Should pitchers land on the ball of their foot or on the heel when landing foot strike? A lot of outdated advice says players should land on the toe or the ball of their foot. However, this may not offer many advantages to the player. Instead, players may benefit from pitching instruction that focuses on more significant performance indicators.
For example, teaching efficient stride length can help pitchers throw strikes by increasing perceived pitching velocity. Therefore, it may be a better use of time to teach players about stride length, rather than nitpicking which part of the foot hits the ground first.
Pitching Instruction to Land Foot Strike on Ball of Foot May not Be the Best Advice
The idea behind telling pitchers not to land on their heel is that many coaches believe it will make the front knee lock up. However, most players get into a flat foot position within about 0.2 seconds. Is this really enough time for the pitch to go awry? Motion analysis indicates likely not.
While most pitching instruction out there is based on assumptions and anecdotes, scientific evidence is here to help us unravel just how important it is which part of a pitcher’s foot hits the ground first during foot strike.
When looking at just the number of heel strikers compared to toe (or ball of foot) strikers there are, the evidence may be surprising. If landing on the toe is more efficient, then you’d expect most players, or at least most professional pitchers, to use this method. However, our studies show that pitchers across skill levels mostly favor the heel, with about two-thirds being heel strikers.
However, this in itself isn’t exactly enough to show that pitching instruction shouldn’t focus on how a pitcher lands their foot strike. So, we’ve also analyzed different aspects of pitching mechanics.
For the study, we looked at release point efficiency, release point height, and balance at foot strike. Most of the results showed insignificant changes. For release point efficiency, there was a very slight advantage of 0.27% for the toe strikers. Release point efficiency again showed a small benefit for toe strikers as well, with about 0.33 inches.
However, the heel strikers had a more significant advantage for balance at foot strike, with a difference of 0.27 inches. Balance is important for getting better hip rotation and converting momentum into power and velocity.
Focus on Stride Length, Rather than Which Part of the Foot Lands First During Foot Strike
Instead, we generally recommend focusing on stride length, rather than how the pitcher lands their foot strike. Stride length is directly tied to release point distance. This means a longer stride means the player releases the ball closer to the home plate and may gain additional forward momentum behind their pitch. This offers two distinct benefits. First, it gives the hitter less time to react. Second, it can make the hitter perceive pitching velocity as faster. Both of these can help fool hitters into striking out during the pitch.
Now, as full disclosure, the toe-strike group did have a slight advantage for stride length during our motion analysis study. However, the difference was pretty insignificant, with only a difference of 0.67%. This is so small a number that we don’t generally recommend forcing a player to change how they land their foot strike. Instead, we believe focusing on other aspects can help the player improve their pitching performance.
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