Individualizing Hip Sequencing In Pitchers

As we have started with our pitchers and throwers this offseason, one thing has caught a lot of my focus, and that is hip load and hip action based off of individuals hip mobility and deficiencies. We have roughly 50 athletes in this year’s program so far and the thing I have noticed is that a lot of them, including ones we coached last year, have inefficient mechanics especially when it comes to that initial load and how they transfer their weight down the mound. Part of that comes from them having poor movement patterns to begin with (improper hinge, bad weight transfer, etc.), but some is from coaching, and self cueing inefficient movements, something I am guilty of in previous years.When doing assessments and talking to athletes about cues they have been taught, one common one that comes up is to coil their hips on leg lift. This is something I have coached and done when I was playing.  On initial thought it makes sense to do for rotational velocity, however after reviewing videos of certain athletes I saw a lot of the same problems in their mechanics. These things include pelvic tilt forcing them into their quads, cross-stride or an inability to open the hips completely, early drive leg extension, or all the above. In asking why those things are happening, a lot of it started with the initial coil.

(Left: Neutral leg lift, Right: Coiled lift)

So why is it that the coil could mess so much of the sequence up? A lot of it stems from an athletes deficiencies in how their hips operate, all of the athletes that struggled with these issues have one thing in common, a lack of external rotation (ER) in their rear hip. If you think about it, that initial coil dumps that rear hip into ER and for athletes that have a lack of natural ER will struggle to get out of it, which leads to one or more of those many problems mentioned before. 

So how do we fix the issue? First things first, it is critical to find out how the athlete’s hips work. One thing for us that is extremely helpful is being partnered with Push Performance, as we can use the assessment they run with each athlete as a reference point. From there, the two options are to either work on getting better ER in the hips, or you can just remove the ER in the delivery altogether.

Instead of coiling the hips, it has been effective for athletes to think about lifting with the hips completely neutral, keeping them from getting stuck in ER.  If this is the course of action we decide to take, getting into the hinge also needs to be adjusted. For athletes that have good ER, the hinge happens with the rear shin staying at as much of a vertical angle as possible, and the rear leg stays in a good powerful position. However for athletes with that lack of ER, this forces many of the same problems as mentioned previously.  To fix this issue, instead of keeping that vertical angle of the shin, athletes can think about dumping the knee forward over the toe when beginning the hinge. 

While discussing the hinge action just today, we realized there may be issues when relaying this cue to athletes. When talking about hinge the idea is keeping the hips tucked down or anteriorly, this allows the hamstring and glute to be the primary muscles working in the sequence.  If the hips are tilted up it forces the quad to be active.

(Athlete with lack of ER dumping knee forward)

Now because the athlete doesn’t have to fight out of ER, it allows the hips to act with more freedom. This leads to having a more passive lead leg and extension through rotation in the rear hip, both of which are what we’re looking for. 

(Clean landing, no early extension)

Obviously removing a coil and fixing the hinge action isn’t going to solve all problems in the lower half for athletes with a lack of ER but we have seen a lot of good come from it. The more important thing here is to look at each athlete’s strengths and deficiencies and ask why you or the athlete are cueing certain things, and what those cues are actually doing in the sequence.  The idea of mechanics is sequencing a powerful and efficient chain, so that needs to be the first thing looked at when watching an athlete pitch or when assessing video. In my opinion, the most important approach if you find an issue, is working to figure out from where does it stem in the chain. If you only look at the lead leg when attacking the issue you are more than likely missing a root problem that occurs earlier in the sequence. Each athlete is an individual and they have different strengths and weaknesses and if you cookie cut what all mechanics should look like, it is likely that some athletes will succeed and others will fail. Our job when teaching efficient movements is to first understand why they are efficient for the individual athlete. 

Ryan Christian
Pitching Instructor