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There have been many great back elbow moves in sports. None can come even close to the most electrifying elbow move in sports and entertainment history.
The back elbow of a hitter's swing is something of an enigma for most young baseball or softball coaches and parents. They might hear a coach, one time, say "keep it up" and then hear another one tell their kid to "keep it down". Some might hear that it needs to "go back" in the load and others might try to raise it higher. The back elbow and its role in a high-quality swing can quickly become the Bermuda Triangle of baseball or softball swing mechanics. It is easy to get lost in, and never really know if you're going the right way.
In this article, Baseball Rebellion will highlight some common questions that coaches and parents might have about the back elbow in the swing. I will be using Robinson Cano, Mike Trout, and Prince Fielder for examples. Each one of these great hitters has a slightly different starting elbow position, but all three have great back elbow movements.
Honest answer, it doesn't actually matter where it starts, however...as you will find out further on in this article, the back elbow will need to make a move eventually. In this move, the elbow needs to at least rise back to shoulder height in order to create maximum bat speed. Since most younger players have trouble sequencing up multiple upper body moves, with lower body moves, it is easier for younger players to start with their back elbow already around shoulder height.
Let's take a look at a few MLB All-Stars with different back elbow starting positions.
The three different players you see here, all have slightly different back elbow starting positions and starting movements. Robinson Cano has always had a sub-shoulder height back elbow, Mike Trout keeps his right at or slightly higher than shoulder height, and Prince Fielder clearly starts with a higher back elbow than most and then goes even higher. Having said that most players do move their back elbows while in their stance as part of their pre-stride rhythm, but for the most part these players keep it right around the same area.
The first initial move of the back elbow will be generally up and back behind the hitter to some degree. This move behind the hitter can be referred to as the back elbow/shoulder "row". I call it this generally because the degree of height and back shoulder "row" or scapular load will vary from hitter to hitter. If the hitter can get higher and/or further back in their row they can ultimately create more distance between the elbow and body which will in turn give the hitter the ability to create more bat speed. While a higher and bigger back elbow/shoulder move can create more bat speed, a bigger move is also more difficult to sequence up with the rest of the body. This can lead to timing issues. Always remember that bigger moves like this are risk/reward movements. They can create more power but for many young players, the increased bat speed isn't worth the inconsistencies that come with learning the new move at first. However, with consistent practice, most baseball and softball players will be able to pull it off.
Here we can see three quality back elbow/shoulder moves that are extremely consistent among these players. Elite level hitters rarely change their loading moves, which plays a huge part into why they are as good of hitters as they are. Their consistency allows for great timing, adjust-ability, and maximum force generation.
You can see that Robinson Cano's back elbow is much slighter than Trout or Fielder's. Cano loads his back shoulder and elbow simultaneously both slightly back and slightly up. Nothing to crazy here as it has proven to be comfortable and work for him. This is also why you might see Cano's home runs to be slightly lower than a player like Prince Fielder, which can be attributed to Cano's shoulder rotation being much less vertical at times. Still, he creates tremendous turn speed which is clearly enough to clear a Major League fence.
Mike Trout, on the other hand, has a much more noticeable and aggressive pull back from his shoulder. This, in turn, pulls the back elbow much more behind him. You can still clearly see more height in the back than Robinson Cano, which allows Trout to work extremely well to lower pitches.
Prince Fielder's move in this particular swing is much more up towards the sky than the previous two players. I really think Fielder aggressively works to get a ton of lift in his swing. This high back elbow/shoulder move allows him to work much more vertical with his shoulder rotation, which can be seen by how much higher of a launch angle he is able to get than most players. It is important to remember though when the launch angle increases, at a certain point the ball exit speed must get higher as well, otherwise, you will just fly out.
Once the hips start to rotate and bring the back shoulder down and around, the back elbow will follow and quickly pass the back shoulder. At this point, the hands will be making their move past the back elbow while turning the barrel. As we will find out later, the hitter will start turning the barrel either sooner or later depending on their timing of the pitch.
At the contact position, the back elbow will be directly behind the back hand of the hitter on a middle pitch and there will be a slight upward angle from the elbow to the hand. Remember, this is in an ideal contact situation with minimal adjustments. The back elbow will sometimes have to move slightly to adjust to some contact locations but for the most part it will located firmly by the hitters ribs. Here is Mike Trout getting to contact with an outside pitch and an inside pitch.
On the outside pitch Trout's elbow is still behind his hand but angled more outward, toward the right to center part of the field. Although he doesn't hit the ball deep enough for it to go that way, there is still plenty of speed in the barrel with full release. He is able to still drive this ball left center with tons of power, proving that you don't always have to hit outside pitches that way to be successful.
For more middle to inside pitch locations, Trout's back elbow will continue to turn with the body further before releasing outward or sometimes not at all. Still, you can see the strong position behind contact with the slightly upward angle of the Ulna and Radius.
Through the contact position, the back elbow will continue it's path outward on most outside to middle pitch locations. There are some instances where the hitter's back elbow will remain close to the body as the arms of the hitter stay bent, which will keep the barrel close to the body so that the hitter can handle inside pitches. Here we can see Mike Trout adjust to both inside and outside pitches with the back elbow through the finish.
Once the barrel passes the back elbow and hands, it has now become the controlling force. This energy will pull the back elbow away from the body if the hitter allows it. The release of the back elbow can be triggered early or delayed, depending on the hitters timing of that particular pitch, which is a nice feature to have since we know that hitters will not have perfect timing on every pitch.
This is a really nice camera angle in which you can see Prince Fielder go from maximum elbow height to the release of his back elbow. He hits this pitch slightly more in the release phase of the swing, which is not optimum, but plenty enough for someone with so much size and power to get the ball over the fence. This is a great example of a slight delay in the release of the barrel.
This is the question for most baseball and softball players. Make sure whatever you do, that the back shoulder and elbow work well together with the body's movement forward in the stride. Once consistency is established, the hitter can then venture out and play with a more vertical back elbow or slightly more horizontal, back move. Always keeping in mind how far they can get without jeopardizing too much consistency at contact. If you are a slightly undersized player for your age, it may not be a bad idea to try and get a little more from your back shoulder / elbow move. Bigger guys may not need as much movement, but can still find out what they can get away with and shouldn't settle for just being big, as this may not always be the case.
Power and consistency is the name of the game with moves like these and finding your "magic line" where you can maximize both of these attributes is important. With enough practice, find out what you can do and use it to the fullest. Baseball and Softball Coaches, don't be afraid to allow players to play with these types of moves, especially during the off season. Sometimes just a little higher back elbow in the stride can really open a player up to their full potential.
Check out our online hitting lessons or one-time hitting evaluation to get your swing broken down by JK!
At Baseball Rebellion, we often teach and write about the importance of the lower half of the body because kinetic energy works from the ground and proceeds through the body, eventually reaching the bat. While this is still the priority, it is also important understand how to fire the upper body explosively when the time is right. The major movement we use to do this is adduction of the back arm. Adduction is simply the motion of bringing your arm closer to the midline of your body. You can remember this because adduction is ADDing your arm to your body. Below is a diagram showing adduction as well as a video where I take a look at Aaron Judge adducting his arm in a swing.
Now that we know that adduction is important in the baseball swing, lets discuss the major muscles that act to adduct the arm. In my my opinion, there are three muscles on our back that we we want to use maximally (Latissimus Dorsi, Teres Major, and Subscapularis) and one that we want to use less (Pec Major).
The Latissimus Dorsi is a big, strong muscle on the back that plays many roles including including adduction of the back arm. As mentioned in the video of Aaron Judge above, it is important to set up the use of our back muscles by retracting our scapula so that the adduction of the arm happens over top of these muscles instead of in line or in front of our rib cage. This can be seen in this picture:
The Teres Major Muscle originates on the bottom of the scapula and inserts onto the front of the humerus (Upper arm). It has many of the same actions as the Latissimus Dorsi above. As you can see in the diagram above, the Teres Major muscle wraps around the arm. Because of this, the back can act to adduct the arm forcefully. As with the the Lat, it is important to set up the use of this muscle by reacting the arm/scapula prior to initiating the upper body in the swing.
The Subscapularis muscle is the most anterior muscle that we want to use maximally when adducting the back arm in the baseball swing. It is located on the front side of the scapula and attaches to the front of the upper arm. As you can see from the diagrams of all three muscles mentioned those far, they show how the big strong back muscles can act on the arm to adduct it quickly and powerfully. This can be a very advantageous move for hitters.
While the Pec Major muscle isn’t necessarily bad to use in addition to the three major adductors mentioned above, we don’t want to use it by itself to adduct the arm for a couple of reasons. The first is that you simply will not generate the same amount of force when compared to adduction using the Lat, Teres Major, and Subscapularis muscles. Using the Pectorals Major muscle as the primary adductor often leads to bat drag because there is nothing to stop the back elbow from sliding forward and across the stomach. We typically see bat drag in younger kids for precisely this reason. They often do not have big back musculature yet and have little coordination and control of their scapula. Allowing young hitters to understand where their muscles are and how to use them can be highly effective in creating better movement patterns. Without the important setup/retraction move mentioned earlier, the Pectoralis Major muscle will most likely take over as the primary adductor and lead to inefficient upper body mechanics.
I hope this has helped you understand your body and your swing.
Thank you for reading.
Gabe Dimock – Baseball Rebellion Hitting Instructor
Many people teach a hands first downward plane swing. As readers of the Baseball Hitting Rebellion know, we are not part of that group. The truly amazing thing about the Top Level Swing (in baseball and softball) is that there are almost NO examples of players utilizing the knob pull or a downward swing and having any type of success, yet linear hands first hitting is the predominant thought taught at all formative levels of baseball and softball.
As I was going through the process of figuring out what I wanted to write about next, I kept coming back to the separation of the lead hip and the back shoulder. The true engine of the Top Level Swing is the stretching action of the muscles of the torso, and how that action is created and maximized for a suddenly explosive and accelerated swing. Paul Reddick, a former scout, starts his hitting product ‘sales pitch’ by saying, ‘everybody knows that hitting power is the result of the separation of the hips and shoulders’, and if you’ve read my stuff, you know I’m on board with that as well.
However, I think it’s really important that people understand that this torque creating move doesn’t just stop at a hip turn.
As the back hip begins the move inward towards home plate, a counter rotation of the upper gear must occur to help balance this move. I call this ‘Back Shoulder Row’. Basically it’s a move to help balance and increase the stretching action of the torso that creates even deeper and earlier bat speed and downward and sideways whip of the barrel into the zone. The Back Shoulder Row forces a proper hand pivot by literally making it impossible to pull your knob forward as your back elbow is now blocked by your lat muscle and obliques from moving forward.
Once this blocking action occurs, you MUST pivot the barrel around your hands, whipping the barrel downward and backward towards the catcher and then sideways into the zone. This move is very hard to pick up as you really need to know what to look for. I have searched my library of videos extensively to give the best few examples and multiple views of back shoulder row during in game footage. Look at where the back elbow goes...the back shoulder and scapular musculature are moving the back elbow behind the batter, towards the dugout. It's pretty subtle, but it's there, and it's needed.
Notice that this is NOT a stiff turn of the hips that move the shoulders inward, this is a back shoulder pull, much like you’re using a rowing machine with only one arm. Even if a hitter does turn his lead shoulder inward, like Edmunds and Adrian Gonzalez, he still rows that back elbow/shoulder backwards as his hips are beginning their inward turn. Bonds did it too…and that guy could hit a little bit I'd say!
I know I said this earlier, but I can't stress it enough: the scap load prevents the knob pulling/arm pushing swing that most of the kids today use. Your rear elbow will get behind your lat muscle, so you CAN’T pull the bat's knob forward or push the handle of the bat at the pitcher - the hitter MUST pivot the hands and swing the barrel down and back to the catcher and then sideways into the path of the ball.
Your HIPS turn the swing into the ball, but your scap load (back shoulder row) and hand pivot turn the barrel back and to the side as your hips are turning inward. Really watch these clips slowly, notice the bat head going towards the catcher and then ‘sweeping’ in behind the baseball from the side to make contact. This depth in the barrel gives the longest possible contact point and the scap load makes it EVEN DEEPER than I’ve described in the past.
Click on the picture to see the movement.
This is a SUPER high level move, and most kids won’t understand this until they get a little more coordinated and comfortable being able to feel their own muscles work. One of my huge concerns about talking about back shoulder row is that kids will try to do it and stiffen up. Remain smooth and allow this transition to the highest level swing possible. Remember it is going to take a period of time. There is no get a scapula load quick scheme out there. It takes hours and hours of positive practice. My team at I.T.S. and the BHR are working tirelessly on how to use the Drive Developer and other tools to increase your scapula load and understanding of how it loads properly, the benefits of it, and how to make sure it’s not hurting you and stiffening up your easy smooth swing mechanics.
Leader of the Baseball Hitting Rebellion
Certified I.T.S. Baseball Hitting System Instructor
Back Elbow Drill Face-On with resistance coming from backside:
Back Elbow Drill Backside with resistance coming from front:
As private instructors, we have an obligation to each one of our clients to provide the resources to be a better hitter, pitcher or fielder. Parents are putting their trust in us to give their children the best possible chance to succeed. We explain to the families immediately in the evaluation process that we expect a lot out of our hitters outside of the facility.
Simply coming for one lesson a week and doing nothing in between won't cut it. We will provide the resources for improvement, but development is truly on the player. For the past year, I have worked with a local hitter named Jack. His family trusted us with his development and the results reviewed in this article are a testament to Jack's hard work and his parents choice to bring him in often.
Jack was a very athletic 12-year-old at the time of his evaluation. He was advanced in his understanding of how he wanted to hit. He understood that he wanted to hit the ball hard and in the air. But didn't always understand how to do it. You can see that Jack gets a lot of early armbar in his swing. He also has too much of a lean back in his turn, which can cause hitters to pop a lot of balls up.
So why do in-person lessons? What are we trying to accomplish? Tyler Zupcic wrote an article on this topic explaining that we strive to "Raise Ceilings". Meaning, we want to take however good a hitter can possibly be and make that just a little better. As explained before, Jack was very talented when we first met. My goal was to take that natural athleticism and turn it into skill. Jack understood he wanted to hit the ball in the air but didn't know how to correctly.
Part of Jack's development was his understanding that to be a great hitter, his barrel accuracy had to improve. As his accuracy improved so would his ability to hit the ball harder (Max Exit Velocity, Blue Squares). By stressing his average exit velocity (Green Squares) in lessons, Jack would, in turn, begin to make better contact, more often.
The images above represent the comparison between Jack's initial evaluation (2018) to a recent lesson on October 3, 2019. Jack has been able to take his initial Max Exit Velocity and turn that into his Average Exit Velocity through an entire year. You can tell by the second picture that represents the distribution of Jack's hits during the session (groundball, fly ball, and line-drive percentages), Jack already hit the ball in the air well. The work we have done has allowed him to continue hitting the ball in the air, yet much harder and more effectively than ever before.
We have written article after article about how we train rotation as a skill. After taking Jack through the movement progression on the Rebel's Rack we attacked his upper body flaws. As you could see in the above GIF, Jack had a tendency to drop his hands in order to get the bat on plane with the pitch. The goal was to show Jack a way to move the bat that allowed for more adjustability as well as a better bat path. Two major drills we used to attack this flaw were the Turn Behind the Turn, as well as Half Turns with a Ball in the Back Elbow.
Both of these drills are great for upper body efficiency. They place constraints on the hitter and force them to keep their hands high during their swing to allow for a better bat path and fewer pop-ups. The ball in the back elbow of the half-turn drill forces the hitter to stay connected to their body's rotation and doesn't allow them to extend their arms too early. If they do decide to reach out and extend their arms, the ball will fall.
To allow for the quickest and most effective results, proper cueing is a must. The drills alone are not going to create the desired result. It is the job of an instructor to properly cue the drills right to maximize improvement. The parents are entrusting their child's development with us, we don't have the opportunity to throw stuff against the wall and hope the hitter "figures it out".
Here are some of the cues we used with Jack:
"Front Elbow Up" - "Turn the Knob to the Ceiling" - "Keep Hands Above Chest/Ball"
While all of these are upper body cues (Jack had good footwork, to begin with) this is what he needed. These cues might not work for every hitter but they are a great place to start with upper body mistakes.
As you can see from the above GIF, Jack's hand path has improved dramatically. Training something as detailed as the hand path in a swing can be tough to track and test. Obviously we used video as well as Hittrax, but there are so many more resources to use to help your hitters understand their own swing.
Jack is a visual learner and the use of Blast Motion's 3D Swing Tracker helped Jack understand how low his hands were getting in the swing. We also were able to track it using the Attack Angle measurement. Jack initially evaluated with a lower Attack Angle because of the loopy hand path. The ability for Jack to improve the consistency of his Attack Angle, allowed Jack to have better barrel awareness. Another measurement we tracked was his Connection Score. The Connection at Impact put a number and score on just how well he kept his hands up in the swing.
“Jack came to BR with wide eyes and a desire to learn and get better. Eric and the entire staff at BR are pro’s pros. Eric combines technical expertise about the baseball swing with a positive approach and personality that truly connects with his students. Not only has Jack made great progress in his swing mechanics and performance, but BR is also one of the highlights of his week”
This article is not a testament to how a couple of drills can make a hitter that much better. This is an article explaining that with trust in the right people and the willingness to work on your craft daily, you can take what was your best result, and make it the norm. Jack has worked incredibly hard this past year and will continue to do so. And while doing so, continue to see his results improve. So whatever your desire is to do with the game of Baseball, are you actively working towards those goals daily? Is what you're training the right thing for you or just some random drill you found on twitter? Hitting until your hands bleed doesn't always mean you're improving. Find the right way to train with the technology to prove it.
Teaching the proper body positions at contact helps the hitter be consistent with their swing plane which leads to more consistent contact with a moving ball. Because the swing happens so fast, most of these things can only be seen in video so it is very important that you video your hitters early on so you as an instructor can see the good and the bad positions the hitter is in at contact.
Most hitters are trying to time their load and stride just by pushing their hands back. This is detrimental to many young hitters as it teaches them "False Separation". Just because hitters 'keep their hands' back as they load does not mean they are preparing correctly to turn as fast as possible.
Below are examples as what I would describe as “False Separation”. As a kid growing up the phrase “you gotta get you hands back” is something that rings in my ears to this day. A lot of coaches and instructors use this phrase but yet never truly explain why this move is important.
I use this phrase as well but in all reality, it has very little to do with your hands, but everything to do with your shoulder and back arm. The gif’s below will give you insight and understanding of why you’re not consistent with timing and your overall body control.
This move is very common for hitters of all ages. This is what I was talking about earlier about getting your hands back. Sure, in this gif I get my hands back and farther away from my body. But as a result, I have created the armbar with my front arm which will only create more problems in your swing.
When the hands are not loaded back by pulling the back elbow and shoulder back your hands and bat never stay back. Therefore makes hitters have a steep path to the ball, resulting in inconsistent results.
I like to call this move the chicken wing because of the drastic movements with the elbows. As you can see my elbows flare up without my hands getting pulled back by my shoulder and back elbow. This also will result in mis-hit balls and steep barrel path. Two things you don't want as a hitter
This is similar to the hands going straight back but now the move of the hands is going straight towards home plate. This does not create a strong and prepared upper body when we go to swing. This move disconnects the bat from the whole body and results in a slow turn.
I know I look like I'm really exaggerating this move but this is what a lot of hitters look like even hitting off of front toss. In regards to timing and rythm, they lack both therefore abruptly shoving their hands back and striding out a way to fast. The pullback of the back elbow, shoulder and stride should be slow and early versus late and fast.
Good hitters have to have some flow when they load and stride out. As you can see here I'm striding out then pulling my hands back. This isn't what you want because the whole body has to flow together to become prepared properly. The drill I'm going to show you later in this article will give you more insight on what you need to do
When getting the body prepared to hit an incoming pitch there are many ways hitters prepare to do that. But the best hitters do a lot of things similar. They have the ability to re-create the same move when they load. The upper body, pelvic load, and stride all move in a smooth rhythmic pattern.
This is what allows good hitters get the most out of there body and in result the most out of their swing. Being able to time your upper body move with your pelvic load and stride is key to creating consistent results in batting practices and games.
If you pay attention closely to the hitters I have showcased above they all pull their elbow back as they load. This is called the "Scap Load" and is crucial when hitters prepare to hit!
On top, we have a 7-year-old, in the middle, we have a 12-year-old, and on the bottom, we have a 16-year-old. Each hitter has great success at the age level they play at. This is a move that can be practiced and learned. If taking the time to do so.
My goal as a hitting instructor is to help hitters get better, plain and simple. But at the end of the day if you are truly trying to take your game to the next level you have to put the work in on your own. Hitters that take time to break down their swing themselves or get help from an instructor will truly start to understand how good they can be. For more insight on upper body mechanics and much more check out the articles I've tagged below
The upper body in the swing is very crucial. It is part of what's holding and ultimately delivering the bat to contact. Unfortunately, the upper body is where most hitters make the biggest mistakes.
Here at Baseball Rebellion, we have our Rebel’s Rack progression of movements that hitters can learn. As a result, this allows hitters to turn better with better posture. Once a hitter has mastered there footwork, posture and turn it’s time to dive into the positions and movements of what your arms should do when you hit.
A lot of elite hitters get their arms in a position that resembles somewhat of a house. As you can see there are five points of contact which makes a pentagon shape. The main point is to help you all understand the certain angles the arms can make.
Take a look at the pictures below of Yelich, Trout, Betts, and Bonds that their "house" is shaped a little bit differently. Just like how the architecture and shapes of the homes many people live in are also different.
Now does this something that happens every single swing? No, but I bet you that every ball these guys hit from this position at contact was crushed. A matter of fact this is something you can practice that will help you generate more bat speed and more hard contact with the ball.
First off if you're not squaring the ball up and hitting the ball hard but your footwork, posture, and turn are on point then you’re going to want to keep reading. A lot of hitters that I have trained in the past and even now are missing the “turn behind the turn”.
This is crucial for hitters if they want to hit well. I know it looks like I'm exaggerating the movement but at high speeds, this can become a reality for many hitters. Here are some examples of what not to do.
You can see in the video above I am pulling the knob of the bat across my chest. When hitters do this they are oftentimes late on the pitch.
If they do happen to make contact it is not solid. As a result, the ball will slice or flair to right field for right-handed hitters and left the field for left-handed hitters. All in all, this is a move that needs to be avoided. In short, this is a big no-no.
The woodchopper move right here is the worst you can do. Hitters that swing straight down at the ball have no chance of being consistent. They also will not make solid contact, this limits their ability to drive the ball.
Please for the sake of your batting average and slugging % DO NOT swing straight down! No matter what professional athletes may say. This is a contradiction of what they actually did. Only here you can learn what they actually did.
The bat drag is most common with younger athletes who have a tough time holding the correct arm position during the swing. Look at my back elbow during this video, what my elbow is doing is not right and is a weak-hitting position.
Also, athletes who lack upper body strength will suffer from the bat drag tremendously. So please for your own sake do some push-ups and pull-ups to help yourself out! Our Bat Drag Buster is also a great tool to fix this problem. Along with the drills, I am showing you in this article.
Pushing the barrel to contact is a tough habit to break. Hitters will feel the turn and then at the last moment, they throw their hands at the ball. As a result, this will make hitters miss-hit balls and they will get frustrated.
In my own personal experience getting in front of a mirror has always been something I liked. For this reason, give it some time you might like the feel of mastering your arm angles. Getting to see and feel where your body has to be when you hit is crucial for your development. Working on the angles I have talked about in this article is simple and not time-consuming. Taking
10-15 minutes before bed or in the morning to work on your best stride, best turn and now even your best barrel turn. Those who take the time to become a master at their craft will find themselves whopping baseballs in the gap!
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For today's Online Lesson Showcase I wanted to highlight the connection of the hitter's back shoulder, hands, and the bat.
The relationship between the things mentioned above are important in transitioning our body's rotational energy into the bat with very little loss. As well as making sure the barrel rotates upward early and gets on plane with the pitch.
In this video you will see:
Excellent Back Elbow Loading - Very important to remember that the back elbow must be pull backward during the loading or stretching process.
The Turning Downward of the Back Shoulder - First moves are key. The hitter's first move of the back shoulder after the load is a perfect downward move so that it can begin rotating up as soon as possible.
Near Perfect Connection - Watch how the hitter keep the hands and back shoulder together util release. This ensures maximum energy transfer from body to barrel and that the barrel gets on plane early and quickly.
Thanks for watching!