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I often get my hitters to envision the flow of energy in their swings as water flowing through pipes. If the pattern of a hitter's swing is precise, the energy, or "water", will flow smoothly without friction. When this happens the player will squeeze every drop of potential power out of his or her body.
However, there are certain movements that prohibit the flow of our energy. I call these "swing clogging" movements. This article is going to break down five common swing clogging moves. All of these moves are easily identifiable and should avoided in your son or daughter's movement practice.
Closed Off Stance
A closed off stance can be seen in many hitters today. More than likely this will be a preset position that they feel comfortable in and get acquainted to rather quickly. The closed off stance will be done usually for two reasons. One, the hitter is scared of the ball, plain and simple. The hitter will close his or her body off for protection purposes. There is no quick fix for fear except for time and probably getting hit a few times to realize it is not that bad. Two, the hitter feels a since of FALSE power by pre-closing off the shoulders and the hips. By turning inwards, the brain feels what you might call a "load". The batter believes he or she is in a "cocked" like position ready to fire. Again this is a FALSE feeling of power because there will be no resistance created between the pelvis and shoulders. The load or "cocking" phase of the movement will need to be done during his or her forward move. This is common in our hitters as they've been constantly told to 'stay closed' with their feet and hips to stay 'on the ball' longer.
BE CAREFUL! Young batters will most likely get away with these mistakes for a while but ultimately, pitchers will begin to pick apart these types of hitters. Once that hitter reaches a level where the pitchers can spot a fastball and the field grows (MIDDLE SCHOOL) it will be much more of a struggle to have the type of hitting success that makes the game fun. To learn more about stances, click here!
Chas Note: JK's exactly right. The closed stance and foot angle JK is demonstrating leads to bad direction in the stride. As you'll see later, closing off in the step is a huge problem that hurts and erodes the turn quality of the hitter. If you close off the shoulders/stance, the first thing that moves will be the front shoulder up and out to start the swing. The hitter will FEEL separation between the hips and shoulders, but once the front shoulder starts to fly out early, the hitter has committed to the swing. Not a good plan. Another thing people don't realize is kids need to be TAUGHT how to get hit by pitches and protect themselves from getting hurt. Hitters who close off the stance due to fear ALWAYS step out and open their bodies to injury. Think about it: Would you rather get hit in the back or butt or the face or cup? Due to the closed stance, the hitter must pull off earlier and open their bodies up to the baseball. OUCH.
Stepping Across the Body
This "swing clogging" maneuver has been called many things and there have been many ways coaches have tried to fix it. In the pictures above, you can clearly see my front HEEL has gone from being in line with my back HEEL, to across the orange line. The inward stride can will have an immediate effect on the rest of the swing. Why? Because this is the first move the hitter makes! There is no coming back after this mistake has been made. By doing this, the hitter's maximum degrees he or she can turn is cut off, therefore cutting off pelvis/shoulder separation. In turn, cutting off POWER. Can you still get hits? Of course, but your potential for maximum power will drop and decrease your chances for getting on base.
To maximize our ability to turn or rotate our pelvis, keeping the HEELS in line when the stride foot lands is a huge part of the puzzle. Heel to Heel Stride Direction will also keep our posture and body weight moving in a straight line for optimal vision.
Closed Front Foot After The Stride
We already know that stepping in across the batter's box will have negative impact on our power generation. The next movement to avoid is stepping or not stepping with a closed front foot. This move, like the stepping in, can doom your power swing from the get go.
There is some discrepancy among coaches about how far, if at all, the front foot should open. The answer is actually pretty simple. How efficient do you want to be? If the hitter's goal is to maximize hip/shoulder separation, bio-mechanically the front foot has to open. Once the front leg is grounded, it will act as the "brake" stopping the forward momentum. At this point, the front knee will drive the front hip back very suddenly. The front side knee MUST be in the correct position for this to happen. The front leg will also provide the hitter with the ability to adjust his or her swing to off-speed pitches. You can learn more about this here.
On another note, leaving your front foot closed will increase the possibilities of front knee injuries. Over time, the aggressive rotation against a front closed knee and hip can put some serious wear and tear on knee cartilage. Simply put, an open front foot, knee, and hip allows for higher quality turns that are not only faster but safer.
Chas Note: Not only knee injuries are an issue if you keep your front foot closed (RYAN HOWARD...) but also Front Leg Hip function is deteriorated. Will Fox, our Director of Performance, has proven that turning on a closed front foot dramatically decreases muscle function in the hips of a hitter. This decreased function leads to extra stress on Ligaments and Cartalidge (passive structure) and can lead to CHRONIC hip and knee pain (Chase Utley...) Man those Phillies seem to be unlucky...maybe it's their hitting instruction...maybe that's why they have new coaches...
The Lean In
The next two movements that we will discuss are less obstructive to a power swing than the previous three. Why you ask? These moves happen from the waist up.
The "lean in" move is where the batter will tilt his or her spine angle over the plate during the stride. This is another move that may feel powerful to the hitter but will do a number of things to minimize power potential. To the hitter, the extra counter rotation/close off of the shoulders will create more separation between the pelvis angle and shoulder angle and therefore, more bat speed. I see many of our guys with strength in their upper bodies perform this move than any other body type as they are stronger in their chest and back than our skinnier, weaker hitters. Unfortunately for upper body dominant players, this creates too much rotational ground to make up, especially in a game. Remember, all you really need is the hips to go first and the front shoulder to stay on the pitcher. There is validity to a back shoulder row motion to help resist the urge to open the front shoulder too quickly. You can learn more about "rowing" here.
You can also see how changing my spine angle drastically changes my eye level. Any movement that changes the plane of a hitters vision needs to be carefully looked at. There are positive types of head movement but this is not one of them as I am 'zooming in' towards the contact point. The head can move forward and down in the stride (it always does if you move athletically forward in the load) but once the turn starts, you need that perspective and distance between the head and the contact point to stay the same for barrel accuracy and to help maximize hard barrel to ball contact.
The High Elbow/Hand Raise
Hitters will often times feel and recruit power from their hands/arms. Here you see my back elbow and hands raised way up above my shoulder. Where this does feel strong in a chopping wood kind of way, this is not a power hitting move. As you can imagine, the higher the hands get away from the strike zone, so does the barrel. Also, hitters will "wrap" the barrel around there head creating a much longer distance back to the ball. Once the hitter has put themselves in this type of position, it will take serious coordination, timing, and strength to get the barrel back down and around to the correct plane. Inevitably, most hitters who stride to the position in the pictures will use what they feel (their arms) to get the bat up to speed and into the zone. Arm use from this high position will usually equate to lots of ground balls and glancing types of contact where the ball fades towards the back side foul line.
It is not impossible to hit from this position. Professionals like Jose Bautista will perform a move like this. Here is a picture of Jose.
Chas Note: Remember, Bautista has near perfect upper body mechanics and, along with Bryce Harper, the most explosive lower half in baseball history. Bautista almost always turns the barrel with perfect SeeSaw/Hand Pivot mechanics so his hand raise works for him not against him. Can your son or daughter do this? Absolutely. They just better be ready to practice this high level move of fusing the shoulders, arms, hands and barrel, again, again, and again. To learn more about barrel movement and See Saw Mechanics, click here! Again, this Hand/Elbow Raise is only a mistake if you have 'knob driven' upper body mechanics that promote a downward swing to the baseball. If you swing properly, the hand/elbow raise can be a benefit. It's all in HOW and WHY you do it.
The majority of us will not be the size of the men we see on T.V. You can watch Miguel Cabrera step across his body and still hit the ball 4oo feet. Nope, it's not fair. That is the benefit of being the big kid on the kick ball field. For those of us that will not be 220 lbs or larger, we must to be great at the little things to maximize our power. Avoiding the 5 mistakes outlined above can dramatically help in our quest to produce maximum and consistent power in the most adjustable way possible.
JK Whited and Chas Pippitt - Leaders of The Baseball Rebellion