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:
- Foot – Ground Connection
- Glute Activation/Strength
- Upper and Lower Half Separation
- Core Activation/Strength
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.
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.
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.
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.