Pitch: Knees Together? Or Knees Apart?
Today we settle a dispute older than time itself. Knees in? Or knees out? And in the process, I will likely infuriate people who think that there is a ‘winner take all’ pitch position technique. There is not.
There is a lot of nuance in acrobatic technique, but there are key consistencies within those nuances that should not be overlooked. It would be wrong of me to say there is a one-size-fits-all approach for how you should pitch.
What we’ll be doing today is exploring those nuances and figuring out what’s going to work best for you. What we won’t be doing today is teaching you pitch technique. If you want to learn that, you can check out our Pitch to Reverse F2H Video
Safety Looking Cool 1st
Starting with what is always the most important point: looking cool.
This is an entirely subjective opinion, but visually I prefer the knees out position. I think it looks more athletic, less awkward and more ‘natural’. By contrast, I think knees together looks like you’re pooping in the woods and trying to hide from the other campers.
We make choices about the aesthetic of our technique all the time. The majority of the time they have little to no consequence technically. Foe example; where your arm goes as a base when you’re doing any one arm work. Do you put it out to the side like a plane? Down to your side with your hand on your thigh? This decision won’t affect the technique of what you’re doing, it’s purely an aesthetic or stylistic choice.
However, with pitch technique I do think there is a choice to be made technically and one way over the other will work better for you and your partnership. Before you make a hasty decision based solely upon which one you think makes you look more badass, let us discuss the finer points.
Lord Valgus – Destroyer of Universes
There is one clear winner between ‘knees in’ and ‘knees out’ when it comes to physiologically ‘ideal’ movement. The knees in position requires a large of amount of ‘valgus knee movement’. ‘Valgus knee movement’ is when the leg bends and the knee, if viewed from above, would move (or ‘track’) towards the center / midline of the body.
This is a knee-knee-no-no. Valgus knee movement is a documented mechanism of injury for ACL and knee injuries. The knee likes it best when as our leg bends, our knee tracks out directly over our foot.
The ‘knee in’ places a lot of demand on the structure of our knee. As the flyer steps up there is a downward force you have to resist, and essentially work to deaccelerate, and it’s this exact thing, knee valgus during deacceleration, that is the known mechanism for knee injuries.
Now, imagine you’re exposing yourself to that force and impact multiple times a practice, multiple times a week. Over time that exposure adds up, and you have the potential to wear your knees out quicker than someone who loaded them in a more anatomically preferable (although not foolproof) way – knees over toes.
By the Power of Greyskull
Let us for a hot second talk about the deadlift. The king of strength exercises. There are two, well documented and understood, ways to deadlift. Sumo, and conventional. Both allow us to lift incredibly heavy things off the floor, and put them back down. Take a look at this position, the setup for the conventional deadlift, and tell me what it looks like.
If you said ‘pitch’: ding ding ding. You win a prize. The knees out pitch position bears an uncanny, near identical resemblance to the deadlift position. This position is one that we know allows our hips and legs to work effectively and is one where they can generate a lot of force.
No one, in the history of lifting things up and putting them down again, has ever said that this position...
…would be a better position to generate force from. The knees out pitch position allows you, the base, to generate more force than knees in. Which brings us to…..
Taking Advantage of Your Advantages
One benefit of the knees together pitch position is it gives the flyer a significantly more stable platform to push off. This means the flyer can contribute much more to the overall trick, as they’re able to be more aggressive and explosive in their lead leg.
I believe this is why we typically, but not always, see the knees together pitch position in pairs where the base are flyer are closer in size – men’s pairs, women’s pairs and female base / male flyer pairs.
As the gap in size between base and flyer diminishes, so does the amount of power the base can impart on the flyer. A heavier flyer is physically harder to throw, but a heavier flyer is likely to be stronger and can contribute more power from their own jump to the trick. So, it makes sense to give those flyers a solid platform to jump off, to maximize their advantage.
The opposite is true for partnerships were there is a larger gap in size between base and flyer, like mixed pairs. The base is able to contribute more power through their throw, than the flyer could contribute through their jump. So, we’ll typically see bases pick a position that allows them to maximize their contribution. This is more often than not going to be a legs apart pitch position.
Side note: One thing I have seen in the past is people use the ‘knees together’ position as a ‘crutch’. They struggle to give and maintain a good enough platform for their flyer to step on with knees apart. If you are not strong enough to create a stable platform with your hands while your knees are apart (and don’t fit into the categories outlined above), it is probably worth reconsidering if you’re ready to pitch at all.
Having said that, the flyer can also make things harder for you by being ‘stompy’, this is a technical error on the flyers side that will affect the bases ability to maintain a good position.
Dem Bones, Dem Bones
One element that will affect which style works best for you is your mobility, and your body.
The knees together pitch position allows for a much, much shallower bend so the position requires much less mobility. The knees apart position requires greater hip and ankle mobility, and it can be difficult for some people to achieve this position while also keeping their face out of the way of getting kicked. There are also just some people who have a specific leg to torso length relationship that make it near impossible for them to achieve this position.
This is very, very rare though. The majority of people, even those who (like me) are stiff as a board, will be able to get into a good position.
However, if you are physically incapable of holding the basic, static pitch position you’re going to have an incredibly hard time being explosive out of it. If you can’t achieve the position because you’re stiff, that’s a solvable problem and you can work towards a better position over time with certain exercises and stretches.
If you’re physically incapable of holding the basic, static position because of the way your body is built no amount of stretching is going to solve that. You’ll have to bite the bullet and adopt a slightly modified ‘knees out’ position, or just go full ‘knees in’.
How To Pick The Right Position
Once again, I turn to flowcharts. This is unfortunately not a perfect system, but is going to be applicable in 90% of cases.
I hope if you came here with uncertainty in your mind, you’re now certain. If you came with an unwavering devotion to one position over the other, I hope you have a newfound appreciation of the nuances. And if you came not knowing what a pitch is at all, and completely confused you now have a slightly better understanding.
If the information here didn’t clear it up, or you want more, our Pitch to Reverse Foot to Hand video is over 30 minutes long and has all the information you need to go from pitching zero, to pitching hero!