In Jake Arrieta's first two MLB post-season appearances for the Chicago Cubs, he has a total of 20 strikeouts. In the NL Wild Card game, he was virtually unhittable, pitching a complete game shutout and leading the Cubs to victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The 29-year-old pitcher clearly possesses incredible talent. But part of Arrieta's success is also due to his commitment to building lower-body strength in the weight room. Commenting on the NL Wild Card game, Chris Archer, a pitcher for the Tampa Bay Rays, sent out the following tweet about Arrieta's training:
In response, Eric Cressey, elite baseball strength coach and co-founder of Cressey Sports Performance, tweeted:
As Archer and Cressey allude to, the lower body is the foundation of pitching—and many other sports skills as well. Young athletes and coaches with limited knowledge of strength training look at the arm and shoulder first in an effort to throw faster. This might produce excellent mechanics, but it can ultimately lead to low hip and leg strength. The shoulder and arm have to work extra hard to compensate for a weak lower body, making them more susceptible to injury.
The glutes, quads and hamstrings generate the majority of the power needed to pitch a ball. Try throwing a ball without using your legs. You will instantly sense their importance. Strengthening your lower body increases the amount of force your legs and hips can produce. This means your trail leg can put more power into the rubber, adding velocity to your pitch, while a strong front leg can provide a stable base to throw from.
In a follow-up tweet, Cressey points to the common misperception that strength training produces bulky muscles and inflexibility. If your workouts consist only of Bench Presses and Bicep Curls, that may be true. But 0therwise, it could not be further from the truth. A balanced training program focused on strength, power, speed and mobility develops well-rounded athletes who have all of those attributes.
STACK had the opportunity to witness Cressey working with Steve Cishek, closer for the St. Louis Cardinals. During the training session, Cressey placed a huge emphasis on the lower body. Here are three lower-body moves Cishek performed. Watch demonstrations in the video player above.
Barbell Hip Thrust
The Barbell Hip Thrust targets the glutes, which are the largest muscles in the body. It also teaches the hip hinge, an important movement pattern athletes must master to perform powerful movements safely.
Safety-Squat Bar Forward Lunge
Using a safety-squat bar protects a pitcher's shoulders by allowing him to use a neutral grip instead of holding the barbell across his shoulders like during a traditional Squat. This exercise improves single-leg strength and deceleration, similar to when a pitcher plants his front foot.
Heidens are a plyometric exercise, also commonly referred to as Skater Jumps. They develop lateral power similar to how a pitcher drives off the mound.