Pitchers want to throw heat.
One of the main factors in a pitcher's velocity is the torque that's achieved through hip and shoulder separation. This term refers to the act of rotating the lower body to face the plate before the upper body during the pitching delivery. This creates a short of "slingshot" effect for the upper half and throwing arm.
But when it comes to how much hip and shoulder separation a pitcher needs, more is not always necessarily better. Before we dive deeper into this topic, let's first talk about what creates good hip/shoulder separation. In my opinion, there are two key factors:
- Core stiffness
The terms "stiffness" and "separation" may seem to contradict one another, but the synchronization between the two are vital to creating upper body torque. Without a stiff, strong core, you can't transfer energy efficiently. If energy is escaping from your core, then it can't be channeled into your throwing arm. But without good separation, you won't have much energy and speed to transfer in the first place.
The elasticity we get from our trunk/core involves not just one muscle, but a series of muscles and tendons that run from the front hip to the throwing arm. This is known as a "sling" or "serape." During hip and shoulder separation, these muscles get lengthened and stretched to create tension, much like a slingshot being pulled back.
To adequately transfer this tension and channel it into velocity, you need good core stiffness. This will not only help pull the athlete further into separation/rotation while "pulling the slingshot back," but it will provide the stiffness/strength to hold it there until first foot strike. This will cause all the power created in the upper half to be stored and then released late into the delivery, creating a much faster and more powerful throw with later arm speed and higher velocity ceiling.
While hip and shoulder separation can be a key creator of velocity in the pitching delivery, not all athletes are built the same. Therefore, their training programs and pitching mechanics should be tailored individually. Here's where the idea that more hip and shoulder separation isn't always better comes into play.
If we consciously try to produce more separation than we can control in hopes of creating a bigger range of motion, we might actually see a decrease in velocity if it isn't synced up with the rest of our mechanics. If we try to consciously hold the trunk back while coming down the mound, we may slow ourselves down and create leaks such as a late arm or early arm speed. This will hijack valuable energy and decrease velocity.
Physical characteristics such as mobility, strength, limb length and elasticity taken during the assessment (click here) should tell us what type of athlete we are dealing with, anatomically. This should help us choose good mechanics and a smart range of motion based off the athlete's individual profile.
For example, taller athletes tend to be more elastic and are capable of a much larger "pre-stretch" of the trunk. This will allow them to open the front leg earlier than their shorter and stiffer counterparts, allow for more separation to occur.
However, for this taller, more elastic athlete, the ability to "harness and hold" that stretch requires great core stiffness. Exercises like this one could be just what the doctor ordered to ensure he doesn't "unwind" prematurely:
A shorter, more "compact" pitcher that doesn't have much range of motion will have a tendency to stay closed with the front foot and hip for as long as possible as they make their way down the mound to deliver a quick powerful rotation.
For this type of athlete, doubling up on hip and t-spine mobility to maintain good range of motion can be a great idea.
Knowing what hip and shoulder separation means is one thing, but knowing what creates it and how to optimize it is something else entirely. Some pitching coaches may lead you to believe that greater hip and shoulder separation automatically equals better velocity, but that's an oversimplification. If you don't have the rest of your mechanics in order and/or don't possess the core stiffness to transfer the energy effectively, greater amounts of separation could actually cause a dip in your velocity. Optimizing a specific pitcher's hip and shoulder separation requires not only a knowledge of anatomy, but also targeted drills/exercises in the weight room.
Photo Credit: Al Bello/Getty Images
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