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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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
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