In the 3rd part of this series, Demetre drops some more knowledge bombs on how to effectively train the lower half by simplifying the complexities of the human anatomy.
Training the Lower Half - the Proximal to Distal Approach
The third part of the Proximal-to-Distal series attempts to explain how to effectively train the lower half within the concepts previously discussed. You can click the following links to reference the first two installments.
Loading and Unloading - The Pelvis
“In the engine that drives this loading and unloading process is the pelvic area.”
When talking about the loading and unloading of the pelvis we are looking for efficient rotation and proper timing. This sets up the rest of the kinetic chain to be successfully executed. Let's review the related research.
Dr. Arnel Aguinaldo and Dr. Rafael Escamilla published research out of Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego which states professional athletes experienced Max Pelvic Rotation Velocity closer to footstrike than High School athletes. The High School athletes unloaded their pelvis early, which could also be linked with their inability to load their pelvis properly.
But how do we identify this? Ironically, early pelvic rotation can be spotted by two distal clues.
The first clue is post-leg (or back leg) heel disconnecting from the rubber early. When an athlete’s heel comes off the ground early, it is a sign of early pelvic rotation.
In Jameson Tailon's new delivery (on the left) his heel maintains contact with the rubber before peeling off. In Tailon's old delivery (on the right) his heel disconnects from the rubber early.
When referring to the "heel" in this article, we mean the inside half. The outer edge of the foot should peel off the rubber, like someone opening the cover of a book.
Trevor Rosenthal has one of the best examples of an effective peeling of the heel. This version of Rosenthal routinely topped 100mph.
Trevor Rosenthal peeling his back foot off the mound
We want to sustain that inner heel, ball of the foot, and the big toe to the ground as the pitcher rides the slope of the mound. Once the hips have reached their maximum range of abduction, the pelvis rotates, and the heel begins to peel off the mound.
Hip Abduction / Adduction
If the back heel is on the ground at the end of hip abduction, it is a sign the pelvis is unloading efficiently.
Back Heel Connection
Early Heel Disconnection
The entire heel of the post-leg foot coming off the ground early is caused by early pelvic rotation. When the pelvis rotates early, it brings with it the post-leg femoral head. When the femoral head travels towards the plate, it causes the post-leg knee to travel towards the plate as well, which pulls the heel off the rubber early.
Pelvis -> Femur -> Knee -> Heel
The second clue of an inefficient pelvic unload is the front leg swinging open towards the plate.
On the left is a minor leaguer who swung his front leg open and on the right is Yu Darvish efficiently unloading his pelvis and keeping his front leg closed
When an athlete swings his front leg open, it is a sign of early pelvic rotation. The way to spot a front leg dominant move is by locking in on the plant leg cleat. If at the end of the stride phase, the bottom of the cleat is facing home plate, the athlete’s pelvis is efficiently unloading. If at the end of the stride phase the athletes' laces are facing up to the sky, the pelvis has begun the unloading process early.
On the left is a Yordano Ventura efficiently unloading his pelvis, showing the catcher the bottom of his cleat; and on the right is a minor league pitcher experiencing early pelvic unload, with his toes pointed to home and his laces facing the sky
In an efficiently unloading pelvis, the lead leg stays closed via internal rotation of the front hip through hip abduction. Just before the foot-plant, there should be a rapid external rotation of the plant leg, which is bracing for impact.
How to Train it?
First and foremost the athlete needs some sort of feel of their pelvis. A great tool for building kinesthetic awareness and proprioception in that area is Lantz Wheeler’s Core Velocity Belt. The goal is for the athlete to feel pelvic rotation and pelvic extension/flexion. Have the athlete take a knee on their post-leg with the apparatus on; their plant leg should be extended beside them. Start with the pelvis in extension, and then have them move through flexion; then rotate the pelvis towards home plate. This should allow the athlete to feel the different movements.
Second, is a leg-lift stability drill. It attempts to put the athlete in an optimal position at peak leg lift for his anatomy by performing a leg lift drill with band resistance. Use either the Core Velocity Belt or a 1" band around the waist. Have the athlete come set and then lift their plant leg to the top of the leg lift. Once they reach the apex of the leg lift, pull on the band to see how stable they are. This should be performed by pulling the band in front of the athlete, behind the athlete, and on both sides. If unstable (unbalanced), have the athlete redistribute their weight across their post-leg foot until they discover the weight distribution and positioning that is most stable and strong for them.
Encourage the athlete to change their foot positioning on the rubber. Most athlete's strongest position is not parallel with the rubber. Have them turn their heel closer towards home plate, experimenting with different degrees/angles. The rule of thumb is the athlete's foot should be in a similar position as they experience during a one-rep max on deadlift or squats.
The athlete should also make sure to have their pelvis loaded at the top of their leg lift. This action is commonly referred to as "forward by turning". During leg lift, the athlete pushes their post-leg hip back (behind them) and towards home plate. This move should cause the pelvis to rotate close and slide towards the plate. The pelvis rotating closed (loading) causes it to move forward towards home plate -- "forward by turning". This is an essential move in the delivery that oftentimes gets overlooked.
Aroldis Chapman - "Forward By Turning"
Justin Verlander - "Forward By Turning"
Kenley Jansen - "Forward By Turning"
If the athlete does not have the "Forward By Turning" move right, they put themselves in a position where they are forced to step down the mound or jump off the rubber to create momentum towards the plate; both of which are inefficient moves.
Third, we can blend the Core Velocity Belt work to the mound. The following is a video of Lantz Wheeler describing in his own words how to do so.
Lantz Wheeler - Core Velocity Belt Mound Progression
Lastly (for now), we will want to take the feels to dry work. Pitchers practice off their playing surface less than any other position in sports. The more time a pitcher can get off a mound, the better chance they have to feel comfortable during competition.
An effective dry work drill is having the pitcher start in the set position and then lift their leg and stride down the mound, stopping before the moment of pelvic unload. The emphasis should be on riding the post-leg down the mound, feeling a strong heel connection to the ground throughout the process. The front hip should remain internally rotated throughout the drill. As the athlete puts the front foot on the ground it should remain closed.
If the athlete experiences early heel disconnection, or the front leg opens up too soon, focus on the loading and unloading of the pelvis. During leg lift, does the athlete load the pelvis by turning it forward? Does the athlete hinge properly down the mound?
Jack Flaherty getting in some dry work before his start in the NLDS
In Conclusion -
Well, there you have it, folks. That was my best attempt to describe how to train the loading and unloading of the pelvis during the delivery. If you have any questions or would like to chat, feel free to contact me via Twitter at @CoachKokoris. I have far more questions than answers when it comes to this stuff and am always looking for people interested in discussing these matters. I by no means think I have it figured out, but this is my best guess as of now. The only thing I can assure you of is these ideas will evolve in the not too distant future.