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Drive Mechanics


6-4-3 = 2
May 6, 2013
Western NY
'Behind' the Scenes

Part 2 of 2

There are lots of core exercises out there, but I've found that this one is for everyone and works every core muscle... in one routine, kinda cool...

Turkish Getups

These have received mixed reviews by some... but only because people do them wrong. I debated posting the gif over a video... but it's good enough. These work every core muscle... here are the keys to doing them correctly:

  • Don't use a kettlebell until you have the strength and proper coordination this routine requires. Do it without, body weight is fine.
  • Make sure you start with your shoulder 'packed' or pushed in to the ground. Don't 'reach' with the shoulder.
  • Keep rear knee in-line with your supporting hand
  • When going back down... once your supporting hand gets placed on the ground, stick your butt out as shown in the video clip.
  • If using a kettlebell, dismount it by rolling onto your side - when laying on your back.

For advanced athletes, the basic band routines aren’t going to cut it by themselves. You’re focus should be on, for lack of a better phrase, power training – mixed with speed. Training fast-twitch muscle fibers will become a must… and is the reason many athletes plateau early in speed development, in both drive and pitch mechanics. So… low speed, high-resistance is not what you’re after. High speed, high resistance is the secret. Again… view Rick Pauly’s post above to see a great example.

These routines you may implement aren’t just for drive mechanics either…

“…the large muscles of the hips and trunk help position the thoracic spine to accommodate for effective movement of the scapula, which allows for functional shoulder motion - GRETCHEN D. OLIVER, HILLARY A. PLUMMER, AND DAVID W. KEELEY
Little more about the Gluteal (butt) muscles, and the other main stabilizers located in the hip and pelvic regions. Activating these muscles regularly in conditioning routines should be a major focus, as noted. During the pitching process, the gluteal muscles are the most active muscles – throughout every phase of the pitch. Here’s a graphic of some of the key players in the pelvic region:

The gluteal muscles (maximus, medius, and minimus) stabilize the hip by counteracting gravity’s hip adduction torque and maintain proper leg alignment by eccentrically controlling adduction and internal rotation of the thigh. None of that make sense? Here’s a little primer of key terms often used on this site… this is long overdue…

More soon... ~JS
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6-4-3 = 2
May 6, 2013
Western NY
Here is a visual example of the "violent" open close I was talking about. It is what I see in the hips on a lot of fast pitchers, even at a young age. It is the bam bam hip move you see in this clip, even in slo motion t looks sharp to me, that is why I used the word violent, but I am sure there is a better word for it.

GIF courtesy of FFS gifmaker incorporated, any rebroadcast without express written consent is prohibited.

edit- added another clip for illustration- it happens earlier than I originally described, it is more of a 3 oclock bam open move and a 9 oclock bam close
I'm still reserving my judgement on how necessary a violent or ballistic opening is.

Generating energy and forward momentum is key, however, I'm not quite sure yet that needing to generate this energy in as short a time as possible is absolutely necessary. I'm leaning towards believing that generating this energy over a longer impulse might be acceptable as well. Pitchers that generate this energy over a longer impulse are sometimes viewed as smooth (or even lazy) but they still have great results. Sarah Pauly comes to mind here, in comparison to pitchers like Abbott or Osterman who have more violent motions. The athlete and spectator in me enjoys the force and violence more, but that does not mean it is necessary or even optimal.

I DO believe that "stopping fast" or being able to transfer the energy created as quickly, efficiently, and as violently as possible is absolutely key to pitching, and all of the core exercises posted above contribute significantly to this. The core is key to controlling and transferring both acceleration and deceleration.

All that said, having the strength, musculature, and ability to enact a violent and explosive drive is absolutely an advantage in my eyes. The pitcher may want to experiment with what kind of energy creation works for them, but without the ability to perform the different options, the pitcher limits their potential.

yeah, I don't know how necessary it is either. I just seem to see it in correlation to faster pitchers. I picked up on it in a friendly last weekend because the pitching was so varied. Girls between 11-13 of all sizes and speeds. I noticed my DD looked really lazy compared to the rest of them, but when I looked at the slo motion video, her arm circle time was as fast or faster than the girls that looked faster (no I am not correlating arm circle to speed, I was just looking for visual clues as to why her motion looked slow), her speed was in the middle range of the group, but her motion looked the slowest out there by far. Then I noticed that her torso movements were just not nearly as strong looking as the other pitchers and I keyed on this hip move to see if maybe it was something to work on as a speed builder and thought I would throw it out to the group.
SS - These are great comments/observations. It's a fine line with student-athletes, too. If your description includes words like 'violent', 'explode', etc. they sometimes interpret these descriptors with movements you wouldn't anticipate. There are several keys... one of the largest ones is to spend the time with the articulations - putting their body in the right positions, and another is to make sure that these very athletic movements are performed within the boundaries of their physicality... and in control. From there, you build. The end result becomes what JJ describes - but teaching it to student-athletes becomes about building up... from a foundation. Sarah has a fluid set of movements and a REALLY, REALLY developed core. Her length may create the visualization that her legs aren't as energized - but when you watch her control of her torso - and know what is underneath the hood (to make this happen), you know there is a lot of power in that girl.

I DO believe that "stopping fast" or being able to transfer the energy created as quickly, efficiently, and as violently as possible is absolutely key to pitching, and all of the core exercises posted above contribute significantly to this. The core is key to controlling and transferring both acceleration and deceleration.
This is where I'm headed next... great segue. And as you said, it's ALL about control. I really enjoy reading your well-thought posts, starsnuffer. Thanks.


As noted with SS... ground force resistance is the next topic... I think.. just need to organize my thoughts. All-in-all, by creating better coordination and getting your DD used to The Power Line (OP)... using a high knee drive, dorsiflexion, and positive forward angle (momentum) is going to increase her ground force resistance. Once she does this - and learns to absorb it correctly - you'll see some of this violence appear in the hips. It starts just prior to contact - and as she channels that energy up the torso, you'll see it. In the meantime - I'd make sure she has a solid foundation of core strength... heck... that might be the next post... lol I don't know... there's so much info I want share... oy vey...
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6-4-3 = 2
May 6, 2013
Western NY
JS, at what age could some of these exercises be started?
Great question, CLM265. All the exercises on this thread (at this point) could and should be started now... or at any age. There isn't a specific age... These are all routines that build neuromuscular control... or 'the inner core', as well as some of the larger stabilizers/muscles in the 'outer core', too. The routine that I referenced of Rick Pauly's is more of an advanced routine... and those should be performed only after building a 'core' foundation. There's actually a muscle firing pattern, or activation sequence, that should take place from the inside out. I'll expand on this in the immediate future.

One other important note... Yoga is really beneficial at all ages. The postural/stabilization focus with Yoga is very beneficial. If you've a willing instructor, he/she might even develop a specific routine for you and your DD.

Any plyometric routine will be great, too... as this style of fitness closely mimics the movements performed in softball.


6-4-3 = 2
May 6, 2013
Western NY
The Ground Force Reaction

Increasing the ground force reaction of the drive and stride legs will increase your pitching speed, when timed properly. This is not an opinion.

What does this mean? Does it mean that if you push as hard against the ground as you possibly can, and strike the ground with your stride foot as hard as you can, that you’ll pitch faster? It does not.

Going to break out some high school physics… as they apply to drive mechanics and ground force reactions…

Newton’s #2
F= ma
or Force equals Mass times Acceleration
(My immature side can’t help but smirk when I say, “Newton’s #2”…) ;)
Newton’s #3
When one body exerts force on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction to the first.
Far too often, ground force reaction discussions (regarding pitching) only deal with the stride foot contacting the ground. It’s important to note, appreciate, utilize and GAIN from Newton’s 3rd law when pushing from the rubber, too. Here’s a simple illustration of this point…

I actually had to Photoshop the ‘stride’ foot so that it was dorsiflexed… ;) This illustration shows that as you push off – or into the ground, the ground pushes back. It also shows that it does it at the exact OPPOSITE or opposing direction. The force illustrated is one of three forces called the ‘Vertical’ force.

The three forces worth talking about are: Vertical, Lateral, and Gravitational. Take a look at the illustration below…

The numbers represent the forces:

1) Vertical – Angled force on vertical plane
2) Lateral – Horizontal force on horizontal plane
3) Gravitational – Directionally constant, downward

For the sake of simplicity, the Vertical force is the upward lift and downward fall most people associate the stride with. The Gravitational force is mostly self-descriptive… but you should know that we oppose this force when driving… and the Lateral force is the forward momentum a stride constitutes (towards the target). More on these in a bit…

To take advantage of these forces, we push off with our drive leg and brake with our stride leg, with the goal of creating a catapulting system. Most interestingly, if this sequence – or kinetic chain of events – is not timed properly, we will not be able to apply these forces as an increase in ball speed. When this chain is broken, the result can be a large source of injury – as the shoulder will try and compensate for this broken link – or loss in kinetic energy – by trying to generate the forces the legs could not.

How important is this timing? It’s almost a doubling effect… A 20% decrease in kinetic energy received from the hips and trunk will require a 34-35% increase in the rotational velocity of the shoulder.

If you consider this previous statement – you may only see the positive contribution timing offers… but it is just as important to understand the negative effect of poor drive mechanics… as they WILL require the shoulder to work more than necessary… and they often will put the scapula in a dangerous, destabilized position – which can lead to a condition known as impingement syndrome.

So, although we must work hard on drive mechanics, the emphasis should not be a “spot on the ground” – but instead should be a timed sequence of events with an emphasis on putting the lower extremities in the right positions - to efficiently transfer this energy to the ball.

So, don’t teach or allow your DD to over-push. In addition to injury, the muscle firing sequence will become disrupted – at times causing the antagonist and protagonist muscles to fire at the same time. Doing so, gets the muscles working against each other and limits the pitchers range of motion. It’s a gradual process, and small, properly timed increases in motion/energy should be the goal. “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Build a foundation of coordinated and controlled body movements, and then – and only then – build on them.
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6-4-3 = 2
May 6, 2013
Western NY
Java....when you reference a "Spot on the ground", are you talking about a target landing distance for the stride foot plant?

They never get the open and close rotation of the torso, as there seems to be a lack of strength to open the torso when there is too much forward energy created with that goal of jumping "Farther". In these instances, what I see is a pitcher that ends up pitching around their hips as they are unable to create that optimal throwing lane.
Cool observations, you make some good points.

Conversely (to staying too closed), many young pitchers reach with their legs and open too much, too early... destroying their timing. The result of this is even more painful to watch....

1) Their drive foot turns out towards 2nd base, on their heel...
2) Their stride foot plants at a negative angle beyond the 'powerline'
3) Their legs are so far apart, that the legs cannot close at all (read: split)
4) The ball gets lost behind their back, they pitch around their body... and then their parent wonder why their shoulder is sore... and typically are still wondering how the thousands of dollars they spent on "open-style" pitching mechanics have landed them on IR... and I don't mean internal rotation, either... ;)

Not condemning getting or 'staying' open... that's very important, to a literal 'degree'...

Marion Alexander, PhD says:

The stride onto the front foot should not be too long; as if the stride is too long the pitcher will be unable to fully rotate the hips and trunk to the position facing the batter at release.
Just some added thoughts to your great comment, Rope. Thanks!
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6-4-3 = 2
May 6, 2013
Western NY
Stride Leg Articulations

Ok, time to talk about a few articulations – as they relate to the ground force reaction, specifically Newton’s 3rd law. There are many other motions… but I’d like to keep this post singular in scope - and address the jointed movements of the leg, so that we can get the most out of the ground force reaction. These will be stride leg specific… more on the drive leg later.

Oh yeah, I think many call it: Ground Reaction Force... but oh well... I'm happy with ground force reaction.

As noted in the ground force reaction post, we want to set the body in a series of properly timed motions with the goal of transferring energy through the kinetic chain… and eventually into the ball, safely.

Stride Knee & Dorsiflexed Ankle

We’ve already covered this, but it’s important to stress it again. In my experience, many pitchers utilize a weak sweeping step forward. Their knee barely elevates and flexes above their normal walking mechanics. We want the stride knee to aggressively drive forward, elevating it so that it’s nearly perpendicular to the torso. Use the Wall Sprints listed on page 1 to ingrain these movements. I find this as one of the best places to start when working on drive mechanics. Remember to incorporate a lean – and then an aggressive drive outwards with the stride knee. Get it up! Be sure to also incorporate the dorsiflexed (toes up) foot position, too. Like these:

Extension of the Stride Leg Knee

IMHO, this is one of the most important stride mechanics as well as one of the largest timing puzzle pieces... more on that later, probably much later...

As you drive the stride knee out, you are activating/firing the gluteal muscles – which is VERY IMPORTANT. The natural design of the hips and bone structure would have the leg turning inwards and abducting. The knee-out and dorsiflexed ankle positions engage (or, activate) the larger muscles in the lower extremities; as they work to overcome the natural tendencies of the leg and prepare for impact. The knee goes straight out, followed by the lower leg extending to the target – and the leg has NOT rotated inward.

Once the lower leg/upper leg angle is beyond 150-degrees of extension, the pitcher will be close to ‘full extension’ of the leg… and the gravitational forces will prevail; sending the leg downward. ‘Full extension’ does not mean literal extension (180-degrees, or a straight locked leg) it means the maximum stride length (the distance between the rear drive foot and the stride foot). You’ll notice that the drive foot is still in contact with the plate.

When timed properly, the still shot of the optimal motion will look like the following:

  • Knee at most elevated/extended position (perpendicular to torso).
  • Shoulders are mostly closed – thigh/foot has NOT internally rotated.
  • Upper and lower leg angle (formed at knee) is greater than 150-degrees.

For those of you struggling with the 150-degree leg/knee angle, here is a transparent picture you can put over your still shots to use as a comparison.

Here is a bunch of different pitchers reaching this ‘full extension’:

On a side note, notice how each of these pitchers is approaching 3 o'clock and their shoulders are pretty much closed - even though their leg extension had started opening their hips... if not completely.

As you can see in the different pictures, the leg should be at least this straight, or straighter. If you use the angled line, place the angle on the knee, and align the upper line with the femur in the upper leg . Each person is different, but your pitcher should strive for reaching this level of extension. Why?

If the leg/knee angle is in a flexed position less than 150-degrees (read: more of a bend than the picture) – the knee will try and absorb too much of the ground force reaction energy. How much energy is this?

The vertical ground reaction force was always theorized as similar to that which a baseball pitcher experiences, until Werner (2005) and Oliver (2010) concluded that they were significantly greater. A softball pitcher with good drive mechanics will experience a vertical ground reaction force more than 230% of their body weight. So… if your 140-pound DD is utilizing aggressive drive mechanics, she could be posting over 320 pounds of force on her stride leg. Remember, she is balancing/stabilizing 320 pounds on a single leg.

Getting back to the question of why too much bend in the knee is a bad thing… is 320-pounds of force on a knee a good thing? The answer is obvious… and having too much bend in the knee prevents a lot of the energy from dissipating and/or chaining past the knee cap… or joint.

Conversely, you don’t want to land on your stride foot with a hyper-extended knee (straight, locked leg), either… as that significant force will travel straight to your hips and into the spine. If you land straight legged, you defeat much of what the hip flexors/stabilizers are working to maintain… which is elevation of the pelvis on the drive leg side. Instead, the knee will hyper-extend, the pelvis will tilt anteriorly, and posterior spinal problems arise. This is quite common in younger pitchers... as they associate an aggressive stride with length. They try to hit a spot on the ground by over-extending the leg, and hyper-extending the knee. The result is a traumatic force to pelvic region/ stabilizers, causing the abdomen to flare out, and limiting scapular stabilization. This would be my response to a recent post... with a very talented younger pitcher, btw. Here's what it looks like 'under the skin'...

This quote sums up the importance of proper posting on the stride leg:
It is imperative that the stride foot maintains a line toward the target and lands within a 30-degree range of internal rotation and the knee remains flexed so it can absorb shock. As the stride leg plants, eccentric contraction of the quadriceps muscle of that leg further minimizes shock.” - Faith M. Doyle, DC
More coming soon... ~JS
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6-4-3 = 2
May 6, 2013
Western NY
Internal Rotation of the Thigh & Foot

As noted in the quote from the last main post, the foot lands within a 30-degree range of internal rotation. Far too often, a young pitcher that exhibits poor stride mechanics, will step/stride with an internally rotated foot/thigh towards their target. This pre-maturely opens the hips/shoulders, prevents the glutes and hamstring from achieving stretch, and de-stabilizes the scapula (most of the time). I’m not a fan of, nor would I recommend this method. The stride leg foot should remain pointed up UNTIL maximum leg-extension is reached.

Once the stride reaches a controlled maximum extension, the foot and thigh should internally rotate. This is easy to instruct, and is often referred to by me as setting the angle of the stride foot. I prefer a 30-45-degree angle of plant. If it’s much less, that 320 pound monster will often diffuse up the shin and into the patellar region of the knee. If the angle is greater, that 320 pound monster will act severely on the ankle and knee ligaments/musculature. In addition, less of the energy is absorbed by the knee, quads, and hips… and the result is usually a pelvic tilt. This appears as ‘butt out’ or 'chest out' to let the ball pass by…

The inward rotation of the thigh and foot (setting the stride angle) will also coincide with the drive foot leaving the rubber - and is an easy visual to pick up on.

Here are some of the best internally rotating their leg… there are a total of 6 frames - pay attention to:
  • Frame 1 - Shoulders are closed, hips are starting to open as a RESULT of stride leg extension.
  • Frame 2 – The stride thigh starts to internally rotate. As this is a chained sequence, you’ll see that the shoulders don’t really adjust at the same time, but you'll see it in the next frame.
  • Frame 3 – Pitchers have all passed 3, and their feet ALL leave the plate - as a result of forward momentum, but also the internal rotation of the front leg moving the rear leg. The thigh internal rotation has now greatly influenced the shoulders. The stride angle has been ‘set’ with the foot.
  • Frame 4 – The humerus is one frame from complete elevation, and as such the shoulders are one frame from their most open position.
  • Frame 5 – 12 o’clock. The shoulders will NOT move position between this frame and the next. This is the stabilization of the scapula that I’ve mentioned repeatedly. Stride angles are still the same, and stride foot is near the ground. This is a weightless movement and good core strength is needed to control it... as well as proper body positioning/posture.
  • Frame 6Rear thigh/hip adduction torque. This is what JJ was asking about… earlier on… Remember, this adduction and internal rotation of the hips is NATURAL, and is exactly what the legs want to do on their own (achieve 'neutral' position). The goal is to allow for this NATURAL motion to occur – by making sure the rear leg has NOT abducted and externally rotated too far – and by keeping the pitcher from over-striding.

    The further the feet are away from the core, the harder it is to control there proximal counterparts (thigh). You’ll also notice that the shoulder line angle did not move. The rear hip internal rotation will adjust the stride foot angle in many pitchers, and as such you’ll see movement in the hip. Ueno is the best reference of this… as I cut out the next frames of the other pitchers in an effort to make the frames match…

Watch this forever looping gif over and over and make note of the points above:

The focus of this post is on ALLOWING internal rotation of BOTH thighs to occur. This is not something I believe you teach… but more of something you prevent from NOT occurring. Take a look at these pictures of a couple local pitchers… one of which I’ve acquired recently…

If I didn't tell you this was a RHP, you might assume it was a lefty...

RHP, too.

Aside from the first being an incredibly illegal pitch (yes, the rear foot is airborne that much...) notice how the rear foot & thigh have turned out (externally rotated) towards second. This is a result of: opening too much (too early AND too severe of a plant angle) BECAUSE THEY PUSHED GRADUALLY... AND TOO LATE. Neither of them benefit from the thigh adduction/internal rotation – because they simply cannot. Don’t believe it? Stand up, get in one of these positions and try to adduct/internally rotate the thigh. It’s not too easy, huh?

So, in order to achieve this hip adduction torque, the body needs to be in the right positionnot over-extended and not open too much. Watch the plant angle, controlled stride extension, and rear foot position in these pitchers… and then watch for the start of the adduction sequence (rear thigh internally rotates)…

Next up… Touchdown!!!
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6-4-3 = 2
May 6, 2013
Western NY
The more I look at the last gif of the rear hip internal rotation, the more I see it as the same ( or very similar) as the rear hip action in swinging a bat. Not that it surprises me that much since it makes perfect sense, The legs and hips don't have a lot of choices in how to generate power for the upper body, it's kind of their way or the highway, but I never figured they would be so strikingly similar.
Great post JS! I see a lot of the "backwards" pitchers as well, and I think you did a great job explaining in detail the proper sequence. Delaying the turning over of the hips and concentrating on the knee drive towards the pitcher has really helped. I've even had to go so far as to assign hip-flexor exercises to some students who lacked the strength to do this and were relying on momentum and rotation too much.

Some really valid observations from the original thread... just thought I'd add some of these notes and quaotes... as their inputs greatly enhance the thread...


6-4-3 = 2
May 6, 2013
Western NY
Touchdown - Part I

It’s an interesting revelation that a few of you assumed the subject of this post would be in reference to the position of the arm on plant…

The arm circle is so dominate in the minds of pitchers and parents – and although arm position is important – it’s not the focus of this post… sorry! (I’ll get to that soon in the Timing posts) This post will deal with the position of the foot on plant. I know… it may not seem nearly as glorious – but how we ‘deal’ with the shock of over 200% of our body weight is just as important – and sets the ‘foundation’ of our whip phase. This is a teachable subject matter, too.

Ever hear someone say to land “toe first”, “heel first”, or “flat-footed”? I’ve heard a pretty steady dose of all three… and sadly they are often incorrectly advocating something they know nothing about. Which is fine - at times… but most of you know that I’m an information junkie… and if you’re reading this entire thread… there’s a chance you are, too. ;)

Before we get into the differences in the foot striking patterns (touchdown) – it’s important to review some key concepts. Remember, our goal is to create a catapulting system from the ground-up…and this is only possible if our body is put into a positive position to harness this collision of energy. Hopefully, you’ve read and understand the importance of conditioning these muscles… and hopefully… you appreciate that trying to support 300 pounds of force on a single leg will require conditioning and controlled striding.

You should also know that our goal is NOT to turn 100% of the 200+% of available energy into ball speed. Our goal is to efficiently transfer as much lateral force as possible to the ball without sacrificing control of our body. This may sound like an odd proposition (not focusing on the vertical forces)… and if you want to continue this conversation… feel free to ask more...

For now, suffice it to say that our pelvic region is a pre-stressed system… and like a spoked bicycle wheel – our tension and support comes from the top of our leg… not the bottom (even though ground forces are imposed into our body from the bottom). So, when our stride foot contacts the ground, it should reduce the tension in the lower leg… and increase the tension support in the upper leg/hip. Excessive vertical forces can do the opposite, and are viewed as negative by many. This was tough to find, but take a look at the illustration:

If you want to feel this support tension, here is a quick primer on the ‘trochanter and iliac bone’ or what some people call the iliac crest - with a simple illustration:

Put your finger where the trochanter meets the iliac crest, and take a few steps. You'll feel this pre-stressed system and the tension... I’ll leave it at that for now… getting into biotensegrity is confusing… and on the surface… too much information (even for junkies, like me).

So, if we have destabilized joints, misalignment, and muscular imbalances – the ground reaction forces – coupled with gravity - will perpetuate what many call a ‘degenerative cycle’. An interesting quote on the matter:

“However, when a total body clinical assessment is performed in a softball pitcher who has sustained an overuse injury to the upper extremity, it is almost guaranteed that the individual will display a lack of pelvic stability, which will be evident in weakness of the lumbopelvic-hip complex, as well as decreased scapular stability. - Marion J.L. Alexander, PhD
As mentioned, a key concept is that the 'goal' when you drive off the plate is to transfer weight forward – all of it. Those that over-perpetuate ‘reverse posture’ often do more harm than good. In the last post, we talked about hip adduction torque being a non-weighted move – and retaining weight on the drive foot can, and often will, eliminate it. The hips should close half way (and no more than) and hold this position through release (read: less than 45 degrees). For many, it's easier for them to 'prevent closing'... as the body will do so naturally.

Retaining weight on the rear foot (too much rearward lean... or a late push) will eliminate this ‘controlled release environment’… and will cause a disconnection in the torso AND/OR make it too active… in ways that do not enhance the pitch. We’ll get more into this when we get to the Posture posts – but I introduce the concept… so that you are reminded that we DO want all the weight/momentum to come forward… we just need to learn to control and utilize it.

Okay, some basics have been covered... now it's time to talk about the specific foot striking patterns that can occur on Touchdown... (just waiting on the next Boston album...)
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6-4-3 = 2
May 6, 2013
Western NY
Touchdown – Part 2

As mentioned in the previous post, there are three striking patterns; heel strike, midfoot strike and forefoot strike. I’m all about putting the body in the right positions – and this post will go in to detail about what happens to your body naturally when you use these three. I could just say - do this, not this (as I’m sure some people would prefer) – but IMO, that doesn’t answer WHY. If I’m going to tell my DD or some other DD to do something, I want to know why it’s best – and not secretly hope everything is going to be ok. Here they are, illustrated... note the directions of the ground reaction forces:

Heel Striking - Simply put, don’t teach it, and don’t encourage it. Doing so results in body articulations that we do not desire - as well as multiplicative trauma to the skeletal and nervous system.

I bring it up first… because some of you may make the connection with achieving a dorsiflexed ankle in the OP… and believe you must maintain this position throughout the stride. You do not. Once the foot passes in front of the stride knee, it’s ok if it doesn’t maintain dorsiflexion; its job of activating the glutes, quads, calf muscles, and Achilles has been accomplished.

Here comes the WHY… With heel strikes - the toes curl inwards and then the midfoot and forefoot are subsequently weighted; a rolling forward motion.

  • On impact, the resulting plantarflex (toes down) results in the arch of the foot not loading – and Achilles and calf muscle shortening… we want lengthening… or stretch.
  • As the forefoot contacts the ground, the knee and hip will continue to flex (not desired)
  • The heel strike does not utilize or gain (as much) from Newton’s # 2, and the momentum of our body continues forward… often resulting in substantial ‘forward lean’…
  • The foot and lower leg come to a dead stop, and a large amount of stress is put on the knee – and this impact breaks the kinetic chain… it is absorbed in the lower leg.
  • It creates what is known as a ‘high impact transient’… i.e. a car hitting a concrete wall… increasing the risk of injury significantly. We do want to collide with the ground - but the impulse (which, for you science buffs is the Mass times Change in Velocity) cannot be too sudden. We need to lengthen the impulse, instead.
  • A high impact transient causes a shock-wave up through the body via the skeletal system.
  • The rolling effect of heel to toe that happens - when coupled with the horizontal inertia, is a really poor braking mechanism – and often impacts the timing of the pitch negatively. It will also magnify muscular imbalances in the hip and/or pre-existing weakness in the medial longitudinal arch.

So, in summary – The heel strike breaks the kinetic chain – terminating the upward forces we could gain from - at the knee. The lateral forces do not get absorbed (as much) and our upper body will want to continue forward. Lastly, the muscles and ligaments are not ‘primed’ in this position – and the resulting trauma in our skeletal system will prevent the stabilization of our pelvis from occurring… which prevents the scapula from stabilizing...

Lastly, another great side-effect of reading all of this, is that you just learned one of the largest sources of shin-splints. Sharp heel striking causes most of the impact to be absorbed in the lower leg… and the repetitive magnitude of these strikes lead to this pain… This is why many runners, soccer players, and even some ball players experience these painful side effects of utilizing poor foot strike mechanics.

Forefoot Striking – This is the exact opposite of heel striking – and although we do lose some of the impact force potential – this position allows for control of the vertical and lateral reactions. This is where you start. Here’s the why…

  • As you land, the ankle will dorsiflex (toes up, heel down). The arch becomes loaded (or begins to stretch and flatten).
  • The heel comes down under the control of the Achilles and the calf muscles (which are on stretch)
  • The heel and lower leg will continue to fall under control, keeping the kinetic chain intact.
  • The impact transient is nearly ZERO – which your spine thanks you for.
  • Believe it or not, the rear foot (drive) momentum can be and is converted into rotational momentum. This is not possible with a heel strike – as the momentum is absorbed by the collision force.
  • This ‘gentle’ landing will allow for the body’s center of mass to continue moving downward – allowing the proximal leg muscles the opportunity to do their work (quads and such) – and allowing the catapulting mechanism to take place.

As you can see, the forefoot strike allows for the proper sequence of muscle activations and cushions the high impact forces. There aren’t many downsides to this method – and I firmly believe this is the place to start all beginners. The impact muscle sequence will become ‘trained’ and eventually – you can move more into a midfoot strike…

Some of you may be quick to point out that many – if not the majority of - world-class pitchers utilize more of a midfoot strike. Eventually, I get more of my students to use the midfoot strike, too. But, this is a trained movement – and the body must develop the strength and posturing that enables proper use of a midfoot strike – so that all the negative traits that accompany heel striking are not present. Truthfully, although it may appear to be midfoot, it’s usually just a lesser forefoot angle.

Lastly, when teaching it… the best point of impact is the inside of the ‘ball’ of the foot… that protrusion you see below the big toe…

Midfoot Striking: We’ve already started talking about this one… Many bucket dads and moms are too impatient… Although I’m a firm believer in modeling professional pitchers, we must understand that the movements that they perform are ingrained, trained, and a result of thousands of positive repetitions. Certain movements that they perform are arrived at through a gradual process… and I believe that this is one of those…

Midfoot strikes are – the space in between – or a continuum between heel strikes and forefoot strikes. The key to properly utilizing a midfoot plant is to develop the ‘muscle memory’ involved in forefoot strikes – because this determines where the center of pressure is at impact. It also helps determine how stiff the knee and ankle are at impact.

You can and should utilize a quasi-forefront/midfoot plant – as it is better for timing, but learn to land with forefoot – with a low impact transient first. Almost all that start with a midfoot plant, become encumbered with ALL of the negative heel strike traits, because anatomically – this is the angle the foot will travel to the ground. The larger surface area of a properly utilized midfoot strike also reduces the stress on the foot and ankle.

Next up - Stride Foot Angle…
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