Power Sequencing, the Stretch-Shortening Cycle, and Hip/Shoulder Separation

Posted: April 10, 2013 in Baseball, Training
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Nearly all of the programs I write incorporate med ball throws.  During the “preseason” phase of training, 100% of them do. One of the first things I teach the athletes I train is how to properly execute these throws. Some people can do them right off the bat with no problem, but most untrained athletes need at least some coaching. The problem I see most often in untrained athletes is the tendency to try to do everything “all at once”. What I mean by this is that they have a difficult time creating torque and utilizing the stretch-shortening cycle in their throws because there’s no separation between upper body and lower body movements.

This is taking it a bit overboard

Complete separation isn’t actually necessary

Guys who hit with power or throw at high velocities are able to do so because their bodies are able to produce and effectively transmit force up their kinetic chain, from their feet to their hands. They do this by creating energy with a powerful motion in the lower half, transmitting that energy through a strong core to their upper body, and then adding to that energy with a powerful motion in the upper body. I refer to this ground-up transfer of energy as “power sequencing”, although there might be other terms for it. I like to use the term power sequencing because I think it really captures the essence of what’s happening during an athletic movement: a well-timed sequence of little mini-movements that combine to make up a bigger, powerful macro-movement. If the sequence is wrong or improperly timed, then the overall force of the movement will be negatively affected. But if the sequence is in the correct order and well-timed, the athlete will be able to get the most force out of his body for that particular macro-movement.

A good example of power sequencing in sports is the act of pitching a baseball. Recently, hip/shoulder separation has become a popular term among pitching coaches. This term refers to a pitcher’s ability to rotate his hips before rotating his upper body, which pre-stretches all the muscles across the front of the body, most importantly the muscles of the anterior core and the shoulder. This pre-stretch allows the involved muscles to fire with greater levels of force than if they started from a standstill, which allows for more powerful movement. The name for this phenomenon is the stretch shortening cycle (SSC). The SSC is the reason why people can jump higher after a short, quick countermovement than if they started from a seated position.

To get an idea of what hip/shoulder separation looks like, let’s look at Tim Lincecum’s delivery.

Here’s a good video of Lincecum to illustrate what I’m talking about:

If you pause that video at 0:34, you get this:

I'm not great at Photoshop so bear with me...

I’m not great at Photoshop so bear with me…

Granted, this is not the best angle for this experiment. A shot looking straight down from above would be better, but this illustrates my point just as well. Look at the difference in the angle of his hips and the angle of his shoulders. That’s hip/shoulder separation in a nutshell. That’s also a textbook example of the SSC. There’s a reason why Tim Lincecum is 140 lbs soaking wet and can (or used to be able to) throw in the upper 90’s. He gets every ounce of energy out of his body. He generates and effectively transfers a huge amount of force all the way up his kinetic chain. There’s no wasted motion there. Every mini-movement stacks up to build a powerful macro-movement. His power sequencing is pretty much perfect.

This hip/shoulder separation can also be seen during a baseball (or golf) swing, but it’s significantly less pronounced. The shoulders follow the hips more quickly, but the hips definitely drive the movement.

Here’s another example of the SSC at work. Let’s look at 2 examples of a med ball throw. One by me, and one by a 13-year old baseball player (Matt) who’s doing this drill for the first time.

Here’s Matt’s attempt:

And here’s my example:

What was the main difference there? My slam had more force and looked more fluid, but why? Remember how I said earlier that lots of kids try to do everything “all at once”? Notice Matt’s timing compared to mine. His arms are already coming forward when his foot hits the ground. My arms stay high until my foot hits, and then they come forward. If you stop the videos at the moment our front feet hit the ground, here’s what you get:

Again, not a photoshop expert.

Again, not a photoshop expert.

I figured out how to do straight lines on this one.

I figured out how to do straight lines on this one.

Look at the angle of the humerus compared to the spine. Pretty drastic. Matt has a couple of other things going on, but that’s what I’m going to focus on for the purposes of this article. The reason my throw is more fluid and powerful is because I keep my arms back longer, causing a stretch of the muscles across the front of my body. Then, like a stretched rubber band, those muscles contract and fire in sequence to transfer and add to the energy from my lower body. My sequencing is good, Matt’s is not. My ability to keep my arms back longer allows for more stretch across the front of my body, which in turn causes a more powerful contraction because of the SSC.

Matt’s a strong kid (believe it or not). He banged out 40 pushups last week without batting an eye. He can front squat his bodyweight 6 times (keep in mind he’s barely 13). His problem, like a lot of young athletes, isn’t strength. It’s faulty movement patterns. I don’t have a video of him throwing, but I can tell you that when he does throw, his lower body mechanics and power sequencing are just like in that video. Arm starts forward, then the foot comes down. Since he’s into the preseason phase of his training, strength-building is now taking a back seat to doing more drills like this to create good movement patterns and teach him how to use his strength in a sequential, Tim-Lincecum-like fashion.

The hard part is actually teaching kids to use good power sequencing. I’ve found that using video analysis like this is a good way to show them what they’re doing wrong, as they often can’t even tell anything is off. I also try to coach kids to generate power “from the ground up” and break down the macro-movement into micro-movements. Once they can figure out how to sequence their power properly on one med ball exercise, the rest of them tend to improve as well. After that, the goal is to incorporate those movement patterns into their swing and throwing mechanics. When athletes are able to fully utilize the SSC and good power sequencing, people like Big Time Timmy Jim are created.

PS: I’ll post a followup video of Matt doing these slams again next week so he can redeem himself.

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Comments
  1. Darlene Peters says:

    thanks. I appreciate everything you have done with him.
    He actually enjoys working with you and has learned a lot. Anything you need me to do don’t hesitate to contact me. Thanks Darlene

  2. […] talked about the importance of hip/shoulder separation and the stretch shortening cycle before in this article on my site, and this article on Stack.com. If you haven’t read those articles, give them a look to […]

  3. […] a stretch across the musculature of the core. When these muscles are stretched, it enables them to contract more forcefully via something called the stretch-shortening cycle. For a good example of hip/shoulder separation, take a look at Tim […]

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