What is hip to shoulder separation and how can you improve it?
Hip to shoulder separation, or torque, has become sort of a buzz phrase in pitching circles in recent years… and for good reason. It’s what you see in all powerful rotational athletes, and it’s what you typically see with high velocity pitchers.
But how does hip to shoulder separation contribute to velocity, and how can we actually teach pitchers to increase torque in their deliveries?
Take a look at this video of Aroldis Chapman… unreal separation.
The hardest throwers in the big leagues use their lower half to create momentum and power while delaying shoulder rotation. In the process, they create incredible elastic energy and torque (for more, do some research on the stretch shortening cycle). When these pitchers use their hips the right way, you also tend to see their feet synced up.
So when the front foot opens into landing, you also see the back foot pop or roll off the rubber… hips open, shoulders stay closed, back-foot turns.
Better Tempo Improves Hip to Shoulder Separation
I recently worked with a D1 college pitcher home on break. Now this is a guy already pitching at a high level with pretty solid mechanics. But when I first got a look at him, one thing that stood out was a generally slow tempo and what seemed like a tendency to “muscle up” after front foot plant.
Doing a motion analysis confirmed this. Things looked generally smooth, and he showed outstanding flex and whip in his upper half, but it was as if he was holding everything back until front foot plant. As a result, he created very little hip to shoulder separation and appeared upper-half dominant.
At front foot plant his back foot hadn’t yet pulled off the rubber and his hips were still relatively closed. He was missing out on of the best opportunities to generate power and build elastic energy in his core.
Over the next few weeks, we worked on increasing his tempo out of his leg lift to get his body moving more powerfully towards home plate. We did this with a series of drills along with his mound work. Part of this included step behinds to free him up from the confines of the pitching delivery and the idea of having “good pitching mechanics.”
One thing he mentioned was that when it came to long toss he was among the hardest throwers on his college team. He could throw 300+ feet with ease. But it wasn’t translating to his pitching, and looking at his delivery it was clear why…
He was moving too slowly. See, when he threw long toss he was getting his whole body into it, throwing with good momentum. But when he threw off the mound he reverted to having “good mechanics” and resorted to “muscling up.”
After just a few sessions, he made some big improvement.
On the left is his video when he first came in. On the right you can see him now.
Notice how much quicker he now moves down the mound. Instead of getting stuck over his back foot, he’s now moving his hips towards home plate, riding a strong back leg.
Pay attention to his back foot as he goes into front foot plant. He’s now firing with the back leg and creating much better torque at front foot plant.
The main lesson here is to stay away from drills and training techniques that focus on positions rather than the explosive movements needed for a powerful pitching delivery.
Instead of training pitchers to be slow and stiff, focus on getting pitchers to move well. And if you’re going to use pitching drills, make sure they train the hips and lower half… make sure they’re dynamic… ballistic.
You can find a complete system of drills for building a powerful, dynamic pitching delivery inside the Ballistic Pitching Blueprint.