The First Move Could Be The Most Important
When I was around 10-12 years old, I enjoyed playing chess with my older brother. For some reason, my brother always chose to be the white side, and he always made the first move. I always thought he was being nice and letting me be the “home team”. I also thought it was good to make him show his move, then react to it. Now that I know a little more about chess, I realize he may have been a lot smarter than he looked.
According to most Chess experts, there is one opening move that is far superior to all others. When white makes the initial move of 1 e4 (shown below), if both players play perfectly for the rest of the game, white should win. Therefore, in chess the opening move of the game is critical.
It’s like that in pitching too. The first move you make is often the most important.
I would estimate that about 60-70% of the pitchers I see get this first move wrong, and it usually leads to more disconnections further down the kinetic chain. In my experience, pitchers’ first moves tend to fall into one of 3 categories.
Quad Dominant Move
Glute Dominant Move
1) Counter Rotation: At lead leg lift, we want to see the back hip move under and behind the lead hip. This creates and efficient pelvic tilt and a glute load. But, many people see this and interpret it improperly by rotating the lead thigh and pelvis back toward second base. The problem with this move is that it can create a centrifugal force that projects the pitcher’s momentum toward the on deck circle on his arm side. Now he has to do something to correct his course and get back on track toward the plate. Typical compensatory moves include: lead leg disconnections, glove side disconnections, postural disconnections… or they simply land across their body, closing off their front hip and launch hook shots toward home plate. Are their major leaguers, even hall of famers who counter rotate? Absolutely. Many of them like Johnnie Cueto counter rotate then return to neutral before heading toward the plate. Others, like Madison Bumgarner counter rotate and never make it back to neutral. What would we do with those guys at The Ranch? We’d run along beside them and do nothing until they started having pain, loss of command or degradation of velocity. Only then would we even try to intervene. But in pitchers trying to gain velocity or improve efficiency, this first move is a great place to start. But, if we have a guy who is having arm pain, command issues, or lack of velocity, this is a great place to start with our intervention.
2) Quad Dominant Move: Athletes are taught from an early age that the most powerful and agile position for the lower body movement is on the balls of their feet. Shifting your weight to the balls of your feet is a great idea if you’re playing soccer or basketball, but, for a pitcher… not so much. When a pitcher’s first move puts his weight to the ball of his back foot, his knee drifts forward of his toe and his heel comes off the ground. This immediately activates his quads and inhibits his glutes. More importantly, the quad dominant move, like the counter rotation move, tends to project his body toward the on deck circle on his arm side. From there he either lands across his body cutting off the rotation around his lead hip, or he executes one of the aforementioned compensatory moves to right himself back toward home plate. Also, since the quad dominant move doesn’t generate the necessary energy to provide the velocity he needs, his body begins desperately seeking energy in all the wrong places. Sometimes,inefficient or even dangerous substitutions like the inverted W shown in the picture here are chosen as the body finds a way to generate more power. If we’re ever going to correct such and arm action disconnection, we’ll have to address the quad dominant first move as our initial intervention. Again, there are some very successful pitchers who demonstrate both quad dominance and associated arm action inefficiencies. In the absence of pain, or decreased performance, we would probably leave them alone. But, if we need to add velocity, improve command, or eliminate arm pain, this would be the place to start.
3) Glute Dominant Move: Now this is the Holy Grail in lower half efficiency. When a pitcher’s first move is through his entire foot, as if he’s driving an Inverted Iron Pyramid under the rubber, he has a much better chance to activate his glutes. I wrote about it in a blog article about a year and a half ago. You can read it by CLICKING HERE.
An efficient and powerful lower half appears when a pitcher moves out with his weight distributed through his entire foot. This move allows him to get his butt behind his heel and his knee not forward of his toe. When you get the iron pyramid into the ground, there is only one way to go – straight at the hitter. And, that is powerful. That is accurate. And, that is healthy. If a pitcher gets this first move right, his body feels no need to adopt any compensatory pattern, or to seek energy in thorough inappropriate movements.
The most durable and prolific power pitchers in the game tend have this glute dominant first move in common. When their front foot is about to hit the ground they still have their heel, mid-foot, and forefoot engaged with the ground just in front of the rubber (see the Iron Pyramid blog). After their glute is loaded, the trail hip rotates internally and moves parallel to or forward of the lead hip. The foot rolls over onto the little toe in a signature move, making a Nike swoosh in the dirt — an indicator of efficient hip rotation. An efficient, glute dominant first move — driving through the inverted iron pyramid — sets the stage for powerful, well-timed rotation of the trail hip. The torso rotates toward the glove side projecting the arm side shoulder ahead of the glove side shoulder, helping the pitcher get to later launch. Notice that I didn’t call this “getting extension.” Late launch (which is a lower half and torso phenomenon, not the result of an independently acting arm) allows the pitcher to stay in the driveline toward home plate longer, imparting more energy into the ball for a longer period of time. This reduces stress on the soft tissue of the elbow and shoulder and improves the timing, synergy and subsequent summation of force that allows him to reach greater velocity.
Of course, physical limitations such as quad tightness, or deficits in hip internal rotation, thoracic rotation, ankle mobility or motor control/stability issues through the trunk could make it difficult or even impossible for an athlete to execute this important first move efficiently.
Physical and biomechanical inefficiencies are intimately interwoven. Often one will spawn the other.
Do you want to throw harder? Improve your command? Eliminate your arm pain? Then the first move you make is critical. Get the first move right and a lot of good things happen downstream.
If you’re already good enough, don’t do anything. But if you’re ready to get better and add that velo you’ve been looking for, it’s up to you to make the first move. Call us at 866-787-453 and get registered for an Elite Performers Boot Camp or a Precision Strike.
Just like the classic 1 e4 chess move, your first move could be critical to your future.
Make your move!
See you at The Ranch
Randy Sullivan, MPT, CSCS
CEO Florida Baseball Ranch