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The Science of Pitching

 

There are many theories on the action of pitching because baseball is America’s oldest (and best may we add) sport. Through the years, we have learned more and more on the action of pitching and have gained access to new and innovative technology that shows us scientifically exactly what happens the pitching motion, which gives us a great advantage on how to change our actions to perfect mechanics, increase velocity, and preserving health of players arms and bodies.

According to Rothman Orthopedics, the most common injuries in baseball are seen in pitchers. The top 6 injuries they list are as follows:

  1. Muscle strains
  2. Shoulder instability
  3. Labral Tears
  4. Rotator cuff injuries
  5. UCL Sprain of the Elbow & Tears
  6. Thrower’s elbow

At this point, we are sure you are thinking…well duh, everyone knows that, a pitcher is using their arm to throw a ball at a high speed, multiple times a day, multiple times a week. What do you expect to happen? Although this information is apparent and evident if you know anything about baseball, looking at this information tells us so much more about the pitching action than what first comes to mind. It also poses the question, “Why do some pitchers develop these injuries, and how do high level players resist developing them and continue to play at a high level on a regular basis still preserving the health of their arms?” That is the million-dollar question…or multi million dollar question if you’re a future potential draft pick.

Unfortunately, here is where a lot of debate comes in. Fortunately, however, we can shed light on the ideal pitching sequence and how proper use of the body can achieve high level velocity, in a safer way, over a long period of time. We understand there are a lot of ways to accomplish the goal of throwing the ball at a high velocity, but what comes into question is how do you do that, safely, over a long period of time? We have gathered multiple studies and an abundance of research for you to get into the nitty gritty of how the body of high level, high velocity, best of the best pitchers utilize every part of their body to preserve the health of their arm and talent, while also preforming at elite levels on a consistent basis. Here on this page we break it down for you to make it all make sense, and try to answer that multi-million dollar question and put you on the right training path to become an elite level player.

 

The Kinetic Chain & Pitching Action

Before we start to look at the way the body works most efficiently, let’s look at the term kinetic chain. By definition, a kinetic chain describes the human body movement by rigid, overlapping segments connected via joints, whereby movement at one joint produced or affected movement at another joint. In Lehman’s terms: every movement creates affects the next movement in a chain of events.

To make sense of this definition, lets look at an example; if you think about a person pushing a stalled car off the road, how do you push it? First you position yourself with the top of your body against the car. Then, unless you’re The Rock, you probably use your legs to create and build the energy to push the car by bracing your feet against the concrete and pushing. The energy is created at the ground and travels from your feet, into your legs, then core, and out of your upper body against the car. The energy starts at the farthest point away from the exit point and builds as it travels through the body. This is the reason it takes a few seconds for the car to start moving forward as you push…the energy must develop and travel to and out of the exit point.

Now let’s look at the pitching action of an elite level player. We are unable to use the names of any professional players individually, but if you take this information and compare it to any elite level player pitching high velocity who has been playing at a high level for an extended period of time, the pitching sequence and proper action will be evident. There are 6 phases of the optimal pitching motion that we are going to cover, all which are dependent on the previous, which happen in a kinetic chain of events that are all a reaction to the previous event.

 

  1. The Set-up/Load

The set-up/loading phase is where it all beings. This is where the action of pitching starts to create the energy needed to achieve a high-level velocity. The body is positioned parallel with the pitching rubber, the front foot is lifted, and hips counter rotate, creating a shift in body weight. Here is where science comes in: Isaac Newton’s 3rd law of motion states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The imbalance of the body weight causes a gravitational pull in the direction we are wanting to go (towards home plate) and we position our bodies to develop and build on the energy source. Here is where we get our name…the energy you are developing at this phase of the pitching sequence is called ground force. You are putting force into the ground to kickstart the development of energy that will fuel your entire pitching sequence. There is no drive in this phase, simply energy creation.

 

  1. The Drive

The drive phase focuses on energy development and building upon the ground force energy as it moves to different joints and up the drive leg. As the weight of the body is transferred forward toward home plate, it builds energy in a linear fashion (aka linear energy). This is where the drive happens. As your body falls into a deeper un-stabilized angle with home plate the leg muscles are stimulated and build on the energy as it transfers from the knee to the hip and the drive leg pushes into the ground and away from the rubber. This is arguably the phase that has the most influence on the velocity of the pitch by causing the hips to rotate at a higher rate of speed and the only major muscle contraction of the entire pitching sequence.

 

*The Drive & Switch relation

Before we move onto the next phase, we want to note how The Drive phase and the Switch phase relate to each other. The argument that the pitching sequence is solely dependent on the rotational energy, and that the torque from the hips is the biggest proponent of increased velocity is one we face often. Although we do not disagree that the rotational energy and the torque plays a significant and vitally important role of the pitching sequence, we argue that the drive has the most influence on the velocity of the pitch. Here’s why: The longer our bodies hold on to the linear energy in The Drive phase and the more energy that is built up to fuel the hip rotation, the faster the hips will rotate. We want the drive to happen nearly simultaneously with the front foot landing. Sometimes, in an ideal pitching motion, it almost looks as if the drive isn’t happening because the player is holding onto the linear energy for so long, they have built up an impressive amount of energy, and the transfer from linear energy to rotational energy happens so fast. The more energy produced prior to the switch and the longer the body holds in the linear position, the faster and harder the drive will happen, which in turn triggers The Switch to activate harder, and the hips to rotate faster. The faster the hips rotate, the more leverage the shoulders have to create a greater torque to fuel the arm in the consequential phases.

 

  1. The Switch

During and After the drive, the front leg is required to land, brace (or “post up”), and activates the next phase where the switch from linear energy to rotational energy happens. The point the front foot lands a “switch” happens. The body moves from building on the energy in a linear fashion, into a rotational fashion. As the energy moves into the hips it is stopped and redirected once the front leg lands and is braced, causing the energy source to act as an axis the body moves around. The hips rotate from a counter rotation position to facing home plate.

 

  1. The Transfer & 2nd Set-Up

As the hips begin to turn, the energy is built on by the action of the rotation against the axis and causes the upper body to lag as it has not yet encountered the energy. This is called separation. As the energy begins to transfer from the hips, the energy makes it’s way thru the core and into the shoulders. The rotation and speed of the hips (aka torque) pull the rear shoulder to be in line with the hips after separation reaches it’s peak of division. The greater the separation, the greater the reaction (or the more potential energy that is created), and the more energy the body has to utilize in pulling the shoulder to face home plate (or close). As the energy transfers into the shoulders, the 2nd set up happens and the activation/arm phase is triggered.

 

  1. Activation/Arm Action

Once the rotational energy hits the shoulders and the rear shoulder hits the axis, the energy is shifted into the arm and the reaction triggers activation of the arm. In this phase external rotation happens. Just as the shoulders lag behind the hips in the previous phase, the elbow and arm lag behind the shoulder. As the shoulder pulls the elbow through, the energy is then redirected from the elbow down the arm toward the wrist, the arm lays backward nearly parallel to the ground. As stated in the drive phase, there is reduced contraction of the muscle, the arm activation is a reaction to the transfer of energy. The arm is acting as a catapult and transfers the energy from the body into the ball.

 

  1. Deceleration & Follow Through

Once the ball is released, the body turns around the axis point of the body. The arm and drive leg are pulled through and the body decelerates.  

As you can see, each and every phase of an efficient pitching sequence is dependent on the previous phase. The energy is created beginning at the ground and builds energy as it travels and transfers from point to point in the body. The more energy that is built up through the chain of events through the body, the more energy that is transferred into the ball, resulting in a faster travel speed, i.e. velocity.

 

The Argument

To bring this full circle and to acknowledge the argument that some coaches may have, lets talk quickly about the thought that hip rotation or torque is the main contributor to velocity. Yes, we agree that hip rotation plays a vital role in an elite speed velocity. We do, however, challenge you to consider the fueling of hip rotation. If hip rotation is the main contributor to velocity, what is the most efficient and healthy way to increase hip rotation? As the science we have provided can prove, the answer to this question would be: fueling the hips with energy created from a previous event in a kinetic chain beginning with ground force. We want to create as much energy as possible prior to beginning the rotational phase to fuel the hip rotation.

 

Health & Consistency

Health is absolutely the number one factor we want to focus on, on this page. Consistency is the second. They are both related and should be a coach’s top priority for their players, and for the player himself. The professional and elite level players we are aspiring to be, take these two things seriously and go to extreme extents to ensure they are preserved. As we stated in the top section of this page, the top 6 injuries for baseball players all have to do with the top half of the player. These happen because of over exertion, over use, and improper mechanics. There is a reason the top professional players can play for years and not run into these issues. To keep it simple, they are utilizing the kinetic chain, ground force, and leg drive to fuel their pitch rather than their arm. There is minimal to no arm activation in the perfect pitching sequence. The arm is used as an exit point of energy, not a developer of energy. THIS is how those players are able to dodge injury and stay consistent playing day to day, week to week, year to year.

 

The King of the Hill

Now we get to the part to where we tell you how we fit into the equation. We have all heard coaches say the phrase “use your legs” time and time again. The problem we run into as coaches is effectively communicating and gathering data to whether players are, in fact, using their legs, or not. The King of the Hill takes the coaching out of the equation. How? Instead of using verbal commands or visual aids, the trainer provides a feeling of ground force creation and of directional force towards home plate with the return of an instant, audible feedback noise when done correctly. An absence of proper mechanics and lack of utilizing the lower half, the health of the body and arm are at risk and players are less efficient and consistent because they are relying on their other muscles and body parts to achieve the same goal. King of the Hill is the only device on the market that trains pitchers to develop and consistently utilize proper mechanics and directional force that creates a linear and efficient path towards home plate by creating the initial energy force starting at the ground, aka ground force. Once the player can comprehend the feeling of directional force that transfers throughout the body, they will challenge their ability by increasing the force needed to continue to sound the trainer. The more energy that is developed in the initial phase of the pitching sequence, the more energy they develop throughout the entire pitching sequence ultimately resulting in higher velocity.

 

Studies, Data, & Resources

Coming soon…