“USE YOUR LEGS!!” is usually what some unruly parent yells at their kid when things are not going well for them on the mound. I’ve heard it numerous times and to be quite honest, I do not think that using the legs more will help the kid in this particular situation. Not that I do not think the parent is wrong, they are actually right; using your legs more efficiently will probably produce better results. But, it’s not what you think. I guarantee you, 99% of you are thinking of pitcher using his massive legs to “push off” and “drive” down the mound. While creating this momentum towards the plate is extremely important, it is not the most important facet of using the legs.
The most important leg to use when pitching is the front leg. Yes I said it, it is the front leg or lead leg. According to a study done by Fortenbaugh, Fleisig, and Andrews, the lead leg is highly correlated to higher pitching velocities. They reference another study done by Tomoyuoki Matsuo where he found that “significantly more lead knee extension angular velocity near the time of ball release (BR) in the high-velocity group” vs. the low-velocity group. “They hypothesized that a properly flexed knee at FC (Foot Contact), approximately 38 degrees to 50 degrees, stabilizes the lead leg for trunk rotation.”
As you can see, the lead leg is important, but why? The prevailing theory is force. Force is produced from the momentum of the back leg (et al Matsuo) but it needs to get to the ball or throwing wrist. The front leg is actually what accepts the force from the momentum of the back leg and helps transfer that force up the trunk, into the upper body, and out through the arm during rotation. A stable, solid front leg is what helps the trunk rotate around the hip.
How do we achieve this action?
There are many different ways to get this front leg to extend or straighten up. What we do here at CBC is a drill called “Lead-leg blocking.” This drill is done in the half-kneeling position and the athlete tries to push the front leg back in to his body and create a way to rotate around the front leg. It’s a very short drill and does not take too much thinking.
Breaking this drill down a bit, you can observe what we mean by front leg knee extension. Ryan’s front knee angle begins to expand. It goes from an anecdotal 90 degrees to closer to 145 degrees at the end. This is the knee extension that is discussed in the study above. This drill helps our athletes see the benefit to pushing your front leg into the ground and producing force up the kinetic chain.
Another way to affect this aspect is strength. The front leg needs to be able to accept and transfer the force back up in to the trunk and into the arm. So what strength exercises need to be done? Always start with the meat and potatoes of squats and deadlifts. These are crucial to strength development. If you do not know how to do these exercises, do a quick search on YouTube and no less than a million videos will come up. Supplement those with single-leg variations like reverse lunges, Bulgarian split-squats, and lateral lunges. Use dumbbells and kettlebells with these exercises.
The last couple exercises to do are more body weight. One is called a heiden, which is an outstanding movement because it teaches us to produce force as well as accept it from our glute muscles. We can also use medicine ball variations which are fantastic in teaching young pitchers how to achieve rotation in the lower half and transfer it in to the upper half of the body.
Lastly, let me be absolutely clear: strength and mechanical improvements are what are most important here. Medicine balls and heidens are fantastic, but only if you have achieved sufficient strength gains. They should not be used as the main component. If your workout looks closer to a Total Fit Mommy Bootcamp, then you are wasting your time. Grab some dumbbells and get to work. It is scientifically studied that lead leg extension is important to velocity. If you do not have the proprioception or strength to achieve it, then you need to change your workout or your coach.
Director of Pitching
Chapman Baseball Compound
Chapman Baseball Compound is a 3,000 square foot facility where we specialize in baseball development specifically in the areas of: hitting, pitching, catching, and mental training.