Pitching is a specific position full of single-leg actions and movements, and it still confuses me when players and coaches fail to include enough single-leg strength in their training programs to improve this movement.
Loading, pushing, extending, landing, and bracing all take place on a single leg. This requires balance, strength and the ability to absorb force on one leg. It is clear that from an injury reduction and performance enhancement standpoint, softball and baseball players need single-leg training.
Below are my top 5 favorite single-leg exercises for softball and baseball pitchers:
1. Front Rack Dumbbell Lateral Lunge
The Front Rack Dumbbell Lateral Lunge is a great exercise to strengthen the quadriceps, adductors, and glutes. These are the primary muscles involved in movements through the frontal plane like the initial push phase of a pitch. Having a stronger initial drive off of the mound will help to increase overall pitching velocity. Holding the load in the front rack position forces the athlete to activate the core, adding more stability in the movement.
- Starting tall, step out with the designated leg until your trail leg is completely straight. Sink your hips until you reach parallel. Drive hard off of the bent leg to bring yourself back to the starting position. Use the train leg for only balance.
Perform 2 – 3 sets of 4 – 6 repetitions in each direction to build overall lower limb strength.
2. Front Foot Elevated Step Back Lunge
The (FFE) Step Back Lunge is a great exercise to strengthen the entire lower body of an athlete. This exercise allows athletes that are unable to get into proper squat position due to lack of mobility in the hips or ankles get deep enough to gain the benefits of low squats without putting them in a compromised position. Being able to control the weight transfer from two legs to one will not only improve body control but core stability as well.
- Starting on the platform, slowly drive one leg back and down until the knee lightly touches the ground. The front foot shin should remain vertical and the foot flat. Drive off of the front foot to bring yourself back to the starting position.
Perform 2 – 3 sets of 5 – 8 repetitions with each leg to increase strength and balance
3. Exergenie Lateral Push Step
This is another great exercise to develop pure power and strength through the frontal plane. The Exergenie produces isokinetic resistance or the same amount of resistance throughout the entire movement. This allows the athlete to get stronger in the trail leg from the start of the push until the time their opposite leg touches the ground.
- Starting in an athletic position, drive your trail leg until you are at full extension. The lead foot should touch the ground after the trail leg reaches full extension.
Perform 2 – 3 sets of 10 – 15 yards each leg to increase strength and develop symmetry.
4. Rotational Landmine Split Jerk
This is one of my favorite exercises to develop 3-dimensional hip power. This exercises almost perfectly mimics a softball and baseball players pitching motion in the lower body - loading the hips followed by snapping the hips as explosively as possible.
- Starting with your hips squared up, dip the hips into an athletic position (back flat, chest up, knees out, weight evenly distributed across the whole foot). Drive the hips up, rotating them to face the Landmine. As you drive your hips you want to extend the leg back that is on the same side as the arm that is pressing.
Perform 3 – 4 sets of 3 – 5 repetitions each side focusing on speed of the bar.
5. Hamstring Stretch
There isn’t a ranking system for these five exercises, but if I had one, this would be right at the top of the list. The hamstrings play a huge roll in any athletic movement, especially pitchers. During the extension face of a throw, the trail leg has to get into full extension in order to produce as much pitching velocity possible. If the athlete has the inability to get into full extension, they are leaving a ton of MPH on the mound.
- Start in a kneeling position. While keeping your hips squared up, lean back onto your heal. Make sure you keep your front leg straight, toe flexed and hips squared up to get the most out of this stretch.
Perform 1 set of 2 – 3 minutes each leg to increase hamstring function and flexibility.
These single-leg movements should be staples of all softball and baseball pitcher’s strength programs. Mastering them will help players become stronger, more powerful, and more resilient to injury.
Single-leg training is one of the best things all athletes should focus on, especially all throwing athletes.