Developing the Elite Pitcher: Part 1 - The Foundation
We hear the terms all of the time, “The five best drills for velocity”, “These drills will guarantee 3-5mph” or “The number one tool for velocity enhancement”. There’s no doubt that the hunt for velocity over the past 10 plus years has escalated far beyond our imagination. The advancement in technology has created a spark within the baseball community that has completely changed the landscape of training forever. Coaches can now analyze their athletes in real-time by simply pointing their phones and pressing record. Companies such as Motus, Rapsodo, Hittrax and so many more have allowed coaches the opportunity to use data as a way to guide their training and no longer take a blind approach and applying drills that they hope will work. However, with all of this data and gadgets, it is easy to overlook the basics, beginning with the foundation.
We hear the analogy all of the time, “A house built on a shaky foundation will eventually collapse”. The same goes for pitching. A pitcher without a solid lower half will eventually suffer some form of injury. But, what is a solid lower half? Is it having strong, tree trunk-like legs? Is it how we use our hips? Is it the shape of our shins into stride? What if I told you it goes below that, yes you read right, below. We are talking about the feet. The one part of the body that gets little to no attention but is possibly the most important component of lower-half mechanics.
With 26 bones, 33 joints, 107 ligaments, and 19 muscles, you can see just how complicated the anatomy of the foot is. Understanding the functions of the foot is just as complicated but can unlock amazing results for pitchers if done correctly. There’s a ton of information that we can gather by simply standing on our bare feet. Do your toes flare out? Are your toes pointed inward? What’s the natural weight distribution of your feet? The questions are never-ending.
The answers to these questions can give you a ton of information on the effects your foot has on your overall mechanics. A common flaw many pitchers have or were taught is to lead with their front hip. There are a few misconceptions about this method which can lead to more harm than good. For example, if we focus primarily on leading with your front hip, where do the legs come in? Are you using the legs at the end for an added drive? If that’s the case, then you’re too late. If the athlete is told to drive early while leading with their front hip, then the pitcher will most likely become quad dominant, making the direction of his back leg much more rotational, which leads to an increased risk of injury.
Leading with the hips has been taught for years and at one point made a ton of sense. In fact, the concept was first introduced to me by my college pitching coach, who now is one of the top pitching coaches in the country at a top SEC program. Go figure! Don’t get me wrong here, there is a time when we do lead with the hips and the hips are an essential part of energy transfer and direction, however, to rely solely on the hips is like teaching half of the equation and expecting your athlete to figure out the other half on their own. Good luck.
We’ve recently seen some of the top pitching minds speak about the foot and its importance. Lantz Wheeler, the inventor of the Core Velocity Belt and Pitchapalooza, is known to have his pitchers train barefooted at times so his athletes become more in tune and connected with their feet and it’s relationship to the ground. Shawn Kitzman, a movement specialist, and manual therapist has gone into great detail on his Instagram page (@thepitchingnerd) about the foot and its role in the pitching delivery. We also see strength and conditioning coaches having their players train without shoes on.
Pitchers must remember that the mechanics of pitching have both rotational and directional aspects to them. Think about it, we’re set up in a lateral position to deliver a ball directly in front of our right or left shoulder (depending on what arm you throw with). So yes, we do have to rotate, however, we have to rotate to then sustain a direct path to the plate.
So, when we speak about developing the elite pitcher, we must first speak about building the foundation, their feet. You’ll be amazed at how much you can learn about your pitching mechanics when you focus on the foot first, not to mention the potential injuries you will be steering clear of. Stay tuned as we get into part two of the foundation, the role of the legs.