In part 1 of this series I discussed the differences between hip and knee dominant back leg approaches and how the athletes who use each differ. In part 2 we’ll discuss how these differences influence the training for each athlete type.

While no coach should try to fit all of their athletes into a box, there are key performance indicators (KPIs), which can be used to drive training and determine necessary movement changes. When evaluating an athlete, their movement, performance (throwing velocity in this case), and range of motion (ROM) should be considered. ROM should be assessed passively (how much can someone else move your joint) and actively (how much can you move your joint).

Mobility Requirements

When determining whether or not a pitcher is using the optimal strategy for them on the mound, their mobility should be taken into account. While their movement pattern may not be ideal biomechanically, it may be optimal given their constraints (in this case their mobility restrictions). If that’s the case, then the mobility restrictions should be attacked and a more optimal pattern can then be trained. However, if the restriction is a bony block the pattern may be their best option as ROM is unlikely to improve with mobility training. For example, a pitcher may have a hip that is unable to express full internal (IR) or external rotation (ER) due to the actual structure of the joint (anteversion or retroversion).

Knee dominant pitchers need more hip IR mobility relative to their hip dominant counterparts. Knee dominant pitchers start from a more internally rotated position and reach full hip IR much sooner than hip dominant pitchers. They also tend to create much more hip/shoulder separation. This means that the demands of this delivery style require that more hip IR be present, otherwise separation of hip and shoulder rotation will be decreased, less elastic energy will be stored, and velocity will likely be diminished.

Hip dominant pitchers on the other hand need much more hip ER mobility as their delivery requires them to hold an ER hip position relatively late into the movement. If this position cannot be held, force is diminished, sequencing is thrown off, and velocity is decreased. Since these athletes tend to create a bit less hip/shoulder separation, the demands on hip IR are not as significant as the upper body will help with full orientation towards the plate.

Force Velocity Profiling

Force velocity profiling can be a helpful tool when trying to determine what back leg strategy best fits an athlete. The force velocity curve graphically illustrates the inverse relationship between force and velocity. That is, as force increases, velocity decreases and vice versa. The goal of force velocity profiling, which I’ll discuss more in depth in a future article, is to determine at what portion of the curve is the athlete especially proficient. Basically, athletes who are force dominant will perform better on movements that are loaded more heavily or do not use the stretch shortening cycle (SSC), relative to their performance on lightly loaded movements or movements that use the SSC. Whereas, velocity dominant athletes are the opposite. If it is determined that the athlete is especially force dominant, training would likely be undertaken to help that athlete become more proficient at producing high velocity movement, and the opposite is true as well.

Once this information is gathered an individualized training program can be designed to improve the athlete’s deficiencies. If the athlete is extremely force dominant, they more likely fit a hip dominant back leg approach. Whereas a velocity dominant athlete may be a better fit for a knee dominant approach.

Practical Application and Self-Test

Now that we’ve briefly covered what should be considered from a training standpoint, how do you know where you stand? I’ll detail a few self-tests you can use to determine your profile and where you stand.

Hip Mobility

For our purposes we’ll be testing hip internal and external rotation, and you can do this easily with the camera on your phone. Set up your camera at roughly ground height to give yourself a consistent idea of passive ROM.

The first test is the FABER test. To complete this test lie on your back, bend one knee and rest your ankle just above your opposite knee. Without rotating the contralateral hip, let your bent knee fall towards the ground. Passing is determined by a knee within 4 inches of the ground.

The next test is the prone hip internal rotation test. Lie on your stomach, bring your legs together. Bend your knees to 90 degrees and let your feet fall away from each other. Passing is determined by each leg being at 35 degrees or greater of hip IR.

After testing passive range of motion (ROM) in both internal and external rotation, you’ll want to test your active ROM as well. Ideally, you’ll have very similar ROM on these active tests as you do on your passive tests. If your passive ROM is significantly greater (10 degrees or more) than your active ROM, training to control and access all of your passive ROM will be key.

Note that if it is possible to be assessed by a professional, that is a better option than a self assessment as these mobility tests have their limitations due to the differences in the position of each (extended vs flexed hip). However, this an acceptable option in order to get an idea of where you stand.

Craig’s Test

If you fail either passive ROM test, your next test should be the Craig’s test before attempting any mobility drills or corrective exercise.

Craig’s test can help you determine if your hips are anteverted or retroverted, which can give you some direction in terms of how far to push your mobility drills. If you have very anteverted hips for example, you will not have very much luck pursuing significant improvements in hip external rotation, and may do more harm than good trying to push through bony blocks.

For Craig’s test you’ll need a partner and you’ll lie on your stomach. Have your partner stabilize your pelvis and then take you through internal and external rotation a few times to get a feel for your end ROM as well as diminishing any neurological blocks that may cause excess tone and keep you from reaching your normal end range. After this, have them place their hand on the side your hip, find your end range of both internal and external rotation looking to feel when the greater trochanter is most prominent. See the video for an in-depth explanation and demonstration.

“Normal” position is between 8 and 15 degrees of internal rotation. If the hip is internally rotated to more than 15 degrees when the greater trochanter feels most prominent the hips are considered anteverted. If the hip is aligned at neutral or into external rotation the hips are considered retroverted.

While Craig’s test is the gold standard for testing hip anteversion and retroversion, if someone qualified is not around to test you, more subjective measures can work in a pinch. When you go into the restricted ROM, IR or ER, note whether you feel a muscle stretch or a pinchy, sharp pain. The pinchy, sharp feel may warrant further examination from a professional as it may mean there is a bony block.

Mobility Drills

If Craig’s test does not reveal significant anteversion or retroversion, you can begin the process of using mobility drills to attack your weaknesses.

If your hip IR is limited give this drill a try:

If your hip ER is limited give this drill a try:

Thoracic Spine Rotation

Sit in front of a mirror for this test, place two pvc pipes on the ground in an “X” and place your feet into the point. Put a foam roller between your knees to keep your legs from moving, and place another pvc pipe on your back like you’re setting up for a back squat. Rotate as far as you can each direction and pause when you get there. Passing is greater than 45 degrees and failing is less than 45 degrees (Rose, 2013).

If you fail this test, one mobility drill you can use is a combination of a band assisted quadruped thoracic spine rotation followed by an unassisted thoracic spine rotation. Since on your own you can only easily test active ROM we’ll hit both active and passive restrictions with this drill.

Force Velocity Profile

The force velocity profile can help give you an idea of what you should be doing more of in the weight room and what physical qualities you need to improve. Force velocity profiling can be done in a variety of ways, but we’re going to do it essentially with and without the use of the stretch shortening cycle.

We’re going to do a few different movements with slightly different strategies and see how the performance is on each. If there is more than a 10% greater performance when using the stretch shortening cycle, the athlete may be velocity dominant. If there is significantly less than a 10% increase in performance with the use of the SSC, the athlete is likely force dominant.

A full force-velocity profile could be a bit more in depth, with a variety of medicine ball weights for example. But for the purpose of these self-tests, with and without the SSC will suffice.

Strength

Strength matters for both hip and knee dominant pitchers. As I discussed in Part 1 hip dominant pitchers tend to profile as force dominant and force dominant athletes tend to do well with a hip dominant back leg strategy. These two concepts work together. Hip dominant pitchers will obviously improve with strength training because high force production is their main strategy for developing throwing velocity. While force dominant athletes can likely benefit from more exposure to speed-strength and absolute velocity type stimuli, this pursuit should never rob from their absolute strength. Luckily for them absolute strength can be maintained relatively easily with only somewhat frequent exposure (once per month or so) to heavy lifts (Issurin, 2008).

Similarly, knee dominant athletes tend to profile as velocity dominant, and velocity dominant athletes tend to do better with a knee dominant strategy. These athletes can benefit from including more heavy strength work (above 75% of 1RM), as not only is force production a weakness for them, but greater strength can help improve elastic energy storage and release, which these athletes rely heavily on. However, just as force dominant athletes must maintain their absolute strength, velocity dominant athletes must maintain their elite abilities. Unlike absolute strength this requires more consistent exposure to maintain. At least once per week is the minimum, and twice per week is advisable for most athletes (Issurin, 2008).

In summary, if you are force dominant, add in more loading at <70%, with some even lighter loading <40% to focus on speed-strength. Additionally, add in shock training (commonly incorrectly labeled plyometrics) twice per week to improve your ability to store and release elastic energy. Maintaining strength is relatively easy once you’ve built it, so as long as you’re using loads in the 85-90% range every 3-4 weeks you’ll be fine.

If you are velocity dominant, use more loading in the 1-5 rep range with <3 reps in reserve. Still move the load as fast as possible, but heavier loading will likely be helpful. However, make sure to still maintain frequent exposure (1-2x/week) to high velocity movements, as these adaptations do not hang around nearly as long (Issurin, 2008).

Conclusion

The back leg helps to set up many of the other movements in the pitching delivery. An efficient back leg doesn’t always lead to an efficient delivery, but an inefficient back leg sets an athlete up for other problems in their delivery. Use this information, try the self-tests, and let them help you individualize your training. Also, if you’d like help reaching your goals, contact me about remote or in-person training.

As with all things movement, nothing is black and white. While many athletes will fall largely into one category or the other, there is likely to be some overlap in certain aspects. For example, just because you are hip dominant does not mean you can’t also be velocity dominant and use a faster loading rate. Use this information as a roadmap and make small changes that make your movement more authentic.

References

Rose, G (2013, May 28) The Seated Truck Rotation Test. Retrieved from http://www.mytpi.com/articles/screening/the_seated_trunk_rotation_test

Issurin, V (2008) “Block Periodization: Breakthrough in Sports Training.” New York, NY: Ultimate Athlete Concepts.