Hitting with More Power – Pt 1

The best hitters in baseball have powerful swings. They are fast and violent yet smooth and controlled. As a hitter, you can have the best eye in the game and even have the coordination to barrel the ball up more times than not. But, if you don’t have the strength and power to hit it out of the infield your time playing is limited.

5 key factors for hitting with power:

  1. Foot – Ground Connection
  2. Glute Activation/Strength
  3. Upper and Lower Half Separation
  4. Core Activation/Strength
  5. Posture

Foot – Ground Connection

When producing rotational force, athletes need to maintain a solid connection to the ground. Just like when athletes squat, lunge, or deadlift – keeping their weight even across the whole foot will give them greater maintaining balance and stability. Imagine playing Home Run Derby barefoot in soft sand vs fully cleated up on the hard packed clay of an MLB batter’s box. It’s easy to imagine how much more consistent force you can produce on a hard surface vs the unstable surface of soft sand. 

An easy way to help athletes assess this is by paying close attention to where their weight is distributed on their back foot during the loading phase of their swing. Every time an athlete’s toe comes off the ground because they over rotate during the load or the heel pops up because they drive their knee too far forward the athlete is creating instability and essentially turning the batter’s box into a sand pit.

Check out Bautista’s back foot stability as he smokes this 113 mph line drive to left field.

Glute Activation/Strength

When a hitter loads, the hips get pushed back (hip hinge) and slightly rotated away from the pitcher. The purpose of this “coil” is to get a pre-stretch in the posterior chain to build as much stored energy as possible before the violent unwinding of the swing. This is how the glutes get activated during the swing. As the swing continues to develop and the hitter’s front foot lands, his lower half will release a rapid muscle contraction to pull his front hip open. Simultaneously, the backside fires to drive the hips through the hitter’s rotation. This creates a beautiful alliance of muscles working together to produce a powerful rotation.

If the hitter fails to hinge his hips (activating glutes), he will more than likely drive his knee too far forward (activating quads) and push through his swing instead of rotating out of it. We cannot push our way through a rotational sport.

Notice on Trout’s load that he sits into his backside. He starts fairly upright, then upon lifting his front foot his butt gets pushed back. His right knee stays behind his toe ensuring that he is activating his posterior chain. And again, the back foot is rock solid.

Upper and Lower Half Separation:

After the load, the pelvis begins moving forward as the hitter begins to shift his weight to the front foot. This is quickly followed by a controlled, yet violent, rotation of the hips as the shoulders remain in their “loaded” position. This hip/shoulder separation stretches out the core muscles that are attached to the top of the pelvis and bottom of the rib cage. The faster these muscles stretch, the more they stretch. The more they stretch the faster and stronger they contract. This is like the rubberband effect that everyone is familiar with. 

The simple goal of the swing is for each segment of the body to pick up speed as the swing unwinds. It begins with the hips, then the torso, shoulders, arms, hands, and finally bat head. By the time the bat begins to rotate, it should have energy accumulated from each subsequent movement. This massive stretch that’s caused by the hip/shoulder separation allows for more velocity to be created throughout the torso. Setting up a powerful swing. Improper separation of the shoulders and hips leads to slower swing speeds and lack of power.

Cano does a beautiful job separating his upper and lower body.

Core Activation/Strength

The core is everything from the top of your thighs to the bottom of your chest, 360° around. This is the nucleus of your body and without control you will undoubtedly lose the ability to consistently move well and produce efficient power. A strong core will increase posture, balance, body control, as well as producing a stronger lever to transfer energy up the kinetic chain.

Like I previously hinted at, athletic power involves fast contraction of muscle fibers. As the muscle rapidly stretches, energy builds and triggers an immediate increase of force released by the working muscles. Strength in the core will lead to greater ability to separate the hips and shoulders as well as increase the ability to contract. It is the stretching and shortening of the core muscles that produce rotational power.

Griffey makes this powerful swing look smooth as glass.

Posture

One consequence of today’s society of sitting for 6-10 hours a day and the increased use of tech devices is that we lose our posture, specifically in the thoracic spine (middle of our back). We can enter a kyphotic posture, where the curve in our mid back is more than normal. This inhibits our ability to extend and rotate. Since hitting is a rotational movement that rotates around the spine, when the spine is overly curved it makes it difficult to rotate. Obviously, when hitters are having trouble rotating they consequently have trouble hitting.

Pujols does a fantastic job showing separation here, but notice how much his spine has to rotate for his hips to separate. 

There’s no doubt that the best hitters in Major League Baseball have powerful swings. Thus, knowing how to increase your power as a hitter becomes a critical part of prolonging a career. The good news is that all hitters can work on boosting their power inside the box. 

The best, most efficient way to do this is through an individualized strength program. One that targets the specific hitting muscles while training the movement patterns that are unique to hitting. This program should continuously focus on the foot-ground connection, activating and strengthening the core and posterior chain, upper and lower separation and maintaining proper thoracic mobility. In part 2, we will go over the exercises we utilize to strengthen and mobilize our hitters.

Strength Training for Youth – pt 2

In part 1 of Strength Training for Youth, we talked about what separates the bottom of the line up from the top on a youth team. We identified that the best way to give the bottom of the line up athletes the ability to compete for a spot at the top of the line up is through a well-designed and properly supervised strength and conditioning program. In part 2, we will walk through a basic outline of how we design workouts for our youth athletes.

First and foremost the overall goal of training youth athletes, ages 8-13, is keeping it FUN!! We must obtain a positive association with strength training and the gym. This is the only way to keep their young minds engaged and committed to the program. They might not fully understand the importance of learning how to squat properly, doing more push-ups, and working on mobility. The only measure that matters to youth is: 

Is it fun? Or is it not fun?

After that, the goal is to improve body awareness and control. This starts by laying a solid foundation of quality movement.

The basic outline of our youth program looks like:

Warm-Up: 10 minutes

  • Soft Tissue Work
  • Movements/Mobility
  • Blood Flow

Speed/Plyometrics: 15 minutes

  • Agility
  • Sprints
  • Jumps
  • Medicine Ball
  • Hand-Eye Coordination

Strength: 20 minutes

  • Squat
  • Deadlifts
  • Push-Ups
  • Rows
  • Lunges

Finisher/Game: 15 minutes

  • Race
  • Relay
  • Mirror Drills
  • Tag Games
  • Obstacle Course

Warm-Up

This is an overlooked but vital part of youth training, or all training for that matter. First it’s our chance to educate the athlete on the importance of taking care of their body. They will learn about the muscles, where they’re at, what they do, etc. But, It’s also a great opportunity to get to know the athlete on a higher level. Find out what they enjoy doing. Favorite movie, music genre, food. Their favorite player, team and other sports they are interested in. This will not only help develop trust between the athlete and coach, but you will also acquire valuable intel on how to cue them during future exercises. 

For example, if they love to play basketball and we are working on jumping with max intent, we can cue the athlete by referring to gathering a rebound. A quick/powerful jump as high as you can. We can also better incorporate tools and props throughout the program. For example, if they like football and we are running some sled sprints, we can do a simple quarterback handoff or a post route to a touchdown pass. Easy integrations that go a long way.

These are dynamic movements used to prime the body for the upcoming exercises, loosen up stiff muscles and help maintain mobility. We do 4-6 movements like hip bridges and planks to activate the glutes and core, spiderman lunges with rotation to warm up the legs and thoracic spine, shuffles and skips to create blood flow. 

Speed/Plyometrics 

Introducing form and technique drills for running and jumping will promote good habits and safe practices. We integrate basic running progressions and simple plyometrics like sprints, skips, jumps, bounds and hops. Using tools like boxes, cones, and jump ropes.

One thing we continuously work on is proper landings. Learning how to absorb force efficiently will help build strength in the lower body, increase performance, and protect them from injuries. Things like depth drops are heavily utilized and widely varied. We keep the fall relatively small, rarely going over a 16 inch drop. But mix it up with single leg/double leg and adding sprints, jumps, and catches after they establish a stable platform. 

Strength

For the strength part, we pick 4-8 exercises maintaining an even blend of upper body and lower body movements. We use supersets, circuits, AMRAP, EMOMs and various other methods for organizing this portion of the workout. This helps keep it fun and engaging for the young athletes.

On the lower body exercises we choose one knee dominant and one hip dominant. So things like Goblet Squats and Box Step-Ups for knee dominant and Walking Lunges and Kettlebell Deadlifts for hip dominant. For the upper body, we balance out pressing and pulling exercises. Simple Push-Ups and Inverted Rows are frequently used exercises. We also do a lot of isometric and eccentric work like Bent-Arm Hangs and Bodyweight Squat Holds. 

With the strength-building exercises, we tend to lean towards less is more. We don’t get overly complicated with anything. Learning the basics of how to move and focus on developing a foundation to build upon is our main goal. 

Finisher

Finally, it’s important to leave the athlete with a fun, lasting memory. One that will keep them coming back for more. For this, we like to end with some sort of finisher. Playing games like tag, spikeball or simply running football routes are awesome ways to continue developing and having lots of fun at the same time. 

Another thing is constructing obstacle courses. Getting creative with the equipment and what the athletes enjoy can be just as fun for the trainer as it is for the kids. It’s also an easy way to plug in some movements that we might have missed during the session. For example, if we didn’t incorporate any carrying into the workout, then we can get creative with adding carries into the finisher. 

Eventually, the athlete will begin to mature both physically and mentally. They will become bored with the pace and nothing will present a real physical challenge to them. They’ll be executing the exercises with speed and ease while everyone else is struggling to maintain balance. This is when we look to graduate an athlete from our youth class into our higher-level programs. The programs are still focused on a broad range of lifts and movements to better develop body control and force production, but specifically tailored to that particular athlete. This way the athlete continues to be challenged and developed throughout their career.

 

Strength Training for Youth – pt 1

Usually, at 10 years old, the best player on the team plays shortstop and leads off – or maybe first base and bats 3-hole. They play a position that requires the most fielding, catching, and throwing and are placed somewhere near the top of the lineup. The least effective athletes are condemned to the lonely outfield and sentenced to hitting at the bottom.

 

So, what separates the top of the line-up from the bottom?

 

Simple answer… They move better. 

  • They have more balance and stability to help maintain strong body positions. 
  • They have higher levels of mobility to increase their range of motion.
  • They have more strength and control to help slow down and speed their body up. 
  • They have better awareness and timing to effectively move their limbs through space. 

So how do we level the playing field? How does the right fielder who’s batting 8th acquire the skills and ability to play infield and bat at the top?

 

Through a well-designed and properly supervised strength and conditioning program.

 

I think it’s fairly obvious that you do not strength train a professional athlete the same way as a youth athlete. Youth need a much broader approach than the extremely specific training that the elite, pro-level player requires. But, there is one thing that remains constant throughout all levels of training – movement is king. We train under a movement first methodology, which states that the quality of movement is the most important factor of the program. Developing the skills and awareness to move properly reduces the risk of injury and lays a solid foundation to build explosive strength upon.

In part 2 of this series, we will go into more detail about True Grind’s approach to training youth athletes.