Lower Body Strength and Velocity

I just wanted to get a discussion going on how much people think that lower body strength contributes to velocity production, and if so, what phases in the delivery require/benefit from this strength/explosiveness that is conventionally trained in baseball strength programs.

I will wait till others have chimed in before I share all my thoughts but something to think about is that there are plenty of skinny pitchers who can throw 95+ mph from a simple slide step…i.e. does the lower half really do anything besides carrying the body down the mound and unloading with proper timing to allow the core and upper half to do their job? I’m not saying the lower half is useless, but I’m genuinely curious as to why there is such an emphasis on loading hundreds of pounds on pitchers’ backs to train lower body strength and explosiveness when I have yet to see where this strength is used in a high level delivery

The best argument I’ve heard is that strong legs are necessary for knee stability, and training heavy squats will also strengthen the low back as well, two areas which need to be stable during the throwing motion. The question there is, how much strength is really necessary to achieve this stability, and weighing the risk/reward of highly technical (usually done as max effort) lifts like hang cleans and squats for pitchers.

I think a basic level of strength in the lower half is mandatory for anyone looking to be above-average. Now that our facility has attracted more advanced pitchers, we have guys coming in weighing 180-190 pounds with no workout experience and they can deadlift 350 pounds for a set of 5 with next to no effort.

These guys are very strong despite NEVER having trained in a weight lifting capacity, so loading them up is not the point. But the vast majority of athletes who aren’t genetic freaks generally don’t have the luxury of deadlifting 1.75x BW the first time they grab a bar, so they need to obtain strength the good old fashioned way.

I bet if you get those skinny guys that throw gas, you’d find they can easily squat and DL huge numbers with no prior experience simply because their motor units fire at a higher percentage and they have better muscle composition from the get-go.

I could write thousands of words on the topic, but that’s enough for now.

I’m wondering where in the delivery this lower body strength is actually used, though. I just don’t see any explosive contractions in the lower halves of the vast majority of hard throwers, they tend to be more relaxed, with the hips appearing to glide open into landing, which is consistent with my personal experience that the more relaxed the lower half is, the much easier it is to use the body as a whip and get into the right position at landing. In fact, the difference between me effortlessly long tossing out to over 320 feet and barely muscling the ball to 300 feet is how relaxed I keep my lower half as it begins to open up into landing. I don’t know of any other way to allow that back foot to completely turn over into landing while keeping the upper half closed

Also, skinny guys who have high % of lower body fast twitch fibers tend to be fast twitch in the upper half as well, so I’m still unconvinced of the role the lower half plays.

does a big lower half help you move down the mound better? does a lower center of gravity play any role?

for guys who ride the back leg very long and stay real low to the ground, I can see how the strength would help aid in maintaining that posture, especially for a starter deep into games. The actual opening of the hips still appears to be relaxed, though, which still makes me wonder why extraordinary levels of lower body strength are trained or needed.

if we don’t limit it to just pitchers, why is it that guys like ichiro or rick ankiel can throw upper 90’s with what appears to be very little contribution from the lower half, besides providing a little momentum.

where is the explosive knee or hip extension? How does he throw upper 90s without using his lower half? Would he throw harder if he did “use” it? And what does “using your legs” even mean in relation to the high level throw or delivery

Where I see need for lower strength is after foot plant, I think you don’t need to be emphatic about 400lb squats and what not…but traveling back to MLB’s “Unhittable” video, which has within it, a segment on Ryan doing his “famous” conditioning program and somewhat explaining it, he seemed more concerned that his entire body was conditioned…legs included. Now in the vid, his work was on a Nautilus machine…so you can figure it was early 80’s.
Considering some of the animation that Nyman has put out there, it looks more like gluts/abdominal leverage to pull the lag leg through the delivery, weakness in the lower unit would, to mean be cause for concern for stamina more than velo development, though, I don’t think you as a pitcher, actually get over 90 without incorporating the augmentation of lower half effort in concert with the rest of the anatomy.

Interesting thoughts, I’m particularly curious about where you say

[quote=“jdfromfla”]
Considering some of the animation that Nyman has put out there, it looks more like gluts/abdominal leverage to pull the lag leg through the delivery[/quote]

can you explain this part to me? It looks to me like the lag leg (back leg?) is fully turned over by the time the front foot hits, and any further movement of that back leg is a passive and indirect result of what the rest of the body is doing. Once the laces of the rear foot turned over and are touching the ground, it’s impossible to be exerting any force against the ground with the back leg, meaning by this point the role of the rear leg has already passed.

this is an argument I can understand…but the question remains: which part of the delivery is all that strain and exertion in the lower half coming in? The firming up of the landing leg? Providing stability and a consistent/firm back leg as the pitcher moves down the mound? Both of these seem to me to not require much strength at all…certainly not any more than a basic level of strength and body control.

And the main thing that puzzles me is my 90+ mph throws in long toss don’t ever physically tire my legs out, even though my legs are as weak right now as they have been in a couple years.

Interesting topic I’ll be looking forward to the discussion that comes from this.

I’m talking about a pulling through with the foot plant initiating a sequence (Either by firming up or as with The Express here not) which fires the abs/glut combo as a part of the sequence…like scap loading to an extent, it’s not a marker point because it is sort of algorhytmic…as in it initiates at “some peak” fires and the "after-effects are the carrying through with the lag leg…now what specifically does this have to do with velo? My opinion is that it isn’t a direct correlation but it is additive…without it…you are throwing all arm and won’t ever make the 90’s in my experience.

[quote]
but the question remains: which part of the delivery is all that strain and exertion in the lower half coming in? The firming up of the landing leg? Providing stability and a consistent/firm back leg as the pitcher moves down the mound? Both of these seem to me to not require much strength at all…certainly not any more than a basic level of strength and body control.[/quote]

It’s work over time Ben. You are correct it doesn’t take the “strength” you see in a Cressy gym…and well look at Kyle Farnsworth…when he was a Cub…he looked like Charles Atlas (IMO…way over-built for a pitcher) and he was not successful, he has since (Besides stopping the juice) re-focused his training and become a more “average” body style…and become a much better pitcher with the same gas. One of the reasons I heavily advocate for martial arts training for younger kids is so they learn the entire use of body as a force multiplyer.
I will say though that Maddux utilizing the lower half technique, allowed him to produce 90+ even in the last years of his career and still remain injury free.

My belief and training as far as lower half involvement has more to do with syncing up the entire body mech,

Although, I may agree in theory, I haven’t seen this.

What I have found as a common denominator for pitchers that can run it up there is the ability to control and manipulate the center mass that separates guys. Therefore, I would agree with both sides.

There has to be efficient energy created from the center mass and transferred to the ground and back up. Every joint or link in the chain has a responsibility to the network. If one is lacking or not holding up to their respective role, the body will not create or work to its potential.

The role of the hips is to provide mobility and stability. Guys that lack strength or mobility in that region usually cannot control or manipulate the center mass to be advantageous.

I don’t think its so much about leg strength as it is the ability to create force/momentum/tempo and the ability to transfer the energy effectively.

here’s what Matt Blake, pitching consultant for Cressey Performance and a hell of a smart dude wrote to me when I asked him

“I think its a fair question, but its hard to say where the breaking point is on “general level of strength”…Obviously, high level mechanics have stability in the lower half to translate the ground reaction forces the stride pattern is creating into foot plant and there needs to be some level of stability in the trail leg to extend and rotate properly, but to what extent? I’d say most players need strength work to increase their capacity for power, but obviously it takes a high level of motor coordination to create top-end hand speed so maximal strength isn’t going to necessarily translate to that with everyone…I think it’s all about looking at it on a continuum and knowing where your strengths/weaknesses are, and for you, maximal strength work at your stage of development may not be as necessary from the sounds of it”

I think he’s right.
That extention and stability take a “certain” amount of strength over the course of performance…but more akin to the “strength” needed for say a plank…vs a squat…I’d almost use the word vitality.
As tuned in as you are towards conditioning Ben, I can certainly understand his perspective and his response.

Below is a pitcher on the left that is listed as 6’0 190 but much more like 5’10 170. He will be one of the top draft picks in the upcoming draft. He has topped out at 100mph according to Perfect Game. I saw him sit 95-97.

The hitter is Bryce Harper flipped to hit RH. What are the similarities that you see?

McCullers does throw gas.

If you look at Ichiro’s throw a bit closer, you will see quite a lot more than simple ‘arm strength’.

Ankiel already threw a 300fter to hold Shafer earlier this year (and it was a mega laze).

For me personally, I believe it’s all about separation. To me it seems like everything leads to and is created by having good hip and shoulder separation.

For me, leg strength is all important to an efficient weight shift. It’s the lower half that initiate movement down the hill and creates energy in the system. And it’s the lower half that puts the brakes on to transfer the created energy up the chain and convert linear momentum into rotational momentum. The more abruptly the brakes are applied, the greater the energy that gets transferred (and that can translate to better velocity and less wear and tear on the arm). The more efficient this is, the less other parts of the body need to be recruited.

Leg strength also figures into stamina. Over the course of a game, a pitcher’s lower half starts and then brakes over and over again. Start - brake. Start - brake. Start - brake. Maintaining tempo to put a consistent amount of energy into the system and consistently putting on the brakes to transfer a consistent amount of energy up the chain all help to create a consistent, repeatable delivery. But without stamina, all of this deteriorates as the game goes on.

I also agree strong legs provide a stable base to help maintain posture and balance.

So, to me, leg strength doesn’t just relate to one or two things - it figures into a lot of things that all can contribute to better performance and health.

I am 100% in belief that legs and core are everything for pitching. The legs are a pitcher’s “engine” and get everything started. The core/trunk is actually the “transmission” which is driven by the legs. Strong legs drive the pitcher forward and initiate trunk rotation. The combination of front leg brace leading to trunk rotation is what actually delivers the arm.

All in all, leg and core strength are an integral part to pitching. One needs to lightly condition the arms and shoulders to sustain full body muscle balance to avoid break down, but consistent mechanics lead to consistent control and velocity, which are propagated by a strong lower body and core foundation.

Oh yeah, and the legs boast the biggest muscles in the body for a reason…evolution can’t be wrong, right?

Disagree… not even close.

Correct me then coach?

[quote=“PenmanVA”]I am 100% in belief that legs and core are everything for pitching. The legs are a pitcher’s “engine” and get everything started. The core/trunk is actually the “transmission” which is driven by the legs. Strong legs drive the pitcher forward and initiate trunk rotation. The combination of front leg brace leading to trunk rotation is what actually delivers the arm.

All in all, leg and core strength are an integral part to pitching. One needs to lightly condition the arms and shoulders to sustain full body muscle balance to avoid break down, but consistent mechanics lead to consistent control and velocity, which are propagated by a strong lower body and core foundation.[/quote]

I’m with Paul (Coachxj) on this one. Like I said before, why is it that my upper body strength has such a high correlation to velocity but when lower body is at its weakest my velocity is completely unaffected?

The argument that the legs initiate and also brake the delivery and thus a lot of strength is required seems flawed to me. Have you seen a 95 mph pitcher slide step (it’s the most obvious here what the back leg is doing)? It doesn’t take much to get the body moving down the mound as far as the legs are concerned. Furthermore, the strength required for the front leg to “firm up” at landing seems blown way out of proportion. I’ve never noticed even the slightest fatigue or exertion from that front leg in the “bracing up” part of the delivery. The lower body isn’t “pushing off” and abruptly “braking/bracing” at landing. The hips have fully rotated while the shoulders are still closed, and the front foot comes down lightly. Correct me if I’m wrong, but Paul has talked about how the front foot should be like landing on rice paper, which is a result of having a rotational and not linear lower half.

This argument is incorrect on a number of levels. #1 evolution didn’t intend for people to play baseball. #2, just because the legs have the biggest muscles in the body doesn’t mean they have a huge role in a high level delivery. This is probably the most common argument that I hear that really has nothing to back it up. How do you respond to anecdotes like Craig Kimbrel breaking his foot at age 18 and training his upper half to throw a baseball 100 yards (~90 mph) from his knees? What does it say about your argument that 90% of one’s velocity can be generated from the upper half alone?