By Nunzio Signore (BA, CPT, CSCS, NASM, PES, FMS)
In a scouting and recruiting world driven by metrics, there are many things that can prevent a player from getting into the best position to succeed. Improving key physical parameters such as hip mobility, strengthening the lower body, improving t-spine rotation to name a few, can go a long way in helping you round the bases. Today, we’re going to touch on a few of these parameters and review the following six topics which we consider key players that can help summarize how to increase your bat speed and power:
- Lower Body Strength
- T-Spine Extension / Rotation
- Hip Mobility
- Anterior Core Strength and Stability
- Grip and Forearm Strength
- Transfer of Power
1. Lower Body Strength
Electromyography testing (a technique for evaluating and recording the electrical activity produced by skeletal muscles) regarding “the baseball swing” and upper body involvement shows that the role it plays is minor compared to that of the lower body (study by Shaffer et al. stated “an emphasis should be placed on the trunk and hip muscles for a batter’s strengthening program”).
In the early off-season (October through December) is when we train absolute strength for ball players. This is when we need to put on some size muscle-wise, as well as strength-wise to be able to really crush the ball.
You would have a tough time finding a great power hitter in the MLB who doesn’t have a respectable deadlift or hip bridge. Exercises such as dead-lifts and hip bridges focus on the same muscles (glutes, hamstrings and core) that are the major players in the forward phase of the swing.
(Trap Bar Deadlift)
2. T-Spine Extension / Rotation
Similar to pitching or any other movement involving rapid rotation, improving t-spine mobility (creating rotation where you want it), and rotary stability (the ability to resist rotation where you don’t want it) will prevent an athlete from getting that rotation from their lower lumbar region and avoiding lower back and oblique strains.
T-spine rotation and extension are two key contributors that allow hip/shoulder separation to occur. One just doesn’t work without the other. As an added bonus, adequate mobility in the t-spine allows the hands, to not only get back but, stay there as the hips are moving forward, a key component in force transfer.
Also, the longer the upper body can stay back the longer the batter can keep his eyes on the ball allowing for critical split-second adjustments to different pitches. Here are two we’ve used with great success. The first works on pure rotation and the second adds a core stability component to the mix.
(Ball / Cable Rotations)
(Half Kneeling Cable Anti Ext / Rot)
3. Hip Mobility
Unfortunately, due to rapid growth spurts during the middle, high school and even college years, mobility in the hips and pelvis is usually the first to be compromised in many young players. This severely compromises their ability to hip hinge (get the hips back) during the “pre-loading” phase as well as internally rotate and extend in the “un-loading phase”. When coming through the swing, much like a pitcher coming down the mound, the lead leg hip needs to have good IR to help with deceleration as well as taking much of the strain off of the lower back by creating good extension in the back leg.
For young adults who present themselves with anterior pelvic tilts (which is mostly due to weak core strength from rapid growth during puberty) this is easier said than done. For those of you who are unfamiliar with what an anterior pelvic tilt is, this is what 80% of all the young ball players look like at their initial assessment here at RPP.
Note how forward (anterior) the hips are tilted and the amount of extension in the lower lumbar. This will block off internal rotation of the hips making getting them back (or forward) more difficult as well as forcing the athlete to extend even further into his lower back instead of the hips during the swing.
What to do?
We need to reverse that pelvic tilt and work on some hip internal rotation to open up the hips. This by the way is very similar to what a pitcher would do to open up the acromial space. This first drill helps reverse the anterior tilt by emphasizing a “posterior tilt” while the second works not only hip IR, but learning to eccentrically control force into the ground (decelerate) as well.
(90/90 Hip Shift w/ Left Reach)
(1-Leg Med Ball Snap Down)
4. Anterior Core Strength and Stability
When an athlete’s core strength and stability is compromised, alignment issues usually follow and actually limit range of motion elsewhere in the body. For example, it’s often possible to get quick changes in an athlete’s hip mobility just by working on anterior core strength and stability. This one works on both while teaching the athlete to resist extension in the lower back as well.
This being said, the core is at the center of all leading to efficient transfer of power from the lower body, up through the core to the upper body. Hitting coaches call this “creating good separation”. This exercise basically puts it all together.
(Dynamic Cable Lift)
5. Grip and Forearm Strength
Regardless of height and weight, the one thing that most great hitters will have in common will be strong forearms and grip strength. Quick wrists go a long way in helping to increase bat speed. This will enable them to really get more out of every swing. Quite often we’ll use Fat Grips during upper body exercises to not only increase forearm strength, but grip strength as well. EMG studies show that grip strength is directly related to increased cuff activation. This exercise also works great in the gym.
6. Transfer of Power
Earlier we talked about the importance of lower body strength but it’s also important to point out that just because you can deadlift 2x’s your body weight doesn’t mean you’re going to be explosive at the plate. Now it’s time to learn how to put it all together. Without adequate transfer of power to the upper half, we are losing tons of power by not incorporating the bigger, more powerful muscles of the lower half.
In more technical terms, we’re really discussing the player’s kinematic sequence and how power and speed are transferred from the ground up and into the shoulders and hands. The fast twitch muscle fibers (used for quick, explosive movements) of the posterior chain are where a majority of our power in the swing is generated from and the mid-to-late off season is a key time to train these fibers..
During this phase of training, we can utilize such explosive drills such as med ball throws to work on rotary power as well as sprinting and jumping to incorporate the lower half. Learning to use the big muscles quickly is the key and is crucial in order to avoid using the smaller accessory muscles and increasing the risk of injury.
(MB Step Back Side Throw)
(1-Leg Backwards Hops)
As you can see, improving bat speed has many components. From mobility up and down the chain, to strength and power in the lower half, to rotational strength and a proper kinematic sequence, generating a high bat speed is a function of many different topics. It’s also important to remember that a great hitting coach can “drive the car”, but not if the car isn’t fully tuned up and ready to go. Getting strong and mobile is key.
See ya’ in the gym…
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