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5 Rotational Power Exercises for Baseball Performance

A strengthening program for baseball that doesn’t include rotational movements and “controlled rotation” is simply incomplete. Like the pitcher that throws 100 mph but has no idea where the ball is going, neither one is very effective.

Many of the primary activities in baseball consist of some amount of rotation in a powerful manner. Training should closely mimic the movements and energy systems utilized during the game.

Being able to rotate, and create powerful rotation is a must for baseball performance.

Try throwing a baseball with any force without rotation in your trunk. Have you ever hit a baseball out of the infield with just your arms and no trunk rotation?

 

Have you ever attempted to steal second without turning and driving your body in that direction? Not only would you look silly, but you’d be out! Get the point?

Baseball is a rotational sport. We must train that way!

Baseball players should train to generate force from the ground to fingertips in a rotational movement plane. Two areas that are largely responsible for controlled rotational power are the hips and the core.

 

The Hips and Core

When looked at more closely, the true function of the hips in baseball (and most other sports for that matter) is to stabilize the core from below and produce powerful but controlled rotation of the lower body on the upper body.

The role of the core is to control rotation and streamline the power generated below to the upper body. With most of this power coming from the explosive, rotational unloading of the hips, the teamwork between these two areas becomes obvious.

Now that we understand that importance of rotational hip and core strength and how they relate to the mechanics of pitching and hitting, what should you be doing about it?

Try incorporating a variety of controlled rotational exercises and conditioning drills focusing on maximizing hip and core strength and coordination.

 

Focusing on these areas during our training can help any baseball player develop rotational power that translates directly to the baseball diamond.

The game of baseball requires short bursts of speed and power followed by long periods of rest. Because of this, your exercise programming should include adequate rest periods of 1 minute or greater.

Adding the following exercises to your lower body/core training will most likely awaken the muscles you never knew you had. Now you realize the importance that strengthening them can have on every aspect of your game!

 

Rotational Exercises

Here are five simple exercises that will help you develop rotational strength and power. Try them out during your next training session.

 

Back Leg-Loaded Medicine Ball Throw

 

Side to Side Medicine Ball Slam

 

Single Leg Rotational Medicine Ball Slam

 

Rotational Landmine Press

 

Rotational Cable Push-Pull

Research Review: Weighted Implements and Swing Velocity

Hitting success in the game of baseball can be classified with three distinct factors: decision time, swing velocity, and exit velocity.

Since exit velocity can be influenced by the first two factors, is there a way we can enhance swing velocity before stepping into the batter’s box?

Previous researchers have tried to determine if swinging a slightly lighter or slightly heavier bat can enhance swing velocity.

Decision time and swing velocity have an inverse relationship: having more time to decide in swinging the bat will need a quicker swing velocity.

In this present study, subjects performed a swinging warm up with either a lighter plastic bat, normal game bat, or a significantly heavier bat.

The results showed that there were no significant differences in swing velocity before the swing intervention.

However, after the different swing warm ups, the plastic bat seemed to increase swing velocity post-warm up, with no significant difference from the normal game bat.

Adding to the body of research, this study shows that swinging a heavier bat can decrease swing velocity.

Although this new information adds to the body of research, the subjects rested for 2-3 minutes between their warm up trial, which may not be enough time in a normal game situation.

Previous research determined that swinging a bat within a 10% range of your normal game bat can still enhance swing velocity without altering swing mechanics. The heavy bat used in this study was almost 200% greater in mass!

If you want to optimize your swing velocity in the batter’s box, it is recommended to use a bat that you are comfortable with. A significantly heavier bat may decrease your swing velocity, so it’s important to stay within the 10% range of your normal game bat.

Evaluating the effects of underloaded and overloaded warm ups on subsequent swing velocity.

Several attempts to identify the optimal on deck procedure to enhance swing velocity in baseball have been made. However, inconsistent findings continue to constitute much of the body of literature. Additionally, the emergence of athlete monitoring in sport has led to the exploration of more sport specific tasks to potentially identify athlete fatigue and readiness to perform. Therefore, the purpose of this investigation was to examine three different bat weight warm up protocols on subsequent swing velocity and to examine the reliability of swing velocity measurements to allude to its potential a sport specific athlete monitoring metric. Thirty-two recreational male baseball players (20.3 ± 2.0years, 179.6 ± 7.1cm and 89.6± 11.1kg) completed the study. Subjects completed three testing visits that included warming up with a control bat ([CB] 32in, 29oz), plastic bat ([PB] 31in, 6.4oz), or heavy bat ([HB] 32in, 57oz). Testing visits began with three CB swing trials followed by three intervention bat trials, then concluded with three additional CB swings. Swing velocity was assessed using visual 3D technology. Analyses of variance indicate that following the PB (26.6 ± 2.0m/s) and CB interventions (26.2 ± 1.7m/s) significantly faster (p<0.001) swing velocities were generated when compared to the traditional HB intervention (24.1 ± 2.2m/s). When assessed for reliability, the average ICC was 0.681 and Chronbach’s alpha was 0.95 indicating exceptional reliability. Congruent to previous research, this data bolsters the notion that warming up with a HB can hinder swing velocity. However, in contrast to previous research this data suggests that using a PB can increase swing velocity significantly. Furthermore, visual 3D can be designated as an exceptionally reliable device to measure swing velocity.

3 Ways Baseball Players Can Become More Explosive

Baseball is a game of explosive movements, but is often trained like an endurance sport.
Too often, baseball players are running poles or some other type of long distance running. They need to train explosively to match the demands of their sport.

Though coaches prescribe distance running to help get players in shape, getting in shape for baseball is different than getting ready to run a 5K race. In baseball, you need to be able to perform an explosive movement and then repeat.

Your body adapts to what you constantly do. If you are consistently training slow, then when it is time to perform, you will perform slow.

The right training program is more important now than ever because throwing velocity, power-hitting, and speed on the basepaths are more valuable than they have ever been. To be able to keep up with increasing performance standards, players must train to be explosive. And to improve explosiveness, players have to train explosively.

 

Three Exercises That Improve Explosiveness in Baseball Players

Sprinting, jumping and throwing medicine balls are exercises that should be emphasized to help players increase power and explosiveness.

No training method will perfectly replicate an actual baseball game, but training should mimic what a player is required do over and over. Instead of running poles for 20 minutes or running suicides, a player should run sprints, throw medicine balls, and jump.

 

Sprinting

Players don’t need to be elite sprinters and spend all their time working on sprinting, but it should definitely be part of their training plan.

Sprinting is the most explosive movement a person can do, yet many baseball players don’t train it, despite the obvious fact that most running on the diamond comes in short bursts. Sprinting doesn’t get enough love in training.

Yes, sprinting will better prepare a player for the game, but it will also help him get faster and become more explosive. Both are great results, especially in a sport in which speed and power are crucial for success. Therefore, it doesn’t matter if you’re trying to get faster or get yourself in “baseball shape,” sprinting should be an important part of your program.

 

How to Add Sprints To Your Workout

When programming sprints, there are numerous options. A few variations include hill sprints, sled sprints, and regular sprints on flat ground. When sprinting, it’s important to remember to not turn it into an endurance session. Players need to build up the amount of reps they perform, get enough rest in between sets, and make sure they are putting the same intensity into each sprint.

So, depending on where a player is in his training cycle, 6-12 sprints per session is a good number of reps. When performing these reps, anywhere from 10-60 yards are good distances to use.

When it comes to rest, 1-3 minutes in between each sprint is a good amount. The shorter the distance, the lower the rest.

 

Medicine Ball Throws

Baseball is a rotational sport and is also very repetitive, so being able to produce power while rotating is crucially important. Both hitting and throwing are rotational movements, so being good at rotating powerfully applies equally to all positions. Being able to rotate and put force behind it is what will allow ballplayers to continually throw harder and hit for more power.

Like any skill, in order to get better at rotating and repeat it over and over, a player has to work on it.

Nothing will replace throwing and hitting, but incorporating rotational medicine ball throws into a player’s training is a great way to work on rotation, get stronger in the transverse plane (the plane in which we are twisting at the hips), and learn to put more force into the ground.

When throwing medicine balls, it is important that they are performed with a high intensity. Each throw should be explosive and work on developing power. Doing this will help a player produce more total power, but also help improve his ability to give maximal effort repeatedly.

Two of my favorite medicine ball throws are the Standing Scoop Toss and the Rotational Scoop Toss:

Just like with sprinting, it’s important not to turn it into an endless session of throws. Too many throws in a session will reduce the ability to put maximum force behind the ball, which is what is required to become more explosive over time.

To avoid an endurance session, 2-5 sets of 2-6 reps per side is a good number of reps and you should still be able to put enough force behind the ball to get outcome you’re looking for.

The goal is force and velocity, so be smart about the weight of the ball. When in doubt, stay on the lighter side – 2 to 6lbs.

 

Jumping

Finally, jumping must be part of a player’s preparation if he wants to be well-rounded. Developing power through jumping will improve force production and have great carry over on the field.

When it comes to jumping for baseball, the plane of motion matters. Sagittal plane jumping -such as vertical jumps – will help develop power, but won’t have as much carry over as lateral-based jumping or frontal plane jumping. The skater jump is a great example of a lateral jump, and the broad jump is a common frontal plane jump variation.

These examples – as well as single leg jumping variations – will better prepare the athlete for the demands of the game and have more carry over to baseball compared to vertical jumps.

Two common jumping drills that I perform are the Band Resisted Broad Jump and the Lateral Skater Hop:

When programming a workout it is important to have a plan. Endless amounts of jumps will turn into conditioning and won’t produce the desired result.

Jumping should be done in the 1-5 rep range, with the focus being to keep the effort and production close to the same. When jumps start to get outside this rep range, the ability to produce the same amount of force goes down.

Just like the throws, 2-5 sets of 2-5 reps per side is a good number of reps. The more intense the jumping variation, the lower the total amount of jumps you should perform.

The goal with each jump is distance or height, so always focus on each rep being as close to the same as possible.

 

Improve Your Performance on the Diamond

No longer should baseball be looked at as a game that you need to get ready by running poles or other forms of long distance running.

Remember: your body adapts to what you repeatedly do. Because baseball is an explosive sport, force your body to adapt to explosive movements. Sprinting, medicine ball work and jumping are all explosive movements that will properly prepare your body for the demands of the game. Consistently program them into your baseball training routine, and you’ll soon be performing at a higher level.

How to Prepare in the On-Deck Circle

Baseball players have been swinging weighted implements in the on-deck circle for what seems like forever.

Weighted “donuts,” bat wraps, and heavy bats weighing up to 80 oz. are all fixtures at ballparks from the youth level up to the Major Leagues, and many hitters feel that swinging these weighted implements give them a performance boost by increasing their swing speed in the batter’s box.

However, an in-depth look at the research surrounding these tools shows that most of them might have no effect, or even a negative effect on performance, and lends credence to the idea that there might be a better way to warm up before hitting.

Here’s how some common on-deck tools stack up against each other, and a look at a relatively new strategy for warming up that current research suggests might be better than what we’ve all been doing for decades.

 

Bat Weights

Bat weights are, historically, the most common on-deck warmup tool that players use to prepare for hitting. These typically weigh 16-24 ounces, and can be applied to the bat either around the barrel or closer to the handle, depending on the brand.

Many baseball and softball players opt to use bat weights while taking practice swings in the on-deck circle because their swing feels faster after they remove the weight and start taking normal swings.

While there is something to be said for the psychological confidence boost one gets from feeling like their swing speed is increased, research shows that swing speeds typically DECREASE as compared to baseline after swinging with a weight on the bat.

So, while bat weights may provide a psychological benefit, they provide no physical benefit and may have a detrimental effect on swing speed when used directly before an at-bat.

Another (possibly bigger) issue with bat weights is that they alter the center of mass (COM) of the bat, which can disrupt swing timing and swing mechanics.

Hitting a baseball requires a high level of precision during the swinging motion, which can be thrown off by adding and/or removing weight at any point along the length of the bat, affecting its weight distribution.

This is especially true for younger athletes who have not yet established the level of motor patterning required to produce a highly consistent swinging motion.

Research has shown that hitters are less likely to produce consistent contact with the sweet spot of the bat immediately after warming up with a weighted implement, likely due to the slightly altered swing mechanics caused by the change in the bat’s COM.

While swing mechanics are eventually restored to normal after several swings with a normally-weighted bat, it can take up to 10 swings before normal kinematics are achieved.

Since most at-bats end with the batter taking far fewer than 10 swings, it’s generally not advisable to try to hit immediately after swinging with a weighted implement.

Imagine playing darts by warming up with a dart that has a small weight attached to the end of it, and then trying to throw a normal dart immediately afterwards.

Your throws right after switching to a normal dart would likely be erratic at best, and it would take a few throws for your body to “remember” how to throw the normally-weighted dart. This same principle applies for swinging a baseball bat, and in a sport where precision is so important, it’s likely not a good idea to utilize bat weights while warming up.

 

Heavy Bats

Heavy bats have recently seen an uptick in popularity as both a training aid, and as a warmup aid for use in the on-deck circle.

Most of these heavy bats are designed to mimic the weight distribution of a regular bat, which likely makes them a better warm-up option than bat weights since they have a center of mass that is like a normal bat, and will therefore cause less of a disturbance in swing mechanics after switching to a normal bat.

However, research has shown that warming up with a weighted bat can cause a decrease in swing speed after switching to a normal bat, so while they are potentially less detrimental than bat weights, there still isn’t much of a benefit.

Bats with heavily weighted knobs have also become popular recently, and have been touted to help hitters “keep their hands inside the ball.”

While it may be true that concentrating most the bat’s weight in the handle will prevent hitters’ hands from drifting away from their body or “casting” while they swing it, there is currently no research suggesting that these bats are helpful as a warm-up implement.

Again, the vastly different COM and weight distribution of these bats as compared to a normal bat will likely have a negative effect on swing mechanics after switching back to a normal bat.

 

Underweighted Bats

Underweighted bats, like heavy bats, are being used more as training aids to develop bat speed, and have shown some promise as a part of the warm-up process.

Using an underweighted bat as a warm-up implement generally has been shown to have either a positive effect on swing speed, or no significant effect, depending on which study you’re looking at.

At the very least, they seem to not have any negative effect on swing speed. However, it’s still possible that the underweighted bat may have a slightly different weight distribution than a player’s normal bat, so there is a chance that swing mechanics could be altered as a result of using it to warm up.

 

Normal Bats

While they may not be a cool or flashy option as a warm-up implement, there’s a good amount of research that suggests that just taking hard swings with a normal baseball bat may be the most beneficial warm-up a hitter can do in the on-deck circle.

Studies have shown similar improvements in swing speed following warm-up swings with a normal bat as compared to an underweighted bat, and there’s no chance of altered swing mechanics due to differences in COM or weight distribution.

In fact, the most effective way of warming up before hitting might be to utilize a normal bat, along with a max-effort isometric exercise designed to induce a phenomenon called Post-Activation Potentiation.

 

Using Post-Activation Potentiation to Increase Swing Speed

Post-Activation Potentiation or PAP is, admittedly, not well-understood by researchers just yet. Without getting deep into the proposed biological mechanisms of how PAP works, the basic idea behind this theory is that a high-intensity exercise can “supercharge” your body to move more explosively after an appropriate rest interval.

For example, it’s widely reported that sprinter Ben Johnson used to perform max effort squats before running races, and it provided him with a bit more explosiveness while running.

In general, it’s best to try to elicit PAP for a specific movement by stressing the muscles involved in that movement. For example, vertical jump height can be increased by doing heavy squats, explosive pushup velocity can be increased by performing a heavy bench press, etc.

So, if you’re looking to improve swing speed through post-activation potentiation, you’ll likely want to perform a movement that mimics a baseball swing. The best way to do this is to attach a bat handle or a rope handle to a chain, and then anchor that chain to an unmovable object like a wall or a fence post.

Stand far enough away from the wall that you can put yourself into the “slot” position as shown in the video below, and then focus on rotating as hard as you can, as if you’re trying to pull the chain completely out of the wall.

 

To elicit PAP, perform 3 repetitions of this isometric exercise for 3-5 seconds each. Studies have shown that performing these isometric “simulated swings” can increase swing speed by an average of 2 mph. For reference, an increase in bat speed of 2 mph will make a batted ball travel 8-16 feet farther, which could very well be the difference between an out or a homerun.

 

Timing of PAP

While PAP can be an extremely useful method for improving performance, it does come with a caveat. That is, it only works if you can recover from the high-intensity exercise before attempting an explosive movement.

For that reason, it’s best to perform isometric swings at least 1-2 minutes prior to an at-bat. Studies show that the greatest effects of PAP are seen between 2-12 minutes after performing a high-intensity exercise, and that less than 2 minutes of recovery can cause a decrease in explosiveness.

Given this information, it would make sense to perform max effort isometric swings either while “in the hole” or during the inning prior to an at-bat. This will give your body enough time to recover from the max-effort exercise and still experience an increase in rotational explosiveness.

Then when you step into the on-deck circle to warm-up to hit, take 5-8 max-effort swings with your normal bat, time the pitcher’s delivery, and then step up to the plate to hit. Your swing will be faster because of PAP, and you’ll have a higher likelihood of making consistent contact due to your warmup swings being performed with the same bat you’ll use during your at-bat.

 

Sources:
Montoya, B.S., Brown, L.E., Coburn, J.W., & Zinder, S.M. (2009). Effect of Warm-up With Different Weighted Bats on Normal Baseball Bat Velocity. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 23(5), 1566-1569.
Szymanski, D.J., Beiser, E.J., Bassett, K.E., Till, M.E., Medlin, G.l., & DeRenne, C. (2011). Effect of Various Warm-Up Devices on Bat Swing Velocity of Intercollegiate Baseball Players. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 25(2), 287-292.
Higuchi, T., Nagami, T., Mizuguchi, N., & Anderson, T. (2013). The Acute and Chronic Effects of Isometric Contraction Conditioning on Baseball Bat Velocity. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 27(1), 216-222.
Gilmore, S.L. (2013), Effect of a High-Intensity Isometric Potentiating Warm-up on Bat Velocity. WWU Masters Thesis Collection. 299.

3 Exercise to Develop Rotational Power in Baseball Players

Rotational ability is one of the key components in transferring power from the lower half and core towards either the catcher (pitching) or ball (hitting). Developing proficiency in this area will help further progress the efficiency of a complete power transfer from the lower to upper half in either movement. In addition, rotational power in the hips can only be maximized if the upper back is adequately able to rotate at the same velocity with the same power.

I this article, I will break down the importance of rotational power related to both hitting and pitching, along with a three-exercise progression to not only develop better and more efficient rotational ability, but proficiency in weight transfer and additional power development.

The Role of The Core and Thoracic Spine in Baseball

The core is essential for generating and transferring force during the powerful and asymmetrical movements that take place in baseball. For this discussion we are going to define the core as: the abdominals, the erectors (muscles that run parallel to the spine), the pelvic floor, and the hips (the glutes, groin muscles, and hip flexor muscles).

When throwing a pitch, the core muscles maintain stability of the low back and hips allowing force generated through the legs to be transferred through the core to shoulder complex and ultimately to the ball.

This transfer of force takes place in less than 0.2 seconds!

The core is essential to maintaining proper mechanics through all phases of delivering a pitch. Any imbalances in flexibility, strength, or coordination at that high rate of speed can lead to decreased performance and injury.”

We must also acknowledge the role of the thoracic spine in conjunction with the core.

After force is transferred from the lower half to the upper half and shoulders via the core, the thoracic spine (mid back), must be able to rotate and the hips able to clear in order to square the body to both the target when throwing or the ball when swinging.

Lack of rotational power can severely limit velocity potential and swinging power. An extremely strong base at the legs or shoulder may not see full potential utilized if a player cannot rotate at a similar rate.

The Planes of Motion Involved in a Swing or Throw

Many people would state that a pitching delivery or swing is performed in the transverse plane (the plane which involves rotation).

While that is correct, I like to break down these movements in two phases because there are movements that take place prior to the rotation that occurs. As a result, I like to explain each motion as a frontal plane movement followed by a rotation (transverse plane).

Frontal Plane

The frontal plane divides the body into the anterior (front) and posterior (back). As such, any movements occurring along this divide, or laterally, are performed in this plane.

The frontal component of each movement takes places during the loading and stride (towards home plate as a pitcher or towards the ball as a batter). Therefore, lateral power is equally important to develop in addition to rotational ability (I will get to this at another time).

Transition to Transverse Plane

For the sake of this article this is the more important plane to highlight. After weight is transferred from the back leg towards the target via a frontal plane movement, rotation then takes place to square the shoulders and transfer all energy in the desired direction.

This rotation takes place as a batter simultaneously brings their hands towards the ball to swing or a pitcher brings their arm around to deliver a pitch. This is where the importance of thoracic rotation ability and power take place.

Three Exercise Progressions to Develop Rotational Power

The following exercises progress from simple thoracic rotational focus to then include both frontal and transverse movements with a weight transfer, and lastly a more advanced progression that builds excess power prior to the movement.

Sledgehammer Swings

It is important to do these with your feet perfectly squared so that you experience full thoracic rotation.

Start the sledgehammer at your waist with your arms extended and fully rotate around towards one side before bringing your arms back around and rotating back to a squared position while simultaneously slamming the hammer.

Figure 8 Medicine Ball Slams

These are performed in a lateral position and involve a front leg to back leg weight shift prior to rotation and slamming. Thus, it involves both planes of movement.

Counter Movement Figure 8 Medicine Ball Slams

This final progression involves a build of additional power via kinetic energy build up (the forward and backwards hop). Perform the traditional figure 8 medicine ball slam and include a quick front to back hop prior to rotating and slamming.

Try these 3 drills to develop your rotational power to develop more effective swing or pitching mechanics.

4 Pressing Exercise Variations For Baseball Players

Developing a strong back is important for baseball players.

In the past I have talked about some general tips to use in order to grow a strong and big upper back. I have also given you some of my favorite exercises for the upper back and how to develop it.

This got me to thinking and I realized that not many coaches and athletes know how much of an importance should be placed on the role of the upper back when programming pressing movements for baseball players.

Many people neglect the involvement of the scapulae (shoulder blades) in their pressing variations and fail to see how much they can develop this aspect of their body if they simply focused on a few key details.

This would provide a multitude of benefits for athletes as their upper back plays a huge role in their health and performance.

For baseball players and rotational athletes (hockey, lacrosse, golf etc.) the upper back plays a huge role in not only their swing or shot, but it can also limit shoulder injuries if trained effectively. A strong upper back can help improve posture and limit the internal rotation of the shoulder (internal rotation can lead to labrum injuries due to the compression and force constantly placed on the acromioclavicular (AC) joint). So, not only can we contribute to an aesthetically pleasing upper back by making some adjustments in our pressing, but we can also limit injury and contribute to increases in performance for baseball players.

Here is a quick breakdown of external rotation, how to promote the use of the scapulae for presses with baseball players and my favorite exercise variations to do so!

What is External Rotation?

In my opinion, the best analogy to use to explain external rotation of the shoulders would be to have someone imagine that their arms are outstretched and fully extended with their hands on a wall. On that wall is a big sheet of paper, and your goal is to tear the paper down the middle without moving your hands. How exactly do we do that? Well, think as if you are trying to “screw” your hands into the wall, only without moving your hands outwards.

External rotation is created when we drive our right hand clockwise and our left hand counterclockwise. If we do this without actually moving our hands then we create torque, and that imaginary paper is now torn!

The shoulder is a ball and socket joint, meaning that the humeral head rotates about inside the cup-like socket of the shoulder blade. When we create proper torque the humeral rotates outward, hence “external rotation.”

Many of us perform presses without external rotation, which not only leaves us susceptible to injury but also does not allow us to develop the upper back and shoulder blades to the best of their ability. This has been said many times before, yet I still see baseball players utilizing presses that do not let the upper back work freely and independently of a bench. This is due to a number of factors, which include hand and grip positioning and the side effects of performing presses on a bench.

Basically, when our back is on a bench the bench itself does not allow for full scapula activation and retraction, which can limit external rotation and use of the upper back. Experienced lifters know how to properly activate the upper back and can get around this, but many others struggle.

Lastly, bilateral movements (presses with two hands) can negate the need to isolate each individual shoulder blade due to the fact that using both hands does not require as much stabilization as unilateral movements.

With that being said, here are a few variations that make use of these fundamental principles.

Dumbbell Piston Press

As I mentioned above, unilateral presses allow the shoulder blades to work independently of each other. In addition, they require more external rotation to be created in order to stabilize fully.

If I have a baseball player perform a bench press it will be with dumbbells due to the fact that they require more focused stabilization of the scapulae then barbell presses, and allow for a neutral grip to prevent stress on the shoulders. However, an even better way to guarantee shoulder blade activation and external rotation is to perform dumbbell presses in a piston-like manner. That is, perform each press individually (one side at a time) so that the athlete has to pay attention to activating the upper back and externally rotating at the shoulder in order to properly stabilize the weight.

I will also utilize these presses at lower weights for dynamic/speed repetitions as well for power development.

 

Barbell Push-Up

The barbell push-up not only is a great tool to use in order to teach the art of pressing but also it eliminates the use of the bench (as I mentioned), which can teach an athlete how to cue and activate the upper back while letting the upper back work independently.

Since we are performing presses without the support of the bench we can fully retract the shoulder blades with each repetition and learn how to activate the upper back. This is a simple movement for advanced athletes, so I will usually implement slower movements, isometric holds and even increase the load (with chains) in order to progress the movement and make it more challenging. Any type of push-up variation is great to use for baseball players.

Cable or Band Presses

Similarly to push-up variations, cable and/or band presses allow the athlete to perform pushes that allow the scapulae to work independently of one another. They also help place less stress on the shoulders.

Bottoms-Up Kettle Bell Presses

This last variation is the most advanced and ties in all the principles I have previously mentioned.

Holding the kettle bells in a bottoms-up position makes external rotation a necessity, and is why I love this variation. If you do not properly externally rotate it is almost impossible to stabilize the kettle bell. In addition, we are once again removing the bench from the equation and requiring true activation of the upper back and retraction (pinching) of the shoulder blades.

Lastly, if you really want to advance this variation and take it to the next level you can perform the presses unilaterally (one hand at a time), and tie in the same principles you would be when performing the dumbbell bench press in a piston manner!

 

Low Tech Ways to Maximize Your Bat Speed and Launch Angle

Data-driven training is becoming the norm in baseball. We have learned so much about things like bat speed and launch angle over the last several years. We know so much more about what goes into becoming an elite baseball player.

But the use of technology can be both daunting and expensive, making the implementation of data-driven training difficult. Luckily, you can bypass the need to spend thousands of dollars on technology and still maximize your hitting potential.

Common Limitations

As the hitting instructor at Prairie Heights High School (IN) for the last four years, I have had the opportunity to implement my own philosophies for the offense under the approval of the ex-head coach Nick Pfafman.

In my first year, Nick had a leash on “new” philosophies. He was hesitant to give too much control to an instructor who was, in his eyes, unproven. However, it did not take him long to loosen that leash. After a short period of time in the program, I was able to open the eyes of the players to the fact that there is much more to this game than they had ever experienced.

Not to discredit what Nick was able to accomplish in his time as the coach before I arrived, he was unable to bring a lot of these newer hitting philosophies to the program.

The reason for that can be attributed to his lack of resources (program money, volunteer coaches, equipment, etc.). He had to turn, what was then, a dying baseball program into something successful. Much to his credit, he did a lot of it on his own.

Upon my arrival, we were able to take the base that he created and build on it. We put a heavy focus on offensive production to complement the already solid defense and pitching staff. Over my first four years, we slowly rolled out newer and better hitting practices in an attempt to build a culture that boasted a high-powered offense.

I want to discuss how we used technology, and even the lack thereof, to help baseball players find more success at the plate.

Setting Up Your Batting Cage

We found that the batting cage was a huge tool for us to run an efficient practice early in the season. We tried to keep our players involved with practice 100% of the time so that we did not have the typical BP session of one guy hitting and the rest of the team shagging balls. Aside from the hitting circuits we conducted to keep everyone working, we used the batting cage as visual to teach players about launch angles.

During last season, I took a job as a 16U coach at Hitter’s Edge in Sturgis, MI. Mike Marks, the owner and head instructor, at Hitter’s Edge had recently equipped his facility with a HitTrax machine. The HitTrax machine measures many different metrics including launch angle, exit velocity, and where the trajectory of any hit ball will land.

At Prairie Heights, with the cage being outside and the HitTrax equipment being extremely costly, we did not see that as a possibility at the time. My major focus, after fundamentals, was getting players to understand the launch angle of a batted ball accompanied with bat speed. When you combine those two things and a good fundamental swing, you will find more success at the plate; especially in the way of extra-base hits.

The challenge was, without a HitTrax machine, how do we measure a player’s launch angle of a batted ball.

Despite everything I ever thought in high school trigonometry class, I needed to use math. I used the equation below to figure out the information I needed.

Distance = Height tan(angle)

I wanted to mark the range of where we had to hit the top of the net to achieve the launch angle we wanted.

Our target range was 10° to 30° for our launch angle. We knew our height of the cage was 8’ tall but it needs to be the height of the point of contact to the top of the net. We figured 2’ above the ground was a fair guess. So the height equals 6’ and the first angle is 30° (this will be your closest marker from the plate that you put on your cage).

With this calculation, your first mark needs to be on the top of the cage just shy of 10.5’ away from the plate. The next angle is 10° (this will be your further marker from the plate).

Using the same math, your next marker needs to be 34’ from the plate. I understand that this may be slightly flawed depending on the width of your cage because of where the foul lines are but I think you get the idea here.

Rethinking Batting Practice in a Cage

Allow me to backtrack a little here. When I first met with Mike Marks at Hitter’s Edge, he had a softball player in the cage that he was using HitTrax with during her lesson. He was preaching the idea of lifting the ball. I immediately understand why he was saying this to her. Players at “the next level” can field ground balls just fine so we need to elevate the ball to try to find some “green.”

Line drives and deep, well-hit fly balls are the most difficult hits to defend. The reaction time required to field a hard-hit in the air is much faster than that of a grounder. Batted balls with elevation are obviously not slowed down by the grass and dirt like a ground ball.

I know you are probably thinking “obviously we want line drives and not ground balls” but how often do you hear a coach say “nice hit” when a guy takes him up the middle and the ball hits the back of the cage at belt-height?

I think about how many times in my earlier years of coaching that I would praise a hitter for even hitting a ball six feet off the ground into the side of the net 40’ past the plate. Well, congratulations. That batter probably grounded out. Regardless of how hard that ball is hit, at the high school, collegiate, and professional levels, those balls are going to be fielded.

I decided that it was time was started focusing on hitting the ball over the infielders and, with some added bat speed and exit velocity, over the outfielders.

Think about how big your cage is in comparison to a baseball field.

 

The average cage I use is 8’ tall and 60’ long. If your hitters are peppering the top back corners of the cage, they’re hitting a ball that is only 8’ off the ground by the time it crosses the mound and it still has approximately 60’ of travel left before it even gets passed 2nd base.

So imagine a 6’ tall pitcher and he can probably reach 7’6” with his extended arm and glove which means that best case scenario you hit a ground ball over his head and if you are lucky to have hit the ball hard enough, you may get it passed the middle infielders resulting in a weak hit to the centerfielder.

I do not want you to think that I think that is a bad result because it is not. If you do that every single time you are at the plate you’ll go down in history with the best batting average of all time.

My focus is not to help our guys hit hard grounders that may or may not result in single. My focus is to create an explosive offense that boasts doubles and bombs from top to bottom of the lineup. When I came to this realization, I knew that I needed to change the way I look at results in the cage.

Adding Power to Your Launch Angle with Weighted Bats

Once I was able to get my students and players to understand the launch angle of their hits, I knew it was time to grow from there. Hitting a ball 30° into the air is not enough if your exit velo is 12mph. We needed to build bat speed to accompany everything else and for those of you that have ever seen/hit with a BBCOR or wood bat, you need a lot of bat speed to park a ball 300’+.

I looked into some of the weighted bat systems and I liked the results that their studies were showing but I did not like the price tags on their bats (refer to my previous statement about lack of resources). Every weighted bat system I found included using a hand-loaded bat, an end-loaded bat, an underloaded bat, and then your own game bat.

I had to try to accomplish this cheaply. Luckily for me, I knew a guy.

I played on an adult amateur baseball team in Fort Wayne, IN with Dr. Daniel Nolan. This guy makes wood bats in his free time out of his wood shop (how cool is that?). His bat-making tools are nothing to laugh about either. Everything he makes is hand turned on a professional lathe and he uses a very precise method to make each bat.

I sent him my design idea for the first one, a hand-loaded bat (see picture). He turned it around in a week and this thing was perfect. The next bat I needed was an end-loaded bat so we brainstormed ideas that might work best. He told me about a billet he had that was very dense and heavy (he used a similar one to make a rolling pin in the past). So within a week, he turned another bat for me.

The biggest question was how we were going to add weight specifically in the end of the barrel. Dan had the idea of milling out the end of the bat and adding weight to it so that we did not change the shape of the barrel in any way. So there were my two loaded bats and I had a nice ash bat that was a -5 already which worked as the underloaded bat.

Immediately, I put my new system to work. Using myself and other fellow players as my lab rats for the system, we found success that translated to an increase of 5-10 miles per hour within the six week program.

Based on a study that I found, every 5 mph added to your exit velocity equals approximately 25’ distance on a batted ball hit at a 30° launch angle. When you are talking about adding a potential of 50’ to your hits in 6 weeks, I will buy into that process.

Using Baseball Swing Tracking Apps

Even though we bypassed using the HitTrax machine, we did find other cost-effective tools to evaluate players. The most important tool we used at PHHS, one that we used since day one of my arrival, was an app called Coach’s Eye. I’m sure many of you are already using this app but I cannot get enough of the simplicity of this app.

The other tool we have started using in the past year is the Blast Motion Sensor. This little sensor goes right on the butt of your bat and records many useful metrics. We record the average of everyone’s metrics from each session so that we can show progress over time.

[Editor Note: There are several devices on the market, including Diamond Kinetics and Zepp]

These tools really help all of our players to visualize their swing and their progress. It does not always help the younger kids but it helps their dads so that they can help their son in between sessions.

Putting it All Together

100% of the time I will tell you that fundamentals are king.

Without sound fundamentals, your bat speed, exit velocity, and launch angle are irrelevant because you will not be able to replicate it consistently enough to be considered a good hitter. Whether you teach linear or rotational hitting, you have to be able replicate success consistently before you can get more advanced. I teach rotational hitting to every single one of my students and players. Without sparking an argument with anti-rotational hitting advocated, I just believe that it gives players the best opportunity to make consistent contact in the zone.

Once a player has a good fundamental swing, that is when it is time to start training for bat speed. I do believe that you can discuss launch angles with hitters during the fundamental teaching phase of their training. If you are using a cage to teach fundamentals, then using the launch angle markers in the cage can really help you and your hitters to understand and visualize the goal.

Teaching players to get on plane, increasing their bat speed, and getting their launch angles to the ideal range is the best way to get rewarding results all season long; however, I know that so many people will argue that players still need to put the ball on the ground in hit and run situations and with runner-on-third situations.

I would say that if a player hits a screaming line drive on a hit and run, regardless if he lines out and gets the runner doubled off, then can you really be upset with the hitter. As a coach, the hit and run is always a risky play. I would rather see a hitter hitting a ball hard on a line or with a little elevation than changing their swing altogether for a ground ball. No one ever said you couldn’t hit a double or a homer on a hit and run or with a guy on third base. Change your mental approach at the play, not your swing.

It is time, we as coaches, progress in our offensive policies.

There is room for plenty of old school philosophies in baseball but it is time we quit teaching “swing level” and “put the ball on the ground and make them throw you out”. Players do not get scouted and drafted based on their ability to ground out and move runners the hard way; they get to “the next level” by showing that they can hit for, not only average, but also for power.

It’s a new game we play and you know the old adage: “the best defense is a good offense.”

 

 

Defining the Efficient Baseball Swing

A position player’s value is determined by their ability to hit, more than any other skill, because it contributes so much to winning. Two of the five tools a player can have center around hitting production – power and contact.

For years, hitting instructors have remained locked in the debate on which players represent the most efficient swing, using labels like “linear” or “rotational” to explain the swing approach. On a scale from contact hitters like Tony Gwynn and Ichiro, to pure power hitters like Chris Davis and Adam Dunn, lies a middle ground of balanced hitters like Mike Trout and Barry Bonds who seemingly represent our ideal swing approach.

Only recently, however, has technology allowed us to trace the full swing to have a clearer understanding of what makes up the best baseball swing.

Sabermetrics has established new ways of valuing hitters and understanding efficient offensive production, while modern technologies (Trackman, HitTrax, ZEPP, SportsVision, etc.) have finally enabled us to analyze and truly define the efficient swing. This has helped us begin to answer some of the common questions surrounding the baseball swing:

  • Do we focus on swinging up or down at the ball?
  • Do we focus more on hand path to make contact or on torque with the lower body while allowing our hands to be passive?
  • What professional hitters should we emulate?
  • Which hits have the most value and what is the exact value of each hit?
  • What should my bat speed and swing angle be in order to square the ball up more consistently and increase my likelihood of getting the most valuable types of hits?

 

Physics: What Angles Create Optimal Baseball Swing?

Let’s start with a simple illustration….

We have a pitcher and a hitter both 6’0’’ tall. The pitcher is on a mound, meaning he’s now 10” taller than the hitter at the top of the mound and roughly 5” taller at landing. He’s most likely throwing overhand (99% of all pitchers do), so using an estimated wing span, the ball is now 5” plus 85% of the pitcher’s 1’6” wing span taller than the hitter at release.

As soon as the pitcher lets go of the ball, the ball is constantly slowing down due to wind resistance. If our pitcher is throwing from higher ground to a lower target with the ball constantly slowing down, we know the ball is ALWAYS going down, even at 100mph with exceptionally high spin rates. In fact, the documentary, “Fastball,” makes a point to disprove the idea that even the fastest fastballs do not rise, so we are safe to say the ball is traveling down no matter the pitch.

In order to consistently square up two round objects, the surface of one bat and one ball, given the downward trajectory of the ball, a hitter must swing even or slightly up through contact.

In his article in the Hardball Times, “Optimizing the Swing, Part Deux: Paying Homage to Teddy Ballgame,” Dr. Alan Nathan of the University of Illinois points to a study using Statcast data, in which on-base average is shown as a function of exit speed and launch angle.

The two regions of high on-base average are primarily red. One is the narrow strip extending from 110 mph/100 to ~66 mph/300. The high exit speed part of this strip represents hard-hit line drives with small launch angles, leading to a high on-base average. For the batter, these types of hits are highly desirable. The second important region occurs at high exit speed and launch angles in the 200-350 range. These are largely extra-base hits, primarily home runs.

Additionally, Dr. Nathan looked at BABIP (on-base average with home runs excluded) as a function of attack angle and offset paired with home run probability.

For BABIP, the red/orange strip results in an on-base average greater than about 0.75 and corresponds to launch angles in the range 90-170. The optimum swing parameters for high BABIP are 100and 0.5 inches for attack angle and offset, respectively, corresponding to an exit speed of 100 mph and launch angle of 120. On the other hand, home runs require a larger attack angle and larger offset, the optimum being 240 and 1.05 inches, respectively, corresponding to an exit speed of 101 mph and a launch angle of 290-300.

In simple terms, a professional player can get a base hit by either hitting the ball very hard between the infield and outfield or by hitting it hard enough over the outfield in the gaps or into the stands.
We’ve known these to be the best ways to get on base, but for the first time we have been provided a measureable understanding of what makes the hitter’s bat be in position to produce these types of hits.

The next question is: Does Dr. Nathan’s heat map data correspond to the swing data of players we statistically label as the best baseball hitters?

Based on these charts, we’d expect the best offensive players to consistently perform within the range of angles and exit velocities corresponding to extra base hits for higher run production and a higher BABIP, so launch angles of 90-300 with exit velocities of 100mph.

 

Statistics: How Do We Value Hitters and Who Do We Value Most?

Thanks to Sabermetrics, the statistical definition of an “efficient” hitter has been linked to maximizing run production by assigning linear weights, or run values to various types of hits.

Since maximizing runs is the ultimate goal, the statistically efficient hitter falls somewhere between pure power (a lot of homeruns with a lot of strikeouts) and pure contact (very little strikeouts, but not high slugging).

Weighted On-Base Average (WOBA) is the current “gold standard” by which we now measure a player’s offensive production, because it assigns actual run production values to types of base hits. Think of it as the very accurate version of Slugging Percentage. Since Major League Baseball statistically defines the “efficient” swing as the one that offers the most potential run production, WOBA serves as our finish line for the “efficient” swing approach. WOBA is defined as:

 

wOBA = [(0.69 × uBB) + (0.72 × HBP) + (0.89 × 1B) + (1.27 × 2B) +( 1.62 × 3B) + (2.10 × HR)]

/ (AB + BB – IBB + SF + HBP)

For simplification, let’s limit our sample of players to those who finished in the top 25 in WOBA in each of the last three seasons. We can look for consistencies in the mechanics and swing data of these players to validate the data in Dr. Nathan’s analysis.

The only players to be in the top 25 in WOBA for the last three seasons (2014-2016) are David Ortiz, Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, Anthony Rizzo, Nelson Cruz, and Edwin Encarnacion. Therefore, these hitters represent some of the most consistently high value MLB offensive producers in the last three seasons.

Over the course of the season, each of these players’ average launch angles range between 100-150 according to Statcast. The common denominator with these high value hitters is they elevate the baseball.

We’ve now statistically defined the efficient swing as the highest producing WOBA, and physically graphed an efficient swing as launch angles of 90-300 with exit velocities of 100mph. The last piece of the puzzle is defining the mechanics and approaches that produce these measurable results.

 

Mechanics: How Do We Swing Like the Best Hitters?

Using high-speed video to look at current high-value hitters (players with the consistently highest WOBA’s), we can see the commonalities in their swing mechanics.

By seeing where these mechanics overlap, we can determine hitting absolutes versus individual style. Below is an illustration of such mechanics among today’s top hitters. It is a visual road map for training the “efficient” swing as defined earlier. Notice the individual styles allowed in the beginning and end of the swings, but the absolutes that must be accomplished by all hitters between phases 3-7. Notice that every top hitter uses their feet/hips to create bottom-up torque, allows their hands to be relaxed and passive, and swings even or slightly up to match the incoming pitch plane and put the ball in the air for maximum potential run production.


 

Key Points

We want to swing and perform like the best MLB hitters. We define “best” as highest offensive production, or highest run producing potential, represented by the stat WOBA.  The defined best baseball hitters overlap in their swing mechanics and resemble swings like Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, Anthony Rizzo, Nelson Cruz, and Edwin Encarnacion.

Those hitters’ swing approaches share many common points:

  • Use the feet/hips to create bottom-up torque with relaxed/passive hands.
  • Swing even or slightly up to match the incoming pitch plane.
  • Put the ball in the air for maximum potential run production success.

 

These swing mechanics overlap our observed ideal swing angles from simulated bat/ball collisions, heat map data, and stat-cast data to confirm these swing mechanics represent the efficient baseball swing – the swing with the highest run producing potential.

In conclusion, if we want to perform like the best MLB hitters, we must train to use our feet/hips to create bottom-up torque with relaxed/passive hands, swing even or slightly up to match the incoming pitch plane, and put the ball in the air for maximum potential run production success.

 

 

3 Important Exercises Baseball Players Should Perform Inseason

Baseball season is right around the corner and hopefully our athletes have participated in an offseason strength and conditioning program. Achieving optimal weight, improving movement patterns and getting as strong as possible are prized during this time.

But now that the season has arrived, what should you implement into baseball players’ fitness programs to maximize performance?

 

3 Important Exercises Baseball Players Should Perform Inseason

Players will begin to hit, throw and sprint with significantly more intensity and volume as the season kicks off. When players try to match this volume in their fitness program it is often detrimental to success.

At our facility, we aim to provide players with lower body exercises that limit soreness, maintain power and help players recover before their next practice session or game. Remember that the minimal effective dose of exercise is always the goal.

Here are three exercises that can be included in the same training session to maximize in-season performance.

 

Elevated Trap Bar Speed Deadlift

The deadlift is arguably the king of all lower body lifts and a staple in our athletes’ programs.

Some players struggle with maintaining good posture from the start of the lift, especially those who are taller or struggle with loading the hips. This variation uses 45 pound plates or 2 inch blocks under the loaded bar to ensure the start position is perfect.

Move the weight as fast as possible with great form to maximally recruit the glutes and create force into the ground. Normally we like to see the athlete slowly lower the weight to encourage muscle growth, but this variation only focuses on speed from the ground up. Slowly lowering the weight will encourage muscle soreness, and this is the last thing a young athlete needs while trying to perform optimally!

Long Stride Sled Push

We use multiple variations of the sled push for getting kids strong, and this version encourages good hip movement with minimal stress on the low back.

You will notice how the athlete below really flexes the hip towards the trunk prior to pressing the foot back into the ground. Direct training of the hip flexor muscles is often ignored, and this exercise is a great way to sneak in some extra hip flexion work. The added benefit of this is the ability to really load up weight to maintain leg strength without waking up sore the next day.

Single Leg Box Squat with Counterweight

Standing on one leg creates a significant demand for core and hip stability, especially when loaded with weight. The box is there to ensure the athlete is using the hips to sit back and control the motion. The weight does not need to be heavy here, with only 5-10 pounds in each hand to provide some weight in front of the athlete.

This exercise is usually programmed towards the end of a training session to train good body control, even with fatigue after a tough session. If this variety is too difficult, have the player use the non-working leg to apply a little force into the ground to make the move easier.

 

Players work all offseason to maximize strength gains, put on quality mass and develop power to deliver during game situations. In-season training is often an afterthought, but remember that movement quality and maintaining strength are vital to success for baseball players. Try incorporating these exercises into fitness programming during the season to help players dominate games and recover faster.

 

 

Exercises For Baseball Players Installment 1: Knee-to-Knee Rotational Med Ball Shotput

Throwing and hitting can take a toll on the body.

Here is an exercise that baseball players can use to not only groove appropriate hip loading but also teaches power with the movement, without actually throwing or swinging a bat. Usage of medicine balls is the closest training tool players and coaches can adopt, to practice the sport specific movements in baseball.

I thought of this exercise because it is my favorite drill to use with the pitchers that I work with. The movement performed when a knee-to-knee is executed correctly, is what pitchers and hitters need to create in order to build optimal tension into the ground, to transfer force into the delivery or swing. Remember to stay athletic, and not to use too many cues in this exercise, so the athlete doesn’t get robotic and methodical.

Also, baseball is an explosive sport; so don’t teach your body to be slow.

 

Knee-to-Knee Rotational Med Ball Shotput