The Front Arm- The Bent Front Elbow & the Arm Bar

Written By: Tyler Zupcic

The Arm Bar & The Bent Front Elbow

There is a lot of talk about across hitting platforms about the front arm position and if it should be bent or straight throughout the swing. While you will certainly see both across Major League Baseball, I want to talk about both and show you what we believe to be the most efficient. But first, let's talk about the bat path and the correlation to the front arm.

When I hear most hitting coaches and players talk about swing path, they often talk about the back shoulder and the hands. While these are important aspects to consider when working on the proper swing path. There is another often forgotten component that is essential to the back shoulder and hands working well, the front arm.

Front Arm and Swing Path

Before we get into how the front arm helps hitters obtain an efficient swing path. Let's take a second to identify what an ideal swing path looks like. Ted Williams was one of the earliest proponents of the upward swing path that we teach.

He reasoned that since the ball travels towards the catcher at a downward angle. The hitter can put themselves in the best position possible by starting the bat down towards the catcher behind them followed by a slight upswing in the direct path of the pitch. This should all be common knowledge at this point. However, we are STILL arguing about what swing path is more efficient. Here is an image depicting this idea.

Ted Williams Description of the Proper Swing Path
Ted Williams Description of the Proper Swing Path

The Front Arm Positions in Major League Baseball

Arm Bar Hitters

In the two videos below you have two unbelievable power hitters in Ken Griffey, Jr. and Ronald Acuna, Jr. They both demonstrate a lengthening of the front arm very early in their turn. While this has been written about as being a very powerful swing move, which it is. It is very hard for MOST hitters to adjust to different pitch speeds and pitch locations by barring their front arm early.

Ken Griffey, Jr.
Ken Griffey, Jr.
Ronald Acuna, Jr.
Ronald Acuna, Jr.

Early Front Arm Length

The early lengthening of the arm in younger hitters is very prevalent. It mostly comes from a lack of upper body and core strength. Because of this, the hitter will try to activate their swing by engaging their chest and arms, resulting in an arm bar swing.

This becomes a one plane swing very quickly, especially for the inexperienced hitter. Guys like Griffey and Acuna have been able to overcome this and be in the Hall of Fame (Griffey) or a potential 2019 MVP (Acuna). This isn't to say that if you or your hitter's arm bar early in their swing they are hurting themselves. There is just a more efficient way for lesser (and by lesser I mean anyone who isn't a professional) experienced hitters to have a solid swing path that is both fast and adjustable.

Bent Front Arm Hitters

The best swing path is the result of the back shoulder dropping. The back elbow working down into the slot near the rib cage, and the hands staying high and working the knob up.

This is where the use of the front arm becomes vital. Every hitter that I have ever seen at any level naturally drops their back arm as they swing. This means that in order for the knob and hands to remain at chest height, the front arm has to work upward during the turn and maintain this upward path through contact.

When it does not, the bat path tends to flatten out or even work downward causing the chances of a mis-hit to increase. The dropping of the front arm or failure to turn the front arm upward can also lead to bat drag. This can cause an excessively long barrel path that does not create deep and sustained acceleration through the path of the pitch. Check out some other MLB hitter's who keep their front arm bent longer in their swing.

Christian Yelich
Christian Yelich
Mike Trout
Mike Trout

Youth Hitter vs. Big League Hitter's Front Arm and Swing Path

We talked about the importance of getting the barrel going backward and back up towards the ball. Check out how Anthony Rendon and one of our in-person hitter's uses their front arm to help achieve that.

Front Arm Position at Heel Plant
Front Arm Position at Heel Plant

You can see both hitters' still have a good angle in their front arm. This will allow them to get the knob working back up and keeping the hands high in their turn. Because of this, the barrel will 'fall' back towards the catcher which gives us time and space for the bat to work back up to the ball.

Front Arm Angle at Barrel Turn
Front Arm Angle at Barrel Turn

Now both hitter's bat is turning behind them and towards the catcher. This is setting them up to have their fastest bat speed BEFORE and AT contact. Not after. Hitter's who bar their front arm too early have a tendency to swing flatter at the ball, making their bat speed up it's fastest AFTER contact. Which doesn't help any hitter.

Front Arm Angle Difference at Contact
Front Arm Angle Difference at Contact

Front Arm Difference

This is the first time you see a distinct difference in the angle of the front arm. Rendon (on the left) still has maintained a sharp bent angle with his front arm, while the youth hitter (on the right) has added some length. There could be two reasons for this from the youth hitter:

  1. The hitter has recognized that his turn is early and this lengthening of the arm is a timing adjustment he is making to ensure that he is hitting the ball. This is why keeping the front arm bent as long as possible is so important. It allows us an extra timing mechanism (along with our front leg) in our swing when our timing is not perfect.
  2. The hitter lacks the upper body strength to keep the bend in the front arm as he is swinging the bat around. This is a very common flaw with younger hitters and for the most part, it isn't their fault. Whether it be puberty or genetics most young hitters just don't have the strength (yet) to support a full bend of the front arm all the way to contact.

Front Arm Thoughts

Regardless of your opinion on the front arm, you can see that there are different ways that hitter's swing the bat to be successful. One thing that remains constant however in all good hitters is their ability to use their whole body in the swing. Any time the arms are dominant in the swing we are not setting ourselves up for success. We will see slow, long swings that aren't conducive to hard contact in games.

Drills to Help Focus on the Front Arm and Bat Path

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Jimbo Scruggs
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Jimbo Scruggs

Struggled with this as well as a teach. I think it’s a matter of whether the hitter tends to pull the bat through with the front side or drive the bat through with his back side. Both can have a lot of power, but my experience is the drive style hitters have much more consistent contact and are harder to get out. They will get extended on away pitches and drive them well and keep their front arm bent on inside pitches. Hard to find a pitch to get them out consistently. Pull side hitters that bar their arms early… Read more »