Building a Bigger Engine in Pitchers… The Lower Half

Bigger Engine Top Image

Often times when someone describes a pitcher that throws hard, you’ll hear things like “he’s got a quick arm action” instead of “he must have a strong lower half”.  Since the ball is released by the hand which is linked more closely to the upper body than the lower body, the former of the two gets all the props while the latter becomes the unsung hero.

The lower half (hamstrings, glutes and quads) are the biggest and most powerful muscles in the body. They are capable of producing much more force than the upper body. Not to mention the more lower body we can incorporate into the delivery, the harder we can throw (upwards of 55 % of total velocity comes from the lower half, “The Kinetic Chain Revisited: New Concepts on
Throwing Mechanics and Injury” March 2016 ).  This also can help reduce the chance of over-using our upper half and getting injured.  Bottom line, when it comes to assessing pitchers, lower body strength and power in the horizontal and lateral planes tell us what type of engine we are dealing with (Characteristic Ground-Reaction Forces in Baseball Pitching, The American Journal of Sports Medicine, Vol. 26, No. 1, 1998).

Today’s blog is about how we help pitchers by improving their horizontal force production (broad and triple jumps). These are more sports-specific for baseball than the vertical jump because strength and power are plane specific. Therefore as a general rule, we do not take vertical jump into consideration when we assess pitchers. In addition, studies have shown that vertical jump and running speed in the sagittal plane have correlation ratios (R^2) as little as 0.01-0.02.  At such a low level, it doesn’t matter what the margin of error, you can safely assume that vertical jump does not correlate with high throwing velocity.

Getting back to building a bigger engine, below are two graphs that we have assembled about the broad jump and triple jump (lower half force production) numbers from our Pitching Lab assessments performed back in November (early off-season) and again in late February (late off-season).  Note that the metrics went up in both tests and I can tell you so did body weight and velocity (for more on how body weight affects velocity see “Muscle Mass and Throwing Gas”).

Broad Jump: We use the broad jump to measure concentric force production and we found a 13.8% gain overall.

Broad Jump

(Graph courtesy of RPP coach Alex Enrique)

Triple Jump: The Triple Jump tells us how quickly the athlete accepts force (eccentric) and immediately produces force (concentric) and we found a 9.2% gain overall with the triple jump during the four month time period.

Triple Jump

(Graph courtesy of RPP coach Alex Enrique)

This is key during the transition at first foot strike to ball release (transfer of energy up through the lead leg and core and into the arm). See Zach Grienke below, the difference in degrees from foot strike to ball release signify great force production up through the chain.

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(at FFS)

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(at Ball Release)

Stay tuned next time when we’ll look at lateral power, the most sports-specific test of all.

See ya’ in the gym…

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

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