“The legs feed the wolf”, a quote attributable to Herb Brooks, coach of the US Olympic Hockey team that defeated the Russians for the Gold Medal in 1980, is a testament to the importance of training the legs for successful performance in almost all forms of athletic competition. NHL, NBA and MLB athletes play on their legs. Regardless of the sport, when the legs fatigue performance decreases. This is nowhere more apparent than in the art of pitching. No matter how much or how often a pitcher throws during the off-season, spring training or in-season, when the legs fatigue, pitching mechanics break down, velocity decreases, stress is diverted to other segments of the body and the risk of injury increases.
Because pitchers play on their legs, one of their primary goals during spring training is to establish a solid base of lower body strength and metabolic conditioning upon which to build up the arm strength and stamina needed to pitch deep into games and throw multiple innings when the season starts. Below is an example of a program that has been used with Major League pitchers during spring training to help improve leg strength and physical work capacity without adding stress to the arm. Pitchers perform this series of exercises after they come out of the game in order to simulate one or more extra innings of physical and metabolic effort. Pitchers perform a unilateral lower body strength, core or total body exercise for a given number of reps or duration of time and then immediately stride 100 yards (starters) or 75 yards (relievers), jog back a prescribed distance and recover during a 25-yard walk before performing the next strength, core or total body exercise. Strides are performed at 80-85% of max effort and jogging at 50-60% of max effort.
Each set of exercises is called an inning of effort. Most players can start with three innings and gradually work up to 9 innings. The following sequence of exercises will improve leg strength and endurance and keep heart rate and oxygen uptake elevated using movements that support those used in game situations. An indoor version using a bicycle instead of running can be used to provide variety and eliminate pounding when needed. In the indoor version, players perform the same strength and core exercises and substitute 20-30 second bike sprints for the running.
|Inning||Exercise and Reps||Stride (yd)||Jog back (yd)||Walk back (yd)|
|1||Alternate lunge x10||100/75||75/50||25|
|2||Jumping jacks x10||100/75||75/50||25|
|3||Prone plank (30 s)||100/75||75/50||25|
|4||Mountain climber x10||100/75||75/50||25|
|5||Hip lifts x10||100/75||75/50||25|
|6||Push up x10||100/75||75/50||25|
|8||Lateral plank (20 s)||100/75||75/50||25|
|9||Split-squat jump x10||100/75||75/50||25|
|10||Cool down / stretch|
Gene Coleman, Ed. D., RSCC-E, FACSM, was the Head S&C Coach for the Houston Astros from 1978-2012 and is currently a strength and conditioning consultant for the Texas Rangers and Professor in the Exercise and Health Sciences Program at the University of Houston – Clear Lake.