Addressing and Treating Trunk Tilt at Foot Strike – Part 1

Many times, when analyzing video of our young pitchers, I’ll come across an excessive lateral trunk tilt at foot strike. It’s quite common in younger throwers and is characterized by an excessive lean (tilt) contralaterally towards your left side at ball release (if you’re a right-handed pitcher and vice versa). The head becomes tilted, facing away from the driveline and gives the appearance that the athlete is getting ready to launch the ball over a three-story building.

This tilt helps to keep the arm at a roughly 90-100degree angle from the body. It’s not only this angle that is thought of as being the safest for the shoulder/elbow but the athlete’s ability to maintain close to this angle from layback to finish. Here are two examples of different positions at ball release, both with similar angles.

(Upright)                                                              (Tilt)

A study by Oyama et al (2013) in the journal of sports medicine, have shown that pitching with an excessive contralateral trunk tilt has been associated with a benefit in performance /velocity. This may be true, but it also has been associated with increased joint loading (Effect of excessive contralateral trunk tilt on pitching biomechanics and performance in high school baseball pitchers, Oyama S1, Yu B, Blackburn JT, Padua DA, Li L, Myers JB., Am J Sports Med. 2013 Oct).

It’s true that many pro players can and do throw harder by creating more angular velocity and acceleration in the upper body from hand break to ball release through an excessive trunk tilt.

“If you’re currently making a great living playing pro ball then by all means carry on, but if you’re a young athlete trying to make it to the next level, the risk may not be worth the reward.”

Many times, correcting issues early on that can help address the tilt and learning to “re-tension” the throw may be just what keeps a young athlete in the game (injury free) long enough to get a shot at the big leagues, or even a great education for that matter.

What is Considered an “Excessive” Tilt?

Based on testing methods in the study, I use the side view of our 4-camera system to find the point when the pitcher reaches maximum shoulder external rotation at foot strike.

Being that our camera system is synchronized, I can now look at him from the front view at the exact same moment. Next, I’ll draw a vertical line straight up from the middle of the landing foot. If the middle of the head is more than a “head-width” outside of this vertical line, it would demonstrate what I call an “excessive contralateral tilt”.

O.K… Now What?

The problem could be lower-half driven, or the three topics we’ll talk about today:

    • Glove-side integrity
    • A less than efficient arm action (into Max ER and maintaining shoulder abduction)
    • Physical constraints (strength/mobility)

Glove-side Integrity – Retracting the glove side scap at or close to the same time as the throwing arm retracts will help keep the trunk stacked as well as prevent the glove-side shoulder from opening early (prior to foot plant). This also helps produce a tighter, better connected arm to the body, maintaining a more upright torso into and through ball release.

(above)-Timing of the glove side helps keep the trunk stacked and the arm more connected to the body. Both help to maintain shoulder abduction through the delivery and prevent an excessive glove side tilt.

Inefficient Arm Action – An arm that is “too vertical” at foot plant- (65-75 degrees is optimal for most- but not all)- may have a harder time keeping the arm connected and create better layback. This again forces the torso to laterally tilt in order to make up for lost t-spine extension, a less than efficient scap load and consistent shoulder abduction from Max ER to finish (90-100 degrees).

Physical Constraints – Physical limitations can come about from various constraints:

Insufficient T-spine Rotation / Extension – The ability to adequately rotate (we look for > 65-70 degrees) and extend the thoracic spine allows for a much better ability to not only load the scap but create better layback while maintaining a more upright position to the target.

(1-arm Wall Slide w/ Rotation)

Tight Lats – I feel that much of what we see in players mechanics-wise stems from either “weak” or “tight” lats. When the lats get tight athletes need to get that extra extension for layback from other resources such as the elbow or hyper extension in the lower lumbar,the latter many times causing an excessive tilt to the glove side. Tight lats can create scapular depression as well, making getting the arm up and into layback a problem. “Keep them strong-but keep them long” (thanks Charlie Weingraff)

(Bench T-spine Mob)

Insufficient Scap/Shoulder Mobility – This really needs no explanation. And deficiencies in movement at the scap shoulder will affect OH range of motion and force the trunk to tilt laterally in order to maintain 90-100 degrees of abduction. Strengthening mid/lower traps as well as serratus anterior is key.

(1-arm Cable Row)

(Landmine Press)

When it comes to mechanics, all things are not created equal. There are many players who not only have these exact positional issues but excel because of them. Like I’ve said before, we can’t build young throwers around the mechanics of a few athletes that possess “freakish” athleticism. If your lighting up the gun, getting guys out and are pain free, send this article to someone who is not.    Remember, different strokes for different folks.

See ya’ in the gym…

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

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