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As an instructor, one of the hardest things to do is increase a hitter's power and stability at the same time. Normally in the process of growing a young hitter, these two traits will get better over time but not always at the same rate. Coming into the program, some players will have tremendous amounts of power or turn speed but have very little control over their bodies once they reach top speed. This particular guy or girl will show flashes of great power when they actually get the barrel to the ball. Their strikeout numbers will be high and will get frustrated with the lack of consistency. The other type of player will have great body control and get the barrel to the ball quite often but with limited to no power at all. This player will rarely strike out, but will still suffer in numbers because they just can't seem to get the ball out of the infield. Once the fields start to grow this type of player really struggles to keep up. There are then, of course, the players with neither aspect who will really suffer once they reach the "kid pitch" level of play, dooming them to a short career in baseball.
I am sure the paragraph above describes a lot of you or your player in some way or another. Wouldn't it be nice if there was one drill or move that could help with both of these issues?! Good news...THERE IS! The Glute Bridge is one move that can really help a young or veteran hitter have a much more aggressive hip thrust and at the same time help keep them on their feet during and after the swing. The Glute Bridge can be found in varying levels of workouts all over the country. You can add weight to it for an intense lower body and core workout or use it as a warm-up every day before practice and games.
A Glute Bridge is a basic, fundamental movement that is essential for the completion of a successful baseball swing. The glutes not only function as power generators, but they also provide control and stability at the end of the swing, allowing the body to effectively finish the turn. Mastering the Glute Bridge is a great start for any young player looking to add translatable power to their game swing.
Here is how the move is done from the exercise perspective.
Start by lying down on your back with your knees bent and feet on the ground. Place pressure on your heels to prepare to lift the pelvis.
Lift pelvis into an aligned position between shoulders and knees. Lock in this position with use of the glutes and core muscles.
For an additional exercise and core stability training, try to lift one foot out and hold for two seconds. Then switch to the other foot, all the while trying to keep the pelvis in the "bridge shape". This exercise is a great way for a hitter to warm up before a hitting session, as well as a great way to train strength and stability in the Glute and core muscles.
Let's take a look at how a glute bridge can help you or your player's swing. Remember that a glute bridge is a movement into a strong holding of a position. Here are two of my clients who are excellent in turning and thrusting into a really good glute bridge position and then holding it through their finishes. What is really nice about these two young ballplayers, is that they are both undersized compared to other kids their age and grade. Ryan and John out-swing the bigger kids because they are biomechanically more correct when they attack a pitch. I have highlighted in yellow both players moving into and then holding the glute bridge position. Let's take a look at our two guys, Ryan and John.
Ryan is an awesome kid to work with. He always brings in a great attitude and an incredible understanding of how the swing works for such a young player. For a long time, Ryan had to fight against not only size but the fear of missing the ball. Along with implementing more powerful mechanics, we had to develop a little "anger" in Ryan's swing. As you can see from the pictures above Ryan has no problem taking full hacks now.
I highlighted Ryan's glute bridge position with a yellow line in the pictures above. We can see that right before contact, Ryan is not quite there but is really close and will continue to work on that. The picture on the right shows us that upon turning more, he gets to the glute bridge position and then some! This is an exaggerated move for most but for Ryan, he must find ways to make up for his size. The exaggeration shows up after contact, but because of this, he is much stronger, faster, and more supported before and at the contact position. Without the glute bridge, he would not be nearly as supported throughout the swing. Furthermore, this move has tremendously helped Ryan swing up on plane with the ball. Another great reason to incorporate this move into your swing mechanics.
John has been coming in to see me in person for a number of years now. He is a very loose and free swinger, to say the least. One thing that he has always had is his ability to turn fast, almost to a fault where he would spin around and lose total control of his feet. Because John is and never will be the biggest guy on his team, losing any power from his turn is a huge problem. Implementing a solid glute bridge hold has been the missing link for John and his swing.
From the pictures above, you can see how he gets full hip rotation before contact with the baseball. This is much harder to do than most people think. John has learned to control his core, feet, and therefore have very little loss of energy transfer through his body during his turn. With a strong glute bridge position, John can very effectively and efficiently maintain a strong core all the way to the finish with limited balance issues and hardly any loss of power. Pound for pound, John is one of our hardest hitters.
From left to right in the pictures above, we have Yasiel Puig, Joe DiMaggio, and Josh Donaldson. All three of these elite swingers instinctively get to a strong glute bridge position right before and sometimes after contact if they can hold it. This move will happen very late and very suddenly during the swing because it can only be done in an explosive and athletic manner. Here lies the problem that most young players have, the lack of natural athleticism to instinctively make this happen. Therefore, a proper glute bridge must be introduced and taught to young players who lose their core during a swing.
Again, incorporating a glute bridge into your exercise routine and swing is not the end all, be all of movement enhancement. From numerous amounts of video evidence, all elite hitters have a strong supported line of connection from the shoulders, hips (core), and front foot, even if just for a moment during contact. For a lot of my guys and girls, this idea and alignment change has been able to increase power and stability at the same time.
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
Many players are getting ready for tryouts at their high schools and some are doing 'preseason' workouts for their 12 and under travel teams. I keep hearing the same complaining that some of the drills they are being forced to do are against what makes sense in the swing. Many coaches will 'isolate' the hands with top and bottom hand drills. I don't really have a problem with that in moderation as its a great strength and coordination building movement, and can be fun for kids to make games out of. Coaches will spread hitters out really wide and force wrist isolation as well with more 'speed toss' drills which consist of repetitive arm motion to swing the bat accross the chest instead of hip driven turning. We do this drill in our evaluations to see what kids 'eliminate' in their swing in order to hit the balls. Most kids take their hips out...bad idea. The best kids with the best patterns naturally keep their hips moving, and more often than not, can hit more balls in number and hit more balls hard. Coaches also do drills putting kids on one knee, again, taking all stabilization out of the swing (which makes no sense) and forces kids again to create an arms and wrist dominated move, simply because they have no other choice.
While those drills aren't the best drills, they're not the worst either. This is the worst drill you can do for hitting a baseball properly and yet it's one of the most commonly used drills from little league up, even into the college ranks. It hurts me to even link to this drill I think it's so bad...so proceed with caution...
How would that drill look if I add two tees with photoshop into Ryan Braun's game swing?
How bout Ichiro, a hitter I never teach off of and is known for hitting SINGLES instead of powerful drives, do you think he's going to miss the high tee?
Maybe Ken Griffey Jr, one of the best 15 hitters of all time could execute this drill. I figure he's noted for hitting for power, average, and just overall being extremely technically sound and having one of the 'prettiest' swings ever to grace the game of baseball. Surely he misses the back tee...
Do we think the professional players actual movements are incorrect or the drill? Even worse, if we now know the drill is wrong...how come this is such an accepted part of our fundamental teaching for our youngest players? The scary part about this drill and the blind following of mechanical teachings, like 'A to C' mechanics and 'swing down' mechanics, is that they're not visually supported at all in actual MLB games!
Remember this clip from the 2012 world series? Really LISTEN to the announcers' voices and how they're excited about debunking the myths and finding out what really happens in the game swing of MLB players. Think about the advantages of seeing what's happening so hitters across the country can benefit from more accurate teaching and more drills that make sense.
What would happen to the 'high back tee' in that swing? Honestly, it really makes me sad when I see a kid come into my building with that downward trajectory in their barrel. It makes me mad when that kid tells me he's had dozens of lessons and PAID for that information. I do not expect youth coaches to be experts in the baseball or softball swing. But I do expect the ideas and drills they have the kids do to make sense. As stated in our Pitchers vs Hitters article, we know the pitcher is throwing the ball down so we must get our barrel in the way of the baseball and keep it there a long time. Drills that directly disallow that should not be practiced...and there is no real use for them in training purposes other than to fix a DRAMATIC uppercut and even then there are simply better ways to accomplish a better swing path.
"As a former professional, I would go out and watch BP on the days of my start to gain a perspective on the hitters I would be facing later that night. Regardless of size, potential, and current statistics at the time , I knew I had a competitive advantage over the hitters whose swings resembled the path of swinging down on the baseball. I threw a sinker, and a late breaking slider; two pitches that posed to be tough for hitters who were swinging down. On the other hand, a hitter who dropped his bat in the zone early and was able to keep the barrel in the zone for a longer period of time, posed a tougher challenge." -Justin Orenduff
Chas Pippitt, Leader of the Baseball Hitting Rebellion