Everyone knows you're supposed to "drive down the mound", but what does that mean?
Pitching is all about creating energy and transferring that energy with as much efficiency as possible. The first place we begin to create energy and force is in the drive leg. If you don't create force with the drive leg, you won't throw as hard as you can and you will be wasting energy and over-exerting the rest of your body to compensate for the lost energy. Here are three simple tips that have helped my students learn how to load their drive leg:
1. "Lift and drift"
Right from the get-go, you need to start creating some momentum toward home plate. The way high-velocity throwers do this is by "lifting and drifting", which means that while they go into leg lift, their hips are already starting to drift or tilt toward home plate. It's almost as if they are falling toward the plate. This allows them to gain some momentum as well as put their body in better position to push against the rubber. With your hips drifted forward, you are then able to push against your back leg which allows you to create energy moving toward the catcher and down the mound. If you don't drift, then when you push with your back leg you will just be pushing straight down into the ground, which only creates energy going straight up rather than out toward the target. "Lift and drift" is the first step to loading the drive leg efficiently.
2. "Drive through the heel"
If you wanted to stomp as hard as you can, creating as much force as possible, would you stomp with your toe or heel? Of course, you'd use your heel. In order to create the maximum amount of force with your drive leg, you need to push through your heel. In addition to allowing you to create more force from pushing into the ground, driving through the heel also helps you to engage your glutes for a more explosive release later in the delivery. To clarify, I don't mean for you to put ALL of your weight into your heel so that you are falling back. Your foot should remain flat on the ground. But you do want to drive through the heel. So, when you are throwing (even while you're playing catch), practice pushing through your heel rather than your toe, and you'll start to use your legs more efficiently.
3. "Stack the knee over the back foot"
The final key tip for loading the drive leg has to do with creating flexion. In order to understand this concept, think of how a bow and arrow works. The string is tied tightly on the ends of the bow, creating tension. And then, once the arrow is loaded, you pull back on the string, increasing that tension, which then leads to the arrow shooting forward at a high velocity. The drive leg works the same way. As you drive through the heel and start moving down the mound, you want to keep your knee vertical over the back foot as long as possible. I call this "stacking". When you keep your knee stacked over the back foot, you create flexion in your knee, much like the string of a bow being pulled back. This movement also creates flexion in the back (drive) hip, enabling an even more intense engagement of the glutes. this movement is a little more difficult to learn, but with the right drills, I've seen athletes as young as seven years old pick it up.
In March I did a video analysis for a client pointing out the things mentioned above. Over the past several months, he's taken these tips and worked on them with diligence. The result? Since March he has gained 9mph on his fastball, going from 71mph to 80mph as a high school freshman. That's some serious gains! So, take this stuff and put it to practice. If you want a little more detail as well as a visual of what this looks like, check out the Virtual Pitching Academy "Q&A" playlist on Facebook. And of course, if you want even more drills and info, you know what to do.