The Back Elbow

Written By: JK Whited

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-Stars with different back elbow starting positions.

Robinson Cano, Mike Trout, Prince Fielder Back Elbow Starting Position

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. 

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 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.

Robinson Cano first move back elbow

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 first move back elbow

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 first move Back Elbow

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.

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.

Mike Trout contact outside 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.

Mike Trout contact Inside Pitch

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'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.

Mike Trout Finish: Outside Pitch

Mike Trout Swing Finish Outside Pitch

Mike Trout Finish: Inside Pitch

Mike Trout Swing Finish Inside Pitch

Robinson Cano back elbow extension

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.

Prince Fielder back elbow extension

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.

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 the off season. Sometimes just a little higher back elbow in the stride can really open a player up to their full potential.

Interested in what JK has to say about hitting?

Check out our online hitting lessons or one-time hitting evaluation to get your swing broken down by JK!

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Danny Cahill
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Danny Cahill

Great stuff as always BR! For those coaches with little leaguers, using a relaxed back elbow works well to smooth out the swing. Also be sure to explain how the shoulders are really moving more than the elbows. The are so literal that saying back elbow up really hurts them

Derrick Stump
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Derrick Stump

Great article JK. Thanks for providing examples for a variety of back elbow moves. For some reason when I was reading this all I could think about was the location of the barrel of the bat during the back elbow move. Numerous times I’ve seen/heard a coach tell a kid to hold the bat up or not let it get behind the head. I still see it in the high school league I coach in. Seems as though it would quite difficult and uncomfortable to hold the bat straight up while trying to utilize a proper back elbow move. Thanks… Read more »

titan193
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titan193

So good subject, great examples, what is the easiest, fastest way to prevent a batters elbows leading the hips, which causes bat drag and higher strike out rates. We use rebels rack, and drive developer. My son crushes it in batting practice but during games, tends to start leading the way with his hands, then elbows which results in slow barrel to the ball, the balls actually already gone by.

Just curious what your take is on fixing that. Part of it could be, he just had a huge growth spurt in his arms…

Awesome articles.

Clint Albin
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Clint Albin

JK, u and chas are true gurus, enjoy reading your articles. Keep up the good work for us dads in youth baseball, thanks a lot. If I wasn’t laid off right now my 2 sons would definitely be enrolled in your online lessons, but at least I have plenty of time to work with them myself. Thanks again and I look forward to enrolling them someday soon

Chas Pippitt
Editor

Clint,

Means a lot that you like what JK, Gabe and I are doing for hitting. We continue to work hard to give the most accurate information possible about what we do and how we do it to make hitters the best they can be.

Chas–

toprank
Member
toprank

New to your site and like the articles. I’m coaching 7-8 year olds after being a High School coach for many years and some of the things that I encounter with the younger kids are definitely age specific.

I noticed a few of my young players back elbow will get ahead or even with their hands. I’m trying to figure out how to fix that. Is that a result of dipping the back shoulder? Any suggestions for fixing this swing flaw?

Thank You!

Chas Pippitt
Editor

Jeremy,

what your describing is “bat drag” consider investing in a ‘bat drag buster’ from the baseball rebellion store. those drills and that device will help all your hitters turn the barrel deeper.

chas–

Charles Sherrill
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Charles Sherrill

My comments are specific to youth players 12 and under… If the youth player “dumps” (barrel to the plate umpire) or “wraps” (barrel behind the batter’s head) the barrel as part of their load, it can contribute to bat drag (elbow leading the hands). For a player age 7-8, the barrel should be between vertical and the MLB logo position after they load (but before they commence the swing), the latter being ideal from a power generation standpoint, but the vertical position sometimes works better if the player has a low contact percentage due to poor timing. A lot of… Read more »