Make Sure That Your Windmill Pitcher Has Good Mechanics

Written By Sherry Werner

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Make Sure that Your Windmill Pitcher has Good Mechanics

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I received this email and letter from one of my former pitchers recently. She did such a great job that I wanted to share it with you. This is one of many just like it that I receive on a weekly basis from softball pitchers all over the country. This is the reason to limit pitch counts and to MAKE SURE THAT YOUR WINDMILL PITCHER HAS GOOD MECHANICS!!

Hi Sherry,

I know it's been forever since I've seen you. I just wanted to thank you for all you did for me for years. I made it to nationals, which was pretty much my goal after my first surgery. Thank you for being by my side in the Dr.'s office. I know there were plenty of other things you needed to be doing that day and it meant a lot to me you took the time to be there with me and dad. I hope everything is going well. Dad and I miss you. You were by far the best coach I had.

Sincerely, Kelly

This is her story:

So I guess this all started when I was seven. Like every little girl should I started playing little league softball. I went through my whole first season with no problems. Then I decided I wanted to be the cool person in the middle who got to pitch.

I told my daddy, and being the overly compulsive worrier he was, he looked up how to pitch and how much you should pitch. He looked for weeks before he started letting me pitch. After finding no pitch limit or pitch count he just decided to let me start. I threw everyday for as long as my dad could sit on a bucket, which usually lasted about an hour.

I absolutely fell in love. It was all I wanted to do. After a couple of months, my dad found me a coach who was absolutely amazing. I started doing drills and that was alI I did for the first six months. I didn't get off my knees. I had a great foundation.

Then I started pitching in games at 8 years old. My dad only let me play league ball, no select tournaments. After three or four weeks of playing my forearm and elbow started hurting and swelling. My coach made me sit with my whole arm in an ice chest for twenty minutes after every game and practice.

When the pain continued my visits to doctors started. I first went to a doctor in Tyler, TX who worked at the Trinity Mother Frances Orthopedics, Dr. Fiesler. This was my first set of x-rays. She said nothing was really wrong, I just had a mild case of tendonitis. She sent me to my first 6-week session of physical therapy where I did strength exercises for my elbow and had ultra sound waves sent through my elbow to hopefully break up any scar tissue and relax my muscles.

After six weeks I started pitching again. I had pain within the first few weeks of pitching, but my parents and coaches thought I just had muscle soreness from using it again. A few months had passed and I still had pain.

I went back to the same doctor and again she told me that I just needed to do physical therapy to strengthen my arm. This session started at 6-weeks and ended up lasting about six months with no improvement.

I went back the August before my fifth grade school year. She again said, after another set of x-rays and my first MRI, that there was nothing wrong, but this time she blamed it on me. She said the pain was all in my head and I was just “gun-shy”, but she said with me starting school it would be a good idea to go ahead and cast my arm to prevent it from further damage.

I spent six weeks in a cast and then another six weeks of physical therapy. I took about 3 months off after all of this to give my arm a break (which happened to be my mom's idea, not mine). I started pitching again about a month before the league started. I had some pain, but my arm seemed to get better since the break.

I pitched through the season with my arm progressively getting worse. I continue to ice my arm after every game and practice. My dad still had found no pitch count or any kind of restrictions for softball pitchers. I pitched through the league season and was asked to join a select team. My dad reluctantly let me join. When the pain wouldn't subside we went to see a doctor at Baylor hospital, Dr. Ellis. He was an upper extremity specialist. Again he took x-rays and he said that I had carpal tunnel and nerve damage in my arm.

This was my fourth session of physical therapy. I went to see another doctor after the pain got so bad I couldn't move my arm for days after a game or tournament, Dr. Clark at Azalea Orthopedics. He used the previous x-rays and M RI to diagnose me. After a few visits with him he told me that my ulnar nerve was deteriorating and I had fractures in my growth plates. He said they would have to surgically move the nerve to decompress it.

My parents immediately told him that wasn't an option so he put me in a cast to prevent further damage and give the growth plates time to hopefully heal on their own. By this time I was in 7th grade.

After the cast came off he referred me to another arm specialist in his clinic, Dr. Wupperman. After my cast came off, 6 weeks later, Dr. Wupperman examined, x-rayed and did another MRI on my arm. He realized from the new x-rays that I hadn't had any fractures on my growth plate. My growth plates were closed completely. He again thought strengthening certain muscles in my arm and shoulder would eliminate the pain.

I went through another few months of physical therapy. After six weeks of therapy I began to play again. By this time I was playing every other weekend from March to December and playing a league summer team as well as a league fall team. My arm had actually worsened through all the physical therapy even with my muscle tone greatly improving. Dr. Wupperman referred me to a Doctor in Dallas, Dr. Conway.

Within fifteen minutes of being in Dr. Conway's room he had diagnosed me with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. He sent me to have an EMG nerve test (The MOST painful test I have ever gone through, they pushed about 5 needles in different places from my forearm to my neck for about 30 minutes), which confirmed my TOS.

Dr. Conway told me there was a procedure that would fix it. He referred me to an orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Pearl. He was a part of the Baylor hospital. Dr. Pearl said there were things I could do in physical therapy to help the TOS. We called the physical therapists I had seen before and asked about the exercises I had been doing and most of them were the same you would do to treat TOS.

My parents gave me the choice of having the surgery or just quitting softball. By this time, my arm was hurting so much I couldn't live my daily life. I couldn't fix my hair because my arm couldn't be raised over my head. I couldn't pick up a jug of milk without being in intense pain.

I had the surgery eleven days before my 14th birthday. I spent five days in the Baylor heart and vascular hospital. Three months recovering from the surgery and then another three months going through physical therapy 3 times a week in Dallas at the Baylor facilities.

When I decided to start pitching again my dad found Ms. Sherry. I pitched with her for about a year. My pain was very minimal. It was the first time I had pitched without any real pain. After I went through another season of softball and made it to nationals. I came back to workout with Sherry every other weekend, my arms starting hurting again.

I went back to Doctor Conway and he wanted to send me through another session of physical therapy and possibly another surgery. My parents and I decided it wasn't worth it to have another surgery just to play softball. To this day, I can get through my day with no problems but I can't do anything physical with my right forearm and shoulder.

I often wonder what would be different if I had known then what I know now. I think without a doubt I would do it all again in a heartbeat. It was a blast, but I definitely would have done a lot different.

My injury was an over use injury. It was from the hours and hours I spent in my backyard pitching. The only problem with that was that no one ever told me I couldn't. No doctors, coaches, or anyone else told me it was a bad idea.

Everything we read said that baseball pitchers needed a limit, but softball was fine because it was a natural movement. I do not know if these people have ever tried to pitch or not, but it's by no means natural for a person to swing there arm around 400 times in a weekend. I know that girls' softball is not as big of a sport as baseball, but to the girls who play it, it completely consumes our lives and we love it.

I only wish we were protected and looked out for as much as boys' baseball. After my surgery, my dad put his own pitch count on me. He was very strict about it. Mine was i 00. After that my dad would come pull me out of the game, and he did a few times. I went out kicking and screaming but I thank him for it now. This didn't include warm up pitches but it was pool games.

He stood behind the fence and tallied all of my pitched. Every coach I ever played for knew that and my dad stood firm in it. Even though everyone kept telling him I didn't need one, he knew better. He also knew I needed to strengthen my arm, so the days I wanted to practice and pitch, he would ask me if I had done my exercises that week. If I had I could pitch, if not he didn't let me.

If I could go back and do it over again, I would play less. I know that sounds ridiculous, but there were times I played 4 or 5 weekends in a row. I practiced and played league games all week and my arm never got a break. If I could give advice to any girl it would be to play one season at a time. If you want to play summer league, awesome play it, but take the weekends off.

Don't try to squeeze in both seasons at once. Another thing would be to take a break. Don't jump straight from one season to the next, your arm needs to recuperate whether you can feel it or not.

The biggest thing I wish I had done was listened to my body, the second it started hurting I should've stopped until I wasn't in pain anymore, but my doctors told me it was fine so I played through the pain, even after my surgery. I wasn't in as much pain as I had been, but I was still the only one whose shoulder was achy and sore starting out on Sunday mornings. My arm never got used to playing as much as I did.

Would I let my daughter play? No, I would have to say probably not. While I absolutely loved my time in softball, I wouldn't wish the things I went through onto anyone. It was very painful physically and mentally. I had to go through losing a huge part of my life at a young age, and even though I stopped playing, I still don't have full use of my arm and never will.

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Shoulder Stress

Written By Sherry L. Werner

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Shoulder Stress

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In 1996, I was lucky enough to lead a research team in collecting high-speed video of the pitchers participating at the first ever Olympic softball competition in Columbus, GA. From the high-speed (120 frames per second) video we were able to calculate kinematic (i.e. location, speed, acceleration) and kinetic (i.e. joint forces and torques) parameters of the pitches. In Biomechanics we use these parameters to better understand human movement. Sport Biomechanics strives to improve performance and reduce the risk of injury through such analyses. Not much quantitative information is available in softball, especially on highly-skilled pitchers, so this was an important study. This month I will share with you some of the relevant findings of our study.

From the video data we sought to better understand the mechanics and joint stresses in windmill pitching. Average ball speed for the riseballs thrown by the 24 pitchers we studied was 60 mph. We chose to study riseballs because all of the pitchers threw that particular pitch. If the ball was released 38 feet (it's probably more like 35 feet!) from home plate, the batter would have approximately 0.40 second (just under one half of a second) to react to the ball once it was released. The shortest time in which a human can react to a stimulus is 0.12 second!

The main emphasis of the Olympic study was to quantify joint stress. In particular, we were interested in elbow and shoulder loads in windmill pitching. A joint force is a representation of a “push” or “pull” on the joint. In Biomechanics we line these forces up with axes of the body to provide a more meaningful interpretation. For example, a force oriented along the upper arm tends to either push the upper arm into the shoulder joint (compression) or pull it away from the joint (distraction).

Forces are calculated as a percentage of body weight so that all pitchers, regardless of size, can be compared to one another. Maximum shoulder distraction force for the Olympic pitchers was 80% body weight. This corresponded to approximately 150 pounds of force acting to pull the upper arm away from the shoulder joint at ball release.

A distraction force was also found at the elbow near ball release. This force was directed along the forearm, and therefore acted to “pull” the forearm away from the elbow. Average elbow distraction force was 61% body weight. The average elbow angle at release was 30 degrees short of full extension.

Based on this data it seems that elbow and shoulder stresses are high during the windmill pitch. Over time, the loads that these pitchers are taking on their arms will certainly affect the muscles, tendons and ligaments of these joints. Although we need to carry out more research to be able to make more generalizable conclusions, it seems that pitching mechanics can affect these joint stresses. In particular, using the trunk and lower body to generate and transfer energy during the pitch to assist in propelling the ball can reduce the load on the arm. Proper follow through also aids in dissipating these loads after ball release.

For a long time it has been said that softball pitching is a “natural” motion and that it was much easier on the arm than overhand throwing. The joint stresses found for the Olympic pitchers do not support this contention. At this point we are just beginning to understand what goes on in pitching. Until we get more concrete conclusions it is important for young pitchers to learn pitching styles based on sound mechanical principles and to understand the importance of strengthening the arms, legs and trunk.

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Arm Motion

Written By Sherry Werner

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Arm Motion

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For the last few months I have talked about footwork and the legs, hips and trunk in pitching. You probably have gotten the message that I feel that it is important to use the whole body in pitching to assist the arm in delivering the ball. In order to ensure efficient usage of the leg and trunk contributions, proper arm motion is also important. The arm has to be in synch with the rest of the body and be in the correct position relative to the body throughout the pitch to maximize force transfer.

As the ball is taken out of the glove, the arm begins its “windmill.” Once the top of the motion is reached, the arm should be fairly straight to increase leverage. The longer the lever, the less muscle force is necessary to impart the same velocity to the ball. A straight arm also stretches the muscles of the arm and shoulder, which leads to greater force production.

Also at the top of the motion, the arm needs to rotate at the shoulder joint so that the hand and ball face third base (for a right-handed pitcher). This rotation allows the arm to continue through the rest of the “windmill.” If the arm does not turn outward, the geometry of the bones and muscles of the shoulder joint will not permit a smooth path of the throwing arm.

For the pitchers I have studied, the path of the ball is not circular, but more oval-shaped. This path occurs in a plane very close to the body. As the arm passes the ear at the top of the motion and again as it passes the hip near release, it should be in close proximity to the body. When the ball is moved through a plane near the body it is easier to control the release point. Control problems occur when the arm moves out of the plane and away from the body. This happens most often when a pitcher’s windup causes the shoulders to open ahead of the hips. A right-handed pitcher who brings the glove and ball to the right hip will tend to have this problem. It is important for the shoulders to stay square (closed) to the target as the pitch is initiated. If the arm stays in a plane close to the body and does not have to adjust back into that plane for release, the pitch has a “built-in” control mechanism.

As the arm nears the release point, the elbow begins to bend (flex) and the wrist should be cocked (extended) in preparation for a rapid wrist snap (flexion) at release. In Biomechanics, proximal to distal sequencing is a term used to describe an efficient pattern of movement where the most proximal (closest to the center of the body) joint reaches maximum speed ahead of the next most proximal joint, down the chain until the most distal (farthest from the center of the body) joint reaches its maximum speed. This sequence is smooth and the force transfer is very efficient. In pitching, the shoulder (proximal) joint begins to flex once it reaches the top of the motion. Next, the elbow begins to bend (flex) and finally wrist snap occurs as the ball is released.

Wrist and elbow flexion should continue through release and the follow through. Although the ball is headed toward the catcher’s mitt as the follow through occurs, this is a critical phase of pitching. The energy and forces produced throughout the pitch remain in the throwing arm after ball release. This energy must be dissipated by the arm and body during the follow through. Continuing to bend the elbow and wrist after ball release shortens the arm lever and acts to decrease shoulder stress.

During the delivery phase of pitching, the anterior (front) shoulder muscles contract to propel the ball. Once ball release occurs, however, the posterior (back) shoulder muscles come into play to slow down and stop the arm’s motion. Strengthening of the pitching arm is important, but the posterior muscles are often overlooked. Strong posterior shoulder muscles can minimize shoulder flexion after ball release, which in turn decreases shoulder stress.

In past issues I have stressed the importance of strengthening the musculature of the feet, legs, hips and trunk. Because of the loads placed on the elbow and shoulder joints in pitching, it is equally imperative to strengthen the arm and shoulder girdle. In the studies that have been carried out on windmill pitching so far, the magnitude of force pulling on the shoulder joint at release has been, on average, 100 percent body weight. Reducing this stress with proper pitching mechanics and increasing the joint’s ability to absorb these loads through strength training are our only avenues to reduce the chance of chronic overuse injuries in pitching.

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Importance Of The Trunk/Core in Pitching

Written By Sherry Werner

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Importance Of The Trunk Core While Pitching

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Without a doubt, arm motion is important in the windmill pitch. And, most of us agree that the legs play a big role in pitching. My last two articles were devoted to the importance of footwork and the legs. Very rarely, though, do you hear much about the part of the body connecting the legs and the arms- the trunk/core. If the forces used in pitching originate through the feet and legs and are eventually imparted through the arm and hand to the ball, the trunk and core must be important, too. Unless the forces generated at the ground are transferred properly through the trunk to the pitching arm, the pitching motion is inefficient.

During the stride, motion of the pivot foot allows the hips and trunk to open toward third base. This, in turn, allows the arm to “windmill” more freely and puts the trunk in position so that as the hips close, they can contribute to ball speed. The muscles of the trunk are larger than those of the arm and legs. It only makes sense to use these muscles to assist in propelling the ball. Due to the quickness of the windmill pitch (average time from stride foot contact to ball release is about one-tenth of a second!), the hips should open and close as quickly as possible. As the hips and trunk rotate toward a closed position (square with home plate), the throwing shoulder moves with the configuration of the muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones to make this process extremely complex. Coordination of joint movements ensure efficient transfer of force is very important.

Force production first comes into play at the end of the stance phase. As the pitcher's center of gravity shifts from being centered over the back (stride) foot to being centered over the front (pivot) foot, the stride begins. The front foot then presses against the ground (and the ground pushes back with an equal and opposite reaction). This force acts to move the body forward through the stride. As the stride foot touches down it then assists the pivot foot in creating forces to close the hips and drive the body forward. Once the ball is released, hip rotation and the drive of the stride leg should cause the pivot leg to move forward, and the pivot foot steps up toward the stride foot. This step forward assists in dissipating the energy built up in the arm.

Principles of and flaws in the mechanics of the stride

Just as proper positioning of the feet is important during the stance, stride foot placement is also vital to pitching performance. For each athlete there is an optimal stride length depending on body height, leg length, flexibility, etc. Problems result in both underestimating and overestimating this optimal length. Under-striding creates timing and force generation problems. A short stride does not afford the arm enough time to go through its motion, and lower body movements get ahead of upper body movements. If coordination between the lower and upper body is compromised, efficient flow of forces from the legs through the trunk to the arm is also compromised.

Over-striding causes a multitude of problems as well. Pitchers who over-stride tend to land on a straight stride leg. A slightly bent knee is more advantageous because knee flexion can absorb some of the vertical force on the stride leg. Otherwise, this force could manifest itself in hip and/or low back injury. A pitcher who does not close her hips has to use shoulder muscles to move her arm toward the release point. For obvious reasons, it would be more advantageous to use a large body part (the trunk), with more muscle mass, to move a small body part (the arm).

Failure to close the hips also goes against a widely accepted principle in Biomechanics. Proximal to distal sequencing refers to a pattern of timing in human movement where the body part closest to the center of the body reaches its maximum speed, then the next closest body part reaches its maximum velocity, and so on until the body part furthest from the body ‘s center reaches its peak speed. In pitching, when the hips are open to third base and begin to close, maximum hip rotation speed will occur before maximum shoulder rotation speed. Then, once peak shoulder speed is reached, elbow flexion velocity is maximized followed by peak wrist speed.

This sequencing is thought to maximize joint coordination and ball speed. If the hips are not rotated toward a closed position, this timing pattern is adversely affected. Lack of coordination caused by not closing the hips also creates an inefficient flow of forces between the legs and throwing arm. Although failure to close the hips is a more common problem in pitching, closing the hips too early also creates unnecessary stress on the shoulder. Closing the hips prematurely decreases the trunk's contribution to the pitch. Any time the trunk and arm are out of synch, efficiency of movement is compromised.

Another detrimental effect of not rotating the hips toward home plate is seen during the follow through. If the hips close, the arm moves with the body, but if the hips remain open, the arm moves forward and across the body. This causes unnecessary stretch and stress on the shoulder joint. Any time that the arm moves as a separate unit from the body, stress occurs at the joint (the shoulder) between the arm and the body. Closing the hips also tends to pull the pivot foot forward during the follow through so that the pitcher is in a good position to field the ball.

Opening the hips to third base occurs without much effort as the pivot foot turns outward and the stride foot moves forward. Closing the hips, however, requires a forceful contraction of several muscles. Although these pelvic, stomach and back muscles which rotate the hips are large, they are usually weak, especially in females. Often times these muscles are overlooked in pitching. Strength training programs focus on the arm and, to a lesser extent, the legs. A strong arm and legs cannot overcome weak trunk muscles. You have heard the adage, “You're only as strong as your weakest link.” The trunk (core) is just that- an important link between the legs and the throwing arm.

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Use Your Legs

Written By Sherry Werner

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Use Your Legs

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Last month I stressed the importance of footwork during the initial stages of the windmill pitch. To recap: Proper foot placement in the stance phase allows for good balance, which is critical to rhythm and coordination, and efficient force generation. The feet are the only body parts in contact with the ground, and the force produced as the feet push against the resistance of the ground are ultimately imparted to the ball.

To elaborate on how the forces flow from the ground to the ball, I will use the analogy of several cars in a train representing “segments” of the body (i.e. the foot, lower leg, thigh, etc.). If a force is imparted to a car at one end of the train, a chain of events will occur. Part of the initial force will in turn be imparted by the first car on the next car through their point of connection (i.e. a joint, such as the ankle, knee or hip). The orientation of the two cars relative to one another will determine what effect the force has on the second and each successive car of the train. Although this example is very simplified, it does reflects what happens in the body.

In pitching, the muscles of the leg contract in order for the foot to push against the ground. In reaction, the ground provides resistance and a push, equal and opposite, is imparted to the foot. Part of this force, plus additional forces due to motion of the foot, are then passed to the lower leg through the ankle joint. Likewise, force is passed from the lower leg to the thigh via the knee joint, from the thigh to the trunk via the hip joint, etc. This description is also oversimplified. The orientation and configuration of the muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones make this process extremely complex. Coordination of joint movements to ensure efficient transfer of force is very important.

Force production first comes into play at the end of the stance phase. As the pitcher’s center of gravity shifts from being centered over the back (stride) foot to being centered over the front (pivot) foot, the stride begins. The front foot then presses against the ground (and the ground pushes back with an equal and opposite reaction). This force acts to move the body forward through the stride. As the stride foot touches down it then assists the pivot foot in creating forces to close the hips and drive the body forward. Once the ball is released, hip rotation and the drive of the stride leg should cause the pivot leg to move forward, and the pivot foot steps up toward the stride foot. This step forward assists in dissipating the energy built up in the arm.

Principles of and flaws in the mechanics of the stride

Just as proper positioning of the feet is important during the stance, stride foot placement is also vital to pitching performance. For each athlete there is an optimal stride length depending on body height, leg length, flexibility, etc. Problems result in both underestimating and overestimating this optimal length. Understriding creates timing and force generation problems. A short stride does not afford the arm enough time to go through its motion, and lower body movements get ahead of upper body movements. If coordination between the lower and upper body is compromised, efficient flow of forces from the legs through the trunk to the arm is also compromised.

Overstriding causes a multitude of problems as well. Pitchers who overstride tend to land on a straight stride leg. A slightly bent knee is more advantageous because knee flexion can absorb some of the vertical force on the stride leg. Otherwise, this force could manifest itself in hip and/or low back injury. A stride that is too long also reduces the range of motion of the hips as they rotate from an open to a closed position. As the distance from the pivot foot to the stride foot increases, so does the stretch across the muscles at the front of the hips. Eventually the limits of these muscles’ lengths are reached and hip rotation is stopped short of full rotation. The longer the stride, the harder it is to close the hips.

A third problem that occurs in overstriding is movement of the center of gravity down and backward in relation to the stride foot. The longer the stride, the lower the center of gravity and the farther the distance from the center of gravity to the stride foot. If the goal of the movement is to move the body forward, the center of gravity should be high and forward in relation to the stride foot. “Sitting back” does not allow the body to assist the arm in propelling the ball forward.

Overstretching of the muscles of the stride leg also makes it difficult for the muscles to push against the ground. When a muscle is at maximal length it does not have good leverage, and can therefore create little force. All in all, overstriding minimizes the contribution of the lower body since hip rotation is hindered and force generation is minimized. This places the burden of force production on the throwing arm. Striding toward the target is the most efficient path.

Lateral position of the stride foot is also important. If we use a straight line from the center of the pivot foot to the apex of home plate as a guideline, placement of the stride foot too far to the left or right of this line will result in inefficient hip rotation. The farther to the left of the line the foot is placed (for a right-handed pitcher), the more closed the hips are at stride foot contact, thus reducing the potential for hip rotation during the delivery phase. Conversely, if the stride foot placement is too far to the right of the line, the hips tend to remain open and do not contribute to ball speed. Stride foot orientation follows the same logic. If the foot points toward first base, the lower leg and thigh will also rotate in that direction tending to close the hips prematurely. A stride foot pointing toward third base causes rotation in the opposite direction and makes it difficult to close the hips. Optimal orientation of the stride foot is half way between completely open and completely closed.

The legs act to generate force, rotate the trunk and absorb energy throughout the pitch. Considering these lower body contributions, it seems imperative for pitchers to strengthen the muscles of the feet, lower legs and thighs. The trunk (back and stomach muscles) needs to be strengthened as well since it is the link between the lower body and the arm. The shoulder, elbow and wrist joints cannot do it alone. Use of the legs in pitching is all-important.

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Footwork Is Critical

Written By Sherry Werner

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Footwork is Critical

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The importance of initial Foot Position

Footwork is a critical element in the windmill softball pitch. Considering that your feet are the only body part to make contact with an external source (the ground), the force used to propel the ball ultimately starts with the feet as they press against the resistance of the ground. Force is generated through the feet and moves through the ankles, knees, hips, trunk, shoulder, elbow, wrist, fingertips and is eventually transferred to the ball. Forces are passed through the joints via the muscles, tendons, ligaments and bombs of the limbs and trunk. Efficient flow of the forces is enhanced by smooth and coordinated movement patterns.

The feet form the foundation or base of support for the body in most athletic movements, softball included. This foundation is the fundamental component of balance, rhythm and timing, which are all necessary for safe and efficient pitching. A wide base of support (i.e. standing with feet spread wider than shoulder-width apart) creates a very stable position. The drawback of a wide base of support is that it can restrict proper joint action and make it difficult to initiate movement. For example, forward striding, walking, or jumping motions are more difficult to execute when the feet are spread wider than shoulder-width apart.

Conversely, a narrow base of support, with the feet to close together (or in the extreme, standing on one foot), allows for easier body movement, but body balance is compromised. An unstable foundation makes coordination of force production very difficult. If a pitcher begins off balance, force generation at the ground will not be optimal and force flow through the joints will not be well coordinated. This combination of reduced leg drive and poor joint interaction could result in shoulder injuries because arm stress is increased.

A suggested pitching stance for young pitchers is one with the feet about shoulder-width apart and the legs are relaxed and comfortable. This allows for freedom of joint movement, yet still maintains sufficient balance and stability. Staggering the feet on the rubber provides additional stability. Figure 1 shows a staggered position with the toes of the stride foot (the left foot for a right-handed pitcher) in contact with the back edge of the pitching rubber and the pivot (non-stride) foot extending over the front edge of the rubber.

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Footwork and the Initial Weight Shift

Once the pitcher find a comfortable position with her feet staggered on the rubber, most of her weight should be centered over her back foot. First movement of the pitch is a weight shift or transfer forward over the pivot (non-stride) foot. The placement of this foot, extending over the front edge of the rubber, enables the foot to push more efficiently during the stride. You may have heard the Physics adage, “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” This is exactly what happens between the ground and the pitcher's feet. As the feet push against the ground (and the rubber, which is fixed to the ground), the ground pushes back with an equal and opposite reaction. This is the origination of much of the initial force which moves the body forward and which is ultimately transferred to the ball. Ball velocity is highly dependent on how quickly the non-stride foot pushes backward against the ground/rubber. The quick, backward push results in an explosive stride towards the target.

With the pivot foot out over the front edge of the rubber, the ankle can extend somewhat, putting the foot in a better position to push against rubber and ground with the ball of the foot. Although “digging a hole” with the pivot foot allows the foot to generate more force backward, it is not advisable since it can hinder the foot's ability to pivot effectively.

In Biomechanics there is a term “degrees of freedom” (DOF). This refers to the number of body parts or joints allowed to move in a skill. The more DOF, the more difficult it is to control and coordinate body movement.

Extraneous motion makes the movement pattern more complicated and in a sense the brain becomes overloaded, resulting in diminished performance. When accuracy is an issue, as it is in pitching, coordination and control are extremely important. Pitchers with a lot of pre-pitch “pump” motion are those who start with their stride foot far behind the rubber, requiring more body part to move in order to initiate the pitch, are many times more susceptible to balance, control and accuracy problems.

It is clear that the lower body plays a vital role in pitching. The muscles of the legs push the feet against the ground to generate force which is passed through the trunk to the throwing arm and eventually to the ball. Foot placement, proper weight transfer to the ball of the pivot foot and explosive push towards the target are paramount in order for leg power to be produced efficiently.

Next month I will talk more about the stride and the importance of the legs in pitching.

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