How an Unstable Landing Foot Can Wreck Your Arm

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Today I’m going to tell you how poor stability with my front foot as a young pitcher just about wrecked my pitching arm.
When I was in high school I did just enough right in my pitching delivery to throw pretty hard. I had decent timing and rhythm, but I definitely didn’t use my lower half as well as I should have. Mostly my mechanics were a mess. One of my biggest issues was a lack of consistency and stability with my landing foot at front foot plant.

Early in your delivery, everything you do should be designed to create momentum, generate power, and get you out to front foot plant in a good position to throw. Once that front foot hits the ground though, it’s about stabilizing and rotating around a strong landing leg. For more on this, you can read an article I wrote on the importance of good front-knee action.

This is where stability with that front foot comes into play. If you’re not stable with your front foot – let’s say you land hard and spin on your heel, or maybe you allow your knee to pull open causing your weight to get outside of your ankles – you’re going to have a very tough time getting to consistent release point, and your control is going to suffer.

Well this was definitely the case with me in high school. I had a good a good fastball that I could throw by most hitters, but my control was awful. My senior year I averaged two strikeouts an inning, but I also had one walk an inning. You could say I was “effectively wild” but really I was just my own worst enemy.

When you’re wild, you go deep into counts. You throw more pitches than you should. You end up pitching a lot with men on base and having to bear down in pressure situations. All of this inevitably leads to pitching with fatigue, and according to Dr. Andrews that’s the number one risk factor for youth pitching injuries. Here’s an interview he did a few years ago during the Little League World Series:

Dr. James Andrews talks about Little League pitchers

All of those extra pitches, all of those times working myself into and out of jams, eventually caught up with me. In the summer going into my freshman year of college, I hurt my elbow, and badly. The diagnosis? A strained ulnar collateral ligament (if you’re not familiar with it just look up “Tommy John surgery”). So there I was, 18 years old, having just accepted a baseball scholarship to a Division I college, being forced to accept the very real likelihood that I might never be able to pitch again without major surgery.

With hard work and a good rehab program, I was able to get back on the mound later that year without surgery, but I still missed most of my freshman year. My college pitching coach noticed I had a tendency to land hard on my front foot and spin on my heel. A lot of it had to do a general lack of hip and ankle mobility that came from growing so fast as a kid. I just couldn’t even get into the right positions to be strong and stable at pitch release.

Gradually my mobility improved though, thanks in large part the strength and conditioning program we had at Northwestern. I’ll never forget one bullpen session where I was really on, hitting my spots at will, the ball jumping out of my hand in a way that felt effortless. My pitching coach, Tim Stoddard (great guy in addition to being one of only two men with both a World Series ring and an NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship ring), commented how “quiet” I was keeping my feet. That’s exactly how it felt. I was strong and stable, but quiet, under control. By the time I entered my second year of pro ball, instability at front foot plant was no longer an issue. That season I only walked 19 batters in 102 innings. The sad thing was that it took me so long.

The bottom line is what you do with your feet can have a huge impact on your delivery and the health of your pitching arm.

Poor stability at ball release is usually the result of bad stride direction (and consequently poor balance), but limited hip mobility can also be a factor (as it was with me). If this is the case, you need to understand the cause before you can fix the problem. Mobility work and dynamic balance drills can go a long way in helping to develop better front foot stability, but it can take a lot of work, particularly if you have flexibility/mobility issues.

Here is an excellent drill I have found to be highly effective in helping pitchers develop better stability with their front foot:

For more drills like this, including a complete system of throwing drills for building a powerful pitching delivery, join the hundreds of pitchers, parents and coaches who already have inside access to the Ballistic Pitching Blueprint.

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Comments

  1. Forrest  October 15, 2012

    Good article on the landing foot. Too often many pitchers put far too much emphasis on the post leg and kind of forget about the landing leg. I would even go as far as to say the stability and ease of weight transfer through your mechanics are of much greater importance to your kinetic chain. As a long time college pitching coach one variable that is always changing is your environment. Mound condition being one of them, weather etc. The key to battling the elements, dealing with a sandy mound is a consistent, stable transition. This can keep you in great alignment and good position to repeat your delivery. A quiet, yet stable landing foot accomplishes this.

  2. Phil Rosengren  October 15, 2012

    Thanks Forrest, all great points. As far as sandy mounds, etc, sadly that’s very true. It’s brutal, but I know for most of the kids I work with here in the northeast they do a lot of pitching on mounds where the surface is less than ideal. But you’re right, being able to transfer your weight well with a stable landing foot can make a big difference. One exercise I’ve found helpful is what I call pitcher’s side hops, where they load up as if beginning to pitch and hop sideways, then stabilize on their landing foot and hop back in the other direction. This teaches them how to transfer their weight powerfully while staying quiet with their feet so they can land under control.

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