Understanding the Kinematic Sequence

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

Not all throwing and hitting motions are created equal. Some guys rely more on strength, some guys elasticity (facial tissue) and some are simply genetic “outliers” (there’s that fascia again). But close analysis, in not only numerous studies but also from my own experience at the facility, reveals that there is one common denominator why hard throwers create effortless velocity and command, as well as power hitters creating high exit velos behind the plate.

Today I’m going to briefly explain the principles to some of you who are not familiar with motion capture, and try and “wet your beak”.  Hopefully, it will help strike a chord within you to further investigate yet another way to reduce stress on the throwing arm, while maximizing velocities, as well as improving over-all performance.

The Kinematic Sequence

Generating and transferring speed throughout the body requires a specific transfer of segmental peak angular velocities that allows pitchers and hitters to transfer force more efficiently. This timing pattern is referred to as the “Kinematic Sequence” and can be only viewed through motion capture sensors placed on the athlete’s body during throwing/hitting/video analysis.

“Efficient” Transfer of Force

Energy is transferred (in order), through the lower extremities, pelvis and thorax and culminates with elbow extension into shoulder IR. Each segment of the chain decelerates (slows down) to allow the next segment to “grab on” to help produce and increase speed to the  following segment as it travels up the kinetic chain. In other words, each segment builds off the previous as it continues to accelerate. Within the Kinematic Sequence charts further below, each segment is identified through different colors on the graphs below, pelvis (red), trunk/chest (green), upper arm (blue) and forearm/wrist (yellow).

In the following charts, we can see 2 different examples of sequencing from two different pitchers who are roughly the same height and weight. On the left is a minor league pitcher who sits 95 with good sequencing, and on the right a D1 pitcher who sits 87-88 with “less than optimal” sequencing. Notice on the right the early trunk rotation (green) causing a less than optimal transfer of force from the pelvis, possibly robbing him of velo and forcing him to overuse his arm.

While our minor league guy (below sits at 95 and has great hip/trunk separation, he can possibly still create a higher velocity ceiling by improving timing of pelvic/torso peak velocity at foot strike (we’ll save velocity metrics for another article).

As far as pelvic timing goes, Fleisig et al. addressed the correlation between early pelvic rotation and increased load at the shoulder/elbow in their article “Biomechanics of Baseball Pitching: Implications for Injury and Performance” (see footnote 2 below) and Stodden et al. reviewed this in their article “Relationship of Pelvis and Upper Torso Kinematics to Pitched Baseball Velocity” (see footnote 4 below).

Maybe getting him to start rotating his lower half a bit later may help create better timing and ultimately higher speeds at ball release and really make use of the great separation he already has. The point I’m trying to make is that when dealing with such high-speed movements, much can be missed regarding timing and velocities.

Anyone who tells you they can “see it ALL” with their eyes is kidding both you and themselves…

By the way, variations from properly sequencing have also been shown to correlate with decreased ball velocities (see footnote 3 below). These results were similar in both high-school pitchers and professionals (see footnote 1 below).

For both pitchers and hitters, the kinematic sequence is the most effective method of evaluating the efficient transfer of energy from the lower half (pelvis) up the chain to the hand(s) at release. Correct sequencing can, not only help reduce stress on musculoskeletal structures of the throwing arm and spine, but also help maximize ball velocities on the mound, and bat speed behind the plate.

See ya’ in the gym…

Studies:

  1. “Kinematic sequence patterns in the overhead baseball pitch” Scarborough et al.
  2. “Biomechanics of Baseball Pitching: Implications for Injury and Performance” Fleisig GS, American Sports Medicine Institute, Birmingham, AL, USA
  3. Relationship of biomechanical factors to baseball pitching velocity; within pitcher variation Stodden DF, Fleisig GS, McLean SP, Andrews JR: Journal of Applied Biomechanics
  4. “Relationship of Pelvis and Upper Torso Kinematics to Pitched Baseball Velocity” Stodden DF, Fleisig GS, McLean SP, Andrews JR: Human Kinetics Journal