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Are you seeing a lot of strikeouts or popups from your son or daughter? Are they rolling over or getting jammed more than you'd like? One of the most likely problems is their posture and the answer is side bend. Side bend occurs as the hitter is turning their bat behind them and (hopefully!) working back up to the ball. Here are a few examples of what side bend looks like:
Side Bend is bending towards home plate at the contact position. The body has now rotated to the ball so the hip hinge in the stance has transitioned to side bend. You cannot achieve proper side bend however without first getting into the proper hip hinge position. Check out our article and drills to get into a perfect hip hinge position.
Once you are in the hinge position. You must drop your back shoulder towards the level of the pitch. If the pitch is higher, it is less of a drop. If the pitch is low, you have to drop it more (check out the picture of Mike Trout above). You cannot achieve side bend without dropping your back shoulder. You will see we talk about high and low pitch side bends in this article. We don't talk about much middle pitch because if you are in the proper hip hinge, your shoulders are already at the level for the middle pitch. All you need to do is turn!
By getting into the hip hinge position first and then turning your body, you get into the side bend position at contact. Because of this, the barrel stays 'on-plane' with the pitch better. On-plane means matching the plane of your swing (upswing) to the plane of the pitch (coming down).
In the photo above, you can see the green line represents the desired swing plane and the red line is the angle of the pitch. The area of impact as you can see is greater, thus giving the hitter a larger margin for error. Again this cannot be achieved as effective if the proper hip hinge and most importantly side bend does not occur.
The answer is yes, every single swing. If you are seeing a lot of rollover groundballs or weak infield pop-ups, there is a good chance your hitter isn't side bending at all. Check out wide side bend looks like on different pitch heights and locations.
You can see on the low pitch that there is increased side bend. This occurs because, in order to keep our hands high in our turn which helps deliver a powerful barrel, we must bend over more. Conversely, on the high pitch, we do not need to side bend as much as the ball is closer to our chest and we are able to keep our hands high without the need to bend more.
Still not sure what side bend feels like? If you're reading this at a desk I want you to grab a pencil and watch the two gifs below.
To feel side bend on a lower pitch, grab a pencil and drop it to the ground as I do. Notice how I need to increase my side bend in order to pick it up without getting up. If you feel a pinch or tightness in your lower side, you are feeling correct side bend.
For feeling the high pitch bend, place the pencil on an object about a foot below your waist. Again notice how I do not need to bend as much as the pencil is closer to my center mass. You will not feel as much of a pinch in your side but it is still noticeable.
So now that we understand and can feel what side bend is. Now it's time to apply it to our training. Below are a few drills we do at Baseball Rebellion to help our hitters achieve side bend in their swing and crush balls to the outfield.
The best hitting tool out there to practice and see side bend is the rack bat. Yes, it is our product but we searched for years for something to do what the rack bat does. Not only can you use it for movement purposes but it is one of our only products you can actually hit with. The rack bat extension acts as the 'bat' and shows the hitter the angle of attack their bat would have with their shoulder tilt.
You can see we have the hitter working on pitches low, middle, and high. I will show a few different camera angles so you can see how his side bend changes based on the pitch location and how he knows where to turn.
We use the mirror to allow the hitter to see their bend and consciously think about how each height feels to allow them to translate that into the game. When practicing this at home it is extremely important that the hitter is watching themselves in the mirror. No looking down. They must use their eyes to guide their body into the right positions.
Another drill to practice side bend with the Rack Bat is the Rack Bat Tee Drill. If you have a Launch Angle Tee this one is easy for you. If you have a regular tee (why?), all you can just put a baseball underneath the tee base to achieve the angle. Simply grab a bucket and get to work on your side bend.
What you'll see is that if the hitter doesn't get into the proper side bend in the turn then the Rack Bat will go over or hit the angled tee. If they do it correctly, the Rack Bat goes perfectly underneath the tee angle in the turn.
Check out the different bends for high and low pitches and how both can be practiced.
This is one of my favorites although it looks a bit unorthodox. You can use any kind of wall barrier (we use our I-Screen's) to place the head of the hitter on. Once their head is in place they use the rebel's rack and practice their turns. This drill accomplishes two things.
Remember, proper side bend cannot happen without first getting into a hip hinge. The posture change from hip hinge into side bend is best practice with the Rack Bat. If you want to start driving balls farther and over the fence, get to practicing your side bend today.