Sprinting is a... Rotational Move?

 

Both Altuve and OBJ step closed and kick back with their back foot – and it’s not by coincidence.

Pitching and hitting a baseball requires requires movement from multiple planes of motion – most notably the transverse plane which deals with rotation. Elite baseball athletes are really good in this plane of motion because they are training in it all the time. As a result, it should be no surprise when we see guys like Nelson Cruz and Mike Trout launch golf balls into orbit.Good rotation is good rotation.  

However, it is a little different when we see someone like Odell Beckham Jr. – who has no recent or notable background in baseball – pick up a bat and launch baseballs in batting practice. As a wide receiver, you’re doing a lot of cutting, leaping, bounding, and sprinting – but not a lot of rotating. Since we know power is plane specific and is quick to go if it’s not trained, how in the world is OBJ able to barrel balls over 350 feet with little to no baseball training? How can he get really good at rotating without ever really needing it on the football field?

Well, he does train rotation – and he trains it A LOT.

To understand this, let’s go back to reciprocal movement. All human beings are pre-programmed for reciprocal cross-body movement. The easiest way to explain this is to think about how all humans walk. When we step forward with our left leg, our upper body counterrotates around our pelvis and moves the right arm forward. When the right leg goes forward, the upper body counterrotates and sends the left arm forward. This counterrotation creates optimal length-tension relationships that store potential energy which is used to create movement through assistance from the fascial system. The constant counterrotation of the torso around the pelvis is reciprocal cross-body movement. We also don’t just see it when we walk – we see it in all human movement. 

 As the bowler extends his right arm forward to bowl the ball, his right leg kicks back to give his pelvis a stable base for his torso to rotate around(source). 
 Jack Eichel uses reciprocal movement (see back leg kick back as stick moves across his body) to get off a wrist shot (source). This kick back move is very common in hockey – and it’s the same exact move Altuve uses to get his swing off. 

When our upper body works one way, our lower body anchors us down by moving reciprocally in the opposite direction. The lower half stabilizes and gives our upper half the ability to mobilize around it. This helps create efficiency, force, and direction required for human movement. If we want to rinse out a wash cloth, we can’t move both of our hands in the same direction. One hand needs to twist in one direction while the other counterrotates and twists in the other direction. Our upper half represents one hand and the lower half represents the other hand. To efficiently remove water from the wash cloth, both sides need to work in opposition of each other. This is exactly what our body does to create reciprocal cross-body movement.

If we look at baseball players, we are going to see reciprocal movement as they rotate to swing or throw. When the upper half mobilizes and works to get across the body to deliver the bat or ball, the pelvis anchors down and stabilizes. This move does not need to be taught – it’s already inside of us. Altuve and OBJ don’t both step closed and kick back by coincidence; we’re all pre-programmed for cross-body reciprocal movement. If anything, we coach most kids out of it.Don’t believe me? Check out how the lower half of an uncoached kid compares to one of the best hitters in the game. 

Lower half looks pretty similar, huh?

It’s also not just a hitting thing, either. 

Notice how Max Scherzer’s back foot kicks back and re-anchors after ball release so he can get across his body (source).
Darren O’Day is also able to create an anchor point using his back leg – even though it is not connected to the ground. Think about the action a bowler uses to get across his body (source).

So since we have an understanding of what reciprocal movement is and the importance of it when it comes to rotation, let’s go back to sprinting. Just like walking, when we sprint our pelvis and torso are constantly counterrotating against each other with every stride we take. When the left leg drives forward, the pelvis rotates so the left side is slightly in front of the right side. The torso counterrotates by driving the right shoulder slightly in front of the left shoulder. In essence, both the trunk and pelvis must ROTATE around the spine and against each other to produce force, direction, and efficiency. This is exactly what happens throughout the course of a baseball swing or throw. When a hitter or pitcher makes their move out of balance, the torso slightly counterrotates against the pelvis as it moves forward to remove slack going into foot strike.  After foot strike, the pelvis counterrotates against the torso as athletes work to get across their body.  

Notice how in elite sprinters how the pelvis and the trunk are counterrotating against each other with every single stride they take. The pelvis and torso do not drive forward in a straight line – they are rotating towards the midline of the body. This is our body’s reciprocal engine at work (source).

Sprinters might not look like they’re rotating, but when we break it down it becomes more and more clear they’re actually rotating in tight windows around their spine with every single stride. Without even thinking about it, OBJ become really good at rotating by sprinting. We just happened to see how good he was at it when he picked up a bat and took some cuts.