Most baseball players, and pitchers would agree that you need to develop great power with your legs in order to throw harder and faster. This is true! Baseball researches have been saying this since at least the late 90’s. A study by MacWilliams’ in 19981 showed a very strong correlation between force produced by the stance leg directed toward the plate, and wrist velocity. We know that the faster the wrist snaps, the greater ball velocity will result. So, as it turns out, the greater force you can produce from you stance leg, the greater velocity your ball will have. MacWilliams’ study used force plates to show that the average stance leg force produced toward home plate was 100% of bodyweight (that means if you weigh 180lbs, you need to be able to produce 180lbs of force from just your stance leg). An almost identical study performed by Guido and Werner in 20122, this time correlated with ball velocity, reported this force occurred with over 200% of bodyweight!
It’s a large discrepancy between the two studies, but they both concur with what I tell baseball players: The greater force created by the stance leg, the greater wrist and ball velocity that will aide in sport performance and injury prevention.
How do you produce great force with your stance leg? If you just Google that, many options are going to come up. However, not all training systems are created equal. I’ll touch on how you can produce massive leg power with only 1 simple exercise in just a bit.
In this same study by MacWilliams1, they also showed that you need significant force on the lead leg to decelerate, and in an instant, concentrically produce force to straighten the knee. This knee extension acts as an anchor to the ground to bring the body over top of it, transferring power to the upper body. See the pictures below.
MacWilliams reported these stride leg forces to be at 150% of bodyweight, while Guido and Werner2 noted these forces to again be in excess of 200% of bodyweight; and the higher the force produced from the stride leg, the greater velocity the ball had.
Both these studies reported the greater force you can produce with the legs, the greater ball velocity will result. As I stated before there are many options out there for ways to strengthen your legs. You have probably done a few of these: lunges, squats, power cleans, etc. But to give you my opinion as an expert, there is only one technique that you need to strengthen your legs to be powerful. This technique is the dead lift; and to keep it safe but still very effective, we will only be dead lifting to the knees. It looks like this:
Strength is important, but speed is most crucial to improving your sports performance. You cannot produce greater speed if you are training for “strength gains.” Many people confuse this…are you? When you train in the weight room for increased speed, you need to be training for power. Power training is a subset or specialty of strength training. Power training is strength training with a time component. The heavier weight you can lift in the shortest amount of time, the greater power will result. It’s simple physics. You are not training for great power if you are performing lunges or squatting. And you are not producing power in the correct areas if you are power cleaning. Sure they will get you stronger, and improve your performance to a point, but then you’ll plateau. Are you plateauing now?
Another study recently came out by Lehman in 20123 that strongly correlated lateral explosiveness to pitching velocity. The longer distance a baseball pitcher could perform a unilateral hop, in the lateral direction from their stance leg, the greater pitch velocity they had. At the time of this writing, this is the first study of its kind to positively correlate pitching speed with lateral jumping in baseball pitchers. Jumping is an act of power–it’s strength applied in a short amount of time. When you jump you produce power between 400-800% of your bodyweight. Even though you might only be using 100-200% of that during an actual pitch toward the plate, the more and faster power you can generate, the faster you will explode toward the plate and the faster you will pitch a baseball.
Here is an example of the type of lateral jump you should be doing to increase your pitching velocity.
Now, when you are working on actual pitching or working with your pitching coach, it’s important NOT to “try and push more” or aim to “generate more force during your pitch.” If you’ve had the proper training, these things will occur naturally without you even thinking about it. When you push more, you end up muscling your pitch. We know from prior research that those who muscle the ball toward the plate end up throwing slower because they are altering the natural whip like effect of the body. There is also some evidence out there that “muscling” may lead to injury.
Did you enjoy this article? Did you know the difference between strength and power training? Comment below and let me know what you’re thinking, please.
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- MacWilliams, B. A. et al. Characteristic ground reaction force in baseball pitching. American Journal of Sports Medicine. 1998. (26) 66-71.
- Guido Jr., J.; Werner, S. L. Lower-Extremity Ground Reaction Forces in Collegiate Baseball Pitchers. J Strength Cond Res. 2012. 26(7) 1782–1785
- Lehman G, et al. Correlation of Throwing Velocity to the Results of Lower Body Field Tests in Male College Baseball Players. J Strength Cond Res. 2012 Jun 14. [Epub ahead of print]