We all know that you need strong legs to pitch but a new study, which isn’t even published yet, is telling us that they need to be stronger than we originally thought.
Jonathan Broxton, now with the Royals, needs his big tree trunk legs to handle his big frame (6’4″ – 295lbs) and produce his big fastball.
As always I will break down the geeky science then provide you with some practical applications that you can use to improve your game.
Lower-Extremtiy Ground Reaction Forces in Collegiate Baseball Pitchers
Authors: John A. Guido, Jr and Sherry L. Werner.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty details of this study let’s do background work.
Ground reaction forces are basically the amount of force that is exerted back to your body from the ground which is equal and opposite to the amount of force that you put into the ground. During a jump you push your feet into the ground and this force is redirected back up allowing you to get off the ground – the more force you put into the ground the higher you will jump. But if you want to be able to jump higher than you can now you need to get stronger so that you can put more force into the ground.
Ground reaction forces are measured in different directions. If you jump straight up you will be exerting vertical ground reaction forces. If you are running the majority of the forces being produced will be horizontal and when you need to slow down you will need to apply whats known as anterior or braking forces.
What this study did: This current study used 14 college baseball pitchers who were on average 175lbs and 5’10” and threw 78mph. They had each pitcher throw 10 fastball strikes from a mound with a force plate built into it in order to measure the amount of force being put into the ground. They also filmed each pitcher during their deliver to figure out exactly when these forces where being produced during their delivery.
This current study did not measure the forces being produced by the back leg like the one that MacWillams performed back in 1998. If you want to learn more about the MacWillams study which concluded that more force being produced by the back leg translated into more throwing velocity check out this article that I wrote back 2010.
What they found out: The main finding of this study were that the ground reaction forces in an anterior or braking direction where approximately 245% of body weight whereas the MacWillams study only reported these forces to be equal to about 72% of body weight!!
This is a huge difference. The reason for this discrepancy might be that the pitchers in the current study threw harder and where bigger than in MacWillams study which did not report either. One of the main reasons the authors decided to perform this study was that there was only one previous study which measured in baseball players and it is a good thing they did.
Gagne’s front leg is about the apply the brakes!!!
The anterior or braking forces are very important to throwing velocity from a pitching mechanics point of view because it stops the forward momentum created by the back leg allowing the energy to be transferred from a strong and stable position. If you land and your front leg continues to move forward you won’t be able to transfer energy as efficiently and what’s known as an energy leak will occur.
Energy leaks are bad – you want to transfer as much energy as possible from the lower body to the upper body as possible in order to throw gas.
The authors did state in the abstract that “a correlation between braking force and ball velocity was evident.”
Here is an another article I wrote discussing the importance of front leg strength. Basically it states that pitchers who landed with their front leg bent/flexed and continued to bend/flex throughout the rest of the delivery didn’t throw as hard as those pitchers who had the strength to land with a bent/flexed leg and then straighten/extend this front leg throughout the pitching motion.
This video of Justin Verlander demonstrates his great front leg action allowing him to efficiently transfer energy and strike out hitters.
In regards to vertical ground reaction forces this current study reported forces of approximately 200% of body weight while the MacWillams study reported only 150%. The vertical forces are important because we need to transfer this energy up the kinetic chain.
What you can do: The authors of this study were nice enough to provide an exercise which they thought might be beneficial to help players get strong enough to handle the forces needed to achieve higher throwing velocity.
The exercise they suggest is basically a lunge where you start standing tall and balanced on one leg. You then fall forward and catch yourself with the opposite leg and immediately try to push yourself back up the starting position. The way they describe this exercise is much like a plyometric exercise where you try to minimize the amount of time your front foot stays on the ground. The speed and velocity that you push yourself back up is very important and when that begins to slow down you stop.
However this exercise can also be done with weights which will allow to work on absorbing more force but you won’t be able to push yourself back up as explosively. Both have their place on what is known as the strength velocity curve. Ideally you focus on the weighted version during the off-season in the weight room and then use that strength you’ve built up to make the plyometric version even more explosive.
Stick to reps between 4-10 per side with both the plyometric and weighted version for 3-5 sets. Even though you always land on the same leg when you throw it is very important to do the same amount of reps for both legs. In fact it might even be a better idea to do more reps on the leg you don’t land on (right leg or righties) because of the fact that you do so much landing on the other leg every time you pitch or throw.
Where is an example of basic forward lunge.
Graeme Lehman, MSc, CSCS
This final part of the Shoulder Series will look at videos which demonstrate the best exercises and drills that you can do in order to improve performance and decrease the chances of injury.
I have broken shoulder care down into four main categories
- Rotator Cuff Strength
- Reflexive Rotator Cuff Conditioning
- Scapular Stability
- Thoracic Spine Mobility
Rotator Cuff Strength
The importance here is that we ensure that each of the individual rotator cuff muscles is strong enough independently so that they can help contribute to shoulder health. Every baseball player already does a version of the following so it shouldn’t be hard to make the adjustment to doing the best ones. And please take your time and do them properly – the times that I have seen these exercises being performed poorly highly out numbers the times that I have seen them done properly.
Side Lying External Rotation
The goal here is to simply strengthen the infraspinatus and teres minor. Try to perform this with a weight rather than a band when possible.
Full Can Exercise
Everytime you perform an exercise you must look at the risks versus the rewards. The full can offers all of the rewards with none of the risks that accompany the empty can drill so the choice is simple. The goal is to strengthen the supraspinatus.
This is a great exercise that you will see in the scapular stability section as well. It strengthens the infraspinatus and teres minor while working on scapular stability – namely lower trap activation.
You can obviously do this one standing up and I recommend that you stand touching the corner of a wall to help you get the feeling of squeezing your shoulder blades together.
Internal Rotation at Zero Degrees
High subscauplaris recruitment but be sure not to turn on the powerful pecs and lats by using perfect form as always.
Reflexive Rotator Cuff Conditioning
I am a Strength & Conditioning coach and I consider the conditioning part of my job to help prepare the athlete for the demands of their sport. In the case of an overhead athlete it is important to condition the rotator cuff for the act of throwing. Its role during this activity is to dynamically stabilize the head of the humerus within the glenoid fossa – keep the ball inside the socket.
Here are a couple of videos that demonstrate some drills that force the rotator cuff group to perform its role to dynamically stabilize.
This one is being performed with a kettlebell bottoms up which I love – this unstable load forces the muscles of your rotator cuff to fire in order to keep the load from falling. You can substitute a med ball balancing on your palm.
These kinds of exercises are great but require a training partner. The training partner provides resistance in multiple directions in an unpredictable manner so that you are forced to reflexively stabilize which again is the goal here. Ensure that this does not become a game with a winner and loser – the push should be subtle, no slapping noises, and hold the force for a couple of seconds.
The scapulothoracic joint should be stable and provide our GH joint with a solid base from which it can generate and transfer extreme levels of power and velocity. The majority of this stability falls onto the hands of the musculature which must work to keep the scapula in its most optimal position on the thorax. We are going to target the serratus anterior and lower traps in particular.
Here are some of my favorite exercises to accomplish this goal.
This exercise makes the list again in another category which means that it must a really good exercise since you’re killing two birds with one stone – scapular stability and rotator cuff strengthening.
See previous No Money Video above
Hand Walk Outs
Anytime you walk on your hands you force the muscles that stabilize your scapula to contract plus you will recruit the “core” to stabilize your trunk which is obviously important to throwing a baseball as hard as you can.
In this video Strength and Conditioning guru Charles Poliquin discuss a great exercise that he uses to balance out the strength of his athletes. Most people are too weak in the upper back and the face pull is a great exercise to gain this needed strength.
Standing Cable Row
This is another great exercise to increase rowing strength and the one arm standing version enhances the scapula stability demands of this already great exercise.
One of my favorites and in my opinion everyone can stand to benefit from. Make sure that you do this one throughout the day and please do it the right way. Great tip from my friend Dr. Jeff Cubos is to focus on proper breathing when you reach the end of your range of motion.
Y’s and T’s
This is a great exercise that can be done before any throwing or lifting session. If you want to do it at the yard please ensure that you perform it with a nice flat back.
To get a bit more benefit from this exercise try putting your feet up on a bench – this has been shown to increase the recruitment of the serratus anterior.
The thoracic mobility is an untapped source of potential velocity that many players miss out on because they sit in a hunched over position the majority of the day. So sit up straight or even better get up and move around a little bit – the best posture is the one that is always changing. The lack of thoracic mobility can also put you at a higher risk of sustaining an injury to your shoulder.
We sit in thoracic flexion all day so it only makes sense to get into extension. This low cost piece of equipment – two tennis balls and hockey tape – will pay off big time.
This exercise is another that falls under multiple catagories so be sure to add it into your daily routine as often as you can.
Thoracic Extension & Rotation
The next piece of the puzzle is to add rotation since you will require this to launch that 5oz baseball over 90+mph. Below are some of my favorites.
Club swinging is making a resurgence back into the strength and conditioning world – I say resurgence because this type of exercise has been around for centuries but some of the smartest people in the exercise community are rediscovering this great form of exercise which really helps improve shoulder function by promoting optimal thoracic mobility.
I don’t own clubs but I have been playing around with small baseball bats and they work really well. I will be posting more club swinging in the future. I am really excited to learn about club swinging since I see some huge potential.
This video demonstrates some movements that you can try with small bats or by choking up on normal sized bat. Do not try to go heavy with this by adding a weighted doughnut onto the bat – more is not better. Become fluid with these movements and even start by doing one side at a time to make sure you can do both sides properly. You might want to wear a helmet the first couple of times you try as well.
Try playing around with all of these exercises whenever you can – there is a lot of down time before and after practices. You can find some time to squeeze in some of these exercises on a regular basis. Don’t overlook the importance of breathing as well which was mentioned in the previous post.
I hope that you have enjoyed the “Shoulder Series”. There will be more info on the shoulder to come but for now this is a great start.