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.
Back Elbow: Where should it start?
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-Starswith 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 theirpre-stride rhythm, but for the most part these players keep it right around the same area.
Back Elbow: What is the first move?
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 theback 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 maximumforce generation.
You can see thatRobinson Cano'sback 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 ismuch more uptowards 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.
Back Elbow: Where should it be at contact?
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 theoutside pitchTrout'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.
Back Elbow: Where does it finish?
Through the contact position, the back elbow will continue it'spath outwardon 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.
Mike Trout Finish: Outside Pitch
Mike Trout Finish: Inside Pitch
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 releaseof 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 delayin the release of the barrel.
What should you do?
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 theoff season. Sometimes just a little higher back elbow in the stride can really open a player up to their full potential.
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