Learning to utilize a proper leg drive is one of the most challenging parts of pitching. Many young pitchers struggle to feel or understand what creates power through the initial drive off the mound. An adequate drive sets up your body positioning throughout your pitch, so it is something that every pitcher should be aware of and work to improve. If you cannot consistently produce a drive that is both powerful and direct, other parts of the pitch will likely be affected, producing pitches with lower velocities and less accuracy.
To initiate a great drive, it’s important to understand how to properly load the legs. Much like hitting, loading the legs requires a hinge at the hips. A hip hinge is achieved by creating flexion in the hip joints, in other words, driving the hips back. A hip hinge can also be coupled with a bend of the knees which helps create a more balanced weight distribution (Fleur, Taco Fleur, & Girevoy Sport Institute Kettlebell 2019).
Now that you understand the importance of hinging at the hips and know how to complete that movement, what’s next? The hinge is the initial loading of the backside of the legs (glutes and hamstrings). After the pitcher has loaded her legs, she also needs to complete her drive by extending the hips forward. To do so, she will have to engage the glutes, creating a thrusting motion that propels the drive leg out and the stride leg up and out.
Below, I've shared one of my favorite drills to teach both a hip hinge and proper extension.
Pitching is an extremely complex movement that requires strength and stability. The drills above will help a pitcher understand the positions she needs to get into; however, it's necessary to complete other exercises to strengthen the areas needed to complete correct movements as well as increase power. Below, I share a few exercises that help pitchers activate their glutes and create body awareness.
I like to utilize hip marches for a few reasons:
Kettlebell swings are sometimes known as the king (or queen) of all exercises. A proper kettlebell swing requires a hip thrust that uses your glutes and hamstrings. This is similar to the thrust we are looking to create during the drive of the pitching motion. To make this more pitching specific, you could start in your split pitching stance, and transition from a hinge position to extension while using a small dumbbell or kettlebell in both hands.
Anti-rotation lift-offs are quickly becoming my favorite exercise to incorporate into lessons. By strengthening control through the pelvis and hip regions, we are affecting the ability to control this area while pitching. If a pitcher can't control their hips and core in a standing position, imagine how difficult it would be to control while throwing a softball at a high velocity.
I wanted to share these drills as a way to bridge the gap between pitching and strength training. These are not the most difficult exercises, but they are helpful to create an understanding of different movements within the pitching motion. It's important to prioritize your stability and body awareness in any activity, and I often find that many pitchers lack the stability to control their movements while pitching. If you want to get better faster, get involved with a strength training program, and at the very least start to incorporate different core strengthening and glute activation exercises at home.
Fleur, Taco, et al. “True and Clear Definition of the Squat and Hip Hinge Exercise.” Kettlebell Workouts, Exercises, Courses, and More by Cavemantraining, 13 Feb. 2019, www.cavemantraining.com/caveman-bodyweight/true-definition-of-the-squat-and-hip-hinge-exercise/.