fbpx

A Great Pitcher Needs One “HEEL” Of A Landing

Written By: Justin Orenduff

Once upon a time I used to have the words “ball foot to ball foot” as my screensaver on my computer. At the time, I was a freshman at George Washington University trying to earn my place in the pitching program. I had a habit of locking out my front knee at landing, making it difficult to repeat my delivery. To remedy locking out my knee, my pitching coach taught me to drive off the ball of my foot (right leg) and land on the ball of my foot (left leg) to get my chest out over my knee and develop a consistent release point. Six months later, I was a Freshman-All American and led the team in wins, strikeouts, and ERA. I believed landing ball foot to ball foot was the answer to my personal success.

Shortly thereafter, I developed knee pain and I slowly transitioned to landing more on my heel. The pain seemed to go away, and I stayed the course with landing more consistently on my heel. The weight distribution at foot strike/landing, transitions from the heel to the ball of the foot, with the weight/force never getting to the toe. At 19 years old, I couldn’t tell you how much of a difference either landing on my heel or ball of my foot mattered, I just chose whatever led to positive results.

Twelve years later, I can definitively tell you that both teaching and practicing landing on the heel can have a significant impact on the development of a pitcher. I wanted to write this article for two reasons. First, over the course my teaching career I have seen how valuable landing on the heel can be to the transition of force into a throw. Second, there is still an overwhelming number of my students who are being taught and forced to land on the ball of the foot.

Throughout this article, I will show you examples of landing both on the heel and the ball of the foot. Provide examples of other sports where athletes use the heel to create energy and stability and breakdown the advantages to a thrower and coaches by landing on the heel of the foot. Lets start by looking at some examples of pitchers landing on the heel of their foot.

Video: Heel landing

The video clip below highlights myself and students landing on the heel of the foot.

Video:  Ball foot landing

The video clip below highlights one of my students and two professionals who land on the ball of the foot.

Why should you land on the heel?

Learning from other sports

Chas always talks about dunking. The guy loves basketball and every year on his birthday, HE DUNKS! Impressive actually, but when I told him I was planning on writing this article, he instantly referenced how a basketball player moves his body to dunk a basketball. I’ll get to that in a moment, but first, watch Chas dunk on his birthday!

Basketball: Dunking!

As both Nate Robinson and Michael Jordan prepare to elevate their bodies towards the rim, they first create forward energy towards the target. As they prepare to jump, their bodies essentially fall into the ground, with  the lead heel making contact first. The energy created from the forward movement transitions into the ground and back up into the lower legs and hips. Potential energy is stored through the leg, and then released as the body extends upwards towards the target.

The pitching delivery operates in a very similar manner. The lower half of the pitcher moves down the slope of the mound, creating a forwards energy. As the hips begin to rotate open towards the target, the front leg gets out in front of the upper body. The heel touches down and begins to drive force/energy back into glutes and hips. The landing of the heel in the delivery allows the pelvis to stabilize. The sequence provides enough time for the upper torso to continue to build energy and rotate into the final release of energy into the baseball.

Pole Vaulting:  Anchor of stability

I’ve always found pole vaulting fascinating and scary at the same time. When I watched the clip above, I was amazed at who similar the characteristics of the action of vaulting over the bar were to throwing a baseball. A pole vaulter runs forward with the pole creating energy. As the pole is cast forward, it must securely anchor into the box. The stability at one end of the pole allows potential energy to be stored through the elasticity of the pole. The energy is finally released as the body is hurled upwards and over the bar. Think about how far in front of the vaulter the pole extends, once the pole is anchored into the box, the pole bends until it snaps back vertical releasing the vaulter at the apex. The arm operates exactly the same. A pitcher needs to get the heel out in from of the body and increase the amount of distance from the heel to the baseball. The stability of the heel landing promotes the arm to externally rotate with the support of the trunk and then accelerate forwards with the mass of the trunk to maintain support.

Changes in the pitching delivery

The analysis below highlights the changes in the pitching delivery by simply landing on the heel of ball of the foot. I wanted to make sure I performed both landings in the same bullpen with the same delivery. The only thing I changed is telling myself to land on the heel or the ball of the foot. See the results below.


Time for a change?

What not to do

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If your pitching delivery resembles anything similar the clip above, you are ready for an overhaul. I could only manage 5 throws demonstrating what NOT TO DO before the back of my shoulder felt signs of locking up. But for some reason, many coaches will teach exactly what I’m doing above. A bit of UP, Down, & Out mixed in with a ball foot landing; what an unhealthy combination. Sadly, many young pitchers still resemble the pattern seen above because coaches in the community preach similar mechanics.

One “HEEL” of a difference

Starts with playing catch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you are ready to make a change, I suggest you simply start by knowing it’s OK and advantageous to try to land on your heel every time you throw a baseball. The result can dramatically improve how your body transitions into the release of the baseball.  The student above is shown throwing out of his Rivera Drill. By landing on his heel he has drastically improved his overall stretch angle (how well the body is producing force) and in the process has significantly improved his velocity, accuracy, and ability to recover. You can experience similar results starting with a new landing!

Thanks,

-Justin Orenduff, Leader of the Pitching Rebellion

11 thoughts on "A Great Pitcher Needs One “HEEL” Of A Landing"

  1. Derrick says:

    Justin,

    Excellent article! I thoroughly enjoyed it. I must admit, this is something I have never paid attention to before, either for myself or when coaching. However, I will definitely keep an eye on it when the season rolls around this year, and I will start practicing it myself. Random question, maybe you’ve addressed it in a prior article, do you recommend making any adjustments to the motion when runners are on base? For example, some pitchers use a slide step instead of a full leg kick to discourage base runners from stealing. Are there any adjustments that can be made to shorten the time to the plate while still maintaining proper mechanics?

    BTW, I have a birthday coming up next month and Chas may have just inspired me to do my own DOYB video. Although, mine may have to be on my son’s Little Tikes basketball hoop.

    Thanks for all your work,

    Derrick

    1. Derrick,

      You will have to make sure you send us a copy of you dunking on your birthday. Generally, you will need to adjust your hand position slightly lower in the slide step to make up for the lack of height in the lift. The timing has to match both lower and upper body movements.

      Did you check out my slide step article?

      Thanks,

      Justin

      1. Derrick says:

        Justin,

        I must have missed the slide step article, but I will definitely take a look at it. We’ll see about that dunking video. It definitely won’t be on a 10ft basket, at least not without some creativity. Thanks for the follow up.

        Derrick

  2. Ken De Marco says:

    Should hitters land on their heel when they stride toward the pitcher?

    1. Ken,

      I’ll let Chas, JK, or Gabe answer that question.

      Thanks,

      Justin

    2. Chas Pippitt says:

      Ken,

      Yes, a hitter should land on his front foot FULLY…many land toe then heel, which CAN be ok, IF they get the front heel firmly down and push back off the front heel when it’s “go time”.

      The key is a vertical front shin bone so the player can fully activate and use his hamstring, quads and glutes of his front leg instead of just his calf if he’s more of a ‘toe pusher’ or ‘ball pusher’ using his toes or ball of his feet.

      –Chas

  3. Ken De Marco says:

    Yes, please have them address it. I have noticed that when I stride I occasionally will land on my front heel first. When I saw it, I immediately thought I needed to correct it, but maybe I dont. Looking forward to hearing from you guys.

  4. Wyatt Doyle says:

    Justin,
    Could you say something about using the force of the front leg to push backward to add additional rotation of the hips using the lower body. I notice some pro’s doing this (Price/ Tampa Rays) for example. Seems like it adds some speed and allows the body to come to a more defensive position quicker.

    1. Wyatt,

      Sure thing. The degree to which the front leg pushes backwards has to deal with several factors but perhaps the largest factor is the speed to which the trunk is accelerating forwards. In a max effort the throw the front leg will drive back into the ground harder to compensate for the rotational force of the upper body. The front leg can lock out too early, preventing an efficient launch angle, if overtrained or emphasized.

      Thanks,

      Justin

  5. Steve Black says:

    Hey Guys – I hope all are safe with the latest bought of winter weather. Stay Warm –

    I have a website/comments question: I love reviewing the latest comments questions and answers on your blogs – but since the site change there doesn’t seem to be an easy way to grab the latest. There use to be a latest five comments that helps – can you look into having a link to a list of latest comments.

    steve
    P.S. fields are still under 1-2 feet of snow up here..

    1. Chas Pippitt says:

      Steve,

      We are looking into this today! I want you to have access to our best content for sure.

      Chas–

      PS: I HATE SNOW!

Leave a Reply