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In this article, I will discuss how to use the lower half more efficiently in the pitching delivery. When evaluating a pitcher for the first time I ask a series of simple questions. One of those questions is, “have you ever heard any coaches or instructors use cue words when working with you?” There are many responses from kids and parents when I bring this question up, but one of the most common responses from my young pitchers is that the coach is telling them to “push off the rubber” to generate lower half power.
I strongly disagree with the term “push off the rubber” for many reasons. This coaching cue has the potential to sabotage a pitcher’s delivery from the moment they step on the mound and create problems that strongly affect the rest of the delivery. When telling a young player to push off the rubber, in most cases you will see them actively flex the back leg, squat down, and jump toward the target. This will cause the disconnection in the sequence of the delivery. Pushing off the rubber, which can lead to a jumping motion, will cause the lead foot to gain undesirable distance in mid-air. This is not good for a pitcher’s delivery. When doing this jumping motion, the rest of your body will be ready to throw the baseball before the front foot has landed. This disconnected sequence, which started from pushing off the rubber, will lead to decreased velocity, accuracy, and consistency in the delivery. When doing it the correct way, the second the lead foot hits the ground, the momentum of the upper half should take over to rotate toward the target.
When I see pitchers who push off the mound, there is a forward tilt of the spine and an arm position that is unsupported. The forward tilt of the spine causes the pitcher’s chest to be over the midline (or belt buckle) of their body. This body position leads to the throwing elbow being elevated above the shoulder; this is cause for serious risk of injury and loss of pitch efficiency. The reason the body gets in this undesirable position is that of the faulty rhythm and poor timing in the delivery. Below is a GIF of me pushing off the rubber:
“Push off the Rubber” is a cue that is taught by many youth coaches around the country and should be avoided. The word “push” directly signals kids to create the jump motion and gets them away from using their lower half properly while pitching.
When teaching kids the pitching delivery I stay away from using the word “push” and use the word “drive” instead. Whether it is driving the hip, letting your ankle drive into the ground, or driving the back leg. When using the word “drive” with pitchers and them actually driving off the mound, it helps get the rear leg and hips moving in sequence in the same direction. You might ask what the difference between push and drive are? In my experience with young pitchers, Push leads the pitcher into a jumping motion, as described at the beginning of the article. Drive leads the pitcher to use their back leg to create force off the mound to create velocity and consistency throughout the throwing motion.
The first step in correcting the drive vs push issue is actually very simple. As a pitcher steps up to the mound the biggest piece is to set the back foot on the rubber. It is called hooking the rubber. Using the back set of cleats the pitcher wants to wedge their foot into the pitching rubber to create an angle that presets the back hip, knee and ankle. This will allows you to move forward as soon as the lead leg lifts up.
We start the movements of the lower half on flat ground to feel comfortable with driving the back leg and getting the hips out as far as you can. We should always try to keep our back knee inside of the back foot and stay sustainable the whole time through the stride. After proving that you can achieve this on flat ground then it is time to move up to the mound. As pitchers, we have the advantage in creating momentum off a downward slope. That is the reason we want to create the continued momentum and drive right off the get-go with the lower half. Below is a GIF of the proper technique using the “drive” cue:
The following side-by-side image shows the position of the body at footstrike. The position on the left shows the result of the proper drive of the back leg. The upper body is back and still closed to the plate, allowing for increased velocity. The below position is also below the shoulder, which will decrease the stress put on it during the throw. The image on the right shows the result of the “push” cue. The upper body is already forward and is opening toward the pitcher, this position does not allow for proper upper body rotation. This alone will lead to a dramatic decrease in velocity but paired with an elbow position above the shoulder, you are not only decreasing your velocity, but you are increasing your risk of injury.
To wrap up this conversation I want to add that when growing up, I never was taught to utilize my lower half while pitching. I lost velocity through my delivery and had a hard time figuring out why I struggled with consistency on some days. Baseball Rebellion has given me the tools to research and teach the best movement patterns for pitchers. Driving the hips and the back leg compared to push/jumping off the rubber is night and day when talking about pitching performance and arm health. Hopefully, this article has helped stress the fact that pushing off the rubber is a bad coaching cue and should not be taught. The drive down the mound and properly using the lower half can be taught with a few simple Baseball Rebellion drills. Take the time to check out www.baseballrebellion.com for all the free information and drills that you need. Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed.