will end up reducing your ability to separate.  If your hips are too tight your shoulders will rotate with your hips and you will lose out on any potential elastic energy you could have created in your trunk.

Prove It!!

There was a study by Dr. Andrew Robb who is a chiropractor in Toronto that looked at how hip mobility affected both mechanics and velocity.  Dr. Robb completed a fellowship at the prestigious American Sports Institute in Birmingham Alabama – this place might sound familiar because it is where the legendary Dr. Andrews works.  Other members of this study include some big names in the world of baseball research like Dr’s. Glenn Fleisig and Kevin Wilk.  Based on all these factors you can rest assured that this is a great study and will have some pretty good information for those out there looking for ways of improving throwing velocity.

Here is a quote from this study – translation is below:

“During the arm-cocking phase, total arc of motion Abduction & Adduction of the dominant hip was positively correlated with trunk separation velocity. This relationship would suggest that larger ranges in the dominant hip facilitate greater angular velocity of the pelvis as this is the leg that initiates the forward momentum of the pitching motion. Presumably, having more range would permit greater kinetic energy production, ultimately producing greater ball and angular velocity. Of the total arc of motion (Abduction + Adduction), only Abduction in the dominant hip was found to have a positive correlation with trunk separation velocity.”

Translation:

The range of motion of your dominant hip (same hip as your throwing arm) will enable you to not only take a longer stride which enables you to build more linear velocity but also allow your hips to rotate more.  More range of motion allows for more time for energy to be built up while also allowing your shoulders to stay back.  This is especially true when looking at your ability to abduct your hip.

What is Hip Abduction?

If you were to stand up and lift your dominant leg to the side away from your body this would be abduction.  Your range of motion to abduct your hip however is limited by the tightness of your adductors.

How do I Increase my Hip Abduction?

Here are a couple of methods that you can use to increase your hip mobility although you could always seek the help of a qualified professional (chiropractor or physiotherapists) who can properly assess your range of motion.

If you want to do it yourself your best bet is to do some soft tissue work (aka massage) then stretch.

Here are a couple of links to videos that show you how to do some soft tissue work on your adductors

Half Kneeling Stretch

Be sure to keep a curve in the small of your back and rock back and forth.

Wall Stretch

This one looks funny but you can stay in this position for a while to let those tight muscles relax.

Stay strong and stay loose.

Graeme Lehman, MSc, CSCS

References

1. Joseph Myers, Scott Lephart, Yung-Shen Tsai, Timothy Sell, James Smoliga & John Jolly (2008): The role of upper torso and pelvis rotation in driving performance during the golf swing, Journal of Sports Sciences, 26:2, 181-188

2. Andrew J. Robb, Glenn Fleisig, Kevin Wilk, Leonard Macrina, Becky Boltz, and Jason Pajaczkowskiy (2011): Passive Ranges of Motion of the Hips and Their Relationship With Pitching Biomechanics and Ball Velocity in Professional Baseball Pitchers Investigation performed at the American Sports Medicine Institute, Birmingham, Alabama. Am J Sports Med 2010 38: 2487

# The Stride Leg

Here we go with a geeky blog post about throwing mechanics.  As you may or may not know I am in the midst of doing some research for my master’s degree where I am looking at the correlation of various lower body power tests and throwing velocity.  As a result I am reading a lot about what the legs do during the act of throwing a baseball.  Today I am taking a more in-depth look at the stride leg.

If you like this post you might like my post of the ground reaction forces of pitching where I discuss the trail leg in more detail.

https://lehmansbaseball.wordpress.com/2010/12/20/ground-reaction-forces-of-pitching/

Here we go.

Proper lead leg positioning at foot plant allows for optimal rotation of the hips, pelvis and trunk (Dillman, Fliesig, Andrews – 1993) which is crucial to provide the most effective transfer of energy through the kinetic chain.

The strength of the front leg is an important factor in creating optimal throwing velocity.  Matsuo et al. (2001) demonstrated this when they measured 12 kinematic and 9 temporal parameters between high velocity and low velocity pitchers and found that the amount of flexion and extension of the front knee was significantly different between the two groups.

Matsuo et al (2001) identified four common knee movement patterns with their subjects.  Eighty three percent of the high velocity versus 35% of the low velocity throwing group was classified as displaying either the “A” or “B” patterns which displayed more knee extension than the “C” or “D” patterns.  Sixty nine percent of the high velocity group was categorized in the “A” pattern which showed small amounts of both knee flexion and extension (50-60 degrees) during the initial 60% of the time interval between front foot contact (0%) and instant of ball release (100%).  From the 60% to the 100% interval time mark the knee extended from approximately 55 to 30 degrees.  Only 9% of the low velocity group was classified as having the “A” pattern.  At the other end of the spectrum is the “D” pattern where the front knee continued to flex from approximately 20 to 50 degrees throughout the entire pitching motion 0-100% time interval.  Seventeen percent of the low velocity group demonstrated the “D” pattern while none of the high velocity group fell into this category.

“A” & “B” knee movement – more extension = faster baseball

“C” & “D” knee movement – more flexion = slower baseball

This supports the data presented by Escamilla et al (1998) which reported that collegiate pitchers demonstrated knee extension just prior to maximum external rotation of the glenohurmeral joint during a fastball pitch.  The front knee continued to extend throughout the throwing motion as the trunk moves forward and rotates towards the intended target during which time the arm accelerates.  This ability to brace the front knee allowing for optimal forward trunk tilt and rotation was identified as a characteristic of high velocity pitchers by Elliott et al. (1998).

Prime example of knee flexion into extension

Similar knee movement patterns are also seen in elite level javelin throwers who display the ability to produce a clear double flexion extension pattern which is seen in the “A” pattern in the Matsuo et al.(2001) study.  During the javelin throw the role of the front knee is to brace the body in order to aid in the transfer of energy from the ground up the kinetic chain to the trunk and upper extremity which are accelerating forward. (Whiting et al 1991)

High velocity cricket bowlers have also been shown to exhibit similar front knee movement patterns.  Wormgoor et al. (2010) demonstrated that greater front knee extension at ball release was the biomechanical factor that correlated the highest with throwing velocity.

Ground Reaction Forces

After front foot contact the lead foot applies a braking force in order to slow down the forward momentum and begin to transfer the kinetic energy back and up the kinetic chain.  When the arm is in maximal external rotation the front leg applies approximately 1.5 times body weight while also applying braking forces of nearly 0.75 times body weight.  (MacWilliams et al. 1998)

Max External Rotation – point of max ground reaction force from the stride leg

This study also reported that high wrist velocity was highly correlated with both landing anterior shear force “braking”(r2=0.70) and landing resultant force (r2=0.88) at the point of ball release.  Basically the more force exerted by the front leg translated into higher throwing velocities.

Muscle Activation

Campbell et al. (2010) reported high levels of EMG activity in the stride leg that exceed 100% of MVIC with the high values seen during the arm cocking (phase 3) and acceleration (phase 4).  During the arm cocking phase the Gastrocnemius, Vastus Medialis, Rectus Femoris, Gluteus Maximus and Bicep Femoris produced mean values of 140, 166, 167, 108 and 99% of MVIC respectively.

Pitching Phases – Fleisig et al. 1996

During the arm acceleration phase the Gastroc, VM, RF, GM and BF produced mean values of 126, 89, 47, 170 and 125 of MVIC respectively.   The stride leg functions to dynamically stabilize the hip and knee joints in a single leg stance to maintain standing posture for the trunk and upper extremity to pivot about in order to produce an efficient follow through.

Like I said this was going to be a geeky read but if you made it this far I thank you for your time.  I am putting a big push on this thesis of mine so if you liked this kind of blog post there will be more to follow.

Graeme Lehman

# Ball Player or Athlete?

Baseball is one of the most powerful sports earth.  Hitting and throwing are two of the most explosive actions that you’ll find in any sport.  Despite this some people don’t consider baseball to be a sport that requires a lot of athletic ability to be successful.

This stereotype is a result of the fact that baseball is game that places a high demand of skill.  Skills like hitting a round ball squarely with a round bat or the skill to make a ball look like it’s coming faster than it is just to have it fad away at the last possible second.  High levels of these types of skills can help you compensate for a lack of other skills such as athletic ability, after all if you are very skilled at hitting your ability to run doesn’t matter much.

Hit Em’ Where They Ain’t

This is part of the reason that those who play baseball can be described as a “ball player” or as an “athlete”.  The ball player might have a lot of skill such as hand eye coordination but may lack speed or strength while the athlete posses plenty of speed and strength but is deficient in the skill side of the game such as fielding, hitting or pitching.

“I’m no athlete…I’m a ball player” – John Kruk

Even with the pitching position some guys are known as good throwers will others are “pitchers”

Jamie Moyer – pitcher

Brandon League – Athlete

The five tool player

For the non baseball fans out there a “Five Tool Player” is a term used to describe a player that has all of the necessary abilities to excel at the game of baseball – someone that can do it all.

The Five Baseball Tools are:

1. Run

Willie Mays circa 1954

2. Field
3. Throw
4. Hit for Power
5. Hit for Average

These types of players are a rare breed and every coach wants a roster full of them because they are have an ideal combination of athlete and ball player.  Some examples of some “Five Tool Players” include Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle or Ken Griffey Jr to name a few.

Griffey always got a good jump and had a good jump

If you want to be a five tool player you have to first identify what area’s you need to improve upon.

Are you more of an athlete or a ball player?

Should you concentrate on your ball player or athletic skills right now?

It is in our nature to work on what we are already good at and avoid what we are not good.

More time in the batting cage rather than the squat cage

For the most part young baseball players that have been playing every summer day for the last 5 plus years have spent a lot of time and energy building their ball player skills by taking tons ground ball and BP (batting practice).  Running around and playing catch does provide the benefit of building some athletic skill but it does not do provide as much upside or benefit that occurs when you focus on improving your:

1. Speed
2. Strength
3. Agility
4. Endurance
5. Mobility

These happen to be my 5 athletic tools

The Off-Season

One of the challenges that occurs when you start playing higher levels of baseball is that there is less time to focus on building your athletic skills in the off-season because there just isn’t as much off-season.  This is too bad because this is the time when you should be focusing on becoming a better athlete in order to bring your game up to the next level.

Not only will a strength and conditioning program provide you with more speed and strength but a smart program will increase your chances of avoiding injuries which could sideline you and it is impossible to get better when you are hurt.