Engaging the Lower Half to Create Power… The Glute Load – Part 1

By Nunzio Signore (BA, CSCS, CPT, NASM, FMS)

With our Pitching Lab right around the corner, I just finished video analysis on all of our pitchers, of all different ages and size. Of those, 80% of all pitchers I analyzed lacked sufficient use of their lower half.

Now, anyone who knows even a little about creating an efficient delivery with a higher velocity ceiling knows that one of the key, if not biggest, contributors is the use of the lower half. I don’t mean just engaging it, I mean sustaining it for as long as possible while coming down the mound as well. Two main disconnects I see a lot with poor lower half engagement are as follows:

  • A quad dominant delivery (lack of adequate glute loading)
  • Maintaining force into the ground to foot strike

Today, in Part 1 we’ll talk about loading the glutes.

Adequate Glute Loading

A common thread I noticed this year was that most, if not all, of these pitchers that failed to adequately load their lower half utilized the old “stay tall”, “drop and drive” or “up, down and out” mechanics.  Pitching coaches have been using these cues for years and many continue to do so.  Now, here’s the punch line… at the same time, they also tell their pitchers to “use your lower half” or “get into your glutes”.

The problem is, from a kinesthetic standpoint, if you do the former (“stay tall”, “drop and drive” or “up, down and out”) then the latter (“use your lower half” or “get into your glutes”) is pretty much impossible. This can send mixed signals and be confusing to any pitcher. Much like “Hurry up and wait”.

Check out these two guys. Both have different body types as well as depths in their glute load. This is mostly due to height (limb length) but both throw extremely hard. Notice that regardless of height, both keep their back knee staying close to the vicinity and on top of the toes and the back glute behind the heel. These knee and glute positions are key indicators of properly loading the glutes and avoiding the delivery from becoming quad dominant too early.

On the other hand, a “quad dominant” delivery pulls the pitcher forward and towards their arm side, many times forcing a “closed” landing at foot strike. This sets off the next chain of events…

  • Pre-maturely causing other issues such as trunk tilt
  • Throwing across the body (which can leave the ball hanging)
  • Opening the lead leg early in a desperate attempt to land in the driveline

We call these “energy leaks” and while many pros can get away with it for a while, understand that they are what we call “outliers”. For a young athlete, poor mechanics can be devastating to their longevity on the mound while trying to get to the next level.

A more “glute dominant” delivery tends to clean up many of these issues, creating a more “centered”, kinesthetically ideal position at foot strike.  This in turn will project the athlete more in the driveline and toward home plate while decreasing stress on the joints.

Teaching a good hip hinge in the weight room can be key.  Many times, simply introducing a young athlete to a hip hinge will help them feel what “loading the glute” actually means in the first place.

(Hip Hinge Patterning)

Once the pattern is grooved, we can then make it more functional to pitching by adding weight.

(Deadlift)

On the bottom left, Minnesota Twins pitcher Jared Finkel displays proper form on the deadlift. Note the knee/toe relationship and the similarities to the image on the right during the loading phase. This is just one more example of positional carry-over from the weight room to the mound.

Stay tuned for Part 2, where we’ll address another key factor in creating power with the back leg with ground reaction forces, or in other words “putting force into the ground”.

See ya’ in the gym…

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