Location, Location - A Look At Lower Body Exercises For Enhanced Pitching Performance
By Ethan Bowlin
How important is location to a pitcher? Better yet, how important is having the confidence to locate pitches
throughout a game? Watching the ALCS and Cleveland Indians' pitcher C.C. Sabathia missing high and away with his fastball
and falling off to the side of the mound time and time again, it's safe to say, location is probably one of the most crucial
aspects of pitching.
When breaking down the pitching motion, a right-handed pitcher must be able to load the right leg, or drive
leg, in order to produce force and transfer it through a strong stable core into a flexible upper body in a "whipping-like"
motion releasing the ball to the target. The force developed in the body must be slowed down when the left or lead leg hits
the ground and the upper body flexes over the leg during the follow through.
This process must be repeated over and over again. It is common knowledge that to improve your performance
on the field, you must train your body to meet the demands of your sport. Pitchers in baseball must develop strength, endurance,
flexibility and power to name a few. However, a common phenomenon is the constant overloading of the muscles that generate
force and ignoring or paying little attention to the muscles that are crucial to the structure of the body.
What if I were to tell you that the key to training your body to improve sport performance starts with
how well you stand? Your posture is a great indicator of how well your body is balanced and able to generate, distribute and
absorb forces throughout the body. A pitcher develops force from the lower body, transfers it through the core muscles into
the upper body, releases the ball to its target and slows down that force during the follow through. If there is a disruption
through that system, such as a weakness or tightness in a muscle or muscle group, the body must find an alternate path to
target. This will lead to overuse and injury. The question is not, IF an injury will occur, it is WHEN the injury will occur.
So how long do you have?
The following is an example of a number of high school pitchers that I have witnessed with similar problems
locating pitches and developing hamstring, and/or shoulder pain. We first looked at their pitching motion and identified that
they all presented similar issues. They presented one or more of the following: Inability to consistently drive off of the
mound, difficulty keeping the front shoulder closed and completing their follow through without falling off to the side of
the mound during the course of the game or bullpen session.
We look at the feet and knees when standing and observed that their feet turnout, arches flatten and knees
hyperextend or "lock out". This leads us to believe that there are muscle imbalances around their ankles, knees and hips.
Their arches, hamstrings and glutes are weak compared to the calves, quadriceps and hip flexors. Decreased activation, or
strength, of the glutes and hamstrings is common, especially in young athletes that have poor posture and spend a lot of time
running, performing squats and lunges. Although these exercises traditionally will build lower body strength and endurance,
it can increase the muscle imbalance that is already present.
The weakness in the lower body is many times accompanied by weakness of the muscles in the upper back.
Rounding of the shoulders and forward tilt of the upper body results in a forward shift in their center of gravity, placing
additional strain on the legs, back and shoulder to name a few. Why is posture important? Well, if their body is being pulled
forward while standing still, what is going to happen when they begin to move? In this particular case, weakness of the glutes
and hamstrings makes it difficult for our pitchers to decelerate, or slow down, their body during their follow-through. Because
their momentum cannot be slowed down with their lead leg, they fall off to the side of the mound. The result is more force
through the shoulder and missing location on their pitches. If a pitcher cannot consistently locate pitches, it will lead
to a higher pitch count, more walks and a higher opposingbatting average. That is the minor detail.
If a pitcher cannot locate pitches and is consistently falling off the side of the mound and unable to
keep the front shoulder closed, it then becomes an issue of how long can the body maintain balance before an injury occurs.
This cannot be fixed by simply completing more squats, lunges and "getting stronger". The body moves in multiple directions,
speeds and deals with numerous forces.
Train the body as it was intended to be used. Improve your posture; perform exercises that challenge the
body moving side-to-side, rotating, two legs to one leg, slowing down before speeding up. Using your lower body to provide
the power needed to deliver the ball will improve your ability to stay compact, increase leg drive and follow through.