Proper Leg Drive Off the Rubber
By Michele Smith
Learning to use your legs properly to explode off the pitching rubber is essential to becoming an elite pitcher.
When I conduct camps and clinics around the country, I am always asked, “What can I do to get more power and energy out of my pitch?” Let me see if I can answer that question.
Many pitchers don’t realize that the strongest parts of a woman’s body are her legs and hips (i.e. butt ). So, it makes sense that if we aren’t using the strongest part of our body, how can we expect to have a powerful pitch? The best and strongest pitchers in the game use their legs to help generate a powerful and explosive stride off the mound. I can assure you that if you fail to develop a powerful leg drive you will most likely fail to develop a powerful pitch.
Think about it. An athlete who performs a standing broad jump cannot possibly jump as far as an athlete who performs a running broad jump. Obviously, the running broad jump will produce a more explosive and a much longer jump. The reason: momentum. It’s the same with a pitch; the more momentum, or energy, you produce heading into the pitch, the more powerful your pitch will be. The number one way to increase the speed of your ball is explode into the pitch.
Okay, so how do you go about getting that momentum or energy? First, you need to start by using the rubber correctly. The front foot should be placed with the ball of the foot (just behind the toes) at the front of the rubber. The back foot should be butted up against the back of the rubber. [Note: For right-handed pitchers, the right foot is the front foot. For left-handed pitchers, the left foot is the front foot.] In order to get that explosive motion, the front foot needs to push back against the rubber. This strong “push” will help propel you forward. Basically, the pitching rubber should be used as leverage. There is a reason the rubber is recessed into the ground. It’s not there to simply mark the starting point for a pitcher. It should be incorporated into the pitching mechanics.
Next, you need to develop a good load. The load is the most important part of the ‘pre-motion phase’ of the pitch. The pre-motion is everything that happens on the rubber before the pitcher enters into the actual pitching motion. To get into a proper loaded position, start by leaning forward, a slight bend at the waist and a bend of the knee so that your weight is on your front foot. Once you receive the sign from your catcher, bring your hands together while transferring your weight back onto your rear leg and then immediately return your weight forward onto your front foot again. Just before you stride off the rubber, your front foot should be supporting 90 to 100 percent of your bodyweight.
This ‘rocking action’ is what adds the energy and momentum necessary to explode off the rubber. I like to say, “We load so we can explode.” Imagine a track athlete leaning forward, ready to take off with incredible speed. That is what you want to strive for; a position from which you can be explosive.
A couple words of caution: I have witnessed many pitchers who load in reverse with the majority of their weight on their back leg at the end of the pre-motion. Think about that for a moment. If your weight is positioned backward, are you in a position to propel yourself forward? No. You will now have to waste a lot of energy during your actual pitching motion to get yourself moving in a forward direction. This will prevent you from being able to fully explode with your legs, reduce your power and usually results in a much shorter stride length. Make sure that your pre-motion leaves you in the proper position: weight forward, ready to powerfully stride out towards home plate.
The last part of developing a proper leg drive involves getting that stride leg up and out as far as possible. You will be surprised at how much easier that will be once you are positioned correctly. Now that you are properly loaded with your weight 90-100 percent forward on your front foot, a slight bend at the waist with your head positioned just over your bent knee, you now want to explode off the rubber.
To do that, lift your rear leg up and out from behind the pitching rubber. Visualize an imaginary box in front of the rubber and aggressively stride up and over that box. Remember, we load to explode. So, make sure you propel that rear leg up and forward to create a long, powerful stride. The longer your stride, the closer you will be to home plate when you release the ball. And, the closer you are when you release the ball, the quicker the ball will get to the batter. Use your legs to power you closer to the plate so that you can get the ball there faster.
Any pitcher who uses the rubber correctly, learns to properly load and explode, and who develops an aggressive and powerful stride will, without a doubt, be a force to be reckoned with. So, what was that question again, “What can I do to get more power and energy out of my pitch?” My answer: “USE YOUR LEGS!”