Regardless of what you've been told, lower-body strength and power are critical if you want to increase your pitching velocity. Although you might give your arms and upper body the majority of your attention in the weight room, the lower body provides the horsepower on your pitches, because it contains the most powerful muscles in the body—the quads and glutes. Perform the following three lower-body exercises before the season if you want to add velocity to your pitches this spring.
The traditional Squat is a great exercise, but it forces your shoulders into a position that can be dangerous for pitchers. A great alternative is the Front Squat. The load is placed on the front of the shoulders, eliminating stress on the joint. In addition to building strength and power in the lower body, Front Squats also help improve core strength and stability.
The grip for the Front Squat can be the most challenging part of the exercise to master. If done incorrectly, it can limit the effectiveness of the lift. For pitchers, I recommend using the modified Clean grip with straps (shown below) to eliminate potential wrist, elbow or shoulder pain from the traditional Clean grip.
If you do not have straps, the Cross grip (shown below) is the next best option. However, this grip can be hard to maintain properly as you increase weight.
Front Squat How-To
- Assume athletic stance with feet shoulder-width apart
- Rest bar across front of shoulders with modified Clean grip with straps
- Keeping back straight and knees behind toes, sink hips back and lower into squat position until thighs are parallel to ground
- Explode up by driving through heels and extending knees and hips to return to start position
- Repeat for specified reps
The Deadlift is the ultimate exercise for strengthening the posterior chain—i.e., the muscles in the back of your body, which are often weak in baseball players. Weak posterior chain muscles will reduce your pitching power and put you at risk for a low back injury.
When learning the Deadlift, start with the Trap Bar version. Once you master this lift, progress to a straight bar Deadlift with a modified sumo stance (described in detail in Master the Deadlift, Part 2: The Sumo Deadlift). Then advance to the Conventional Deadlift (described in detail in Master the Deadlift, Part 1: The Conventional Deadlift).
Trap Bar Deadlift How-To
- In athletic stance, assume Deadlift position with back locked, core tight and chest flexed; grip trap bar at sides
- Explode into standing position by extending hips and knees; keep back flat and chest up
- Lower trap bar to floor through same motion; repeat for specified reps
Throwing a baseball is one of the most unnatural motions in all of sports, and it can lead to serious muscular imbalances. To balance out strength on both sides of your body, perform single-leg exercises. They help prevent injury and enhance performance by equalizing and maximizing strength.
The glutes in particular are subject to large imbalances in pitchers. If you're a right-handed pitcher, you engage your right glute on each pitch to drive off the rubber, while your left glute receives minimal action. To counterbalance this, perform the Single-Leg Hip Thrust—you'll work both glutes equally well.
Single-Leg Hip Thrust How-To
- Sit on ground with upper back against bench, knees bent and feet on ground
- Squeeze glutes and extend hips toward ceiling to form bridge, with right knee at 90-degree angle and left hip and knee at 90-degrees in air
- Hold top position for one count and return to start position
- Repeat for specified reps; perform set with opposite leg
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Joe Meglio is a strength and conditioning coach at the Underground Strength Gym in Edison, N.J. Mentored by one of the brightest minds in the strength and conditioning industry, Zach Even-Esh, Meglio has worked with athletes at the high school, college and professional level. He specializes in training baseball players. Besides being a strength coach, Meglio competed in his first powerlifting meet in 2010, setting the New Jersey state record for Squat, Deadlift and total in his weight class and division. He graduated from Fairleigh Dickinson University in May 2011, following his final season as captain of the baseball team. For more information, please go to MeglioFitness.com.
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