The lower body swings the bat. Many coaches under appreciate this fact. They teach hitting from the top down, emphasizing the hands, the hands, the hands — teaching lower body mechanics as an afterthought, a timing mechanism. It is understandable, then, that even the world’s best hitters sometimes describe their own mechanics in hands first/top down language. But game footage of these players tells a different story: an elite swing is a lower body movement.
Many coaches talk about the back foot in one of two ways: as an object that turns and ‘squishes the bug’ or as spring that ‘pushes’ the body forward so that the hitter can ‘get to his back toe.’ Both of these ideas are stunting or stopping the growth of power and consistency in hitters today.
Whether you teach a ‘sway’ or ‘shift’ load, where the weight moves from centered to back towards the catcher, or a ‘coil’ load, where the front hip rotates inward while the shoulders stay straight, there is one constant. The constant is that the hitter must keep the rear knee inside the instep of the rear foot and the top of the kneecap inside the shoe line. The double inside load drives the rear foot big toe and ball into the ground, creating your anchor.
Rios and Pujols, in these pictures, are anchored to the ground with the rear ball of their back feet and the rear big toe, there is not weight on the outside of either of their back foot pinky toe. Both guys’ back hip is loaded and supporting of the upper halves. This load allows lower body mechanics to work correctly and is the linchpin in allowing the shoulders to support the hands and create a whipping action of the bat around the body and around the hands.
Lower body mechanics allow for a top level swing to be supported, efficient, coordinated, and suddenly explosive. Load into the back hip with a double inside load and create the super strong support structure that all elite swings are built on. Many common misconceptions in upper body mechanics are spawned from poor and incorrect lower body mechanical teaching.
Talking about the back foot ‘turning’ or ‘squishing the bug’ is a common problem. This teaches players to turn the rear foot inward, to turn the rear knee, to turn the rear hip. Stand up and try something for me.
Load however you like, sway/shift or coil inward. Now, spin your back foot so that the shoelaces are forward facing. This will turn your knee without turning your hips…feel powerful? I Didn’t think so. Even if you kept your shoulders facing the pitcher, you never were ‘forced’ to turn the hips because the hip socket is a ‘ball’ socket giving our legs more freedom of movement. This load as a way to get the back foot to ‘turn’ does not create the needed torque for a maximum power/bat speed swing.
Many coaches teach “squish the bug” lower half mechanics because it gives kids an easy way to rotate the back foot. But what that cue causes is young hitters getting into the bad habit of putting too much emphasis on back foot & ankle activation, which can result in a more dominant role of the upper body because the hips aren’t optimally swinging the bat. As a result, the upper body has to chip in, thanks to poor hip engagement. So, we turn the hip, which turns the knee, which turns the ankle, NOT the other way around. Double inside loading and anchoring the back foot helps set the hips up for optimal thrust in the swing.
The idea that the back calf muscle does much more than support the weight of the hitter at contact is also an issue. How many times have we heard a coach tell a hitter to ‘push’ with his back foot, or ‘drive his knee to the pitcher’? If the answer to that question is more than once…then really the answer is ‘too many’. Trial two will consist of the ‘get on the toe’ position to see if we can generate rotational power
This time, after loading however you like, use your rear leg calf muscle to ‘push’ your weight forward onto your front foot while turning the hips. Do you feel strong and balanced? Did your head stay still? Are you in an athletic position? The answer to all these questions is ‘no’. Also, if you’re gaining ground with your spine in the swing motion, how are you generating any torque within the core muscles of the body?
Now: make an adjustment.
This time, either coil or sway into your load, but this time, keep the rear knee inside the instep of the rear foot and the kneecap inside the tips of your toes. This action, a D.I.L., weights the instep of the rear foot, creating a strong, immobile anchor, to allow the rear hip to turn the knee. While doing this, keep the back foot straight. You can lift the back foot heel, but do not turn the laces of your shoe. Do this without turning the shoulders…so the hips are turned, the back foot is not…and the shoulders are still straight, with the lead shoulder pointing at the pitcher. Feel that stretching torque inside your core? Congratulations, you have found the thrusted position – the first step to unlocking the powerful and explosive force of lower body swinging.
(Images 3-5 Above: These are Chas Pippitt (me) using the Drive Developer and the I.T.S. Baseball Hitting System to build and improve the load and thrusted positions within the top level baseball swing. I didn’t include a side view of my ‘Thrusted Position’ because it was blurry…so I used a slightly better player instead…)
The bottom line?
Never let your mechanics limit you. Anyone can learn this, but few take the time to understand the truth about hitting. Instead, many take the advice of people who ‘should know,’ instead of people who spend their lives researching, teaching, and theorizing about the art of hitting.
**Numerous orthopedic surgeons were consulted in the writing of this article**
**Tim Coffield, former ACC player and CSCS certified strength coach contributed to this article.**